Serving up accountability this holiday season

Thanksgiving in the United States is often a time to come together with family, friends and whomever else we call community.

My favorite memories of Thanksgiving are around the table sharing food, memories full of warmth, comfort and a feeling of belonging.

But as I grew up, I also learned about the real history behind Thanksgiving; a terrible history, far removed from the supposed “reenactment” of a generous meal shared between settlers and indigenous people who I was taught to participate in as a kid in my Catholic elementary school.

And now that I know that Thanksgiving, in fact, recalls the meals that celebrated massacres of indigenous people, I cannot “un-know” that history — a settler society built the United States on genocide.

For us white folks only recently opening our eyes to the genocide, racism and oppression that founded the United States, it is only reasonable to ask, now what do I do?

One important response is to start focusing on accountability.

For the past five years I have facilitated a series of formation sessions dealing with issues of power and privilege for Franciscan Mission Service, a lay Catholic organization that prepares and supports lay missioners living and serving in solidarity in host countries outside of the United States.

And each year as I help prepare (mostly white) Franciscan missioners to live and serve in communities across cultural and racial differences, we talk about how vital it is for white folks to not only recognize and process our feelings of guilt when addressing the violence of racism and white supremacy, but also to move with that guilt into a focus on accountability

people-dinner-table-community-is-built-on-accountability
Original art by Annemarie Barrett

Accountability is a step beyond apologizing, a leap beyond feeling guilty.

It is pretty basic on a personal level: when someone hurts me I expect their apology, but that apology means nothing without accountability.

Accountability means that the person who hurt me not only apologizes for the harm caused but also makes a demonstrable commitment to change, to act and do differently from now on.

So for white Catholic folks who believe in Gospel values of social justice, inclusion and radical conversion, what if we treated this Thanksgiving as an opportunity to practice accountability?

Now that you know that the Thanksgiving holiday is not celebrating what you had been taught, how does your faith call you to respond? How might your conscience move you?

As white folks whose privilege and power was built on the genocide of indigenous peoples, what might practicing accountability mean for us on an individual, communal and even national level?

How might you move with your guilt into making concrete changes in what you do and how you act this upcoming holiday season? How might you choose to educate yourself further about this history? How might you share what you are learning and open conversations with other white folks about these challenging topics?

What might accountability mean at the level of the Catholic church?

While the Catholic church has in some circumstances recognized and publicly apologized for generations of sexual abuse in indigenous communities and Catholic boarding schools, what would it mean to move beyond apologies and focus more on accountability? What structural changes would need to be made? How might power dynamics necessarily change? What could you do to affect that change?

This holiday season is just a place to start. For white people, reflecting on accountability can become a part of a daily spiritual practice. We are invited to ask ourselves, how are we accountable to those most marginalized among us? How are we accountable to the immigrants, the refugees, the asylum seekers and the communities of color across our country surviving the terrors of police violence?

Now that we know, we cannot un-know our collective history. But, we can choose to humbly listen to marginalized experiences, actively educate ourselves to combat our ignorance, and courageously challenge our privilege and power in order to grow.

We can choose to confront the weak and problematic foundations of our communities and invest in radical change in order to rebuild on a stronger foundation of trust and accountability.

ABOUT THE RABBLE ROUSER

Annemarie Barrett

Annemarie-BarrettAnnemarie grew up in the Midwest and now lives in Bolivia, South America. Her spiritual journey has been greatly influenced by the Catholic Worker Movement and the Franciscan charism of humble availability and deep solidarity. She has also been influenced and transformed by the unique experience of spending most of her life in Western, capitalist culture and now living for years in Andean culture that is much more communal and rooted in the wisdom of indigenous communities. Today, she lives and farms with her partner and also creates and sells her original art under the name AEB Art.

 

imagining a world free of drones

A couple of years ago, another Catholic youth minister despairingly asked me a very fascinating question that just keeps lingering:  “Julia, what can we do about the overall lack of imagination in the youth today?”

I think the question emerged from my friend’s brilliant analysis regarding the resistance we encounter when we challenge youth to dream and think beyond the ways of our culture.  It’s tough work to try to get teens to think radically about the Gospel.  A bizarre fear emerges when we ask for ideas, as if ideas can be right and wrong.  Ideas are ideas!

I don’t blame the youth. Our culture convinces children that there are comforts in consumerism through the scripts of television and video games before they can read. We celebrate children who can recite things in a robotic-type manner and seem to shun children who ask hard questions.  Fortunately, it’s kind of rare, but I do shudder when I encounter children who don’t know how to do pretend play, but are content with a hand-held video games for entertainment.  I wonder if anyone has studied children’s playtime? Specifically, are they playing “house” and “dress-up” less now that they are becoming skilled at using iPads and cellphones?

Sometimes I am a bit frightened.  I wonder what this shift in childhood could be doing to our future. Plus, I wonder how a decrease in imagination will influence our church, our Gospel living and our work for building God’s kingdom of peace and justice here and now.

I was recently reminded of this problem- our cultural lack of imagination about the things that matter most- by my friend Brian Terrell when he described his opposition to drones on WBEZ’s WorldView.

Drones are awful and wrong and sinful.  Can you believe that young soldiers sit safely in the United States and operate video-game-like controls that are causing bombs to be dropped on villages in entirely different parts of the world?!  What are we doing to young minds if they start to think that the horrors of war feel just like video games?!

Drones are evil.  We aren’t paying enough attention to them nor discussing their horrors as we should be.  I am not an expert on the topic like Brian has come to be, but I do believe that the use of drones around the world right now is not unlike the Nazi led holocaust during WWII. People are silently being killed, people are making up justifications and few people are reacting.  Any fuss that will start in the future is actually fuss that will be much too late, kind-of like it was with the holocaust.

Our Gospel mission must be to spread the good news that we can really live a life without weapons, war, violence and inequality.  We must be sweating our hearts out, as we serve and dream up new ways of bringing peace to the masses. We must excite and energize the youth with dreams of peace and justice- and then help them realize that our dreams for peace need not be dreams at all! Love is stronger than any type of evil, and it is time for this Truth to set all humanity free.

We can love our way out of the mess we’re in.

After all, dear Christians in the USA, if our country thinks that the justification for drones is that it is the only way we can keep ourselves safe from harm, then it’s time for an entire nation to contemplate the great question of my friend:  What can we do about the overall lack of imagination!?

Let’s get busy playing and imagining the world God intended. Amen!

(P.S.   By the way, here’s one simple action to try to clean up the mess while we get busy imagining.)