Says Who??

Verstehen, through shared perspectives


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DISCOVERIES ON ANCESTRY.COM

For the past decade, my discoveries through the use of Ancestry.com have delighted, amazed, frustrated and humbled me. I have discovered that Queen Elizabeth is a 6th cousin, 3 or 4 times removed (I have forgotten the exact details). I have also discovered that Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame is also a remote cousin of similar connection. And those are neither the best nor the worst of it. The humbling part is that I can accept neither one nor the other without accepting both. My heritage contains heroes and villains, rich and poor, peasants and royalty, geniuses and the learning disabled—in other words, some of everything. But today I am most concerned to focus on a family relationship that I cherish equally with the members of my most immediate family.

Like thousands of others, I sent my DNA sample to Ancestry to learn more about family connections. I grew up in New York State, far from the southern families of my maternal and paternal heritage. I waited far too long to question the few family members I did meet, to learn much about my family history. I therefore set out to learn what the combination of DNA and recorded history could tell me. Thanks to Ancestry, there were also professional genealogists to help when I needed them. I soon learned more than I could have hoped.

Looking at the big picture, I found confirmation in the results of the Human Genome Project that supports Anthropology’s claims that there are more differences within the so-called “racial groups” than there are between them; that human ancestry can be traced back to its origins in East Africa, where we became human. This, by the way, does not in the least challenge my equally strong understanding of a Creator of the Universe and all that is in it, who also gifted everything in the universe with a portion of Himself, finally giving the first humans a portion of His spirit. The Bible tells us that the Creator longs for restoration with the portion of His spirit that is within us, explaining also our longing for Him.

But I digress. My point is that our earliest ancestors lived in Africa. Probably East Africa. When I visited Uganda a few times while living in South Africa, I heard over and over how its inhabitants believed Uganda to have been the Garden of Eden. Their proof is the amazing fertility of the ground in Uganda, such that I also heard that “our children may be naked, but they are never hungry!” Fruits and other growing foods are plentiful in Uganda, almost seeming to grow wild. Today, that is an unusual claim for any part of Africa. The Garden of Eden claim may just be local lore, but it brings home what has become a scientific claim: We human beings are all descended from the same family, and that family lived in Africa, and they were therefore black. And, I might add, they were also beautiful, and perfect. The Creator said so.

That is the big picture. Let’s focus in now on my personal ancestry, keeping the big picture firmly in mind.

After I sent in my DNA sample, an avalanche of names of new relatives hit my inbox on a regular basis that continues to this day. Some connections were easier to make than others, but one particular type of connection brought home to me the importance of remembering the truths of history. Names began appearing on the list that belonged to present-day African Americans. While my mtDNA history did not place any immediate ancestry in Africa, it definitely connected American African people to me. Our combined histories confirmed the stories of the past, where African women enslaved to the owners of southern plantations were frequently impregnated by those same owners and/or their adult male relatives. The resulting children were not acknowledged by these same men, and they were raised as slaves. If they survived to have children, the children of those children are alive today and are my cousins. If I had been alive during the era of slavery, they would have been my sisters and brothers.

So I cannot say that I had nothing to do with slavery, because still today it affects members of my own family. My ancestors and their families owned southern plantations, and owned slaves. Some of them fathered children by those slaves. I am definitely not alone in this reality. It happened everywhere.

So it follows that if I quietly accept the institutional racism of my country, and the economic injustice that has grown out of it, I am guilty of denying the blood of my blood–the children of my own forefathers–the justice I would seek for myself or my own brother. And if that doesn’t bring the reality of the brotherhood of mankind, who are children of the same Creator, into focus…well then, we are deliberately blind and fully deserve the consequences that will be visited upon us.

 Or, we could accept our responsibility for failing to stop and reverse the sins of the past, and work for the equality—social, economic and legal—of all who share this nation with us, until we are able to join those in the world about us who have understood that our fate as a human family depends on our combined efforts to honor and care for this planet and those who share it with us.

It may not be too late.

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CAN I SAY–“I QUIT!”?

25.  And hearing, the Master was glad, and gave thanks and came down from the hilltop…when the crowd pressed him with its woes….[the Messiah] smiled upon the multitude and said pleasantly unto them,

“I QUIT”

-Richard Bach, in Illusions, The Adventures of A Reluctant Messiah.

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How does one begin to talk about our nation’s social, economic and political problems?  What are the words that have not already been said; where are the moral imperatives that have not been rendered impotent; the facts that have not become “alt-“ and the news that has not become mere opinion?  Who, and what, can be trusted and believed?

Overcome with sensory overload, one feels sorely inadequate to the task of sorting out fact from fiction, truth from propaganda.  As time goes by and the “evidence” piles up, pro and con, on so many vital issues;  as the threats and disasters mount,  like Bach’s Reluctant Messiah, we soon long to say, “I Quit!”

Granted, Bach’s Illusions was more about our own illusion that we can and should save everyone, than it is about our present situation that seems to lack “Messiahs.”  Our advocacy, our pleas for justice, our outcry against downright sinful oppression has, in fact, become a battle to save ourselves—or to find someone who will do that for us.  Sadly, the very people we look to for salvation from our medical, economic, and social woes—to say nothing of the potential nuclear holocaust threat, the daily terrorist threats from home and abroad (I include cyber threats), and our planet’s efforts to pay us back for all the harm we have done to it—are all too often the very people whose only goal in life seems to be to wipe us from the face of said planet while causing the worst kinds of misery imaginable. How do we find the stamina to keep working for change?

During my lifetime, I have been an advocate for many social issues.  I have also worked in the service sector, seeking to do my best to make life better for my family, for my community.  One day while I was working as the nurse in the county jail, a couple of prisoners said to me, “You believe that you are helping us by working here, and by treating us like real people.  But in fact, you are motivated by the need to feel good about yourself; you need to help people worse off than you, so you can feel good.”

I thought about that for quite a while, finally deciding that yes, it did make me feel good to be of service to others.  But what was the alternative?   Would I feel better watching them starve, or be beaten, or fail to escape whatever ill came their way?  Of course not.  I finally figured out (with the help of Gospel readings, a PhD in Sociology and a Master’s in Theology, and continuing to actively live my philosophy of doing what good I could do, where I could do it) that being happy about helping others is a necessary by-product of community building.  And community building is all about making sure that the community is protected from greed, murder, neglect, shaming, and other crimes against the human family.  Because I am part of the community, I do also benefit from whatever service or good I am able to provide.

Having followed this moral imperative, however, I presently find myself threatened by the magnitude of crimes against humanity that demand my righteous anger; that call for me to add my voice to those whose anger is also shouting out against an unfeeling and unheeding leadership.  But now we are a sharply divided nation, with no inhibitions against verbally abusing people who disagree with us.  While this perfectly suits the darker intentions of our leadership, it fractures families, communities, and organizations.  Which also suits said leadership.  Perhaps, in fact, I should not refer to “leadership” because that is certainly not what is occurring in our government—far from it.  Use of the term is simply habit, and one we should not use until we have corrected our past errors and placed men and women of good character, intelligence, integrity and moral excellence in places we could then refer to as “leadership.”

I hate living in a society where the death and destruction of entire ethnic and socio-economic groups can be celebrated by the rich and powerful, and ignored by too many others—some of whom have just said “I Quit” for all the wrong reasons.  In Richard Bach’s book, the “Messiah” quit because he was trying to save the world and he was tired.  Also, we learn, because that is not the way to build community and it feeds our own brains with all the wrong information about who we are.  For too many people today, their “I Quit” is the result of feeling overwhelmed, or from a sense of helplessness against the sheer magnitude of the problems, or even from the acquired nihilism brought on by the culture of fear generated by all the propaganda.

But “I Quit” can’t be the answer today.  Not for me, and not for anyone who once had a dream about participating in creating a wonderful future for our nation’s children and grandchildren.  Today, all I could do was write this blog.  Perhaps no one will read it, and if they do perhaps they will disregard it.  That isn’t the point.  The point is that I have not given up, and I won’t quit.  Not as long as there is at least one thing I can do to make even the least important situation a better one, in some small way.

It does make me happy to do that.  And with any luck, it may also make someone else’s day a better one.  And best of all, with enough people happily doing what they can do, we may see a ripple effect of concern and support for one another that is strong enough to defeat those who prefer destruction over construction; death over life (for others), and ivory tower solitude over community.

I know it is possible.  In the face of lack of funding and support in so many disasters of our immediate past I have seen countless men and women whose first thought was for the victims.  They headed into disaster areas with disregard for their own safety, the cost of being there, and the magnitude of the disaster.  They just did what they could do, then and there, because it was the right thing to do.  They are heroes, and nation builders.  They didn’t quit.

Dedicated with love, to the heroes who care, and who don’t quit.

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