Sunday, May 16, 2010

Working Toward What You Will Not Live to See

Occasionally, I have conversations with people about building a better world. Some people are so depressed by the glacial pace of change that they've given up working for it. They wonder how I can hang on to my idealistic visions.

One reason is that I have seen breathtaking change in my lifetime. I have a picture of a friend taken during our undergraduate days. He's wearing a shirt that demands "Free Nelson Mandela." We never thought it would actually happen.

Of course it did, and during this week in 1994, Mandela was elected president of South Africa. I could also point to the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the collapse of communism in eastern Europe, to the dismantling of nuclear weapons.

But even if I didn't have these world events, I like to think I would be hopeful. I spent the morning rereading parts of Adrienne Rich's prose (to see my more developed thoughts on her prose, go to my other blog post). Rereading the bits that I underlined long ago, this morning I found myself still inspired and comforted by her ideas: "I know that the rest of my life will be spent working for transformations I shall not live to see realized. I feel daily, hourly impatience and am pledged to the active and tenacious patience that a lifetime commitment requires: the can be no resignation in the face of backlash, setback, or temporary defeat; there can be no limits on what we allow ourselves to imagine" (On Lies, Secrets, and Silence, page 270).

We're like the medieval Cathedral builders. We work on our portion, knowing that we'll likely die before the building is done. But that's O.K. We've been part of a grand plan.

In the case of social justice work, we're involved in the grand plan that God has for Creation. We're part of the redemption mission. That idea alone has enough inspiration for a lifetime.

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