Friday, December 6, 2013

Godspeed and May the Angels Rush Out to Greet You

Warning:  I'm talking about politics and religion in the same piece in violation of all that I hold dear.   "There are three things I never talk about with people - religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin."  -- Linus.  

I am having a strangely emotional response to the death of Nelson Mandela.  I teared up in the car when I heard, and I've continued to tear up periodically since then.  That's not to say that the death of such a brave leader is not sad, it's more than that.  I am from a little bit of a lost generation.  A young child during the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, the Kennedy assassination, and Watergate, it seems like all of the pivotal world events of my childhood happened before I was old enough to pay attention.  Sure, the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but by then, the duck-and-cover immediacy of my parent's childhoods was gone.  Eastern Europe had discovered money, the cool people had all defected, and it seemed, rightly or wrongly, to be just a formality.

In all honesty, before 9/11 and even after, what I felt most connected to and most invested in was the anti-apartheid movement.  Not that I, a college and law student during the riots and the transition through the deKlerk era, could do much about it, but I watched and I read. I didn't buy Shell gas, which made my dad furious for reasons I can't now understand.  I couldn't and still can't understand the idea of institutionalized, systemic racism of an entire indigenous population. Leaving manifest destiny, the American slave trade, and all of English history aside, this injustice was being perpetrated right then!  In 1990!  How could this possibly be?  It shows my condescending naiveté at the time, a white child of privilege, when you consider that there were and still are entire populations of people in the world without running water. 

But I'm proud to have been a witness to this kind of history.  I'm proud (sort of) that G's response to my telling her that Mandela died was, "That's the guy like Gandhi, right?" Uh, no. "No! I know! He's the President of South Africa, was in prison.  That guy?"  Thank you, Jesus.  I was a little worried about her going to college.  I'm proud that when my kids look at people they don't see the color of their skin.  I'm proud that they got to be with me the afternoon that the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.  I'm proud that my daughter can speak the name of Nelson Mandela in the same breath as Gandhi. 

So, why the tears?  The tears are because even with this kind of role model in the world, we are still dealing with people who don't want to talk about racism because it feels uncomfortable. And we are still figuring out how to deal with people who don't want to change.  Happily, there are small voices out there who are willing to speak up.  Here and here.  But I worry.  I see racism all the time here in Texas - in line at the grocery store complaining about the African-American woman in front of them just loudly enough to make sure that she heard.  In a church my husband visited when he was told he doesn't look like a Mexican.  The n-word written in the dust on the back of my daughter's car.  And she's white.  It was terrifying and painful.  And she's white.  Imagine if that were how you lived EVERY DAY OF YOUR LIFE.  

We are still dealing with people who don't want to talk about homosexuality.  My girls are really proud that at their school, a bunch of girls have come out of the closet as lesbians, and my girls count many of them as their friends.  They are not proud, though, that their gay friends cannot come out of the closet as easily for fear of getting the shit kicked out of them by the cowboys in the parking lot.  And I live in a state in which we cannot acknowledge that a woman doing the same job does not legally have the right to be paid the same as a man in that job.  We still have so far to go.  How do I send my girls out into this kind of world?  How do I make them hopeful in a way that Nelson Mandela made a whole country hopeful?

I hope my kids have touchstones like Nelson Mandela that remind them that our God stands for love.  Period. I have taught them to stand up for themselves and for others in the face of bullying and put downs and bigotry of any kind.  I also send them out into the world hoping that they realize that Jesus ministered to the least of us -- the sick, the broken, the damaged, the marginalized, the exiled.  So, basically, all of us. No matter what color or age or social strata or political party.  No matter what. My God stands for love.  It's our job to go out there and prove that by our words and actions.

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