Beyond the Mason-Dixon Line

I realize that I haven’t posted anything in a long time, so readers should know it would take something pressing for me to come out of my proverbial hole after so long. That is the case. I feel there are some things about this whole Confederate flag controversy that need to be said; I may as well be the one to say them.

I was born and raised in the Deep South, which means I also grew up seeing Confederate flags on a fairly regular basis. In fact, in giving me directions one day, my father casually mentioned the destination was near “where we had driven past a KKK rally about 15 years ago.” As I would have been a very young child, I did not recall the occasion, but was nonetheless horrified by the thought. Several years ago, I moved to the North, mainly because I felt I needed breathing room to expand my horizons. As such, I’ve been thinking about the Confederate flag issue for awhile—especially since all the “furor” (to borrow MSNBC’s word) over it has arisen. I feel like by having the background that I do, I’m able to see both sides of the coin, and there is some degree of misunderstanding on both sides.

For the Northerners who are baffled as to why Southerners would hold on to a symbol of racism, I’ll try to illuminate the matter. I would estimate that for at least half of those who fly/wear/etc. the Confederate flag, they do so without seeing it as a proclamation of racism. For that percentage, it is done as a symbol of remembrance—remembrance of the Southern heritage, remembrance of ancestors who fought and died in the Civil War, and remembrance of the South at the peak of its prominence (which I’ll come back to).

With that being said, there is a strong undercurrent of racism in the South—and unfortunately, whether or not someone flies a flag does not change that. It is the proverbial iceberg, where only a fraction of the behemoth can be seen from the surface. Years upon years of prejudice permeate generation after generation, to the point that many don’t even recognize it within themselves. I have heard racist things flow easily from the mouths of white people who don’t fly the Confederate flag and would not at all consider themselves racist. It is sad to say, but due to the racial history of the South, whites and blacks seem quick to assume the worst about each other, and that assumption plays out over and over—in how we interact, and in how we talk about each other. If trust exists, it seems very thin and fragile. Somehow that racist undercurrent will have to change for race relations in the South to truly change.

But, back to the Confederate flag and remembrance. One consideration that is easily overlooked is that just prior to the Civil War, the South was at the height of its prominence. Cotton was big business, and plantation owners were raking in plenty of money from it. In the Civil War, Southerners fought to maintain their standard of living by whatever means they felt necessary; it was the last time they were in a position of significant economic power. Reconstruction knocked the formerly-booming Southern economy flat on its back compared to before, and financially, I don’t think the South has ever fully recovered.

To put it another way, how do you choose your profile picture? Do you choose the most recent picture, where you’ve gained 30 pounds and are wearing mismatched, stained sweats? Or, do you choose the picture from 10 years ago, where you’re slimmer and better dressed? While some may argue for honesty over flattery, I think most people would be inclined to choose the older picture. Here’s my point: the Confederate flag is that old snapshot of the South, where on the surface, it looked most powerful, genteel, and well-to-do. The ugly side was always there, but not discussed.

Compare that to today’s image of Southern culture. The South as a region is regularly poked fun of by pros and amateurs alike. I would imagine Southerners are the most regularly stereotyped and mocked geographical group in the US. These jokes are so constant they have become part of the common national vernacular. Accurate or not, it is “common knowledge”—we marry our relatives, we’re missing some teeth, we’re uneducated, we don’t own shoes, etc. In short, we have no culture, no class, no education, and the rest of the country would be better off without us. Considering this, is it any wonder that some Southern people would cling to a symbol of that time when we weren’t the national running joke? (Hence, the whole “the South will rise again” mantra.) I am not saying that the South should be this untouchable thing that nobody ever jokes about; after all, the beauty of humour is that it is the great equalizer. Still, when the same predictable jokes keep churning constantly from generation to generation, it’s not fostering productive change. It’s reducing an entire culture to a generalized caricature. These generalizations have worn thin, and this is a great opportunity for all Americans to really stop and think about whether these generalizations are really accurate, or at least, worth perpetuating. In my view, the longer we tread these well-worn ruts, the more divided America will become as a country.

For the Southerners who have been saying, “Exactly! The problem is those ‘damn Yankees,’” it’s your turn. For those who would cling to the Confederate flag against all else, you are missing the huge factor in this: the Confederate flag symbolizes a time when the South prospered by directly stepping on other people. Historically, and I would hope individually, we have moved on. We aren’t those people anymore, and as such, the Confederate flag needs to be put away for good.

If the flag represents Southern heritage to you, that’s great. It will always mean that to you. But to an entire racial group who are still very much part of this country, it will always represent the time when treating people like property was considered okay. When the flag flies, it’s like a message: “It doesn’t matter what’s happened since the Civil War–we still feel the same way now as we did then.”

And here’s the thing: you can honor Southern heritage in so many ways apart from that flag. Southern culture is too vast to be contained in one dusty image from the past. Since then, the South has become known for so much more. It’s the birthplace of icons like Elvis and B.B. King. Tennessee is known for a vibrant music scene. Georgia is being utilized for movies and TV more and more. Though we still have a long way to go, we are moving in the right direction. If we keep holding a symbol of the past as a representation of our present, we will become stuck in a backwards cycle. We will be known as those who live in the past, and we will never be taken seriously.

The Civil War is part of Southern history. We had some excellent generals, and many brave soldiers. But they should be memorialized in a museum, just like those who served in other wars. Would it really be so bad for the stories and flag of the Confederacy to be preserved within a museum, like other significant wars such as the American Revolution, World War I, and World War II? Putting our past in the past doesn’t mean forgetting about it—on the contrary, we can learn a lot from it. At the same time, though, we need a healthy distance from it to gain that learning perspective. We can’t close a chapter we refuse to stop re-reading.

No matter what the Confederate flag means to you personally or culturally, it also had a historical meaning, too: it represented people at war. Owners subjugating slaves. Rebellion and disunity. And, certain people and groups are still using the flag in that context; Dylann Roof did. I think former skeptics of flag removal are advocating it now because they realize the facts of the Charleston shooting are indisputable. In the cases of recent violence between the police and the black community, people were divided over who triggered the events. Who really started it? There had to be an instigator, whether it was the arrester or the arrestee. In this case, though, there is nothing to even debate; the lines are clear. A Bible study group was meeting in their church. Dylann Roof came in. They welcomed him. He waited, and then he started shooting them. Afterwards, he explicitly stated that he was hoping to start a race war. There is no debate to be had; this is the clearest case yet of innocent people being gunned down solely for their skin color. This act was carried out by someone still clinging to the notion that the racism represented in the Confederate flag needed to live on. With such a clear connection between this crime and the flag, what excuse could flag-bearing states really have for perpetuating the symbol? If we know that the Confederate flag’s continued presence is causing continued pain to the black community, why would we knowingly continue to twist that knife?

The fact is, removing the Confederate flag is the right thing to do; that era has passed. It’s time to move beyond the Mason-Dixon Line; it’s time to be one nation again.

Thoughts on "The Giglio Controversy"

Earlier this week, the story broke that Louie Giglio, a well-known pastor/speaker in the Evangelical realm who was originally going to pray at the 2013 inauguration, was not going to be doing that anymore. From what I understand, certain groups were checking up on him and discovered some 10-year-old sermon on homosexuality. From there, the story becomes more speculative. Some believe he was harassed by gay rights groups, others believe he was encouraged by inaugural committee members, and others believe he made the choice solely on his own. But, he withdrew from the event.

This is where I read about the story–followed by about 20 pages of vitriolic comments, at last count:

http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/10/16449097-pastor-nixed-from-obama-i…

To sum up the majority of the NBC News comments:

Joe: “God is a fairytale, and you are stupid to believe in him, and I wish you people would just go away. Why is a pastor at a government event anyway?”

Jane: “God is real {insert Scripture here}, and I hope you burn in hell. This is the beginning of the end of free speech. I guess speech is only free if you agree with the left-wing agenda.”

This post is addressed primarily to Christians, since that’s the group I identify with, but I would start by saying to both sides: by comments like these, neither side is exactly proving to be a shining example of your “life philosophy.” To the athiest: you hold up human nature as the pinnacle of achievement. Although I know many Christians can be jerks, why would you risk looking unenlightened by painting all of them with the same broad brush of dismissal? To the Christian: you hold up God’s nature as the pinnacle of human endeavour. Although I know many athiests can be jerks, why would you risk looking unloving by essentially damning them all to hell when they don’t just “take your word for it”? Even if you want to say we have some sort of “competition” going on, shouldn’t we be trying to “outdo” each other by what we do to benefit humanity, instead of by what we do to spite each other?

Anyway, that’s all I’ll say about that.

To the Christians who are panicking about state churches and God kicked out of America and no more free speech, I have one question:

Why does it matter?

Common answers might be: “Because it’s a sign of things to come,” or “Because our fundamental rights could be in jeopardy.” Let me rephrase the question:

How does this change your walk with God?

Here’s the thing. Jesus never said following Him was easy. In fact, He usually said the opposite. So why do we so often still expect a cushy Christianity? We have been the exception, not the rule. And sometimes, it’s nice to be the exception; it can have its perks. But it won’t last.

How does exchanging a pastor for another leader at a government inauguration affect your personal relationship with God? Will you be unable to pray? Will the Scripture you’ve read and remembered be taken away? Will God be unable to work in your heart and life anymore? No. In my personal opinion, those who are really bothered by this situation are really just concerned about the ease of publicly practicing Christianity for them and for the generations after them. They are worried about the consequences of a “God-friendly society” eroding away. Which is already becoming the case, by the way, even just in popular cultural opinion. Could Christians in the West face hard times at some point in the future? Of course, and I’m sure when that day comes–whenever it comes–it won’t be easy or enjoyable. But if we know Jesus at all, we can hardly be surprised. And, to me, this situation–no matter how you interpret it–hardly qualifies us to look in the eye and speak to a truly persecuted Christian in some other part of the world and say, “Yeah, I know what you’re going through. It’s getting bad here, too.”

We have been the exception for so long that we can’t comprehend the rulebook anymore. Christ’s kingdom is not in a country; it is in us! That is “eternal security”–not that we will always be sheltered from tough times that come with our calling, but that we will be faithful to follow Jesus despite those tough times.

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” -1 Peter 4:12-13

“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” –Romans 12: 17-18, 21

Why I’m Politically Apathetic

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I admit it; I’m sort of an anomally with politics. On one hand, I will admit that I have watched almost every Republican debate since they started. Honestly though, it wouldn’t matter if it were Republican or Democrat. I will also admit that I like to go on MSN, look at the most “loaded” stories (which are usually political), and just read all the comments. I find a sort of sick and twisted amusement in reading comments of total strangers who are supposedly adults, yet who resort to calling others names and belittling their intelligence, while wholeheartedly (blindly perhaps?) towing their own party’s line.

On one such day when I was scrolling through the comments, I read one of the truest statements on politics that I’ve ever come across. It struck me enough that I actually saved it. I wish I knew the guy’s name to give him full credit for it, but all I know is that the screen name was Old Paul. Be warned, the imagery is a little grotesque (much like politics, oddly enough): “Politics is a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. It is the conduct of public affairs for private advantage. It is a masturbation of monstrous, self-aggrandizing egos.”

I must say I wholeheartedly agree. I would say that money and power have gotten to both parties, making them a shadow of what they could’ve been. It’s sad to say, but I don’t think the answer to America’s problems lies in either political party. It’s going to lie within people deciding that money and power aren’t more important than coming together to help the common person. I do still hold the “old fogie” persona that you shouldn’t complain about how the country is going if you didn’t vote. Which is why I don’t complain about how things are going. Only politics in general. That’s why I’m apathetic.

But still, watching everyone else get their collective panties in a wad never ceases to horrify, amaze, and entertain me. Which is why I will probably continue to watch.

My 9/11 Story

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I never really thought that I would witness something globally historical in my lifetime. Granted, I suppose it’s not really something that’s in your thoughts at age 17, either. In 1940s Hawaii, none of the teenagers there probably ever thought they could be a target for attack. (Who would attack Hawaii? It’s beautiful there.) Similarly, even if the teenagers in Japan suspected they could be bombed, I’m sure they never could have imagined the fallout of a nuclear bomb. Whether because of our ignorance or our pride, we never think it could happen to us. Of course, that changed for every American on Sept. 11, 2001.

I was 17 and had just started my senior year of high school. We had an English test during first period, so we were all busy with that. It was one of those, “when you’re done you can leave” scenarios, so it wasn’t like we all changed periods at the same time. By the time I finished the test, there were already several of my 2nd period classmates waiting in our Social Studies class. The coach was in there, too. But the TV was on, which was odd. At least in my school, the TV was pretty much never on unless it was for an “educational movie.” As I was settling in, the coach explained to those of us who had just come in, “A plane flew into one of the the Twin Towers in New York.” I had never traveled anywhere interesting, so I’d never heard of the Twin Towers. The only specific building I knew of in New York was the Empire State Building. But as I saw the cameras panning over the damage, I somehow knew that after this, things would never be the same again. The Revelation passage about there being “wars and rumors of wars” at the end were replaying over and over again in my mind. And, of course, then the second plane hit. I had a uneasy, sinking feeling in my gut. As the rest of the first period students were joining us, the coach was explaining what happened over and over for each new person. We didn’t have class. There was none of the usual shallow chatter. We all just stared at the TV, horrified by what we were seeing.

That was how the rest of the day went. Literally in every period, in every class for the rest of the day, the TVs were on and were tuned to news stations. We just went from room to room, from TV to TV. I remember going home that day in disbelief. It just didn’t seem real, even though I had been watching it all day.

A day or two later, I suppose our principal realized that because this was a big deal, the younger students needed to be assured somehow. So he arranged a special meeting in our school gym where he asked the entire senior class to lead the school in the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. It was an odd moment. Being short, I was put up front and I couldn’t really see what was going on behind me, but I didn’t hear any of my classmates making snarky comments. Not even the guys that were known for that. It was a time to put on a face of leadership, even if we were only 17. I remember the student body president mounting a large US flag on a pole in the bed of his truck shortly after that; he kept it there all year.

Now this isn’t to say that we instantly became campus leaders and disregarded teenage ways. Things did go back to normal in the weeks and months after; kids goofed off and did stupid things. But the way that year started was a sort of milestone for us. Even when we goofed off, we still remembered. 9/11 was still an undeniable part of us.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since that happened. But for my part, I am grateful to the men and women who rose to the occasion, and my heart goes out once again to the families of those who were lost.

I will not forget.