The Wake Up Call I'd Been Conveniently Ignoring
Five years ago, I had an awakening. It sounds a bit dramatic...it was.
I was raised in a conservative Christian family. Sunday church was the backdrop of my childhood and adolescence. Its dogma, values and rhetoric, mirrored by the conservative pundits I grew up listening to on the radio every morning as I got ready for school in my parents' bathroom, shaped my beliefs about myself, others and the world.
The paradoxical nature of the God and Jesus I grew up with confused me, but, as I was taught to be dutiful, obedient and faithful, I never questioned the beliefs I was being fed. (note- the following are examples of the belief system taught by the fundamentalist church I grew up in. I know that there are plenty of Christians out there who have more expanisve views).
God was unconditionally loving, but he also judged people harshly and punished them for their "sins," so while we should love him, we should simultaneously fear him.
Jesus loved all people, but if you were gay, that was a "sin."
We were "all God's children," except for those who didn't accept Jesus as their Savior. Those people, unfortunately, would burn in hell for eternity.
Jesus valued "all people," and came with a message of inclusivity, but only one group of people's values were "right": Christians. Everyone else was a "sinner" and therefore would be ostracized for eternity.
None of this made any sense to me, but I bought into it. I went to Christian summer camp every summer from the time I was 9 years old, was heavily involved in my church's youth group, volunterred through church missions, was part of a small group that met weekly to study the Bible and prayed at length every night before bed as to not "miss" any "sin" I'd committed which necessitated forgiveness.
Being a "Christian" was the central part of my identity. And, while I didn't realize it at the time, so was being a "conservative." The qualities I embodied were as paradoxical as the guiding dogma that informed them- I was loving and empathic, but simultaneously judgmental, a perfectionist who did everything by the book who secretly longed to rebel, a person who was open to growth and self-reflection but whose closed-minded inner world had the confinement of a prison.
It was five years ago when I realized that underlying my beliefs- my sense of self, my sense of others and my sense of the world- was one predominant emotion: Fear.
Fear of doing something "wrong." Fear of being a bad person. Fear of not being "good enough." Fear of going to hell. Fear that I wasn't a "good Christian." Fear of not being liked. Fear of not being loved. Fear that deep down inside, something was terribly wrong with me.
I realized that my beliefs were completely out of line with who I really was and that a big part of the struggles I'd had in my adult life, including a debilitating eating disorder, anxiety, substance abuse, and infertility, was the cognitive dissonance I'd embodied since I was a young girl sitting in Sunday school feeling confused, but being too afraid to speak up.
Out of this realization came a profoundly spiritual awakening that resulted in being able to release my paradoxical and confining religious and political beliefs and being able to understand that when you strip everything away, the most important question we can ask ourselves is:
Am I operating out of fear or am I operating out of love?
Out of fear comes anger, indignance, shame, aggression, passive-aggressive behaviors, withdrawing, withholding, judgment, all or nothing thinking, defensiveness, stubbornness, shutting down, acting out, exclusion, rage and a closed mindset.
Out of love comes openness, empathy, curiosity, compassion, humility, trust, forgiveness, understanding, being able to really listen and hold space for others, being accepting of others, being non-judgmental, being willing to learn, being inclusive and having a flexible mindest.
The awakening involved a deep understanding that we are ALL connected. It allowed me to fully let go of my conservative Christian identity, one that I'd been in the process of shedding, and fully step into and integrate the beliefs I knew to be true: that there is no "one way" to experience God, that there is no "one" belief system that is "right," that everyone is entitled to his or her own experiences, that there is no reason to judge and, most importantly, that there is room for EVERYONE.
I'd lived most of my life hiding behind my fear, living inside such strict parameters, trying to reconcile the narrow, fear-based view of the world I'd been taught with the more expansive view that felt true, but struggling to officially let go of my false self.
Once I gave myself persmission to release that fear and its accompanying belief system, I began to experience a deeper level of empathy, trust and security and ironically a much deeper sense of spirituality. I began to finally feel like I was living in line with who I really was.
The death of George Floyd and the subsequent events of the past two weeks have led to a second awakening, one whose alarm bell I'd conveniently ignored. Prior to his death, I had never thought about the difference between being "against racism" and being "anti-racist." I'd always considered myself "against racism," even when I held conservative beliefs. I see now that being "against racism" is not enough and is actually a socially acceptable form of covert racism.
Just like my awakening five years ago shook me to my core, the death of George Floyd has challenged me to take a good, hard look at myself and my views on racial injustice and white privilege. Watching the video of the policeman with his knee on George Floyd's neck as he cried out for his mom, watching the protests and witnessing the visceral pain of millions of Black Americans has allowed me to finally hear the alarm that's been ringing for years.
This past week, I've been reflecting on the fact that not thinking much about racism is the VERY DEFINITION of white privilege- the idea of knowing that something is a problem, but not thinking about it because it doesn't directly affect you.
I've been reflecting on the messages I've given my boys about race and racial inequality and how my husband and I have been largely silent on these issues with the exception of making vague statements about how everyone is equal, no one is better than anyone else and that everyone has value. But, never directly confronting the issue of racial injustice.
I've been thinking about how my "awakening," that we are all connected, conveniently left out the part about using my white privilege to make a difference in the power structure that prevents Black Americans and people of color from truly being a part of this connectedness.
It is clear to me that I have a lot of work to do in terms of understanding how I can use this privilege to make a difference and that my true awakening starts now. It's going to involve reading, listening, watching, reflecting and a commitment to doing this work indefinitely.
It's also clear that so many of us are operating out of fear and in order to change anything in our society, we have to start with ourselves and do some reflection on what we're so fearful about.
Am I operating out of fear or am I operating out of love?
Just like growing as a parent so we can raise happy, loving, healthy kids involves educating ourselves, doing our own internal work and confronting our judgments (both of ourselves and our kids), so does growing as a person so we can be a part of creating a happy, loving, and healthy society for our kids.
Everything hinges on our ability to look at ourselves, to being open to change and to making the conscious decision to choose love over fear.
Here is a list of anti-racism resources:
White Fragility by, Robin DiAngelo
Why Are the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by, Beverly Daniel Tatum
How to be Antiracist by, Ibram X. Kendi
Books For Kids:
A Snowy Day (ages 0-3)
Saturday (ages 3-5)
Raising Little Allies-to-Be (free download, ages 2-7)
Each Kindness (ages 5-8)
The Youngest Marcher (ages 5-8)
Not My Idea (ages 9-12)
All American Boys (ages 12+)