Hard and Important Discussions

The following article may be found on page 2 of this month’s newsletter, The Spire. We encourage you to read more!


In February the Racial Justice Coordinating Committee (RJCC) continued our exploration of policing, finishing a six-week series facilitated by Rev. Erica Richmond and Rev. Bill Gardiner. We used the book The End of Policing for reflection and discussion with about 30 community members who attended.

The discussions and learnings were powerful, difficult, and at times painful. The RJCC is grateful for the participation of all who struggle with the realities of injustice in policing and seek progress toward enlightenment, justice, equality, reform, and/or abolition. There is much work to do.

On Sunday, February 21, the RJCC hosted an interactive workshop on cultural appropriation, exploring how it may show up in our lives and at First Parish. With the 28 participants we framed our discussion with these questions:

  • What is cultural appropriation and why does it matter?
  • Where is the line between appropriation and appreciation?
  • How do each of us bring an anti-oppression lens to celebrating and learning about cultures and traditions different from our own?
  • How do we harm others and ourselves when we do not wrestle with the distinction between appropriation and appreciation?
  • It is not always clear-cut. Where are the grey areas?

As expected, we ended our 75-minute session with more questions than answers, but also with a shared commitment to stay in relationship as we wrestle with this issue. Here are some examples of this wrestling:

If we are a faith that seeks revelation from all the world’s religions and spiritual practices, how do we ensure that we are exploring respectfully? Many agreed that the following guideposts are important and even imperative: intent, respect, context, permission, and representation.

As a largely white congregation, how do we avoid abusing our privilege by “borrowing” from other traditions? For example, is it appropriate to sing the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”? Is it enough to give explicit explanation and consideration of its meaning to the struggle of Black Americans? Is it possible for white people to appreciate the pain represented in the song? Can’t we just sing and celebrate all struggles for justice?

There were an unanticipated number of questions and concerns about our congregational Calling of the Directions at the Equinox and Solstice. Do we understand our intent? Do we create adequate context for its significance to Indigenous, Pagan, Earth-based religious and cultural practices? Are we “doing it right”? Is it performative? Is it genuine? Should we invite Earth-based religious practitioners to lead or guide us in this practice? I
s seeking to honor our Earth-home and promote environmental justice reason enough to Call the Directions?

Many attendees expressed a desire for more opportunities to explore these issues.

In March we hosted a conversation on race and racism with Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, and we are planning other events via Zoom. If you have ideas, questions, or feedback, please e-mail racialjustice@firstparish.info.

— Racial Justice Coordinating Committee:
Amy Anderson, Diane Barry, Marilyn Downs,
Lois Fine, Tom Estabrook, Stanley Pollack,
Tina Silberman, Sara Whitford

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