Thursday, March 30, 2017

MIC Clergy Luncheon on Diversity and Inclusion

“If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.” 
~Neil Lenane

Last week I attended one of Marin Interfaith Council’s monthly clergy meetings.  I learn a lot at these meetings, not so much about religio-spiritual stuff as much as about organization, institutionalization, healthy and dysfunctional groups and how some institutions work towards healing community.  Also about lots of social justice issues – immigration, capital punishment, war, teen suicide, LGBTQ concerns, domestic violence, et al.

MIC is mostly white folks, reflecting the demographic of our locale.  We solicit and welcome as much diversity as our region has.  Yet we are aware of the limitations that our relative homogeneity might present.

 This meeting addressed our assumptions and behavior around diversity and inclusion.  To that end, we had a presenter from the San Francisco & Marin YWCA.  The Y’s motto is “eliminating racism/empowering women.” Human Resources at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation says:

The foundation has come to understand that diversity and inclusion are about the experiences staff members have while they work here and how all of our actions influence the work environment, from learning about and celebrating our differences to addressing structural barriers that perpetuates inequalities.  [Emphasis in original.]

Presenter Laura Eberly brought “a strength-based lens and motivational interviewing technique to group and individual cultural competency development.” 

Laura provided an Inclusion Inventory for us to consider when evaluating our own cultural literacy and attitudes.  She took us through five stages of evolution to help us understand some of our unconscious assumptions that tend to separate us from others.

The first, Denial, applies to missing the differences.  Sometimes privileged people say to themselves, “I don’t have to be concerned about ‘that’.”  She also pointed out that “passing” is a minimization.  Perhaps some seek to “pass” for reasons of safety; however, if they feel unsafe, we need to work towards a society where instead of seeking safety by passing, everyone feels safe and accepted, welcome and included.

The second, Polarization, seeks to judge our differences.  Polarization reinforces and affirms stereotypes, even while acknowledging our diversity.  It can put us in an oppositional stance, which is good for no one.

Minimization de-emphasizes difference.  In my view, this attitude makes our world bland, colorless, lacking vibrancy and nuance.  It’s also trivializing.

Reaching the level of Acceptance means that we understand differences.  This enriches our cultural competence.  We’re not yet where we want to be, but nearing that goal.

Finally, Adaptation bridges difference.   Bridging difference, finding common ground, allows us to work together with trust and respect.  Bridging brings the greater resources of everyone included.  Lessons, customs, talents, ideas from everyone who wishes to contribute give us a richness and pool of resources and ideas we wouldn’t otherwise have.  Working together presents a stronger force with which to resist oppression and foster positive change for everyone.

Certainly as Pagan and Witchen religious expression has diversified, it behooves us to look towards how others address and resolve these issues.  I would like to see us explore this subject in more depth within our own diverse and inclusive Pagan communities.

In service to Coventina,

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Not in Our Town: A Light in the Darkness

I attended the film/discussion of “Not in Our Town: A Light in the Darkness” at the Troy Interfaith Group’s January 9th meeting. The Troy group exists in the somewhat upscale community about 3 or 4 suburbs North of Detroit. I worked there for almost 5 years in the early ‘80s – Reagan ruled! It was a very white, snobby/entitled work experience for me. More recently Troy had a mayor in the last 10 or so years who was incredibly vitriolic about gay rights and mass transit bringing more Blacks and minorities to the city. 

But that has changed in more recent years. It is great to see that Troy has become much more tolerant and diverse. The Troy Interfaith group represents a wide range of faiths, both mono and multi theistic, and the emphasis seems to be more empowering and flexible for laypersons, clearly represented at the formal board meetings. There is also a greater and diverse ‘outer court’ if you will, around the Troy group’s meetings and events. Troy Interfaith has monthly open meetings and usually an event afterwards that can be considered an in-service,  or calls to volunteering opportunities and more. Troy Interfaith Group has a visible and engaged amount of Hindu and other Near Eastern folk. 

Detroit has always been known as a highly diverse metro region. The city of Troy seems to have a more professional and upscale population that includes doctors and other medical professions of Hindu communities that live here. So this evening’s film and discussion was pertinent especially in the days and weeks since the national election.

This PBS documentary, the fifth of its kind is in 60 and 27-minute versions. Not In Our Town, an actual movement to address hate and bullying and to build more inclusive communities has been organizing since 1995 and began through churches and other faith-based organizations. Schools and other organizations around the states have joined the project and the movement has brought together many stakeholders in issues such as local media, agencies, elected officials, labor representatives and more.

“Light in the Darkness” concerns the spiritual and functional evolution of a community driven to great crisis by the attack and murder of a local Ecuadoran immigrant Marcelo Lucero in a small town in Suffolk County, NY. Though the attack took place in 2008 and this film was finally produced in 2012 there is still quite a lot for many people to think about in the recent months since the election. This showing was early January but already people of many races and faiths, in a community known for its upscale aspects, have seen the need to educate themselves and organize against the hate portrayed here.

What I am seeing is that in a community as diverse as the Metro Detroit community has always been that Interfaith and its associates are now considering organization and possible activism, in much the same manner of decades past, the ‘60s with the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam movements, back to the struggle for Workers and Women’s rights in the ‘20s.  In the Troy group, during the discussion after the film, many people waited patiently to get their question or comment aired. Everyone was moved and strongly by the film as it chronicled several years of the aftermath of Lucero’s murder. All for the good, as the film series, Not in Our Town demonstrates, but not without a great deal of soul-searching and the need and necessity of both forgiveness and redemption.

There was not enough time for everyone to speak for clearly the crowd was more than expected with at least a dozen people standing in the back. Troy Interfaith Group moves their monthly meetings around their sizable city; this one was in a meeting room at the Troy Police Station, who has significant outreach and representatives with the group. There were some snacks and light refreshment before, during and after the program. As I attended the meeting before the film, I was warmly welcomed by a group of about 10 folks who represented the shades of Christian, Muslim and Judaism as well as a couple of the Hindu faith.  Later on during the film I noted quite a spread of age, gender and nationality amongst the attendees.  The Detroit area also has a large amount of Latino communities and some do live in Troy, which has become quite diverse from the time I knew it 30 and more years ago.  For many reasons, the Troy group seems poised to make a lot of noise about this issue and perhaps many others that are now becoming more challenging since the results of November’s election. While Michigan went to Mr. Trump, that divide is clearly reflected in the Southeast part of the state the most. Parts of the Detroit area may have moved towards the Republican ideology (with the help of the Nation’s most gerrymandered districts), but there is a great resistance forming in both groups like Detroit Jews for Justice, who’ve I reported on before, and the Troy Interfaith Group.

In Her Service,  Oberon ~ National Interfaith Representative