I heard part of NPR’s Sunday morning show “On Being” while driving to OwWowCow Creamery in Ottsville, PA, for a ride with friends. Krista Tippett, the show’s host, was interviewing Vincent Harding, a civil rights leader and theologian. This episode had originally aired in 2011, and Mr. Harding had died in 2014. What impressed me about him, though, was his unwavering commitment to a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious society in the U.S. fifty and sixty years after the civil rights movement. In fact, he still believed in ‘the beloved community,’ an idea fostered during the 50s and 60s. He wrote a long essay titled ask ‘Is America possible?’ by which he seems to have meant, is a truly democratic America possible?
His attitude about this self-imposed question was surprisingly positive. His answer was “yes,” but he claimed that we are still a developing nation when it comes to becoming a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. He believed we need to encourage democratic conversation, not just civil conversation, in order to hear each other’s best arguments so that we can learn how to create a more perfect union. We have work to do, work that he believed we are capable of. Lately, I wonder.
When I am riding, I feel more hopeful about the world than I do at some other times, partly because I am breathing and moving and that always makes me feel better, and partly because I often happen on surprising and/or beautiful corners of the world.
For instance, discovering Steve Tobin’s Steel Roots sculptures rising up from fields on both sides of California Rd in Quakertown was a joyful experience that made me laugh out loud. Shortly before coming upon the sculptures, we had passed several houses with “We support our police” political signs stuck in the grass at the edge of the road, and the area around the sculptures is drearily industrial…but suddenly what we were seeing was magical.
Mr. Harding talked about the “tremendous creativity” as well as the courage and compassion of MLK and others during the 60s. Certainly all of these elements are needed now…perhaps especially the creativity that might allow us to imagine our way around the obstacles that hamper the conversations we need to have as well as to help us be hopeful about our abilities, the possibilities, and the future.
My summer of daily rides, most right from home but a few not too far from home–and virtually none longer than 50 kilometers–has allowed me to explore roads not previously travelled in a way that has permitted the examination of thoughts and questions in what I hope will be productive ways. Seeing the creativity operating in Harding’s and Tobin’s thinking and actions is helpful. I’m hanging onto these discoveries.