Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Power of Naming

I often point out injustices and/or inconsistencies I see in the world. Sometimes I do so on this blog, sometimes I do so on facebook - which usually creates a lot of heated discussion. At worst, I'm just being a whiner who starts fights. But I've thought there might be a 'best.' Well, according to this blog entry from the Christian Peacemaking Teams, there is a power in whining... I mean, naming.

CPTnet 26 December 2010 *CPT INTERNATIONAL: Oppression is bad, now what?*by Tim Nafziger and Mark van Steenwyk

Both of us have spent time analyzing the way we are part of the dominant culture in the United States. We know that we, as heterosexual, white men, benefit from a system that is racist, sexist, and heterosexist and that we are against oppression. However, we want to move beyond analysis and become allies to people who are not part of the dominant culture. We have been studying literature on the topic, including Anne Bishop’s Becoming an Ally, and have noticed some interesting parallels between the practice of becoming an ally and what Jesus is trying to do in the Sermon on the Mount.Naming the ways we see oppression operating in a group setting is part of becoming an ally. “Naming” is the practice of unveiling a truer narration than the one that identifies only blatant bigotry and chauvinism as the problem.

Naming means noticing when members of the dominant culture are the only ones speaking in a mixed group and pointing it out. It means confessing those times when we have dismissed people because of our unintentional prejudices. It means our honoring the moments when members of an oppressed group name oppression rather than out responding to this naming with defensiveness. It means making sure it isn't the women in a group who have to call out a man for making a sexist remark, intentional or not. It means breaking ranks with other members of the dominant culture. It is risky.

Naming happens when we bring hidden things to light, speak truth in the midst of error, or confess our complicity in systems that devalue others. It is about letting go or unlearning the lies, and binding the reality with our attention, presence, words, and actions. We are moving beyond mere symbolism to real praxis—acting in a way that unveils oppression and co-creates liberation.

Isn't this what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount? In the Beatitudes, Jesus is Naming the truth, thereby opening the space for a new reality. When he said “Blessed are the poor”, in that moment of Naming, he unveiled lies, and, with his fellow poor, co-created a new reality—a new moment in which previously entrenched realities broke open so that a new future was possible. “Blessed are the poor” is revolution-speak. It is about the in-breaking of God.

Being an ally involves a commitment to move past defensiveness when we are challenged on our own oppression, as unintentional as it may be. If we are open to recognizing our own complicity in oppression, members of the dominant culture (be it heterosexual, white or male) have a lot to gain, both socially and spiritually. Our relationships with those not part of the dominant culture can deepen. And when we are in deeper community with our brothers and sisters, we take a step closer to the vision of the beloved community and our mutual liberation.

Mark van Steenwyk is co-founder of Missio Dei, an Anabaptist intentional community in Minneapolis and a writer, speaker, and grassroots educator.Sources for this article include Ervin Stutzman, Glen Alexander Guyton, Joanna Shenk, Sylvia Morrison and Anne Bishop. This is an excerpt of a longer article.
For the entire post, you can click here.

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