Nicola Coombe writes: I grew up in apartheid-laden South Africa, where misogynistic and xenophobic religious ideas informed violent law-making and terrible suffering. The archetypes of religion, governance, and leadership were in my face. I loathed and feared.
In contrast, I breathed hope from the diamond-like resilience of those that refused to accept this reality. The leaders who touched me so deeply – the Mandelas, the Tutus, so many others – were filled with the courage to shape power anew. They were also literally radiant with compassion: for themselves, for their commitment to transformation, and for the humour and grace it requires. And the inner work. Oh the inner work. They were alive to themselves and to the inner struggle to be free – the deepest challenge of all.
The huge impact of the news in the USA this week, taken in conjunction with the UK’s Brexit landscape, with climate change, and with many other seriously deep challenges in the world, brings these issues into focus. A dialogue with a minister this week led me to write the following thoughts, naming something of how the overt purpose of our work is always in need of being re-stated, always in need of attention, always in need of grace. OneSpirit, and each of us within its field, is a living work in progress. I wrote….
“ The field of concern that you raise is real. It is wider than homo- and transphobia, extending to the discrimination against women, to racism, and to other forms of exclusion from wholeness. There is a real issue of the many violations of diversity within religion, and also within other forms. This continually needs addressing not only in the wider faculty and our curriculum, but within our trustees and our students and ministers, and as an issue of policy and ethics and how we communicate with each other.
The religions are extremely complex given that they hold both the best and the worst of our ingrained and internalised beliefs about Life – including in relation to sexual orientation, race, health, culture, gender, childhood, and more. These matters tend to be at the front of the faculty’s awareness, and on the table in our supervision.
Part of what is complex is being an organization that holds a big purpose, and at the same time will only be able to retain its integrity — or patch it together kneeling in the mud — by acknowledging that we are, each and all, part of the ingrained challenges. We cannot see ourselves as necessarily having found ‘the way’ or any higher ground, yet in parallel we dare to hold a space for an evolving, or arising and intentionally inclusive, and sustainable future. And it’s my experience that making our way through this territory is itself incredibly tricky.
It is in this spirit that we seek to include the enormous diversity within each group in the training, and to recognize that this diversity is so much, much more complex and layered than might meet the eye. In this spirit our faculty and students, and our wider body, is continually called into self (and system) examination, and into daring and bearing to surface that which haunts and controls us, whatever it may be.
Our work calls all of us into the ongoing courage to surface our own internalised prejudice. In this I am always inspired by Nelson Mandela, talking about facing his own internalised racism, and giving the example of the unexpected fear he felt when he learnt that the plane he was on was in the hands of a man of colour.
OneSpirit is a space for inclusive dialogue; for radical self and system inquiry; and for the evolution of ways of being human that will nourish rather than suppress Life. I don’t know right now how we bring this into greater focus in our organization, but I will be taking this into our Trustees meeting in the week ahead, and into the leadership circles, and we will come forward with emerging ideas.
We are all — whatever our role — navigating these very challenging issues as best we can, sometimes not knowing, sometimes reassured only by our trust in Spirit speaking through us all and through the process. “
I look forward to breathing with you at 11.58.