Reparations

 

When asked about reparations, Senator Mitch McConnell answered that he did not see any way for that to happen and reparations had been discussed before in the Senate and we had, after all, elected a black president and fought a Civil War to end slavery. These latter words came from the man who  said, after President Obama was elected, “We will spend the next four years making certain that he is  not re-elected.” How little this “leader” understands.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I tire of hearing that the election and re-election of Mr. Obama shows that we are no longer a racist country. Other events, such as the recent and sad event in Phoenix by police because a child had taken a doll from a store without payment, strongly suggest that we, as a nation, carry our racism still. But our racism is, mostly, more subtle than that of plantations and the pulling of seventy-two police officers in Philadelphia for alleged anti-Muslim and racist posts on social media. It is hidden under a gleam of laws and regulations that have made some improvements to end racism. However, I think any black person can tell of experiencing bias behavior in many ways.

I don’t know how any reparation can make-up for or lessen the pain of our years of slavery, when the chattel from Africa built much of this nation with their backs and hands. How do we re-pay for all the rapes of black women? Is there any price for the destruction of Rosewood, Florida or Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa? A new museum exhibits all the names of lynched blacks and in the county where the crime was committed. What amount pays for that?

Yea, we elected a black man president, but what of the young black men shot in the back by a policeman? What price is he worth?

As a Jesus follower, I  struggle with the sin of racism in my country—the past racism and the ever-present racism. As a 72 year old white male, I have never suffered the bite of a particularly nasty word, and nor have I been followed around in a store while shopping, nor do I hear an audible “click” when I walk past a car being driven by another white person. I intellectually know of these things, but I do not experience them, and none of my family has or does share these experiences. As a Jesus following citizen, I see that we, as a white nation, have only one way to make reparations for our past, and when powerful men such as Senator McConnel make such asinine statements as he did, the “proof is in the pudding.” We must make amends and in Psalm 51, the Psalm King David wrote after his adultery with Bathsheba and his killing of Uriah, her husband,  shows us the way.

Dr. Ellen Davis, in her examination of Psalm 51, uses the word contrition. She admits it is a word no longer in fashion, but it is exactly what we must feel for our sin of racism. Being contrite means that we are honestly sorry for our sin(s) and ask forgiveness. Being contrite is difficult because it arrives after an individual has examined herself to see and take ownership of her sin. Just as many blacks in America are descendants of slaves, many whites are descendants of the white class that enslaved human beings. We are all in it together, and the whites had the power, and yes, even fought an awful war to keep slavery alive.

My favorite Gospel story is in John 4 where Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. He, a male Jew, talks with a woman who is Samaritan. That alone reveals much of Jesus’ character. However, after their encounter, He spends three day there with her and her village. She, the wife of five men, is forgiven her sins, but as usual, Jesus adds these words, “ Go and sin no more.” Ouch. He forgives us but says we can’t sin anymore. That is, in my mind, the difficult part of contrition. Not continuing our sin.

Our racism cannot be locked away in the bad old days of plantations, rapes, whippings, Jim Crow, and lynchings. We were racist then, and we are racist now. If Mitch McConnell thinks otherwise, he should have a conversation with author Keith S. Wilson who  grew up in Covington, Kentucky, the home of Nick Sanderman. If McConnell listens to Wilson, he will hear how alive racism is in his state, and all the others. But so many white folk want to beg out of the issue by believing and saying that it is an old issue, long-ago settled. Too many white folk agree with the words of McConnell. He, and they, need lessons in our history and our current culture.

I see any type of reparation without cultural change as meaningless. Our government makes reparations, and the McConnells continue on their way, not heeding those words, “Sin no  more.”

This country needs citizens, black, brown, white, all skin-tones, to learn about and integrate into our emotional and intellectual lives, the histories of racism in America. Learn the horrors of the Rosewoods. Feel the sting of the whip. Know the cruelty of watching the child had by your master being sold. Don’t dismiss it as an event in ancient history but learn it on a personal level. Then find a Keith Wilson and hear his words and experiences. See his Covington, Kentucky. Ponder why a policeman needed to shoot a fleeing black teenager in the back.

Scream out against a culture of racism as exhibited by police in Philadelphia. Take ownership for this sin in our country because, yes, we are our  brother’s keeper.

After we know our sin, be contrite and full of remorse and ask  forgiveness from the black citizens who descending from this shame. And, if you are religious, ask your god for forgiveness. But prepare yourself for the difficult part of making reparations: we can no longer commit the sin. We must stop being  racist and allowing it in our country. It is a sin that will, like any destroy us. We must end it or be sufferers of it.

Alternatives

 

 

In the mid-1990’s, Earl Shorris met Viniece Walker in the Bedford Hills Prison. Shorris was there researching for a book on poverty, but Ms. Walker gave him more than he was prepared for.

As I read about and hear discussions in Charlotte concerning a planned tax to support “the arts”, I thought of Walker and Shorris and her comment to him about the importance of the humanities or the arts as a way of helping poor people.

As Shorris talked with Walker and other women in Bedford Hills, he asked Walker why she thought people were poor. She answered quickly, “Because they don’t have the moral life of downtown.” Shorris thought she was speaking of religion, but Walker went on to explain, “You’ve got to teach the moral life of downtown to the children. And the way you do that, Earl, is by taking them downtown to plays, museums, concerts, lectures, where they can  learn the moral life of downtown.” When asked by Shorris if she meant the humanities, she answered, “Yes, Earl, the humanities.”  Her words led him to begin the first Clemente Center where poor citizens could read and study humanities in order to have a part of the “moral life of downtown.”

As a prisoner serving a life sentence in Bedford Hills, a  female with AIDS, and with a past of abuse and violence, Walker had arrived too late to the power of what we call the arts or humanities. She knew that if poor children are exposed to concerts, museums, and lectures, they will see that they have an  alternative to a life of violence and its brother poverty.

Just this week, three boys-ages 15, 16, and 17 have been charged with the murder of a 17-year-old female during an attempted robbery. One of the charged boys is not old enough to have his photograph shown in the media. Old enough to possibly murder another teenager, but not old enough for his photograph to be printed in the media. Sadly, this is not such an unusual situation  for Charlotte and other locations in our country. For decades our government has thrown resources at poverty and all that it breeds. But all our efforts have not done so well in the battle to help the poor rise and enjoy better lives.

When I  reflect on my life as one of six children in a single parent home, living on the Mill  Hill, I see the “moral life” advantages I had: a loving and supportive mother; a church, and teachers/coaches who encouraged. Yes, I was a white boy in a segregated world and that gave me the advantage of skin color. However, being poor did not keep me from reading and seeing a wider world. Not a good or serious student, I  did, however, know that education in some degree was the way out of my poverty. The supports in my life made me aware that there were alternatives to hard shifts in a cotton mill, and the summer jobs in the weave rooms convinced me that there was more to aim for. I  didn’t know Walker or her words, but I knew that I wanted the “moral life of downtown.”

I am not a fan of rap music, but it is a viable alternative for talented but poor youth. And what once was dismissed as “graffiti” is now an accepted and highly revered art form no longer relegated to box cars. By participating in one of these art forms or any of the others available, a person will learn the discipling required by these artistic expressions. As a youth works harder to be better at say, rap, he or she will build on each successful note and line. She will see that with the work and discipline comes the ‘moral life of downtown.” And with that new life of the downtown comes influence and even power, which is an avenue to make change in our society.

Children born into families with means have alternatives because they are exposed to the humanities. That exposure leads to exposure to better schools, teachers, mentors, and a higher quality of life. This is not to say that their lives are free of worries or problems, but by being exposed to the arts, they have an advantage over the poor children, and that advantage can be played out in the realm of influence (power).

We owe it to our poor children and our society to help them elevate to lives that are more than guns, drugs, and violence. We need to give of ourselves, not just our dollars, and show poor children all around us that there is a better way of living. Violence is its own end, but the poor child sees it as a way of life respecting no one or nothing, not even itself.

Shorris writes of receiving a phone call late one night from a Clemente Center student. Shorris expected the worse from the student who  was on parole for violent behaviors and prepared himself to listen, then go bail the student out of jail. The student told Shorris that a co-worker had angered him in the restaurant kitchen where he washed dishes. Bracing himself, Shorris was ready to hear how he had lost his temper, then attacked the co-worker. However, his student said, “I then thought, ‘What would Socrates do?’”

When we show all poor children the beauty of the arts and humanities, we all will improve.

 

Chickadees and Christians

Chickadees and Christians

Yesterday morning while cleaning the yard of pinecones and sticks, I heard a clattering that appeared to be coming from the bird box attached to the side of the shop. The sound was such that it caused me to “turn aside” to see the sight. While not a burning bush, the chirping and fluttering on the ground under the box was a fine, late-spring gift. On the ground was a small Carolina chickadee that made a racket worthy of much larger birds. It fluttered its new wings attempting to fly, cried out to its parents for food, and flapped itself all about the yard. At times it would stop while waiting for a parent to deliver food or to gather new energy to fuel its fluttering bounces through the grass. But it was not to be deterred on its first day out of the nesting box. No heat, seemingly tall grasses, lack of parental feeding, or its Tom Thumb size kept it from travelling across our front lawn. That small life was on its way. I eventually lost sight of its emerging form but knew its location because I would notice a parent bird landing to feed it. Returning to my task, I once again heard spring music coming from the same nesting box. Turning aside, I saw a curious black and white head looking out from the entrance hole, surveying what its frightened, black eyes saw. Interested, but not wanting to confuse the youngster, I continued to move about the yard, gathering and cleaning the yard, but thankful for the late spring confirmation of life’s renewal.

Since witnessing the two fledglings emerge from the safety and comfort of their nesting box, I have thought of the Christian’s task and how we would be better Followers of Christ if we could be like the chickadee moving across the front lawn. Yes, I am aware that the little bird was acting on instinct; however,  as Christians should we not have an “instinct” that is our faith. Paul tells us in II Corinthians 5:7 that we are to walk by faith, not sight. If we truly believe those words, we will go out like the fledgling and walk into the tall grass of life. We will follow in faith that God knows best. We will be obedient, having faith in His Sermon from the Mount. Faithful, we will seek justice and aid the widows.

But do our actions reflect our words, “In God we trust”? I have my doubts for several reasons, but one worth mentioning is that in the North Carolina county where I live, Iredell, one of every four children is food deficient. Now, that is a nice way of saying that too many of our children are hungry. Ponder that fact: in an affluent county where Christianity is used for religious self-identification, one of every four children is hungry. How can such a circumstance exist in the midst of Christian wealth?

Barclay writes that unless a Christian is on the way, he or she is in the way. Are you a chickadee Christian or one who talks but does not walk?

 

Sisters

The caretaker, the centenarian woman’s youngest daughter, woke at the sound of her labored breathing. The baby of six who was now well into her sixth decade, listened in the low glow of the bedroom to her mother’s shallow breathing. It was not too long ago, she thought, of how her mother and she had shared the spool bed every night because the small house was filled by four girls and two boys. No bed for her but the one with her mother. The baby held her mother as her life ebbed away like a low tide, each breath less than the one before, finally giving way to old age and a life of hardships but for the last eight years of dementia when her four daughters rotated at noon  each Tuesday to spend a week caring for their mother. The youngest held their mother, thinking of so many shared hours in this room, and now the final sharing of a well-lived life. Feeling blessed for being the one present at the closing of a good life, the baby kissed and loved the shell of their mother. She then followed their agreed upon protocol and alerted her three sisters.

By the light of day, the sisters arrived. Each in turn entered the room and, in their way, told their mother good-bye. She was dead and there was no rush to call the arranged for funeral home, so the four did what they had done for the last eight years. Other calls were made and they stripped her worn body before washing it. One combed her hair and snipped six curls, one for each of her children. Another carefully chose a favorite gown and they polished her nails.  After love’s labor was done, one called the funeral home.

Together they watched their mother taken from 312, the address of her dear mill house where she had reared them and their brothers. Her journey over, the four knew that they had prepared her well. She and now they began a new slice of life.

 

It’s High School

It’s High School

Today’s Charlotte (NC) Observer carries an article about Charlotte area schools keeping elite coaches. The article centers around Aaron Brand who coached Vance High School to last year’s championship game, but he has accepted a position at Irmo High School in Columbia, S.C. Brand is quoted as, “They have excellent facilities, and I think they care a little bit more about football there and the pay increase was too much to turn down. Still, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”      The Irmo weight room and playing field “dwarf anything Vance has to offer” and Brand will have daily lunchroom duty, teach no classes, and make more than $100,000. Langston Wertz, Jr., a reporter for the Observer, writes in another article that suggest ways to retain elite coaches, “In many ways, high school football coaches are as valuable as principals. Sports is the ultimate drop-out prevention program and there’ s no high school sport as big as football. Having an elite football coach should be valued. And apparently it is  at many schools across the border.”  Wertz quotes Tom Knotts, a football coach, “But the powers that be (in the Charlotte school system) have to decide if it’s [football programs]important to them. I know academics always comes first, but football sets the tone for every school. You can ask anybody that. Every principal, some begrudgingly, they all will admit it.” Knotts says that, “Teaching a full load is unheard of down here in South Carolina. They value equality of football and they know what it takes for coaches to be prepared.”

“Well!”, to quote George  Will, a fan of sports. While academics is important, the ones in a school system making $100,000 a year or more are the non-teachers. The ones who supervise the lunchroom each day. The ones who work to create a tone-setting program for a school. The ones who help prevent students from dropping out of school. They are the elite! I don’t think so.

I do not begrudge Brand or Knotts or any teacher a good salary. However, I argue the very concept of any coach or teacher being elite. That mind set is a slap in the face of every teacher of English, history, art, band, history, whatever the program because most of them are elites. I know that some teachers are not hard workers or care for their students. But most are, and they, too, deserve the financial support that gives good resources such as a weight room, salary, supplies, and good fields on which to play. No person who wins a championship(s) is elite because of that fact. If we as a culture travel that road, we will eventually crash and burn because we will be valuing mis-placed principles. Winning is not the reason for sports just as it is not the reason for a band program or art room or dance studio or any other activity offered for the education of a child. Being elite is a goal. Students who participates in an activity may strive to be the best, but it is not reached by winning play-off games.

People who say that “academics always come first” but do not celebrate academic achievement until graduation each year or recognize a student for scoring high on a national exam  or having a painting displayed in an art show or learning how to march and play a tuba in concert with many other musicians, is not being honest. The words are there, but not the action. That is in the field, weight room, salary, and mis-placed belief that only football can set the tone for a school.

To deny that our culture has a love affair with some sports would be silly. However,  we are discussing high school. Every offering for a youngster should be viewed in the lens of preparing that youngster for life after high school, where the winning will not used to live a life of quality, but the skills learned will be utilized each day. And to argue that one sport is the reason that some boys and a few girls stay in high school is recognized, but if we adults are not  preparing those students through rigorous academics and other activities,  only football, we cheat them in terrible ways.

A large salary for lunchroom supervising and coaching one sport is not justified, but it seems some school systems “down here  in South Carolina” disagree with me. I  suggest those systems re-examine priorities of their educational programs. Football should remain only one more offering for students who are in school to prepare while studying and playing.

 

 

Prufrock on Landis Road

 

 

Driving along Landis Road to my mother’s funeral, I noticed the rich fields of recently planted corn and grasses. The young corn stood green and strong, and the grasses awaited their first cutting to be used for winter feed. A rich spring of new life and growth flanked the road as Mary Ann and I drove to the church. The juxtaposition of the emerging life and our destination reminded me of Hebrews 6:1-3.

At certain stages, we can’t wait to grow older. I imagine that every pre-teen anticipates the imagined magic of charging into the teen years. For other reasons, turning eighteen and twenty-one are wished for. But after those milestones, growing older is dreaded. We edge into the 30’s but turning forty is often seen much like a tolling of bells, and the decades after are viewed as a finality. Prufrock is so uncertain of these years that all he could muster is his questions of “Shall I…?” or “Do I dare…?”

The writer to the Hebrews tells us to leave the elementary teaching behind and “be borne onwards to full maturity.” (Barclay translation) But it seems to me that as a culture mostly claiming Christianity, we keep in the same elementary zones of our comfort. We keep plowing the same ground, not expanding our fields and perhaps killing what has sprouted beneath us. And I think our fear of changing and moving comes from our sense of  control over the “same old thing” and “the way it’s always been done”, or “things ain’t like they used to be.” That last one is often offered as a reason not to change or as a whine about a new situation or way. You know what? Things are not as they used to be because those words reflect our memory which is at best suspect and likely tainted by our biases. When a suggestion is made to change the tables and chairs in a room, firm stances are taken in opposition. We resist any change to our comfort zones, thus stifling any growth to maturity or perfection in our Christianity. As Clarence Jordan writes, “Fear is the polio of the soul which prevents us from walking by faith.”

Years ago when I turned sixty, a friend told me that feeling the years of the decade would not come until I was sixty-two or three. She was correct. When I turned sixty-three, I felt the years of being in that decade of life. However, since my accident at fifty-five, I have learned to appreciate the years and what they represent contrary to our secular culture which teaches us to fear what is constantly around us—death. Today is May 15, 2019, a fine spring day on Lake Norman. I see birds flying to nesting boxes to feed the young. Each trip to the box by a parent represents a death which occurs so that a life may grow. It is all a cycle that we have come to fear because of our false sense of control. Our culture convinces us that creams and such will help forestall ageing so much that corporations flourish. Wrinkles and grey are marks of defeat, not marks of growing towards maturity and perfection as Christians and citizens.

The writer to the Hebrews tells us how to grow and mature as Christians.  Robert Ruark in The Old Man and the Boy, a memoir full of secular wisdom, quotes his grandfather saying, “That’s why I like November. November is  a man past fifty who reckons he’ll live to be seventy or so, which is old enough for anybody—which means he’ll make it through November and December, with a better-than-average chance of seeing New Year’s.”

As a seventy-two-year-old, I hope for a few more years like these I live now because I  feel that I have come to appreciate living a life of obedience and finally, after years of lost living, I am on a right path. I now understand the words of Karle Wilson Baker who writes in Let Me Grow Lovely these words:

“Let me grow lovely, growing old—

So many fine things do:

Laces, and ivory, and gold,

And silks need not be new;

And there is healing in old trees,

Old streets a glamour hold;

Why may not I, as well as these,

Grow lovely, growing old?”

 

Prufrock feared his coming middle age. Yet, as Christians we need not allow fear to be a polio that prevents our walk. Wrinkles and grey are marks of age, medals of well lived lives in His service.

Pause

 

Mrs. Bumgardner, a neighbor who farmed the land that now lies below the waters of Lake Norman, gave me some irises. They now are in full bloom. The deep purple, bright yellow, and mixed white with blazes of purple, grace the side gate to our back garden. The Ligustrum across the road  prepares for its burst of small, white blooms that will blanket all the surrounding air with its sweet fragrance. Nature is moving, and her speed surprises: For example, all the white flowers of the dogwoods are gone, but their seeds form for new life, and yesterday morning, with my baby sister by her side, my mother died a just death, like the spent flowers of the dogwoods, one of her favorite trees.

Now, amidst this season of new growth, my siblings and I prepare for a right service that honors our mother’s long life. She was three months beyond one hundred and suffered dementia. The body that my four sisters prepared for the funeral home to take away from her beloved mill house was a shell of our mother, but they polished her nails, washed her spent body, and dressed her in a favorite night gown. As my four sisters have done for all these years, they cared for our mother in every way. They made sure she left 312, her home for over fifty years, as she would have wanted. So, today and for the next few days we pause to discuss “arrangements” before the front, green door is  locked the Monday after Mothers’ Day, 2019.

One of the many joys I derive from gardening are the lessons (metaphors?) that nature offers for the taking. For instance, the Ligustrum bloom is coming and one should pause long enough to savor its fragrance because the bloom, while rich, is brief. However, the hedge does not consider what we do; in fact, the large hedge is indifferent to us, but in its indifference, we are offered a time to stop to wonder and appreciate its deep, rich, green leaves cradling the small, white blooms that cover the air like a heirloom quilt. Not the irises beside the gate to the back garden. They send out no fragrance,  but the flavor of their powerful colors that seem to take too long suddenly explode like a firework into a burst of color that lights up life. And if one pauses to notice, he or she will learn a lesson.

My siblings and I are now paused– not to celebrate nature’s  new season, but to arrange for our mother’s leaving it. Our lives, especially those of my sisters who have taken weekly turns to  care for mother, are now different. The blooming of the irises and Ligustrum mark the time of death of the woman who never spoke the word “feminist,” while working in a cotton mill under the glares of men who perhaps saw her, a divorced woman, as an easy mark. She lived and worked in a male-controlled environment, but she never brought one of them home with her in order to gain an edge or influence. She ate chicken necks and backs so that her six children could enjoy the better meat. She suffered abuse from her husband, the man she never stopped loving.  Like nature, she taught us subtle lessons, and if the need called for it, she would give a direct lesson by a strong voice or hand. She was known to tell a joke, dance the Charleston, and runners feared her presence as the catcher for her softball team.

All of that has ended now, and unlike the irises and Ligustrum, she will not appear next May ready for her time of renewed life. Now we pause to plan for her physical exit, but that is as it is because unlike the plants, she is not with us for just a short season but ever. Her life as an example for living and her deep-faith lessons , like the spring earth, is full of nourishment. She blooms forever in us: her six little children.