Monday, July 19, 2010

Communal Life in the Public World

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Our country owes much to Sen Tom Harken of Iowa and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy for their diligence in bringing to fruition a bill that has positively changed the fabric of American life in community. Accessibility! Opportunity. So much remains to be done, of course. But so much has changed that it's hard to realize it has been only twenty years since this bill was passed and signed. All people need to be part of our communal life in the public world.

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee's semi-autobiographical novel, set in the 1920's South, has sold over 30 million copies and at one time became required reading for ¾ of high school students in this land. Published in the early days of the Civil Rights movement, it awakened the consciousnesses of whites. The challenge, of course, goes on. Racism is not past, an historic “story” in one part of this nation. The challenge continues. All people need to be part of our communal life in the public world.

The summer of 2010 the recession continues. The numbers tell the story: joblessness, home foreclosures, stock market uncertainties. But there are other figures, too, such as a rise in emotional problems such as depression, and, sociologists note, the lessening of civic engagement. People have become less likely to be involved in community activity. While some may think people who are unemployed or underemployed have more time to be more involved, many actually become more isolated, being less involved in civic activities, community affairs, volunteer services, even attendance at church. They have less emotional energy to do so. It is not because they do not care, but because accompanying lack of productive work are questions of self worth and self-esteem. Here is a call for ministry, a call for affirmation of gifts, a call for all to be valued members of our communal life in the public world.

Earlier this month President Barack Obama's gave a stunning speech on Immigration. It was clear. It was comprehensive. The issues are complex; all need to be engaged in working toward just solutions. “We cannot forget that this process of immigration and eventual inclusion has often been painful. Each new wave of immigrants has generated fear and resentments towards newcomers, particularly in times of economic upheaval,” he said. Read his speech (to be found at various sites on-line). And talk about it, as well as ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's recent communication on immigration. The challenge is for all of us as we find a way for people to be a part of our communal life in the public world.

All sorts of other things have been happening this July, some anniversaries, some today's news, and some the ongoing realities of daily life. For example, Detroit has no remaining chain grocery stores; people look to gas stations, “convenience” stores and fast food places for nutrition. Even availability of food is according to economic class. And yet, with nearly a third of Detroit consisting of vacant land, last year there were 557 registered family gardens, 263 community gardens and 55 school gardens. People are feeding one another. (See Sojourners July 2010.) All people need to be fed and nurtured in order to be healthy, respected, valued members of our communal life in the public world.

What has been happening in your world, or world, this July? What hinders and helps our call to communal vocation in the public world?