An unprecedented opportunity | An interview with Rev. angel Kyodo williams

Rev. angel Kyodo williamsRev. angel Kyodo williams is an ordained Zen Buddhist priest, spiritual maverick, author, activist, and founder of CXC (Center for Transformative Change), in Berkeley, California, which is dedicated to “changing the way change is done.” Rather than encourage spiritual seekers to become more politically active, CXC supports social activists in becoming more spiritual. Rev. angel believes this is the only way we will “flip the switch” in people’s hearts so that we treat each other and the Earth more compassionately. She sees this as America’s “next great social movement: the application of inner awareness practice to broad-based social change.”

When I previously interviewed Rev. angel, for the January 2014 issue of The MOON, I was taken with several of her statements. “The only way the world is going to change the way we want it to, is for us to show up in that same way,” she said. “If we want sustainability in the world, we have to live in sustainable ways. If we want peace in the world, we have to live in peaceful ways. If we want justice in the world, we have to be just in all our dealings.” Under her leadership, the CXC has slowly evolved a model of “being the change we wish to see” in as many forms as it can tackle. And keeps taking on more.

I was also taken by the fact that, as a result of her meditation practice, she knew that, “The universe loves us. It radiates love. It’s like being an infant in your mother’s arms, knowing that your mother loves you because you exist. It’s not about what you do.” Having tasted that universal love, I have found her willing to share it generously with others–of all races, religions, and practices.

In addition to being the founder of CXC, Rev. angel is the author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace, which has been called “a classic” by Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, and “an act of love” by novelist Alice Walker. She is also the co-author, with Lama Rod Owens and Jasmine Syedullah, Ph.D., of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation. She recently has been invited as the first Buddhist member of the Senior Fellows of Faith-Centered Justice Leadership at Auburn Seminary, joining an impressive group of other faith leaders including Rev. William Barber II of North Carolina’s Moral Mondays, Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, Sister Simone Campbell, of Nuns on the Bus, Pastor Raphael Warnock, of MLK’s Ebenezer Church in Georgia…and Valarie Kaur, a Sikh woman, along with other representatives of the Jewish, Muslim, Evangelical, and other faiths. An encouraging prospect for us all. Leslee Goodman

The MOON: After the election you gave a webinar entitled, “The Reckoning: How Good People Let Bad Things Happen and the Truth Needed to Reclaim Connection.” The description referenced emotions many of us were feeling: Anger. Confusion. Guilt. Despair. Why “the reckoning”?

Rev. angel: “The reckoning” were words that kept coming back to me in the days following the election. I interpret the November 2016 election as a moment of reckoning that we’ve needed for a long time in this country, but we’ve put it off because that’s easier. Until humans are forced to look at something and reckon with it, we don’t. But it was our country’s entire history, built on a foundation of slavery, Native American genocide, and capitalist exploitation—which converts everything into a commodity for maximum commercialization—that ultimately gave us the November election results. We’re a people deeply divided on who, or what, we think this country is; and what we want it to be. Some people say this election gave a platform to hate, but I think there are deeper historical forces at work that we’ve never acknowledged—even those of us who think we’re better than “the haters.” From my perspective, the election made perfectly clear what has always been the case in this country: It was founded to favor—to make central—white, wealthy, heterosexual males.

That’s not surprising: white, heterosexual males were the founding fathers. They didn’t consider women their equals. They didn’t consider African-Americans or Native Americans full human beings. Yes, the history of the country also includes the effort to expand who the country is for—women, former slaves, and in just the last few years, the LGBTQ community. Progressives have called this progress, but there’s obviously a large segment of the population who think differently. You can’t “make America great again” unless you think there was something great about America in the past that has been lost through all these years of what some of us think of as progress.

“The reckoning” is how we come to terms with that fact. I don’t think it’s something we can do politically. It’s something that has to be done spiritually because it’s actually an identity crisis. Politics is concerned with expediency; with winning; with “winner take all.” To do that, we too often demonize our opponents—say those very same, white heterosexual males. We can’t keep doing that and expect to shift things. We have to recognize our underlying unity. We have to viscerally understand that we’re all in the same boat.

There are people who truly believe, as a result of their worldview, that they are rightfully entitled to a better lot in life than others—and taking power, jobs, or access away from them and sharing them with others won’t address their belief. Many of them, by the way, don’t “hate” these inferior “others,” so long as the others know their place. But if those others think they can occupy the same place of entitlement as white heterosexual males, white males will react. And they did react. Their allies will also react. That’s why we saw white women also vote for Trump; they too believe in the rightful primacy of their husbands and fathers; white males. I don’t think this election was so much about Trump; I say it’s about asserting white supremacy; white nationalism. Yes, we’ve made strides towards including more people, but the basic underlying belief has never shifted; never been reckoned with. Progressives wanted to look at white nationalism as a fringe movement; as “a basket of deplorables,” as Hillary said. But if we could address this racial divide—if black, white, immigrant, and so forth could see that we have much more in common with each other than with the wealthy elite—we could make structural changes that would benefit everyone.

So Trump and the powers that be have been effective at keeping all of us “marginalized” groups fighting amongst ourselves, rather than changing the system that keeps the existing power structure in place. We’ve bought into seeing that power structure as ultimately legitimate. Yes, a few minority members can make it to the top—President and Michelle Obama, for example—but only by denying how rare they are; only by keeping the rest of the marginalized in their places. No one is allowed to challenge the notion that America is the land of heterosexual white males—and that this is as it should be.

That’s why Trump was able to direct white anger towards blacks, immigrants, Muslims, minorities, foreigners, women, who are not “real Americans,” rather than at the supremely wealthy, who are actually controlling the resources and calling the shots. He was able to channel their anger at feeling disenfranchised by saying their rights were taken away by those who don’t really deserve the full benefits of being American.

Meanwhile, people on the other side of the aisle, so to speak, remained asleep. That’s the “good people letting bad things happen” part of the subtitle. They were able to convince themselves that this country is not racist; that we’re post-racial now. The election pulled the veil off that illusion. We’re able to see very clearly now a lot of things that are frankly embarrassing for many people to realize.

The MOON: Yes, the Trump candidacy was so outrageous, it was hard to believe he could win. He said so many things that would have imploded any other candidate’s chances, but he just kept on going. Yet I still find it hard to say it was only racism that got him elected. I heard Jon Stewart say that he thought there were a lot of more mundane fears, as well, like one’s health insurance premiums going up. Like Clinton being such a poster child for neoliberal policies and incessant warmongering that progressives—and others—were not excited by her candidacy.



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18 Responses to An unprecedented opportunity | An interview with Rev. angel Kyodo williams

  1. Hudson January 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    Nice Interview!

  2. Kiki January 2, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    Wow! Good read!

  3. Jean Zellweger January 2, 2017 at 10:10 pm #

    Great interview Moon Magazine , Leslee! Now to forward this to my progressive friends. Mom

  4. Charlie Stein January 3, 2017 at 6:55 pm #

    Beautifully articulate. I appreciate the idea (maybe a new one for me) that America has never been great for the majority of people. That our founding laws were created to keep rich, white males in power. I’m starting to get it. And I love this quote “So we have to be able to both stand firm in our resistance without standing against the humanity of another”

    • LORAYNE GRINDROD January 11, 2017 at 3:37 pm #

      Good ‘thinking’ article. The comment that we understand and respect the people like us but feel disdain for the coal miners is a good thought & explains some of negative feelings of the ‘trumps.’

  5. Anastasia January 3, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    Fantastic interviewer and Rev. angel speaking truth. I want to put a whole bunch these paragraphs up on the wall in front of my desk and my eyes so I can read them all day every day. I will get more training and keep my practice going. I love this plan.

  6. Anna Fisher January 3, 2017 at 7:40 pm #

    I am so grateful to Rev Angel for writing this article! On Nov 9, I was rudely and aggressively shaken out of my liberal bubble. Many of my Black friends have said since the election results “welcome to my world! you feel threatened, unsafe, afraid?! well that’s how we always feel!” Hopefully lots of other monkies such as myself are waking up and are ready to take to the streets (or some other point of injury) in non-violent civil disobedience, to INTERRUPT the status quo, not just have these tired old symbolic mass protests that make a photo op in the daily paper, but change nothing. There will be many opportunities to amplify and illuminate and clarify the many faces of injustice. And it will be beautiful and joyful in that we’re all coming together, being a part of something much bigger, and the HUGE love of that! Being in solidarity as deeply as we can be, and celebrating that as we create the world where we can happily and truthfully say “one nation, … with liberty and justice for all!”

  7. Cathy January 4, 2017 at 6:09 am #

    Fantastic! I think the embarrassment factor you mentioned, for some progressives (including myself) is definitely something to acknowledge. I think addressing that in myself is an important thing to help me move forward. Being able to not know things and be vulnerable is so important to grow. …and to read read read and educate myself by reading about history. First off, the history we were taught was totally biased and I was not really interested back then, so now when I read say The New Jim Crow, Evicted, indigenous peoples history etc, I can put the pieces together and accept another layer of my privlege. It is like when one does therapy and realizes the fictional version of our family we have created. I now have to accept that my version (or the one I was taught at home and at school) of the world I live in and it’s history was also fictional. It is a big shift, but one that is so important. Thank you for this interview and for Radical Dharma. Just finished a discussion group with some of my sangha.

  8. Jacqui Lewis January 4, 2017 at 6:57 am #

    This interview leaves me hopeful and yearning for more conversations like this. We need a reckoning, we need ways to engage the cracks in which we have something in common. Revangel’s point of view from a place of Radical Dharma deeply resonates in my universalist (more than one path to God, Light, Love, The Holy, Spirit….) Christian one. It is rooted in what might be called Revolutionary Love or Radical Love. thank you Revangel!

  9. v sorgi January 4, 2017 at 7:07 am #

    Fantastic, Rev.Williams, i applaud your comprehensive view of the majority white male pilgrim paradigm, i share your understanding and will encourage others to read the interview!
    In solidarity and spirituality, power to the people, v

  10. Stefanie January 4, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    I simply love how this is put together. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
    This keeps me moving.

  11. Peter S. Long January 5, 2017 at 5:41 am #

    The goal seems to be changing the sentiment of an

    entire population, nationally and ultimately

    globally. Or trying to impart wisdom to a world

    fast approaching it own self destruction. If such

    a thing can be done, and that’s a big if. But if

    such a thing is possible we need to start with the

    very young. Our educations systems are not

    designed to teach truth and wisdom. And favor

    knowledge to create workers for the perpetuation

    of the status quo. Or even worse to perpetuate the

    role of the ruling classes wherever they may be.

    Curriculums that teach the unvarnished truth,

    ethics, morality, spirituality, climate change,

    population growth etc. etc. are not to be found.

    We educate and try to develope one side of the

    brain, the logical, linear thinking side almost to

    the complete exclusion the intuitive creative

    side. That is the side that can change the world,

    and we need to start now and from the very

    earliest stages of development.

  12. Tim McKee January 5, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

    Very enlightening!

  13. Marcella Brady January 10, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    Thoughtful, compassionate article. Thank you so much.

  14. beatrice senese January 11, 2017 at 10:29 pm #

    Very inspiring

  15. Winifred Tigerlily January 12, 2017 at 10:36 am #

    Thank you so much. I read this every day to keep my sanity.

    I have always thought that what the Democratic Party has become is so far towards the right, starting with Bill Clinton’s “business-friendly policies,” that they have long ago lost touch with their core constituency. That’s why I’m afraid Hillary Clinton couldn’t go back and reclaim it — nothing personal about her, I wish she was P-E right now! But the party is broken and out of touch.

  16. Winifred Tigerlily January 12, 2017 at 10:40 am #

    And the Founding “Fathers” were so right to fear an uprising by the disenfranchised non-elite: they’d already been through one by the time of the Constitution!


  1. Rev. angel Kyodo williams on why she's hopeful about this moment in US politics - Lion's Roar - January 5, 2017

    […] You can read the full interview here. […]

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