Gentle spirit stands apart amid fussing about faith

March 02, 2000|By MICHAEL OLESKER

IN THE sweetness of the moment, Andora Love arrives at the Mondawmin Mall to offer a vision of God. She is a Jehovah's Witness. Brother Andrew was supposed to be here Tuesday morning, but failed to show up. He is with the United Nation of Islam. In this world, where each of us seeks a vision of salvation, Andora Love is ours.

"Seventy-six years old," she says, nodding her head slightly, as if affirming the substance of so many years. She wears a heavy overcoat and a knit cap, under which strands of gray hair peek through. She is a grandmother, a great-grandmother and a great-great-grandmother who has arrived here this morning via the No. 7 bus, and also via the various American intersections of race.

On matters of faith, she is a believer. Brother Andrew is, too, and has sought a newspaper interview for weeks, preceding it by sending a blizzard of material, newspaper clippings out of Kansas City, Kan., information pamphlets and videotapes, to prod interest in the things his organization believes in -- and those it does not.

Such as racial separatism, and Minister Louis Farrakhan, and indiscriminate bashing of whites.

"Looks like he's not coming," Andora Love says.

She means Brother Andrew. She says this Tuesday morning at Mondawmin. She is sitting with a couple of lady friends, the three of them nesting gently on a bench as shoppers stroll past. She says she's heard about the United Nation of Islam. But it's possible she's mistaken.

Last weekend in Chicago, Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam embraced W. Deen Mohammed, son of the late Elijah Muhammad, signaling an end to a bitter rivalry lasting more than two decades. But distinctions must be made.

"This is not us," Brother Andrew said on the telephone a week ago. "Not us," confirms a man who identifies himself on the telephone yesterday as James 2X, national secretary of the United Nation of Islam, speaking out of Kansas City. The word "united" in the title is intended as the line of separation.

Why does any of this matter? Because, in America, we are always drawing religious and racial lines of distinction. In the presidential primaries, we have Republicans tossing grenades along such lines. George W. Bush goes to Bob Jones University and tries to sneak away without anyone noticing that school's malignant history with blacks and with Catholics, setting off angry accusations from John McCain and self-righteous defenses from Bush.

Meanwhile, in Chicago, there were rumors that Farrakhan would redefine previous attacks on Jews and other whites. "A fool changes not, but a wise man will change often," Farrakhan told a gathering of 20,000 people at the Nation of Islam's Saviours' Day rally. But he stopped short of specifics regarding old racial and religious antagonisms.

This is where Brother Andrew was supposed to help. His United Nation of Islam is based in Kansas City but is trying to put down roots in Baltimore. He wanted to talk about such things, but failed to post.

But Andora Love brought her own vision of salvation.

"Time is running out," she said. "The Bible says we're living in the last days. So many people think all that's important is the here and now. They think there is no life after death. But there is. There's going to be an end to all wickedness."

She has known some in her own life. In the America of her youth, she knew segregated schools. This is one of the great American confrontations: those who have spent the past 40 years trying to settle old racial antagonisms, and those, white and black, who have imagined parallel communities that do not touch.

"I guess I was cheated," Love says softly. "It was a little school, and I only went to the seventh grade. I had to help support the family. I did domestic work, but there wasn't much money to be made."

In North Carolina, she says, she made $5 -- a week. Separated from her husband, she brought her five children here and found more domestic work -- at $25 a day. It was enough to find a home in West Baltimore, not far from Coppin State. Her kids made it through high school, and one graduated from Morgan State.

"And now," she says, "I'm doing the Lord's work."

Jehovah's Witnesses knock on people's homes, but the weather's been too cold for Andora Love and some of her friends. So they come to Mondawmin Mall each day. The mall's rule is: They can't go into stores, can't approach people, can't discuss religion unless shoppers show they're interested.

"Most people," Andora Love says, "aren't too responsive. You know, there are so many other things in the world that take their attention."

In their way, though, religion and race are always getting our attention. John McCain and George W. Bush are in the thick of it now. So are Louis Farrakhan and W. Deen Mohammed. It's the American way. And one day, Brother Andrew may arrive to draw his own distinctions.

In the meantime, there is Andora Love. What she brings is a gentle spirit. It's there if you ask for it. It's the way out of all racial and religious antagonism. All you need is Love.

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