A little curiosity can go a long way toward connecting people, easing their fears and resolving racial and other differences in our nation, according to the Rev. angel Kyodo williams, a highly sought speaker on race, social and spiritual matters.

"Our inability to deal with differences and confronting our fears then inspires us to anger and division rather than connection and curiosity," "said williams, who doesn't capitalize her first and surnames; her middle name is her given Buddhist name Kyodo, which means "way of teaching."

"I think we really operate under the principle that we are all basically good. And that we find ourselves caught many times in fear and anxiety, and that when we come together and we really allow ourselves to be open and curious about the experiences and beliefs that we have had, actually, what we find is that we are really connected, that we find more sameness than difference," she said.

"It actually makes it a better experience for own lives, because then we're less fearful. We enjoy ourselves more, and we become, we find, more positive about the world," said the 49-year-old williams, who will be the lead speaker for the "Connecting Race, Love and Liberation" set for 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. March 30 and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. March 31 at the Red Shoes, 2303 Government St.

Williams is an author, activist, Zen priest, spiritual teacher and founder of the Center for Transformative Change in Berkeley, California. She has been called "one of the most intriguing African-American Buddhists" and "one of the wisest voices on social evolution."

"We are excited about her," said Wendy Herschman, executive director of Red Shoes, which is celebrating 20 years as a nonprofit in Baton Rouge. "She's a very wanted speaker now. ... She's talking about race in a very different way than we've heard before, and she's really talking from the heart."

While williams comes from a Buddhist perspective, she wasn't born a Buddhist, Herschman said. "She brings mindfulness to how we relate to each other and really has an amazing perspective on race, privilege and how it's affecting how we're working together in our world right now."

Herschman said williams speaks about race and what freedom looks like from a place of love and compassion.

"We hope angel's visit will be part of our commitment to nourish new perspectives that bring love and healing into individual lives and into the world. We hope to encourage heartfelt unity rather than polarization," Herschman said. "We believe she will use a spiritual lens to help us confront veiled social constructs that are limiting freedoms for all of us — a step toward living our lives more fully and truly, loving our neighbor."

"Baton Rouge, in particular, one of the things that I really turned my attention to is helping people understand how we can confront the challenges we face around race and racism in our society and recognize that it's not just an external work like laws, but we actually have to do the internal work of heart and mind," williams said.

Conference participants will learn how to connect in authentic and inclusive ways; experience an embodied method for building internal capacity/growth; unearth myths that deny history, social conditioning and their impact; gain insight into how race maintains other forms of oppression; recognize and disrupt the “politics of disbelonging” to develop connection and begin to heal.

"I think she's going to help the people of Baton Rouge see themselves and their work in the community in a new way," Herschman said. "I think she's going to really, with love — not with anger, not with setting people apart from one another — know who's right and who's wrong." 

"I help people feel connected to each other even if they're different," williams said.

Williams is author of "Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace" and co-author of "Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation."

"She calls it radical dharma because we have to really look inside and see what isn't in us that we can always change, that we can really be living the best selves and bring that into the world," Herschman said. "We have to do the inner change to create the outer change in our community."

For more information on the conference, call (225) 338-1170; email info@theredshoes.org or wendy@theredshoes.org or go to theredshoes.org.

Red Shoes, which was founded in 1999 by Roberta Guillory, is not affiliated with any faith tradition, Herschman said.

"Our mission is really to be a completed inclusive center to help people see what they have in common rather than what divides us, so we can enrich each other's world," she said. 

Another day. Another blessing

Sometimes we have a hard enough time trying to encourage ourselves than others. That's what the Apostle Paul speaks of in Romans 15:5: "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had."

Jesus chided people, corrected people, admonished people. But he also spoke the truth in love and encouraged people. We must do likewise. We so much underestimate the power of a strong word of encouragement and how it speaks life into people. A discouraging word or action can destroy self-esteem and send some of us reeling for the rest of the day or even the rest of our lives.

While a strong word can give us life for the rest of our lives. I still remember the encouraging words of a teacher or a coach. Speak a word of power and life into people's lives today. Remember we will get words of discouragement and encouragement. But whose report, whose word will you believe? And even if NO ONE speaks a word of kindness or encouragement to you today, speak encouragement to yourself, knowing you are a child of the Most High God. Be encouraged and encourage as you walk this Christian journey. Be encouraged today that God loves you with an unconditional love and he will NEVER leave you nor forsake you no matter what this day may bring.

The Bible has over 7,000 promises. One of the greatest promises is found in the last part of Hebrews 13:5: "God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Never God? Never. That's good news. I needed to hear that this morning.

God will NEVER fail us, abandon us, let us down, walk away, leave you alone. What's funny about that is he'll never do that to us even if we do that to him. We can leave, abandon or forsake him yet we are never alone. That boggles my mind. Something else that makes me wonder is the difference between leaving and forsaking. Leave can mean to depart or go away.

Sometimes people have to leave for certain reasons, new opportunities, fresh starts. Just because someone is leaving don't mean they are forsaking you. Forsake is a little stronger, meaning to turn away completely. Forsake seems to come with a little attitude. But God has promised he will not leave us at all or forsake us at all. No attitude just love, patience, grace, mercy, whatever you need. We can take that promise to the bank or even to our grave. We can be bold about it. Let at that next verse Hebrews 13:6: "So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” 

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. To reach Terry Robinson, call (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.