Saturday, August 12, 2017

What Can One Person Do?


In the face of overwhelming national and global issues of racism, economic inequality, nuclear war, immigration, individuals are left wondering what their personal vocation can be. A lifelong friend of mine, Phyllis Kester, living in Denver, wrote me recently asking this very question. Here is our exchange of letters:

Phyllis:
Dear Norma,

Our household subscribes to the Sunday edition of The New York Times.  So this morning I sat down to immerse myself in my favorite section:  "The Sunday Review" (the editorial section.)  I'm speaking of the Sunday, Aug. 6 edition.

Two of the in-depth articles resonated powerfully.

The Policies of White Resentment, by Carol Anderson

The Walls We Won't Tear Down,  by Richard  Kahlenberg

For years - I've been drawn to the challenges of institutionalized discrimination.  And for years,  I've been overwhelmed about what one person can do constructively to work for change.  

So I decided to share my questioning mind-heart with you.  What DOES one person do in constructive response?   No doubt you could write a book on the question.

Your loving & head-scratching friend,  Phyllis


Norma:
Those questions are so important, even more important after Trump’s provocative remarks and Korea’s response, all leading us closer to nuclear war.  Burton and I also saw the movie, “Detroit” this week.  The issues are huge, complex and not getting any easier.  I share your anguish over what to do as one person about institutionalized discrimination and systemic racism and all the isms. 

So I could ask you the same question. "What can one person do?"

I do know that we still have a voice.  We have more power than so many millions.  And, at least for the moment we still have time.  What are your possibilities, Phyllis?  The press is under attack but we still can write letters to the editor that can be printed. There is social media.  I have Twitter and Facebook and blog avenues.

There is the power of one. But I think the power of groups, even small groups is more effective. Tell me what are the possibilities in Denver for you and others, Phyllis?  I think about this here in Iowa.  I/we have only so much energy, so how do we choose where and when to use it?

Personally I have been thinking about pastors and often the gulf between them and their congregations.  A pastor often serves a congregation where people have very different views from one another  How to you preach/minister there effectively?  I may want to spend time and energy listening to such pastors and helping them in their roles. 

I don’t know, Phyllis, but I do know that your questions and mine are the same. I pray God will help us discern our vocations at such a time as this
Norma

Dear Norma,

You are kind to respond to my musings-questions.  I appreciate your categories of voice - small groups - place.

For years, I've contributed financially (as a member) to the Southern Poverty Law Center.  I was initially introduced to this essential "small group" by one of my heroines, Barbara Jordan (Texas Rep. to U.S. Congress.)

For years, I've participated as a "citizen lobbyist"-- in person or usually by email or phone.  In the 1980's, I was advocating for Salvadorans & Guatamalans through the U.S. Sanctuary Movement.  In Denver now I'm part of the Colorado Faith Communities for Gun Safety.  

For years, I've written PBS and NPR about specific issues.  In the 1990's, Jim Lehrer actually wrote back.  To my amazement,  he implemented my suggestion for an educational reporter.

Currently, I'm overjoyed at the new dean of St. John's Cathedral.  However, I'm patiently moving at his pace - - - to explore where to "come down together" in unison.

Off the wall - - I have the most amazing, direct, impromptu conversations on the Colfax bus in Denver (the most diverse bus in the city) and with my LYFT drivers.  One of my LYFT drivers was/is a pastor of an African-American church in the Denver area.  We talked intensely for 10 minutes-driving-together about the challenges of church integration in the face of neighborhood segregation. These conversations have the feel (to me) of mountain streams with kayakers in unpredictable interaction.

The power of the arts is not to be underestimated.  We have a poet laureate in Denver who intentionally rides the Colfax bus from beginning-to-end - - as his muse for writing relevant poetry.   My brother-in-law Terry Kester (now in Wilsonville, Oregon) is a life-long theater director/producer.  He has long influenced me about the power of drama to speak to the heart concerning the most knotty (and evil)  of our communal problems.   I recently spent a week in Wilsonville & was awed by a one-man dramatization of Clarence Darrow.  The entire performance focused on Darrow's representation of legal clients who were powerless (financially & culturally.)  Darrow was a one-man Southern Poverty Law Center.

Volunteering at the St. Francis Center for the homeless seems like both a service and critical education in my limited life.  It is also the most remarkable witness of blessings - given & received - among the guests & hosts. 

I stand in profound appreciation of your engagement with clergy who are with congregations with divergent views.  Such a juxtaposition seems like a fulcrum of "our knottiest problems."

May God guide us indeed on our uncharted journey.

Your loving friend,  Phyllis