ERIC: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about some of the BOTH/& tensions that are the heart of Generous Space and show up most tangibly in our gatherings. The BOTH/& that has been most persistently on my mind is the relationship between our core values of HOSPITALITY (welcoming missing voices) and JUSTICE (dismantling barriers to flourishing).
What happens when someone is welcomed into our community, but instead of dismantling barriers to flourishing, they reinforce them through some comment or action? How do we recognize when our words or actions prevent others from feeling welcomed into our community? How do we approach situations where one person’s behaviour inhibits another person’s belonging?
“How do we recognize when our words or actions prevent others from feeling welcomed into our community?”
BETH: I think this is an important tension to unpack at our Generous Space community gatherings, including our upcoming retreat. It touches on the privilege we carry and how we can invite each other to new levels of empathy. As a gay woman, I am often marginalized in Christian spaces, but in the Generous Space community, as a white, cisgender, able-bodied staff person, I actually carry a lot of privilege. This isn’t something I can get rid of, so it’s useless for me to feel shame about it, but it is something I’m working on remembering. Part of acknowledging privilege is trying to keep a humble, teachable posture when my blind spots are revealed. For example, I would never use the word “gay” with negative connotations in a phrase like “that’s so gay.” But I’ve said things like “that’s crazy” and “that’s lame” without considering how this might harm mentally ill and disabled people in the community. Though I didn’t mean to do this, my innocent intentions don’t change the fact that harm was done. To be honest, I still initially feel defensive when these kinds of things are pointed out to me, but I’m getting better at finding that posture of humility and teachability.
“Part of acknowledging privilege is trying to keep a humble, teachable posture when my blind spots are revealed.”
ERIC: Exactly. I think sometimes even those of us who are madly in love with this community and its well-being forget that we carry oppressive behavioural habits with us into our Generous Space relationships. My identity as a white, cisgender, male-identified, able-bodied, university grad means that I carry a lot of privilege around with me despite my queer identity. If I’m not vigilantly aware of how my embodiment and my cultural habits might do harm to or silence others, I’m likely to fall into these negative habits. And with the constantly shifting/evolving language around gender and sexuality we can sometimes be hard-pressed to keep up.
In conversation with a friend recently, we were talking about racism within the Generous Space community. In an offhanded way I commented that people can sometimes feel exhausted by the idea of broaching race within this space that is largely centred around experiences of marginalization connected to gender and sexuality. My friend patiently looked at me and asked “why?” I suddenly realized that I had just asked my friend, who is a person-of-colour, to compartmentalize her identity in Generous Space contexts. I had made a statement which privileged the white experience of Generous Space…I had forgotten, for a moment, that my whiteness allows me the privilege of NOT talking about race whenever I’d like…but to suggest to my friend that conversations about race are a burden to our community silences an integral part of who she is.
BETH: As privileged people, we’ve all had times when we’ve put our foot in our mouth. In some spaces, as a recovering perfectionist, I’ve felt so paralyzed with anxiety about saying the wrong thing that I don’t want to say anything at all. I certainly don’t want our Generous Space gatherings to carry that atmosphere of fear. Like you said before, for the sake of hospitality, we want people with varying levels of privilege (and awareness of privilege) to feel welcome to share space together. But for the sake of justice, our fellow community members need opportunities to let us know when our comments and actions are preventing them from feeling welcomed or loved. And when I have unintentionally made them feel unwelcome or unloved, I need to focus on humility and trying to change my language and behaviours.
ERIC: Right! In Generous Space, we enter relationship with one another where we commit to actively dismantle the barriers around us and between us that are preventing one another’s flourishing. I think a big part of this is realizing that sometimes I am the one reinforcing those barriers with my actions and words.
Wendy sometimes says that “this community only works because we love each other.” So how do we compassionately call one another back into mutual relationship when we’ve done each other harm or unconsciously silenced a missing voice?
BETH: We both know this gets tricky. Marginalized people shouldn’t carry the burden of educating or correcting those with privilege – unfortunately, sometimes that is the only way things come to light. And when people do speak up, they are often told to not get too angry or disturb the peace. This has happened to many LGBTQ+ people when our churches hurt us and then try to silence our valid frustration by telling us that we’re all Christians and we just need to try harder to be nice and get along.
ERIC: It’s another form of oppression to tell marginalized people how they should respond to their experiences of harm. “You need to be more compassionate to your oppressor.” And I think too often in the church, we fail to leave adequate space for anger around experiences of oppression. We need to BOTH leave space for anger in our community AND recognize that the shame that can accompany public ‘calling out’ isn’t always the best motivator for change. In Generous Space, we want to give each other the benefit of the doubt that our screw-ups are unconscious or unintentional and our commitment to a posture of humility begs us to open our ears to hear how our behaviour might need to change if we are to seek justice together.
“It’s another form of oppression to tell marginalized people how they should respond to their experiences of harm.”
BETH: Right. I hear you saying two things to those who are harmed: (1) “Do what you need to do to protect your own emotional, mental, and spiritual health” and (2) “Choose a method of addressing the harm that will provide the best chance for positive change.” Sometimes those two things are mutually exclusive, and in those cases, I think we agree that self-care should take priority. Even though one painful word or action can seem small or innocuous, it might be piling on top of a whole bunch of similar words of actions we’ve experienced, or it might trigger past trauma in our lives. When having a one-on-one conversation with the person who harmed us feels overwhelming for these reasons, I think we need to give ourselves permission to ask an ally to step in and have that conversation on our behalf.
ERIC: Exactly, I think this is one of those spots where we need to explore what allyship looks like. As someone who is trying to be attuned to my own privilege, listening for racist, ableist, chauvinist, etc. comments or actions and looking for ways to support those affected by these behaviours is a part of aspiring to be an ally to my LGBTQ+ siblings who are also people-of-colour, disabled, woman-identified, genderqueer, etc. This allyship might involve compassionately pointing out to the person in question how their behaviour was harmful. While this type of conversation may be uncomfortable for me to have, being willing to step into that discomfort is a part of using my privilege to stand in the way of harm.
“…listening for racist, ableist, chauvinist, etc. comments or actions and looking for ways to support those affected by these behaviours is a part of aspiring to be an ally to my LGBTQ+ siblings who are also people-of-colour, disabled, woman-identified, genderqueer, etc.”
BETH: To sum up, I think hospitality and justice work best together in the Generous Space community when there is a spirit of permission… permission for those most affected by harm to excuse themselves from this conversation when needed… permission for you to point out how I can become more hospitable & just… and permission for me to belong as an imperfect “work in progress” so long as I’m humble, teachable, and committed to do my part in cultivating just & hospitable relationships.
ERIC: It’s one thing for the two of us, who carry a lot of privilege in many areas, to have this conversation, but we’re not the primary voices that people should be listening to on these topics. There’s so much more that our friends in the community who have been personally affected by racism, ableism, etc. will add to this conversation. I’m excited to listen to their input at our upcoming retreat in panel discussions and workshops, and pray that hospitality and justice might saturate our time together. As we commit to listening to these too-often silenced voices, our community matures into one that recognizes whole, complex, individuals composed of intersecting identities and in the process we come to more clearly recognize the relationship between two of our values: hospitality and justice.
Check out our other Generous Space Retreat 2017 blog reflections HERE!