By John Blumberg, Andersen Alumnus and author of Return On Integrity (www.BlumbergROI.com)
It was definitely not the news I wanted to hear. I had long looked forward to my freshman year of high school. For me, it wasn’t a transition at all. My two older brothers (each of us four years apart) had gone to the same high school and both my parents were very involved there. That meant I had been around this school for eight years before I ever set foot in the door as a student. I knew it all too well.
Which was why I hated hearing the news that this school was about to significantly change: our 99% all white-boy Catholic high school was about to be consolidated with the nearby 99% all white-girl Catholic high school and the 100% all African American Catholic high school.
The only good news was that everyone was coming to “our” building. This wasn’t just any high school. It was a high school in Memphis, TN located precisely 4 miles from the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King had been assassinated just a short 2 yeas prior.
The next 3 years would prove the most important in my life.
Was it convenient? Not a bit … for any of us. Each school had a deeply rich tradition of its own – which is wonderful until you have to let it go. And which is awful when you try tightly holding onto it.
Was it easy? Not at all. Misunderstandings filled the hallways every single day. The desire to go backwards was addictive. That addiction of regression was more accessible when this experiment was in “your” building.
Did we get it right? Rarely. Yet, as we were thrown into this common experience, we were forced to have the difficult conversations. And those conversations planted seeds in many of us.
Was it transformational? I simply couldn’t imagine my life without that experience – an experience that was far more transformational than any content that was ever taught in our classes of religion.
Unfortunately, there came a natural end to that experience at graduation. It was far too easy to move-on with life and give into the tug of college, work and all that everyone will tell you that you are supposed to do. In an unfortunate human tendency, it was also inviting to unknowingly move-on from the tension that had ironically served me so well.
Just like it was easy for a whole generation to move-on from the tension of the 1960’s.
Yet the call to meaningful transformation never goes away because we are wired for it. We have personally been constantly changing since the moment of our conception – physically, mentally emotionally and spiritually. And the world has been constantly changing since we arrived — in many ways for the good and in other ways not so much. Life is designed precisely so we can be agents of evolution — the evolution of good should we choose it.
From my own experience, I would warn today’s younger generation: so many who have come before you were just as passionate about change as you are. In fact, you start well ahead on the change curve because of those who came before you. And, likewise, you will have a tug to move onward with life … or more pointedly backwards. Most importantly, it won’t seem that way from where you are now.
Yet, seeds of change that are planted always have a chance to grow when the conditions are right.
One would have to be blind to miss the collision of the turbulent triple storm of our current conditions – a global health crisis, fragile economic conditions, and social unrest. While it may be a storm, it is also a most wonderful window of opportunity towards this evolution for good.
It can be overwhelming no matter how anyone feels about the change. That is until I realize that this change simply begins with me – no matter my race, my nationality, my religion, my gender, my orientation, or my current conditions. And while it begins with me … it is not about me.
It is about all of us … or ultimately will be about none of us.
More precisely, it is about the integrity of our human experience and the experience of all of creation for that matter. Integrity is about the whole — the connectedness of all — an integration that has been happening since the beginning of time. Yet we resist it, clinging to convenient definitions of integrity such as honesty. Being “honest” while resisting a greater connection is — well, very dishonest.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not preaching here. Most likely, I’m personally soul-searching for the fertilizer that continues to ignite the seeds that were planted in the hallways of a high school in Memphis TN.
Now, seven months ago, I was preaching.
I was asked to do a reflection on the readings for that weekend. Unfortunately, you don’t get to pick your own readings. Those are set … and these were inconvenient: God is a God of justice who has no favorites. And then it got harder: God hears the cry of the poor.
The question becomes: will the soul of our great nation finally and forever hear the cry of the poor, the hurt and anger of those of color, the diminished yet forever strong voices of women, and every single person who is different from my own make-up and my own experience. I have no doubt that integrity is sadly a false veneer until we do. I’m not talking about anything goes, but I am talking about everything changes.
I sometimes wonder how much progress we would make if we would only put as much energy into our own interior work, of hearing those who cry-out, as we do into pushing to get back into “our” building.
Transformation is never easy. It just makes us richer … together … on the other side of a long and winding road. In the meantime, it will demand from all of us in different ways. It won’t be easy; it won’t be convenient and yes, we will get a lot of it wrong. Yet it will be transformational if we have the courage to stay the course. In the end, everything changes. I just slow down the progress when I refuse to make the changes I personally need to make along the way.
Editor’s note: Our class song was “Imagine” by John Lennon. On the surface, it might seem like an odd song for a Catholic high school. Yet, if you take a moment to virtually visit the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, and then CLICK HERE (skip past the short ad and take a listen) – you might see that “Imagine” is a timely tribute to the oneness of integrity. Transformation takes imagination and then action – inside and then out.