Overhearing: A Reflection on NEXT Church National Conference 2020
I need to share five distinct moments at the 2020 NEXT Church National Gathering in Cincinnati. After I share them I’ll do some dot-connecting between them, but only some, because I need to sit in a bit…and, apropos of these thoughts, I cannot connect the dots FOR you. But enough of that; sit for a moment while I tell a couple of stories. All of the quotes are not word for word as they were said, but as I recall them.
I was excited about hearing again from Dr. Miguel De La Torre, Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology. Full disclosure: I was on the Speaker Team and was adamant from the beginning that we needed him in Cincinnati. We needed his provocation and nuancing of how to allow hope to function in our witness. I have written about that at the NEXT blog, so I needn’t say more here. I knew I was going to like his talk. But what I want to recall most for this moment is when he said “I’m not talking to you. You are not the audience for this conversation. I’m here to talk to the margins of this assembly…and the rest of you are allowed to overhear that conversation.”
BOOM…a drum sounds down my spine.
I also went to his talk on the hopelessness of the border crisis. The whole history lesson of banana republics and gunboat diplomacy was essential and powerful, but this is the quote for the moment: “I will vote in November. But what happens there will not change much. The current policies at the border are not Trump policies, they are Obama policies. And even if we elect Sanders in November he will still work to prop up the Empire.”
BOOM…a drum sounds in my veins.
I signed up for a walking tour of Cincinnati for my second workshop. I didn’t go. Two of my favorite people in the world (Amy Miracle and Amy Starr Redwine) were leading a workshop, Pastoring While Being Female, and lamented that no men signed up. I reflected that it didn’t seem appropriate for us to do so; but if they really wanted someone to, I would go. I introduced myself as “Intensely Uncomfortable” not because I cannot handle being a single male in a room of twenty-two women but because I felt like an invasion of patriarchy in THEIR space. (And let’s be clear: I was no minority in that space…but I have written before about being the majority of one and you can find those thoughts elsewhere.) But it was powerful (and uncomfortable) for me to sit in that space and hear about the challenges and opportunities of pastoring while female. One of my favorite workshops ever.
BOOM…a drum sounds in my gut.
I attended a question-and-answer session for the Antiracism audit that NEXT Church has been engaged in. Jessica Vasquez Torres (of Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training) reminded us that this work is not about if but about where and how. Our organizations will be propping up WHITENESS…even if, and maybe particularly when, a foundational principle is dismantling it. Denise Anderson, NEXT Church Strategy team member and all around badass Christian, in the midst of a larger more important point said “There is no space I enter in which I am not having to interpret my blackness to WHITENESS.”
BOOM…BOOM…BOOM…BOOM…BOOM…sounds in my body.
The body that tells me where I belong…and where I do not (thanks, Troy Bronsink of The Hive in Cincinnati, for that language) even when my head knows that the systems of this world bequeathed me belonging almost everywhere even when I do nothing to earn that trust—and even when I do everything to earn distrust. That is the nature of my power in the POWER world of WHITENESS.
During a couple of NEXT church conferences in a row I have heard white people like me…hell, I have even said: ‘If you aren’t here to speak to me, why be here??’
Wow. It is ALL about me.
And guess what? Other than a very small handful of people, every disciple of Jesus became so because they had to overhear conversations for which they were not the intended audience. I have always been the intended audience…of EMPIRE…of the WORLD I walk in…of the CHURCH.
This makes me not a disciple of Jesus but a disciple of the Church, the World, and Empire.
I needed the disassociation that happened last week. I needed the “Hello, My Name is ‘Intensely Uncomfortable’” of the last week. I needed the awareness that progressive and liberal are not “get-out-of-jail-free cards” to WHITENESS and PATRIARCHY and institutional systemic totalizing depravity (thank you, Jessica Vasquez Torres, for that language) that make me be the very thing I wish never to be…and mostly ignorant of the when, where, and how I am doing it.
I need to sit now. Sit in my body and listen to the drumming. And interpret. And ask. And watch. And overhear. And dis-place. And dis-comfort. And dis-disciple. From a lot.
Not for the first time. Not for the last time. For the NEXT time…