Sunday, November 1, 2009

So Much to Think About. . .

My English 101 students are writing a paper right now on two pieces of literature about the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. One is a New York Times article by a (white) Civil Rights activist, and the other is a poem by a black poet. They are comparing and contrasting the two, and it has a lot of us thinking about race issues.

The majority of my students do not know the race of my children, and I've taught these pieces for years, but this is the first time I've taught them since the adoptions. It definitely makes it more person, and therefore more difficult, to read.

We also talked about race in church this morning and how we live in such a diverse area, yet most of the churches in our area do not reflect this. Our pastor mentioned something that my dad has said in the past, and it is painfully true: Sundays are the most segregated day of the week.

We've been conscious of this since we first started looking into transracial/international adoption close to 8 years ago, and it is one of the reasons we don't feel comfortable ever moving back to the area that we grew up in. We knew that by adopted kids of a different race we were eliminating that opportunity.

We also were painfully aware of the relative lack of diversity (especially of visible minorities) in the church we attended here for many years, so when we started looking for a new church, this was one of our key requirements. The first church we went to for an extended period of time was better, but we left because of theological reasons. There was an African-American church we were really interested in, but they didn't have childcare for those under two, and that would have been a nightmare.

The church that we have now chosen and are getting ready to join is the most diverse we've found in the area. Our kids are not the only black ones in the nursery, and there are black families, not just moms and kids. We are really excited about that, but the pastor was so true in saying that we weren't diverse enough (not just in race, but also in age, background, social-economic status, etc.).

We were challenged to pray for God to grow our church and make it more diverse, and this involves asking Him to show us what He wants us to do. It doesn't just happen; we have to work very intentionally to change it. He pointed out that Heaven will not be segregated like we are in churches (and in life in general) today. I left with a lot to ponder, especially as I am reading my students' papers tonight.

Here is a copy of the poem that we are studying. When I read it aloud to my students, the room was so silent you could have heard the proverbial pin drop.

Ballad of Birmingham
by Dudley Randall

(On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)

"Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?"

"No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren't good for a little child."

"But, mother, I won't be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free."

"No baby, no, you may not go
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children's choir."

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.

The mother smiled to know that her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
"O, here's the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?"


stephanie garcia said...

I was not familiar with this poem. How very heartbreaking and powerful. I appreciate reading about the steps you are taking to find just the right church home for the beautiful family God has given you!

Melodie said...

i completely understand! as we have just made a move, i look at it as a new opportunity for our family. a chance to find a diverse area, a diverse church and those things that now NEED to be more important to us than ever. it's often on my mind.

Pam said...

Heart wrenching. Can you imagine?