Listening at the Intersection of #metoo and #blacklivesmatter

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way
I can’t wait to look in the mirror
Cause I get better looking each day
To know me is to love me
I must be a hell of a man
Oh Lord It’s hard to be humble,
But I’m doing the best that I can.

Thank you! I’m here all year. Please remember to tip your ushers.

It may come as a great shock to some of you, but I am not perfect. It’s a problem. And it’s one that I’ve been working on.

I joke about it, but I think that, at some point, it’s not really that funny. It’s serious. For many of us, “being perfect” is a problem. For some of us, “being perfect” is a barrier to happiness and to personal satisfaction, to interpersonal relationships, to professional life.

I recently heard a minister tell me the “good news” about perfection – we are all saved. Yes. You are saved. You are saved. You are saved. We are all saved from perfection.

I suppose that’s another way of saying, we are all human beings. We are flawed. And that is not only okay; sometimes, that’s glorious.

But even as we acknowledge that “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and that our “good enough” is almost always “more than enough”, I want to hold open the possibility that there’s room for more. For growth. For learning. Not for perfection, no. But certainly there are things I don’t know and want to. Things that I don’t know and need to. Things that I don’t know, but if I did, I would be better and life would be better not just for me but for those around me.

For example — I’d like to be Captain America. Any Marvel superhero fans out there? I confess, I grew up reading comic books. In my adolescence, I believed that Captain America – or “Cap” as his friends call him – Cap had it all. Strength, respect, cheekbones, and he looked great in spandex. Cap is a man’s man. Especially in the Marvel movies, at least, Cap is confident, and daring, and always stands up for the little guy.

#metoo

If I was more like Cap, I imagine, I wouldn’t have let my boss tell blatantly sexist jokes on company conference calls. I wouldn’t have let him and his sycophants harass my female colleagues, steal their achievements, or derail their careers. I wouldn’t have stood idly by. If I was more like Cap, I would have said something.

We say that practice makes perfect, and author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that mastery comes some time after 10,000 hours of practice. I don’t have 10,000 hours of practice confronting misogyny and sexism. This is a work in progress for me.

But I bring this up here, now, for one thing because we’ve been talking about #metoo and the Supreme Court for a few weeks now, but for another, because I don’t hear a lot of guys talking about #metoo. About what they can do. About what they ought to do. And I think that is entirely unsurprising.

Being a man during #metoo is confusing. Often, I am unsure of what to say or how to say it. I’ve started with asking myself what I need to say and why I feel I need to say it. I have also combed my memory for experiences I should re-examine. I’ve looked for things that I may have done or said. Things that I may have witnessed, or times when I stood by. It’s been humbling. I’ve been, by turns, embarrassed, unsettled, angry, sad, disappointed in myself and disappointed in others.

For me, #metoo has been a time of learning.

And I wonder if this is the lesson – that right now, in this moment of our country’s long, troubled, and tumultuous history around social justice, this particular moment is just not about me.

I am white, straight, male, cis, and with the exception of allergies, asthma, and arthritis in my back, I am able-bodied. But at this moment in history, none of the indignities that I may or may not have endured are relevant because my particular constellation of identities are not in doubt or under attack.

Whatever my personal experiences are, whatever my history, whatever my burdens – this time, in the #metoo moment, is about women. Not men.

Yes, it’s true, not all men are abusers. Not all men are misogynist or sexist. Not all men are being called in to an accounting of their past. Not all men need to be.

At this time in history, it may feel good or comforting to reassure the people of our community that I one of the “good ones”. But does saying #notallmen really help anyone but me? Does it cast light on the problem or is it just me making myself less uncomfortable? My “virtue signaling” is not the point.

My role is not to “fix it” – there is no need for me to be angry on behalf of all not-male people that have suffered, or at all male people that have caused that suffering. Healing, if there is any grace to be had, will not come from hands that are closed in fists of anger ready to afflict the comfortable. Because I am not the point.

But what is the point, for a man in the #metoo moment?

The point is that there are things men can do. If you’re interested, I would be happy to share them later. But one suggestion was to make room where we can. Not to claim space – men do plenty of that — but to step back, to make space, to hold space open. Space for others. But also space for grace. Space for hope. And, if we’re lucky, space for healing.

This may sound simple, but I know that it’s not easy. I have gotten it wrong. We are going to get it wrong. But maybe we can start to get it less wrong.

Another thing? An obvious thing that men can do? Listen. But listening to women will not magically wash away our flaws, our guilt, our sin, or make us into Captain America. But, maybe, listening can be a first step.

#blacklivesmatter

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I went to high school. Looking at me now, I understand if this is difficult to imagine, but as far as I can tell, it actually did happen. I’m going to stretch your credulity a bit farther and reveal that I was an athletic kid. Very athletic. I used to do all the sports. And by sports, I mean I was a member of the chess club.

My best friend was Jay. Jay played tennis. Back then, tennis wasn’t as cool as football, or volleyball, or even water polo, but Jay was good at it. My grandfather played tennis. My uncles played tennis. I didn’t, but maybe this is why I was one of the few that thought tennis was cool. Tennis was one of the things Jay and I bonded over. That, and chess. That’s where we hung out. Chess club.

But one day, toward the end of my freshman year, another friend told a racist joke as we were leaving school. I am pretty sure I laughed. I can say that the reason that I laughed was because the teller was a cooler kid and I wanted to be liked. I can say that I laughed because I was young and dumb and didn’t know any better. But it doesn’t matter. Jay was there, in the room. Jay, my best friend. My black best friend.

Maybe if I was better, if I was Captain America, I wouldn’t have laughed. Maybe I would have said something.

Jay never said anything to me about it. In fact, he never said anything to me again. The school year ended a little while later. I didn’t realize it at the time, but our friendship ended that day in chess club. The day I didn’t say anything to that jerk that made the joke. The day I didn’t say anything to Jay. The day I never apologized. The day I laughed.

This is not my favorite memory.

I titled this sermon, “Listening at the Intersection” because it occurs to me that being white during this #blacklivesmatter moment bears more than a little resemblance to being male during the #metoo moment.

Because being white in the #blacklivesmatter moment is confusing, isn’t it? As I white person, I’m often unsure of what to say or how to say it. As with #metoo, I’ve started by asking myself what I need to say and why I feel I need to say it. I have also combed my memory for experiences I should re-examine. I’ve looked for things that I may have done or said. Things that I may have witnessed, or times when I stood by. It’s been humbling. I’ve been, by turns, embarrassed, unsettled, angry, sad, disappointed in myself and disappointed in others. This has been a time of learning.

Right now, in this moment of our country’s long, troubled, and tumultuous history around social justice, this #blacklivesmatter moment is not about me. Once again, my constellation of identities is not in doubt or in question. I am not under assault. This time, in the #blacklivesmatter moment, is about the lived experiences of the people that claim not-white identity. And those experiences are scary, disheartening, and incredible. I was born a year after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was murdered. How is it that in 50 years, we are seeing mass incarceration of generations of black adult men and arguing over the appropriateness of athletes kneeling at football games? How can it be that Nazis marched in Virginia only a year ago?

As a white person, I am appalled. I am flabbergasted. I am uncomfortable.

At this time in history, it may feel good or comforting to reassure the people of our community that I am one of the “good ones”. And it is worth remembering that not all white people are hateful. Not all white people are racist. Not all white people are being called in to an accounting of their past. But does saying #notallwhitepeople help? Not really. Because “virtue signaling” is not the point.

My role is not to claim space – the fact that I have learned is awesome. Good for me. But my voice is not one of the ones habitually silenced in our society. My sharing is not the point.

My role is not to “fix it” – I’m not there to be angry on behalf of all not-white people that have suffered, or at all the white people that have caused that suffering. Healing, if there is any grace to be had, will not come from hands closed in fists of anger ready to afflict the comfortable. I am not the point.

This is a deeply uncomfortable place to sit. As a human being. As a man. But as a white person, I feel that my role in the #blacklivesmatter movement is to make room, if I can. To hold space open. Space for grace. Space for hope. And, if I’m lucky, space for healing. Our job as white people, in those spaces once they’re open, is to listen. To be present. To witness.

There is nothing simple or easy about this. That’s also not the point.

We are going to get it wrong. I have gotten it wrong. Maybe by listening, we can start to get it less wrong. In terms of racial justice, I am — still — not a Marvel superhero. I’m wondering if you’re picking up a theme here – I’ve been wrong often in my life. And while I aspire to be better, I still have yet to log the 10,000 hours of practice that mastery may require. I am still learning.

Beloved Conversations

My seminary has a saying: “act yourself into a new way of thinking”. It’s a clever bit of reframing and the central idea is that it is through our actions that we reshape our thoughts. There is good data to back this up, and it is one of the ideas that sits behind corporate team building exercises. Human beings, after working together to attempt some difficult task will be more kind, more understanding, more sympathetic and more compassionate to those in the group. Even those they have previously disagreed with. Change in mind and heart comes through shared action.

It is with this spirit in mind that I invite you to consider joining Beloved Conversations.

For those of you hearing about it for the first time, Beloved Conversations is a congregational program that explores the issues and experiences of race in both our personal lives and in our congregational aspirations. It talks about who we are, where we come from, and who we want to be. Perhaps most importantly, it teaches skills to help us identify and begin to dismantle the consciously and unconsciously toxic elements of our shared American culture, elements that perpetuate inequality, unfairness, discrimination, and oppression.

Don’t get me wrong – Beloved Conversations will not wash away our flaws, our guilt, our sin, and I’m pretty sure it won’t make any of us into a superhero, either.

And yes, commitment to Beloved Conversations is a big ask. The kick-off retreat, led by my friend the Rev. Ashly Horan a specialist in this work, is one and half days long. There are 8 follow-up sessions that I will help lead to fulfill part of my seminary graduation requirements – these 2-hour session will be about every-other week, though we’ll do our best to schedule around the busy lives of all the participants.

That is a lot of time. Whether you think of this commitment as part of the 10,000 hours of practice required for mastery is up to you, but I think the cause is worth it. I think our community is worth it.

Our Board is committed to this project. They’ve chosen to invest in Beloved Conversations for UUCR because they believe that there are enough of us that want to learn, want to wrestle with these issues, want to make our community more open, more welcoming, more sensitive to the changes that our society must begin to make. They believe that we – all of us – can be better. I believe it, too.

We stand, today, at the crossroads of two moments — #metoo and #blacklivesmatter. As a white male, I feel particularly pulled. Maybe you are, too. I like to think that in this moment, even as a white person, even as a male person, I have a role to play. It may not be the role I am comfortable with. It may not be the role that calls on my unique gifts. But it is a role that is important. It is a role that can create change. And that is something we can do, together.

The simple fact is, I have a lot to learn. That’s why I am in seminary. And that is why I am up here, today — to ask you to learn with me.

Rabbi Tarfon, quoted in the Talmud, writes that “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

We are not perfect, in fact we are saved from perfection.

The world is also not perfect, but we are nevertheless called to make it less imperfect.

That work is what we mean by “creating Beloved Community”. But to get there, all of us need all of us to make it. That is our faith.

Let me close with these words from our Opening:

Let us be a faith that sees a vision of a better world:
More compassionate, more just, more holy,
And with more love.

Let us be the ones who do not tread lightly in this world,
but light it up with our love,
who hold up the mirror of worth and dignity,
who are the sanctuary others seek.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.