A Fragile Moment

By Sensei Joshin Byrnes

“I vow not to speak of other’s faults and errors, unconditionally accepting what each moment has to offer.”

As I prepare for bed tonight after a few minutes with the newspaper, I find myself thinking about this precept. The white supremacist violence we witnessed today in Virginia made me question its wisdom and guidance. In the past days our Upaya chaplain candidates have been diving into the deep issue around the invisible ways that racial bias operates in our minds, lives, communities, and world.

I thought to myself that this precept couldn’t possibly be a mandate to just stand passively by when racial violence is unfolding in front of my eyes. With a few moments of reflection, I began to see, rather, that it is calling me out to look again, to work hard to understand and address how my white privileged view of the world plays out. The words “accepting what each moment has to offer” have me reflecting on this moment in history. Not just as a remote observer of history unfolding, but in this very moment of my life and our lives together.

This moment offers us an opportunity to see the historical and socially conditioned seeds of racism and violence in my culture and my own mind. In the newspaper photographs that trouble me as I head to bed tonight, I see white fragility in the faces of those inciting the violence. Maybe I see it in them because I have felt fragile, too. On the one hand, I’m aware that I feel entitled to racial comfort and safety, and I have come to expect it as a part of my birthright. I also notice how difficult it is for me to sit in the fire of racial stress and perceived racial danger. It is so hard for many of us to face our biases and prejudices. Of course, this fragility keeps us tragically incapable of engaging with honesty, transparency, humility, and courage without speaking of other’s faults and errors.

This is a moment of our lives not to miss. It is a moment that offers me, and perhaps all of us white people, a mandate to look more deeply than we ever have before into the embedded causes of this form of suffering and harm, and to consider the ways in which we might be complicit in the perpetuation of white supremacy in our own circles of influence. To NOT speak of these obvious faults and errors, in order to allow for a few minutes of rather disturbing reflection on them, might give us a chance to see deeply into the fabric of our own minds. We have an opportunity to reveal our own biases and propensity for violence. It also might allow us a moment to see the many ways we inadvertently contribute to an economic and political system that privileges white people over others. And it might give us a moment to think imaginatively about right action. For me, this isn’t just about saying whatever comes to mind in a self-righteous moment of liberal reactive disgust, but it is a moment to be really thoughtful, honest, and transparent about my own white conditioning, the suffering it causes, and the challenges I face in attempting to undo it.

I must not allow myself to be stunned into a silent and naive disbelief that something like this can happen in our own spaces and in our time. I think we have to unconditionally accept that racism is in this moment, that it is a pervasive reality in our society, no matter how far removed we might feel from it because of our privilege. Let’s not speak about other’s faults and errors; let’s carefully consider what steps might be required of us to undo this violence within ourselves and in the wider community.

Maybe the precept points us away from our propensity for self righteous or simplistic rhetoric, and much more toward seriously engaging in meaningful healing action.

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