For White Spiritual Doctors Writing Spiritual Prescriptions
Our movement is calling us.
I recently had the honor of hearing Ruby Sales speak while in Durham, North Carolina. In a room full of clergy and lay ministers, many of whom were white, Ruby diagnosed our nation’s problem:
A spiritual crisis of white America.
We see the symptoms all around us: white denial of racial realities, white males shooting up schools and churches, white women refusing to maintain solidarity with women of color, white corporations polluting our bodies and water systems, white political systems more concerned with winning elections than healing our nation, white property owners more concerned with property values than the literal lives of their neighbors, white people blaming poor people of color for our nation’s poverty problem, and white faith communities choosing to disengage from it all.
Ruby asked us:
“Are there any spiritual doctors in the house that can write a theological prescription?”
I believe us white spiritual and anti-racist leaders need to take this question seriously.
And yet, as our movement calls, many of us are too sick for what the task requires.
In order to be the white spiritual doctors we are called to be, we have some healing we need to do. Right now, we consistently show up to the work of healing this world with very little self awareness, triggered, burned out, co-dependent, self-neglectful, and in the paralysis of perfectionistic fear. Many of us broke open to the realities of systemic oppression already burned out, and then we jumped from awareness to action.
We have not tended to our own wounds and trauma, and so we show up ineffectively.
We have bypassed the pain of our own complicity, and so we distance from our white brothers and sisters. We cut them out of our lives, call them out, and rationalize this by saying they “don’t get it”. As Ruby says:
“It’s almost like white people don’t believe other white people are worthy of being redeemed.”
This is because we have not yet begun to believe on an embodied soul level that we ourselves are redeemable. We are trying to build a liberation that we have not yet committed to offering, practicing, and internalizing ourselves. We have not yet learned how to know ourselves and love ourselves well, and therefore it is not yet possible to know and love our neighbors of color and future white movement comrades well.
Almost none of our leadership equipping is based on our own spiritual healing and transformation.
Which should shock and astound us.
I remember sitting down to interviews for divinity school as a I contemplated dual-degree M.Div/MSW programs, and not one program said they prioritized the students’ spiritual transformation work. What was prioritized in these divinity school programs: intellectual understandings of how we get free.
This is not just the story of our divinity schools, but of our children’s programs in our faith communities/churches, in our youth groups and programming, in nearly every leadership program we are trained more with the ‘success’ of growing our organizations and making them run well than on the transformation of people.
“Let’s be honest, we would sooner have control than real conversation; we would sooner have well-oiled church societies than transformed people.”
— Richard Rohr, from “The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective”
This dysfunctional reality inevitably plays out in our movement spaces as well. We would sooner have controlled, well-oiled organizing machines than actual transformed organizers. We continue to treat ourselves and our fellow comrades like cogs a machine, all in the name of liberation.
This is deeply connected to the fact that we as leaders avoid doing our own spiritual healing work.
Out of our trauma, we avoid ourselves.
Through powering through without reflection or compassion.
Through filling all the gaps instead of discerning our personal gifts and calls.
Through fronting like we have profound spiritual practice and rhythms when we are actually about grinding most of the time.
Through justifying our grinding and self-neglect with the idea that the mythical time of “later” will come when we will have the sufficient resources to care for our souls and bodies.
Through swirling in white guilt so much so that we consistently seek out movement pain and dysfunction, rather than movement joy.
Through all of these things, we avoid ourselves. Which is exactly what white supremacist, capitalist, heterosexual, imperialist patriarchy thrives on. These Powers that Be desire leadership that doesn’t know itself or love itself. The Powers that Be desire leadership that neglects itself. The Powers that Be know that we cannot heal white supremacy, capitalism, heterosexism, imperialism, or patriarchy in the world while those same evil forces go unchecked in our own souls.
We have a spiritual, trauma problem which requires spiritual, trauma treatment.
Our spiritual ancestors remind us: To get free, we go to the wilderness.
We must go beyond the intellectual.
We must go into the wild places of souls.
We look to how nature works — plants only reproduce and spread healthy seeds when the plant itself is wholly nourished.
“Getting free is not a neck-up activity.”
— Abigail Ortíz, white anti-racist healer and organizer // from a conversation we once had ❤
It is in the wilderness that we find ourselves and the healing nourishment to bear the seeds of leadership.