In the Meantime,
It is the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor Day as I write this, with much attention paid to the fewer and fewer people still alive who remember it. No one, though, seems to have noticed that eighty years before Pearl Harbor was the outbreak of the Civil War. Let that sink in. Not so long ago is it, when you realize only two lifetimes separate now and the Civil War.
The most recent UU World, our denominational magazine, features a long essay from the president, Susan Frederick-Gray that emphasizes our commitment to facing racism as it still exists in our culture. And by our culture she means UU culture as much as American culture. While there is genuine struggle about how we should pursue this task, there is genuine consensus that it is a task worth pursuing. Perhaps that is because we, the UU community, are aware of how little time has passed since the Civil War.
That famous southern writer, William Faulkner, famously observed that in the south “the past is not dead; it’s not even past.” I think that’s true everywhere. For good and for ill, the past haunts us as truly as the ghost that led Ebenezer Scrooge through his personal past. Like him, we are all shaped by the world into which we came. And like Scrooge, until those ghosts of the past are faced they will continue to haunt us – personally, nationally, religiously. That’s what Faulkner was saying.
Having been shown his sad childhood, his hopeful youth, and finally his love lost to fear, Scrooge implores the ghost,
“Remove me from this place.”
“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been,” said the Ghost. “That they are what they are, do not blame me!”
“Remove me!” Scrooge exclaimed, “I cannot bear it!”
He turned upon the Ghost, and seeing that it looked upon him with a face, in which in some strange way there were fragments of all the faces it had shown him, wrestled with it.
“Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!”
Does this not sound like those who rail against Critical Race Theory at School Boards? Indeed, one woman was so exercised at a recent Chandler School Board, she broke into a wild anti-Semitic rant that blamed the Jews for all of it. That’s how painful the past can be, when seen honestly. And our first instinct is to resist, struggle, deny, as Scrooge did.
And yet we know that had Scrooge not seen his past, he could not have seen his future, and would not have changed. To face the full complexity and complicity of America and racism is and will be painful and scary. But as I said in my remarks on December 5, it is not the ghosts that haunt us but our own past.
Not very cheerful thoughts as we enter the Christmas season, but the story itself unfolds in dreary times. Like the touching carol, “In the bleak midwinter,” hope is the flicker of light and warmth that is kindled in dark cold days. Spring needs winter, and hope needs despair. Christmastime is when we are invited to contemplate that. – FW
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