Saturday, June 4, 2011

Circles, Stories and Processing Privilege


Privilege is not a bad word but a gift, I felt reminded today while I was vacuuming. I believe in “owning privilege” but probably don’t practice this very well; especially in the most recent season of my life when I have been steeped in some of the local realities of poverty and oppression.

Also I have felt a bit out of touch with the ways that I am privileged in recent months because of unexpected challenges in our day to day circumstances. The problem with being out of touch with my privilege is that it makes it harder for me to live in a place of gratitude.

I was confronted with my privilege this week when some of the work that I have been involved in was featured in a local newspaper article. It wasn’t the biggest deal in the world, but it made me think of people who work tirelessly for family and community and there work goes unnoticed, uncelebrated. I didn’t think of this immediately. My initial thoughts when the idea of having our work celebrated through a ribbon cutting ceremony was brought forward were of resistance. I felt personally that the goals of my participation in promoting community gardens as a space for meaningful engagement where yet still so far out of reach that such an event seemed like the wrong priority. I have a dream of engaging youth who are experiencing various challenges in urban agriculture as a way to increase wellness and success. With all the hard work that people have volunteered, I still feel that there is a long way to go.

How do you live in a place of gratitude while circumstances are far from ideal and actually very broken? I feel like this is Spirituality 101 in almost every tradition and belief system. But I think we all at least feel the tension in some capacity. In my faith tradition, we are taught that the starting point cannot be one of the condition or circumstance, but rather of the reality of a loving Creator that holds all things together.

Carl Jung is a teacher/thinker that I appreciate and he talks about holding together the “tension of the opposites” and uses the example of the mandala where duality is replaced and opposites are held in supportive union. I find myself and I’m probably not alone in this having to hold together many opposing “energies”/or strong feelings. I guess the temptation for me is to pick one over the other: Poverty versus privilege, rage versus love, anger versus peace, hate versus acceptance. The reality is that I am poor, enraged, experience hatred and anger. I am also privileged, in love, at peace and more and more moving into a place of acceptance.

I think when I have habitually chosen my poverty above my privilege, I feel isolated and undernourished. And I am less likely to do this in the season that I am living out right now, but when I pick my privilege over my poverty, I am likely to become judgemental, unintuitive and cold hearted.

We are all poor and privileged in different ways. But can I be both?

I don’t think the answer is balance, in fact I have come to hate that word, it is mathematical utopia and unnatural to me (just my opinion). What is balance? I cannot exist in a placid equilibrium, I can only exist here on this great garden called earth, a place of snow storms and floods, and sunny days, and gentle breezes, and only God knows which of those you’re going to get, depending on where you were born and where you travel to. My prayer is that in my joureny I would come across mandalas and the medicine wheels. That I would find a healing circle, and be reminded that the Creator holds all things together in the palms of his hands.

Not very surprisingly I am very experiential in my spiritual expressions and needs. And I tell you, I strongly dislike rows of pews. I love prayer circles and sharing circles. A circle means that we are all in this together, that there is no time restriction and that you can dance, cry and be seen and be heard.

I was reading about the history of African American Spirituals that were a way of worship during slavery. How the slaves would attend bush meetings and form circles where they would move and dance in spontaneous expressive worship. In an effort to de-Africanize slaves, they were forbidden to meet in circles and were forced to worship in pews to restrict movement. When reading these stories I felt that circles are for especially meaningful in seasons of struggle when the need for each other is deeply felt, and when you need to wail, and beat your suffering into a drum, wave your arms and speak in tongues. And leave feeling a sense of gratitude.

I have had the poverty and privilege of being involved in a community process that will hopefully promote much needed cultural circles of support in local African immigrant communities.

Anyway, while I was vacuuming, I fel awakened to my privilege. One of my greatest privileges is in my ability to tell my story. Here in this blog and in other spaces, it gives me voice and is empowering. On a global scale and even on a local scale I am relatively and incredibly wealthy. All my most basic needs are met and my son’s basic needs are met. I have a hard working partner. I have love in my life. I have inherited from my parents a love for scholarship and an ability to think well. What I lack in emotional regulation is made up for in passion. I have access to technology and feel empowered to create change in my community. I have citizenship in a stable country. I have an international upbringing and a good education, I have a patient and good Creator.

1 comment:

  1. Addendum:

    I used the term "choose poverty/privilege" in this post and what I meant is to own, to identify with, to acknowledge one's poverty and privilege and not to imply that we have a choice typically in weather we are poor or privileged. Also when I say that "We are all poor and privileged in different ways" it is in the understanding that there are people that live in such absolute poverty that affects their holistic wellness, and others whose existence is one of having much of their primary and higher level needs met. It is not to suggest that we are all somehow equal in our experience of poverty and privilege. Just a note of clarification!

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