Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Insulated or Isolated?

I really like living in Charlotte. Great weather most of the time. Good food. Lots of churches to choose from. Friendly people - for the most part.

This city and our neighbors warmly and openly welcomed our biracial, homeschooling family way back in November of 2002. As a homeschooling family, we didn't have any problems with the public school system. I never learned much about the school system - not even when our neighborhood was rezoned from one elementary school and high school to two different schools. The new high school is twice the distance from our house as the old one is, but again, it didn't matter to me because I knew my children weren't going to either one.

Last night, I attended a meeting for a local grassroots education advocacy group called OneMeck. Passionate, dedicated, determined, informed, convincing, and committed, these men and women are hard at work trying to change Charlotte-Mecklenburg (our county) Schools (CMS). I can't and won't try to quote exact statistics (check out their website if you want to know more specifics - actually, check out their website even if you don't. their work is truly impressive), but I will say that far too many of our city and county's students are segregated by race and socio-economic status. Many of the schools are more than 90% one race. Too many schools have more than 90% of their students living in poverty. There is too much data that shows the negative affects of this kind of isolation to allow this situation to go unchallenged. So OneMeck and several other groups here in Charlotte are working towards change. Last night, the topic of the meeting was affordable housing - how to acquire more, build more, scatter it all over the city, and how it will affect our entire city and county in positive ways.

Those of us who live in the suburbs of the city, those who live in the more affluent areas of the city and county, those who have the privilege to homeschool or send our children to private school or send our children to high-achieving public schools often do just that in order to insulate our children from situations that we think may be difficult or dangerous or somehow detrimental to their emotional, educational, physical well-being. We think we can protect them from life's challenges in our brick houses and school fences and fine automobiles. We use our powerful voices and influence to vote down initiatives that would create affordable housing developments in "our back yard." "Let them live somewhere else," we say. Whoever they are. Wherever they live.

One of the leaders of OneMeck, Justin Perry, works with people who are dealing with addictions. He frequently talks about how many of his wealthier clients are driven to addiction because of isolation - the isolation of wealth, the isolation of assuming that money will make life better or easier, the isolation of expectations that all is well and that money solves loneliness.

We think we can insulate ourselves from problems, but what we end up doing is isolating ourselves from one another.

Insulation is a great thing in the walls, the floor, the attic, and the basement.
Insulation is a great thing in our coats, vests, gloves and hats.

But insulation is not so great when it creates a buffer between me and my feelings,
or me and my husband and children,
or me and the people around me at church or in my neighborhood or in my city.
Insulation quickly leads to isolation.

I want to protect my children, to insulate them from pain and suffering,
but I often end up creating a bubble around them.
A bubble that keeps them from learning how to handle bullies,
coaches who are bullies,
classmates who are bullies,
pastors who are bullies,
and even extended family members who are bullies.
A bubble that keeps them from learning how to live with other people,
how to learn from other people,
how to love other people.
A bubble that keeps them from recognizing the beauty and the pain,
the talents and the trials,
the power and the weakness,
the greatness and the meanness that is within all of us.

I want to protect myself, to insulate myself from ever feeling ill-at-ease,
but I often end up creating a bubble around myself.
A bubble that keep me from seeing, appreciating, befriending, loving, and walking alongside people who are different from me,
people who aren't married and don't have children,
people who don't go to church and aren't interested in God,
people who go to church but have different beliefs than mine,
people who are homeless,
people who are addicted to one thing or another,
people whose political leanings frighten me,
people who advocate and engage in violence
- and people who are wise and gracious,
people whose strength is underestimated,
whose weakness is overestimated,
and whose personhood, whose wholeness, whose glory is overlooked.

My desire to insulate myself from those things and those people
that make me uncomfortable,
that make me afraid,
that make me angry,
that make me want to walk away,
that desire to avoid trouble and uneasiness, if I give in to it, provides me with temporary relief from the discomfort, but the long term outcome is isolation. Distance. Deeper angst. Profound loneliness.

I remember being at a student government meeting in college in which we were talking about course requirements at Williams. At the time, all students were required to take a foreign language. We were permitted to take a proficiency exam to see if we could opt out of college courses or we could choose to take classes on campus. I remember that one of the students objected to the language requirement because, he said, "Everybody wants to come live in this country anyway, so why should we have to learn another language? Let them learn to speak English."

I was flabbergasted. Struck silent by his arrogance and avowed isolationist way of thinking. Fortunately I was not the only one in the room appalled by his comment; others in the room practically leaped across the table in vehement rejection of his point of view.

But there it was - insulation and isolation at work. Let me isolate and insulate myself from having to learn anybody else's language or culture. Let me create a bubble around myself and my education and my mindset so that I don't have to welcome any other way of thinking or anyone else's way of life. I wonder if he's preparing to vote for Donald Trump in the upcoming republican primaries...

I don't know what my role is in this movement towards school desegregation. I don't know if I will have any role beyond showing up at meetings and supporting those who are doing the hard work of trying to change the trajectory of the school board and the schools they oversee.

I don't know what my role will be in the movement towards racial, religious, and personal reconciliation either. I don't know if I will have any role beyond showing up at meetings, at church services, at seminary classes, at neighborhood barbecues, at the supermarket, at the mall - and being a woman of grace, of joy, and of peace. I will listen and pray. I will ask questions and pray. I will laugh and cry and pray. I will speak up and pray. I will shout and I will sit in silence and pray. I will kneel, I will stand, I will march, I will walk - and I will pray the whole time. I will teach and preach and write - and I will pray.

There is a lot that I don't know, but I do know this:
neither insulation nor isolation are working in CMS.
Neither is working in my home or in my heart.
Neither is working in the church.
Neither is working in seminary.
Neither is working my my city.
Neither is working in our nation.
Neither is working in our world.

May God have mercy on us
and may we have mercy on each other
as we work to end the insulation and isolation
that are threatening to destroy us all.

1 comment:

Qurra said...

Amen :) (finally started to slowly come back to blogging, as I've started summer intensive. Bloggin helps relieve stress. I'll try to come back more often and read your blog posts!)