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A conversation about words we use and misuse

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What is gaslighting? What is cultural bias? What is implicit bias? We hear these terms in the news, on social media, perhaps even at church. The Rev. Enger Muteteke who works with The UMC’s General Commission on Religion and Race, shares how understanding the terms and viewing them through a scriptural lens  can help us build a culture of belonging in our congregations and communities.

Rev. Enger Mutetke

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This episode posted on November 18, 2022.

Transcript

Prologue

Crystal Caviness, host: What is gas lighting? What is cultural bias? What is implicit bias? We hear these terms in the news, on social media, perhaps even at church. Enger Muteteke, who works for the United Methodist Church’s General Commission on Religion and Race shares how understanding the terms and viewing them through a scriptural lens can help us build a culture of belonging in our congregations and communities.

Conversation

Crystal: Enger, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape. I’m so excited that you’re here with us today.

Enger:  I’m excited to be here.

Crystal: You are at The United Methodist Church’s General Commission on Religion and Race. We abbreviate that and call it GCORR. And you are the person who developed a new resource for the church, for the denomination, called “The What Is?” Series. I’m really happy that we’re getting to have this conversation. I think it’s an important conversation to have in the church. So, thank you for being with us today. Just to get started, what is the “What Is?” Series?

Enger:  That’s such a great question and I’m so glad to be here, as I mentioned, again, just to talk about the “What Is?” Series. I think it’s one of the most exciting things that we’re doing at GCORR right now in our programs and education area. It really was developed out of our program planning with all staff in July. When we were all thinking and brainstorming around racial/cultural competency and inter racism work. At our agency, one of the three-fold prongs of our model, the push for equity and then there’s intercultural competency. And then there’s catalyzing authentic community vital conversations. And so, we were thinking about not just churches and clergy and laity in conferences who might want to talk to us because they have already been doing the work of intercultural competency and anti-racism. But we were also thinking about what about those folks who are just beginning their journey in intercultural competency and anti-racism, who are thinking about discipleship as it relates to racism and anti-racism? And really want to begin to do this work but are kind of scared to do it because they don’t know what certain terms mean. And we even found that with those who are seasoned in the work of justice, they sometimes…folks sometimes don’t know what certain words mean. So, we just got to thinking about what are some of the terms that are often used that peple don't know what they mean. So, we have everything on our list from intersectionality to implicit bias to gas lighting. The What Is?” Series is a series of one-paging. So, it’s just a one page document. And simply put it’s titled “What Is?” and then the term. “What Is racism?” “What Is cultural bias?” Right now, I believe we have a list of, I think, 18 terms on our web site. And it will just keep going. We’ll just keep adding to it. The really great thing about this series that we’re all really excited about is that there’s a template that we have that all of the writers were asked to follow just so as people take the one template, no matter what terms it is, they have a similar format. So, there’s the definition. There’s the example. Then there’s the biblical theological background for that particular term. Then there are references and resources. But that’s essentially our “What Is?” series.

Crystal: I’m a communicator in the church. You know, I do this work... We do this work every day. And I think I know the words and I think I know how to use them properly. But I found myself looking at the definitions and realizing that I didn’t clearly understand the nuances. So, you’re right. It’s such a much-needed resource. Were there some specific things that you were hearing that made GCORR realize that there was a real need here?

Enger:  When I talked about us doing the program planning portion for the…how the “What Is?” Series came out of the program planning in July, I had come on staff in June. And then in July I was at the all-staff meeting. So, a lot of my other co-workers and colleagues, they had been hearing things from conferences that they had worked with, clergy and laity leaders that had reached out. But I think the other thing that we were thinking about was as we…. And as you know my denomination sits on the…like the precipice of we don’t know what, as we General Conference 2024, as folks are still navigating living with Covid and some of the racial inequities that were uncovered during Covid, along with the death of George Floyd and a lot of other racial injustices that we had a front-row seat to during that time, because many of us were quarantined. We all kind of felt that we need to go back to basics. Sometimes I think when we’re at a place where things are complex, there’s so much going on you can’t make sense of anything. We were trying to figure out how can we best resource the church. And leaders in the church and in the communities that they are part of, for the work that they’re doing now and going forward. And I think sometimes what winds up happening is, like, we think we know. It’s like, well, we’re this far along, like we should know what gas lighting is. Right? We should know what cultural bias is. You know, I’ve been a pastor in ministry, in cross-racial, cross-cultural ministry for almost 22 years. And every time I walk into a ministry setting, Crystal, you know, I have to remind myself I can’t assume that the folks in the pews and in our communities know what theological terms mean. I can’t assume that people know what discipleship is. I can’t assume that people know what salvation is or what sin is. So, I think in that same way our staff was kind of… We were going back to basics. So that when people look at our resources, whether it’s the resource library, whether it's in our premium resources that we have, or whether they just reach out and ask, you know, where is this located? Can you help me? We have a depth and breadth of resources that we’re not just resourcing to one specific person. We’re not just resourcing to the seasoned disciple and justice-seeker and justice-lover. But we’re also resourcing to folks who have never started the journey of justice but maybe during Covid or after witnessing the death of George Floyd and the actions that came out of that, they’ve been called…they feel called to engage the work of justice. And so, they have a place to start. We wanted folks to have a place to start.

Crystal: How does someone start that work? How does someone who really feels called, where do start?

Enger:  Yeah. Oh, my gosh. That’s such a great question. The other thing we’ve been talking about as a staff and really reminding each other in the conferences that we work with and the folks that we work with is that so much…actually all of ministry but so much of racial justice work and intercultural competency work is contextual. So that really does mean that you’ve got to root yourself in your faith community and in the community that you’re part of and begin asking questions so that you know where the beginning point is. I think what winds up happening…. And I’m sure you know what I mean when I say this. …in the life of the church many times we assume a starting point for folks, I mean, for communities. You know, just by us looking around and doing our own observation we come to our own conclusion and say, Well, they look like they’re here; so let me give them this. When really, they might not be that far along. They might be that when you really root yourself in your faith community and begin to ask questions that let’s say for example a church leader who’s been part of their faith community for 50 years, he goes to really ask questions about well where to we want to start? You know, What Is the reason for us engaging in justice work? They may find that their church is all the way at the beginning. And they assumed that they were further along. But by asking their questions and having conversations with people they really enter in at the right point and then everybody can start at the same place. So, I think it really goes to asking those questions in your community and rooting yourself there rather than assuming that, you know, that their folks are where you think they are. So….

Crystal: And that’s what I really love about this series. I learned things about myself as the reflection questions came up after each word. I was discovering my own place, you know, where I was in my understanding or where I was in how this affects me in my context. So, it’s really…. The series feels like it can be about personal growth. It could be used as an individual study. It could be used as a small group. It feels like there just are many ways that this series can be used. What’s the perfect scenario for you as you were developing it? How would you love to see it used?

Enger:  Well, so, there are two things that came to mind when you were talking. I remember that when you go on the “What Is?” Series page, you can download each one individually, or you can download the whole stack of one pages that are there. Right? So it could be that a small group, so a Sunday school class or a bible study group or an affinity group. So, the women’s groups, men’s groups or youth groups can download that whole thing. And let’s say that they’re…let’s say they download all 18 lessons that are there now, and they covenant to go through that for a month or for 2 months. That’s the way I can see that being used. And they do maybe one a week or however often they meet. They take the time to do one at a time. Since there are reflection questions there, I don’t advocate like taking 3 in a session, you know, and speeding through it. You know. But taking one at a time and just kind of diving in and seeing what’s there because that’s the other way that that small group will get a snapshot, not of the whole congregation, but they’ll be able to see, you know, where’s the point that our congregation maybe can start based on the group that I’m in. The other way that I envision our “What Is?” Series being used is there’s so many….. Now another idea just popped into my mind. …so many ways to use it. Cabinets who are at that point of beginning to do internal work, into assessing equity around appointments and things like that, but needing to know like What Is racism, like what does all this mean? can start with that series and covenant together to do one page prior to delving into, you know, their appointment Monday or Tuesday or whatever day they need to do appointments, they can do that first as a devotion and then move into that time. And then, as you said, it can be used as an individual resource. Disciples individually who are on the journey of justice or who want to begin can covenant. You know, I just encourage folks to reach out to one or two accountability partners to hold you accountable, but you kind of go through that in your quiet time every day.

Crystal: You know, there are definitely many of these words that are about anti-racism and about social justice, but there some words that surprised me. The word that surprised me the most was ‘belonging.’ And I wish we had time to talk about all the words because honestly, I think each word, you know, could have its own episode. But I do…I want to talk about belonging because when I saw it was on the list, I guess that I was surprised. And of course, as United Methodists, as Christians, we know all about radical hospitality and making people feel welcome. But there’s this added step when it comes to someone feeling that they belong. Can we talk a few minutes about this deeper space of connection?

Enger:  Yes. Yes. And I love that that particular one-pager because it’s connected to a book that I read and another colleague…two other colleagues read, called “Cultures of Belonging” by Alida Miranda-Wolff. The way that she wrote that book and the way it was explained, it just lended itself right to, you know, the work in the church. In reading that book it reminded me and as I was talking with the 2 other colleagues, Elaine Moy, who’s on our staff, and also General Secretary, Reverend Doctor Giovanni Arroyo. We had read that book when we were…I was shocked at how it reminded me, gave me echoes of the pictures of hospitality that are in scripture, you know, and how Jesus really does call us to go the extra mile. And if you went this far, okay, now I need you to go this far. And so, what that looks like with the term ‘belonging’ is a lot of times in the life of the church… And when I was pastoring I remember fellowship dinners and dinners in the fellowship hall, we often think of the words fellowship and belonging as being synonymous. And they are in a way except belonging really is other-centered. It’s not based and centered on my comfort. It really is centered on thinking about the other and how do they feel like they belong in this case. And if that person says, ‘Well, I don’t feel welcome; I don’t feel like I belong,’ then that means that as people of God…. And Alita in her book doesn’t…she doesn’t use that language. But I’m using it here because it translates ‘cause you know as disciples then we’ve got to ask ourself the questions. Okay, so, then why are they not feeling like they belong? And then that should make us turn to our neighbor and say, What are some things that we can do to make you feel like you belong? You know, tell me why you don’t feel like you belong. One of the examples that was given, I think…. I think the example that was given in that one pager is the example of unified sports. And I had no idea what unified sports was until we moved back to Maryland and my girls started sports at the high school. And you know, I said to my daughters…I said, “What is unified tennis?” They’re like, “Mom, you don’t know what unified tennis is?” I said, “No, I don’t know what unified sports is.” And, you know, then I looked it up and, Crystal, it gives such a really beautiful picture of belonging because what it does is it places people who are abled and people who are differently abled in the same space and assesses their skill set. And so, people who are abled and differently abled serve on the same team that have the same skills. But it in no way at any time separates those folks so that we make a team for differently abled folks over here and a team for abled folks over here. It really does…it really is such a beautiful picture of belonging. And on the website for unified sports…. I forget the exact quote. But what it says is that the reason that this happens is so that understanding and friendship can be fostered. I’m like that makes such sense. And then the next question I asked myself was why do we not do that in the church? Why is it so complicated, you know, when it comes to belonging? And I really think it all has to do with…. Again, it goes back to that word comfort. You know, we are constantly focused on what’s my comfort level, what’s going to make me uncomfortable? And if that makes me uncomfortable, then I don’t want to do that. Belonging really focuses on…. It’s other-centered. What makes that person feel like they belong in the space that is provided.

Crystal: And one of the questions on that page was for the reader to reflect on a time when they felt like they really belonged. And I really love that that put me in that context. So, I know what that feels like. How can I help create spaces where other people feel like that? And what a great exercise, and you know, as we’re moving through these and learning, you know, just by learning the definitions and learning what it means to create, as you said, the space of understanding and love and friendship.

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Crystal: So, part of all of those definitions is a place for scripture. And I really enjoyed reading the scriptures that you had paired with the various words. Can you tell me about that process?

Enger:  So, like I said, we…there’s some of us on staff who wrote the one pages. And then we had writers who wrote the one pages. And I’ll just speak for myself in terms of the whole…of engaging the whole process for writing on the template. It really helped me that in the…. For me it meditative because it helped me get in a rhythm of really thinking about how am I communicating the meaning of this. And how do I want the reader, those on the receiving end, to understand it by the time it’s finished? What visions or pictures do I also want them to have? And so, you know, you go through. There’s a definition and then the example. It’s the example part every time that always gave me a picture of the biblical and theological background. I think what that…for me, like I said, it’s meditative. I think what that does is it put me in a frame of mind where I’m not thinking about belonging like how I would interpret it. Right? Now, it’s asking me for biblical and theological background, how does that understand belonging which pushes you a little bit, right? Like, you know, it pushes you to a place where you’re like, Okay, now I have to think about how does God understand belonging? Right? And we’re talking about the work of racial justice. My own personal discipleship that has brought up questions of loving your enemy and what does that look like? And does your enemy deserve to belong? And then you start thinking about grace. And you’re like [laughs]…. That process really pushed me to a place where you have to provide examples of how Jesus helped people belong or created spaces of belonging, how the spirit of God calls us to engage racial justice to deal with racism. And so, to provide pictures of that so that it’s not just me who understands and the lady besides people around me. But I’m also thinking about the person in the community who doesn’t really want to engage this work but is curious about what something means, and really providing a place for learning where the door can be opened so that can lead them to do work, you know, to either beginning their journey or to a deeper place from theirs in their injustice learning.

Crystal: We might think that some of these words are 21st Century words, that this is all new. But in fact, it’s certainly not. And by having that scripture there it just really reinforces how this is the church’s work. Jesus modeled it. And by definition of Christ followers that is what we are to model as well. I really appreciated these scripture references in there. Well, Enger, as I kind of finish up there’s a couple more questions. One is what has surprised you most as you’ve worked on developing this series?

Enger:  I think what surprised me most is as I have read what other writers have written on one pages, especially the biblical and theological grounding pieces, I’m thinking of gas lighting, the one pager. And when I read that it really hit home for me personally because it opened up another way for me to understand what gas lighting is and how we undermine how God has made all of us when we dismiss someone else’s experience. I think the particular scripture was from Genesis 3. It was talking about the serpent. And basically, the writer was saying that the serpent was the first original gas lighter. And I was like, Oh, my God. You know. So, to think that that then what means is that every time we engage in the practice of gas lighting, anybody’s experience, especially in terms of experiences of injustice—not just narratives, but experiences of injustice, experiences of pain and trauma—not only do we stop their healing, but then we become agents of the original gas lighter. And I said, that day I forgot ???? [Laughs] I’m like, I’m done today. [Laughs] I’m like, that’s it today. So, you know, that…I think that’s the power of being able to sit with these one pages. And it first highlights the diversity of yes, that we have in the body of Christ in clergy and laity all across the United Methodist Church and how when we honor everybody’s experience and their gifts and their graces, it really does for us personally open up doors of transformation as far as ???  …. Makes us think from a deeper level, not just about who God is but also how God acts and how God calls us to be co-laborers when the redemptive work of the world, which is a huge deal. So, that… Yeah, that was only just that one page. [Laughs]

Crystal: Wow! I can just tell that would be something like, All right. I need to sit with this for a little while. I need to think about it. Well, I cannot wait to see at the end of November when you have that full expansive list, that’s going to be really another one of those times where it’s going to take some time to go through it. And we will have a link on the landing page for this podcast episode, we’ll have a link to the “What Is?” Series as well as to other GCORR resources. There’s so much rich information there.

Before we finish up, Enger, we do have one question that we ask all of our guests, all of our “Get Your Spirit in Shape” guests. And that question is: How do you keep your own spirit in shape?

Enger:  So, I want to start off by saying… And I know…. I mean, it’s not uncommon that this was not case…like with every other clergyperson, this was not the case when I first came into ministry. I did not know how to keep my spirit in shape. And being in cross-racial, cross-cultural ministry for almost 22 years, in the beginning was absolutely detrimental to me. I mean, you know, engaging spiritual practices as a form of self-care in ministry period is a necessity for all clergy. But for those who serve in CRCC ministry as black indigenous, you know, people of color who are pastors, it is even more essential. And so, for me now it’s been a process since 2010. One main…my main go-to is Pray as you Go, which is…it’s an app. And it is a meditative devotional app that starts with some centering music and centering words. You just sit and meditate on the music that’s playing and then it moves right to scripture. And then there’s some guiding questions that are there. And then they read the scripture again. It’s like a quick lectio, lectio divina, that you can engage every day. Scripture reading and meditating on what I’ve read is another practice. Date nights with my husband is the other practice. And then get-togethers with my sister/girlfriends is another practice. My cousin…she and I are like sisters. And so, when we get together it’s like 4 hour, like soul-nourishing lunches. It’s like Oooh and like laughter. All kinds of things. And then getting together with family. We just had a huge get-together. It’s like a pre-Thanksgiving thing here at our house last weekend, or the weekend before. And we had 20 people in our house. My parents were here. My aunts were here. My cousins were here. There was laughter. There was food, storytelling. There was music. You know. There were people screaming at the television. There was a football game on. Our team was losing. [Laughs] But I think all of those things serve to keep my spirit in shape because I look at it as a holistic…it really is a holistic practice. So when one of those things are missing, ??? and I rest in other areas is not as ??? So, if I haven’t talked to…. My brother’s in ???? We talk every week. If I haven’t talked to him in 2 weeks, I feel it. So, I need to call them and say, What’s going on? To check in. And then the other thing that keeps my spirit in shape…. And I had… In 2010 I had been praying about this. I said, you know, God, I’d really love it if I could have colleagues that I could count as friends, that I could just like be myself with and also pray with. And Crystal, it is…what is it 2022? So, it’s 12 years now. I cannot tell you the number of colleagues that I can ??? And it’s been such a blessing. It’s a such relief and a release to my soul. And in all of those spaces, it’s those people who hold me accountable for keeping my joy and keeping a passion for not just ministry, but also being authentic to who Enger is. Not Rev. Enger, but just Enger. But you know. And it has been… It’s just been a joy and all of those things keep my soul in shape.

Crystal: Thank you for sharing all that. I love hearing how balanced all of that it is. In the different roles that you play you’ve got…you’ve got that practice there, that discipline. That’s a great model for all of us. So, thank you for sharing that. And thank you for being here today to talk about the “What Is?” Series, this really important work that you all are doing at GCORR, important for the church, important for the…all of the world. And I just want to tell you again now much we appreciate you spending time to tell us more about it.

Enger:  Thank you so much for having me. I’ve enjoyed myself. This is so great.

Epilogue

Crystal: That was Enger Muteteke, senior director of Programs and Education Strategies for The United Methodist Church’s General Commission on Religion and Race. She authored the new “What Is?” Series on GCORR’s website. To learn more about Enger and GCORR, go to UMC.org/podcast and look for this episode. In addition to the helpful links and a transcript of our conversation you’ll find my email address so you can talk with me about “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode of “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” I look forward to the next time that we’re together. I’m Crystal Caviness.