Hello, I’m a recovering racist … and a recovering sexist. My name is Mark.
In July 2012 I attended an international conference is Johannesburg hosted by the Jesuit Institute entitled Spiritual Direction in the African Context. The above comment stems from a paper presented by Prof Susan Rakoczy, IHM, Women and Spiritual Direction: The Many Dimensions of Co-Discernment in which she challenged us to recognise the formative nature of society upon us; that while we may not – or no longer – consciously hold to racial or sexist dogma, if we have grown up in a society that has formed us in these ideologies (she grew up in the USA) we, like alcoholics, are never truly free of these social diseases. Her paper focused more particularly on the struggle women directors and women seekers of spiritual direction experience, influenced by the patriarchy of church and society; and how this is often a barrier to women in growing into a true sense of self in a world where male experience and needs often define our spirituality, theology and praxis within the church and the social environment.
Racism in the South African context has devolved in our post-1994 democracy into classism and xenophobia. Whenever, we find ourselves talking about, “Those people …” or saying to someone in some way different from ourselves, “Your people …”, we are guilty of spreading these social germs. We often react with surprise when we are challenged for making what is perceived to be a racist, classist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic remark, and are sure we are not. However, if we have been exposed to these social diseases – and if we are honest, they are prevalent globally in most cultures and societies in some form – it is likely that we are in a continuous process of recovery (unless we consciously choose to promote these evil attitudes), hopefully moving to greater wholeness as individuals and societies, but recovering nonetheless. This process of recovery impacts on our spirituality, our awareness of self, of God, of community, and is often at the root of social and community breakdown. It stunts our spiritual and emotional growth as persons. An awareness and willingness to acknowledge that we are recovering – as opposed to recovered – is a first step towards relational and social health.
The Anglican Church, with our wonderfully cosmopolitan and intra-cultural diversity, offers an ideal Alcoholics Anonymous-type space to begin to deal with these negative issues and attitudes that affect our society. The question, ultimately, in our parish context is whether we are able to trust one-another sufficiently to create such a space where our antibodies to these social diseases can be strengthened? One of the Wesley brothers described the church as a microcosm of the greater world, a thought that I find helpful when we have to deal with social and relational pain within the church and Christian community. If we create this space for each other there will be times when we are hurt by fellow Christians
Is God’s power strong enough to sustain us through these actual or potential hurts that we may truly be a transformed community transforming our world? I believe it is possible.
So what are you recovering from?
5 July 2012
5 July 2012