“…we have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion.”
Audre Lorde, 1980.
We live in a world of difference where everyone is unique – fearfully and wonderfully made. But there are particular challenges for people living in a diverse and biased world. Identity categories like race, gender, class, and sexual orientation matter and deeply impact us in conscious and unconscious ways. Because these categories are rarely talked about, most of us do not realize the impact they have had and continue to have on our lives.
How do we bridge relationships between people and communities divided by differences? How do we see differences not as threats but as differing facets of the human experience? How do we steward diverse communities that are just and equitable for all? Can we recognize heartache and pain in people who come from a different background or hold a different identities than us?
In a time that seems more hostile and fragmented, fears and anxieties limit our capacity for engaging difference. We tend to reduce people to types that help us manage our anxieties. When we reduce people to types, we lose a capacity to relate to them as fellow travelers like us, making the best with what is available.
As the Intercultural Credibility Coordinator, I pay attention to the way culture and identity categories intersect with the work of The Seattle School. As an institution that values relationships it is essential to see social issues through a person-centered lens. That means paying attention to a culture that is biased; preferring particular identities, normalizing certain experiences, and “othering” those that do not fit those molds. It also means paying attention to the impact on those who fit into the dominant culture and those that do not.
Becoming a trustworthy attuned presence, particularly across difference is needed now more than ever. As people seeking to be trained as pastors, therapist, artists and leaders, your work depends on an ability to engage others in meaningful relationships. Much of the work you will be asked to do these next several years is for the purpose of developing a capacity for critical self-reflection; to look critically at those formative experiences to understand how they have shaped, maybe skewed, your view of yourself, your experiences, your view of others and your perception of the world around us. This work reveals inevitable biases that when attended to, allow us to engage in deeper, more empathetic and sometimes transformative relationship with others.
Practically speaking, I am here for you. As you engage with the material presented and experience the relational environment of this new place, my role and privilege is to support you as a pastoral presence. I am also here to support those who come from an underrepresented groups knowing that your stories, cultures and experiences will differ from the majority of your peers. As you settle into this new space, know that this work will get personal.
I want to invite you to seek community. Critically engaging ourselves and others is hard and sometimes disorienting. This journey will not be easy but know that you are called to this work. To that end I say welcome. You are about to begin an exciting work. I look forward to meeting you all soon.
Peace and Blessing,
Richard D. Kim