I write this less than a week before Debbie and I leave for three weeks in India as part of a Road Scholar “Spiritual Tour” of that country. Part of the reason I seek to experience different cultures is to shake up my settled ways of thinking, to open up new ways of looking at the world, even as we travel to one of the oldest cultures on earth.
One distinctive aspect of this culture I look forward to experiencing is a different understanding of time. We in the West have a sense of the progress of time as like an arrow, ever moving forward, while Hindus believe that history is governed by patterns that repeat themselves over and over again in great cycles. This changes how they experience time and alerts them to be aware when each cycle moves to a new stage.
I reflect on this when I think about our nation’s and our community’s ongoing struggles over race. We go through one crisis after another, thinking we’ve finally got this figured out, that we understand the toll that racism takes on all of us, that we have learned the lessons and put the safeguards in place to avoid making those mistakes again. And then, there it is all over again just as insidious as it ever was.
We’re processing this now in the controversies surrounding the recent deaths of several African-American men at the hands of police officers. The circumstances surrounding each of these deaths are complex, but together they are part of a troubling pattern in America today in which African-Americans are more likely to be arrested, imprisoned or killed by police than whites. Again, many factors play into all of this, but there is no denying the oppressive overburden of racism that suffuses it all, and as religious people who affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, we are called to respond.
As Associate Minister Lisa Bovee-Kemper wrote in the last posting on this site, we as a congregation will be devoting some energy to this in the next several months. We have already convened one meeting of people interested in helping. Check in with Lisa if you’d like to be a part of this group. We are working at making contacts with organizations in the community doing this work and encouraging people to take part in the next session of Building Bridges, Asheville’s own anti-racism training program, January 26 through March 23. We are also organizing a discussion group to read one of the best recent books on this subject, The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. Look for more to come. We’ll be addressing this subject in worship again on March 15, the week after celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Selma, Alabama.
Maybe we need something like a cyclical understanding of time, the awareness that some of the deepest spiritual lessons are not easily learned but required our returning to them over and over again.