Rozella Haydée White on how ‘revolutionary’ relationships can heal the world

Rozella Haydée White talked to RNS about the work people need to do before healing is possible and why self-care isn’t selfish. 

(RNS) — Rozella Haydée White wants readers to know “you are loved in ways that are overwhelming to comprehend at times.”

And that message, White believes, can heal a world that feels like it’s been torn apart by fear, hate, disconnection, racial injustice and divisive politics.

That’s why the life and leadership coach said she wrote the book “Love Big: The Power of Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World,” published this week by Fortress Press.

She also wants people to imagine God differently, she said.

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Christianity gets a “bad rap” in the United States, and other Christian voices have drowned out progressives when it comes to defining what God looks like, said White, the former director for young adult ministry for the progressive mainline Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

“Love doesn’t diminish. Love continues to grow because the more we love, the more love there is to give,” she said. “And that is embodied in relationship, because that’s how God embodied it.”

White talked to Religion News Service about the work people need to do before healing is possible and why self-care isn’t selfish. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

In “Love Big,” you point out examples of brokenness, violence, divisive political discourse and floundering religious communities in the world today. What gives you hope?

I think my sociological lens has always invited me to remember that what is happening in any present moment is not the only thing and that the present moment is exactly that — it’s a present moment.

“Love Big” by Rozella Haydée White. Courtesy image

On the other hand, it’s faith, honestly. I sometimes feel so corny or cliche saying that. The particular type of faith I profess — God as evidenced in Jesus — has been around for 2,000-plus years, but there have been systems and beliefs, ways of believing about the divine, that have been around for so long. All these stories impact me. And so when I then take a step back and then take the long view, I see my grandmother who is the granddaughter of sharecroppers. I see the ancestors that came up and out of the middle passage of the slave trade. I see all of the things that have happened throughout the course of human history. And yeah, this moment is messed up. But there have been a lot of messed-up moments throughout life. There have been really messed-up things since the beginning of time. And since the beginning of time there have been loving and liberative things that have happened, as well.

I do believe in people. I believe that, again, because of my particular faith tradition as a Christian: If God chose humanity to come to life in, then there is something ultimately good and worthy and pure and divine about humanity. And so even though the times that we’re in are certainly troubling, they’re not the first times and they’re not the last, and God’s mark on humanity still persists. That’s kind of what holds me.

What are what you call “revolutionary relationships,” and how can they help heal these things we see in the world?

Revolutionary relationships are modeled for me on the Trinity. As a Christian, the Trinity is a huge part of who God is and how we understand God, and we often don’t reflect on the fact that God was in relationship with Godself at the very beginning. Throughout the course of our biblical witness in history and our faith tradition, God has continued to reveal Godself in ways that continue to reflect back to that first relationship — the creative God, the liberating God, the sustaining God. My idea of revolutionary relationships flows through that and the characteristics of that: They’re life-giving, they’re risk-taking, they’re gracious, they’re accountable, they’re diverse.

I believe that when we embody this way of being, there will be no choice but for transformation and healing to occur, and we will no longer be so inwardly focused that we’re not outwardly engaged. We will no longer be people who are living by scarcity instead of an abundance mentality.

And the other piece of this is that so much of what I’m talking about begins with ourselves. Because if we’re not in relationship with ourselves in ways that are revolutionary, it’s really hard — if not impossible — to be in those relationships with others.

Self-love and self-care are are trendy right now. Some people push back on these ideas as selfish, but you talk about self-love as a spiritual practice. Explain that.

Going back to the notion that the image of God resides within us, what would it mean to really take care of God within? If I believe that God is in my being, then how does it look to take care of God? I think that starts to push back against some of the notions around self-care and self-love being selfish.

We have to rework or reconsider the greatest two commandments: Love the Lord your God … and love your neighbor as yourself. How do you love someone as yourself if you’re not loving self? I just think that because our tradition, our faith at some point took this idea of sacrifice and turned it into self-flagellation and total denial of self to the point of disconnection from your being that we have totally disregarded the second part of the second commandment.

You write about relationships between white people and people of color and some of the mistakes Christians make when they think about reconciliation. What are Christians getting wrong about reconciliation, and what would be a better way to approach these relationships?

I think part of it is how do we go to a former reality that we believe existed that never existed? What are we being reconciled to? What state of relationship? For many of us, any talk about reconciliation without talk about reparations just doesn’t even seem legit.

I think that there is something about engaging in justice work with an eye towards economic justice and equity that Christians just don’t really feel like we should do. And it’s a problem. Because at the end of the day, those of us who are in this fight don’t really value any moves towards reconciliation without, first of all, the repentance, lamentation, true talk about what was lost, what was taken, what was dehumanized in the midst of that.

What are some practical first steps you’d recommend that people can take toward building these kinds of relationships?

For people of faith, I would say definitely engaging in practices that continue to open up the flow of the spirit and connect you with the divine in ways that are authentic to you. So for all of us that’s different, and I think whatever practice that is life giving, that is creative and liberating and sustaining, is a practice that you should embody and that you should engage.

Second, fall in love with yourself. Start to think about who you are and whose you are and what it is about you that is unique and special.

Third, I think we have to place our bodies and spaces in places that we may not have been before. I mean, I am blessed with diverse relationships, and not just racial and ethnic, but age, orientations, gender identities because I continually go to the margins myself. So if I want to be in diverse relationships, and I don’t see a diversity represented in my space, then I need to find that space and engage with it and do so from a posture of listening and learning and not from a posture of “I’m going to make friends with these people” because that’s not how friendship works.

For me, this book is not just about the fluffy love. This is really about doing some self-work and some other work as it relates to how it is you relate to the world, how it is you see yourself. And then what image of God are you willing to risk it all for? I’m willing to risk it all for the image of God that’s a lover, that’s creative, that’s liberative and that’s sustaining.