Thoughts on Martin Luther King Jr. Day…
- I was ten years old when Martin was assasinated. I do not remember ever having heard of him, which was not unusual given the fact that we didn’t talk about world events in my home. It wasn’t that world events were taboo, my parents just didn’t discuss it. I feel sad that he met such a tragic end.
- Being a white guy from the south, I grew up immersed in a paradigm that thought of people like King as trouble-makers. He was a trouble maker. Sometimes we need trouble-makers to stir us out of our complacency or worse, our bigotry. It disturbs me that we need to be shaken up because we ought to be able to examine ourselves and make the changes that result from that examination. Alas, people aren’t very good at self-examination. I am thankful for the courage of Martin and others who risked everything to make things better.
- Our garbage pickup is delayed one day this week because of the holiday. Jeanie already heard one person make a smart-assed comment about how “they” have to have this day off, don’t they? Will we ever get past having an us and a them? I feel angry and sad that a whole group of people is marginalized because of the color of their skin.
- This morning, I was reading a newspaper article on King’s legacy and I was thinking about my African-American friend, Chris. (Chris is not my token black friend. He is my friend because we relate to one another well. We used to work on the same team at Wachovia. We no longer get to work side by side because of corporate reorganization decisions. I picked up the phone and called Chris. I told him how I had been thinking about how much of an impact King’s dream and work had on our ability to be friends at all. If it were 40 or 50 years earlier, there is no way we would be working side by side in an office. I celebrate our friendship today!
There you have it. Joy, because I am living Martin’s dream and sadness because it is so far from a complete reality. Hope that we will be able to one day truly judge one another by our character and not by our skin color or any of the other differences that divide us. Call me crazy, but I believe that is what Jesus wants. I believe that only when we truly embrace Him and follow His teaching can we have any hope of true reconciliation. Only when we learn to embrace one another, only when we see the “fingerprint of God” in everone can we experience Martin’s dream. Only when we learn to disagree well can we celebrate our differences as we together celebrate the One who made us all so different! We have so far to go, but I see movement. Movement in my life and the lives of some of my friends.
God help us to embrace You, embrace Your ways, see the world the way You see it. Help us to see Your fingerprint in every person and love them the way You do… the way Jesus showed us.
One of my hobbies is documenting my family’s genealogy. I say, “documenting” and not “researching” because my joy comes from listening to and reading the family stories and organizing all the information that others already know. I get no pleasure from doing research. I also love using my talents to publish this genealogy and family history on the web so that all can enjoy it.
I started going through papers and photos that I got when my grandmother (Anderson) died in 2005. She was faithful to keep records (letters, stories, charts) of our family history. Documentation like that is of vital importance when one is recording genealogy. Sometimes you will come up with two conflicting pieces of information and without documentation, you would not know which was more likely to be true. Interestingly, Gran was practically obsessive about saving funeral programs. They are little cards that tell the barest of details. Who died, when they were born and when they died, where the services are to be held and who will officiate. She has them from her parents, her brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles… As much as I understand their value as documentation, it seems a bit odd (even morbid) to save them.
As I was sorting through things tonight, I came across Gran’s own funeral program that I had saved. I thought about how she had passed this job to me and how I was the one now filing her funeral program. It then occured to me that someday, someone else will file my funeral program.
I don’t mean to scare anyone. This is not meant to be morbid or some kind of prediction of my demise. It is a reminder that death is a very real part of life. That’s the way it is supposed to be. For me, it helps to keep the worries of life in perspective. I wonder if Gran ever thought about that…
Lately I find myself enjoying more biographies. I love experiencing other people’s stories. Seeing things from the perspective of other people helps me to see the world in new and different ways. I especially like biographies that are “real”; ones about well known people, but that show them as real people with their weaknesses and failures as well as their giftedness and strengths. I am about a third of the way through reading, A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmstead and America in the Nineteenth Century by Witold Rybczynski. (The title and the author’s name are enough words to consider them a blog entry alone!)
Olmstead is famous for his landscape designs including New York’s Central Park and the Biltmore Estate in Asheville , NC (just a couple of hours away from here). What strikes me about Olmstead is that, unlike so many famous people, he didn’t start a career and stick with it the rest of his life. In fact, a full third of the way into the book, the closest he has come to doing anything related to landscaping was his strategic planting of some trees on his farm. He dropped out of college, was a shop keeper, became a farmer and toured Europe looking for better farming methods. Wrote books on the farming and returned to continue farming. Eventually, his writing skills take him to a job as a writer for the N Y Times newspaper. I can relate to this guy. He does not know who he is. I still am not sure who I am.
Another thing I love about the book is his perspective on America in the 19th century. In the mid 1800’s, slavery was by far the biggest issue in America. Reading this book gives me the perspective of a regular guy (with whom I very much relate) on these kinds of issues. He is not a politician and has no ambition to try to solve the issue singlehandedly. But that does not mean that he doesn’t have an opinion. Olmstead is against slavery, but like many others, he wants to ignore it and let it die a slow death. He fears that to ban slavery would be the end of the Union of the states. An abolitionist friend tries to persuade him otherwise to no avail. In hopes that seeing the conditions of slavery for himself will change his mind, his friend convinces Olmstead to take a job with the Times. He becomes travels throughout the South, reporting on the conditions there and his perspective is fascinating. He makes great economic arguments against slavery, showing why it just does not make sense.
I could go on about the book, but this blog is not about Frederick Law Olmstead. It is about Jimazing Jim Anderson. I have often wondered what I would have done if I had lived during those times. I would like to think that I would have been an abolitionist… that I would think for myself and stand up for what is right. However, it is easy to cast stones from the safety of 2008. Unlike Olmstead, I was born in South Carolina, which was a slave state (not after I was born, thankfully). Slavery would have been a fact of life for me… whether I was for it or against it. What was it really like? Many who just stood up in arguments were killed. How many of those “unreported incidents” would I know about? Would I speak out in spite of the danger, or hold my tongue out of fear?
I’ll keep plugging away at the book and hopefully Olmstead’s life will continue to stir me. Who knows what I might find out about myself in the process.
I had hoped to be back in the swing of writing by now, but it is coming slow… because life is going fast! I wanted to quickly write about an upcoming event… in case you want to come too.
Brian McLaren is coming to Charlotte. Who is Brian? Why is he coming? I can only tell you what I know. He is a major voice in the emerging church. I was ready to sign up for this event from the beginning because a great friend of mine, John, had invited me. When I read Brian’s book, The Secret Message of Jesus, I became really excited about it. The title of the book was a bit of a turnoff to me. It sounds like hocus pocus stuff like using a special decoder ring to learn the secret message. It is not like that at all. Brian invites his reader to return to the Jesus of the Bible. I found the book to be refreshing, engaging and challenging.
I would like to invite you to this event at Area 15 in Charlotte on Friday and Saturday February 1st and 2nd. Click the photo above for details.