Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Woke and Awakening

My well-worn copy

I love that “woke” is related to “awakening.” “Woke” as an adjective is from African American vernacular, and, as employed by Black Lives Matter, entails social awareness, especially of racism and social injustice. It is now used ubiquitously to suggest someone who is politically aware.

In spirituality, “awakening” suggests spiritual awareness. An early twentieth century authority on mysticism, Evelyn Underhill, describes “awakening” as the first stage of a mystic’s lifelong process. She described five stages of a mystic: awakening, purgation, illumination, dark night, and union.

What brings this to mind for me are two recent articles evaluating Harper Lee’s book, To Kill a Mockingbird. One article reviews a book that offers a disconcerting analysis of Lee’s novel as a defense of upper class educated Southern whites distancing themselves from racist “white trash,” as if the latter were entirely responsible for racial barriers, while excusing themselves with the actual economic, political and social power to end segregation.

Jarring as this is for me as a fan of the novel, this appears to be true, and, I hate to admit, could also be said of those who insist President Trump was elected by that infamous “basket of deplorables” rather than by educated, middle and upper class white voters.

The other article, reviewing another related book, explains the writer’s disdain of the novel as insufficiently aware of the African American experience. Only Scout’s character is fully developed, she writes, not that of Tom Robinson or even of Atticus Finch.

I wanted to counter that this is because the book is not about Tom Robinson or Atticus Finch: the book is about Scout and her transformation in the light of her personal experience of events and characters in the narrative. The most authentic representation of African American experience would most likely be found in the writings of African American authors themselves.

The novel's film was released a month after Alabama Governor George Wallace’s infamous “Segregation Forever” inaugural speech. Though the sterling character of a small-town Alabama lawyer like Atticus Finch might have been a stretch, given the times, as one writer suggests, he serves as a counter to the prevailing ethos of racial prejudice. He gives white readers someone to emulate, something lacking in Lee’s original version, Go Set a Watchman. Thanks be to God for a good editor who advised her to revisit and reshape the story!

All this is to say, as I’ve written in my books and on this blog, To Kill a Mockingbird served as a “woke” experience for this 12-year-old boy from California who had never even visited the South. That, coupled with the Civil Rights Movement and good teachers and preachers, began for me a lifelong journey toward a better understanding of racism and social injustice.

The books of African American authors furthered my growth: Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Stephen Carter, Eldridge Cleaver, James Cone, Frederick Douglass, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King Jr., Alice Walker, and Cornell West. Articles, reporting, firsthand encounters and presentations by numerous others also contributed to my “woke” process.

Just as “awakening” is only the beginning of a mystic’s lifelong path, maybe we might consider “wokeness” as only the start of political awareness. Maybe we could speak of a “woke-consciousness” that allows further development as well as application to other social issues of our times.

I was struck by the spiritual parallels as I completed reading this past Sunday Howard Rice’s book, Reformed Spirituality. He quotes Flora Slosson Wuellner’s description of spiritual growth in her book, On the Road to Spiritual Wholeness:
As we are healed and pulled together into wholeness, we are shown many things that we had not seen before. We are shown feelings we have had, but which have been repressed. We are shown things we have done, judgments we have made during our days of blindness and insensitivity. We are shown relationships in a new light, and facts to which we had not awakened. And as we wake and see, decisions about what we see begin to rise in freshness and power.

Related Post: Black Lives Matter

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Make America Great Again


What makes me most proud of the United States of America is not its competent armed services, not its vibrant economy, not its “alabaster cities” or “purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.”

What makes me most proud of America are our values, values too many have forgotten.

And we share those values with many other nations around the globe.

Welcome, not mere tolerance. Diversity, not mere democracy. Compassion, not mere duty. Justice, not mere equality. Liberty for all, not just the privileged.

We grapple with our sins, whether the displacement of native peoples, the still open wound of slavery, the distrust of difference, the despoiling of our land, income inequality, and our uninvited intrusions into other countries.

We stand shoulder to shoulder with countries who share our values, including our neighbors to the north and south.

We share our abundance with one another, after all, in Jesus’ words, “to whom much is given, much is required.”

We protect one another from ignorance, from want, from illness, from harm, from bigotry, from bullying, even from despair.

We invest in our future generations by celebrating knowledge, science, the arts, values, faith, wisdom, and the environment.

This is the America I know and love. This is the America of which I am most proud. This is the America which brings tears to my eyes when rising for our national anthem, seeing the Statue of Liberty, or witnessing the “naturalization” of immigrant citizens.

This is the America closest to my own values as a follower of Jesus.


Thanks to Raymond Moorea Jones of CNN for the photo.
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Copyright © 2018 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.