Why so disappointed in Atticus Finch?

Along with “everyone else” I’ve been reading along in the papers about the revelations in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. Evidently in our hypersensitized society the news that another version of Atticus Finch was a segregationist is, well, shocking.

But should we be so surprised? Southern – or American – leaders as segregationists? May I say confidently at some point in the past we are talking about most leaders? One could naively argue it wasn’t so outside the South, but the degree to which it was so in most places, Southern or not, appears to be one of the greatest revelations for some folk the current generation.

There’s plenty to read about the thorough change that has occurred in the general society since, let’s say, the World War II period. The witness of the African-American leaders who led the drive for accountability is most important.  Theirs was a drive to urge, or shame, the Congress and the state legislatures, the Supreme Court and the state courts, to be accountable to the Constitution of the United States and its Amendments regarding equality before the law. Dr. James Farmer and the Congress of Racial Equality, from the early 1940s onward, were primary examples.

Then what about Atticus Finch and his transformation away from segregationism? On this point Nelle Harper Lee’s novels are prophetic – in the sense of capturing the spirit of needed transformation and healing in her time and expressing that spirit, “speaking forth” the words most needed for the time in our social consciousness and conscience. Atticus was like so many other thousands of leaders whose essential conscientiousness needed a rebaptism in the waters of freedom for everybody — beyond the societal framework that, as Kenneth Stampp expressed it some time ago, rested on the legacy of slavery, that “mudsill of black”. If for any of them their Christianity was prophetic enough to draw them out of that slough of racism and help them to represent a better, more truly human way, then they did so, but as a tiny minority, especially in the South. Imagine the way that the non-prophetic but conflicted or sympathetic were overwhelmed in a society that equated the “natural” order of segregation with an equally “Christian” conception of order.

In the city where I live, the story resembles that of countless places across the South and, indeed, the United States. In whatever ways possible, at a certain time, and through the courts,and national and state legislatures, there were leaders of a new generation who recognized that change must come, and who, however hesitantly in most cases, worked through a process of change without waging a second civil war. That remembrance of the War Between the States actually had been responsible for much of the resistance and antipathy to fundamental social change. At a certain point in time, however, change had to occur. School integration, integration of city and county boards, hiring, and courts, were part of the process. The process was not immediate, and its completion is still not in sight, but the essential elements are present. Integration in the churches? Largely no, not even today as it should be.  But most young people in the recent generation refuse to accept the old status quo there.

The younger and youngest generation among us already is changing the process, perhaps completing it in most ways, and finding new ways to “go around” the old issues or to change the patterns of discouse about them. You may agree with me that integration of the churches depends a great deal on the acceptability of “interracial marriage”. And isn’t is true that many in the new generations reject even the use of that language? Habits of racist/racial discourse are basic to the problem and better eliminated.

So, Atticus Finch exemplifies members of a generation who found new forms of enlightenment in a tensely racial atmosphere, even if they were not the vanguard of change. They were in varying degree the majority who decided to get along in order to get along. Many of them made difficult decisions and commitments, often paying a bitter price, for the sake of transformation in their communities. We should not be surprised or unduly dismayed, however, when those decisions and commitments were stepwise, incremental, and somehow unsatisfactory in view of perfected possibilities.  Most commonly, our lives by definition are just that way. The stereotype of the person or group that achieves complete transformation is the stuff of mythologies, or of the comic books.

I should not have been surprised that so many folk suggested their possible dismay at Harper Lee, even in advance of reading Watchman, that Atticus was not always the Atticus they admired, perhaps as an icon of enlightened humanity. People are poor idols, prone to disappoint as societal or ideological icons. We live by true words, not by ideology, not by objectification as symbols; we live best by speaking true words and doing true things in a real world, in every present moment of the time we inhabit. If, by some transformative, right decision, a particular moment appreciates marvelously over moments past, then it is by some merciful, gracious process that invites us to better ways, a better day.

There are those who recognize and assert that certain changes cannot and will not occur short of revolution, and the record of the past suggests this is indeed the case. I want to argue, however, that revolutions, whether quick or slow, because they can be messy, especially bloody, carry a lesson for us.  It is that our use of language, intention, discipline, and grace-filled concern for our loved ones and our communities are matters contributing to a slow revolution. In that context we can best emphasize the matters that contribute to true human flourishing.  This kind of transformation best presents the possibility of the “Jim Crow” Atticus becoming the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird.

 

//Copyright Jerry Summers 2015//

Bob Summers at Sea – 1953, 1954

In the days before our mother died, my sisters, brother, my wife, and other family surrounded her as she declined.  Still we were able to talk in small snatches with her, and on the Friday before her passing on Sunday morning, she joined us singing a hymn or two.  During a relatively wakeful time for Mom, my youngest sister produced two letters Dad had written, one in 1953, the other in 1954.  “Jerry, I think Mom would enjoy it if you read these aloud!”  There we were, the siblings, a niece, and I don’t remember who else, in the hospital room, and I read those letters.

Oh–My–Soul! a famous preacher often said when other words failed him.  The letters were PG-rated at most, but appropriately intimate for newlyweds across several thousand miles.  None of us had ever seen the letters before the youngest sister had found them in Mom’s treasured papers.  Do I have to say that the Sisters loved hearing the Older Brother read these letters, and that they laughed all the way through?  I’m sure some kind of revenge factor was involved.  Mom didn’t comment though, only smiled faintly, eyes mostly closed.  That’s not the only reason for writing this, though, because Memorial Day is just passed and Dad served in the US Navy from 1950 to 1954.

My father, Robert E. Summers, never left the boiler room, so to speak, during his years with the Navy — as a member, so I am told, of the “tin can navy,” a reference to destroyer service.  He began and ended his shipboard years as a boilerman of a modestly rising rating.  He said once that the guys in the engine room would do just about anything to get up on deck once in a while.  Several days before he died he recounted a story I had not heard.  We were in San Antonio for a niece’s wedding weekend; uncle Hubert and I were sitting.  Years before Dad had described going ashore in Korea with a small band of men.  He had been given a MP (Military Police) armband and a holstered 45-caliber pistol–it was only a brief excursion and he gave no details.

On this occasion in San Antonio, though, he told another, new story.  A messenger came to the engine room asking for volunteers for special duty.  Dad jumped at the chance.  He and three others were given sidearms and put in a launch off the coast of Vietnam.  They approached the coast several miles about equidistant between ship and shore.  Bob had a walkie-talkie and binoculars, or perhaps another had the binoculars.  His ship, probably the USS Cushing DD-797, was to fire onshore, and the small crew in the launch were to radio telemetry feedback to the ship (“too high”, “too low”, “right”, or “left”, I suppose).  That’s all he mentioned.  I asked why he hadn’t mentioned it before and he replied that he just never thought of it.

Now to the letters.  Dad wrote from port at Sasebo, Japan, on February 23rd, 1953, to Mom in Santa Paula.  They had been married on December 8, 1952.  When he wrote he was 21, she was 15 years, six months.  He thanked her for love, prayers, and oatmeal cookies that had come in a package.  But he had news to report about his ship.

Well, honey we got in today.  We won’t be going out for sometime probably a month.  We came from Korea at seven knots.  The ship[s] we put in commission were U.S.S. Cushing (DD 797), U.S.S. Pritchett (DD 561) and U.S.S. Owen (DD 536) on August 17, 1951.  Well, at 0407 A.M. Friday 20 February, 1953 the U.S.S. Cushing (DD 797) collided with the U.S.S. Pritchett (DD 561).  We hit them amid-ships starboard.  We were with sixteen Destroyers and three carriers on operation off North Korea.  The Pritchett crossed our bow and we hit them.  We don’t know how long we will be laid up.  We have to have a whole new bow.  The ship is damaged right on the very front end.  No one was hurt on either ship.  You can tell mom about it if you want.  I will write her sometime soon, although I won’t write about the ship.

Bob was missing Lois and told her to get some good sleep.  He missed her and told her so, again, and he looked forward to the next time home.

Well, we didn’t wreck our ship Friday 13 but we did Fri 20.  Honey, I believe you[r] prayers saved us from certain disaster because we were doing 18 knots [top speed was 35 knots] and the other ship was doing 20 knots and we got a full back down just before we hit.  Although the ship was moving forward it was slowing due to the opposite direction of the propellers.

And that was it, apart from more personal comments!

The USS Cushing was part of Seventh Fleet operations during the Korean War, serving as a plane guard for carrier aircraft and sometimes among the destroyers firing on North Korean onshore positions.  The Cushing (the fourth naval ship of that name) had first been commissioned during World War II and saw extensive service in Pacific naval operations.

A USS Cushing reunion site:  http://www.hullnumber.com/crew1.php?cm=DD-797  Dad’s name is on their list.

If you have more information or would like to correct something, send me an e-mail or give me a call!

 

No Skyworld Passport

The church at Philippi was the Apostle Paul’s first founding in Europe during his second missionary journey.  Much earlier, in 358 BCE, King Philip II of Macedonia had taken the ancient town of Crenides, refounded and renovated it, and renamed it as Philippi.  It was to be useful to him.  The Romans had it beginning in 168 BCE; Rome unified the province of Macedonia in 146 BCE.  A century later (42 BCE) a cluster of battles pitted the forces of Brutus and Cassius against the armies of Octavian and Mark Antony.  In the end, their armies defeated, Cassius and Brutus killed themselves using their own swords.  The battles of Philippi, important as they were at that moment, only cleared the way to the sickening storm of relationships and rivalries that ended in Octavian’s triumph over Mark Antony at the naval Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Antony, with Cleopatra, died months later in Egypt.

I have skipped over the fascinating, abundant details, but only to get to a first point: Octavian is the nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, and he alone is left to claim rule of Rome–Lepidus, Brutus, Cassius, Mark Antony–all are gone.  And as imperator, emperor, Octavian as Augustus Caesar holds the keys to the Sky-World, the Overworld of Roman pagan culture.  In his book The Fruit of Lips, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy refers to the European emperors (Christians after a point in time who changed their primary allegiance!), evoking their status beginning with Augustus:

Because the emperor was the cosmocrator, he was lifted into the hub of the wheel to unite night and day, to reconcile the north where the sun never shines, with the south to which the polar stars of midnight never move.  The emperor, the Son of Heaven as he was called in China, was the prime mover of a reconciled, a non-panicky, non-chaotic heaven and earth.  His knowledge and compliance with the stars shielded the people from the panic of catastrophes.  When the people of our days hold a President of the United States responsible for a world-wide depression, they follow in the footsteps of all ancient nations who believed that the eternal cycles could be perfected by a human being lifted into the hub of the wheel.  The incense burned before the emperor’s statue was a means to enliven his nostrils so that he might smell the harmony and beauty of the universe.  He who did not burn incense, who did not say Heil Hitler, destroyed the skyworld.  He must die.  (Fruit of Lips, 59)

My second point is that the Christian apostles, the Gospel writers, and the Apostle Paul preached, wrote, and lived in opposition to the “skyworld”.  As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy put it in reference to the Gospel of Mark (and the Gospels), “It was written by men who denied the emperor’s claim, and who, therefore, plunged those for whom they wrote the Gospel into imminent danger of death for high treason against the welfare of the empire.” (Fruit of Lips, 60)  This statement helps us to comprehend the apocalyptic passages in Mark’s Gospel: the Christians defied and denied citizenship in such a Skyworld, and its true citizens spared no effort to eliminate or disable the opposing life-power of Christianity.

I am writing here about the antithesis (the opposition of Maranatha and pagan Anathema) that drives the battle between “the domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13): “the rulers,” “powers,” “world forces of this darkness,” the “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 6:12) and the “authority and power and dominion” of the Christ (Ephesians 1:21).  I want to emphasize that the same authority the Churches have invoked against the Caesars of any era, against Hitler and Stalin and Mao is the same authority that says confidently, “And He [God] put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” (Ephesians 1:22)

So, back to the main discussion:  that same Paul the Apostle writes to the church at Philippi a century or more after the Roman generals contended for the chance to take charge in the Skyworld.  Whether he or the Phillippians were thinking of this, I do not know.  But I see the contrast and must speak about it.

In the Philippian letter, Paul writes, most probably from Rome, as a prisoner for Christ.  He is among the least significant of persons.  But in his humiliating circumstances he actually is identified with his Master, the selfsame servant who suffers.  Paul shares the life of Christ–in chains.  He had shared that life in many other painful, challenging ways.  He reminds me of dozens of Baptists in England and North America during the 1600s and 1700s–Baptist “jailbirds” who were criminals, and for what?  They were prosecuted and punished, as criminals, for preaching without “license” — without permission of the government, the authorities, and the state churches who took part in that scheme of authority through statute law.  These Baptist jailbirds wrote letters, sermons, poetry, hymns, theologies, and other works, in and out of jail, and so we know about them now through their preserved works.  To read more about them, take a look at Keith Durso’s book No Armor for the Back: Baptist Prison Writings, 1600s – 1700s.

The Apostle Paul also reminds me of another Baptist letter-writer, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also stood up to the dominant authorities of the day.  Surely Christ was with him, too, in the Birmingham jail, eloquently declaring and grieving that the churches of America had failed, and asking, “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”  On the matter of racial injustice and segregation, the church was now “a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound,”  a quiet thing functionally comforting to the Jim Crow establishment and the status quo, a hollow thing to repudiate in a new generation.

For Paul, “to live is Christ” meant to live in bondage–to service, to suffering, to others, to truth, to God’s continuous calling and presence.  “To live is Christ” is to live in a bound condition, like Christ, to be bound tightly, to live within the limitations God imposes, and in that place, within those limitations, to be radically free.  Others may see that kind of freedom as the worst kind of restriction, but no!  In that kind of freedom I, and others, know who we are in relation to God, to ourselves, to others, to the world.

There are the walking prisoners, and there are those who walk free.  There are none who walk entirely on their own.  There are the prisoners who live in cells of steel and concrete, there are prisoners who dwell in dungeons of their own and others’ making–negativity, denial, dishonesty, classism, racism, violence, addictions, hatred, murder, theft, envy, demagoguery. There are those, most of the global community, who live in bondage to the dominant powers of the time and place–and of the Skyworld.

Powerful though he was, Augustus, and all others like him, were prisoners of a world system representing all that most men would pay heavily and struggle mightily to get. Please do not misunderstand.  I do not agree with Augustus that the struggle of world systems–the struggle for empire–is a “zero-sum” game.  I do believe, however, that only with the victory of “the children of light” is there the promise of any enduring, liberating future–or fulfilled present (Ephesians 5). Any other victory promises only degrees of a bondage that allows no true freedom.  In the end, the Skyworld has no friends, only subjects and victims.

. . . to go on speaking – like Al Davis.

The mentor Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote a little book of great ideas not long before he died, The Fruit of Lips, or Why Four Gospels.  In the chapter called “The Cross of Grammar” he wrote:

A word may be true as to content; it may be true enough to be verified in its own author’s actions; finally, it may be so true that it compels the next speaker to respond and to go on speaking.

These words came to mind as I read the good words in the Marshall News Messenger about a friend to many and civic servant from Marshall, Al Davis.  Al was a longtime attorney and former assistant district attorney, and husband to Jane Ogden, our university colleague in psychology, now retired.  A faithful churchman and choir member at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Al died of a heart attack this past Saturday.  We shall all miss him.

Rosenstock-Huessy (R-H) wrote of the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – that “They are sound as wells of speech.”  He meant that they are all authentic responses to the message of the life of Jesus in relationship to his disciples, Father God, and the World, and that each Gospel contributes uniquely to the same story.  The Gospel writers complemented each other.   R-H writes,

What is the end and the beginning of speech?  The beginning of a human breath discloses the time and place of this particular act of the spirit.  End and beginning bring an inspiration down to earth.  End and beginning of any book declare whether it is true or not.  But this truth is a threefold truth.  A word may be true as to content . . . .

And so it is, and was, and shall be, relating to the life of Al Davis among us.  Our newspaper carries the eulogies – the good words – of Al’s colleagues, coworkers in the community, his friends, and many he helped.  If a man’s life is a book, and his words are text for his life, then Al Davis finished well – he completed a good, admirable book.  We know this because so many already have been inspired to speak further good about him, and in the days to come others will speak in a similar way.

The life and, to us, untimely, death of Al Davis bereaves us but also inspires us.  His life, actions and words should remind us that in each of us, in our communities, we have the resources to overcome the wrong, to organize our efforts so that our intentions and plans succeed, to speak encouraging words to each other so that each person is inspired to contribute his or her own words and book in the time available, to make our relationships, community and society more what they can and should be, and to bring more music and joy into everything we do.  I believe Al Davis would like that!  After all, that was so much what he was about while he lived and served among us.

Now, what about us?  One more word from E-H – a word for pondering:

The Gospels were true enough to compel the next speaker to go on speaking above and beyond the last word of the last speaker.  Each one had to step in where the last speaker left off.  They were imparting the concrete time and scene of their speech so vividly to each other that they touched each other off, to the next move.  They sing, over forty years perhaps, one Gospel, each in his own key, on his specific wave-length, according to his lights, in handing the joyful and arduous task over to the better man, one after another.  In this act, then, the “Four Gospels” became a continuation of Jesus’ life through the minds which were made over by their office of Evangelists.  They were created into the Lips of the Word.

Let’s all be like Al Davis, “the better man.”

 

References all from pages 81-82, The Fruit of Lips.

 

 

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence — Christmas at CBC Marshall, Texas

Our Central Baptist Church choir includes this hymn in our 2014 Christmas program, a traditional use for it, though it comes from a eucharistic liturgy about sixteen centuries old.  Tradition names St James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem, as its author who infused its lines with imagery from Habakkuk 2:20, Zechariah 2:1-3, Revelation 19:16, Luke 22:19-20, Matthew 16:27, and Isaiah 6:2-3.  So, the hymn is rich in biblical imagery.  It has a Syrian origin, and that may be consistent with a role for James the Less.

Let All Mortal Flesh was a priest’s chant, drawing attention to the great mystery and wonder of “Christ our God” present among his people, God among us as Man.  The Supper of the Lord (or Eucharist, or Communion, later depending on one’s church tradition) was a picture and enactment of Christ’s sacrifice for the people in obedience to the Father.   The priest chanted as the Bread and the Wine were brought to the Table, while the standing congregation looked on in amazement.

The Eucharist could be much more, certainly not mere symbol, but participation by the congregation of the people in Christ’s sacrifice and the redemption He accomplished through His sufferings and death, burial and resurrection.  This was a hymn for the “little-c” catholic church found in the Levant, including Syria, during the early Byzantine period, and long before other Christian communions had spread beyond Rome in the West.  Certainly, this differed from a modern, Protestant memorial.

The tune for the  Prayer and the Cherubic Hymn of the Liturgy of St James was first published in 1860.  ‘Picardy’ is the traditional French tune.  The arrangement familiar to us is the work of Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose 1906 work was published in The English Hymnal.  The Anglican pastor and chaplain Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885), translated the lyric from Greek to English in 1864.  He produced many hymn translations and composed many original hymns, publishing them in hymnals during his career.

There is much more to this.  We have many arrangements of Let All Mortal Flesh as hymn or anthem.  In most (hopefully all) cases, I expect it is beautiful, moving, and resilient by virtue of overwhelming tune and  lyrics.  We will enjoy singing it in our program, even as we do in rehearsal.

REFERENCES

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, French Carol; Sandra T. Ford

Review by: Richard Stanislaw
The Choral Journal, Vol. 41, No. 2 (SEPTEMBER 2000), p. 94
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23553597.  Accessed 1 October 2014.
Hymnary.org.  http://www.hymnary.org/text/let_all_mortal_flesh_keep_silence.  Accessed 1 October 2014.

Sacrifices Remade

In his big little book, Fruit of Lips or Why Four Gospels, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy made a late-in-life-and-career statement about the four Gospels.  He spoke about Matthew’s impolite (so Official Israel took him to be) emphasis on blood sacrifice and salvation.   The sacrifice Who dared to speak spoke and died as a demonstration of the Way of the Cross for all who were to follow Him.  Most Christians miss the point, though, in practice.  So, Rosenstock-Huessy writes (p. 71):

The whole expression of a Body of Christ,

With the head in heaven,

Meant exactly this,

That we who would crucify the Lord every day,

In our rage and envy and indifference,

Now, with our eyes opened once

For what we have done and are doing,

Declare solemnly:

We, now, together with our Head,

Step on the side of the silent victims

And offer ourselves to our Maker

So that he can remake the sacrifice

As he pleases.

How else could ever a new inspiration

Befall us as a people

Unless we offer ourselves

As the body for this inspiration?

Time and again, man has to be ripped open

By the ploughshare of suffering

And open himself

Like a dry and desiccated earth

To dew and rain.

And ever since one man did this

Manifestly all alone by himself,

His congregations relieve the members

Of the total pressure of absolute loneliness.

In every generation, the group

Which may be remodeled,

May increase, until the whole of mankind

Will be allowed to fall silent

And to cleanse themselves

From the chatter and clatter of the day,

And to listen to the spirit,

Simultaneously.

Table fellowship, the sharing of a meal together, gained a new depth of meaning and purpose, far beyond what men had practiced from the beginnings of society.  E-H explains this more fully in his meditations on the Gospel according to Matthew.

 

Thrumming and Humming

"Here - my best side!"

Until yesterday I had never seen a large charm of hummingbirds – a dozen or more around the feeder. I am told it’s time to migrate, so I wonder how many of the daily visitors are familiars with our back yard. Ours or others, some seem to know to tap – or thump – the back windows to get the feeder refilled. The Inca believed they were visiting gods.

 

Comments and Reflections on the Love Cemetery Project as related to ETBU and the LFN Small Grant Initiative.

 

During this academic year the Lilly Fellows Network Small Grant Initiative has allowed many of us to become more aware of continuing and new opportunities related to human rights, reconciliation, restorative justice, and many other related themes.

 

On Monday, April 7, at the invitation of Professor China Galland, I took part in a mid-day meeting of individuals who would discuss Love Cemetery and the “Writing History Project”—an initiative at Wiley College involving Lisa Taylor.  The ongoing Love Cemetery initiative is the subject of Dr. Galland’s book, Love Cemetery: Unburying the Secret History of Slaves (HarperOne, 2008); a documentary film, “Resurrecting Love”, also is in production.   The persons present were:

 

Professor China Galland–Affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley, formerly Professor in Residence at the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education, and occasional adjunct faculty member; author of multiple books; member national Alliance for Truth and Racial Reconciliation.

 

Mrs. Doris Vittatoe—President of the Love Cemetery Burial Association; from Waskom/Scottsville.

 

Ms. Cristina Balli—Team Member, Texas Folk Life, Austin.

 

Mr. Archie L. Rison, Jr.—Cemetery restorer, amateur archaeologist, Nacogdoches, Texas.

 

Mr. Estrus Tucker—International consultant, speaker, storyteller, poet and master facilitator; board of Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at U/Mississippi; Tarrant County (TX) Workforce Development Board; International Association of Human Rights Agencies Board; the National Center for Courage and Renewal Board; Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, and the Brite Divinity School Board of Visitors; ordained minister; Vietnam-era veteran; 2012 recipient, International Association of Human Rights Agencies Individual Achievement Award “for his work and leadership in support of creative civic engagement and transformational leadership in Mississippi; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Cape Town, S. Africa, and Texas.  Native and resident of Fort Worth, with three generations before born and resident in Marshall, Texas.

 

And I, Jerry Summers—The Sam B. Hall Jr. Professor of History, and Dean, School of Humanities, ETBU.

 

My purpose in attending the discussion session was to honor an invitation that came as a result of East Texas Baptist University’s Lilly Fellows Program Small Grant initiative, “Human Rights, Reconciliation and Restorative Justice: East Texas and the World.”  That initiative for the academic year was to give opportunities to evaluate further involvement in or attention to the broader range of human rights issues locally and worldwide.  The initiative resonates strongly with the mission and purpose of our university.

 

The involvement of ETBU in the Love Cemetery cleanup and celebration day in April had begun in the previous academic year when our director of the Great Commission Center, Dr. Melody Maxwell (now at Howard Payne University), had organized student, staff and faculty participation in the event.  Wiley College students, including the Wiley College choir, and faculty also participated, along with townspeople and visitors, some who came great distances in order to take part.  Others who were responsible at that time are unknown to me.  The program was held again on April 5th this year and featured Ysaye Barnwell of Honey in The Rock, the Wiley Choir, students from Wiley and ETBU, and others.

 

The April 7th meeting about Love Cemetery and the Writing History Program was, in China Galland’s words, to be informal and a discussion of “our work to preserve this fragile, potent history and build a stronger, more resilient community around Love.  This 1.6 acre cemetery is emblematic of a history almost lost, paved over or denied all over the United States.”

 

Our discussion, which was being filmed for possible inclusion in an updated documentary, ran for approximately an hour.  My singular impression was that the discussion and the themes it addressed connected vitally with those of the ETBU grant initiative, with the work of many people and organizations on our campus and in the community, and with my own teaching and research.

 

The efforts surrounding Love Cemetery help us to focus on the theme of past, present and future, where interethnic relations and the need for reconciliation are connected so strongly to our society’s segregated past.  An African-American cemetery typically reflects the segregation of black from white both in life and in death.  It is the surviving evidence of that segregated past.  Yet that same cemetery can be the focus of efforts to remember a broken heritage and to mend relationships among the living descendants of a divided society.  The point of Love Cemetery and others like it is that its potential as an instrument to evoke memory and provoke reconciliation is lost if it is inaccessible and forgotten.  I need only  mention that Love Cemetery is but one emblem of the same problem around the world, where the first tendency is to avoid the pain of remembering and thereby to pass by the prospect of healing.

 

I should not say much more.  The Love Cemetery discussion came during late winter and early spring when several campus and community organizations and churches sponsored programs that emphasized our shared interethnic and faith heritage through traditions, food, music, worship, and community service.  Evidently there is considerable good will among and around us.  That same good will is and should be gathered and directed toward more comprehensive, intentional acts of caring, attention, reconciliation, and redemption.

 

Here are some related links:

http://www.chinagalland.com/

http://www.etbu.edu/spiritual-development/gcc/ –Great Commission Center

http://guides.etbu.edu/lfp-humanrights  and  http://www.etbu.edu/school-humanities/lilly-small-grant-initiative/

http://www.resurrectinglovemovie.org/ — Wiley and ETBU students at work at Love Cemetery, 2013

http://www.iaohra.org/

When the Holy Spirit Gets His Way

The late (but gratefully remembered) Dallas Willard evoked Oswald Chambers’s axiom that “The Sermon on the Mount is a statement of the life we will live when the Holy Spirit is getting his way with us.” Today, Christ-followers, for sake of King and Kingdom, cannot spurn the Spirit’s promptings. The “times” intensify the difficulty and sense of threat in a society set against a righteous culture. Yet the historian in me hastens to remind us that we live in times, and in a society, that reflect the historical norm. Why, being as we are, we vex the Holy Spirit even in our churches unless the Christ-life is our unchanging daily aim! And that is what we need, what I need.

For today, Willard’s statement about Christ-like engagement (Matthew 6:33–love your enemies) with the world reminds me of the impossible necessity–that only Christ through Holy Spirit makes possible:

. . . Jesus did invite people to follow him into that sort of life from which behavior such as loving one’s enemies will seem like the only sensible and happy thing to do. For a person living that life, the hard thing to do would be to hate the enemy, to turn the supplicant away, or to curse the curser, just as it was for Christ. True Christlikeness, true companionship with Christ, comes at the point where it is hard not to respond as he would.”  (The Spirit of the Disciplines, page eight)

Impossible? Yes, for me and you, unless, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it (and Jesus – John 15:5), we recognize that by ourselves we can do nothing; only as Christ bears the cross (the same one he calls us to bear, also our yoke) can we bear it at all. Only as we find our constant dwelling in and with Him can we live as He lives. Only as we bear the sins, sorrows, sufferings even of our enemies, just as we should our own fellowship of believers in Christ, do we love as Christ loves. Truly to follow Christ is to be bound to him in sorrow and suffering, even forsakenness. And following his Gethsemane and Golgotha example, one overcomes only by going through. Christ’s cup could not be taken from him–and only by following through is it possible to overcome. Thankfully, we have the fellowship of suffering in and with Jesus Christ, himself and his gathered community of witnesses and disciples. In that fellowship we are sustained, in that same fellowship we are commanded to love each other, and we are commanded to love others outside it. (Bonhoeffer, Nachfolge, 44-5; Matthew 26:39, 42; John 15:5, 26-27; 16:13. Bear in mind that when I say “love”, I refer to determined action for the sake of the other’s good. It is that “dynamic other-interestedness” of I John 4:7-8.)

Pardon my Pique, Again . . .

In the Hoover Digest, Spring 2013 issue, Chester E. Finn writes in “A ‘Bar Exam’ for Teachers?” about his concern with a phrase in one of the American Federation of Teachers’ objectives for such a national exam.  It is the phrase “in-depth test of subject . . . knowledge.”  He indicates that the AFT document tells little about what subject knowledge is to be known.  Finn, along with the blogger Andrew Rotherham, at Eduwonk, has doubts about the purity of the AFT proposals to raise standards for new teachers.

But I  am still stumbling over the expression, “in-depth”.  Yes, it is in my dictionaries.  Yes, it means what it means.  It also is among the most overused words in “professional” discourse.  My students litter their papers with it.   In practice, however, the word often means little.  Beyond that concern, with so many richly nuanced candidates in the dictionary, why not consider using them?

I have in mind (to replace the term in the objectionable phrase) words like deep, comprehensive, thorough, ample, complete, extensive, and exhaustive.  Yes, I know that speakers and writers seek words that communicate to hearers and readers clearly.  But I refuse to accept the assumption that jargon serves best, when a better word, just the right word, could serve better and more thoughtfully. 

 A word fitly chosen is like apples of gold in baskets of silver.  The baskets of silver are rare, still rarer the apples of gold.

But back to Finn’s doubts about the AFT’s concern for subject-matter knowledge also relate to the emphasis on an “in-depth test” rather than a test of comprehensive knowledge.  We do have too many “in-depth” tests, and often too little mastery of content in the teaching field.  Perhaps the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards can develop acceptable nationwide standards for disciplinary examinations, but I am with those observers who ask whether that is a good idea.  Apparently it sounds like a good idea to some, or might it also serve unspoken political purposes?  This matter is worth attending to over the near term.