Embodied Learning

I love me a good anti-racism workshop. From the very first one that I led back in 1994 (back then we used to call them diversity sessions), I got hooked. I found it was so powerful, so exciting, to help a group of people engage in conversations about their social location, their commitment to change, their desire for justice. It was really, really amazing, and an early formational experience that led me down this vocational path.

It's also true that it wasn't until I came to Unitarian Universalism that I found my true home in doing this work, because before that I used to do this work in academia and in nonprofit spaces, and it was much more of a brainy-heady thing. It was about the ideas and the sociology—which of course is very important and it's central to the work—but once I discovered the possibility of having these conversations as faith formation, everything shifted for me.

It was so powerful to be in a covenantal space—where we already agree to be in right relationship with each other, and to be loving with each other, and to return to right relationship—and in that container, to start understanding how our anti racism work, and our focus on anti oppression and justice, helps us shift our own meaning-making and our understanding of our location in the world: really deep theological questions about Where do I belong? and What are my values and principles? and What are my responsibilities?

These questions engaged in a faith context are completely different, a complete game-changer, and I really appreciated that.

Now, it's true that I really enjoy designing a good workshop—having an arc, knowing what's going to happen, planning for things and then having them occur the way that I planned—I mean, that's very satisfying. Yes, as a facilitator it is one of my favorite things.

And, I am discovering that the most powerful learning actually occurs when we go off the agenda. When we go off the agenda, it's usually because something has happened in the room, and we need to attend to something that shifted.

So, it could be that someone says something that's like a microaggression; it could be that the learning in the room requires us to pivot—the questions that are coming up are not following the original plan—but ultimately what's exciting about that is that we are responding to the embodied learned experience in that moment. We are responding to the people in the room, and to the actual moment.

(That's something that Elandria [Williams] taught me, and I want to lift E’s name up. I miss you Elandria.)

Embodied learning, and focusing on how we do it and why we do it, in the moment, makes all the difference. It’s praxis. It's different than just this theoretical understanding of the concepts of racism and race and white supremacy culture and all this other stuff.

It's also true that when we interrupt the process, and we attend to what's happening in the room, it's important to center the person who may have been harmed—and usually the person who has been harmed as a person with a marginalized identity. And that is valuable to remember as a principle in our work: we center the folks who have the lived experience, and who in the moment have something to offer, their experience and through the moment. It doesn't mean that we put people of color and people with marginalized identities on pedestals as educators and experts. It means that we respond in the moment to what's happening.

We use the holy muscle of interruption to trust that being with each other in real time is the most important learning. Understanding how power is playing in the room, in that moment, is one of the most important ways that we can actually decenter the traditional ways of doing things—because otherwise, in our own educational settings we still have white supremacy culture dominating and running us, and that's what we are trying to decenter.

So I lift up a prayer for all of you who are engaged in this important work of keeping it real, of keeping connected to each other and saying what's true in the moment.

May we continue to strengthen that muscle. May we continue to trust that truth-telling and speaking truth to power is one of the ways that we do this liberation work. May it be so, and Amen.

Watch Julica deliver this reflection in the Side With Love Sunday worship service (25:00).

About the Author

Julica Hermann de la Fuente

Julica Hermann de la Fuente (she/ella) serves as the Director of Liberation and Transformation Ministries at the First Universalist Church of Minneapolis.

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