Wholeness for All – Kim Green and Rev. Anthony Makar
Wholeness For All Homily – Kim Green
Alice Walker said, and I quote…
“Even when we feel we can’t change things, it’s important to have awareness of what has happened. If you are unaware of what has happened, it means you’re not alive in many respects. And to be unalive in many places within yourself means you are missing a lot of the experience of being on this planet. And this planet is not to be missed.”
So, I ask, what are you missing on this planet?
What do we all miss under the guise of staying safe?
Safety is an impediment to wholeness. It forces us to hold strong to what has already been, blocking the light of new. Claiming one’s wholeness is nothing less than soul work. But it must be done.
To become whole we must do two things: shed our skins and be courageous enough to steal the most precious pieces from the hearts of others.
Now, do not make a note to look this up in a book, later. Neither books nor statistics can support you in achieving your own wholeness. I had to learn the hard way that wholeness is openness, non-judgment and a willingness to become a different person tomorrow than you are today. Wholeness is an ability to share soul-deep connections with others, because you are so connected to yourself.
But first, we must acquaint ourselves with our souls.
My own journey towards wholeness was immediate. From the moment I took my first breath, my very being was strapped and buckled into a parachute harness, and I was dropped into my destiny. Right then and there, I could feel the risk involved in being truly alive.
But being un-alive was unacceptable.
Being born into the four walls of my brown body, I was charged with the task of staying safe and becoming whole at the same time. I was acutely aware that the world had already minimized my existence. I was female and of color. Like the womanist from which, I came, I chose wholeness in a world that wasn’t readily offering it to girls that looked like me.
I had to take mine.
Womanism has always been in my blood, long before I held an Alice Walker book. But once I ingested this sacred concept of Alice’s, I could finally exhale. Just knowing that she and other women also lived with these constant hunger pangs of needing more than what we’ve been given.
As a womanist, I am compelled to resist that which tries to shrink me. I have learned to demand that others see me how I see myself: awoke, nuanced and of course, whole.
My mother was my first womanist role model. Through my little-girl eyes, I witnessed something like God constantly pushing her, assuring her, promising her that that she didn’t have to remain as small as her beginnings. This God gave her permission to have the things that her hearted desired. Her God allowed her to be.
My mother saw more for herself than the world saw for her. Although raised in a devoutly Christian household, her siblings never questioned what they were taught. My mother not only questioned it, she abandoned it and chose to walk her own spiritual path. Tradition and history could not paralyze her.
In the early 1950s, my mother left the only place she had ever known, Cincinnati, Ohio. “I’m moving to New York City,” she said. A place that she had only visited in her dreams. First, they laughed.
You know… that nervous laughter of those afraid to see what they are missing on this planet. Then, they cried tears of certainty, knowing they had already lost her to the world.
My mother’s move to New York City was her crowning moment. Sadly, she died way too soon…before we ever talked about what it means to be a Black woman. Over a glass of wine, we never had a chance to discuss and debate these heady concepts of wisdom, womanism and what it means to be whole…. We never got to keep the secrets of women…She never told me how she truly felt about that woman who slept in her locked bedroom for over a year. Perhaps, I was too young for an explanation, but I saw all that I needed to see: permission to love without condition. My mother was my inheritance.
But, we all know that inheritances come with good and bad. Perhaps she didn’t realize what she was doing to me when she thrust me into an all-white community of little girls who looked nothing like me. They were daughters of New York Royalty. Their fathers were rock stars, TV newscasters and CEO’s. None of them looked like me or my mother or anyone that we had ever met. As a first grader, I was way out of my depths, an intruder, sent in to kick down the doors of exclusion. It was a world, clearly, not meant for me. But, my mother insisted that it was.
To become whole we must do two things: shed our skin and be courageous enough to steal the precious pieces from the hearts of others.
Shedding my skin did not imply that I rejected my Blackness, but it did require me to be more than “Black.” Being “Black,” could not be my most important feature. We are not merely the color of our skin or the tragedy of our pasts. It can’t be or we’ll miss this planet in all of its glory.
Once I grew to disband with one singular identity, I was ready to really be with my classmates, in all of their “rich” girl innocence. An innocence that we all shared equally. Becoming friends and bonding with them and their families, showed me how much more there was to me and to them. They were not merely “white” or “rich” or “the daughters of millionaires…” From their hearts, I stole the precious parts: their love of nature and animals. Their passion for excellence. Their thoughtfulness and generosity. I also learned to laugh until my stomach ached. Their laughter was always loud and resonant, never subdued or muffled by prudishness or good manners. These girls lived out loud and showed me that I could, too. But the most important thing that I stole is how to carry myself with pride and expectation, like they always did.
My mother was right. I belonged there.
And my classmates learned a lot from my heart, as well. They felt how a life shatters when a little girl’s mother dies suddenly on the New York City subway. They learned how to gently bring me back from the dead with their friendship and their love. My peers saw what a father/daughter relationship could look like when a father’s priority is not his next million, but his daughter. They learned that love doesn’t always mean material things. They learned from me that there is a spirit out there and we all must find it. And, they learned that being “other’’ doesn’t mean less.
Of course, the experience of being amongst the rich and privileged wasn’t as easy as it sounds. In my house the discussions of the realities of race were my lullabies. My father would never allow me to forget. He berated me with his own enraged stories of the South, slavery, indignity and Jim Crow. He taught me how insufferable the world is. He told me the world is racist, exclusive and forbidding. I fought him, knowing what I believed of my white friends. He would say, “But, it’s my job to prepare you for how the world is and how it will always be. “There’s no room for little black girls in a sea of WASPs.”
He was wrong.
And, he was right to push me to the brink of myself, propelling me to hold on to the parts of me that he feared that I was shedding.
To become whole we must do two things: shed our skin and be courageous enough to steal the precious pieces from the hearts of others.
I finally heard him. I had to go reclaim the truth of my blackness. Thanks to my family in Cincinnati, I was immersed in music, which is where I discovered my original self. Despite my family’s urban struggle with inertia, every summer, my mother sent me to them. A new set of Lions to tame. It was an annual pilgrimage to whence I came. They were Black people, my family who didn’t understand who I had become “up in New York.”
With very little in common and a long summer ahead of us, they did what my people do; they fed me music like it was food. One by one, my cousins would dip me into the warm soothing waters of Disco, R&B and Funk. The drums, the horns, the rhythms, the wails…with these sounds, my heart grew out of my chest. They nursed me on the irresistible sounds of Blackness. As I fell in love with it, I stole their passion, right out of their hearts, taking back what was rightfully mine.
To this day music nourishes me. It brings the blood back into my paled face. It strengthened my mind and loosened my limbs, so I could dance with my cousins through hot summer nights.
As I grew older, I found myself just as comfortable with Neil Young as I was with Funkadelic. I could waltz at the Waldorf Astoria and dance with my drunk Uncle Jack at backyard Barbecues. My wholeness was emerging. I moved comfortably in both worlds, because I was finally comfortable with myself; a womanist who no longer needed to fit in. Soul work, indeed.
If not for a womanist’s hunger, where would I be? As a writer, I would be deprived of the stories, the characters, and the love affairs that have ignited my imagination. Where would I have been without allowing my heart to roam freely in places to which I was not invited?
Safety is an impediment to wholeness. With it, we suffer the violence of disconnection.
So, I say to you, let us not miss a thing on this precious planet. For she is watching.
Wholeness For All Homily – Rev. Rev. Anthony Makar
In 1975, a professor of English at Wellesley College published a book intending to articulate “the female imagination” at play in women’s literature. Not one female person of color writer was mentioned.
Alice Walker, for one, was distressed by this. How possibly could the Wellesley professor, a feminist by the name of Patricia Meyer Spacks, think that the voices of white, middle-class women were representative of all women of all colors and all classes and all other possible markers of identity?
To devalue the voices of women of color like this is wrong. But Patricia Meyer Spacks had her supporters. One of them justified her exclusion of women of color authors by saying that she didn’t want to theorize about women whose experiences were so very different from hers. To this, Alice Walker said, “Spacks never lived in 19th century Yorkshire, England, so why theorize about the Brontë’s?”
It’s a great question. The life circumstances of the authors of such classics as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are completely different from that of 20th century American women! Yet I guess since they all share whiteness, well….
There is a reason that Alice Walker, just a couple years later, in 1983, would coin the term “womanism” and develop a corresponding theory and movement. It was past time. The feminism of the 19th and 20th centuries was really about the survival of white, relatively well-off women, so no wonder issues of race and class were ignored. But when you are a black women, your survival can’t ignore any form of oppression, since practically every form is aimed at you, all at once. From the very beginning of your life, the world is swinging at you, from multiple directions.
Which gives the voices of women of color true profundity. They/you know how deeply oppression can cut. You know how sharp the hunger for healing and wholeness can be. You know, first hand, how to stay resilient and feisty, to thrive despite all.
To be magic.
Your voice, which is the one most likely to be silenced, is the one that most needs to be heard.
So we at UUCA are hearing these voices. We hear Alice Walker when she speaks that word, “womanism,” and when she defines it. A “womanist” is “A woman who loves another woman, sexually and/or non-sexually. She appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility… [she] is committed to the survival and wholeness of an entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically for health… loves the spirit…. loves struggle. Loves herself. Regardless.”
Note especially the part where she says that the womanist is committed to the survival of an entire people. Some feminists have argued differently, saying that men are the enemy. But the womanist refuses to polarize like this. The womanist affirms women’s relationships with men and the health of the family, and wants men to be well. How precious and necessary in this moment when masculinity can take toxic forms, and again and again it’s a white male shooting up yet another school.
More about all this another time.
For now, let’s bring things back to the beautiful voices of the womanists in this space. The commitment to the survival and wholeness of all, starting with oneself.
What might this look like?
A moment ago we heard Kim Green say, “As a womanist, I am compelled to resist that which tries to shrink me. I have learned to demand that others see me how I see myself: awoke, nuanced, and of course, whole.”
That is a revolutionary standpoint. You want to be whole, says this womanist? Know that there are so many systems out there that want to create you in their own image. Know this, read the signs of this, and then snatch yourself back from every one, as best as you can. Even the system of one’s skin color, which is a system that racism imposes, and which, for people of color, is felt inside as a painful double-consciousness. “Shedding my skin,” says Kim, “did not imply that I rejected my Blackness, but it did require me to be more than ‘Black.’ Being ‘Black’ could not be my most important feature. We are not merely the color of our skin or the tragedy of our pasts. It can’t be or we’ll miss this planet in all of its glory.”
This is essentially the same thing we heard Carol Welter saying, while our amazing dancer was dancing. “What’s black anyway? I am who I am.”
This is so because we are beings with inherent worth and dignity, who possess a wholeness that transcends every smaller part that makes us up. Our race, our gender, our sexual orientation, our class, our ability are undeniably significant parts of who we are, but to identify who we are with any one of them completely and exclusively is to participate in our own oppression. Each of us is all our parts, together, and even then, we are more than that.
We are ourselves. We are individual. We are whole.
But so much wants to shrink us down to some smaller part. And so, like Kim, we feel the “constant hunger pangs of needing more than what we’ve been given.”
But though some aspects of the world are so deeply wounding to us, can we trust that there are other aspects that will somehow feed us and help us into our wholeness?
Despite all, can we still hope?
To become whole, says Kim’s womanism, “is (in part) to be courageous enough to steal the precious pieces from the hearts of others.”
Why courage? Maybe because no precious piece from others comes perfectly and without complications. Kim’s mother gave her a precious piece about living boldly and large, but this same woman died suddenly in a New York City subway and that’s a powerfully haunting memory. Kim’s school friends gave her precious pieces about love for nature and animals and laughter and friendship and so much more, but they were of a different race and class than her, and that brought challenges. Kim’s family in Cincinnati gave her precious pieces of disco and R&B and funk and dancing with drunk Uncle Jack at a backyard barbecue, but they didn’t understand who she had become in New York City, they didn’t understand her.
Every precious piece she stole/she was given came with complexity, but it was her courage that enabled her to be vulnerable and to be open and to engage.
“Where would I have been,” she says, “without allowing my heart to roam freely in places to which I was not invited?”
And I want to join her in that. Allowing the heart to roam free, to become whole.
I want wholeness for us all.
And I want it from the spiritual tradition that unites us together today. Unitarian Universalism.
You know, as I was thinking about Alice Walker and her outrage at discovering no women of color authors represented in that book by the feminist Wellesley professor, I couldn’t help but connect the dots and see something completely analogous with how people of color, men and women alike, might find something vital missing when they read the “book” of Unitarian Universalist history. Where are the people of color? How can a religious tradition that preaches faith in the inherent worth and dignity of EVERY person be so … middle class white?
My colleague the Rev/ Mark Morrison-Reed calls it “The black hole in the white UU psyche.”
When there is a hole, you don’t have true wholeness.
The hole is a lack, a vacuum, an absence, a poverty. It’s being schooled in ignorance about all that is not white middle class. It’s being taught to be afraid to go beyond the information you already know and the people you already know.
That’s not freedom. That’s unfreedom.
That’s how a movement misses the planet in all of its glory.
We are needing to build a new way. We are needing to hear voices that we have never heard before.
We are needing to fill in the hole so we can achieve wholeness.
We are needing to be fearless in being open to how the next chapter of the story unfolds, starting now.
No precious piece we steal or which comes to us will be perfect or without complication. Especially when the piece is a move. But, like Kim, we can trust that what comes our way will be enough.
The past is what it was, but now, you and me: we stand upon the threshold of something new. Unitarian Universalism can achieve a wholeness it has never had before, even as we carry forward all the history that deserves to be carried forward, all the precious pieces that deserve to be stolen.
All I know is that a great way to start a new chapter in our collective life is with womanist voices.
Voices that won’t allow us to remain asleep.
Voices saying – Give yourself the gift of a new day.
Voices saying – Wake up and smell the possibility.