Healing our divides with Amy Julia Becker: Compass 75

Amy Julia Becker is helping us disrupt the cycles of division in our society. Overcoming systems of injustice feels overwhelming for one single person, we don't feel like our efforts could make a difference. Amy Julia shares her experience with those doubts and committing to justice anyways.

 

Amy Julia Becker is an award-winning writer and speaker on faith, family, disability, privilege, and healing. She is the author of four books, including "To Be Made Whole: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope", releasing in Spring 2022, and she is the host of the Love Is Stronger Than Fear podcast. Her work is featured alongside the writings of other Compass contributors in "How to Heal Our Divides".

 

 

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Notes:

During the interview, Amy Julia mentioned several books: 

Amy Julia also noted that she prayers for David Bailey in Richmond, Virginia. David started Arrabon, a ministry for coaching groups into practices of reconciliation.

Our producers came across Amy Julia Becker's work through the book How to Heal Our Divides--which is a collection of essays focused on providing practical ways of building bridges in our society. It features past Compass guests Shane Claiborne and Brian McLaren.

TRANSCRIPT:

Ryan Dunn:

This is the compass podcast where we disrupt the every day with glimpses of the divine. My name is Ryan Dunn saying hello on behalf Pierce Drake, as well, who had to sit out this episode.

In this episode, our disrupter is Amy Julia Becker, who spoke with me about normal people doing things that establish justice--especially when we feel like our efforts, aren't going to make much of a difference. We talked about human unity versus human conformity, a lot of good stuff.

Amy Julia Becker is an award-winning writer and speaker on faith, family, disability, privilege and healing. She's the author of four books, including "To Be Made Whole: an invitation to wholeness, healing, and hope." That's releasing next spring, spring of 2022. And we'll hear her talk about that. She is the host of the Love Is Stronger than Fear podcast. She's a graduate of Princeton University and Princeton theological seminary. And she lives with her husband and three children in Western Connecticut.

Let's meet Amy Julia Becker right now. Amy Julia, thank you so much for joining us. I know I prepped you with some questions upfront. I'm actually going to throw one from left-field at you. How goes it with your soul today?

Amy Julia Becker:

So that's such a good question. Um, I have been in an uncharacteristic sprint for the past six weeks because I'm finishing up a new book and my soul is telling me that it is time to finish this part of the race. All is well. But, um, I, yeah, I, I used to do this all the time where I sprinted through my life, whether that was like, you know, five minutes of prayer and then I'm onto the next thing. And that was kind of what was supposed to set me up for the day. And, um, in recent years I've been able to settle more most of the time, but, um, yeah, these days I feel like I am pushing all of my own boundaries and I'm really looking forward to my Monday deadline because then I should come back to like normal, busy life where it's full and it's great, but there's a place of rest that can, I can return to every day.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. You talk about normal busy life. And I think as we are kind of opening up to that right now, as we're recording early part of November in 2021. So like, it feels like schedules are picking up again. And that has a lot of people feeling anxious. Like so many people I've talked to just feel rushed harried or like, uh, they just don't have the room that they had to breathe before. So what are some ways that, um, as you're running that fast race, like how are you refreshing yourself on the daily?

Amy Julia Becker:

I mean, I am a person who, um, now that my kids are old enough that I'm not being interrupted in the night. So with a big caveat, there I am a person who gets up in the morning and spend some intentional time with a journal, a Bible. Um, that can be any combination of like the kind of spiritual or devotional reading, uh, praying with writing, praying with my thoughts, um, sitting in silence, that type of thing. So that is my anchor point. And then we as a family, although again, in this season have not been quote unquote succeeding. It's not something to succeed in, but as a family, we have typically been able to set Sundays apart as a day for, you know, going to church, but also like taking a nap, taking a walk, reading on the couch, cuddling with the kids, you know, that kind of thing.

Amy Julia Becker:

And this season has been soccer games and dance team and birthday parties. And we have not gotten that rhythm back the way we want it to be either. But, um, those are some of the types of things that I am always looking for. And I have some like markers of health. I mean, reading a novel before bed, without like falling asleep immediately is like a marker of health for me personally. Um, and then of course just actually connecting with people and feeling like I'm present to them when I'm going too fast. My whole family knows this. I will come into a room for being gone. Like even if I've been gone for a couple of days and what I will say immediately is like, what needs to happen next? Or what needs to get done if I'm not in a healthy place, thankfully we all know how to flag that for me. Like, Hey mom, how about we say hello first? You know? So, um, again, I feel like as I'm growing up, I'm learning about myself, how to note some of those things. Um, but the connecting with people and being present to them is another, both a sign of health, but also something that restores me to help as many of these things are.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. And talking about the work that you do so much of your writing centers on issues of justice and inclusion and unity, and we've just had a Christian leader say that there are unattractive people in the world and that they are unattractive because of sin in a roundabout way. That's what he suggested. And of course we can identify that this is really wrong on a number of levels. Um, first it really kind of denies the fact that like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Then it's a cultural assumption kind of thing that, um, attractive or non attractive assumptions are formed on the basis of conformity. So, you know, those who conform the most are generally considered most attractive. And this has to do with your work around unity. Um, and because unity is a little bit different than conformity, can you speak to that for us? Like how is conformity different than unity?

Amy Julia Becker:

Yeah, absolutely. I think this has implications for so much of how we see each other and in our conversations, whether it's about disability, which is something like really near and dear to my heart, we have a daughter with down syndrome, so thought a lot about that. But also when it comes to race and justice or any of our, um, what tends to become social dividing walls, we have language that I think for many Christians, um, we think is about unity when it's actually about conformity. And so making that distinction is so important and the place, one thing that comes to mind for me as an example of this is the idea of being colorblind and, or the other way, this comes out in my life, which is not so much in a racial category, but with my daughter who is someone with down syndrome, who is functioning pretty independently in the world, people will say, oh, she doesn't really have down syndrome.

Amy Julia Becker:

And it's like, oh no, she does every, every cell of her body, in fact. And so for you to say that is to actually dismiss and deny something about something intrinsic to who she is and how she was created and to imply that because she conforms to your idea of normal or typical, she is somehow better or more able or more something than she would be otherwise. And I think the idea of being colorblind, like I don't see color, I don't care. I mean, I've heard, I don't care if you're black, white, or purple and I'm like, well, no one is really purple. So, um, and so I think what I, when I speak about unity, there are a couple of things that come to mind. One is just the idea that we are United in our common humanity and what it means to understand one another, both as a created in the image of God, able to give and receive love that we are being to have been formed out of love and who are invited into love that that's true of all human beings.

Amy Julia Becker:

And if I can begin to have those eyes, when I see someone else that can unite me to that person without making, um, nothing of our differences. And in fact, it can open me up to say, I can celebrate the diversity of your identity of who you are because of what it teaches me because of what it offers me and vice versa. Hopefully you can receive from me something that you wouldn't have otherwise, so that we're in, um, more relationships of giving and receiving rather than of conformity. Um, the other thing that comes to mind in thinking about all of this is just that sense of, um, assimilation being the idea that whether that we think about, um, the colonialization of the world or speaking more specifically in America when it comes to racial identity, okay. Again, w if you assimilate and become just like the normative group, then you're accepted as opposed to what would it mean for us to actually recognize different as something that is in fact, something that God gives us as part of the wonder of creation, part of the beauty and excitement of creation that homogeneity is actually something to be wary of, because that is not this sense of, um, an abundant love that can't be contained and is expressing itself in so many different ways and so many peoples.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. Yeah. And if we put that into kingdom language, like we can say that the, the ultimate vision of God, and that's what kind of, what we talk about when we talk about the kingdom of God, it isn't so much that everybody would be conformed right. Or assimilated. Uh, but yet we would still be unified. What are some of the, um, aspects then of that kind of kingdom unity as you see it?

Amy Julia Becker:

Well, I do always go back to love and it can sound really saccharin and like, and abstract. It can both be like a hallmark greeting card type of thing. But when, but I have really honed in on the passage in first, John chapter four, where it says, God is love. Like, that's a really simple definition of who God is, but if you pair that with the way that Jesus manifested the life of God, like, what does this actually look like in terms of how we treat one another? It certainly doesn't look like homogeny or conformity or everyone becoming the same. Um, and, and I also go to first Corinthians 13, which again, very famous passage, but love is patient like to start with patients. Oh my gosh. Like that is so going back to our conversation about like busy-ness and rushing, that's not how love moves, you know, and that's not how love works.

Amy Julia Becker:

And so I think there is a sense of what does it mean to really see one another and to proactively care for one another in ways that might not seem to benefit me, you know? Um, and again, I'm not doing it for the sake of self-flagellation or sacrifice even, but I'm doing it for the sake of trusting that when I'm, uh, being connected to someone else through love, there is I'm participating in what I think it's Richard Rohr calls the really real, like the deepest reality of our nature, but that's not going to, um, if anything, that's going to enhance some of those differences and give us a chance to celebrate those rather than erase them so that you have, like, as you said, the kingdom of God, you have pictures, whether it's Jesus talking about the heavenly banquet, where at the table with God, there will be people who are, um, living with disabilities and who are poor and who are wealthy and who are, you know, you've got a whole host of people or the end of the Bible in revelation where you've got a picture of all of the nations coming together into the city of God, not in order to all become the same, but in order to be, um, United, but different, um, under God's under God's reign, I guess.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. There to think about it in a different way, kind of conform to love, love for one another. Right. That's pretty cool. I've found it really intriguing in your writing that so much of it. Um, as you kind of address these huge issues, so much of it starts from a place of vulnerability and admitting that, like, you're not quite sure what difference you can make. Um, so our aforementioned leader, the one who was talking about unattractiveness and sin, uh, that person has a huge platform, right. And most of us do not. Now you've struggled with these feelings of, you know, like what kind of platform can I use? What kind of difference can I make, especially around these societal divisions that keep us apart. So how are you navigating that right now?

Amy Julia Becker:

Yeah, I definitely struggle with that question almost daily. Um, and it is a place where I have to just continue to, uh, ask that question. Um, but what I go back to again and again, is actually, there's a book called "Reconciling All Things", um, by Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole out of the Duke Center for Reconciliation. And they write about reconciliation work in the church, and they say that we want it to be fast, global and innocent. We want it to, we want, basically we want this vision of the kingdom of God to come really quickly, um, everywhere at a low cost, um, to us and to others. And they say reconciliation work is actually slow, local and messy. And that gives me a lot of hope for the work that I do in terms of seeing my own bumbling efforts in the world, feeling like I'm always inadequate.

Amy Julia Becker:

I, you know, never feel like it's big enough. I'm not, you know, starting some nonprofit that is swept across the entire nation. And there are chapters in every city, you know, type of thing. And yet I then, um, in my case, it's like I have this little corner of what a friend of mine calls digital Babylon, uh, with like an Instagram post or a Facebook post or whatever it is. Um, and people respond, or I was, um, I was speaking in Florida recently and there was a group of adults who were reading a book, I wrote called white picket fences, which is about, uh, privilege and race and justice and an 87 year old white man from Jacksonville, Florida, uh, organized a group of people from his, um, residential care facility to go and tour a local, um, African-American history museum, because he was like, we need to learn about this.

Amy Julia Becker:

We need to start doing something. And you're like, oh my gosh, if an 87 year old in a residential care facility can say, I'm going to take one step towards whatever comes next then. So can I, and I, and I can be so encouraged again, back to this kingdom language, the images that Jesus gives of a mustard seed or yeast of these little, little, um, items that grow over time. That gives me great. Um, I'm heartened to think of the little steps in my own life, but also in other people's lives that I think again, if they are kind of being planted in the soil of love, so to speak, um, there is a trusting in God to actually do the work of growth, even if it is over a longer timeframe, even if it's, um, messier than I want it to be. Uh, and even if it, you know, doesn't happen in all the places that I want to see, I still take a lot of comfort in that idea that a lot of God's work is hidden and slow, um, and messy and seems really imperfect. And yet does actually lead us back again towards love.

Ryan Dunn:

Um, so how do you, uh, then still bring a sense of urgency to the work?

Amy Julia Becker:

There is a sense of, I need to stay engaged because I am a person with privilege. And what I mean by that is unearned social advantages. So things that I have not worked for, whether that is my ethnic heritage or the fact that my parents were married. And so I had a pretty stable home with the opportunity to get educated, without having a lot of debt, things like that, right. Were just given to me and I didn't earn them. Um, and as a result, I really can close myself off, uh, to the needs of the world and to the call to participate in a work of love and justice. And for me, what that, I mean, there are days where that's what I want to do. Um, and probably where I do that, where I just am, like, I don't feel like dealing with the news headlines or I don't want to know about the person who's hurting.

Amy Julia Becker:

Yeah. But there's also, I think as we take small steps in that direction, we start to recognize a sense of invitation. You know, that we're not being like condemned into this place, but actually invited into a place that's like richer and fuller and, um, challenging, but also really, um, holy and good. And, uh, life-giving and that for me started in large part through having a child with a disability, because certainly living with penny means I'm living with someone who is both inside my world of privilege and outside of that because of her diagnosis. Um, and again, when I, when our life together began, I really wanted to knock down walls so that she could come in and be like me rather than knock down walls so that we could actually not just me and penny, but, um, my life could be more exposed and interacting with people outside of my homogenous bubble. And that became an invitation to a fuller and deeper experience of who God is on a daily basis. That does, well, actually I'll say on a weekly basis, I actually have a friend and we have together committed on Thursdays to, um, pray about issues related to justice and peacemaking, not just peacekeeping in our world, but peacemaking. And that's been, um, I guess a measure of accountability, but it's also been like, so encouraging for us to say, let's pray about this and see what happens. So that's one just like very practical thing I do.

Ryan Dunn:

So tell me about that prayer. Are you praying together?

Amy Julia Becker:

This is gonna sound so funny. It came up through the pandemic. We, um, I was introduced to an, a phone app called Marco Polo, which is kind of like video texting. So it doesn't have to happen in real time. So in on Thursday mornings, we each leave each other, a Polo, which says, here's what I like. Here's, what's on my heart this morning. And we do a couple of different things. We pray about ways in which our local community and church can be involved in acts of and works of justice. And again, I should define justice. What I mean by that. And I think what, like a biblical definition of justice is, is proactive work to care for the vulnerable, whoever that might be in our society. Um, and so how can we not just kind of stay sequestered in our own communities, but actually be proactively working on behalf of the vulnerable, um, for justice.

Amy Julia Becker:

So that's one thing it's just, okay, what's on your heart. When it comes to our local community, our headlines, just like what's going on in the news, whether that's politics or, uh, you know, some trial that's going on or something like that. And then we also actually, um, identified leaders who have a different voice than either of us do and are really on the front lines of, especially within the church advocating for acknowledgement of racism and the work that the church can do to be healing, uh, through beginning with like confession and lament and all those things. So we have actually reached out to some of those people and just asked how we can be praying for them, uh, how we can pray for some of the men and women, mostly who are men and women of color who are doing, getting beaten up out in the public square and like, what can we do to really be like lifting you up from behind the scenes? You know? And so we pray for some people very specifically based on what they've asked us to pray for.

Amy Julia Becker:

Yeah. So we have the people who we've actually heard back from, um, there was a guy named Esau McCaulley who wrote a book called "Reading While Black", uh, and he's a professor at Wheaton College. Jemar Tisby who wrote a book called "The Color of Compromise" and then "How to Fight Racism." Um, another guy named David Bailey, who is the leader of a ministry called Arrabon in Richmond, Virginia. Um, we also pray for Osheta Moore who wrote a great book called, uh, "Dear White Peacemakers." Um, another woman named Natasha Robinson who wrote a book called "A Sojourner's Truth". You can tell, I've got writing friends, contact people and say, how can we be praying for you? But that is our intention and desire. And then, so we leave those and then somewhere in the middle of the day, we actually both again, come back on this app and like actually pray. So the idea is to kind of keep it through the day we are, uh, first just kind of thinking about this, but then actually praying, but we're not doing that in real time together, mostly just as a concession to modern life. It would be great if we got together and did that every week, but that wasn't happening. So we use Marco Polo.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah, well, that's very cool. I know I kind of love the innovative use of technology there. So that's a second one of those weird kind of serendipitous things, but that's like the second time within the last hour that Marco Polo has been thrown in my way. So, uh, it's something to check out as Well in talking about a places of privilege you wrote in white picket fences that most of the time being white and affluent and educated puts me in a position of strength, but in looking for ways that our culture might heal. I find myself in a position of weakness. It, tell me a little bit about that.

Amy Julia Becker:

I think what I realized when I was reading, writing "White Picket Fences" was, um, how much I, in order for any healing to happen needed to depend on the tremendous generosity and hope of people who were, had been historically and in a contemporary sense, um, marginalized and wounded and abused by people like me, not necessarily based by me personally. Um, although certainly that is possible as well, but that sense of, because of not just being white, but being white and affluent and educated and having relative, um, social power and status just puts me representatives really as a person who to say, Hey, I'm starting to learn, I'm starting to grow. I haven't done much historically to address any of the wrongdoing that has happened. I've benefited from that wrongdoing. It's a really humbling place and it's not a place where I have that much to offer because I'm really saying I need to lay down all of the things that have defined me in our cultures eyes as great.

Amy Julia Becker:

Uh, and I need to lay those things down like those aren't. I mean, and, and of course, certainly I have friends who are not in the same social position that I am, and they're like, yes, use your influence, use your money, use your like, in order to benefit. So it's not the say I need to lay them down in the sense of let's pretend I don't have these things, but I need to lay them down as positions that put me in a place of power and influence. Um, and I need to really come from a position of humility recognizing that there are reasons not to trust me. There are reasons not to, um, say, yeah, let's start a friendship or let's start a relationship or let's work together. And so, and that's an unusual position for someone, you know, I've tended to be able to go into hard situations and fix problems. I mean, that's what I've been taught, how to do. Um, and instead of to listen and wait and listen and wait some more, um, and to have discernment about when it's appropriate to speak up and when it's really, uh, important to stay silent, not for the sake of allowing, um, you know, complicity to keep going along the status quo, but in order to be in that, in that humble place of listening and of, um, yeah, not thinking that I'm the one with all the answers.

Ryan Dunn:

Yeah. We can sit with that a bit. Well, you have a deadline coming up on Monday, um, beyond that, like what's next for you?

Amy Julia Becker:

Yeah. Well, I mean, that book comes out in March, so this is a book called "To Be Made Well", and it is looking at the, um, inner well, it's actually looking at a story from the Bible from Mark chapter five, where Jesus is interacting with a bleeding woman and a synagogue ruler. Um, and it's looking at the nature of healing as something that is both for us personally, but also, um, for the healing of society. So looking at the relationship between personal and social healing. So I think that actually has a lot to do with some of the things we've been discussing here today. So between now and then I will be probably just gearing up to get that book out into the world and hopefully into the hands of people who can benefit from it and use it. Um, and yeah, I've got, I've got a little Advent project and Lenten, both devotionals with some, um, you know, small group study guides and things like that, that I'm also working on and yeah, who knows what's next after all that?

Ryan Dunn:

Well, in the little time we have left, can we talk about your writing process a little bit? What drives your inspiration? Like is there a, do you sit down and the words are there, or, uh, is it more of a slog than that?

Amy Julia Becker:

It is so different from day to day. Um, and it's so the way for a long time, I was writing blog posts, which were like thousand word essays. And then also trying to write books that was really hard because it was going from like medium to long. And I, I really couldn't do both at the same time now that my blog is essentially not there it's like Instagram or through these little bitty posts that actually works for me because it's this place to throw out these little ideas. And I kind of have to do that every day. I mean, you know, obviously have to, is relative, but I choose to do that daily, but it is a place to just kind of throw spaghetti against the wall. Like, does it stick? Are people responding and see what happens? And don't worry too much about it if they're not.

Amy Julia Becker:

And that over time helps me know what I'm writing about. So, um, that helps me to say, oh, I keep going back to this story in mark five, this theme about healing right now, I could be wrong. I think I might, I'm really, I keep returning to the idea of the meritocracy, um, and this idea of love as being patient and the ways in which our culture is so fast and, uh, in-patient and not kind, and the way and individualistic and what would, what would it mean to actually pursue a way of love? So that could be wrong, but I think that might be the next thing that kind of comes off of these little snippets and becomes a more fully formed idea. But I usually, when I'm working on a book, I will search my own website for a word like meritocracy and say, what am I, what have I already thought about when it comes to this?

Amy Julia Becker:

Because that'll bring back to my, oh yeah, I did want to do a deeper dive into some reading on this passage or this idea. Um, and it'll prompt me. And then over time, I mean, books take a long time for me to formulate. They don't actually take a long time to write, but it's like that, that work of getting all the ideas in an orderly way that I think is helpful to other people that takes a long time. And then usually by that point, the words are more, I mean, they're not, they're in some sort of like perfect form, but more or less there.

Ryan Dunn:

Well, thanks for giving us that glimpse into the process. It sounds like, uh, Instagram is a good place to get ahold of you. Do you know your handle there?

Amy Julia Becker:

I do. And this is one nice thing about having a double first name that no one else has. So my handle is AmyJuliaBecker. Yeah. So that's the best way to find me pretty much across class, the internet.

Ryan Dunn:

Cool. Amy Julia, thank you once again for sharing your vulnerability and your stories with us and for this time as well.

Amy Julia Becker:

Thanks for having me. It was great to be with you.

Ryan Dunn:

So what's next for you listener. I invite you to take some action by reading more from Amy, Julia Becker at guess what? AmyJuliaBecker.com. You can also take the appreciative action of listening to more episodes of this podcast. I think you're going to like an episode that Pierce did on midday reflective disruptions or Amy Julia talks about the colonizing practices of the church. So if you're interested in that topic, check out our episode with Miguel De La Torre about de-colonizing church. My name is Ryan Dunn, thanks to United Methodist communications for supporting this podcast. Thanks to read gains for editing and thank you for listening. We'll talk again soon. Peace.