Apocalypse Averted!

Reality check: This is 2013, almost 2014 right? U.S.A., right? Every citizen of a certain age can vote, right? An African-American is governor of our state of Massachusetts.  A man with an African father is President. I’ve worked side by side with African -, Latino-, Asian – Americans over the past decades. All true.

So explain to me how high schools in Georgia had their FIRST integrated senior prom this April. Only because a small (integrated) group of students decided segregation is wrong. Up until April 2013,  they had a “black prom” and a “white prom.” Is Georgia kidding?  This year a number of seniors decided to take matters into their own hands and organized their own integrated senior prom. Georgia governor Nathan Deal refused to endorse it.

Recently I heard Julian Bond say that Barak Obama has had more death threats than any president in U.S. history. I had somehow believed that things had gotten better than when I was a kid.

This is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tracy Chapman’s first album. As I listened to her songs this week I realized that they are as true now as they were a quarter century ago. From her song “Why?”: “Why do the babies starve/ When there’s enough food to feed the world?… Why is a woman still not safe/ When she’s in her home?”  From “Revolution”:  “While they’re standing in the welfare lines / Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation / Wasting time in the unemployment lines … Finally the tables are starting to turn /Talkin’ bout a revolution….” Twenty-five years ago I was so hopeful. But now listening to her songs, I started down the slippery slope to apocalyptic thinking. What happened to that revolution? Humans are on an irreversible downward spiral.

Apocalyptic thinking is popular now, as it was in medieval Europe. The world is so bad, goes the story, it’s got to be destroyed before the Kingdom of God can descend on those who are worthy. What are the signs of the End Time? For conservatives, that means same-sex marriage; for liberals, cutting aid for the poor. Still, the “doomed world” view is the same no matter our political / moral opinions.

Apocalyptic thinking, that is, pessimism and helplessness coupled with an us-them view of humanity, is the poison of faith. And I admit, pessimism often lurks beneath my breast.

Given everything, should I be this discouraged? The Georgia high school seniors received support from Korea, Japan and France. DJ’s offered their services for free; others donated lights for the dance. Their school board stated that in the future all events at the school will be integrated. Tracy Chapman was right all along. They did not stand for injustice.

Teilhard de Chardin,  a Jesuit scientist, concluded that humanity is evolving  along a moral, spiritual path.  I realized this week that my faith is based on that premise, though sometimes events seem to indicate the opposite is true.

Apocalyptic faith is an excuse to not act, but to judge. It takes creating a Kingdom of God out of our hands and delegates action into the hands of a God of destruction.

Alternatively, people are developing de Chardin’s vision of humanity. From the American Teilhard Association:  “…developing fresh perspectives on “Teilhard de Chardin’s remarkable evolutionary vision, often in ways that directly relate to an ecologically and spiritually sustainable Earth community.”

De Chardin said, “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.

Reality check: Tracy and Teilhard are right. Thank- you,  Georgia students Quanesha Wallace, Keela Bloodworth,  Mareshia Rucker, Stephanie Sinnot.

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I Hope They Think I Was Racist

My father, unusually intelligent in most things, thought that suburban living was the pinnacle of civilization, the culmination of centuries of evolution. Though I argued with him, I understood his point of view. My parents and their parents struggled to be able to live in a safe, secure, beautiful place. Leaving behind close family and neighbors, all the things they loved about living in Manhattan, was worth it. In a world with limited knowledge of other cultures, they could not compare Huntington, Connecticut to very many places.

We tend to think that we are the pinnacle of evolution, even more so when it comes to our opinions and attitudes. I hope that when my niece Kate’s grandchildren hear about Aunt Alice, who lived back in 2011, they are SHOCKED by my attitudes.

She lived in a HOUSE when people were sleeping on the street?!”

“She POINTED at Latino people in her classes? How could she insult people that way?”

“She handed a gift to a Thai person with ONE HAND? How racist is that?”

“She lived in a town WITHOUT ONE African-American? Who did she think she was?”

And I feel wonderful relief knowing that they will be upset by things I cannot even imagine now. After they voice their outrage about the attitudes of so-called “good” people in 2011, I hope that Kate takes them to the Harriet Beecher Stowe House in Connecticut. She’s the one who wrote that racist book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life among the Lowly in 1852.  A woman organized a church trip to Stowe’s house in Connecticut as a way of thinking about Black History Month. Stowe has taken an unfair hit on racism. The fictional Uncle Tom is a different, more complex man than the political image of an “Uncle Tom.” However, there is no denying that reading the 1852 book in 2011 is a different experience.

Stowe revolutionized white people’s view of slavery and African-Americans forever. Certainly not every white person is convinced, but enough to bring U.S. slavery to an end much sooner.

In 1972, my grandmother was shocked that our white neighbor married a man who was black. She was older and living with us in Huntington. She’d gone as far as fourth grade in Ireland before emigrating and started work as a nanny around 1912. Now that she was older and ill, she got to read and rest. She spent hours by the front window, reading, thinking, telling stories, mostly thinking. The only house in sight was across the street where the shocking couple came and went to work, went shopping, and worked in the yard. I was reading in the living room one day when she said, “I guess it’s all right, as long as he treats her right.” It took me a moment to realize who she was talking about. I consider that moment an important milestone in the evolution of race relations. If she could change her view of the world sitting at a window, watching, thinking, wondering, I’m sure I can also. Maybe I can knock off some of the unconscious attitudes I have from that future list of my niece’s grandchildren.