Saturday, July 07, 2007

Perspective on Civil Rights

This week I spent a week at Camp Pecometh, our Christian Camp in the Conference. I worked hard to try to get Middle School kids to study the Bible without falling asleep. For the most part, they were awake.

On Wednesday, the passage for the day was from the Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. It is the passage where Jesus talks about loving your enemies, blessing those who curse you... one of the hard ones. One girl literally exclaimed out loud as she was reading. (She was awake!) It is shocking stuff to those who have never read it before.

Naturally, my attempt to keep them awake involved trying to relate the Scripture to every day life. The Campers were a fairly diverse lot; since the Civil Rights movement had this text at the backbone of the movement, I figured this was the way to go.

For the majority of kids, the Civil Rights movement was as relevant as WW2! I was shocked. You would have thought this was arcane history I was referring to. They tried valiantly to recall some details. Mostly, they succeeded in remembering Rosa Park and the bus boycott. Once that was on the table, the march on Washington came to mind. Then sometimes, they would know about the marches, beatings, fire hoses, and jail cells. But not always.

I still cry when I heard the voice of Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching, especially the "I Have a Dream" sermon. For years, I had the text of this sermon posted on my refrigerator (although lately children's art work has crowded it out). I think of how the Civil Rights movement to contributes to the lexicon of our society, our politics, our court decisions, our lives. Musical artists I love, most notably U2, have used the Civil Rights Movement as inspiration for lyrics. For me, it is living, breathing stuff. And I was not alive during the movement. I was born in 1971.

So I was shocked to learn that for these kids, it is just a chapter in history. As I think about the timing, I guess they are chronologically about as far away from the Civil Rights movement as I am from the Second World War. And that war always seemed like history that happened well before my time.

I am recovering from my shock, now that it has been a few days. And I am trying to convince myself that this has an upside. After all, the idea that segregation and racism are not a divisive, hate inspiring issue is progress. I remember as a child a local African American broadcaster giving an editorial and making the claim that once color is no longer an issue, and no longer in need of conversation and court decisions, we will have finally made it to the Promise Land. But we're not there yet, by any stretch of the imagination. I witness too many instances of racism to think otherwise. Honestly, I am hoping that by the time I am a grandmother we may be there. Time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. My Old Testament professor in seminary would lament that the young students in the class did not known enough about the Civil Rights movement. It is true--most see it as ancient history. So the story must be told and retold. We are not there yet.