Creating a Spiritual Practice to Heal and Transform the World: An Invitation

The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th U.S. President prompted two immediate responses from the American electorate: the rise of a White Lives Matter Movement and the ascent of a Resistance Movement. These two responses, if unabated, together will tank America’s democracy.

Progressives can clearly see the racial threat the White Lives Matter Movement poses because Confederate flags were raised; anti-black graffiti and Nazi swastikas were spray-painted on school walls; lynching nooses were placed on the desks, doors and walls of black employees and black students; Jewish cemeteries were desecrated; Muslim women’s hijabs were torn from their heads; transgender people were assaulted with increased regularity; hate speech against Latinos became the rallying cry of a political party; and a rising chorus of neo-Nazi and other white supremacy groups shouted “Sieg Heil” and “Sieg Trump.”

Progressives, however, haven’t seen the political threat they themselves create when following the advice of the group of former Democratic staff members—who wrote the online guidebook “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda”—to emulate Tea Party tactics. These staffers watched the rise of the Tea Party close up as its members organized locally to convince their own congressional members to reject President Obama’s agenda. Now these staffers urge Progressives to do what the Tea Party did: resist. If a “small minority in the Tea Party could stop President Obama,” the staffers argue, “then we the majority can stop a petty tyrant named Trump.”

But this strategy of Progressives emulating Tea Party tactics is paradoxical because it tries to “[build] on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness,” using Tea Party tactics born of ideas that are “wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism.” Resistance fighters thus march, protest, battle, lobby and like the Tea Party, they shut down differences rather than open them up. The result: Progressive Resistance fighters bravely disrupt conservative policymakers’ programs when attempts are made to turn their religious beliefs and vested economic interests into public laws, but then the protesters move on.

The protests lack staying power because the protesters are not part of an ever-expanding network of communities millions upon millions strong. Individuals, after all, can resist injustice, as Jim Corbett, a Quaker founder of the 1980s Sanctuary movement for Central American refugees reminds us, “but only in community can we do justice.” We are not yet a community of communities millions upon millions strong.  And we have not yet presented a clear and collective articulation of our social justice work. We cannot say what we, collectively, are for and what binds us together into a united movement.

Naomi Klein, in No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, states the problem this way: “The firmest of no’s has to be accompanied by a bold and forward-looking yes—a plan for a future that is credible and captivating enough that a great many people will fight to see it realized.” Klein calls upon us to create this vision together for a tangible better life, although she is not sure what this vision looks like.

I propose the organization of a spiritual vision quest for Progressives in concrete racial, political, and experiential terms. The experiential component of this work is of critical important because keen reasoning is not enough to heal and transform broken hearts. There are broken hearts across the political spectrum, and broken hearts require healing spiritual practices. The enduring power of Resistance work, after all, is emotional stamina developed to create progressive communities that are emotionally bound together by loving kindness and as a consequence have the staying power to stand strong in victory and defeat.

I begin by addressing the racial dimensions of broken heartedness because white America breaks a lot of hearts, including those of whites who feel racially downtrodden, maligned, or ignored and set aside. I then analyze how the White Lives Matter movement uses religion politically to address these emotional issues and create an initiative with enormous staying power. This analysis sets the stage for a discussion of how progressives can envision spiritual practices that create communities with tremendous staying power as they address the brokenhearted and aggrieved feelings of whites in Trump’s America. I end by introducing an experiential component of this work because keen reasoning is not enough to heal and transform broken hearts. Broken hearts require healing spiritual practices.

Trump’s White America

The impetus for this entire project is something many of us know, but have not adequately explained: Trump’s white America. To understand this America, we have to explain the origin of the pervasive feelings and hard-edge realities in these white lives. And we must use America’s own poorly understood history of the racial creation of whites in America for this purpose.

Here’s what we know about Trump’s America. White voters of all sexes, ages, education levels, and income levels were the deciding factor in Trump’s election.

Here’s what we tend to overlook. Most whites who voted for Trump aren’t self-defined racists or white supremacists. Rather, they’re hurting, angry, afraid or just downright mad people who are enraged by the way the government mistreats them, feel maligned by other racial groups, resent being demeaned or ignored by the mainstream press, and are fearful that the American Dream is now beyond their reach. Moreover, many of the lives of these voters had begun to resemble the conditions of blacks and other stigmatized minorities in several critical ways: high unemployment, underemployment and/or low-paying job rates; rising crime rates; and endemic drug abuse rates.

The text above was just an excerpt. The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun’s publisher. Click here to read an HTML version of the article or to download the PDF version.

Tikkun 2018 Volume 33, Number 1/2:29-41

Thandeka, author of Learning to Be White: Money, Race, and God, will be the Visiting Professor of Affective Theological Studies at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts, this spring. For more of her work see revthandeka.org.
 
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