November 26, 2011

Change, One Step at a Time

I've been thinking about the part of my childhood spent in Mississippi over the last several months. It was over 40 years ago, but it many ways, it seems like yesterday. "The Help" brought back many of the memories -- a combination of fond memories specific to Jackson, and others that reflected the ugly face of racism that could be found anywhere.

I once read a book about generational differences. The author maintained that much of how we view the world as adults is shaped by the events that took place when we were 10. I think there is some truth in that. I'm not the person I would have been if my family had stayed in Oklahoma instead of moving to Jackson in 1968 because the short time we lived in the deep South changed me forever, just as that period began to change the South itself.

Source: Google Images
The year I was 10 was the year that Jackson's public schools were closed for two weeks in January for reorganization. When the schools reopened at the end of the two weeks, they were no longer segregated...for the most part. My school was the exception with no black students that year, but we did have black teachers for the first time. At that point, we had lived in Jackson almost 18 months, and most of that time had been permeated with talk about whether or not Jackson could avoid integrating the schools. Most of the talk was awful, and it was hard to escape, even at church.

It's difficult to believe now, but for people who had grown up under segregation, it seemed normal. Many believed segregation was ordained by God. They looked to scripture in Joshua where God instructed the Israelites not to mix with the Canaanites. They referenced New Testament scriptures that talked about keeping light separate from darkness, and they genuinely believed that meant that God intended for all races to be separate, and for all time. In that atmosphere, it wasn't surprising when my Sunday school teacher and my missions leader -- both public schoolteachers -- asked us to pray that they would not be taken from their white schools to teach black children. Not surprising, perhaps, but I couldn't help but wonder how "love your neighbor" fit into the way my teachers at church saw the world.

When the community finally realized that they could no longer ignore a ruling from the Supreme Court, panicked families began searching for ways to start their own schools, just about anywhere. They started them in their homes, in abandoned buildings, and in churches. When our church held a meeting to discuss the possibility of joining the white flight movement by starting a school within the church, my dad was one of the members who spoke out forcefully against the proposal. Thankfully, the idea of a school failed.

I was blessed with parents who managed to set aside their own upbringings and who taught me that racism was wrong. When neighbors and friends abandoned the public schools, my parents held firm. We would not give in to white flight. When my dad's company picnic was held at a state park outside of Jackson and our group -- made up of white and black families -- was threatened with violence, my dad and the other company managers were forced to make the decision to leave peaceably rather than risk harm to their families. My parents used the incident as an opportunity to teach me about the ugliness of racism.

I knew that although my parents taught me the right thing, they struggled with racism themselves, as I sometimes find myself struggling with it. Each generation comes further than the one before, and while my generation didn't defeat racism, the role we played on the front lines of desegregation made it easier for the generations after us.

In recent years, I have heard my peers in Oklahoma say things like, "Busing didn't change anything." Whenever I hear someone say that, I look them in the eye and say, "I disagree. Desegregation changed everything." I remind them that we were born into a world with separate restrooms, separate water fountains, and separate sections in movie theaters. There were restaurants where blacks could not be served, parts of cities they could not enter. There were people who were murdered for no other reason than someone didn't like the color of their skin.

While the Civil Rights Act changed laws, it was integrating the schools that led to changed hearts because it allowed opportunities for interaction that otherwise never could have happened. And it was changed hearts -- much more so than changed laws -- that led to changed behavior. Today, I'm praying that God continues to change my heart where He sees I need to change.

Until next time,

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." ~ Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)

November 17, 2011

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Two weeks ago this Saturday night, I was starting to doze off when it sounded like a semi had pulled up outside my window. Then, just as I was beginning to process what I thought was the sound of thunder in the distance, I realized my bed was shaking. And it wan't just my bed. The walls were shaking, and it seemed as though I could hear the sound of everything - and I mean everything - in my house shaking. The pictures on the walls made noise, my closet doors rattled, and it sounded like bee bee pellets were rolling across the attic.One of my cats, who had been sleeping next to me on the bed, took off for the stairs as my other cat came out from under the bed and followed in hot pursuit.

And I just lay there thinking, "So this is what an earthquake feels like." Well, that was my first thought. My second was, "We don't have earthquakes like this in Oklahoma."

Apparently, we do now.

It turned out it was a 5.6, and while there was some damage near the epicenter -- which was about 60 miles away -- it didn't do much more than rattle people (pardon the pun) around here. There had been a foreshock much earlier in the day, while most of us were asleep. A number of people I know felt some shaking during the night, and I was a little disappointed that I had slept though it. That was before we knew it was a foreshock -- I didn't even realize there was such a thing. (Blogger's spell-check doesn't know there's such a thing either.)

By Monday, as tornado warnings were in effect over parts of Oklahoma which we're accustomed to -- but not so much in November -- the joke was that we still had a few weeks left in hurricane season. Could a hurricane be next?

Not a normal Oklahoma snow!
It's been that kind of year. We had snow in February that would rival snowstorms in Chicago. As a matter of fact, the same storm hit Chicago later in the week. It actually paralyzed snow-savvy Chicago, although not nearly as long as it paralyzed us. By the following week, with close to two feet of snow on the ground, we had temperatures that would rival those in International Falls, Minnesota. Thanks to the heat island, Tulsa only got down to about 13 below at its coldest, but outlying areas were 20-30 degrees below zero.

That's not anywhere close to a normal Oklahoma winter, and I knew that did not bode well for the coming summer. Sure enough, July and August brought temperatures that would rival those in Death Valley. My sister pointed out to me long ago that whenever we have extremely hot summers, they are either preceded or followed by extremely cold winters...and vice versa. I pulled my phone out and called her at her home in Minnesota one afternoon in August when I got into my car and the thermometer read 125 degrees. It was a rare summer in that it seemed few people had tans because no one wanted to spend time in the sun, and even a fake tan was too. much. trouble. Area lakes brought no comfort because the heat and the drought (oh, yeah, we're still in the midst of a drought) combined to cause algae to grow on at least 3 of the nearby lakes. Yuck.

While we have the occasional colder-than-normal winter, the occasional hotter-than-usual summer, and even the occasional drought, this year's extremes exceeded anything I've ever experienced in Oklahoma. While we have the occasional record-breaking snowfall, this year's snow totals broke records for the entire season. It was particularly jarring in that most of it came over a 10-day period. And while we're used to tornadoes and the uncertainty they bring to our lives, we were stunned when a large portion of Joplin was destroyed just across the state line on Mothers Day.

But the earthquake was different. While a 5.6 is big for Oklahoma - the biggest ever recorded in the state - it doesn't compare to earthquakes in California, or Japan, or Turkey, or Chili, or any of the other places that have experienced much larger earthquakes. It didn't kill anyone, or cause anything more than minor injuries. It damaged some homes and buildings, but it didn't destroy large portions of cities, or take out entire neighborhoods. It was different largely because it wasn't something we're used to dealing with. There was an aftershock a couple of nights later that was the same magnitude as the foreshock, a 4.7, but it came early enough in the evening that most of us felt it. It wasn't as loud, and it didn't last long, but it sure got our attention.

As the ground stopped shaking and as I realized my second experience with an earthquake was over, I thought about how God sometimes reaches into our lives and shakes things up to get our attention. And while that can be a little scary, it can also be an earthquake.

I just hope he doesn't have a 6.0 up his sleeve. ;-)

Until next time,

"I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory," says the Lord Almighty. ~ Haggai 2:7