Take ’em all down: Southern heritage and history

29 08 2017

south2Perhaps because our winters were so harsh, the months of July and August in Lewiston, NY we’re like heaven!  The small town of about 16,000 people, north of Buffalo, NY, was a great town in which to grow up.  When I think of our summers I think of sunny, blue skies; 80 degree days with low humidity; and refreshing breezes off the Niagara River. Memories of bike rides to Canada, swimming in our Redwood, “Fanta Sea” pool, and sailing on Lake Ontario still bring a smile to my face.  And thoughts of all the fruit stands that would pop up on our many country roads, with all kinds of fresh cherries, melons, and peaches, still make my mouth water.  Nothing can compare to summers in Western New York . . . except maybe summers in New England.

Several years ago my family was looking to escape the heat of July in Virginia, and so we decided to head to Maine.  Along the way we stopped in Mystic, CN, and Beverly, MA, and enjoyed all kinds of fresh seafood – lobster, mussels, and of course, New England Clam Chowder.  We took our kids White Water Rafting on the Kennebec River, and explored coastal harbors and the rocky beaches of the Northeast. Since then, my wife and I have enjoyed trips to Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, and the Cape; and upon returning home, we always say that nothing can compare to vacations in New England . . . except maybe vacations in San Diego.

From the beaches, to the food, to the weather, Southern California has it all.  In fact the entire west coast, from Los Angeles all the way up to Seattle, offers vacationers the best America has to offer.  Disneyland and Knot’s Berry Farm, vineyards and national parks, the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman’s Wharf, Haystack Rock and Mount Rainier:  one could spend months on the west coast and never run out of things to do and see.  No place in the US has more to do than the west coast . . . except maybe Chicago.

When it comes to things to do, and see, and experience, Chicago is a city with an all kinds of things to entertain a family.  No city can compare to Chicago . . . except maybe Atlanta. That too was a wonderful place to spend a week with three young kids: with the highlight being Ebenezer Baptist Church.  Not many places have a lesson like the MLK National Historic site . . . except Washington DC.  Our nation’s capital is unlike any other historic city in America . . . except maybe Gettysburg, or Williamsburg.

The beauty of our nation is remarkable, and the only place better than where most of us are right now, is where we will be tomorrow!  From the Great Lakes in the north, to the Giant Redwoods of the west, to the historic towns that dot the entire east coast, America has it all.  But these days, my heart belongs to the south.  As the saying goes, “I wasn’t born here; but I got here as fact as I could.”  And if my wife and I have our way, we will never leave!

Now granted, we currently live in Alexandria and are well aware that many people don’t think of Northern Virginia as part of the south. But we lived in Williamsburg for 13 years, and we make frequent visits to a son and daughter-in-law in Fuquay, NC, and another son and daughter-in-law in Richmond. So as far as we’re concerned, we are Virginians, and there is southern blood flowing through our veins.  We love the south, and for all kinds of reasons.

We love the hospitality of people.  We love the scent of the honeysuckle and pine.  And we love the sweetness of the tea!  We love long, summers days, and mild, sunny winters. I love the sight of blooming Redbuds in March, announcing that that winter has passed; and the sight of an October cotton field always makes my wife smile.  Like every other part of the country, the south has its downsides: humidity, guns, country music, and big hair!  But the positives far outweigh the negatives. And if I never live anywhere else I will be a happy man.  The Appalachian, Shenandoah, and Smokey Mountains; the white sand of the Gulf; and especially the Atlantic coast beaches all make me feel at home.  And my home, has my heart.

So here’s my question:  considering all the south has to offer, why does anyone think that in order to treasure, value, or in any way show appreciation for southern culture, one has to talk about the Confederacy?  Why, in order to prove that one’s heart resides in Dixie, does one need to honor the likes of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson: men who led a treasonous war against our nation, and who did so in support of an institution that is nothing short of evil?  Why is it necessary to even speak of the glory of the Antebellum South, as if life ‘after the war’ has been some kind of burden?

It we want to celebrate Southern heritage, let’s talk about neighborhood conversations, on long wide porches, full of laughter, on warm summer nights. Let’s talk about Sunday Brunch, and tables overflowing with ham biscuits, fried chicken, cheesy grits, Beignets, and Mimosas. (Actually, I’m not sure Mimosas are all that southern, but what is brunch without a Mimosa!) And if we want to really lift up the contributions of the south, let’s celebrate the knowledge and passion of Sequoah, from what is today Knoxville, Tennessee; the strength and activism of Helen Keller, from Tuscumbia, Alabama; and the courage and determination of Jackie Robinson, from Cairo, Georgia. Let’s give thanks for Harriet Tubman and Harper Lee, James Brown and Jimmy Carter, Booker T. Washinton and Barbara Jordan, and countless other men and women whose memories are not laced with rebellion against America, and the defense of racism during the one time in our history when people were most aggressively seeking to change the trajectory of life for people of color in America.

If a person can only honor southern heritage by raising a Confederate flag and erecting monuments to leaders if the Confederacy; then we have no choice but to call into question both that person’s patriotism, as well as that person’s appreciation for the south’s heritage and history.  The south is so much more than an offensive piece of fabric, and racist pieces of stone.

And no one should no know that better than a real southerner.


Racists Called Out

13 08 2017


Look at that picture!  Look at it.  And weep!

48 hours after evil marched into Charlottesville, VA, can we please clear up a few things?

1) If we can’t condemn white supremacy because we think there’s bigotry “on many sides,” then . . . we might be racist.

2) If we can call religious extremists, radical Islamic terrorists, but can’t call the KKK, Neo-Nazis, or White Nationalists homegrown terrorists, then . . . we might be racist.

3) If we believe that anti-white crime in America has become more of an issue than anti-Black crime, then . . . we might be racist.

4) If we continue to think that acknowledging ‘Black Lives Matter’ somehow means that other lives don’t matter, then . . . we might be racist.

5) If we have come to the conclusion that Affirmative Action is nothing more than ‘reverse racism,’ thereby failing to see that racism is about social and structural power, and Blacks have none of that, then . . . we might be racist.

6) If we don’t understand that ‘law and order’ and ‘voter fraud’, are less about law and order and voter fraud, and more about keeping minorities on the margins of our society, then . . . we might be racist.

7) If we think that slavery ended more than 100 years ago and it’s time to ‘get over it’, then . . . we might be racist.

8) If we believe that the election of Barack Obama proves that race is no longer an issue in America, or that much of the hatred of Barack Obama was not about the color of his skin, then . . . we might be racist.

9) If we believe that God ordained America to be a white, Christian nation, then . . . we might be racist.

And 10) if you think I’m correct in saying that all these things mean we MIGHT be racist, and not that we ARE racist, then . . . you ARE racist!

Actually, in the final analysis, most of us white Americans are racist! We are part of a system that favors us in all kinds of ways, simply because of the color of our skin. We continue to benefit from living in a nation that has normalized our privilege, and legitimized others’ oppression. The traditional, ‘white’ narrative about racism – that it is nothing more than prejudice against people who look different from us – does not take into account how the institutionalization of such a worldview will eventually blind us to its injustice. And it is that blindness that is threatening to destroy our country today. It is nothing new, but it’s normalization, which has come at the hands of Donald Trump, should disturb all of us; for he, as well as many in his administration, have allowed what has existed in the shadows of American life, to once again move out into the light of day.

In response, pastors and leaders of various faith communities have begun espousing all of their sacred Scriptures, in an attempt to justify their opposition to America’s growing Alt-Right . . . as if challenging this societal evil somehow needs to be sanctioned from ‘on high!’ Others have been quick to proclaim that they believe all people are created and loved by God . . . as if such a belief proves that they are ‘wok’ to issues of race and color bias. (Did not the slave owner also believe that his enslaved housekeeper was also created by God? . . . yet created to care for him and meet his every need?!) And still others have done little more than shake their heads at and close their eyes to such discussions . . . hoping they will just go away, believing that because they don’t fly the Confederate flag or read Breitbart News, the battle is not theirs to fight.

Well it’s time for us in white America to wake up: and not just for religious reasons, for Godly reasons, or for personal reasons. Some things need to be addressed simply because they affect the very soul of a society. Some things are just wrong! And evil that is left unchecked, and injustice that is allowed to reign free, will in the end destroy all of us.

This is why people like me are going to continue to resist current American trends. We’re not going to be quiet, and we’re not going to stop challenging the direction of the current administration. We’re not trying to annoy you. We’re not sore losers. And we’re not anti-white, anti-Christian socialists trying to destroy the heart of America.

Rather, we are simply human beings who love other human beings: who believe that none of us succeed unless we all succeed, and that there can be no peace in the world without justice. We recognize that the world is NOT made up of many races and families, but that there is only one race – the human race; and there is only one family – the human family.

Yes, most of us in white America are racist. But we can change, and we can do better. However change can only come when we’re willing to acknowledge our broken past, engage in the hard work of transforming the societal and institutional sin that is paralyzing the present, and participate in the creation a future where differences are embraced and not feared, where diversity is seen as a blessing and not a curse, and where color is seen as that which brings beauty to the palate of our lives.

Racists are taught to be racists – consciously and unconsciously, subtly and overtly, intentionally and unintentionally.  But we can change.  We MUST change that . . . for our sake, and the sake of all our children.

Loving Kindness

10 08 2017

loving kindnessIf my daughter was going to get a tattoo, there are far worse things she could have inked on her body for all eternity! Surely the world could use an extra dose of ‘Loving Kindness,’ so why shouldn’t she have the phrase emblazoned on her rib cage?  It’s certainly better than another piercing; one which this time would probably NOT have been in her ear!

Actually, it’s a perfect tattoo for my daughter – one of the kindest and most loving people I know.  And it’s also a great reminder of that to which we all should be giving our lives. For again I will say it, if the world needs anything today, it is loving kindness!

Every now and then I catch a glimpse of it, and when I do, I wonder why it is so elusive! It’s so wonderful to see, to encounter, and to receive, that you’d think everyone would be doing their best to make it more of a reality, in more of our lives. But for some reason, hatred, anger, and violence appear to rule the days in which we are living.

Never the less, it’s out there.  I saw it in the young college kid who waited on my wife, and my daughter, and me when we had lunch in Blacksburg, VA a while back. When I went to order a piece of the Almond cake for dessert, he smiled at me and said, “The Almond Cake is a few days old. I’d skip it if I were you!”

I saw it in the eyes of the woman who checked me into my hotel room last week, when she offered me a fresh, warm cookie as I left the registration desk . . . two even, if I wanted!

I saw it in the passing face of the guy who had to slam on the brakes of his car in order to keep from hitting me, when I made a wrong turn in an unfamiliar part of town, and wound up in the wrong lane. He graciously smiled in a way that said, ‘No problem. I’ve made that same mistake before too!’

I see it in my favorite baristas, who make my “English Breakfast tea latte with skim milk and three pumps of classic” in all three of my favorite Starbucks.   (And don’t judge me!)  I see it in the people I work with: who love what they do, and who do what they do with dedication, enthusiasm, and with a constant smile on their faces.  And I see it in my wife, all the time; as she graciously puts up with my many idiosyncrasies, and loves me unconditionally.

Loving kindness really is everywhere; but we doubt that, because we don’t see it.  And we don’t see it, because we’re not looking for it.  So this week, might I suggest that we all look for the loving kindness that is all around us.

You see, I believe in the words of that old hymn – “This is my Father’s world.”  I don’t really regard God as my father anymore, but I do believe that the world is God’s!  And as such, it radiates divinity.  Holiness is everywhere, and it is warming the hearts of people of every faith, transforming the minds of people of every nation, and moving in the souls of people of every generation.

Maltbie Davenport Babcock, the author of the hymn, grew up in Western New York, near where I did; and his walks along the Niagara Escarpment gave him inspiring views of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.  It is said that when he would leave the house and his wife asked him where he was going, he would respond “to see my Father’s world.”

This is indeed God’s world; but I’m convinced that often we fail to see it because we’re not looking for it.  We’re blinded by the corruption and selfishness of those in power. We’re distracted by the evil of those with hateful tongues and violent hands.  And so our days are fraught with everything but, loving kindness.

But we can change that.

And we can change that by looking for the signs of God’s commonwealth all around us. We can notice the smile of the stranger.  We can turn toward the grace of some, and away from the judgement of others.  We can choose to dwell not on our neighbor’s brokenness, but on their beauty.  And we can seek to surround ourselves with people who have a similar view of the world around us.

Today, this week, the rest of this month — let’s change what we’re looking for, and thereby change the narrative of our world.  Let’s notice the fingerprints of our Creator and Sustainer, and spot the loving kindness that lurks in every corner of creation.  For if our lives need anything, it is more loving kindness.

And it’s out there . . . and we will see it . . . if we look for it.