If I were asked to choose a personal theme for this past year, mine would be The Naming of Things. Over and over, this theme has presented itself within and around me, and this push to name what I am learning and experiencing has led to life-changing transformation. In late 2020, I sought out an ADHD assessment, after identifying lifelong patterns that had gone misunderstood and unaddressed. I kept thinking, I wonder if there is a name for what is happening in my brain and body? Rather than feeling constricting, being offered a name and a paradigm freed me. Between this new self-understanding, a bit of medication and the gift of counseling, I have noticed a releasing, an unsticking and a season of transformative growth within myself, helped along by a sense of self-compassion I'd previously struggled to access.
Around the time I received the diagnosis, or name, of ADHD, an older family member told me of abuse that they, and several others in their generation, have suffered. The abuse itself was not a surprise to me; even as a child, I could feel a certain something in the air around adults in the family, though I could never quite understand what that something was. I told myself many stories over the years, to provide an explanation for the energy I felt, but could not have imagined how the actual naming of the abuse would catalyze a shifting within myself. I felt as though my entire childhood suddenly made sense, and could offer my child self-compassion because she wasn't just being "too sensitive" or "too much." That something she felt in the air was real, and that something was abuse. Having a name for this confusing and nebulous energy has freed me, because now I know what has been causing the generational harm and trauma I've observed and experienced. Now I know, now I have a name for it, and now I can participate in whatever healing and wholeness may look like within myself, and within my familial relationships.
As we engage in this season of Lent, and enter into a posture of repentance and the practice of repair, I believe the Naming of Things is essential. After all, how can we collectively repair that for which we haven't outright declared needs apology and repentance? How can we apologize and repent for that which we have not named? The naming must come first.
Our Land Acknowledgement is a Naming. It is a first and essential step before we can explore what apology, repentance and repair work might possibly be for those of us living, working and gathering on land that has been stolen from its Indigenous people, and later kept from Black people and People of Color through racist zoning laws and restrictive covenants. What needs to be named for the land upon which CMC sits? What needs to be named within CMC's historical and present story? What needs to be named within our larger Mennonite story, historically and now? The naming is where we start, the naming is the beginning of a journey yet to unfold.
What needs to be named in my personal story? I have been in an intensive mentorship over the past year and half, during which my mentor asked that I (as with all of the white women she works with) pursue a "different" kind of family history project. Rather than isolating my family's genealogy as if it existed in a vacuum, I was asked to extend my research to our collective family, our global family, of fellow humans. As with many family history projects, mine names my ancestors and some of their lands of origin, yet alongside these findings much more is named. I named the Indigenous people who were forcibly removed from the lands on which my ancestors and relatives lived, who may have undergone genocide, violence, erasure and the inhumane pressure to assimilate into white supremacy culture; these realities continue to be true even today. I named the laws that would have been in effect, benefitting my relatives of European ancestry while simultaneously harming Black, Indigenous and People of Color. My grandfather went to college on the GI Bill. I have no doubt he purchased his first home in the same way, a way of securing generational wealth that was not extended to Black veterans, or was impossible to utilize due to restrictive covenants in white neighborhoods. I named these realities not merely for my ancestors, but for myself, both historically and presently. The naming of these things, and many, many more, felt--and feels--like deeply essential and sacred work within my own racial justice and racial identity journey, as well as within our collective work toward repentance, repair and liberation.
What do I, do you, do we need to name? What are our parts in a (as Pastor Joel has said) "more full story?" Our community encompasses varied racial and ethnic identities, as well as varied personal and collective stories. We may find ourselves embodying different racialized realities, and yet we share these things in common: we are all impacted and harmed by systemic racism and white supremacy, and we all have a role to play in our collective liberation. And so, first we Name the Things. This is a first and essential step as we explore postures and practices of repentance and repair.