I am a southern girl. I have visited many beautiful places around the country, but the South is my home. I was raised in Atlanta. I grew up going to special lunches at the Swan Coach House and downtown Rich’s at Christmas to ride the Pink Pig. Our field trips took us to the Cyclorama, The Wren’s Nest, and Fernbank, when it was just a small observatory. We camped at Stone Mountain in the summers, long before the laser show was ever imagined. The Varsity was a routine place to fellowship, and the Fox was where I first saw Gone With the Wind. We saw shows/concerts and then went for hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts on Ponce de Leon. I loved our city and all the things about it. You might say I was steeped in southern culture, and you would be right.
Hearing me tell it you would never know I was raised in Atlanta during the tumultuous 60’s at the height of the civil rights movement. Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech the year I was born, and was assassinated when I was 5. I was too young to have much memory of the historical events that were occurring all around me. I didn’t know that Rich’s Tea Room didn’t serve people of color, or that the carving on Stone Mountain was something controversial. I was a kid, living and loving life. It wasn’t until later in my life that I learned about the injustices that were a part of my heritage. I couldn’t believe that such things could happen right in my own city. I was in such disbelief that I did what we all do when we find some skeleton in the family closet…we deny it exists. We rationalize it away because it threatens to change our perceptions of reality. My reality was a wonderful place with symphony concerts and art museums…a place that was vibrant. I was proud of my city and the southern culture. The ugly side didn’t exist for me, and therefore I pushed it away and dismissed it. So years later when I was in high school, when people came along and wanted to ban the playing of Dixie, I was offended. That song was part of my heritage. Same with the confederate flag battles that have been fought over the years…it just felt like removing these things was trying to erase my childhood.
Once again my southern heritage is on trial. Once again murders have happened in the name of race, by one who waves the confederate flag. Nine beautiful people gone. This time around, I am an adult. I know the whole history. I know the atrocities that happened during slavery. I don’t know my family history during that era but want to believe that my relatives would not have been involved in slavery in any way, but I also know that is unlikely. I want to believe that they would have stood up against discrimination after the slaves were freed. Yet, I see now the injustices and unfairness that happened within the culture in which I was raised. It shames me to think of my city practicing such things. It sits uneasy in my heart that I absorbed some of the mindsets that made such practices possible. I find myself torn between my southern pride, and the reality of the truth, and wondering if those two things can coexist. Can I love my heritage and still detest the injustices? Do I have to choose between the two, and wipe out my childhood because of what happened back then?
I think the German people must feel this way, they love their country, but the evil that resided there has left a shameful shadow. To many the shadow is so large that the country is synonymous with the evil perpetrated there. And yet I know that if I was to fly a flag with the swastika on my porch it would be seen as more than a historical reference. My Jewish friends would find it highly offensive. Is it any different to my African American friends if I fly the confederate flag? I know that there are major differences between the Holocaust and slavery…but there are also many similarities. The confederate flag to me is a representation of my heritage, but to them it is a symbol of abuse, bondage, loss and pain. The problem for me is that those two things are linked. They are intertwined with one another so much so that the shameful shadow of the flag is now larger than the culture that it represents. I used to get my hackles up when I felt that my southern culture was under attack. And I for one am tired of the fight that returns decade after decade, but now I see it in a different light. In Romans 14 it talks about not causing a brother to stumble. It is referencing food and drink, but also relates to anything that causes pain to another. “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.” I can see that the confederate flag is a hindrance to my black brothers and sisters. It is a painful reminder to them…and honestly to me too…that the place I grew up has some dark history. It is time to relegate it to museums and memorials…in order to teach our children so that they do not repeat our mistakes.
Those who died in Charleston were in prayer meeting together. They exemplified welcoming strangers with open arms. They demonstrated the love of Christ by embracing someone different than themselves. Their faces glowed with the sparkle only God’s love can produce. And it appears that evil won the day, but that is not what the word of God says. It says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In some way, maybe in the effort of peace between races, their actions of ‘feeding’ their enemy will overcome the evil perpetrated against them. We may not be able to see it but I believe that in the spirit it is done.
I pray for our country. For the division between the races to turn to unity. I pray for peace. I pray that God would continue to open my eyes to see what I haven’t seen before. That he would give me compassion and humility. That he would turn evil to good and that he would reign his justice even as he pours out his love. We would all be led by his grace…to one another…to ourselves…to our cities…to our country. Hear our prayers Lord. Do not allow these lives to be lost in vain. Do not allow fabric waving in the wind to hinder us. Help me not to be a stumbling block. I ask that your presence surround Charleston as they grieve this loss and face down the spotlight. I ask for your words, your actions, your wisdom, your direction for the leaders of that city. Surround the families with your comfort. Strengthen the church and draw all that hear the story to you. Embrace us all Lord and may we find peace with one another in the embrace of your arms. Amen.