I grew up in a house in which hung a print of The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson (engraved by Frederick Halpin, after Everett Julio), that classic emblem of the Lost Cause. This was common then in my neighborhood in Old Town Portsmouth, Virginia. My father, a Civil War buff who would tell me about the battles as we drove around Virginia, never indicated that the cause was just, but honored both men as soldiers, tacticians, human beings, Virginians. Yet in his political life he angered people, including his own political party, to the point of death threats, by his political stands against the institutionally-protected racism of "massive resistance." I’m not sure how to reconcile these things.
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I have burned one flag in my life. In college, some friends and I set a Confederate flag ablaze in a parking lot one summer afternoon. It was a symbolic way for us to renounce our racist heritage as young southern men. But renouncing it didn’t erase it.
I’m certain you’ve heard the news by now. Nine Black people were murdered Wednesday night at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The gunman, a White man, reportedly attended Bible study and prayed with his victims before he opened fire, killing most of those in attendance, including Clementa Pinckney, pastor and a state senator. I’ve mostly been glued to the coverage of this event, both via social media and cable news. I fell asleep for a short while Wednesday night knowing that yet another horrendous, racially-motivated act had been carried out against my people in the land that I call “home.”
I grew up in metropolitan Atlanta in the 1960s and 1970s. (I graduated from a high school in south Fulton County in 1975.) Atlanta was, of course, the hometown of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. So, when I was in elementary school, news about his work, about the hopes it inspired, and about the controversies it generated was “local news.” I often heard snippets of his sermons and speeches on television; they lodged in my mind and heart alongside the songs we sang in Sunday School
All these things are in the way, I sigh. Shuffle and shove to make space again. I am tired of working like this, I mutter. I want to sweep everything aside—the papers and the clutter and the laundry and the bills and the books and the toys and the shoes—and stare at a vacant desk.
The first time I engaged in the spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth was when I was entering seminary. My class traveled to a Catholic retreat center that had a labyrinth on its grounds. It was an 11-circuit, Chartres-style one with larger stones around the path and gravel on which to walk. After a brief explanation by one of our retreat leaders, we were released to give it a try. I've walked a labyrinth many times since, with mixed results.
I was walking through an unfamiliar residential neighborhood to get some exercise, going at a good clip when I was brought to a sudden halt because the sidewalk disappeared. A certain establishment had not installed sidewalks along its considerable property line. The name of the establishment? Health Network. I could not continue my healthy walk past the Health Network, but had to turn around. Sometimes I think this is what the church must seem like to people outside the church—an establishment that says one thing on its sign, and another thing by its behavior.
Yesterday I was reading about Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, and his continuing effort to be in dialogue with evangelical Christian leaders about the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the church. He was invited to a conversation with Caleb Kaltenbach, an evangelical pastor whose parents split up because they were both gay. Kaltenbach has tried to find scriptural support for being OK with gay people generally, especially since that group includes his parents.
Who do you trust? When do you trust more?
What is it that defines us, as beings? What gives cohesion to our sense of ourselves, and then establishes our relationship to others? These questions were bopping around in my head the other day as I was walking the dog.