A little over 20 years ago, at the commencement ceremony at Washington University in St. Louis, even more exciting than getting my diploma was the fact that Rosa Parks was there to receive her honorary doctorate.
That day in 1984, because of the huge numbers of people wishing to congratulate her, I didn't get to meet "Mother Parks," as the Mayor of Detroit called her at her funeral on Wednesday. But I felt deeply privileged to have participated in some small way in honoring her.
Her recent passing brought extraordinary honors - lying in state in the US Capitol Rotunda, a massive funeral in Detroit, and the lowering of flags on all US government buildings to half-staff - showing that her legacy remains a unifying force.
Her simple but inspiringly brave refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a public bus in Montgomery, Ala., 50 years ago brought about one of the great steps forward in American history, the civil rights movement.
The liberation of humankind from prejudice, racism, hate, and resentment is an ongoing process. In the American civil rights movement, religious individuals have always had a leadership role. This is a natural outgrowth of one's spiritual development, I believe. What's helped me in my own spiritual growth is the desire to more fully realize the standard we read about in the Bible, when God looked on His creation, male and female, and pronounced it "very good" (Gen. 1:31).
A "very good" creation must involve one in which we all, as God's children, work together in an increasingly cooperative way, a way that is not marked with prejudice or resentment. To me, the basis for this brotherhood has to be found in the solidity of my faith in God.
As I have prayed from this basis, I've found ways to help my own children in their growing up, from avoiding the threat of racial profiling while on the highways and from healing cruel racist comments on the school bus. Seeing that God never authorized prejudice helps us see that racial inharmony is not part of God's creation. And if it's not part of God's very good creation, it can be stopped.
Once a friend asked me to help him pray about a situation in which he faced virulent racial discrimination at work. Lies had been told about him, and he was facing disciplinary action based on hearsay alone. We talked about the biblical assurances that God has all power and that He has a deep and abiding love for all His children. We knew God's creation had to be "very good" and that my friend was completely included in that goodness.
Eventually, the allegations against him stopped, and he found himself promoted to a new assignment of greater responsibility, where his talents were not only recognized but celebrated.
Also, those who had perpetrated the unfair actions found themselves under investigation, and corrective measures were taken. God's all-power, accepted in our thinking, brought about a rebalancing of the situation, and the result was an increase both in brotherly love personally and in productivity professionally.
Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, in her commentary on the first chapter of Genesis, in which all is pronounced "very good," wrote, "We leave this brief, glorious history of spiritual creation (as stated in the first chapter of Genesis) in the hands of God, not of man, in the keeping of Spirit, not matter, - joyfully acknowledging now and forever God's supremacy, omnipotence, and omnipresence" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 521).
In a sense, celebrating Rosa Parks's legacy is acknowledging God's goodness and power, where our brotherhood rests on an unshakable foundation.