Why no one, let alone a U.S. state, should celebrate Confederate Memorial Day

Let’s talk about the “heritage” that comes with the Confederacy. A failed, four-year attempt at establishing a nation based on the enslavement of black people. The succession documents and speeches of the leaders are very clear that slavery is the heart of the issue. Mississippi said: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” (source)

If you have been fooled into believing that the Confederacy was about “state’s rights” you are not only historically illiterate, you also don’t understand state’s rights. The “state’s rights” that were at stake related slavery. And even then, it was a fear — a fear — not a forgone fact, that slavery would be ended by the federal government. Racism in the North meant that slavery probably would have existed (though not expanded) for sometime still.

The primary complaint of the states that succeeded was that non-slave states were not returning their runaway slaves to them. Those states were not doing it because they had laws that didn’t recognize people as property. Therefore, there was no property to be returned.

If you argue state’s rights was the issue think about this. Hand gun laws, marijuana laws, and umpteen other laws are not universal in the US. The right of states to set their own laws is still in place. So clearly the issue wasn’t a state having their laws trumped by the feds. In fact, the constitution supported slavery. The state’s rights issue concerned if a state was obligated to search for and return escaped slaves to another state. Southern states wanted their stolen property returned (even if it ran off on its own). Northern state’s did’t view people as property. So which state’s right was at stake?

The other state’s rights issue, which likely has a better argument but brought up much less often, was that the federal government was outlawing slavery in new territories and determining which new states would be slave and which would be free. As opposed to allowing the residents of those territories and states to decide if they would be free or slave. I’m no constitutional law scholar, but yes, one could argue that might have been overreach on their part to dictate what the laws would be in those states without consent of the governed. However, the argument among the pro-slavery extremists was that since the Constitution recognized slavery, it didn’t matter what people there voted for, all of the US had to recognize slavery. Hence a constitutional amendment was later necessary.

So let’s not memorialize and celebrate the Confederacy. That four-year failed attempt at establishing a pro-slavery nation. There are so many wonderful things about Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. I’ve lived in those states. I know they have some wonderful pieces of their history that have nothing to do with the Confederacy. Let’s celebrate the total history of those states from their start through now and not just the four year peak of racism.

 

Is your church a photograph or a movie?

For some folks, church is what it is the moment they joined it. At that moment they agree to accept it and it accepts them. Very few people join a church for “where it is going.” People join a church for “where it is” socially, culturally, theologically, spiritually, and physically at that moment. From that point on, any change, difference of opinion, or adaptation to circumstances means a derivation of what they agreed to on the day they joined. And if all parties don’t agree, then obviously they have the option of leaving. No one is forced to stay. That includes the fact that as church culture, doctrine, or social issues change over time, they resist that change.

I like to think of that moment as a photograph. A beautiful photograph capturing a special moment when you joined the church. A moment now locked in time and not able to be changed. And a picture is further limited. You can’t look just outside the frame or see what is going on behind the camera. You don’t see what else was happening or people who weren’t in the picture. Nothing comes or goes from a picture.

 We need to stop dwelling on those photographs. We need to change this mentality. The memories are beautiful, informative, and fun to reminisce about but their limitations put limits on us. We need to think of our church as a movie. We need to start filming movies. We need to tell stories over time with actors. There may even occasionally be a plot twist. Your opinions of characters, ideas, and sub-plots change as the movie goes on. A movie is constantly full of new revelations about characters, places, and sub-plots often from places outside of the view of the first camera angle. And new characters, new scenes, and new issues come into the script.

Our goal should be that the church is constantly moving. Our members are all actors in the story, not bystanders or extras. We all need to take a role and help work on the plot and work towards a happy ending. Use the photographs to reflect and tell the backstory in the movie but don’t spend the whole movie staring at them.

 Pictures are worth a thousand words but they are words locked in time. When we constantly try to keep only that first photograph as our view of the church, we not only limit the church, we limit ourselves and our own opportunities for growth.

Permission to speak freely?

What is free speech? I mean, we use that term all the time. I’m sure there is some legal definition somewhere that almost nobody knows. In pop culture, we think it is some guy standing on a street corner protesting the nuclear bombs or the right to write whatever you want in a blog and post it on the internet. That’s free speech right?

Is free speech an action or a concept? Is it a social construct? Is it subject to change, interpretation, and more importantly – situational?

Is yelling “fire” in a crowded theater free speech? What about yelling “bomb” on a plane? If you have a gun in your hand and yell “I’m going to kill you!” at someone, is that free speech?

If you and I both have something to say that opposes each other, do we both have a right to say it? What if one of us intimidated the other into not speaking? Were someone’s rights infringed there? What if one of us just shouts over the other is that still free speech? If I bring my friends to help me shout over you?

Does free speech protect a minority opinion? Was it what protected the civil rights movement? Abolitionists? Does it protect the Klan and Neo-Nazis? How minority of an opinion can it be and still be protected?

If we say that we are open to all, and one of those all espouses an opinion we don’t agree with, are we open to all? Or are we only open to those whose speech doesn’t offend us? If we are only open to speech that doesn’t offend us, is that really free speech?

Does a group have a right to invite whoever they want to speak to the group? Is that free speech? Does religion matter? What if it is a religious view we totally disagree with? A political view we totally disagree with? If the group is threatened by those who want to shut down their opinions and views, do we as a community have a right to defend them and support them?

At what point does majority rule and over ride your freedom of speech?

 

Can straight white males be progressives?

It’s a question that as a straight white male, I have struggled with. Not to mention adding in the additional layers of being a parent, a veteran and a regular “church-goer” (to those outside UU, we are typical church). There are several lens with which to view this question. (Leave it to a philosopher to correct his own question.)

First, can I overcome my straight white maleness to see the issues of people that are historically marginalized by a society run by straight white males?

I think I’ve tried. I don’t know that I will ever be perfect at it. I don’t know that anyone is ever perfect at overcoming themselves and their own experiences. I read, watch, and listen to feminist, GLBT, and racial/ethnic minority perspectives as well as attempt to include them in my thinking. I agree with them most of the time. I’m historically literate and know that there is bias in history that leads to present-day issues.

Second, if I use my straight white male privilege to amplify the voices and perspectives of marginalized persons, am I not invoking the very privilege I’m trying to dissolve?

For instance, a couple years ago, a group of older white males were repeatedly dismissing the issues my twenty-something female colleague was bringing up in a patronizing sort of way. I fired off an emotionally charged email (rarely a good idea) about their unwillingness to deal with the problem because of who was voicing the concern. After some chastisement from my supervisors, the issue was immediately addressed and resolved. They have since listened to her repeatedly but at least initially, it was more out of fear. (They seem to listen now out of both habit and respect.) But often I don’t have the longevity to see if my use of my privilege has a lasting impact.

Third, and maybe the toughest, when it comes to employment, when I do I allow my career ambitions to take a back seat to the promotion of historically underrepresented persons?

It happens that I work in a field with a strong collection of women, racial minority, and GLBT persons. So when an opportunity for promotion comes open, there have always been candidates from these groups also applying. When I am selected over them, regardless of qualifications, I hear remarks about the persistence of the straight white males in positions of power and privilege and how it is a shame I was hired over an equally qualified person who was not a straight white male. At times, knowing a qualified colleague who was not a straight white male was putting in for a position, and wanting to support them, I have chosen to not apply and openly supported them. But how often do we expect, encourage, or accept, straight white males who are willing to do such a thing? Even when it means passing up a career opportunity or a financial incentive for a working-class family. And has mentioned in the previous question, how you do such things also has career ramifications.

Last, is the question of voice. Is my voice less valuable in the diversity conversation?

When I work with people from marginalized groups, I find I am often shunted into a role of limited agency. When I write about the history of women or African Americans, there is the inevitable question “Why is a white guy doing this work?” As if straight white male historians are limited to only straight white male history. Isn’t that the problem?

I don’t say this out of seeking some pity or “woah is me” attitude. I say it out of answering an earnest question from a colleague about why aren’t more straight white male allies of women and minorities.  There are still more straight white males in this country than any other single group. And as a whole, they are more conservative and hold more power than any other single group. It isn’t easy for a straight white male to try to offload some of that either philosophically, physically, or financially. Hence, the limits to what many are willing to do.

A brief history of the Vacationer-In-Chief

Over 8 years, it is estimated Obama spent 85 million or so on vacation and personal travel. That’s just over 10 million a year. Trump has already spent an estimated 15 million in three months plus the added cost of his family living in New York. I’m worried about the precedent that is being set for future Presidents. When did being Prsidnt suddenly turn into an episode of Life Styles of the Rich and Famous?

I don’t remember any public consciousness of vacation costs before Obama. Maybe because Bush went to his ranch in Texas? Or because Clinton went to Camp David? Maybe we just notice now because the anti-Obama folks have made it a thing the past several years.

Regardless, I think it is a dangerous standard for the future in what people may come to expect of their lifestyle while President. More than one political system has lost touch with this and it led to their downfall. I already saw a comparison of Trump to Marie Antoinette but too few people know history enough to get it.

During Obama’s time, we turned the President into a celebrity. Now we have a celebrity we are trying to turn in to a President.

Meanwhile no one has any clue what is going on in Congress.

Liberal Americans suddenly amazed Archie Bunker is still alive and voting

As I sat through yet another funeral service for the Death of Progress, I again grew frustrated with my white liberal and progressive friends and neighbors. The majority of whom apparently live in a world of only inner-city hipster and college-campus blue bubbles surrounded by like minded people. Some of whom seem to have literally thought that Archie Bunkers only lived in reruns, museum pictures, and occasional internet posts. They suddenly found out there are many Archie Bunkers who are alive, well, and voting. You need to get out of your bubbles more!

Now certainly, some of it has to do with age. I’ll automatically forgive anyone under 30 who doesn’t know that Archie Bunkers exist (Here is link for you to explain this post. Read it before continuing.) If you are over 30, you probably met Archie, you just didn’t know that was his name. And if you are over 45 I can’t imagine that you haven’t met Archie. What blue rock are you living under?

We progressives joke about awkward Thanksgiving Dinners with family yet forget those family members vote. We try to avoid the crazy old guy who works in building maintenance and still believes Obama is “one of those Mussaleems” but forget that he votes. We rally to our social media to post memes and photos about racial injustice in the system and then forget that there are people who make up that system of racial injustice. People who vote. Speaking of social media….remember those family and high school friends you blocked or unfollowed for the “horrible uninformed things” they were posting. They vote.

Who do you think we are fighting against? Racism – in all its forms individual and institutional, intentional and unintentional, informed and uninformed – is not dead. Nor are its siblings, Homophobia, Nationalism, Sexism, and Religious Righteousness. They are all alive and well. They live just outside your blue bubble. Likely a little further out of town or further from campus. A neighborhood you would never be willing to live in. Probably a neighborhood you don’t feel all that comfortable in. The one with the beat up mobile home that has a Confederate flag on the front porch. Or the rural community with lots of tractors and John Deere hats. Or the small town of small houses and small manufacturing trying to hold on to their small piece of the American dream. These are not isolated places. They are literally just a ways away from where you live.

I continue to be amazed at how out of touch so many progressives have become given the advances of the last few years. There is still much much work to be done. There is reason to fear the coming repercussions for our social advancements. But there is as much reason now as there was in 2008 as there was in 1992 or 1976 to rally to the cause. Get off of your social media full of like-minded friends and actually go out and talk to Archie. Get to know him. If you don’t, you will never find a way to change his mind. We have been lulled into laziness by our recent progress. But America is advanced citizenship. You have to work for it.

I’ll end with two thoughts. First, a quote from one of my favorite movies The American President:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

As we go out there to that fight and advocate let us not get discouraged. As Theodore Parker said and Martin Luther King reminded us, that moral arc of the universe is long and it does bend towards justice. America is not an exception. But the work of bending it is constant. Find your Archie Bunker and start applying pressure to that moral arc. We have four years to bend it.

Praying for God’s Will: Baseball, Elections, Oxymorons

There it was on my Facebook wall. A post from a friend the night of the election proclaiming that they were “praying this election goes in God’s favor.” It was one of the most theologically oxymoronic things I had seen in awhile. Keep in mind this is the same friend who having lost their job a few months before had proclaimed it to be “all part of God’s plan.”

So if God has a plan, and God is the almighty, all-powerful deity that you believe him to be, why pray that things go God’s way? Won’t God just do them the way he wants to? This is one of the many confusing things of popular Christianity that makes my head hurt in observing it. Either God has a plan or God answers prayers. Am I to believe that God sometimes changes his plans based on prayers? If so, it would seem rather arbitrary as to when he chooses to change his plans. I can already hear my pop Christian friends say “But that is the mystery of God that we can’t comprehend.”

Unless you are a Chicago Cubs fan. Cubs fans get the mystery. The Cubs recent World Series win was the sort of thing that inspires legends and movies. Cubs fans around the world apparently prayed that this would be the year and God apparently heard those prayers. Apparently the Cleveland Indians fans just don’t pray enough.

I also have a similar reaction when people pray for one side to be victorious in war. Or if they claim God is on one army’s side and not another. Given his 10 most revered commandments include that one about not killing, it seems unlikely that he would suddenly grant a group of people a free pass. (Although he himself seems rather reliant on the act. Then again, what parent hasn’t said “do as I say, not as I do.”)

So what is prayer? What good is there in asking that the odds, no matter how slim, go in your favor when you also believe that everything that happens is the will of God and done for a specific reason? I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that. It makes no sense to me. There is a side of me that wants to believe that your God may occasionally grant such miracles to the most deserving. But if such a thing did happen, that “most deserving” would be the saints and top 1% of believers. Your momentary humbleness in the midst of a largely immodest and unrepentant life, seems a bit much to ask. In fact, it seems your God would be more willing to grant such things to those too humble to ask themselves or too busy living out their Christian values to take that moment to ask.

The problem is that logic loop in which prayer exists. When you pray for something, say a pony for instance, and you get a pony, then you are convinced of God’s favoritism towards you. When your prayer isn’t answered, you say it is part of some master plan and not some form of punishment. After all, God only punishes your enemies and non-Christians.

Having not asked that your God’s plan be changed in this election, I missed my chance to evaluate my status with your God. I’m left to believe that Trump must be part of your God’s plan. Or maybe America is just being punished. Or maybe, your God has nothing to do with elections. Just baseball.