Questions for the Week:
Alexandra Zareth, Associate for Leadership Development and Recruitment of Leaders of Color
Companion Guide to the Commitment to Peacemaking
Questions for the Week:
Alexandra Zareth, Associate for Leadership Development and Recruitment of Leaders of Color
Companion Guide to the Commitment to Peacemaking
Simon Doong: Hello, and welcome to a Matter of Faith, a Presby Podcast. The podcast where we respond to your questions and comments on issues of faith, social justice, and church life. Don't be afraid to write in and ask your question, because if it matters to you, it matters to us. And it just might be a matter of faith.
Lee Catoe: Whether it be faith in God, faith in others or faith in yourself. We are brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and unbound the interactive Journal on Christian social justice. For the Presbyterian church USA. I am your host, Lee Catoe.
Simon Doong: And I’m your host Simon Doong.
Lee Catoe: Without further ado let's dive into today's questions.
Simon Doong: Our first question for today is written in and it's kind of a serious topic some congregation members voice concerns when I mentioned racism and white supremacy in my sermon. How should I handle the situation? first of all I want to say that's a really like deep topic it's very serious and it's really important that racism and white supremacy is being mentioned in the pulpit because challenging this you know sort of the status quo is really important, and it needs to come from pastors and leaders in our in our communities. I think that one of the one of the biggest reasons people might experience pushback when they're talking about issues of racism and white supremacy is probably from folks who maybe aren't expecting to hear that kind of a message in church and they're not quite sure about maybe the relationship between church and politics and church and social issues. And so, probably the best way to engage with folks about that is to ask them “Well, where where do you think that conversation should be held? If it's not in church, where should where should it be?” And always be asking questions about their thoughts on things in order to get a better understanding of where they're coming from and you might find that maybe they're just uncomfortable because they've just never heard that message from particular place. They might need a little bit of a push. Lee, what do you think?
Lee Catoe: Yeah, I’ve actually had this happen to me in a lot of the work that I've done when it comes to congregational ministry. I think that, especially in rural areas, but also, I don't want to like just isolate rural areas, this happens in progressive churches too and cities this happens everywhere. Because when you talk about racism, when you talk about white supremacy, no matter how progressive you are, especially as a as a white person, you are triggered in some ways, because this is not necessarily a thing you want to talk about. And I think one of the big questions, we should ask ourselves, I think, within congregational ministry is how do we provide spaces of discomfort for congregants and for people in the church. And I do think it also takes kind of, it takes knowing about what the national church also says on this subject because the national church has always been very upfront that racism and white supremacy are sin. And I do think having a backing of a national body does help in this, and there's also resources out there for it, so if I were to offer any kind of words to this person, I think it would be to really delve into the resources that are provided, because I think education really does help, but I also think really having conversations with congregations it's it's going to take more than a sermon. It's going to take more than just something that has been proclaimed and not followed up, so I think offering any ways of education, I think, offering any ways of space for storytelling and how Members are feeling about the subject of racism and white supremacy because, because that is something that is it's it's going to come up and we've experienced this all throughout these these years of really coming to terms with there that we are dealing with very racially injust systems in our world, and I think having conversations that this is, we should be having these kinds of conversations in the Church, because it is backed up, not only by policy but also scripture and I think delving into scripture as well, through this lens to a more educational space.
Simon Doong: Yeah, I think that another sort of major question that sometimes comes up when talking about tough issues, particularly from the pulpit is people asking the question, “You know, why do we have to talk about this?” or “Why do we have to talk about this now?” you know “Why can't we just focus on loving each other and focus on, you know, being together and on love?” And I think that church is about love, faith is about love, but the truth is that speaking out and taking action to challenge a system that hurts and exploits our siblings of color is probably one of the most powerful acts of love that we can do as Christians. And so finding a way to communicate that in a non-threatening way to folks and think about how their faith should be compelling us to challenge systems of power and oppression is really important.
Lee Catoe: Yeah, I think having also having a system of people, a group of people that are also in ministry helps a lot to have these types of conversations with and I know that's really hard in more isolated areas, but I do think that yeah even in those places to cultivate a lot of relationships that you can go to when this is hard not saying I mean this is one of the hardest things that I think people incarnation on ministry are going through, is really reckoning, not only with their own ways in which they perpetuate racism and white supremacy, but how the Church has done that, as well, and I think that's another conversation that has to be had because right now, I know we're going through these conversations of unity and reconciliation, and this is type of work that we hope to do in the world. But I think it takes it takes conversations of accountability. It takes conversations of repentance and really doing that work to move into a life of reconciliation, because it's not just going to happen with a snap and it's not going to happen fully if we don't do that. So yeah whoever sent in this question, I think, is asking a question that many people in the church are really wrestling with and should be. Yeah it's that challenge of delicately trying to encourage people to grow, while also figuring out how to meet them where they are. But like you said, bring them into that area of discomfort in conversation and there are resources out there to help and that. But I do think it takes kind of a consistency. It takes building up that resistance, which I think is hard, especially for white people to build because the fragility is there. There's all sorts of feelings that come along with that, that a lot of white people need to deal with. But I do think within leadership, I wish there was some sort of way to build up, to be taught have a level of resistance that, and some people say it's a thicker skin, but I I don't know if that's the right term for that, but I do think it is going to take that type of resilience to really make a difference in these settings and I think it needs to be more than sermons again.
Simon Doong: What would you say, are some of those other sort of complimentary and supplementary actions that help engage people outside of just having conversations with regards to issues around racism and white supremacy?
Lee Catoe: Some of the main things, I mean obviously you can you can read books. There, I mean there's tons of books out there to educate ourselves. But I always say that that when we're dealing with people and we're right now we're talking in the Presbyterian context, which I think is a lot of heady stuff, you know, you think you think a lot of Presbyterians think they can think their way out of things, but I do think this is like soul transformation that is going on. It is soul work that we have to do, and so, with that comes increasing empathy. I think it is increasing that, that feeling that, when something is done to someone else that it really is like a visceral gut punch and that it is because your fellow human is suffering, and that is why you want to get in to be into this work and to do this, and I think that's way more than than reading it and going into educational settings to deal with this. I do think it is building empathy which means putting yourself out there. It also means that sometimes you're gonna be wrong and you're going to be told you're wrong. And how do you handle that and how do you readjust your life so that it's gonna be taking a backseat. Yeah it's not going to be going into places and taking over. It's gonna be being led by people of color. It's gonna be really listening and it's and being a partner in work instead of leading in work, and I think that is also the next step in that because we can't just let it be books and books studies and things of that nature. We really have to also start talking about the spiritual side and the emotional side of this ton of work.
Simon Doong: Yeah, it's like you were saying sort of. Ending racism and white supremacy isn't going to be done, or won just by winning over people's heads. Yeah, you've got to win their hearts and their spirits as well and that takes a lot of time and a lot of work to be able toTo be able to do.
Lee Catoe: So, we have another question sent in, and this is kind of relevant to us, specifically in this podcast. “I am a young person and I don't feel that the older people in my church listen to me when I speak up. What should I do?” Simon, what should they do?
Well as a You know, as you just said, we are both young people. This question is very relatable. I think that first thing to do, as a young person, is just sort of take stock and, you know, you're you're clearly you're trying to be active in your church. Hopefully you're not alone, though there are congregations out there, with just a few young people because that's just the reality of the Presbyterian denomination right now. If you're trying to be active and people aren't listening, try to find someone who is in leadership who you can you can get their ear and sometimes that's the hardest part, is just getting that first person to hear you out and express your ideas or your concerns and we were talking about sort of discomfort earlier, that's something that's that's hard, especially as a young person to go up to someone who is in a position of power or leadership or is very respected, possibly by other members of your church community and sort of say what's on your heart, because if they're if they're you know living, if they're good Christians, they should listen to you. They may not agree with everything they might be slow to respond, but that's that that first step. And if you if you are really concerned about it also see if there are other young people in your church who feel the same way, because if there's many people that feel the same way, that a that's a more powerful voice than than just one person.
Lee Catoe: Yeah, and this is a always, like to think, like an overarching theme, in this and and it's, not just in churches, I do think it's it's within, it's a cultural thing as well. You know your age is directly proportional to your experience and since you're young you don't you have an experienced a lot and your your opinions may be less value than those who have been with us longer, I like to say older, but I think who have experienced or they think they've experienced more than you. But I also think that young people are experiencing so much right now. I look back when I was younger, that, the things that were accessible to me are not necessarily accessible to younger folks now that information is so easily accessible, things are happening at a more rapid pace, specifically in the past several years. We have just had one event on top of the other every day. It's been like a quote news breaking news day every day. And so you're consuming so much, and I think young people are experiencing a lot now, specifically when it comes to pandemic. They’re not with their friends. They may be virtual learning and the mental health of young people are suffering, right now, and I think coming up against your age. It's like a reverse ageism. And it's really interesting because young people are doing such good things. We need to have a conversation about the young people in our church. That we are valuable that we have ideas that are valuable. And that what we say matters, and I do think that that that is a huge step when specifically in a context that we're in a church, that is always about young people. That wants to get young people in that is a it's kind of like, ”How do the conversations always asks how do we get young people?” but when you don't listen to them, young people are smart enough to know where they are listened to and where their input is valued. And if it's not valued in a space, we're not going to spend a lot of energy to get you to listen to us. We're just going to go find people who will listen to us. I think that is my advice here if that's what we're doing: find people who will listen to you. And I think we always have to ask that question how much energy are we going to spend.
But I do think it is finding yeah finding people who value your voice, but also challenging the people who don't and in ways that are healthy for you.
Simon Doong: And sometimes it's it's actually hardest to to to get people to see you differently, especially if this is the congregation you grew up in. And they're used to seeing you as that, you know, as that young, as that child when you first walked into those church doors, but now you're you know, you've grown into yourself. You're more independent, you've got a lot more ideas, you've got a lot of questions. And they're probably, just it's hard for them to get over hh, there you know, this is not, this is not, you're not a child anymore. Something else I would add to that is when you do have that conversation about “Oh, I want to be more involved or I have a question, I have ideas.” Don't allow yourself as a young person to be pigeonholed into the roles that older folks tend to want to position young people into. You know not not all young people are tech savvy. That's just the truth. Like, we might, some of us might have a Twitter, we might have an Instagram but it doesn't necessarily mean we're social media gurus. Some people are and that's great and maybe that's a gift that you bring to the congregation, to the Church. But you like, they bring a whole lot of other gifts and talents as well and sell that because there are gifts and talents that they may not even know they need until suddenly they're looking to do something and there you are.
Lee Catoe: So now, I think it's time for us to move on to a question that we invite a guest to come on to talk about. So I think it's time to turn it over to our guest.
Simon Doong: And joining us today as a special guest is Alexandra Zareth, the associate for leadership development and recruitment of leaders of color in the PC USA. Alex thanks for being with us.
Lee Catoe: So welcome Alex we're really glad you're here and your question for today is: “As a person of color in the PC USA, I've noticed a lack of opportunity for my voice to be heard when opportunities do arise, I want to take advantage of them. But I also don't want to be token eyes or take space away from other leaders of color who might not have been offered the opportunity. So how do I navigate this space?” So Alex, what do you have to say?
Listen child of God, I hear you and I think this is a great question to wrestle with and actually I hear two questions: one is about being token eyes and the other is about taking space. So, first of all, I will say for anyone thinking right now, “That's not my issue. I'm not a person of color.” This is actually about recognizing your full identity, so it applies to everyone. I will start by saying it is vital to really think through your own identity and what it is that could be labeled what could be tokenized, so that you just know it ahead of time. Right? If you are gay, if you are able bodied, if you are from the Midwest, whatever, all of these parts of you are your identity. And that's a possible label that could be given to you, and so, at some point might they change? Sure. And could they you know you will accept them, and you will do, whatever, fine totally fine, but knowing your fullness of self is the absolute first step to showing up well. Showing up with awareness of your full identity is important because you want to know what you bring yourself intentionally and be what others could bring for you. Again, the difference between what you bring yourself intentionally and what others could bring for you. This awareness is the key for you to hold on to the power of writing the narrative yourself. This is your narrative, you write it. If you know how you want to show up and what you want out of showing up to these opportunities, then you will show up with integrity, you will show up with your fullness. And when you are tokenized, and I think a lot of us will be at some point. I think that is inevitable, I think that we will feel discomfort, so it's about developing a practice that allows me to feel the discomfort but discern where it's coming from so it might uncomfortable because I am being stretched out of my comfort zone or am I uncomfortable because i'm being put in a box? Both feel uncomfortable. But with awareness comes choice. With awareness, I can learn to say things like I do not speak for all women when I say or, I do not want spicy food, even though I am Mexican right.
I can say those statements. No one needs to be offended. I embrace my full identity, and I will not let shame or discomfort of anybody else's with my identity, whether it is gender or sexual orientation or social location. All of who I am, I have chosen to bring it and others ability or lack of to embrace it will not affect my choice and ability to show up fully.
You do not have time and you should not make time to be troubled by the small minds of some people who cannot separate you from their stereotype.
That is just simply not your battle. It is not worth your time, it is not your job to educate these people.
Can you? If you choose to educate people about it, that is your choice. But let it be your choice and not a reaction. That's what I think. So know how you want to show up, know what you want out of opportunities that emerged, for you know that maybe you don't need certain opportunities that do converge for you. Embrace that power to say no. Embrace the power to say, you know what I think so so would be really good for this. Just hold on to that power to write your own narrative you know.
A very powerful question that no one asked me until I was about 25 or maybe 30 was “How does that serve you?” and I was like, what no, that sounded so selfish. I was like “No, no I'm supposed to serve others. It’s not the other way around.” But what we learned from scripture is that, indeed, we are uniquely gifted and uniquely called to serve a purpose and work with others. But when we're working in alignment of values, when we have that alignment, you know values of like learning are experiencing creating loving growing, whatever the values may be.
When we are in alignment, it does mutually serve, it is absolutely a win, win. Yes, hese moments do exist, so don't feel bad.
Don't feel bad if there's an opportunity to serve on the GA committee or attend ecumenical advocacy days and it just doesn't feel like something you need right now, that's fine.
That's actually great. I think it's great because you know that information and now you're making an informed decision, and that is vital. There are definitely times when I think we need to recognize when our particular gift fits a particular need right, and so, and if there's that alignment then let's do it, right, because that is what service is. For example, I serve on an advisory board of a nonprofit where I'm fairly sure, the only thing I actually bring to the meetings is taking notes.
And I take notes at all my meetings, because it helps me process information, that means I heard it and I wrote it, so there’s a much better chance of me remembering things, and so I show up to these meetings, I take the notes, I give it to them. Now, they have minutes, why is that good? Because I love the organization. And that organization left to their own devices will go on many tangents and they will never lose, you know, they'll always lose track of time and never find notes.
And so it's a literal win, win. Right? It's mutually serving and works.
Friends, you do not need to say yes to everything. You do not need to eat everything on your plate. You do need to know your values, values for your life and values for your work and you need to know how you want to use your energy.
You do need to embrace your full identity and write down your narrative and put boundaries where they are needed and break down boundaries that are not needed. Right? Break them down to whatever you need to do in order to help your soul thrive.
I really think that you, that we all need to have a life mission statement, and I think it needs to be edited and regularly, I think that we need to compare opportunities and relationships y'all.
To these statements, so that we see is their alignment. Is it right for me? Friends take care of yourselves. Take care of you in a way that honors the truth of who you are, which is the apple of god's eye.
Simon Doong: Thank you Alexandra for that wonderful and really insightful response. We really appreciate you appearing on the podcast and we hope to have you on as a guest again soon, so thanks so much for that so. Now we're going to move on to our next segment in which we spotlight, a key and very relevant Presbyterian church USA resource or policy. And the resource that we want to call your attention to today is the companion guide to the commitment to peacemaking.
So quick background, the commitment to peacemaking was established and adopted back in the 1980s by the denomination and since then over 4000 congregations have a firm commitment to peacemaking.
And they became peacemaking congregations and this companion guide is a recently least resource from the Presbyterian peacemaking program to help congregations live out their peacemaking witness and it outlines a process that congregations can use in order to address a social justice issue that that really matters to them. So it outlines ways that congregations can try to engage engage in and address issues of. Poverty violence, racism, climate change and immigration/migration and how to take their witness from a process of study all the way to direct action advocacy.
While utilizing and incorporating a lot of the methods that that we as Presbyterians already use such as worship, spiritual grounding, reflection, community building and partnership, study and, obviously, again, resulting in direct action and advocacy.
And so the companion guide is a great resource for say, congregations that are thinking about you know, the question that we addressed first about racism. It provides a lot of resources and ways for your congregation to start engaging in that conversation.
All of the resources that are in the companion guide have been curated by staff of the Presbyterian church USA or partners and so it's a great resource that that we'd really like to recommend and that's available on the on the PC USA website or at Presbyterian mission.org and we'll be sure to have that link in the in the show notes as well.
Yeah, it's one of those resources that I enjoy because it's a culmination of a lot of things and I think in many ways it's very accessible. I mean it has things in the book of confessions, it has hymns and which, if you are really like the worship angle to this because a lot of times in these types of conversations when it comes to justice work, social justice issues, we often overlook how worship and those things intersect, and so this is a great resource to kind of get that conversation started within that context that talks about yeah hymns that can be used. Again talk about our confession’s brief statement of faith and things like that that really do help, but in a worship setting to kind of you to kind of really speak to that intersection of our faith and justice.
Simon Doong: Yeah, when we were putting in the guide together, one of the the key points was that worship is actually at the center of the of this process. Because worship intersects with all aspects of congregational life and advocacy and action and so yeah, thanks for pointing that out.
Also, just want to remind folks that a when you go through the guide everything is hyperlinks so anything that is in there you can click on it, and you can get to the recommended resource and find it so it really can be a one stop shop for going and finding good resources. But it's also not just a list, it's actually a guide and we hope that you take advantage of it.
Simon Doong: This has been the matter of faith podcast brought to you by the Presbyterian peacemaking program and unbound if you would like to submit a question for discussion, you can do so at faith podcast at PC usa.org. We look forward to hearing from you.
See you next time see you next time y'all.
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