I believe that the growing tendency of Americans to separate themselves into homogeneous groups is a serious threat to the future of our country.
In his peel-the-paint-off-the-walls book The Big Sort, Bill Bishop maintains that “the current clustering of like-minded America is actually tearing us apart.”
Atlanta is no stranger to this trend. We have the Inside the Perimeter crowd and the Outside the Perimeter crowd. Some of us ride around town with the radio voice of Herman Cain ringing in our years, while others of us are at home watching Rachel Maddow hold forth on MSNBC. Some dismiss the suburbs as the place where they would never live, while some in the suburbs hate the thought of even driving into the city and haven’t done so for decades. Often, our local election rhetoric echoes the acrimonious tone of national politics. Mutual trust among Metro Atlanta’s numerous communities is a low point.
There are plenty of reasons to say, “Yes, Atlanta is going the way of the rest of the country.” I myself could make the case, but I could also make an even stronger case for saying, “No, we are not.” I sense a growing trend in the other direction, as authentic discourse, shared community concerns, and respect across differences reassert themselves.
I treasure meaningful personal friendships with people of different persuasions from mine. I hope you do too. What comes first with us are the things that run deepest in life: love, kindness, shared memories, common hopes, mutual trust. I am telling you, good relationships are more precious than gold.
I see people of different faiths and people of no faith joining hands to address serious social problems. I think of the thousands of people from all over metro Atlanta who volunteer at food pantries and hospitals and homeless shelters and all sorts of other places. Why? Because they know that the only way to stay human is to care, to connect, to honor the dignity of another, to help when you can.
A friend who is active in raising community consciousness about mental illness put it like this in a recent email: “We are bound together as one family by God’s compassion for us all.”
I hear new conversations emerging. Last evening more than 300 Atlantans gathered at the Rialto to talk together about how religion does not have to be a divisive force but can inspire us to move to higher ground together. The conversation was full of energy and loaded with hope. We have not reached higher ground yet, but that is where we yearn to go! I saw it and felt it and believed it.
I am up in the air, having an epiphany moment. A couple of Saturdays ago, when our grandchildren were in town, I found myself riding in a packed-with-passengers cable car to the top of Stone Mountain. The car stopped half way up so that we could get a good view of the carvings of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, heroes of the Old South and leaders in the war that almost tore our nation apart. When we started up again, I turned from the mountain and looked around at my fellow passengers. It was then that I noticed that we were an amazing mix of people: African-American, Anglo-Saxon, Hispanic and several other ethnicities. We ranged in age from baby-in-arms to ancient-of-days grandmothers. We were a funny bunch of laughing kids, squealing teenagers, and long- suffering acrophobics holding on the rail for dear life. We were not like one another. We had all come from different places and would go back to different places, but for a few floating-in-the-air moments, we were beautiful together. Really beautiful. A new kind of cluster.
-Rev. Joanna Adams