This episode is a re-release of the Soul of Social Transformation Podcast hosted by Rev. Dr. Gary Green II and Rev. Dr. Justin Sabia-Tanis.
How do spiritual practices and tools further the work of social justice? What energizes our social justice work? We will also explore self-care as a revolutionary act, able to sustain justice workers and contribute to the thriving of our communities. Finally, we will examine spiritual practices that inform the practical dimensions of this work, such as preparing to engage in a protest, deescalate conflict, or celebrate a victory.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy is a proud member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. A Native American theologian, activist, and storyteller, she walks with people of all cultures and dedicates her time exploring the intersections of identity, personal narratives, faith, and healing through an Indigenous lens.
Episode Transcription available here
Host: Gary F. Green II, Justin Sabia-Tanis
Producer: Adam Pfuhl
Podcast Engineer: Michael Moua
Spiritual Practices for a Revolution with Kelly Sherman-Conroy
Gary Green [00:00:01] Are you passionate about social justice and ready to bring about real change as part of your life's work? Have you ever wondered how to bridge the gap between your unique gifts and the world's deepest needs? If so, then I want to welcome you to the Soul of Social Transformation, a podcast designed to help young adults explore vocational possibilities that bring to life our deepest hope for healing our world. I'm your host, Gary Green. Along with my co-host, Justin Sabia-Tanis.
We are excited to journey with you in this series of conversations that feature six leaders who have discovered and created ways to make meaningful change in their communities. They each bring a wealth of experience and expertise in addressing some of the most critical issues of our time, including racial and economic justice, mental health and marginalized communities, and justice related to native lands and indigenous communities. By highlighting their stories, we hope you will be inspired to find creative ways to translate your passions into concrete action for a better world.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:01:08] Welcome. We're delighted to have you on the show today.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:01:11] Thank you for having me here.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:01:15] We're excited to talk about the episode tonight, about spiritual practices for a revolution and the ways in which our spirituality contributes to our movements for social justice. And I can't imagine anyone better to talk about that and join in this conversation than you. So I wonder if you were willing to share a little bit of your vocational story.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:01:34] Sure. Yeah. You know, this is really great because I was just talking about this this morning. And, you know, I am, of course, from the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, and I kind of grew up like a bit of a wallflower. So I was kind of bullied growing up. Once we moved off the reservation, we were in a very beautiful area in the Black Hills, but very white. And it was a struggle kind of for my time and in my early twenties. And so I became someone who was afraid to tell my story or be fully who I was. I don't think I've ever been in a space where I could truly be fully me up until more recently with the work I've done more recently in the Twin Cities. And so because of that, I chose to be working with youth and children.
So I've been in family ministry for a really long time. For over 20 years. And I did that because I wanted to be the mentor for those people that, you know, I could count on one hand, the people that really in those moments in my life when I needed them the most. And I wanted to be that for other children and youth growing up, especially with my experiences. And I was someone who was like, my mother kind of explained that racism was kind of explained as people not being so nice. I didn't quite ever have that conversation. And so it wasn't till I got older I realized the experiences I had were racism. And it was hard. And I moved to the Twin Cities after my son was born, and I'm a single mother. And my mother moved along with me and my older brother lives here as well. And we've always been a very close, tight knit family. I come from parents who divorced early on. And I have like a number of siblings I'm so proud of to be a part of. And it's all about an extended we. We don't say extended family, they're my family. And it's just kind of a very natural native outlook and philosophy of life. And so it's like all these things along the way I grew up with, you know, I was always the only girl. And so I was always with the elders. And they kind of raised me. My community did in a lot of ways. When we would go back to the rez, those kinds of things.
I decided when my son was born, I wanted to do something more and really solidify my life. And, you know, kids do that. And so then I did and I went to seminary and I've been in seminary. This will be my eighth year at Luther Seminary. And I started out with like, ah, children, youth and family. I just want to do something more, learn a little bit more, grow. And then I started to find my voice. Right? When you go to seminary and if you find the right mentor, it really can help you go a long way in sorting who you are. And that's kind of what I did. I started with that and then realized I want to get a Ph.D. And I remember someone once told me, Well, it might be hard for you to go into ministry and do these things because you're a single mom and they just listed these things and just kind of totally marginalized me. Nope, not going to do it. And as I began to find my voice, I realized I'm proud of who I am as a native person. And I was often told the way that I saw the world was not a Christian way. But then when I realized, no, it always has been. Like as native people, we've always led a Christlike life. That was not the problem with Christianity. And so as I began to find that, I realized there are other native people like me. And so I started taking all these experiences and led me to getting my Ph.D., hopefully. Graduating in June. Yes, I'm excited.
But it was that right? It was all those moments in my life and culminating that. And then when I kind of naturally walked into and met some amazing people in seminary that moved me towards understanding what social justice is and what racial justice is. And I saw other people begin to speak up for themselves and people to speak up with me. And it was kind of a life changer for me. But I also started seeing things in ministry that- you see church a different way. You just see it. So I was like, what? And things started opening and I started seeing things and for a while, I had a quiet voice and didn't say much. I started realizing I'm a healer in my family. That's always what I was told I was going to be, was a healer. And I always thought, oh, that's going to be like, I don't like blood. I can't be a nurse you know? And then I remembered somebody once told me who was an elder after my grandparents died. And it was my grandfather that told me this and he said, I know why you're going to be a healer, because you're going to bring people to Christ in a new way. I've held on to that because one, that wasn't something my mother and I ever talked about with people. And to have this elder to just state that.
But it's always sat with me until recently with the murder of George Floyd. I remember sitting in on a community rapid response team, and they're like, we got to get people out there. We got to get people on the streets. And I was like, Oh, that's yeah, that's great. That's great. And I'm sitting there. But what happens if we send people out who aren't ready? Like, you know, where they're going to create more trauma and harm? I'm thinking of myself and my experiences. And they're like well then you go ahead and do it. And I ended up creating the Twin Cities Interfaith Movement chaplains. And it was just kind of a volunteer response, quickly. And then soon it morphed into something that was necessary. And it became this equipping people in ministry, people of faith who were really wanting to be a part of community and answer in a way where they weren't causing more trauma or that they were understanding, learning ways to understand the trauma and how their actions and how they go about it. And it was just this whole ministry mindset. The difference is that it's not about brick and mortar, right? That we want to be a part of a community, a beloved community. It's about relationships and meeting people where they are. But what does that mean? And so it was, you know, this list of things that we began to do. And it grew. And I think about two months ago, somebody counted up everybody that I trained and I didn't tell my advisor this, but I was going, you know, I think I did two trainings a day every day, five days a week and sometimes six. And I did that for about a month and a half. And it was just constant. So I ended up training over 400 people.
And what people didn't realize was that the way I did my spiritual practice, the way I modeled how to go into the communities and all of that were the wisdom and thoughts and philosophies of the Lakota people that I was given to by my family. You know, that has come through generations. I was just not stating, okay, this is how we are doing this. This is just who I am. And if people want to walk in this journey with me, I may not state that that is what I'm doing. But what people learned was a very Lakota philosophy, the Lakota way of life. And I saw a beautiful thing when that happened. And so I think that's kind of where I'm moving. I'm a new, one of the first Native women theologians in a number of years across denominations and that's great but sad, right? But like, how do I make a mark in this world? And I think that's it is to bring healing in the ways that I've learned and hopefully people will learn and pass that along.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:10:08] One thing that you said was saying that someone said to you, oh, you're a single mom, you're this, you're that. I'm thinking but those are exactly the voices we need. Why would we want in ministry or why would we want in public life people who just represent a majority view as opposed to who we should be looking to? So that really struck me when you said that.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:10:30] It's those automatic kickbacks that you go to about like this fifties idea of a family or a way of life. And it's like, oh, this is not my life. And I tried for a long time to try and fit into that mold. And it's just not going to happen. And I am definitely not ashamed of being a single mother. I know I struggled in the beginning, but I'm not. I am proud of who I am. And I think that is a big part of the community I surround myself with and how I was raised to view the world. And it was never shamed. But it was when I moved to the larger world, there were those things. But I think the people that I have met in the circles that I have been have not been those perfect whatever. The idea of a perfect family.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:11:11] For people to see themselves in spiritual leadership. To see themselves, their lives represented in a way with grace and blessing.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:11:21] A truly authentic way, being wholly ourselves, fully who we are. And that is something I was never able to do until creating this beautiful community that I'm a part of and showing people this is who God created me to be as a native woman. And I don't need to worry about am I supposed to be this way or that way? That this is fully me. And when you're authentic in that you show people, right? That ministry, it's not one person or another. We're such a beautiful creative family of people and it's so cool. But not everybody sees it that way.
Gary Green [00:12:07] I just kind of want to pick up and kind of jump into the conversation now because you shared a lot about your story and it's been really refreshing. And one of the themes for tonight and really what the thrust of this project in general has to do with this is trying to connect spirituality and social justice. And part of our commitment in doing that has tried to kind of broaden the way that we're inviting young adults to think about or define spirituality, what that even means.
Because traditionally sometimes it gets looped into particular traditions or you have to be this religion or that religion. And so we wanted to kind of appeal to the spiritual but not religious crowd, but also those that are grounded in particular traditions. And so one of the things that I read about you and one of the things I've appreciated hearing you share now is just about being a native theologian, right? That is rooted in a particular tradition that may invite us to think about spirituality in particular ways. So I was just wondering if you could briefly talk about your background or how being grounded in native theology as a native theologian, how that shapes the way you understand spirituality. And I'm asking this as a way to kind of get into the questions that highlight the ways that you've been connecting that.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:13:34] I'm really grateful for that. You know, especially the area where we are, my colleague and friend Jim Bear Jacobs, I started doing the Sacred Sites tours with him, and he does such an amazing job at storytelling and telling the history. Right? He tells the history. But when one day we realize history is actually my family, he's talking about my family. And to be on this land where when I say my grandmother, she's my three times great grandmother, where she was here. She was someone who was imprisoned in that internment camp in Fort Snelling. And my grandfather, her husband and my uncle and other relatives were a part of those 300 men that were imprisoned in Mankato and two who were hung. And it's just this connection that I have.
For some reason, I feel so connected that I also have this. I know I've always grown up understanding that I carry their stories. And a native and in a Lakota way of thinking is that, we think about water and people often hear, you know, we say that water is life, right? And then in the Lakota phrase, we have called Mitákuye Oyás'iŋ, which means we are all related. And it's not just a phrase, really. It's like a prayer. It's a way of thinking, a way of life. And that is something that's been very natural to me because it was just always said and known growing up. And so it's this idea, right, that we know, God is so amazing. For me, that we are, the earth is created of water. We're created of water. We are in our mother's womb for nine months and we're in that water. And we know now scientifically water has memory and carries those stories of your ancestors. And so that the way that we are created is in that water being created and growing. And those stories are becoming a part of who we are. And then we're born in that. And then our story is released and that story is released back into the world. One way or another. It finds its way back.
And if we're Baptized for me as a Christian, we're baptized and not just into this community or family. But it's another reunion so all those people that are there and that are present become a part of your story and then that being released again. And it's just this beautiful way that I grew up knowing and seeing how amazing God created us to be a community. And how we see the world and the understanding of, you know, just how intricately connected we are. And it's this idea for me that we learn about creation and people often have this stereotype of native people in creation, and we have this “in” right? And it's not necessarily like that. It's about the understanding we have that when we talk about creation, it's not just birds and bees or the animals, it's that we are of creation. And we learned that it is not about this hierarchical responsibility. It's a responsibility because we are family, you know? And so when we say we are all related, it's that. And that is how I grew up and that's how I see the world. And I always challenge the people I talk with to think like, what if you're listening to me and you hear my story and how I see the world, that your trauma is my trauma, your celebrations are my celebrations and vice versa. If you understood the relationship we are to be in, that maybe we would be able to, what would the world be like? So I carry that. I carry that with me and how I look at things, how I approach my theology and how I teach that.
And it's not like we are all one per se. It's not that by any means, because we are also created to be so different, right? And that's on purpose. But it's this mindset of I've learned how and what it means to walk in prayer daily. And that is through my actions. And it's how I treat people. It's how I see the world. And I'm not perfect. But it's understanding that relationship and you just move and see the world differently. And I watch it with my son and I'm trying to teach him the same way I was. And I love how he sees the world, right? He sees you know, you're more than a friend, right? As soon as he meets you. Or if you asked him about his grandfather John, he would start talking about him, and you would never realize that that's his four times great grandfather, you know? And so it's about connection. For me, the spirituality that I grew up with is about that connection. And then it's not so much a scary thing when you think of spiritual practice or what is spirituality? It becomes such a natural part of me, who I am.
Gary Green [00:19:06] It feels much more like this is something, this is a nourishment that I need. This is not something that, you know, it's something external or something foreign that I'm doing. But if spirituality is just kind of the fluidity of life that just flows through all of us, which I love, by the way, it's naturally a part of everything that we engage in. And so one of the things I really appreciate that you said was that this happens whether we want it to or not. These stories create realities. They show up whether we want them to or not because they are us. They bring us to different parts of life. And, you know, one of the questions I wanted to ask and explore with you was just how you already see spirituality connected to social justice. But I think you answered that.
But I am curious to hear, especially as you think about the kind of work that you do with Twin Cities Movement Chaplains and just engaging the world through this spiritual lens in general. What ways are you trying to help communities reconnect that or maybe become more intentionally aware of the fact that spirituality is a part of social justice? Inevitably. And yeah, how do you see that either not being the case right now or trying to use movement chaplaincy to help people ground this work spiritually as opposed to just political, the way that things typically get categorized?
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:20:38] Yeah, I hear you because I think that's when I first started, of course, it was all about just teaching people like this is what trauma is. And this is how you go out and be in that space. And then it began. Then as we started going out, I started seeing more of how people were struggling. The chaplains that would go out and instill in how to be in those spaces, what does that mean? And voicing that and then how to carry what they are seeing. Like how do you carry and release that? I mean, it's a whole for me the way my spirituality is just a natural, it just interacts with who I am and the world around me is at least the way I see it. It's taught me to kind of flip this idea of what it means to be in these circles, in social justice work and in ministry wise. I remember someone saying this you know, this stuff though is not necessarily a Christian thing. But yeah, I mean we're out there, we're Christians, we're yelling. I just always found that interesting when people would say, but, you know, how do you do that? It's about that transformation that you get when you understand how we walk in the world together.
And so it was about teaching. Teaching the chaplains also to understand our bodies. Like God is so amazing in how we've been created that our bodies actually tell us things, but we've learned to ignore it and usually the ones that we do pay attention to are the more toxic things because that's our bodies trying to protect us. And so it was helping people, because that's a spiritual practice in its own, is understanding what your body is doing and telling you because you begin to truly recognize how you deal with things in the world and situations. And you're becoming more one with yourself in a lot of ways because you're starting to actually truly understand yourself and you're being more aware. And when you're more aware of yourself and how your body and how you react, you begin to see it out in the world. And it really helps change that whole idea, it just helps change how you interact with the world. Yeah, but it's a scary thing, I think.
And as I mentor, I mentor a lot of seminarians coming in and out and then those kinds of things. And, you know, the idea of a spiritual practice, especially trying to do one in the midst of a rally or a protest, people are like what? But if you teach them that it's a natural part of who we are. The thing I learned about the interfaith chaplains was because of the people that we had coming in were people of faith, not necessarily Christians. It was like just a beautiful thing to see how each person kind of molded and brought in and learned and grew more. And it wasn't in a disagreement of I don't believe in that or this. It was taking in and seeing like, wow, what you do and how you see life or how you walk in this world, it was such a beautiful thing. And then you see people learning from that and growing. So it was just this constant transformation, this constant movement of being in the midst of that and taking out that stigma of spirituality, the stereotypes and all of that. And just seeing people just living who they were created to be and just walking in that.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:24:39] I also think the importance of walking into those spaces with your body preparing your, you know, the preparation has to include all of that. Because we're taught, I think, to walk into situations while ignoring our body, that our body is present there. And I think paying attention to that sort of holistic sense of what it means to bring our, as you said, our whole selves into those spaces.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:25:02] Yeah, I think it is easier if you go into these and, like I said early on, there's this toxic part of what our body tries to do to protect us. And that's often been what keeps us from being fully present, or it makes us leave or we get angry, or we begin to make these things personal and those kinds of things. But if you learn how to, and I think this is so important for, I say for the seminarians that I teach that are going in to become pastors or whatever it is, it's important to know what your body is telling you going into these because like you can cause trauma on other people. And so knowing how you feel, knowing what is going on and how to have that conversation with yourself and then there with others that may be there with you. It's slowing that trauma causing moments for other people right? We do it because we don't realize it. I've seen you know, I've seen people. And so it's an amazing thing to think, okay, it's okay if you go into something and you see something, you smell something, you hear something that may trigger you, right? That's in your body. You prepare your body. You're more present, right?
Gary Green [00:26:21] So, I mean, you think about this. We experience everything with our bodies, through our bodies, right? It's a prism of our existence. And we are spiritual, right? And so the way you're talking about this, even caring for the body or being mindful of the body, it makes me think about how and this is strange because self-care is something that has become necessary. But even communities that kind of do not think of themselves as spiritual can identify with the idea of self-care. And so I'm thinking about the way that you're talking about caring for ourselves in this way. It's a revolutionary kind of thing, unfortunately in the society that we live in. And so I'm curious because we've been kind of reflecting on this in a theological kind of deep way. But for young adults who are just approaching this, thinking through the specifics of spiritual practices, for example, or self-care practices or strategies, particularly for those people that are engaged in social justice work, what are a few of the spirit sustaining and energizing practices that you engage in? And then how might persons who may not already know what theirs are begin to discover what are those spiritual practices that can sustain me as I am engaging in this critical work for change and social justice?
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:27:56] You know, I think I was one of those people when you talk about spiritual practice, I shut down. Wait, I'm not meditating. I'm creating my shopping list. It was those kinds of things. I'm going to read this book and I'm going to read this page and get something done. Nope, I'm still doing that shopping list.
Gary Green [00:28:18] I'm right there with you. Selfishly, I ask this question for myself also. I'm learning now.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:28:28] And I saw that with, like the seminarians that, you know, the younger seminarians I was mentoring, we'd say, okay, we're supposed to do a spiritual practice, come with something, you know? And there was just no feeling. There was like,I pulled the book out, I'm going to read this Bible verse, you know, And there was no connection. And I think, you know, for me, that's where I had to come to realize the teachings that I was always given and shown and just didn't realize. And that was that there are so many different ways that speak to me spiritually that I can do to center myself.
So I am a person, for me, I take walks and I go in nature and I just start talking. But that is the relationship I've always had. And that centers me. And it's not something forced. And it was beginning to realize that. That there are so many ways that we don't have to fit ourselves into these specific boxes or pull out of boxes. That gives us a list of spiritual practices because sometimes I think that when you say spiritual practice, it really kind of freaked out the students I was working with. So it's like, what do you do to calm yourself down? Right? So maybe I will go to the museum. Great! It's those things because whatever helps you to recenter yourself.
When we were in the field, but when we were out in the protests or whatever, one of the things I used to teach them though, was, okay, help somebody recenter and say, show me five things. Tell me five things you see right now. You know, a microphone, pen, phone, computer, and just like, okay, what are the things you smell? And then and just go from there and it centers you and it's a quick one, right? It's kind of quick. But you begin to just notice the world around you. That's the whole point of that. And that itself is a spiritual practice, I feel, because it is helping you to see the world around you. It has recentering, but it's not it's not all you, but you also realize you're not alone. But it's not about you. You know that if something is really just pulling you up. Right, and your emotions are going. So for me, learning and teaching that these natural things that we do are spiritual practices. We don't have to label it that. But God is just that awesome about how we can find something that works for us and connect. And there are so many different ways of doing it.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:31:06] I mean, even that connects you to meaning like making the grocery list because it's a way of caring for the people that you love that will bring food and sustenance into it. You know, for me, once I started reframing those things, it's like, Well, why am I doing this? What does it mean? It becomes a spiritual practice instead of a mundane task.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:31:22] Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:31:24] So I'm pro grocery list.
Gary Green [00:31:29] This is so enriching because it almost takes the pressure that I think a lot of young adults, at least when I was well, I guess. Am I not a young adult anymore? When I was squarely in the midst of being a young adult, I was a minister and leading a young adult ministry and still was thinking about spirituality and especially spiritual practices as something that you're trying to put on or get into. And this way of thinking about, no, it's about who you are as a human being. Tap into that first and not necessarily feeling tripped up by all of the demarcations between traditions and all of these things that kind of just makes the whole thing not authentic. And so it feels like this is something that a lot of young adults, especially those that have been in different ways put off by religion, but still value something bigger than themselves, still want to tap into something deeper, would value this and understanding that whatever you already do that grounds you, that centers you is a spiritual practice just as legitimately as something else. And so I just appreciate this. Justin, did you want to pick up on that at all?
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:33:08] No, I think I absolutely agree with that insight that we get this idea that it's something you're supposed to take on. And that there's one way to do it as you fill out your prayer journal or whatever. Like, you know, other people tell you this is what a spiritual practice looks like.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:33:21] Yeah. I think because I love reading books, but one of the books I tend to stay away from or genre is those kinds of things of spiritual practice, because then I try to fit myself into that box of what this person is. Not saying that person and what they do is not right. And even mine, you don't connect the way I see it, you know, but for what I've cultivated for myself or how I teach is trying to actually just connect the person themselves with what they need and not necessarily take, a 15 minute meditation or whatever. But what is it that your body is answering to and recognizing it from the past or from what you already do and connecting them that way.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:34:10] And I think, you know, I mean, those tools can be great for some people or for some seasons of life and we should try new things. And at the same time, I think that we end up invalidating what our spirit says is true for ourselves. I think it's really helpful.
Gary Green [00:34:25] I'm thinking about the conversation we're having and imagining young adults listening to this and resonating with it and being able to say, Wow, okay, that makes sense. And I can approach this kind of work through a lens of spirituality. But as you think about where the world is now and young adults, what are some opportunities that you see for young adults to be able to perhaps do something that we haven't already seen? That might be a big question, but I'm just curious about the opportunities that you see for this younger generation in terms of integrating spirituality and social justice.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:35:06] Yeah, I think it's, you know, from my experience and a lot of this was new for me as well. So it was kind of just navigating and standing back and watching and listening to people, which is so important in social justice. And then when we find ourselves in movements and things, we can easily flip it and make it about ourselves. And it happens because maybe somebody says something or acts in one way and then you get upset. It's not about you. I would say that to remember, if anything, you know, Q-Tip: quit taking it personally when you're hearing things.
So what you're seeing is trauma unfolding, right? Like what you're seeing is if I were to be counseling somebody in my office and somebody started screaming and yelling and whatever, you know, or crying or whatever it is in these high emotions, more than likely somebody would say, okay, I need you to step out or you call the police or whatever. Right? And so there are no spaces for people to be able to do that. That is what these rallies are. That is what these marches are, are spaces that freely allow people to let that trauma out. Because too often in our societies, right, we ask people to hold in that trauma. So the moment you ask them to stop and calm down, you're not letting them release that. So then we're making them hold it more, right? So it's causing more trauma because they can't. And so going into these spaces, understanding that, that we are a community, how we are connected in community, and then come in with a mindset of healing, right? Not the idea of saviorism, that my presence is going to save you because that's not what it is either.
The healing comes from understanding you, really understanding who you are, how you react, and then you go into that to support people. And it's that idea of solidarity versus allyship, right? I always say that allyship can tend to be very performative because it's easy to make it about you. And then the solidarity is about taking a step back, listening and learning, right? And then saying to the organizer, saying to those in the spaces that always understand that you are that guest. I think to be involved in social justice and bring that spirituality is understanding how to be in spaces. That the space wasn't made for you per se , that you are the guest depending on how you go in that role and stepping back and listening and supporting in that way and learning how to converse with people. And because I think what I saw was that at first people when they saw the bright orange, not my first color that I wanted the chaplain shirts. That's what you get for free, right. And I'm really grateful. But it was like people at first were like what do you mean chaplain? You know, I'm not religious. That's not why we were there. We weren't there to convert, right? We prayed if people wanted to or whatever. But we were there to just be, to let people speak if they needed to, to let people cry, to help people. It wasn't our presence that was making it safe by any means, but it was about building trust and showing people what a community could be. And I think this is a new way of, I don't know if it's new, but it is a way of approaching social justice.
And how we are involved is how can you teach or help people or how can you yourself go into a space now. Hearing some of this, you learn more and how to be a part of that community, how you interact with people and where you're understanding your full self and walking in that prayer per se. You're going out there supporting. It's about being very intentional in who you are. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to be the boss to show the people walking down the street which direction. Or whatever, you know. Because I think we automatically want to move to these things that we're running the show or we're doing something? What if you just let those people who are there to do that, do that. But what about how you show people community? Yeah, And it's amazing how many people will begin to walk up to you, right? You become that person. Or knowing when it's time to leave. People start calling and saying, oh, wow. Which was what was happening. You know, when they asked us to leave, we would leave. If they needed us there, we were there. And it wasn't about us creating and molding that space. It was just being, you know, it's a whole different way for me of ministry in so many ways. But I think it's moving with how our world is going. And that's the most important. So you have to learn to be adaptable in these spaces.
Gary Green [00:40:22] You know, thinking about young adults who, where our world is now, who want to. And especially when you think about wanting to find or create vocations that ground their justice work more spiritually, what would you think are maybe a few of the biggest challenges that young adults that want to do that work in this way will face in this world currently?
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:40:47] Well, I think the biggest challenge is because we are coming into or we are in a world now where there are a lot of people also that feel that they can push back or they can be unfortunately belligerent or unjust. And that's hard. And I always say, you know, first is to before you meet those challenges, one, prepare yourself. And do that body work and understand and start that. I know it sounds silly to some people, but it really helps you move differently in kind of the toxic part of social justice. But then it's creating a little bit of that community of people. Not all Yes People, right. Because how boring would that be if everybody agreed with you? I love to have a little bit of a challenge.
But that's the other thing that challenges understanding that more likely somebody's not going to see things the same way you do, believe things the same way you do, speak the same way, whatever. And that's okay. That's a part of who we are, even if it's something that's far from what you believe. It's about teaching people to be respectful, teaching people how to walk into those situations and those challenges are hard because we want to make it personal. That toxic part about our body that I spoke about is that's a natural reaction to yelling back, to pushing back. How do you stop yourself in a sense? How do you control that, understand that? But not make something about you. Because when you go into social justice or racial justice, you're out there on the streets or whatever that is, pretty sure you're going to hear something or someone say something that triggers, that gets you mad,that whatever. And you're going to start making it about you. And that's the whole challenge is how do you navigate around that. And then it may not be something that's critiquing you, but it isn't typically, I think I'm learning in social justice, it's usually about the system. That anger, that sadness, that whatever is not necessarily you, you may represent something in their eyes. It's not you. And that's that whole thing of taking it personally. So the challenge is learning how to navigate that and control yourself, right. It's not saying keep it in. That's where those spiritual practices, those releases are. Conversations are important. Yeah. But it really is understanding and learning those challenges and how you will react. I don't think we taught that very well in a lot of the seminary classes I've been involved in.
Gary Green [00:43:42] And that's powerful, the transformative power of that. Of even just being mindful of someone's reaction to you. I mean that was rich. Someone's reaction to you as a young black man, I understand this, trust me. They might see you as something and it might have nothing to do with the person that you are, but the transformative possibility of that moment of encounter. If you are someone who is in touch and obviously you want things to go safely, but just the possibility of not reciprocating the energy that they might be giving you and not really understanding why. And how that could disrupt what was going to happen and because you see so much of the back and forth in social justice work now. And it's compulsory, it's reactionary oftentimes, and it's representative, like you said, of systems where if we as human beings become grounded in our spirituality and our humanity, there's just a lot of transformative power in becoming aware, even just becoming aware.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:44:47] Yeah, I think and that's the thing. I think we are beings who want to connect and so we try to hear someone's story. And I'll share something and then they'll say, Oh yeah, you know, my grandma. And you're like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, stop. Try just listening. Right? Try just listening. And if that person is yelling at you, let them yell. There are safety things that I teach. But it's hard because a lot of times we also may not see that person again. So there's a connection but there's a difference between how we connect with people. But it's about learning to let our stories be our stories and not try and change that by connecting grandma Jo to the hanging of my grandfather. You know, that's not okay. So it's those kinds of things that we just learned to authentically be in that space. And as for me, as a person of color or an ethnic person or however it is, when I see someone actually trying to do some work to be authentic about how they are trying to react, you can tell the difference by someone. So if you truly want to approach this in a way that is bringing healing and reparations then it's about you doing the work first. And then I myself will begin to see it. I'll see it. And I can tell when people are not true to what they're doing. And I think that's the other thing about social justice is you need to understand that.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:46:36] Yeah. And also, I've also learned to recognize that the person yelling on the street is telling me a lot about themselves and very little about me. You know, it's not just about me. It's also like, why are you choosing to be in this space? And what is this revealing about you? Which helps me see them as a person and makes it less personal for me. I think you raised this balance between safety and then also, what does that mean to pay attention to that?
But I'd love to hear your thoughts about how we're all faced with so many issues that are of urgency in relation to justice right now. And if someone's saying, how do I decide if I'm going about this avocation, where I'm putting my volunteer hours or I'm going into this as a career. There's so many things that I think urgently demand our attention. How might our spirituality inform someone to say, oh, I'm going to go into environmental work? We recognize that these things are overlapping. But on the other hand, if we spread ourselves too thin in every movement, then we're also not fully putting our weight behind it. If that makes sense. How might we balance those things or pay attention to what is our work to do?
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:47:50] You know, I was learning that myself, right? Because, you know, as for me, environmental justice is a big thing for me. And it's important. And racial justice. And a lot of things connect. But like being out on the streets in these movements and all these different things were so important to me. I found myself, like going out and trying to do it. And I finally stopped to say, what are my gifts? What is it that I bring to the table? And I feel that everything is really. There are a lot of things. These things are connected, right? In social justice wise, my circles. I have people. We're all in one circle, but yet we are all doing all these amazing things. And so I had to find what it was I brought. What were the gifts that I have? And then really looked at it and didn't try to force myself to continuously do, go to line three and do the learning. But where is it? And my gift is teaching. You know, my gift is showing people this is how I move in these circles as a person of faith, in my spirituality and how I walk in the world. And for me, it was that that niche was the teaching part of it, and it began to naturally fit. I was less stressed in the sense of like trying to put all these things on my schedule, you know, And, and so it may not be that, you know, you don't force yourself into something, right? It may take some tries, though, too, I think. Until you really realize this is that spot. This is maybe it's with a company or an organization or maybe it's you making your path or your voice heard, which is what I've done. I just created that path. And all of a sudden, things started falling into place. When it becomes natural, when you understand you, you're comfortable, it's authentic, it's not pushed. And then those doors open. They really do. It just takes time. And we are people that don't like to wait, but it does. I don't know if that answers it, but I think it varies and trying to force it may not be the easiest thing to do.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:50:13] Yeah I think that's really helpful.
Gary Green [00:50:15] You know, you talked about discovering your gift of teaching and how did you authorize yourself to translate that? Because, you know, one of the things I'm curious about and want young adults to think about is oftentimes there's not already a vocation that exists or a job or a position that exists that we can imagine would just pull us, you know, pull the passion and the gift. You know, sometimes that stuff needs to be created. And with you starting the Twin Cities Movement Chaplains, how did you authorize yourself to take that giftedness and create something? And what wisdom would you share with other young adults who might be listening, where they might find something that exists already that allows them to do that? But a lot of them, especially if they're women or people of color or people of ethnic backgrounds, to find the authorization in a white supremacist world to go ahead and create what needs to be created?
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:51:16] Yeah, you know, I guess I didn't ask, but yet I did because they told me to go ahead and do it. But not in that way. For me, it was just finding my voice. I'm an empath. And I really feel and if you know me well enough, I really take in a lot. Sometimes I show it, sometimes I don't. I cry a lot. But the thing that I recognized was that I had to believe in myself. I had to find that confidence, which I never fully had confidence in myself, in my knowledge, in what I knew. And for me in seminary they really make you learn, you know, like discern and learn how to just talk about you, because that's important, because you begin to realize when you start to say it. I am good at teaching. I mean, that is my love. Looking back in my life, I've always navigated into a way of being in community through teaching people, not forcing my knowledge, but sharing it. And that's the blessing of what I learned from my elders and my mom and people. But it was that and it was because of that and beginning to name it and saying, I am a teacher.
Now how do I do it? I gave myself permission. I don't need some white guy to tell me you can do this. And that's pretty much what happened for the most part. And I started it right? And there are people who want to say, well, can we do this? And what if we did this instead? And we could? No, you know, ain't your vision. And if people wanted to try, they went their own way. I created that for myself. But it was naming it and saying it and believing it was the other thing. I didn't say it for a while and I didn't believe myself. Because I'm so used to hearing people tell me how I should be, what I should be like, what I should think, how I should dress. And I've only just within the last few months just became more bold in saying, this is me. You're going to either like it or you don't. And that's okay. I don't get as hurt. I still get hurt. But for me, it was about naming that. Giving yourself that permission to be fully you and molding what that is then that you need. And then I said that and I think those opportunities open up. I think that bright people come into your life. I think, you know, obviously God is just wicked awesome and it's just how things come into that and you just see it. So yeah, it's all about that confidence in you and naming it and saying it and believing it.
Gary Green [00:54:17] Thank you. Thank you so much.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:54:19] This has been really great. I really appreciate it.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:54:22] Yeah. Thank you so much for all that you've shared. Are there any final words you or things we didn't ask that you wanted to talk about?
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:54:31] I was in this call and the person completely singled me out who was leading this call, and I was there to support someone else. And I was there to support them. And that was all it was. It wasn't about me. But there was some stuff and this person made it all about me and made sure that I was completely separated from the rest of the people on that call. And I remember thinking, Wow, you know, no, you know, I'm not going to let someone dictate who I am, how I'm going to be, or that the wisdom that I have, that I carry is not acceptable, because it is.
I've learned through so many people, you know, these interfaith chaplains. I've learned so much from each person I have had a conversation with and I pretty much had one on ones with every person that has come through over 400 people. And so it was seeing this world, the beauty of the gifts that all these people bring. And yeah, not everybody is going to accept you or they're going to try and put you in a box. And it took some time for me to find my voice. But I stepped out of that box, and it's possible. And it is because I think we're in a world now where we can. Like we really can. And it's a scary thing to do. But we need more people to do that so that others follow suit. That others begin to follow that path of learning to be who they are. You know, and it's not an easy thing. And I just think that community; learning, building your community, learning who you are and learning your body and seeing the world as something that you are beautifully created to be in and a part of. Doing those things; I'm not saying it's an easy way to navigate, but it helps, I think, and empowers you. So find those people that empower you. Don't force yourself into something because you have to. And don't let those people who try to box you or push you out be the ones to tell your story because we're the people in charge of our own story, right. Or creator. And that's what we need.
Gary Green [00:57:04] Amen and Ase. That's all I have to say.
Justin Sabia-Tanis [00:57:08] It's been amazing having this conversation with you today. And we're just grateful.
Gary Green [00:57:12] Thank you for being with us and for agreeing to do this. And I really appreciate being a part of this conversation.
Kelly Sherman-Conroy [00:57:18] Thank you.