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Blogpage D. (12/29/16) PREFACE: THE WAY WE WERE

Can it be that it was all so simple then
Or has time rewritten every line?
And if we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, Would we? Could we?

Memories may be beautiful and yet
What's too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget.
So it's the laughter we will remember
Whenever we remember
The Way We Were...

Truth be told, as much as I like this song and as much as it has had its lilting, long-term influence over my consciousness, the words don’t quite get it straight. True, it wasn’t all so simple then, but for me time has definitely not rewritten every line. It is not just laughter I remember whenever I remember The Way We Were. Much more, I remember the tears and the struggle; they are not too painful to remember and they are just too important to forget. Whenever I remember The Way We Were, I remember oh so many stories. And I believe it’s not too late to retell them, to write about them and pass them forward to help others to not forget. It’s those memories I want to share a little bit about in these vignettes. I invite you to remember with me.

Just to start the memory ball rolling, I think it even makes a difference who you remember singing the song. Which do you remember: Barbara Streisand or Gladys Knight and the Pips? I have loved Barbara’s singing over the years very much, but Gladys is the one who does this song for me - for some obvious and some not very obvious reasons - which I may or may not get around to explaining in the following pages. Either way, this song and her singing make my head explode with memories.

So, what do I remember whenever I start remembering The Way We Were? For me, the old days began in the 1950’s - the days of hand-cranked mimeograph machines, dial telephones and non-electric typewriters. They were naïve and innocent days, days of let’s pretend about reality, particularly in our private white world. Even the way we talked was a way to disguise our true feelings. Like, you would say shoot when you meant shit, and dang for damn. And you wouldn’t explicitly refer to sex or race in any terms but heterosexual and white; nor mention privileges and inequalities that delineated “our people” from “other people”- except in snickering unmixed company - because everyone was up front nice and almost everyone pretended to be so.

That was just before all hell broke loose - the explosive moment of reality change that came about almost simultaneously with the decade-change from 1959 to 1960. Well, to be more accurate, it actually started before then, but we pretended otherwise, until there came the moment when we couldn’t pretend any longer. Suddenly, the new and uncontrollable decade was before us. Sex became public and permissive. Black, red and brown people started doing what they wanted to do without asking whites for permission.  The world was changed, not only be the Civil Rights Movement, but all those other movements – for peace, for gender equality for gay and lesbian rights, and the list goes on.

For me too, it was a time of personal transformation. The previous decade’s seminary socialization had made me into a sickeningly-sweet, self-righteous pious pastor perpetuating a Gospel of individualism and personal piety. The 1960’s hit the erase button on all that. In its place, I learned a completely new understanding of how the Gospel plays out in the real world of struggle against racism and other forms of injustice and oppression. I was reborn, brought kicking and screaming into a world I was at first terribly afraid of and thought I didn’t want to and wasn’t prepared to participate in. But when I finally got there, it was like coming home. Suddenly, it all began to make sense. And I have never turned back.

So, my story about the good old days is actually about the good new days. It’s a story about a wild ride on a pair of horses named Justice and Liberation, a story about the incredibly important announcement made by Jesus in his first sermon, declaring good news for the poor, release for the imprisoned, and freedom for the oppressed. It’s a story about discovering a world that had been hidden from me, but was now releasing me, encouraging me, challenging me to be and do what a minister is called to be and do.

My stories – Places Where I’ve Done Time – mostly take place in the United States. They are tales about organizing and marching and demonstrating, about learning and teaching, preaching and pastoring, from the East Coast to the West Coast with many stops in-between. But all this domestic activity took place in a global context. Thus, while these narratives are mostly about struggling for justice in the United States, they are also about doing time in Europe, Central and South America, and Africa. The part of the world that’s missing from that list is Asia. I haven’t yet done much time there, but there’s still time for more adventure.

The Way We Were has receded and become The Way We Are. The age of hand-cranked mimeograph machines, dial telephones and non-electric typewriters has magically turned itself into an age of laser printers, cell phones and computers. But the ways in which we still keep hurting each other and still try to stop hurting each other, the ways in which we are still working on becoming human beings – that’s the real story, no matter how sophisticated the equipment we use for telling it. So, join me if you can and will. I’m certain you can match my stories with equally important stories about yourself, because The Way We Were is for all of us about Places Where We’ve Done Time.