Saturday, February 18, 2017

Who Are We Hiding?

Fifty years is not a long time, not if the measure is, say, the history of the world.  But, fifty years is a long time if the measure is, say, cultural change.

So it was that as  I watched the movie Hidden Figures I began to wonder what my grandchildren will think of current society fifty years from now.  I grew up in the 1960’s in the upper Midwest where discrimination based on race was tolerated. We didn’t have “separate but equal” drinking fountains or “colored women only” bathrooms.  We didn’t need them because, frankly, the closest African-American people I knew of lived in Milwaukee and my awareness of African-Americans was limited to television news coverage of the ‘race riots’ and our annual trip to the Milwaukee Braves baseball games.  So, when I watched the movie Hidden Figures I was seeing something I knew about but didn’t understand growing up: white people were afraid of black people.

I think that is what I saw, fear. The white men putting out a different coffee pot for the African-American woman because they were, at some level, afraid of drinking from the same pot.  The white mother yanking her child from the “whites only” drinking fountain as the African-American family took a drink from the “coloreds only” drinking fountain.  The white public librarian shooing away the African-American patron to the “colored” section of the library.  What was white society so afraid of that it went to such lengths to be separated from black people?

Who are those we have separated from in our society?   Who are the ‘different’ ones that the majority of us quietly, if not openly, hide from because we fear being near ‘them’? About whom have we created a cultural narrative that justifies the actions driven by our fear of ‘them’?  Who are the ‘sinners and tax-collectors’ that Jesus would sit with while we stand at the door aghast?

I spent a lot of time shaking my head as I watched Hidden Figures because I was so disappointed that people could be so afraid of ‘others’ that they would think it was acceptable to hide those women.  What ugly truths will cause the movie audiences of 2070 to sit there shaking their heads as they wonder, ‘What were those people of the 2010’s thinking?’

Who are we hiding? 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Your Most Important Step is the Next One

These are anxious times.  More people I know express anxiety and uncertainty about their lives and the world than at any other time I can remember.  I have been struggling to find some words that capture some counsel that makes sense. I think I found it in the words of Michelle Williams, who has a word for those who find themselves in the “hell” that life so often seems to be.

Ms. Williams is a “character actor”, playing smaller but critical roles in movies.  She is in the news again for her portrayal in Manchester by the Sea. The role attracted Ms. Williams because of the character’s bravery. She said, “The thing that moved me about her wasn’t her sadness….It was her bravery that moved me to tears. To think about somebody who could do that-because if it happened to me I wouldn’t be so brave.” (Source: WSJ., “The Real Deal”, by Leslie Bennetts, February 2017)  Ms. Williams’ performance is informed by her own suffering, as she endures the pain in her life.  She separated from her husband and the father of her child after two years of marriage, and then he died of a drug overdose.  Ms. Williams has been for nearly a decade a single parent for her eleven year old daughter, balancing work, buying groceries and school schedules.  Her past haunts her and bedevils her. As she says, “The past-you might be done with it, but it’s not done with you.”

What most impresses me is how Ms. Williams deals with the insecurity, the anxiety, the losses that surround those few moments on screen or receiving acting awards. In describing her attempts to recover from her broken heart following her husband’s death, even these many years later, she says, “I’m still thinking-it’s never really over. But there’s more time in between the waves. They still break over you, but you have more time to swim and catch your breath.”  And the toughest lesson she has learned is this: “When you find yourself in hell, the best thing to do is keep going….Don’t stop. Put one foot in front of the other. The territory keeps changing, but it won’t change if you sit down. Keep moving.”

I think that those words sum up how to confront these anxious times. They will become a permanent part of my counsel to the broken who are trying to survive these anxious times.  If you feel like you are in “hell”, don’t sit down. Take the next step.  Faith is all about finding  a way to escape the descent into hell and rising again into new life.  Your most important step, friends, is the next one

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Crazy Dreams

What kind of preacher gets the “establishment” so angry that he needs to clarify, “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them”? (Matt. 5:17)  Was his preaching about comfort, meekness, mercy and purity, about being peacemakers and suffering persecution, so revolutionary that society’s bosses needed this preacher silenced to protect the status quo? What kind of leader inspires his followers to learn the art of creating change,  to be the ones who will to change the world for him? I am praying for more “crazy dreamers”, people who are willing to believe they really can change the world.  The world, the church need more people who are willing to learn the art of following that Jesus, more people like this:

Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They invent. They imagine.
They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire.
They push the human race forward.
Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art?
Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written?
Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels?
While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,
are the ones who do.

(“Here’s to the Crazy Ones” by Jack Kerouac, discovered at inward/outward)