Friday, December 1, 2017

Building Cathedrals of Social Justice, Stone by Stone

Each week, new revelations emerge about powerful men and the women they've sexually abused.  Some of the revelations, like the ones about Matt Lauer, are horrific.  Others are more puzzling.  I did not come of age in the 60's; I'm not comfortable with nakedness in the workplace.  I'm don't subscribe to the "if it feels good, do it" ethos; the thought of prison or bankruptcy or job loss or gaining 50 pounds in a year keeps me from doing many things that might bring me temporary good feelings.

On Tuesday when Garrison Keillor was suddenly fired, I felt this weariness.  I wrote this Facebook post:

"In these days when it feels like no one is living a life according to their values--or maybe the problem is the repellent values--let me remember forces of good in my small corner of the world:
--our Vet Tech student group who raised over $1000 (small donation by small donation) for a local charity that helps fund operations for pets that belong to families who are too poor to pay for the operations.
--my pastor, who has never been afraid to the preach the Good News that demands justice for the poor and oppressed; he's currently working on a sermon that weaves themes of gender justice with the Advent story of the Annunciation.
--all of the faculty members I know who are tirelessly helping students get to the finish line.
--all of the people who share their stories to demand justice for both themselves and those who cannot speak.
--more family members and friends than I can count, many of whom have stood beside me for decades, demanding the better world that we know we can create."

It is good to remember that it's these small acts that so often build together until change comes.  And we may feel that the change is temporary, but it's really not.  I know that we may feel we're revisiting Civil Rights issues that we may have thought were solved or sexual harassment issues that we thought we laid to rest with Anita Hill--it's good to remember that even though we made progress, we weren't done.  And now it's time to do some more to bend the arc of history towards justice.

Today is a good day to remember what ordinary citizens can do.  On this day in in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white passenger. This act is often given credit for launching the Civil Rights Movement, but what many forget is that various communities had begun planning for the launch, even before they could see or know what it would look like.  This liberation work had been going on since the end of the Civil War, and before, during the times of slavery.

For generations, people had prepared for just such a moment that Rosa Parks gave them. They had gotten training in nonviolent resistance. They had come together in community in a variety of ways. They were prepared.  We should take heart from their example.  Those Civil Rights workers faced much steeper odds than we face.

Today is also World Aids Day, a somber day that recognizes that this plague has been one of the most destructive diseases in human history. Let us remember another band of activists who worked hard to make sure that humanity vanquished this disease--I'm thinking of ACT UP, but AIDS united many groups that might not have otherwise found a common cause.

Many people idolize Ronald Reagan, but I will never be able to forget how he refused to take leadership as this disease emerged.  I am haunted by all the lives lost, and perhaps needlessly--if only . . . but history is so full of this needless loss.

It's easy to get bogged down in despair; we have survived earlier difficult days, and we will survive current and future difficulties coming our way too.

We can't know how long the struggle might be. Those of us who work towards social justice and human dignity for all are similar to those medieval builders of cathedral: we may not be around to see the magnificent completion of our vision, but it's important to play our part. In the words of that old Gospel song, we keep our eyes on the prize, our hands on the plow, and hold on.

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