Living Into God's Dream: Dismantling Racism in America

February 22, 2017

Join the Lenten Online and In-Parish Book Discussions

Dr. Catherine Meeks has sought and fought for racial justice for some 50 years, and this she knows: it’s not easy for white and black people to talk about race.

“So much of what I hear from white people is, ‘We don’t know how to have a conversation about race. We don’t know how to get started,’” Meeks says. “Black people are just tired of it and feel that it should have been over a long time ago.”

To help begin the discussion and encourage a commitment to act on behalf of racial justice, Meeks edited and contributed to “Living Into God's Dream: Dismantling Racism in America,” a collection of essays that combines personal stories and theological reflection with real-world examples of ways to forge new conversations on race. Bishop Jeff Lee will use the book as the basis for an diocesan-wide, online Lenten book discussion, beginning Ash Wednesday, March 1st. A number of congregations are using the book as a guide for adult education discussions.

Meeks, the retired Clara Carter Agee Distinguished Professor of SocioCultural Studies and Social Science at Wesleyan College, is chair of the Diocese of Atlanta’s Commission for Dismantling Racism. The author of five books, including "Standing on Their Shoulders: A Celebration of the Wisdom of African American Women," she is a frequent radio commentator and the recipient of numerous awards for her community activism.

Aware that well-meaning, normally articulate and outspoken people can fall silent when race is the topic, Meeks hopes that “Living in to God’s Dream: Dismantling Racism in America,” can help people get beyond that silence and explore the relationship between faith, theology and activism.

“We need tools to have the discussion,” Meeks says. “It’s got to be a real conversation, and it’s got to show that we care about each other. I think we have the best chance of doing that with people of faith, because people of faith have already said we believe in something greater than ourselves.”

Bishop Lee met Meeks last spring when he and a small group of clergy and lay leaders traveled to Atlanta to learn more about the relationship building efforts of that diocese’s Commission for Dismantling Racism, which has become a model for other dioceses.

“Six of the folks came back in July for training,” Meeks says. “For a bishop to fly down to Atlanta with his people to see what we were doing, that spoke volumes to me.”

The name of Meeks’ book reflects a change in the Diocese of Atlanta’s approach to fighting racism. Just after Wright became bishop in 2012, he met with what was then called the Anti-Racism Commission and asked that members consider changing the name because, he said, it had elicited negative feelings.

“Our people hated the training and tried to avoid it,” Meeks says. “We were doing diversity training like it was corporate training. We can’t do corporate training in the church and expect it to succeed.”

The commission is now known as Beloved Community: Commission for Dismantling Racism, and a one-day training session is required for all clergy, lay leaders and vestry members in the diocese to increase racial understanding, healing and reconciliation. Anti-racism training is mandated by General Convention and is required of all Episcopal dioceses.

“I reimagined the training before I became chair four years ago,” Meeks says. “Now we do what we call Eucharistic-centered dismantling racism training in our diocese. The spirit of it is completely different. Now we have people clamoring for us to bring this training to their parishes, and people would never have done that five years ago.”

Meeks has led dismantling racism training sessions for more than 1,500 people in the Diocese of Atlanta and has been asked to consult with dioceses in New Orleans, Chicago, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. She will lead a retreat for the Diocese of Chicago’s Antiracism Commission in March.

“There are always some white people who don’t want to come to the training, some just because they don’t like being told what to do, or because they’ll find out they aren’t as liberal as they think they are,” Meeks says. “What they have not expected is to be so welcomed and so respected.

“What we have to realize is that we are the body gathered with a disease, we are all in the process of getting well, and it’s all about spiritual formation,” Meeks says. “It’s something you work on as long as you live.”

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Living Into God's Dream: Dismantling Racism in America” is available online from Church Publishing, Amazon and other retailers. Join in on the discussion that will begin on Ash Wednesday, March 1. More information will be shared in the diocesan e-news, and on the website and Facebook page.

Read a review of Meek's book from Religion News Service. Read about the Diocese of Atlanta's Beloved Community.

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