The end of 2020 is approaching. I would like to add “swiftly” to the end of that statement, but as many have noted, this year feels as if an entire decade has gone by. Who knows how long these last two months of the year will actually last? What I do know is that this year, with all of its tumult and pain and uncertainty, is a year to take heed of. I would hate to have lived through such a time as this only to forget all that I have learned this year. While it may seem that none of us will forget the sudden lock down in March, the drastic dip in the economy, or the frenzy of mass protests across the nation, there is always that chance that we will, at some point, forget. Isn’t that what happens at the end of a major natural disaster, or an economic recession, or even a war? With the sting of each painful moment, though during the thick of it, it seems it might last through eternity, comes the reality that once the pain begins to subside it takes along with it the intensity of our memories. Our awareness of the source of the pain floats away as each aching moment ripples out and away from the epicenter of our suffering.
Yet, of course, these memories never truly leave us. They linger, springing up at unseemly times, bursting out from corridors within our subconscious we thought had long been cleared away. They do so until we decide to fully bring them into our remembrance; until we choose to look at what pained us to numbness and begin to truly process our way to healing. That is what happened this spring when George Floyd was murdered. His death triggered all of those subconscious (and for some people, not so subconscious) pain points around race. Then there was a national eruption.
With all that transpired on May 25, 2020, I would like to think that George Floyd’s death, at the very least, served a very important purpose for us all. I hope we are able to remember that purpose in the years to come.
I thought a lot about what my response should be to all that was unraveling and quaking in our country this year. At times I reacted out of pure emotion, at others I was thoughtful and intentional. I imagine that the idea for the InBreak Residency (I can’t take credit for the name - that belongs to Brianna Kinsman) came at some intersection between the two. Even with all of the protesting and calls for police reform, how were we actually going to heal as a nation? At what point, if ever, will we collectively live out of the fullness of a post-racialized society? Is such a thought even possible? Yet, I don’t see how we can continue to live together until we enter into collective healing and until anti-racism is a natural way of being for us all. The “us all” part is admittedly idealistic, but this year has hopefully made it clear to a majority that the work of justice and social healing must continue and must amplify. So, out of my idealistic dreams and from God’s promptings came the desire to gather a group of creative minds to enter a collective experience of attempting to answer the question: What can a post-racialized society look like?
Brianna Kinsman, the residency’s Project Director of Liturgical Expressions, and I have been meeting once a week for the past five months designing the residency program. Ironically, though we have spent hours talking through art, books, and other resources on race, we haven’t spoken much about the fact that she is white and I am black, and that we are planning this experience together. There are some who would applaud our efforts by saying that this sort of partnership is exactly how something like this should be done. Others would claim that white people and black people (and other people groups) need their own spaces to process, repent, and heal. I would say both views are valid.
As I reflected on this, I realized that the way Brianna and I have managed to not speak about our racial identities amongst ourselves in depth is the point of the residency for me. This ability to dance through something so thickly present, yet in many ways so incredibly disguised, is exactly what must be laid out on the table. I say “dance through”, because we cannot “dance around”. Racism and our inculcation into racial categorizing are too all encompassing, and are thoroughly etched into our social rhythms and collective language. Race has entered every pore of our collective lives. It coats all of our interactions, whether we are aware of it, or speak of it directly, or not.
The insidiousness of the whole matter is the way in which we collectively seem to develop amnesia about all of this. That is, until some publicized and brutal event sets fire a fresh wave of protests and uprisings. Does it really have to take publicized rounds of telephone on social media to keep us alert? This “alertness” is a topic I hope we will dive deeply into during the residency. The ability to turn on or off varying degrees of alertness is, of course, a symptom of privilege. Here privilege can go multiple ways; can take on the characteristics of multiple meanings. A common understanding of privilege is that its beneficiaries are able to move through life wearing cloaks of ignorance. (Make no mistake - that perpetual turn of the shoulder will at some point lead to a guilt-induced whiplash when those who are accustomed to ignoring are finally forced to see.)
The other kind of privilege - the kind that allows one breathing room to not listen, to not see, to not process periodically - this kind of privilege has to be cultivated and protected, because this kind of privilege is the restful sort of Sabbath we all need to inhale every once in a while. I am beginning to recognize that this sort of privileged Sabbath can only be maintained in a conscientious and alert community. The community can act as a watch-guard, each member gently and firmly reminding one another that it is okay not to immerse oneself in social media or that day’s cycle of the news; that it is okay to sit still for a brief moment to pause long enough for that week’s - that day’s - emotions and sensations and memories to catch up to you; and that if you fall into those emotions, sensations, and memories, and aren’t able to find your way out of them, that that is also what the community is there for - to recall you back to your core groundedness; to help you snap back into this time and this space.
That is the kind of space I hope we can cultivate during the residency - one that encourages the privilege of falling out of one’s self long enough to breathe and one that doesn’t allow its fellow travelers to fall into the privilege of amnesia. We all need a collective remembering - just to pull up and recall the hurts, the traumas that wounded us so deeply we ached the first time a retelling escaped from our lips; but the sort of remembering that lifts us back into our full and true selves, those shining spirits within us that are ever present and waiting to show us the way forward. We are our better selves, somewhere, in some untouchable time and space. This present untouchability shouldn't discourage us though - what we also have to remember is that collectively we can bring each other back into the place where we are fully known and loved, and wholly capable of living out of such knowing and loving until we are all able to recognize the better parts of ourselves in the other.
Friends, I hope you will journey with us through the InBreak Residency. This is as much our story as it is our communities’. There is no “us” without “you”. May you find enough peace and light this week to share with another. Take care to pause, to breath, to remember.