A leap of faith outside my comfort zone

March 1, 2021 - 12:00am -- Living City

Relationships as wealth
Starting a group to hold courageous conversations that counteract racism

By Angelica Kerr

In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25–37), Jesus is asked what the first and greatest commandment is. His answer is to basically love God with all your heart, soul, mind and body, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Then he is asked the pivotal question “and who is my neighbor?”

Jesus doesn’t directly answer the question, but tells a story that encourages his audience to answer it for themselves. In the parable, who was the neighbor to the robbery victim? The one who treated that victim with mercy and care. Jesus concludes by inviting the crowd to “go and do the same.”

From this parable, we as Christians are committed to recognize every wounded and suffering neighbor, to be moved with compassion, to act with love. As members of the Focolare, our concrete way to unity is through love.

When I first heard of George Floyd

Since the on-camera murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, it became very obvious that we had to put love into practice in light of the parallel pandemic of racism, which has been allowed to spread and fester in American society for centuries.

I felt exhaustion and paralysis when I first heard of the murder of George Floyd. I became discouraged with belonging to a society that, from my point of view, continues to let a legacy of race-based violence and social injustice continue, and even thrive.

While I only wanted to dig a hole and hide, to walk past the injured like the two characters mentioned in the parable, I was quickly reminded by a text from a good friend that we are not a people that walk away from the forsaken, the beaten, the maltreated, the marginalized — instead we run toward them. Our injured neighbor is the face of Jesus, forsaken on the cross. Our society is that beaten, maltreated robbery victim.

It began with a small group

I shared this thought with a small group within the Focolare to see how we can put our charism of unity into practice in light of this parallel pandemic of systemic racism; to be catalysts for change; and to concretely love our neighbor.

We all felt that racism is a wound, an expression of the forsakenness that Jesus felt on the cross (see Mt 27:46), and that we had to delve deeper into this wound, this particular cross that has been so ingrained in the history and inner workings of society.

We also realized that this is a cross that many of us carry hidden and unseen by the masses, unbeknown even by many close to us. And in order to triumph over it, we had to dig deeper into it. We started meeting regularly to share our experiences and recollections of hostile encounters fueled by racial aggression. And we began to have open, honest and difficult conversations.

These became powerful moments.

Creating space for each other

Eager to expand our group and share our discussions, we invited a few other members of the Focolare to join us in voicing our concerns, pains and hopes. We shared our reactions, thoughts and experiences of racial inequity and discrimination and of the occasional violent encounters with authority that’s been recently at the forefront.

Yet racial profiling has been in the background of our society for so long, often hidden in plain sight, as well as the emotional toll it takes on people of color. It also hurts society as a whole, because we are all affected, no matter what color we are or where we come from.

In our small group, we would meet and empty our minds and hearts, creating an open space for each other, as we shared with great love our personal difficulties, our experiences and thoughts on race in America, actively listening to one another with love and without judgment. Entering each other’s suffering, the hidden pain and deep experiences, opening a space that previously hadn’t allowed anyone else to enter for fear of misunderstanding or judgment.

Those were moments of grace and enlightenment.

Courageous conversations

These types of “courageous conversations,” as we started to call them, are not a novel idea; many companies and organizations, religious and secular, are doing the same thing. Many groups are having deep painful conversations about race in America, being open and welcoming to comments and concrete actions.

But what’s particular to the Focolare is that we were giving of ourselves, one for the other, out of love for our injured neighbor.

 We were taking upon us the others’ sufferings, their sorrows, their deep-rooted wounds caused by racism, much like the nail marks from Jesus’ wounds. Recognizing and embracing him in this particular suffering was the first step in creating that safe atmosphere of mutual love that we needed to go ahead.

Embracing the pain of racism together

In sharing our greatest pains, which became gifts for one another, we realized that we wanted to open an even greater space to invite others to experience the same.

We thought to actively bring together different people: targets of racial aggression, those who benefit from privilege and the status quo, and those who are now, because of the unrest, acutely aware of deep-rooted problems of race in this country. We wanted to offer open, honest painful discussions and conversations about race and how we are affected by it.

Embracing together the wound of racism and opening the space for Jesus to be present among us through mutual love inspires us to make a difference, to pursue concrete actions, to gain a new understanding of others and the value and dignity of the human person.

Starting with small intimate encounters, we grew and expanded them to a wider circle within our Focolare family. Courageous Conversations, because of the bravery of the participants in engaging in this difficult and painful subject, have been strong, emotion-filled eye-opening encounters.

Many participants shared with us afterwards how hearing the painful experiences of racial aggression towards their neighbor helped them to look deep inside themselves on how they see and react to systemic racism in our society. It felt to them like a deeper call to unity.

From these, we are planning workshops and initiatives to deepen relationships and foster greater trust. We are opening this door of difficult conversations even wider, as well as opening ourselves to being united in his name and showing concrete love for each other.

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