How We See Others Affects Our Spirituality

I learned a new concept this past week which I would like to share with you.  It is called “asset framing” and was developed by Trabian Shorters, a social entrepreneur and former vice president of the John and James L. Knight Foundation. Asset framing “ is a catalyst of a movement to define black people first by their aspirations and contributions, then secure their fundamental freedoms to Live, Own, Vote and Excel.” According to several commentators, asset framing “is a cognitive framework in great demand.” Asset framing equips practitioners “to have far greater social impact, raise more money, engage broader populations and make fundamentally stronger cases for equity and systems change.”

The more I explored this concept, the more I concluded that, essentially, asset framing starts with the initial perception I have of a person or persons. In his discussions, Shorters concentrates on people of color because that is where he sees the most obvious need for asset framing. For instance, how do I frame people of color? What do I immediately think of their dress? Their hair color or style? Their skin color? And where do I perceive or encounter them? At an urban bus stop? At a fast food vendor? On a street corner? Can I go beyond these perceptions and see that under these exteriors there exists someone who has aspirations, similar to my own? Within these aspirations, the person has assets and gifts he or she can contribute and become happy and successful and resourceful for others. Sometimes in such an encounter I think, instead of assisting such a person through a social agency or a food distribution center or a church social action group and while those are all good, I can do more. I can remove all the exteriors and see the person who is really within. I can see the soul. I can realize there are assets in this person for the common good.

Shorters points out that using terms like “at risk youth, high crime areas, high poverty section, disadvantaged communities,” really helps to institutionalize racism. They assign classifications of human beings which places some humans below others through the exteriors I mentioned above.  We do this so casually, without thought. We do not mean harm but, in fact, we are reinforcing negative attitudes. If you want to learn more about this concept, I suggest you look into the BMe movement, the organization Shorters founded. There are ideas for volunteering on this site as well. But for starters, we can all decide to examine how we perceive others and how we speak of the exteriors and environments in which they live.


At the same time I was exploring asset framing, I took a deep dive into the Gospel of Matthew in preparation for a prayer group meeting. In the first few chapters alone, I became aware of Matthew’s exceptional attention to Jesus’ ministry of healing: the curing of the centurian’s son, the paralyzed man, the raising of Jairus’s daughter, the woman suffering from a hemorrhage, the two blind men, the leper, and more. Matthew outlines the mission of Jesus saying in Chapter 4, “He taught in their synagogues, proclaimed the good news, and cured the people of every disease and illness.” The first ten chapters of this Gospel concentrate on healing as the first part of the mission. When the person is whole, not subject to a life of pain, poverty or prejudice he or she can absorb the greater lessons. The person can discover the other assets latent in the soul, aching to be free. The person can recognize the God within his or her soul. The next sections of this Gospel narrate the story of Jesus as teacher. To Matthew, Jesus is healer first, teacher second. 

I’m trying not to strain a connection here but it seems to me that Jesus saw that by lifting the weight of exterior impediments, he was demonstrating that everyone is capable of bringing more assets to the community. Even those paralyzed through illness or affliction. He certainly did not perform miracles to demonstrate power but once the sick were cured they could become testaments to the wholeness God wants of all of us, and to the message Jesus wanted them to bring to others. Was Jesus engaged in asset framing? You decide.

Carefully note the times Matthew mentions Jesus healing “the many” who are brought to him. How do you feel reading these stories or hearing them preached? Can you see a connection to yourself like a message Jesus might be inspiring you to think of?

Try to be open and conscious of the words and phrases you use in reference to others. Are these words sometimes contextualized in deficit framing rather than asset framing? Take this to prayer and ask for insight. You will be surprised how a new consciousness will improve your way of seeing others and help to embrace a deeper spirituality.

Finally, we had our annual women’s retreat this January after having lost the first day due to a blizzard. But all the women hunkered down, prayed, listened to gifted speakers, discussed with each other, laughed and exercised! We were amazed that the storm only kept five people from coming.   

2 thoughts on “How We See Others Affects Our Spirituality 

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  1. Another attempt to help the dominant culture understand the oppressed. Hope it works. The diocesan racism committee worked for years to help parishes understand implicit bias (much like the initial step of asset framing), white privilege, and structural racism through the Appreciative Inquiry model and often received angry response. Dr. Plummer’s approach promoting cross racial friendships is also a promising concept. I think Bishop Pilla’s Church in the City initiative also held promise, but too few Catholics took it seriously. Intellectual knowledge needs to be supported with a willingness to live with, worship and be friends with people different from us.
    Jesus healed then sent those healed back to their communities. I often wonder how they were accepted and integrated. I often reflect at how often those Jesus cured were outside the Jewish community and how often he commended their faith.

    It would be a wonderful first step if churches would replace statues and pictures of Jesus, Mary, the apostles, … that portray them as white with artwork that shows them as people of color which they were. Or, at a minimum, artwork that portrays different cultures. When we built a new school at St. Mary if the Falls, I refused to used Italian artwork and searched high and low to find crucifixes and artwork from other cultures. The hardest to find were African. After the new school opened, the PSR teachers went to the pastor to ask why there weren’t crucifixes in the classrooms? We had to show them the crucifixes because they didn’t recognize them!

    Thanks for continuing to educate and challenge us.



  2. Pat: Your comments are always on target. You get it. The example of the crucifixes in your school is so apt and always happens. I join you incanting to do more for this cause…Let’s stay in touch in addressing reality with faith.


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