It was like coming into myself, and I did not know I had been absent from myself. It was like seeing with newborn eyes, once again. Here’s what I mean. The Aspen Institute’s Inclusive America Project has gathered approximately 30 religious, nonprofit, educational, and philanthropic leaders from Chicago, Birmingham, and Los Angles in their inaugural cohort of the Powering Pluralism Network. Our goal is to walk together over a short period of time and construct a deeper understanding of how we might midwife hope and progress for the greater good of an inclusive America, from our particular locations and positions.
Before I go on to share how I was midwifed, may I share a word about midwifery as a metaphor? A midwife (may it be that this nomenclature does not limit by gender) is a trained professional who assists at the birthing of new life. The primary role of the one with this title is to prepare the space, gather necessary equipment, support the one giving birth, watch for signs of dis-ease or danger, guide the process that is natural and meant to bless, and provide information so that the one newly born and the one who gave birth might thrive. To be a midwife is to not be in control, but rather, it is to offer your hands to assist in ways that require flexibility, awareness, strength, wisdom, and hope. To be a midwife is to attend in intimate ways the coming of newness into the world. To be a midwife is a privilege and an honor – more about this in a minute.
The Powering Pluralism Network cohort members began our conversations in our geographic clusters, connecting with new and old friends, and learning a bit about how we each navigate the tasks of being a midwife, navigate the tasks of preparing, watching, and assisting our organizations (and ourselves) in bringing about new directions, leading to inclusion, belonging, and purpose. This dialogue was easy and peppered with both questions and ideas for the work we each hold precious.
And then it happened, first subtly and then full-on as our conversations moved from a webinar presented by Paula Cole Jones, to chat rooms, to group report-outs, to the moment I wrote down Cole Jones’s words on a piece of paper that now live on my mirror. Her words were from the mission of her organization, ADORE (A Dialogue on Race and Ethnicity): “A journey toward spiritual wholeness by building a diverse, multicultural Beloved Community by our actions that accountably dismantle racism and other oppressions in ourselves and our institutions.”
It was like coming into myself, and I did not know I had been absent from myself. Cole Jones midwifed me into a new understanding (again) of the work I am called to do. As a religious leader, the work of building inclusive communities cannot happen, will not happen, without a spiritual foundation. All of the work of justice and righteousness, all of the work of inclusion and belonging, all of the work of equity and equality; for me, has to rise on a spiritual foundation. For me, that foundation is to love one another.
With quiet, strong, and deft words, Cole Jones reminded me that faith leaders and faith communities may not start to build inclusive community because of a theory, a thesis, or an antithesis; faith leaders and faith communities must start to build inclusion because of the universal call to love. As Cole Jones spoke, she pulled me into a new understanding as if I saw what I already knew with new eyes. And now that those eyes are open, I must review what I have done to date, and if necessary, begin again to build toward inclusion on the foundation of love. This was the blessing of sharing our time together, and this is the blessing of being midwifed.
Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque is a Pastor at the Community Church of Barrington in Barrington, IL and is a member of the Inclusive America Project’s inaugural cohort of the Powering Pluralism Network. The Powering Pluralism Network is an IAP initiative to connect individuals and organizations across faiths and sectors who will have opportunities to build strong, meaningful relationships, learn from one another, and increase their personal leadership and organizational capacity.
The Inclusive America Project is committed to advancing a thriving US Religious Pluralism and believes an important step to achieving this goal is sharing diverse voices and ideas across our platforms. In this spirit, we are pleased to publish blogs written by external authors working in and around the space.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.