Monday, March 23, 2015

A Tale of Two Women

My daughter Elizabeth and her partner Erica were told earlier this winter that they would need to move out of their apartment.  Their landlords are older folks and have been having some health issues, and so their son is going to move in so that he can watch out for their welfare.  A noble thing to do.

So they've been apartment hunting.  They'd like a three bedroom apartment, but their two daughters could share a room if it came to that.  They've got several real estate agents working on it.  They've announced it at church, they've posted it on their extensive Facebook networks.  They are both employed.,  They have great references.  Their credit checks out.  But despite seeing several places, they've yet to land a new home.

Liz and Erica live in Massachusetts, in one of the most diverse and liberal cities in the country.  Yet what they are encountering a bias.  They suspected it all along, but it was confirmed by their most recent experience.  A potential landlord told their real estate agent flat out:  we won't rent to them because they are, well, you know, two women.  It goes against our religious beliefs.  (I can't help but wonder what they'd say if they knew Liz and Erica's daughters were African-American!)

Liz is a very religious young woman.  Very active in her congregation.  So is Erica. My point is, she appreciates the value of faith and the institutions that support it.  "You know, Dad," she told me the other night, "I'm not going to leave the church or anything, but I do understand better why so many of my friends are opposed to organized religion."

So do I. 

And frankly, it has me worried about the future of religious institutions in general, and the church in particular.  We who are part of an older generation often wonder why young people seem so estranged from the church.  I suspect some it has to do with apartment hunting--so to speak.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The American Family Secret

I've been co-teaching a course on race and religion in nineteenth-century literature this month with my friend Dr. Tom Cooley.  Tom taught English at Ohio State University and is now retired.  He's a very insightful guy, and we've been having a lot of fun teaching together.  That said, this is pretty we're dealing with pretty sobering stuff.

This week we finish up our course taking a look at Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.  It's not the best of books, from a literary perspective.  Nor is it the most theologically sophisticated read of the nineteenth century.  But it's impact on American society is legendary!  Hundreds of thousands of copies sold in the first year alone.  And minds were changed.  That which had been easy for some to ignore, suddenly became very real. 

Nancy Koester, in her excellent Harriet Beecher Stowe:  A Spiritual Biography, recounts Stowe's comment that writing about slavery felt like being "forced by some awful oath to disclose in court some family disgrace."  (147)  And of course, it was and is.  For the American family, it was a great disgrace.  Something we don't want to talk about--a family secret.

But talk about it we must.  For it's impact, these many decades later, is still being felt.  For though great strides have been made in terms of the laws of the land, racial bias still lies just below the surface, just waiting for a Ferguson or a frat house video to come along and remind us of it's destructive power.

Only when our biases are exposed to the light of day can we see them clearly enough to remove them.  That's why I'm teaching about our history as a nation.  The problems we face today didn't come out of nowhere.  They are deeply rooted in the soil and souls of our beloved country

Monday, March 9, 2015

Why Remember Edmund Pettus?

No doubt you have heard or read about what USA Today describes as the "racist back story" of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.  After all the iconic bridge has been at the center of much of the reporting about this weekend's anniversary of Bloody Sunday, that day fifty years ago, when non-violent protesters were met with hatred and clubs by local officials as they marched for voting rights.

In case you haven't heard, Edmund Pettus was a Confederate general and a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.  Much of his life and work was devoted to promoting white supremacy.  Many have noted the irony of the fact that this bridge named in his honor has become a potent symbol of the Civil Rights Movement.

The question being pondered by some is whether or not the bridge should be renamed.  Why honor the memory of one who engaged in such hateful actions?  Similar questions have arisen here, in the county where I reside, which is named after Robert E. Lee.  While not a member of the KKK, Lee was, of course, at the fore of the Confederate Army.  Should we continue to remember him in this way?

Quite honestly, I don't know the answer to such questions.  Especially in the case of Pettus.  Why remember such a soul in such a way?  Yet, there is something to be said for remembering.  Something indeed.  If the story of Pettus and the Klan is recalled on a regular basis perhaps it will remind us of why people needed to march across the bridge named for him and then on to Montgomery. 

Here in America there are too many who believe racism is a thing of the past.  Too many believe we are living in a post-racial society.  Perhaps a marker like the Edmund Pettus Bridge can help us remember not only how far we've come, but how far we still have to go.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mr. Spock and Myers-Briggs

For years now Star Trek has helped me explain Myers-Briggs Personality Types to parishioners and others as I have worked with them on various issues.  I thought of that when I heard the news that Leonard Nimoy, the actor who portrayed the half-Vulcan, half-human, character named Mr. Spock in the original series.

I remember well watching episodes of Star Trek at my friend Kevin's house when we were in junior and senior high school.  I was always intrigued by the way Gene Roddenberry and his team of writers managed to weave social commentary into what was basically a Western set in outer space.  I loved it! 

Like many fans of the series and the numerous subsequent spin-offs and movies, I was especially intrigued by Spock.  His ability to remain cool and logical in all situations (well most all) was enviable.  Yet even then I realized his dedication to logic sometimes got in the way of a real relationship, for love is often illogical at best!

Which brings me back to Myers-Briggs.  If you are unfamiliar with Myers-Briggs, it is an inventory of personality traits which is loosely based on Jungian psychology.  It measures preferences in  terms of how we like to interact with the world.  It does by  positing four sets of dichotomies.  The one in question is called Thinking-Feeling.  How do you make decisions.  Do you use logic and reason, or are your decisions primarily based on how you or others will feel about the results?  "Mr. Spock," I tell folks, "was the ultimate thinker.  Dr. McCoy, the ultimate feeler.  And Captain Kirk, somewhere in the middle."

The amazing thing is that I've been using Myers-Briggs for over thirty years--and that illustration still holds up.  No matter their age, folks seem to know the characters and the show (or at least the movies).  A show made when I was in  high school in the sixties!

"Live long and prosper," Spock used to say.  A good wish for all humans--Vulcans too, I guess--regardless of their personality type!