Thursday, June 5, 2014

B92. My Neighbor Flies a Rebel Flag

An early morning walk quite refreshes my soul.  The new light of dawn sends a gentle wake up call to all God’s creation.  Birds tweet as if in chorus, many standing guard near nests hidden in the treetops.  Forgotten leaves rustle as the squirrels play, and baby bunnies wander not too far from their watchful mother.  Flowers of yellow, white, pink, red, and purple stretch toward the newly lit sky.  I smile at my favorite field of daisies.  I breathe in the cool fresh air, infused today with the sweet aroma of honeysuckle, and I cannot keep from singing softly in praise to the creator of all that surrounds me.  “When I in awesome wonder consider all the worlds thy hands have made . . . then sings my soul . . . How great thou are.”

And then I see it.  My song stops. My soul cries. The perfect universe has disappeared.  The rebel flag calls me back to the reality of the broken world we have forged, and my prayer turns from praise to heaviness. 

What is it within the human heart that makes it disregard other human beings, even to the point of wanting to fly a flag to announce its hatred?  My question is real.  I want to understand. But please don’t tell me it’s about “heritage.”  Many of us are of Southern “heritage.”  We stretch one-syllable words into two-oo (or th-ree-ee), tap our feet to bluegrass music, eat moonpies, na-ubs, and gri-uts, and call everybody “y’all,” but we are not all flying racist flags. 

If your flag is flown without malice, please educate yourself on its background. Continue to befriend those who choose to fly it, but decide for yourself that you can be both southern and respectful.  If you claim a Christian faith, ask yourself prayerfully, “WWJD?”  Would Jesus flaunt a rebel flag on his donkey, maybe just because it’s a free country?

I don’t know who lives in the flag-flying house along my walk route, but based on stereotype, I can guess that the in-charge one there is white, male, and calls himself a Christian.  Frederick Douglass said in his autobiography that if he ever had to be a slave again he would hope he would not be “owned” by a Christian, because they were the worst slave holders of all.  What a legacy for us, white Christian neighbors.  What a despicably horrid legacy, and what an insult, not only to our own black neighbors who can't feel safe taking a walk by your house, but to the Christ whose name you are wearing and abusing, who said, "When you have done it to one of these, you have done it to me" (Matt. 25:37-46).

Please, brothers and sisters who share my skin color, brothers and sisters who share my Christian label, give up your racist symbols. Be a proud Southerner, but one who loves and respects his neighbors.  Be a Southerner who considers his neighbors’ rights and his neighbors’ happiness equal to his own.  Singing birds, sweet-smelling flowers, fresh cool air in our lungs, praise to our Creator, and peace in our soul, for all who walk.  "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, let us think on these things"  (Phil.4:8).

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Kathy Vestal said...

The following comment was just posted on Facebook, and I share it here (anonymously) because it's such a textbook response:

"I just read the article, and I still would fly a rebel flag. It is NOT racist in its intent. It was never meant to be racist, seeing as how the War Between the States was about States Rights, not about slavery. The fact that some people use it for something else is beyond my control. It IS about heritage and about our ancestors who were taken away from their families and fought in that war and died or were injured doing 'the right thing.' It was a terrible war. All wars are terrible. But that doesn't change the true original meaning of that flag."

Are you aware, commentator, that the war ended some 150 years ago, and that the Confederacy lost? The South is now a part of the USA which has its own flag. Practically everyone in the South had ancestors who fought for BOTH sides of the Civil War. And yes, certainly any war is complex in cause and effect, but it was indeed primarily about slavery, and the flag has unarguably become a most recognizable symbol of racism to those who see it, as well as those who wear it, adhere it to their vehicles, or fly it in their front yards. Southern Culture and racism are intricately woven together and not easily broken apart.

Kathy Vestal said...

And another typical response from Facebook:

"My confederate ancestors owned some slaves but were very good to them."

Did you talk with these ancestors 150 years ago? Or was it the slaves themselves who told you this? Would YOU like to be a "well-treated" slave? Have you ever read any slave memoirs? Fascinating and eye-opening reading.

These typical responses are passed down and rehearsed, and sometimes even believed by the speaker, because they have been repeated so often. The comments are deeply racist.