Wholeness and Race

Life has occupied my time and my blog has been neglected.  In January I was burning to write a blog: I Am Not A Burden.  I had announced my pending retirement from full-time church ministry.  There wasn’t really time for blogging.  Then the pandemic hit.  It laid bare the ugliness of able-ism and I Am Not A Burden seemed even more important, but now I was doing church, fully online and pretty much alone. I couldn’t take on more.  Then the week before my final service, an unarmed black man named George Floyd died under the knee of a white police officer.  Black lives matter. Wholeness has to address the whole person.

Radical Wholeness stands for the idea that as spiritual beings in a human body experience, our divinity expresses perfectly in each physical expression.  It doesn’t matter how the outside world judges our human form; we are an expression of spiritual wholeness.  In theory, a lot of people agree with me.  In practice we get a different story.  In theory, it should be easy to be ourselves.  Our humanity comes with a cadre of characteristics including skin color, hair texture, sexuality, gender identification, physical and mental capacities, size, shape and then there is our quirky personalities. Infants come into the world ready to just be!  As long as we feed them, change them, and love them, they can tackle the world. The difficult part of being me is being me with the endless noise of a world telling me what is wrong with being me and the me I really should be aiming for.  Most of us end up not embracing parts of our humanity based on the advice from the world around us.  Whether the advice comes from parents, teachers, peers, media—doesn’t matter.  We decide we are too—small, large, loud, shy, dumb, smart, gay, macho, girly—and we make ourselves try to fit in.  For some of us, that is impossible.  We end up disowning and disliking parts of ourselves and frankly, that separation is supported by media and often church.  We also are conditioned to judge how other people are doing at being themselves.  We judge the aspects of their humanity based on our conditioning.  We all have bias.  To say we don’t have bias is simply to deny the reality and blind our self-awareness.  If you want to check out your bias, Harvard Project Implicit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

I didn’t like the results I got.  I had bias I didn’t agree with.  I was working on it! I guess I wasn’t there yet.  Guess what other bias showed up?  I valued people with disabilities.  They didn’t see that every day in test results!  And it gave some credibility to the testing.  Here’s the thing about our human characteristics; if we are in a minority being oppressed, our oppressed characteristic seems to come to the forefront of our awareness.  And with that focus, comes some blinders to our privilege in other areas. Every characteristic in our humanity adds a layer to our experience.  Our personal view of the hierarchy of characteristics may try to minimize our privileged characteristics.  

I am a white, cis-gendered, heterosexual female, with specific disabilities of dwarfism, mild hearing loss and mobility issues. I do not know the experience of having a disability and being BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People Of Color).  I don’t know the experience of having a disability and being transgendered or being LGBTQ+.  I do understand that my experience of disability is different than that of others who have other characteristics. I understand that the way different racial groups treat disability and LGBTQ+ groups treat disability is not the same as I may experience disability.  

I first remember encountering what I came to recognize as racism when I was eight years old.  I spent ten days at a University Medical Center—having my dwarfism poked, tested and experimented with because I am different.  In those days (I like to think I’m older than I look but maybe I look that old), parents were not encouraged to visit–so mine didn’t.  I made friends with a girl my age who seemed to know a lot more about the hospital routine than I did.  We got into mischief in between tests. At the end of my incarceration (it felt like prison), I wanted to visit my new friend. I was told that was not possible.  She was black and we (my mother and step-father) didn’t go to that part of town.  Well this made no sense to me!  I like to believe I have been actively anti-racist after that.  I have spoken out against injustice.  I have taken risks with my white privilege. I have advocated for equality for race and LGBTQ+ in the spiritual, disability and dwarfism communities. We have made changes happen. And you know what?  That stupid Harvard test said I still valued whiteness.  It is something I have to be vigilant about.  I cannot deny my whiteness, my cis-gender, my heterosexuality.  I cannot pretend I have no privilege or bias just because I am oppressed based on gender or disability.

My children are POC.  They will experience a prejudice that I do not.  They have dwarfism and each of them has other disabilities I don’t.  None of us has the exact same experience and the best we can do is listen to others with empathy and act in love. 

Radical Wholeness sees the whole of our humanity and celebrates it.  Every aspect of our humanity is a different facet for the Radical Wholeness of Spirit to shine through. There is nothing in anyone’s skin color or ethnicity that diminishes the power and wholeness of the Divine within. Disability continues to be an aspect of our humanity that gains the least amount of attention and wields the least amount of political power.  Radical Wholeness will continue to be mainly about the intersection of spirituality and disability.  In this moment, however, we are all called to witness our racial bias and advocate for justice and equality.  We are all called to demand training and equipping law enforcement to serve and protect in a way that honors the humanity of all. We must all vote and be accountable for our justice system. We are called to lift up the Black voices and listen with open hearts for what is ours to do.   

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