Monday, June 29, 2015

                                                       A Confederate Flag Comes Down

We Know—We Know

     Vintage readers will remember “The Shadow”--a radio mystery program of the 1930's ( With slow eerie music in the background, Orson Wells began each episode, “Who knows what evil lurks in the minds and hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” The Shadow, a crime fighting vigilante, made invisible because of his hypnotic powers, would then proceed to make the city safe from the bad guys, at least, for the time being. I don't think I missed an episode.
     Nobody knew what motivated the evil perpetrators, but the shadow knew.
     The Governor of South Carolina gave a press conference following the racist driven murder of the church folks in Charleston. Backed by the larger than life Confederate flag, she had the temerity to say, “We'll never understands what motivates a crime like this.” Well, of course we know the reason Dylan Roof murdered those church folk. They were black and he said he wanted to start a race war. Lawyers will call him the alleged murderer until the courts have had their say but “We'll never understand what motivates.” Really?
     About the flag behind the governor: From the moment the Confederate flag was lowered over Fort Sumter in defeat 150 years ago to this day, it remains the symbol for far too many people that the racism that drove the Civil War drives today's society. It may have been just a harmless and humorous decoration on the Dukes of Hazard's car but, for many, it reflected the emotional leftovers of a war during which we killed over 600,000 of each other. I know, I lived in that world for all my growing-up years.
     We don't need The Shadow to tell us of the evil of racism that lurks in the minds and hearts. Nor do we need a crime-fighting vigilante to combat racism on our behalf. What we do need is to come clean about our own incipient racism. And we need a cure for our spiritual laryngitis.
     There is hope. What may be different about the Charleston shooting, compared with so many others, is that something tangible has already changed. The nine innocent folks who were killed in Church are even now transforming our lives. For one thing, Confederate flags, now acknowledged symbols of racism, are coming down all over the South. Not all of them, of course, and that battle is far from over.
     But what happens if and when all the flags are down? Lawyers will determine legal guilt. That is their job. But developing new strategies of reconciliation, that's on us. We must surrender to the same powerful love the Charleston Church martyrs demonstrated. We must begin with confession of our own culpability, however subtle. And we must change our pattern of life.

     Several years ago, I had a a mind to run one more marathon, but most everyone I contacted, had a mandatory time limit in which a runner had to complete the run. I knew I could never make it in the time required. Then I talked to the event organizer in Casper, Wyoming. He told me they loved senior runners and that I could start early and finish late and that there would be someone there to record my time. I didn't register or run, but that's another story. What I know, however, is that the struggle to overcome racism is difficult, at best, that we must start as early as right now, be prepared to finish as late as necessary but stay in the race.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Virtual Front Porch

     The first front porch I remember is the one that defined my grandfather's house in Eclectic, Alabama. It was shaded by a huge magnolia tree that kept us relatively cool on those hundred plus degree, humid summer days. That was long before air conditioning, of course. I was only 5 when we moved to live there with Paw Paw, my father's father, after my grandmother died. The house had a back porch, too, but that was for working. The front porch was for sitting and sharing stories, and visiting with a neighbor who dropped by once in awhile.
     When I was eight, Dad went to Auburn University to complete his college education. Mother and I saw him only on holidays and semester breaks for two years. During that time, we moved to south Alabama to help take care of my mother's father, Papa, after mother's mother died. Papa had a large front porch also, but instead of a magnolia tree we now had an equally large and shady pecan tree. A couple of years after we moved there, a tornado touched down in our front yard. When it rose, it took the roof of the house with it and destroyed the porch, the entire house, and uprooted the pecan tree. Papa rebuilt on the same spot and included a new front porch. I remember Papa telling stories while mother shelled peas to get ready for supper, and I played with my little dog, Midget.
     And then we moved. Dad rejoined us in a little cotton mill town on the banks of the Tallapoosa River where he taught school and where I spent my high school years. There was no front porch. In fact, I didn't have a decent front porch until after I had completed a long career in ministry, retired, and moved to Colorado. Our house in Colorado sat at 7000' and faced the Rocky Mountains. A road ran from the house up to the base of Mt. Herman, and a hiking trail ran from there to the top of the 9600' peak. After we extended the front porch so we could sit on it, we would often watch storm clouds form over the mountains before they filled with water and swept down the slope, through the valley and up to us.
     We spent a lot of time on that porch, reading, talking with one another, waving at passersby and visiting with neighbors who stopped to chat.
     We live today in the flat part of Nebraska in Lincoln, over five hundred miles from the Rocky Mountains. We don't often see storms before they're almost upon us. We do have a front porch, somewhat smaller than the one in Colorado. There are passersby and neighbors we visit with. There is no large tree to shade us but it is a nice place to sit, read, think, and share stories.
     And now I have my virtual front porch. I took the picture at the top of this blog one morning when the moon was setting over Pikes Peak and the sun was giving the Garden of the Gods its first bath of the day. In all honesty, I couldn't see all that from my porch; I had to drive a few miles to the ridge that overlooked the Garden. But it is my inspiration as I record my musings from my virtual front porch.
     I want to add my voice to those who challenge folks to help shape the world to fit God's dream. I will pass on some of their ideas, add some of my own, and share stories worth living by. But I will try to stay away from the trivial. My message to the storyteller or preacher is, “Don't waste my time! Make me laugh, help me channel my anger, give me a voice to oppose the mean-spirited and little-minded, challenge my prejudice, show me how to live in community, but don't waste my time!” I'll do my best to take my own advice.

     I hope you will find something here that you can use as you spend time on your own front porch.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A Man, A Story—and the Death Penalty

     Will Campbell was a Mississippi-born and bred renegade Southern Baptist preacher, activist, author, and friend. A strong willed and humble man, he quit organized religion and fought injustice in the civil rights struggle in the 1950's.
     Several years ago, my wife and I stopped by his home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee for a short visit. We talked for awhile in his log cabin office just across the creek, before joining his wife, Brenda for cold cucumber and tomato sandwiches. I first met Will in the 50's when I was in seminary and saw him off and on through the years. This was Maurine's first chance to meet him. We both came away that day warmed by his humor and hospitality and challenged by his life story. Maurine still treasures one of his books he gave her. He autographed it, “For Maurine, who came by with hope.”
     One of the reasons Will comes to mind just now has to do with recent action taken by the Nebraska legislature. For many years, Ernie Chambers, an African-American senator from north Omaha has attempted to get the death penalty repealed in our state. This year, with the support of a coalition of political liberals, religious conservatives, and pragmatic senators, he succeeded—and together they overrode the Governor's veto. The struggle is not over and there is a referendum in the offing, but there is hope.
     This all takes me back to Will's long crusade against capital punishment. Will was a great storyteller, but the story I remember most with regard to this issue, is the one told about him.
     Will was invited to debate the issue before a fired-up crowd of death penalty supporters. His opponent gave a long and vigorous defense of capital punishment, festooned with all kinds of statistics and moral and theological justifications. He was rewarded with a standing ovation.
     The moderator then introduced Rev. Campbell, who shambled up to the podium accompanied by tepid applause. Will looked over the crowd, then leaned into the mike and growled, "I'm against the capital punishment because it's tacky!" Then he shambled back to his chair and sat down.
     The stunned crowd fell silent as Will sat and sat some more, staring benignly at them. Finally, the moderator returned to the podium. "Rev. Campbell, won't you please come back and say more about your beliefs?"
     Will shook his head in a silent no. "Are you sure?" asked the moderator. Will nodded his head in a silent yes. In desperation, the moderator said, "Well, won't you at least come back and tell us what you mean by 'tacky'?"
     Slowly, Will got to his feet, shambled back to the podium, and growled into the mike again: "Hell, everybody knows what tacky is!" Then he returned to his chair and sat down.
     The storyteller concludes: “I've yet to hear a more pointed, persuasive, or eloquent argument against the death penalty.”
     Will died two years ago, at the age of 88. His spirit lives on.