in your heart & on your lips

There’s an interesting article by Martin Smith at Episcopal Cafe on the subtleties of racism.

Smith is reflecting on a racism study in the States in which a group of black and white people have a conversation. The blacks then tell the researchers which of the whites spoke to them as equals, and which were insulting. The white group is divided accordingly. They repeat the exercise , and immediately after the conversation, both of the white groups are given cognitive tests.

What they found was that the group of white people who behaved well towards the black people then performed poorly on the tests, while the obvious racists performed better. But then, when both groups were given the test at a later time, the ‘racists’ and ‘non-racists’ performed equally well. The theory is that the group of white people who had treated the black people well had used so much mental energy filtering their responses in order to do so, that they had none left with which to take the test. The obvious racists hadn’t modified their behaviour, so they came to the test fresh.

The conclusion is that most white people — even if they appear to behave in non-racist ways — are nonetheless racist.

Now, Martin Smith argues that the veneer of equality that marks the liberal church prevents us from facing the truth and doing the harder work of changing our hearts. We say all people are equal when in fact we believe no such thing, and we lie even to ourselves.

I suspect there is more truth in this than most of us would like to admit. But, I wouldn’t want to condemn the group that worked so hard at conversation that they failed the cognitive tests.

Surely there are times when change involves a choice. And that choice involves deliberate action.

We look at Christ, and learn the infinite worth of each human being. We come to know and believe that all people are equal. But that comes after much in our society that tells us otherwise. Head and heart don’t move all at once. So, when the head is in the lead (which is not always), we behave as the person we are trying to become. We do what believe is right and wish were fully true for us, even if old patterns of sin have not yet been transformed and redeemed. And that takes energy.

I would be hugely encouraged if everyone left church on Sundays totally unable to perform on cognitive tests because they had been working so hard at trying to bear witness to what they were becoming. If we can learn to behave consistently as if we believe something is true, then I suspect the day will come when we find that it has become true for us. Heart and head will match.

But if we continue to behave badly simply because it more honestly reflects our hearts, we may never learn to change at all, and might even confuse our consistency with integrity.

40 thoughts on “in your heart & on your lips”

  1. Very interesting, especially when you think that we have to try and be accepting in matters of gender, sexuality and ageism. No wonder it is exhausting being a Christian!

  2. Sorry, should have put an “also” in that first phrase. And in case there is any doubt I am all for doing our best to recreate attitudes, no matter the exhaustion.

  3. I think the most difficult thing is being nice to people who are not nice to us, regardless of race, sexuality or anything else. ‘Love your enemies’ has to be one of Jesus’ hardest lessons but I’ve found it to be one of the most rewarding.

  4. Just to be difficult — ‘love’ and ‘be nice’ are not the same. I suspect ‘nice’ falls down below ‘kind, compassionate and forgiving’ (as well as below love) in the transformation stakes.

    Which is not to say that niceness doesn’t have its place…

  5. And I’ll be really thrawn and say that it’s sometimes harder to be “nice” (a word, incidentally, whose use I forbade except in its exact context) than to love or feel compassion. You can feel compassion for someone’s situation (is that the same?) without bringing yourself to be pleasant to them.

  6. A richly thought-provoking post, Kimberly. I wonder, though, whether we ought to worry too much if as individuals we never seem to get beyond the ‘head-transformation’, and don’t make much progress in the ‘heart-transformation’. Our sinfulness is something we have to live and struggle with so long as we are on this earth, and feelings of prejudice, distaste, hostility will come unbidden. The crucial thing is what we do with them, and for this we need God’s help. It is God who reaches in and changes us when our best efforts fail.

    This has implications for, e.g., how we deal with the homophobic faction in the Church. At the moment, we seem faced with a dialogue of the deaf, but we need to invest the energy in positive action (even legislative action) in the hope that the hearts of conservatives will, by God’s grace, catch up.

  7. What struck me in Martin Smith’s article was that the study levels ‘us and them’. It is not that we liberals are so advanced, and that the bigots are behind us. But that all of us have further to go than we realize.

  8. Yes, this is what strikes me too Kimberly. At the end of the day our religious endeavours ask us to suspend the negative actions of our prejudices, whatever they may be, because the prejudices may be so deeply set that we can only aspire to fully overcoming them/ not being attached to them and the fears they embody.

    I was recently at a Human Rights event about LGBT human rights and as I walked in a couple of folk were saying how awful Christians are. I pointed out that I was gay and Christian and suggested that perhaps we all need to explore the positions we take in order to justify our negative judgements of one another. This is a truly exhausting prospect, especially as the fear of relativism can also raise its ugly head.

    I suppose there is another aspect to all this though, and that is the role that a sense of justice and injustice might play in assisting the dialogues between different groups.

  9. That’s an interesting question.

    Do you suppose that if you knew a person was making a monumental effort to suppress their own biases and treat you well, you would feel better or worse — about yourself, or about them?

  10. Umm, good question Kimberly.
    When I was younger I fear I would have felt patronized and indignant if I’d thought someone was making a monumental effort to be ‘nice’ rather than just being intrinsically nice! Indeed, my experience of authenticity and congruence within counselling training teaches me that incongruence (acting something when not genuinely feeling it) causes an awful lot of psychological tension and it might just be better for the person to be honest with themselves and all around. However, this might be good for the individual therapeutic position but not help a community get over its struggles and conflicts more generally. When I was younger the ‘me/I’ was more important than the ‘we/us’. Now I’m not so sure and my views are balancing back towards a sense that sometimes one can be congruent in genuine attempts to overcome prejudices – and that this is something to be valued in a religious community which tries to go beyond the individual.

    Put simply, I’d now far rather deal with an evangelical Christian who is being nice whilst struggling with their prejudices about me being a lesbian, than one who is sharing just how much they hate me 🙂 .
    At the end of the day though, if we can’t overcome our fears of and for each other (and who may or may not ‘burn in hell’ in our community or any other for that matter) I’m not sure how we can avoid idolatry through embodying fear into a series of objective beliefs.
    Finally, I have been pondering on self forgiveness and forgiveness of others recently and I do wonder whether the biggest issue is one of not being afriad of all the differences that living in communities throw up? I don’t really mean domesticated foregiveness here, but rampaging, wild foregiveness . The trouble is, it’s so hard to cope with one sided foregiveness. And then I fnd myself back at issues of justice and injustice…..

  11. These studies certainly have their place, particularly as important discussions such as this start again and that can only be a good thing. However, I feel the tides are changing somewhat as to what defines racism. I’m putting this out there as I grew up in an environment which did not have people who cared for the things I care for today, which meant my basic understanding of racism were white people being racist towards black people. I know from speaking with neighbours, friends and colleagues that some would say that Asians are racist towards White people these days. The one thing that I’ve found through my own life experiences is that when I found my self respect and a basic care for life then I was able to be a better person and grow more as an individual. Too much time is spent these days allowing others to lead our lives, whether that be the media or high street fashion or general peer pressure. I sometimes wonder what life would be like if we could break free of the shackles that comes with living in the western world. (Apologies in advance for sounding too political.)

  12. That’s a lot to respond to –

    Firstly, I do wonder if there was a control group where white was meeting white – at the very least I would want a control where people were meeting whites who were not of their social group, and see the same set of experiments carried out. I can tell you now, I’d be exhausted after meeting and being nice to any set of strangers, even like-minded ones. I suppose they did do this? Because without this, any conclusions are worthless.

    I have lived most of my life on the tolerance of others. I don’t meet, and I never have met, the norms for what a woman should be. Especially a Scottish woman. I’m articulate, loud, untidy, undomesticated. My virtues are well hidden and my faults glaringly obvious. I have ground my teeth as I was forgiven all too often – forgiven by whose I forgave, but who had no idea they needed forgiveness.

    Of late years, I have been practising forgiving others who have actually done me wrong. There is no justice in it, that is the beauty of it. You have to put yourself beyond justice. You have to struggle to swallow up the pain, blot it up like Jesus on the cross, and let it break and remake you. You have to be a co-worker with God, an adult Christian. It is up to God to sort out the justice.

    A further reflection. Some consternation was caused at the recent family wedding. The band were put out to find same sex couples dancing together. The jury is out on whether they were so used to people in a muddle in various country dances they genuinely believed a mistake had been made, or if they were uncomfortable with same sex couples dancing together. BUT a gentleman who I have always felt somewhat struggled with same sex couples, very kindly and firmly told the band that at an event where HE had responsibility as a host, people would dance as it best pleased themselves, and not as the band thought fit. And so they did, and he beamed kindly on the whole thing. He is an impeccable host beyond all things. As you say, Vicky – the desire to do one kind of good (and it is a good) swallows up what to him is a lesser evil: those for who he is responsible WILL be made comfortable.

    A further reflection – the local band hired for a previous wedding never batted an eye at same sex couples, possibly because at local events, it is so hard to get even numbers of opposite sex partners. Personally, I dance happily with all sorts and conditions of people, and sadly these days, none of them are even possible prospective romantic entanglements.

  13. A certain reader of this blog has a similar story to tell of dancing at clergy gatherings in London. I wonder if he will tell it…

    (I love it when you all get going in conversation — but it is too late in the day for me to respond)

  14. I agree, Kimberly, that ‘all of us have further to go than we realize’. The ‘liberal’ party to the debate on gay Christians is just as capable of closing down the channels of dialogue, and engaging in wounding and uncharitable speech as the ‘conservative’ wing: witness, e.g., Akinola being told, on a visit to the US, to ‘go back to the jungle’. But it is very evident that, for the most part, one side espouses positive values of openness, trust and willingness to continue the conversation, while the other is stuck in precisely the opposite attitudes.

    Like Vicky, I find it easier to relate to someone who is making an effort to overcome prejudice than one making direct statements of hostility. I’ve been a member of various minorities in my lifetime: Catholic in a predominantly Protestant environment; subsequently Protestant in a Catholic environment; British in Ireland; Irish in Britain. At each stage, though I’ve sometimes felt patronised, I have benefitted from the fact that people have been obliged to repress their prejudices by certain rules of equity and social dealing, backed up as necessary by legislation. We all know that ‘political correctness’ can sometimes assume absurd forms, but what’s the alternative? When I hear the phrase ‘PC gone mad’, I have to infer that the speaker would prefer to return to the time when one could insult others with impunity.

  15. Oh yes, dancing, ceilidhs, same-sex couples. I was there.

    I remember a very large ecumenical gathering of clergy turning on a caller in a ceilidh band and letting him know in no uncertain terms that they were happy with the same-sex couples dancing together. It was about 15 years ago and a kairos moment for me.

    “But this is a progressive dance, you’ll all end up dancing with them!” cried the hapless caller.

    “Yes we will!” cried the crowd with some passion.

    Personally I find the semantics of who leads in such circumstances very troubling to work through. It has been put to me that the tallest should always lead, but that is surely tallist.

    For the record, at this stage in life I think I’d rather dance with a woman than a man. I’d also rather be in an environment where people can dance with whosoever they like. I’d rather dance with someone who can polka than with someone who can’t, and that overides gender.

    See, the whole thing is fraught with trouble when you think about it.

  16. Oddly, Kelvin, I agree with most of your prefers. (and have often chosen to dance with a woman rather than a man because the woman was the better dancer and it would be more fun.)

    As for who leads, I’m a traditional. In a longwise set, those on the ‘men’s side’ lead, whatever their gender. In ballroom hold, the one standing with their back to the centre of the room.

    One of my preferred moments of same sex dancing came at an advanced class at Celtic Society (St Andrews), in which we had 2 women and four men. The men could be described as: one very gay and out, one very probably gay and effette, one who strove to model himself on St Paul, and one elderly Roman Catholic priest. The women danced together all night, just to see what would happen.

  17. Now, you are just being a tease. That leaves me trying to identify participants and eager to hear what happened next.

    The question of who leads that I was raising (and how very deeply into hierarchy we are even by putting those words together) is not quite what you have assumed. I was trying to raise the a-priori question of how the couple in question negotiate who is to lead. How do they decide this? Nothing in our experience or education (not even at Celtic Soc classes) gives us any clues as to how to conduct such a negotiation.

    It is that old heterosexist fascist hegemony of assumption and presumption raising its head all over again.

  18. Well, normally my partner and I pretend we’ve got some sort of equality going, and then I try to lead. Then she tries to lead. Then we comment on how each of us can’t quite dance. It’s an amazing process of mutual frustration that is over come by the fact we both have a sense of humour and an honesty about our dancing abilities. When we’re really doing well, we quite often start a strip the willow in one position (me following, for example) and end in the opposite (me leading). I think that might classify us as ‘versatile’.

  19. There is a mutuality about Vicky’s experience which is very attractive. (I find the phrase “I pretend we’ve got some sort of equality going, and then I try to lead” resonates with me anyway). However, it is so much worse when this is all going on between two people who are not an established couple.

    Fraught, I say.

  20. I come at this from a dancer’s perspective rather than from the tortured trials of the romantic couple. The stronger dancer leads. Always. Count your blessings if you can be open about that in a same sex couple and put that person in the proper position.

    If you are evenly matched, then take turns. But when dancing, as while driving or conducting liturgy, joy and safety depend on everyone knowing who is in charge.

  21. Oh the perils of being unevenly matched. I’m sure St Paul has something to say about that!

    Who said anything about the tortured trials of a romantic couple anyway? No no, we are getting way ahead of ourselves here. My point is just about two people meeting, casual like, and wanting to dance one with another. I mean, do you begin a relationship, which might so far have consisted merely of the raising of a louche eyebrow, with a debate about who is the stronger dancer?

    [I’m presuming that by stronger we are talking about the dancer who has learned more from experience rather than the one who can lift weights better.]

    I fear that the dance (if not the ceilidh) will have begun and ended long before that social interaction could be completely played out and weary eyebrows would long since have developed a droopiness that is never going to lead anywhere.

    Fraught, you see, fraught.

  22. How did we get on to this from the machinations of overcome conflict in Christian communities?
    Is the celidh dancing a useful metaphor by any chance?

  23. The weaker shorter male partner is always a hazard to me. However nothing like the hazard I am to any partner of any sex …

  24. The digression was too tempting (though the person who initiated is has been remarkably silent).

    I’ve always taken the line that one should watch someone dance before you ask them to dance. Thus at least one of you should know who is the stronger dancer. As for whether the stronger has learned from experience, or is better at lifting weights, I offer you this, from Captain Knox, The Spirit of the Polka quoted in Elizabeth Aldrich’s From the Ballroom to Hell: grace and folly in nineteenth century dance

    Recollect that utter disregard of time, common…in Waltzing, is not safe in Polka… If you cannot dance in time, dance with no one under nine or ten stone. At that weight, if she has any ear, she will probably keep you tolerably steady; if she has none, everyone will think it is her fault.

  25. I’ll bear that in mind. I offered (nay threatened) to teach someone to polka just the other day at a party, at which there was ample room for such tuition.

    As to whether one should watch someone dance before asking them, I fear that is the kind of wisdom that I have failed to acquire through not having read Jane Austin novels.

    I feel that though watching a prospective dance partner twirl around the room might fall within the appropriate range of activities of the aforesaid louche eyebrow, I fear that the discussion between this poor, confused, hypothetical, same-sex potential ceilidh couple is not going to be helped much by an urgent enquiry as to which of them is the fattest.

  26. If one watches someone before asking them to dance, they may find themselves thinking as did Mr Darcy and end up offending the one person with whom they were meant to dance 🙂

  27. Never a good dancer, I was not helped at the wedding, by the fact that earlier in the day I had put my right leg through a three foot deep unsuspected hole in the ground (don’t ask!) thereby crumpling my left knee, and causing it to swell to twice its usual size. I could therefore only (meaningfully) hop on my right leg. I was profoundly grateful for an enthusiastic heavy strong male partner, who could support me and twirl me, while I clung on and used the one good leg. Travelling in any direction alone called for some deception and great pain tolerance.

    My son, the elder son, is a really fine dancer. It is sod’s law that such persons find themselves romantically entangled with partners who lack any of the necessary dancing skills – and his life partner is inevitable one such. The only saving grace is that son is both taller and heavier than partner.

    And while on the subject, has anybody noticed that the same law means that in any relationship, one partner will be a lark and the other an owl???? I thought the younger generation had maybe escaped (and were all owls) but no, my youngest, being an owl, is hitched up with a newly fledged lark.

  28. p.s. I suspect I found my perfect dancing partner, but he surely ain’t my perfect life partner!

  29. Rosemary, you’re doing well to find either. What a vivid image of your wedding day you conjure.

    As for Darcy, I always did sympathize with him– but had neither the looks nor the vast estates (nor, perhaps, the gender) to pull off the roll.

  30. So, I stumbled into this thread only after the dancing conversation had reached this point and was reading happily along, imagining sticking in my two cents about the delights of polka-ing with a good partner and slyly suggesting the additional complication of back-leading, when I was brought up short!
    Yes, it’s true, I stumbled upon the horrifying statement that Kelvin has not read Jane Austin novels. How can this be?! Dear Provost, you simply must drop whatever you are doing and procure yourself a copy of Emma. How you can have come so far in life without the gentle guidance of Miss Austin is baffling.

  31. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good cathedral, must be in want of a polka.

    I used to work with someone who whenever he was asked whether he could play Bridge would reply that it was a pleasure he was leaving until he was 60. Could it be that this is an appropriate answer to the Jane Austin question?

  32. Wedding day in brief. (Background – I make all bride’s outfits, own outfit, and was catering the main meal) Frenetic activity, running more and more behind schedule till 3pm. At three, attempt to enter reception venue to start the ovens. No key. Key located and delivered. Ovens fail to ignite. Leave helper friend and go to church, in a medley of mobiles. Arrive at church 3.45, and priest friend agrees the ovens must be lit before the service starts. More call tones ensnare the bride at home, and ensure the ovens flame up. Then suddenly utter peace, as bride drives to church, arrives, and dons the dramatic coat waiting for her there. She shows herself to the crowd waiting outside, and processes up the crowded church to her gob-smacked bridegroom, sparkling and laughing, a vision on white and tartan. The service is an oasis of calm and joy. (New liturgy, ‘cairns’ option, ‘love’ path – readers from friends and family) Coming out, a friend comments that I had certainly out-hatted all the others, to my smug comment that that was most certainly the intention. Then to the reception where by prior arrangement, I don’t meet-and-greet, but cook-and-carve – then to table for first course, only to be called back to the kitchen. We are understaffed, and I take the herb bread around (my own mini meet and greet) before sitting down to eat. 65 guests. Conventional speeches waived in favour of an excellent ‘Toast to the Lassies’ and ‘Reply’ – then dancing till one.

    If I have a regret, it is that we did not manage to get the traditional family conga to ‘The Lonely Goatherd’. Kelvin, this is from a well known musical…. 😉

  33. Oh, I know that musical. Funnily enough, the person whom I was threatening to teach how to polka has been heard to boast (almost in the way that I boast of not having read Jane A) that he has never seen the Sound of Music.

    I am delighted to be perceived of as currently enjoying youth.

  34. Well, in ‘Piskie circles that usually means under seventy, doesn’t it? Just as ‘lassie’, locally, means any woman who can walk unaided by a zimmer frame.

  35. Mmmm, I’m with Rosemary on this one – the great wisdom of Austen is universally acknowledged. But it’s not just about the wisdom . . . there’s also the funny.

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