“Now, now…” my Grandma Cora would say, as a prelude to comfort or warning. I thought of this while reading this month’s Bible study, “The holy ‘now,’” in which Meghan Johnston Aelabouni asks: “What if [Jesus’] warnings are meant not only to afflict the comfortable but also to comfort the afflicted?”
When I was 4 and another child hurt me, my gentle grandmother redirected the other child, wiped my bloody chin, and held me on her lap, saying, “Now, now, chile.” Grandma’s “now, now” could serve as a shoehorn for other words: “Y’all be sweet to each other” or “You just set here for a spell.” Sometimes her “now, now” would preface a Scripture passage read aloud. Once, after issuing a decision that entailed me forgiving the guilty party, she recited the entire Beatitudes to me from memory. This was not my idea of justice back then.
Ironically, for most of her lifetime, Grandma heard more “not now” than “now.” Born in the 1890s, she grew up in the southern U.S., where she could not attend the same schools, visit the same hospitals, stay overnight in hotels, sit up front in buses and trains, sit down in most restaurants or drink from the same water fountains as a white person. The discrimination she experienced was legal, thanks to Plessy vs. Ferguson, an 1896 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that schools, businesses and more could be racially segregated as long as services and facilities were “equal.” The “equal” part of this was never enforced, however, and resources were continually directed toward white, rather than Black citizens. In 1920, when Grandma gained the right to vote, she and other Black women were ready for a new “now,” yet Jim Crow laws stood in their way.
Years later, when she and my grandfather married and migrated North to raise a family, still, “not now” was everywhere. In 1930, African American workers like Grandpa could expect to make 44% of a white man’s income, and most were not allowed into unions until the mid-1930s. Buying a home would not be possible for most, since the government denied Black people loans and insurance to buy homes in Black or mixed neighborhoods.
Yet Black families also couldn’t buy homes in white neighborhoods due to redlining by real estate agents and racially restrictive covenants. I wonder what Grandma thought about the young civil rights activist John Lewis, who said during the 1963 March on Washington: “To those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait,’ we…do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now!” Some progress came about with the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. I wonder: Could Grandma Cora hear scripture speaking to her, throughout the “nows” of her life?
Aelabouni shares her perspective (p. 24): “Jesus came not to turn the world upside-down but to turn it right side-up; to turn right now into the right now, to replace the wrong now with a kairos time of justice, mercy and love.”
My grandma lived through the 1918 flu pandemic, Jim Crow and so much more. Although the “not now” still continues in many ways today, she would have been amazed to see how many people of all ethnicities are now aware and advocating for more abundant life for all of God’s creation.
As Aelabouni notes (p. 25) about the crowds in Jesus’ day, “the message is clear: Whether they love Jesus’ message or hate it, he does not belong to them alone, and neither does the good news.”
Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.
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