by Len Lear
— Part Two
Dee Dee Risher, 57, long-time Germantown resident and author of the recently published “The Soul-Making Room,” graduated from Duke University magna cum laude in 1981. She taught English for several years in China. Following is the second part of our interview with her:
How did you wind up in Philadelphia?
I moved to Philadelphia to be part of the staff of The Other Side magazine, located near Wayne Junction in Southwest Germantown, and I have lived on the same four blocks ever since. The Other Side was a Christian magazine founded in the early years of the civil-rights movement as a way for white Christians to act for racial justice … Many staff lived in the blocks around it, creating a broader community, and even though the magazine finally closed in 2004 after almost 40 years of independent publication, some of us still live here.
I know a devout Christian who is very much against gay marriage (he calls it “legalized sodomy”) and social welfare programs (which he calls “legalized theft from hard-working people to hand over to lazy malcontents”), among many other issues. He is hardly the only devout Christian who feels this way about social justice issues. What would you say to such people?
In many ways, “The Soul-Making Room” is one reply to Christians who embrace more conservative viewpoints from a Christian who now does not because of her lived experiences. The view you describe is the worldview I grew up with and still call family, even though I feel 180 degrees different from them on many issues. Dr. Martin Luther King’s operating principle with those with whom he disagreed was to always assume that his opponent had a piece of the truth he did not.
I learn from Dr. King, and because of it, I live in a world that is less black and white than gray. I try not to write off opposing viewpoints as wrong and look for the truth they do have to correct my own. Unfortunately, there is a Christian industry that promotes some viewpoints on issues as orthodox, and it is easy to live in that Christian bubble and believe that any “true” Christian believes X,Y and Z.
As I experienced life, those orthodox answers no longer worked with my certainty of a loving God. I lived for months immersed as “the only” European American in African American or Chinese communities, and saw everything very differently than when I was in a majority white, North American world. My lived experiences with other Christians who struggled with their sexual orientation taught me of that mystery.
I believe humanity will be saved by tolerating different views and finding some validity in them, much more than by the “right thinking” espoused by either the Right or the Left. That just increases the polarization that is killing our democracy now, and it feeds the fundamentalism that is devouring the world in violence and terrorism.
What is lacking in our spiritual traditions?
Spiritual traditions often contain many elements, and the question becomes: what element is needed in our moment of history? We live in a very materialistic and consumeristic era. Never has such a broad section of humanity had access to so many goods for relatively cheap while 70 percent of the world still lives on less than $10/day (Money magazine, July 8, 2015), and two people out of 10 live on less than $2/day. We live with incredible pollution. Our spiritual traditions teach living from our needs and not our wants, and earth care. Many enflesh a sharing economy. We need to embrace these.
In addition, we live in a very extroverted time. People create perfect lives on social media, every moment a reaction or self-promotion. We need to embrace instead the contemplative and Sabbath aspects many of our spiritual traditions offer us as a balance to a crazed culture.
I believe that people are rarely willing to make the daily self-sacrifices that living with compassion requires. We’d rather hold to being right than to live into mercy, forgiveness and the reality that we do not see fully. In daily contexts that often feed on competition and superficial connection, we need to cultivate human, enfleshed relationships.
What do you like and dislike, if anything, about living in Germantown?
As a 30-year resident of Southwest Germantown, I finally love it. I love living on top of layers of history. I love the trees and green that are still here. I love the diversity of race and class and culture, even when people rub against one another. I love my community garden and its people and my neighborhood. I love all the small mom-and-pop businesses. I love our neighborhood public charter where my children went to elementary/middle school. I love living near four bus lines and a Wayne Junction trains. I don’t love outside judgments that call my neighborhood “dangerous” or when a train conductor asks me if I am getting off at the wrong stop. I hate when there is litter and dumping and random shooting, which I believe happens all over this city, unfortunately.
What is the hardest thing you have ever done?
Parent. By far. Nothing got me as in touch with my shadow self as parenting. And we aren’t sure how it is going to work out yet! But nothing has given me so much love, either.
What is your hope for the book?
I hope that the book helps people make it through their failures and times of struggle with a different question than “What did I do to deserve this?” or the idea that God is doling out bad things due to an omniscient larger, wiser plan. Life has bad things. Period. How will we let them teach us? How can we use them to be more the person we authentically are? How do we wrest meaning from the chaos and losses of life? I want the book to help answer those kinds of questions.
More information at www.soulmakingroom.com.
— Part One