One Giant Step

Grandad, what did you do in the revolution?

Not very much, but I did what I could. I sent in contributions, I sent letters to the newspapers that were published, I rang doorbells reminding people to vote, and I attended a congressional debate and a political rally. More than once I remembered to include the election in my prayers. I also take parental pride in two daughters and a granddaughter who did more. I voted.

When the networks announced the outcome, my son-in-law poured the champagne and we raised a toast.

How far have we come? When I was born, there were still former slaves in this country. My college class at Princeton was the first to include African American students – four in a class of 700. When we debated civil rights in the Princeton Senate, a southern friend of mine said blood would flow in the streets if segregation were outlawed. And he was right. I will never forget traveling by car through the middle of this country in the 1960s with an African American friend and seeing the world through his eyes. When we were not served promptly in a restaurant, was it only because they were busy? When we were told a motel had no room, was it true? Traveling alone or with my wife, I would never have asked those questions. My friend, I realized, must have asked them daily. Years later I helped make him the first African American to serve as a bishop in the Diocese of New York, just one of the many small steps toward this year’s national election. In broader terms, I might include a ministry in which the Biblical theme of justice has often been highlighted in specific terms. I decided long ago that a society is more truly changed by what is said in sermons and practiced in parishes than by the ideals set forth in party platforms or held up by national “leaders” – who survive too often by following.

But the revolution is not over. This year’s election has provided a dramatic moment in a continuing revolution but there are still all too many Americans whose lives are too narrow and insecure to enable them to deal generously with others. God willing, over the next eight years we will be able to move toward better health care and educational opportunity and economic security and those whose fears for themselves are expressed in their anger at others will be fewer and fewer in number and the world will be a safer place.

Hope and prayer and political action will continue to be needed, the Lord’s Prayer must still be said. But the election of 2008 marks a marvelous, memorable moment in the ongoing quest for the kingdom still to come. If I was able to play some small part, I am grateful for the gift.

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