by Rev. David Rommereim
Not all of you are like me, in your late 50's, 60's. However, I want to say that my generation, at the prime of our life, accomplished many things. We are not Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation." We are a Boomer Generation that has caused a lot of environmental and politicized havoc regarding the radical nature of consumerism. However, if you look at the details, we accomplished many good things early in our corporate political careers.
In the middle of the (undeclared) War in Viet Nam, and the historic Civil Rights non-violent social resistance, we voted in the Civil Rights Act, The Voter Rights Act. We supported the War on Poverty (which attacked poverty at its racial core and promised to eliminate it by 1985). This War on Poverty was on target until we lost our nerve and legislative changes dispelled that reality in the early 1980's.
We were a community engaged in many legislative acts that brought an enlightened voter registry to the mainline. We made a difference by the way we voted between 1960 and 1980. Our rules of engagement insisted on equity. We knew that being an American meant people should vote and be given an opportunity to better their family situation economically. Yet, many continued to find it hard - and sometimes impossible - to vote.
We knew that to be an American we needed opportunity. Yet, we knew those opportunities were race based. White men like me had an advantage others did not have. However, we voted in the controversial entitlement programs meant to make economic equity an opportunity rather than a hindrance. Some were given opportunity. Others were not.
Our generation knew that opportunity could be shared rather than confiscated by race, gender, or sexuality. We wanted to make an American society that was democratic and just for all races, genders, and nationalities. Our Community engagement provided economic opportunities which made things more helpful for women, African Americans, and the, so-called, minorities. Yet, now it all seems like wanton dreams. Now we live in a polarized nation. If you watch Fox News versus MSNBC, you participate in the polarity of our media driven culture.
My personal fear is that we have become a nation of punitive values. As Americans, we believe that more weapons will solve the problem. We deliver drones, bombs, and sophisticated arms to countries that do not know how to use them. Neither do we!
We think more weapons will keep others from harms way; especially if we shoot bombs from behind computer screens and never look into the eyes of those scared victims.
Violence is never solved by violence. Mahatma Gandhi, Jesus, Martin King, and countless others come to mind remembering that the "brute force" of society can never stand up to the "soul force" of the people.
Presently, you and I incarcerate minorities at a rate never before known in Western democracy. There are more African Americans incarcerated in the USA now than there were slaves in the 1800's. To top it off, the places we incarcerate them are private prisons paid for by tax dollars to the tune of $70,000 + per year, per inmate. The educators of our ministry here at Good Shepherd (all 21 of them) know that our country does not come close to that investment in education.
We have also become a nation that separates families due to an immigration system that is out of touch with both the economy and social equity. I grew up in California and knew that the Chicano and the Mexican came to work the fields not to remain in the USA. They had a life in Mexico. They had a culture, religion, community, and family. Yet, they came to work because in Mexico the hegemony could not provide a sustainable income from work.
Over the last three decades, our policies changed the scenario from equality to the hegemony of entitlement and harm. People now come to the USA to work, and must stay illegally, because if they leave they not only lose a job but also make it more dangerous for themselves to come back for seasonal work.
People travel around the globe for work. They rarely come for ideological dreams. That myth was dispelled long ago. Now, families come from war torn countries for safety.
Lately, at Good Shepherd we have been honored by Syrian refugees who come because of the inhuman violence in their land of origin. They come to pray in the safety of an accepting faith community. Last week, I was at Federal Plaza for an immigration prayer vigil with the New York Sanctuary Coalition. I met a 4-year-old Latino girl, who was forced to wear an "ICE Bracelet." This bracelet is not something kids use to beautify their bodies. It was attached to her ankle so that she may be monitored from Homeland Security Headquarters, because this 4 year old running from a war-torn Honduras is not documented. She wears the monitoring bracelet because ~ we are told ~ she is a threat to our country. I will never understand that logic. At that point, I turn to Jesus. "Let the little ones come to me and forbid them not, for to such is the kingdom of heaven."
All this complicated politics; all these complicated emotional responses to our news; all these interactions with our social conundrums lead me to a better thought in the deep complexities of our present Brooklyn lifestyle.
However, after all this, today, let me focus on the wild-side in a different fashion; not on the wild of a violent, polarized, politicized society; nor on the violence of a fear-based society. In late autumn, I prefer to focus on the wild from the entrails of the Wilderness Act of 1964.
Today, I remember the Wilderness Act of 1964. These days there are many 50 -something anniversaries.
50 years ago, the Wilderness Act of 1964 was signed into law. This law protected 9 million acres of land around the country with additional protections from human impact. It added the "Wilderness" to what was just previously known as the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This year, due to our present Good Shepherd construction "Greening" project, I was not able to visit that BWCA with close friends. They went without me.
Since the original Act in 1964 another 100 million acres of land has been added by Congress to be protected. I encourage folks to read more about the Wilderness Act and its history. 50 years is a short period, but I certainly look forward to the future when my children, children's children, and beyond can experience the uniqueness of protected wilderness areas. After a summer of worship dedicated to the Planet, we learned that our partnership with the land is of utmost urgency.
In our wilderness of political nonsense, social bigotry, and the destruction of a planet that longs to be brought back to normal, I remember this act as a chance to become focused and resilient to the nonsense our social conundrums can muster. I close with this:
"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." - Quote from Wilderness Act.
Rev. David H. Rommereim