The Duality of the Southern Thing January 17, 2012Posted by Matt in personal stories, race.
Tags: drive-by truckers, duality of the southern thing, Martin Luther King, Mississippi, peace, racism, Robert E Lee, self-righteous indignation, the South
What does it mean to be Southern?
It’s an interesting question and one that I’ve been pondering quite a bit over the past 24 hours. After spending the first 26 years of my life in the great state of Arkansas, I moved across the river to Southaven, Mississippi, which in turn sits within walking distance of Memphis, some eight years ago. The process of leaving the safe confines of small town Central Arkansas and entering the urban/suburban area in which I now reside was an interesting one to say the least.
I’m an educated guy and have long considered myself to be an intelligent, progressive person, one whose mind is open to all sorts of views and peoples, one who believes strongly in justice and peace. That being said, these years of living in Mississippi have been challenging ones in a multitude of ways. In that time I’ve chosen to confront my own inner prejudices lurking back in my subconscious, the byproduct of being raised in a largely homogenous small town environment, and I’ve emerged a better person than before, one who truly tries to practice what he preaches.
But at the same time, having largely conquered feelings of prejudice in my mind, I often find the balance swinging too far in the other direction, that of self-righteous indignation. I think to myself, “I get this. Why don’t you get it?”
This internal struggle came to light again yesterday on Facebook as I wrote with some incredulity about my children’s school letting out for “King/Lee Day.” Yes, that Lee. Robert E. The famous Confederate General. Every year I see that and every year I have a similar reaction, shaking my head with consternation at the perceived backwardness of others, summoning that self-righteousness again to wag my finger in their faces.
This time, though, something interesting happened. Barbara, a friend, mentor, and someone for whom I have immense respect, put me in my place. I don’t think she minds me reprinting her response and I would rather do that than put it in my own words:
Oh, the need to explain that “dual” holiday. The date was historically for Robert E. Lee’s birthday and was a state holiday. When the day became a federal holiday to honor Dr. King on his birthday this is what happened. Now, if you object to honoring REL, a true son of the South, you can honor MlK, another true son of the South. If you want, you can honor both guys. Just think of King and Lee meeting in heaven on this day to share a beer and talk about how things have changed. Maybe not fast enough, but things have changed. I would like to think that we’ve learned that peace and nonviolence is a better way to address our differences (Dr. Kings message) than violence and war. But,I’m a dreamer…..
With my scorn sufficiently placated by Dr. Jones’ words, I decided to again look inward, to reflect on what this meant to me, as a progressive Southerner, one who loves the place and the people, but struggles with reconciling the past with the present. As often happens, this train of thought then brought me to a song, this time by one of my favorite bands, the Drive-By Truckers. “The Southern Thing” is found on their sprawling and incredible album Southern Rock Opera, a personal favorite of mine that once led me on a pilgrimage to Muscle Shoals and then on to the small community of Zip City.
In this particular song, Patterson Hood sings of this internal struggle for reconciliation between pride and shame brewing inside the hearts and minds of those below the Mason-Dixon Line while at the same time trying to deal with those who don’t understand, those to whom this seems so foreign, saying,
You think I’m dumb, maybe not too bright
You wonder how I sleep at night
Proud of the glory, stare down the shame
Duality of the southern thing.
“The duality of the southern thing.” I think that explains a lot. It may be impossible to define “Southerness,” but the inner struggle of those dueling forcing is certainly an aspect that cannot be swept aside.
Things are continually moving forward and changing in the South, and though that does not absolve us of nor does it cause us to forget the past, it aids us in building for a better future. As Hood later says in the song:
Four generations, a whole lot has changed
Robert E. Lee
Martin Luther King
We’ve come a long way, rising from the flame
Stay out the way of the southern thing.
So, while I may never venerate Robert E. Lee, certainly not to the extent of Martin Luther King, I can recognize and respect his place in the history of my people. And maybe, as Dr. Jones said, the two of them are having a beer in heaven talking it over right now.
Your God vs. My God September 8, 2011Posted by Matt in Christian Beliefs.
Tags: 9/11, Christianity, Islam, love, peace, reactions, vengeance, violence
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Yesterday the obligatory post regarding the spiritual implications of 9/11 and its aftermath appeared on our church Facebook page. There were a few responses, religious reactions and spiritual questions, including at least one that characterized the God of Islam as one of wrath and vengeance and the God of Judaism/Christianity as one of love and mercy. Naturally, I had to insert my two cents:
I think we have to be careful not to paint all of Islam with the same brush. There are ways of interpreting their holy scriptures that portray a God of wrath and ways that show a God of peace. The same can be said of the Hebrew Bible (now there’s some divine vengeance!) to perhaps an even greater extent than the Quran. And that doesn’t even touch the violent hallucinations contained in the book of Revelation.
In the end, it seems to be a good time for reflection on ourselves and how we can best serve our world, while always being respectful and mindful of our differences.
The Episcopal Experience, Week 3 November 29, 2010Posted by Matt in The Church Search.
Tags: Advent, End Times, peace, Southaven, St. Timothy's Episcopal Church
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We had a great time visiting family in Arkansas around the Thanksgiving holiday, but following Arkansas’ triumphant victory over LSU Saturday night, I loaded up the kids and drove back to our home in Southaven. There was a reason for our nighttime exit and it had nothing to do with being tired of Turkey and homemade desserts (that would never happen). No, the next day was the first Sunday of Advent and we wanted to make sure we made it to the service at the Episcopal Church we have been attending.
It was interesting to me that the Lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Advent, particularly Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 26:36-44, dealt with a second coming of Jesus, while the season itself is a look back at the first. That topic then was both the object of discussion in class and of the short sermon during worship.
The conversation in class was great as we talked about the fairly recent Evangelical idea of a Rapture as seen in the widely read and poorly written Left Behind series, and other ideas held by those across the spectrum. In the end, I really appreciated the remarks of the rector, Patrick, when he said that, in his view, people get too caught up in all of the end time prophecies. He said something to the effect of, “Many people spend so much of their time in hopeful expectation to escape this world that they forget to live.” It’s a sentiment that I’ve long thought and sometimes expressed and it makes me hopeful to know that I’m not the only one who feels that way. The overall thought was that it really doesn’t matter how it ends or if it ends at all. Some even suggested that perhaps this life is it, that perhaps there is no eternal reward or punishment and that we should make the most of our lives here.
On another note, I wish I had a dollar for every time the word peace was used in the service. It seems as though everything said ends with some exhortation for peace. It’s refreshing to be among the types of people who would be first in line to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
The more time I spend at St. Timothy’s, the more I feel at home, that this is perhaps where we belong. I love the liturgies and the fact that people with unconventional ideas (at least they would be in most churches) are treated with respect. I can already tell that it will be difficult to leave after Advent to move on in our church visiting. At the same time I don’t want to automatically jump headlong into the first place we visit. We’ll see.
I finally felt as though I got to meet a few people this week, which is ironic since I was there without Diana (she had to work) and with the kids. We also set up some time to have dinner with the rector and his family later on this week and I think we are all really looking forward to getting to know each other a little better.
Memorializing Peace May 25, 2009Posted by Matt in peace.
Tags: Memorial Day, peace, quotes
Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God. – Matt 5:9
We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody that is far superior to the discords of war. Somehow we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race which no one can win to a positive contest to harness man’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all of the nations in the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a “peace race.” If we have the will and determination to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children. – Jimmy Carter
Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience. – Thomas Merton
The followers of Christ have been called to peace…and they must not only have peace but also must make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. The renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they overcome evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Far East Gleanings June 10, 2008Posted by Matt in peace, religion.
Tags: peace, Tao Te Ching
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I’ve had a certain fascination with Eastern religions for the past several years, reading books about them as well as owning copies of some of their holy tomes. This evening while the girls were in the tub, I picked up the Tao Te Ching and opened it randomly to this page:
Weapons are the tools of violence
all decent men detest them
Weapons are the tools of fear;
a decent man will avoid them
except in the direst necessity
and, if compelled, will use them
only with the utmost restraint.
Peace is his highest value.
If the peace has been shattered,
how can he be content?
His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn’t with them personal harm.
Nor does he rejoice in victory.
How could he rejoice in victory
and delight in the slaughter of men?
He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion,
as if he were attending a funeral.
A Day of Remembrance January 21, 2008Posted by Matt in peace, poverty.
Tags: I Have a Dream, Martin Luther King, peace
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For one of the greatest figures in American History…
Isaac and the Wells January 14, 2008Posted by Matt in Bible, god, love, peace.
Tags: Bible, giving, Isaac, love, peace, turning the other cheek
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I’m a voracious reader, but have always been incredibly bad about regularly reading my Bible. So, in an attempt to try something new, I’ve begun listening to the Daily Audio Bible podcast, which is available on Itunes, during my short commute to and from work each day. Each day a guy named Brian reads scripture in his annoyingly breathy voice, choosing selections from the Old Testament (beginning with Genesis), the New Testament (beginning with Matthew), Psalms and Proverbs.
Today’s scripture came from Genesis 26 and 27, which deals with the relationships of Isaac, Jacob, and Esau, both with each other and with those outside the family. There was a story, though, that caught my attention this morning, one that I know I’ve read before but perhaps have never really thought about.
17 So Isaac moved away from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. 18 Isaac reopened the wells that had been dug in the time of his father Abraham, which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died, and he gave them the same names his father had given them.
19 Isaac’s servants dug in the valley and discovered a well of fresh water there. 20 But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Esek, [b] because they disputed with him. 21 Then they dug another well, but they quarreled over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. [c] 22 He moved on from there and dug another well, and no one quarreled over it. He named it Rehoboth, [d] saying, “Now the LORD has given us room and we will flourish in the land.”
23 From there he went up to Beersheba. 24 That night the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of my servant Abraham.”
25 Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well.
I was really struck by the attitude of Isaac who, when the herdsmen of Gerar complained about the placement of his well, willingly gave in to avoid an unneeded conflict. Even more amazing is the fact that it happened not just once, but twice.
So, it made me think about us, in today’s modern world. Imagine that you had a prized possession that was very important to you. Then imagine that somebody came along, claimed it belonged to them rather than you, and took it from you. What sort of reaction would you have?
Would you fight them physically to have it returned to you? Would you take the person to court, suing them for the rights to the object of your desire? Would you take to the airwaves, proclaiming how terrible this person is in an attempt to ruin their reputation?
Or would you take the road that Isaac took and graciously move on?
It’s a hard situation for us, in our overly-aggressive modern world where we vehemently defend what we see to be ours – either in terms of physical possessions or rights or ideals – but it is one that many are regularly faced with. It’s not easy to put our love for others (even our enemies) and a desire for peace above our own wants and desires.
I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matt 5: 38-42
38″You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[g] 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Peace in a Violent World October 3, 2007Posted by Matt in god, peace, war.
Tags: human nature, Jesus, nonviolence, peace
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Originally Posted 10/3/07
We are a violent people.
From the first moments our ancestors emerged from the primordial sludge eons upon eons ago, they were involved in single-celled scuffles, struggling with all of their might for dominance and survival. Time and time again, throughout the multitiude of millennia and across our small, insignificant-seeming blue orb, our savage natures have resurfaced. From the Genensis legend of Cain and Abel to countless wars to today’s ever-present street crime, our Darwinian predilection toward self-propagation is ever-present in our thoughts and deeds. Our bend toward ferocity premeates even the smallest cells of our physical body as antibodies engage in battle with whatever pathogens attempt to invade the sacrosanct space they defend from harm. Every part of our being seems whoop out a brutish war cry.
But, regardless of this, we are called to be different.
We believe that God dwelt among us in the form of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, who came not with fists and swords and AK-47s, but with love. We believe in His example, in which he laid down His life without retaliation.
We are called to not just love our neighbors, but to also love our enemies, regardless of the consequences. It may seem naive to those bent on their own subsistence, looking to survive by any means necessary, but it is the way. It is the path to which He calls us and that, by accepting Him, we choose to walk.
Jesus at War September 25, 2006Posted by Matt in Uncategorized.
Tags: Christians, Jesus, military, peace
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Originally posted 9/25/06
I’ve got a tough question for you – one that I don’t know if there is a real answer to…
Is it okay for Christians to be in the military?
In our current times, this is something that I am always asking myself. I’ve seen churches do programs to put soldiers and America up on proverbial pedestals for us to clap for and appreciate. We can say thank you for going abroad to kill untold thousands of people living in squalid conditions that just happen to look different than us and talk different than us and believe in different things than us, so that we can continue our lives of relative luxury?
What did Jesus say about war and fighting?
Matt 5:7 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth”
Matt 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”
Luke 6:27 -36 “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29“Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. 30“Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. 31“Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. 32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33“If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34“If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. 35“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. 36“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
Matt 26:52 After Peter cuts off the ear of one of the high priest’s slaves, “Put your sword back in its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”
On the other hand….
Matt 10:34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Luke 20:25 “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s”
So what do you think? Jesus’ teachings seem to always stress nonviolence. Though it was said in the context of paying taxes, does “rendering to Caesar” include military service?
I know that some of you are currently serving in the military or have served in the past. I’d like to have your perspectives on this too.
Tackling the Issues vol.2 July 28, 2006Posted by Matt in Uncategorized.
Tags: Christians, nonviolence, peace, poverty
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Originally posted 7/28/06
We’ve been taking a more detailed look at my latest What Do I Believe? blog entry because I want to try and answer people’s comments from that first entry. So, now I want to take a look at numbers 2 and 3 from the list:
2. I believe that the peaceful solution is always the best one, though sometimes military force must be used. I, like nearly everyone else, approved of the post-9/11 war against the Taliban, but I was against the Iraq war from the beginning.
3. We have the responsibility, as the richest and best equipped nation in the world, to protect those that are downtrodden. Instead of fighting an endless war for disputed reasons, we should be in Sudan and other places where people are being slaughtered by the thousands. Our financial interests should not rank higher than mass genocide.
Mike mentioned in his comments that it seems as though it would be hard to resolve these two points and I agree with him. I’ll admit that it is hard and sometimes I don’t know exactly where I stand on things like this. My pacifist nature as a Christian makes me question whether it’s ok to have any support for military conflict – even if it’s for the greater good… Which brings us to another question: Is it ok for Christians to serve in the military? I know that I could never serve in the miltary with a clear conscience – I would never be able to justify killing another human being.
That being said, we do have a responsibility as the strongest nation and as on the earth and as relatively wealthy individuals to help those that are less fortunate. For years, it seems as though the United States has thrown money at the problems in poor places like Africa, but that money has not gone to help those who really need it. I can’t pretend to know all of the intricacies about the situation in Sudan or in other suffering nations, but it just seems as though we need to be doing something more to help. Perhaps the answer is to work to empower the suffering people and encourage them to overthrow oppressive governments. With my limited knowledge, I don’t know what the best answer is, but I do know that it is our and the rest of the industrialized world’s responsibility to help those that are down.