Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit
Franciscans of CanadaFranciscains du Canada

Ordo Fratrum Minorum

Paralyzed: Reflections on Privilege

Paralyzed: Reflections on Privilege

 

Paralyzed.

What else am I suppose to say?

I am a white man – living in Canada – a free country, watching with great sadness what continues to happen to our human family not only to the south of us, but also here in our own country. I’m not sure if I should even comment, have thoughts or if I even know anything of what is truly going on. I do not use this platform as a place of privilege I strive to use it as place to voice the yearnings, hurting and movements of my heart.

And…
I’m paralyzed because my words seem empty and flat.
I’m paralyzed because I don’t have a solution and yet I desire to be part of a solution.
I’m paralyzed because prayer is only a small portion of what can aid us in this time of great pain.

I’m a white man – I can not apologize for this. I had no control of where I was born or how my history unfolded up to me. I have never forgotten that my ancestors have European roots and chose to come to this country to build a better life for themselves. I would like to think they did this in solidarity with the people of this land and with all those fleeing from turmoil.

And…
I’m paralyzed because I feel like I can’t honour that.
I’m paralyzed because so many don’t realize the importance of being welcomed.
I’m paralyzed because I see equality as a norm and yet our world says it is an illusion.

I’m a white man – who realizes that if my ancestors would have stayed in Europe that I would not exist, as my family would have more than likely been statistics of World War II. Our world continues to have sad statistics based on discrimination and hatred all these years later.

And…
I’m paralyzed because I wonder if this is what it means to have white privilege.
I’m paralyzed because many others both near and far still don’t know the freedom which I do.
I’m paralyzed because the genocide of humanity still continues and not always in some far-off country.

I’m a white man – who also belongs to a Christian-Catholic religious community. A community with a long history of striving for peace, of recognizing that we are bound together in one human family because universal fraternity is about human dignity. A Franciscan community rooted in living the gospel and following our founder with great enthusiasm.

And…
I’m paralyzed because I wonder how we have fostered the importance of universal fraternity.
I’m paralyzed because flowery images of people holding hands and dancing is not enough.
I’m paralyzed because I know our church has many great documents but do we take true action.

I’m a white man – who must admit that the majority of my life has been filled with white people. Not necessarily by choice but because of growing up in rural Western Canada. My school years was all white kids except for the children of the owners of the Chinese food restaurant in town. My circle of friends has been and continues to be all white and the Friary in which I call home is all white. My circle in humanity seems so much smaller now when I consider that. It is not that I have never had a conversation with a person of colour. In fact when I left home after high school I met several people of color and since joining the Friars I have met many more people of colour and I have lived with brothers from different countries and ethnic backgrounds. Still my circle of friends remains the same shade of white.

And…
I’m paralyzed because this leaves me feeling limited.
I’m paralyzed because for too many years I have said to myself my circle must expand and it has not.
I’m paralyzed because I don’t want this limitation for the children and young people in my life.

I’m a white man – living in a very unique time and place in history. A moment which simply can’t just be recorded in history for us to read in another book or in another skewed history lesson. I see children pained because of poverty, because of the colour of their skin and because of choices made for them or false truths told to them as norms.

And…
I’m paralyzed because I’m wondering what is next, this must be the tipping point.
I’m paralyzed because it feels like we simply offer band-aid solutions time and again.
I’m paralyzed because of my thoughts, my worries and hurting heart.

Paralysis is defined as “the loss of muscle function in part of your body. It happens when something goes wrong with the way messages pass between your brain and your muscles” (MedlinePlus).

Is that not the truth?
Does that define where we are now as a human family?
The wrong messages have been and continue to be passed between our brain and our muscles… are not our brains and our hearts calling us out of paralysis? I know mine is!

For how much longer are we going to listen to wrong messages before we can’t move at all?

For centuries, really for millennia we have constructed false messages so as to break down or restrain the truth message that we are to love God and neighbour. I’ve never understood how I am called to love God and neighbour as I love myself and then look at another person and because of race, colour of skin, gender, economic status or whatever; not see them as a child of God. How can we do that? How can we say “love one another” and then turn our backs and keep our paralysis as a means of privilege? We must see that paralysis is not privilege for it is indeed slowly deteriorating us. Why would we want that? Should we not be correcting the wrong messages? Should we not be working towards regaining muscle function – the muscle function of our heart to rebuild the human family. I’m not looking at century upon century of wrongs, I’m looking at the here and now, we must begin somewhere; I must begin somewhere.

And this is where paralysis is the hardest to “correct”. It is easy to be all words and pretty prayers and leave it there, but my heart won’t let me. It is easy to be about empowering great leaders and the next generation, but my heart is saying that is not enough. It’s easy to be trusting in documents and textbooks, but my heart knows there is more to it.

And this is where I must ask myself what am I going to do? How do I pull myself out of paralysis?

The way I see it, paralysis can have one advantage; it forces you to ponder, and forces you to consider what message is not getting from the brain to the muscle. So here I am at this point of loosening the bonds of paralysis and I keep asking myself: What am I to do? What do my vows as a religious brother call me to do in this time and in relationship with my brothers and sisters?

When I was in formation preparing for my vows, I spent some time studying Franciscan history. I recorded the following brief notes, which spoke a truth to me I had long known but had not had words to describe. At this time, they I know they are truth and they are ringing in my ears.

Universal Fraternity is the revelation of the presence of God and thus the innate dignity of every human and all of creation. Everything which threatens to violate or rupture the bonds of this sacred fraternity intended for us all by God is what St. Francis of Assisi constituted as sin. This is why Francis and his brothers (and sisters) began to do penance (also known as conversion). Which can be equated to distancing oneself from all actions and attitudes which threaten the bonds of universal fraternity.

Threatening the bonds of universal fraternity because of actions and attitudes.

Is this not what we are seeing right now?

Is this not what is rising up from the human family because of the words of a dying black man, “I can’t breathe”?

Is this not what is happening when we ask again why does there continue to be murdered and missing indigenous women?

Is this not what protests and posters are calling to our attention?

It is time for us to break from our paralysis and claim the innate dignity of all people – no matter the colour of skin, gender, faith or country of origin. Black Lives Matter. First Nations Lives Matter. Life Matters.

It is time for us to realize that one human family means that sacred fraternity must be stronger than hatred, ignorance, racism and the privilege of not doing anything.

It is time for us to do penance, to allow a conversion of our hearts to transform us and empower us to not only distance ourselves from actions and attitudes which threaten our universal fraternity but to also eradicate these actions and attitudes.

It is time. It’s long past time.

As a Franciscan Friar I am called to live vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These three vows demand that my life be lived in relationship with others and all of creation. These vows demand that I assess my living and my actions or my lack of living and actions. These vows demand that respect for the other be held as my norm – “love God and love neighbour.”

In living a vow of poverty, I strive to live so that each person and part of creation has what she or he needs to live justly with dignity as a creature of God. MY STATEMENT of solidarity as part of the human family and as Friar is to respect and accept the dignity of all people no matter their walk of life and to learn more about racism and poverty in our country and province. This will include a more regular blog post about these issues.

In living a vow of chastity, I strive to live honouring the beauty and strength of each human person with radical fidelity encouraging the kingdom of God. MY STATEMENT of solidarity as a Friar and Spiritual Director is to listen well, we need more people listening to the stories and to the hearts of each other. I will listen to the stories of others and practice empathy.

In living a vow of obedience, I strive to live humbly, being an advocate for right and just conditions of the life promised to all of us in the Kingdom of God which is to be known here and now. MY STATEMENT of solidarity is to become a better ally in the work of building up the human family. I will find purposeful ways to expand my circle of friends.

These are not simple statements of solidarity; I know they will take effort and adjusting. It is time. It’s long past time.

Being paralyzed does not mean that “I can’t breathe.” Instead it should make me aware of my breathing and the dignity of the breath of each woman, man and child. This then ensures the right message is being sent from my brain to my muscles (my heart, my lips, my hands and my feet) moving me into action and in solidarity with our one human family. Slowly my paralysis is recovering. I read that recovery from paralysis can take six months to a year depending on the severity of the condition and the effect on the brain. Knowing this I know that my solidarity actions will be a long process, but it is time. It’s long past time.

My skin colour is not the colour of my heart, we all bleed red; the colour of passion, activity, love and joy and that should say it all.

“We were made brothers and sisters by the blood of the lynching tree, the blood of sexual union, and the blood of the cross of Jesus. No gulf between blacks and whites is too great to overcome, for our beauty is more enduring than our brutality. What God joined together, no one can tear apart.”

– James H. Cone – The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Orbis Press

 

It is time. It’s long past time.


What’s your next move for the good of Universal Fraternity?


What is your statement of solidarity?