America the Beautiful: Part One
Updated: Dec 4, 2020
By Reverend Denise D. Tracy
Presented by Omni University
The year was 1971. I had just finished college, in three years and one summer session, and I was about to start theological school. Richard Nixon would soon be running for his second Presidential term and The United States was involved in the Vietnam war. I was quite critical of the President, our government and the war. At home I had running arguments with my Father who believed in the "Domino Theory". He felt that America’s last stand against Communism was occurring in the Mae Kong Delta. I was not supportive of the politics of my country nor did I support the person who filled the Executive Office of our land.
Not once, since that time in 1971, have I felt so at odds with our government, as I have in these past four years. In 2016, when our current occupant of the White House was elected, I had the same feelings of discouragement, dislocation and alienation as I did in 1971. Four years ago on the night of the 2016 election, I thought to myself, ”This could be bad.” I never imagined how really terrible it could be. And it isn’t over. As a minister, I never registered for a political party. I always remained neutral in church as well as in national politics. When I retired, one of the first actions I took was registering for a political party.
The United States of America is a country that I love. I am proud to be a citizen and honored to be an heir to this 250 year- old experiment in democracy. I must admit,though, that I have had a continual love/hate relationship with our political system... Our country was made by rich white men for rich white men.
Over the last 50 years, I have had various reactions to different Presidents. I want to say, however, that I think Barack Obama was, and still is, my favorite President, ever. I was mostly happy with his view of the world. I loved his thoughtful approach, his sense of humor, his artful creation of sentences, his vocabulary, his belief in being a good marriage partner and parent, his modeling of being a moral and upstanding person, all this was part of his being a leader of this great nation.
My son, Kyle, was about 8 when Obama ran for election as President and he made hundreds of phone calls in support of Obama’s first Presidential run. As I walked by his room, I would hear him say, “Yes, I am young. I cannot vote. That is why I want you to vote for me.” When Obama left office Kyle said, “Mom, Obama is the only President we kids have ever known. He taught us to be good people.”
I was dismayed when Hillary lost the election in 2016. But, what I have come to believe is that, while I was being happy with Obama’s leadership, there was a growing silent swell of racist, sexist, homophobic folks who wanted to take back the very decisions that I felt and feel, make us inclusive and accepting of all people who live within our national boundaries.
The Southern Poverty Law Center tells us that the number of hate crimes over the past four years has increased by over 300 per cent. I am appalled by this as well as the violence on our streets, the increased tax cuts to the wealthy, and the decrease of aid to the poor and those in need . In addition, the Muslim ban and the separation of families at our border are policies that have harmed people as well as our standing across the globe. The Pandemic has stressed and stretched us in multiple ways. Not to mention the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and too many others. The growth of both the "Black Lives Matter" and the 'Say Her Name" Movements tells me that there are many of us standing up and holding onto the values of acceptance and inclusion.
Before he was assassinated, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began speaking about ,and actively working on, an Anti-Poverty platform. What I now know is that People of Color have been right all along. America has to change. These past four years have taught me that being polite and neutral and silent is not in anyone’s best interest. We need constructive images of action.
Sixty years ago, a little girl walked to the William Franz Elementary School school in New Orleans surrounded by Federal Marshalls sent by then President Eisenhower because the state officials of Louisiana refused to support integration. Were you alive in 1960? Do you remember, or know about, the crowds that lined the streets to call Ruby Bridges names, spit at her, who carried a casket with a Black baby in and threatened Ruby and her mother with death? Sixty years ago, a little girl walked into a school and into a room and was taught by a teacher. Today, because of that child and that teacher, children of all races study, learn, and play together all over this country. We have to remember: change comes slowly, yet it does come.
I am glad Joe Biden won the election but I am also dismayed that more than 40 per cent of our nation voted for the current occupant of the White House, which means they support his values and his policies. I had hoped that after the election, we might be able to rest because people would unite around decency and inclusion. But, this has not been the case. What I fear is that in the days, weeks, and years before us, the path ahead is going to be a daily battle. Hopefully, it will be uphill but we cannot be assured of this.
It is going to take every person in every village, town and city, to save and secure this democracy. President Eisenhower sent in Federal Marshalls to uphold the law, Ruby Bridges walked bravely into a school, my son made phone calls from his bedroom... People act every day because they believe in a new world. We- each one of us- are all going to have to work to build a new and renewed nation. Those of our compatriots who voted for bigotry have the right to do so. However, if we want to create a meaningful life for ourselves, our children and future generations, we will have to be strong like water.
Feminist singer, songwriter, Cris Williamson has written a song called "Waterfall": “Can we be like drops of water, falling on a stone, crashing, breaking, dispersing in air, weaker than the stone by far, yet as time goes by, the rock will wear away. And the water comes again.” Ruby Bridges, The Rev. Dr.Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, you, me, we, will be like drops of water wearing away the rock…In this our lives, we will find meaning as we move toward a new just world…
John Lewis told the following story with another image of supporting change that has inspired me:
"About fifteen of us children were outside my aunt Seneva’s house, playing in her dirt yard. The sky began clouding over, the wind started picking up, lightning flashed far off in the distance, and suddenly I wasn’t thinking about playing anymore; I was terrified .… Aunt Seneva was the only adult around, and as the sky blackened and the wind grew stronger, she herded us all inside.
Her house was not the biggest place around, and it seemed even smaller with so many children squeezed inside. Small and surprisingly quiet. All of the shouting and laughter that had been going on earlier, outside, had stopped. The wind was howling now, and the house was starting to shake. We were scared. Even Aunt Seneva was scared.
And then it got worse. Now the house was beginning to sway. The wood plank flooring beneath us began to bend. And then, a corner of the room started lifting up.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. None of us could. This storm was actually pulling the house toward the sky. With us inside it.
That was when Aunt Seneva told us to clasp hands. "Line up and hold hands", she said, and we did as we were told. Then, she had us walk as a group toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the front of the house we walked, the wind screaming outside, sheets of rain beating on the tin roof. Then we walked back in the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift.
And so it went, back and forth, fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies.
More than half a century has passed since that day, and it has struck me, more than once over those many years, that our society is not unlike the children in that house, rocked again and again by the winds of one storm or another, the walls around us seeming at times as if they might fly apart.
It seemed that way in the 1960s, at the height of the civil rights movement, when America ,itself, felt as if it might burst at the seams—so much tension, so many storms. But the people of conscience never left the house. They never ran away. They stayed, they came together and they did the best they could, clasping hands and moving toward the corner of the house that was the weakest.
And then another corner would lift, and we would go there.
And eventually, inevitably, the storm would settle, and the house would still stand.
But we knew another storm would come, and we would have to do it all over again.
And we did.
And we still do, All of us,
children holding hands, walking with the wind ...."
This is my model for what we need to be doing. In the midst of the storm, we need to unite and move to where our strength and voices are needed and keep our house on its foundation. Then we need to be ready to move again. And again. And again. Ready. Set. Unite. And don’t forget to Hold On. Amen. Shalom and Blessed Be.
*Excerpted from "Making a Living: Post 2020 Election" A sermon by Reverend Denise D. Tracy. Google: "Something to Ponder" by George Carlin