The Gospel According To Dick And Jane

The Gospel According To Dick And Jane

Look, Dick! Look, Jane! Look At Your Wonderful Life!

This post and the following post have been prompted by a summer-time study we are doing as part of our Adult Forum at church titled “The Politics of God.” We have examined how our perspectives are formed rightly or wrongly. I’ve tried to write honestly, openly, and more from a child’s perspective.

In elementary school, I learned to read with the classic “Dick and Jane” books. They were bright and cheerful. Problems could always be fixed. Sally or Spot or Puff might have a mishap, but everyone was always smiling and happy in the end.

In my Sunday School Stories, the art style was much like the Dick and Jane reading books. So school and church were all pointing to the same wonderful life. It was the life I saw lived out all around me and which I was expected to live out as well.

It was the straight, white, middle class, conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist American life of the 1960’s in the Bible Belt South. [1]

But Dick and Jane hadn’t taught me all I needed to know when I left elementary school.

I didn’t know in the summer after I finished sixth grade there was something called the Stonewall Riots in New York City. It was June 28, 1969 when they started. Back then I didn’t realize not everyone would be Daddies and Mommies with Dicks and Janes who would grow up to be Daddies and Mommies with Dicks and Janes of their own. But I did realize being different could get somebody beaten up.

Then less than a month later the first man walked on the moon. It was all on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. That’s what being a boy like Dick or one of the boys in the Sunday School lesson books was all about, not getting beat up and getting to do fun stuff like being an astronaut.

I wasn’t totally naive to differences. I had understood the summer before how lucky I was to live inside the town limits and not in the neighborhood right on the other side of the town limits where no white people lived. I did not know the word “segregation” or that my small southern town practiced a system called “apartheid.” I just knew that inside my town everything looked a lot like where Dick and Jane and the Sunday School Story children lived.

I remember hearing grown up relatives talking about a Doctor King who was shot dead and how they all had known it would eventually happen because he wouldn’t keep his mouth shut. That was April 4, 1968.

He was black, but he wasn’t like Old Walter who had a mule and lived right outside the town limits. Every day except Sunday, Old Walter would ride his mule cart down the road in the morning to do some work somewhere. He would get paid, get close to passed-out drunk, and then his mule would bring him back home in the evening. His mule knew the way home all by itself. I often wondered what it was like to be Old Walter. He kept his mouth shut, but he had a mule. [2]

I didn’t realize that not all black people lived outside of their towns in run-down house and working only to buy alcohol and get drunk. I didn’t realize all black people weren’t quiet and stayed out of trouble. But I did realize being different could get you killed.

It’s not safe when you aren’t like Dick and Jane. Being like Dick and Jane isn’t something you can be taught. You just are. Or you aren’t.

Riots. Assassinations. Getting called names, beaten up, even killed.

The world was changing right before our eyes, not just for young people like me transitioning from elementary school to high school, but for the adults who had set up this Dick and Jane world and wanted it to continue forever.

The Gospel According To Dick and Jane is only Good News if you are born that way.

But there is another Gospel that has nothing to do with the way you are born. (John 1:12-13)

The Gospel According To Dick and Jane

Footnotes and other not necessarily important items…

[1] I do not intend to be critical of this time period. Instead I just want to understand how growing up when I did may have influenced how I view the world and people. Each generation, I want to believe, does the best it knows to bring up the next generation. We all have certain blindnesses too overcome.

[2] I don’t want to offend anyone by writing this. I do want to look at my childhood perceptions and see them for what they were. Perhaps we need to consider how our children today perceive others from Mexico and Latin America.

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