Milestones – markers of significant points of development – come often and easily in our early years. First smile, first laugh, first time to crawl, first time to stand, first word, first step, mark the early months of an infant’s development. A little later comes the first day of school, the first baby tooth falls out, and we read our first book all by ourselves. Driving and dating follow before we realize it – at least for those who are watching (Not necessarily for those who are anxiously awaiting the “privileges” of adulthood.)! In time, the milestones change from anticipated achievements into anniversaries of past events, both happy and sad. Birthdays become “just another day,” even when the age includes a “0” marking a new decade. Sometimes, the milestones seem more like millstones, weighing us down with regrets that another year has passed, and we have not yet achieved what we hoped.
As I observed my 72nd birthday last week, and look forward to observing our 50th wedding anniversary this week, I am reminded that I have now outlived my mother by more than three years. I remember others, whose marriages were cut short by death or divorce. I am grateful for the milestones that remind me of the gifts received through years of experiences. The faults I hoped to eliminate are still with me, but they don’t seem to interfere as much these days. Not finishing a book that isn’t as good as I hoped doesn’t make me feel guilty. Taking a nap in the afternoon rather than taking on a chore isn’t that bad. Sometimes, I can even overlook the faults of my spouse (not often!), recognizing that his faults are no more likely to be changed than mine.
What is true in our individual lives is also true of our common experiences. We remember the tragedies and experiences that have made us who we are as a nation. We benefit from the ways in which we have created safety nets for troubled times. Though many people are struggling right now, during the great depression, there were no unemployment benefits and there was no social security. The affordable care act, Medicare and Medicaid have allowed more people to receive medical attention and services. Voting rights acts and other non-discrimination policies have removed some barriers from our common life. But like each of us, these programs have faults and failures.
There is more work to be done to protect all the vulnerable people in our world. The death of George Floyd and other people of color at the hands of law enforcement has stirred our nation in a way that reminds us of the 1960’s Civil Rights era. We must admit that changing laws is not enough to protect people from racism that is too often built into or ignored in our systems. Even as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, we must admit that prejudice against women continues to blight our nation. Too many people still receive inadequate health care resources. Milestones are important, but millstones are still wearing down the bodies, minds and spirits of those who are “less than.” It makes little difference to anyone but me if I take naps, do fewer chores, and am less critical of myself. But it makes a difference to all of us if we fail to do what must be done to lift the burdens of our brothers and sisters. The millstones of -isms that destroy human dignity must be removed from our institutions, our governments, our communities, our world. As we celebrate milestones, either personal or communal, let’s also remember the work yet to be done to create the beloved community God intends us to be.
Stay safe and be blessed.
Pastor Barbara

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