A Word from DS Laura Merrill 09.03.21

As a part of returning to the DS role this summer, I participated in what those of us in the biz affectionately call “DS Charm School,” but what is actually a time of orientation. It was online and included new DSs and other leaders from across the country. Despite my joking that I was having to repeat second grade, this event was well done and different from my first orientation, back in 2010. One of those differences was the use of the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment (IDI). This tool helps folks see where they fall along a development continuum regarding cultural intelligence and intercultural competence. The continuum starts with denial on one end and moves through polarization, minimization, acceptance, and adaptation. Some leaders add an additional stage—integration. The IDI measures both where you are and where you think you are along this scale, and it gives concrete tasks to those seeking to grow beyond their current place.

In a large majority of cases, people think they’re farther along the scale than they are. Our trainer called this perception “aspirational.” As I prepared to receive my results, I moved into anticipatory shame over the fact that I surely think I’m farther along than I am, and how that’s what white people do, and how that’s part of what makes racism so pernicious in our country—the delusion of white folks that we mean well, so we’re not part of the problem.

I did meet with our trainer, and my assessment did show the typical spread between my actual and perceived spot on the chart. I noted that I felt really bad about that, and she said, “Aspirations aren’t necessarily all self-deception. They’re also the first step toward improvement—aiming at where you hope to be. The point is to do something new to begin to get there.”

I have long found hope in Maya Angelou’s words: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I hope you’ll agree that we need to do better with combatting racism in our communities and our churches—especially the kind that’s so ingrained, white people like to think it’s not there. This week, the Statesman published an article about East Austin and the history of Black culture, arts, and music there. Our fellow Capital District United Methodist, Pamela Benson Owens, is quoted. (Pam also serves as consultant to the Bishop’s Task Force on Race and Culture.) This article tells only one story from the experience of people of color in Austin that hasn’t had the space to be told and heard well by everyone. There are lots of those. And learning these stories will be central to our work of growing in love and undoing racism.

The gospel of Christ, if we take it seriously, is both saving grace and a kick in the pants toward a deeper love. With aspiration as our road map, learning about ourselves and each other as the compass, and action as the journey, we really can and will do better. I’m grateful to be in it with you.

Grace and peace,