Continuing the Conversation...

By Marianne Vangoor  |  December 7th

How do we as school leaders continue to navigate the very tenuous space in which our schools exist as we deal with issues of diversity, inclusion, and hospitality? How do we welcome “the other” into our midst even while many in our communities are wondering if “the other” should be issued the invitation? How do we “flip the tables” of a system while generally only being surrounded by those who are most like us? These are the questions I am continuing to ask myself as I reflect on the presentations and conversations we have had this fall with Dr. Mary Ashun, David Brooks, Dr. Steve Sider, and Miroslav Volf. 

A few weeks ago, the pastor at my church made reference to Miles’ Law which states that “where you stand depends on where you sit.” Miles’ Law can apply to the conversations about diversity we are facing in our school communities. I know I need to ask myself, “Where do I sit and with whom do I sit most often?” I am pretty predictable in my seating choices, even when it comes to where I sit at church or at a conference. I like to sit with people I know and where things will be somewhat predictable. But by doing so, I am limiting my learning. How do I begin to change unless I am willing to choose a different seat and engage in conversations with those who may not hold the same opinions, and where things may be unpredictable? I generally don’t really like feeling uncomfortable! But to be a learning leader, I need to push through these feelings and begin to actively listen to the stories and voices of those who come from different traditions, backgrounds, faith walks, and cultures.

Dr. Ashun’s presentations have reminded us that there is diversity in the body of Christ. Even though there may be tension, and even conflict, as we share our opinions and differences, if we are open to leaning in and deeply listening, this conflict can lead to a better way forward. As leaders, we need to be courageous and engage our staff and communities in these crucial conversations, even when there is reluctance due to the fact that the community appears to be racially or culturally homogenous. Jesus did not settle for peace to avoid the ruffling of feathers. Instead, he boldly embraced the “other” even while knowing it would create conflict. Where the religious leaders of Jesus' day were keeping their distance from the sick, diseased, Romans, tax collectors, and even those they considered impure, Jesus got close. He moved into their space. Sarah Bauer Anderson, in The Space Between Us, writes, “Jesus occupies the space between us. He makes room for all of us there. That’s the best news and the hardest news. But it’s also the truest news because it is news of a Jesus who doesn’t fit—of a Jesus who surprised all kinds… Of a Jesus for everyone.” 

As you courageously set concrete goals and determine action plans for inclusivity in your school’s curriculum, admissions, communications, and staffing, remember that the work you are doing is of great importance. As leaders, you are influencing the next generation of 21st century “difference makers”. One day, some of them will be sitting in classrooms at Redeemer University or other places and be grateful that they have the opportunity to learn from professors of a different race and culture. They will be willing to stand up and engage in civil discourse that strives for unity not uniformity. In the words of Parker Palmer, “The civility we need will not come from watching our tongues. It will come from valuing our differences.” That is what the body of Christ should look and sound like!

And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  

Colossians 3:14