I have one monument, one memorial, one statue from my heritage that means anything to me. It's a wooden cross at Calvary, violently erected with my creator nailed deep into its face on a hill outside of Jerusalem. It can never be toppled. Even after the wood from that cross has long rotted and disappeared beneath centuries of rock and soil, that monument stands tall in my heart, and in my mind and in my soul. It lives on with a constant reminder, a commandment, to love the God on that cross and every human being the monument lives on for.
That's why when others are angered, saddened, or anxious about the idea of bringing down a Robert E Lee statue, I am not. I'll go on fighting for the cross on Calvary, but for worldly symbols and statues, count me out. Over and over the bible reminds me this is not my home. I believe those reminders are precisely for moments like this.
They are especially for moments like this when the fights over worldly statues come at the expense of the commandment to love every human. Moments that really challenge me to think and reflect.
I don't know how well I've listened, how well I could possibly ever understand, just how much hurt pours from my African American brothers and sisters when they say that, to them, these symbols we fight for are constant reminders of the days they were owned, the days they were the subjects of wars fought and lives sacrificed in the name of keeping them owned.
I don't know and can't possibly understand because I have the privilege of being white. I don't apologize for the privilege, that was God delivered not me designed. But it does mean I can't possibly understand what it feels like to be black instead of white when walking or driving past a statue of Robert E Lee. All I can do is listen. And when my brothers and sisters who are equally loved by that monument on Calgary say that statue hurts them and saddens them and angers them, I have a decision to make. Do I stand by Calgary or Confederacy? And do I understand in that moment, looking in their eyes and feeling their hurt, I can't possibly stand by both.
I think I've tried to minimize that hurt throughout my life: That was then, this is now. Look how far we've come. I don't see color when I look at people. I have plenty of black friends.
But what I can't minimize is this:
If my mom and dad were black, when I was raised on my great-grandfather's farm, instead of my parents using that experience to teach me the value of hard work they would have been haunted by the memories of the days when their great-grandparents were enslaved to do that hard work. If my mom and dad were black, instead of celebrating the day they sent me off to elementary school they would have been haunted by their own school days when they were shipped off to be educated with people of their own color, hidden away from their previous owners. When I was old enough to vote, instead of my white parents talking to me about the privilege I had to cast a vote my black parents would have been reminded that the day I was born their color wasn't afforded that same priviledge. When my black parents took me off to college they would have been overwhelmed with pride. Not because I was getting a college education, but because I was part of a generation of blacks who were finally getting the opportunity to have what white people had been getting for a couple of centuries before then.
Sure, those are old ideals, old practices, old ways of looking at things. But the consequences are still very real. Our government leaders are largely white. Our major corporations and businesses and national media are run by white people. The largest influences of our current culture are reflections of voting, economic and education practices of our not as distant as we like to believe past. I believe this is so, for the most part, not because white people are exercising their white privilege, but mostly because white people like me have had the privilege of being white.
It's a privilege that has set an entire people group back centuries in the pursuits of all things we call American. When this group argues taking down statues allows them to catch up, I suppose I could say the statues are inconsequential to those efforts. But that would be coming from someone who's never experienced the consequences of being forced to start that desperately far behind.
Yesterday, when talking about the violence that erupted in Charlottesville last weekend when white supremists came to town to protest the removal of a Robert E Lee statue, President Trump said this: "So this week, it is Robert E Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really have to ask yourself, where does it stop?"
That's a good question, I suppose. I guess I would answer where it stops being the loving thing to do. I wish we could have more civil conversations about where that is, but when it comes to arguing about worldly symbols, that gets tough. I suppose that's why the bible warned us repeatedly to keep our affections for idols and symbols in check.
I know this, though. The one monument I worship, the only one I love - it is never coming down. There's a sense of peace in that. And no matter what your stance is with the Robert E Lee statue, it's a peace you can find too. Not only is it a monument that will survive the times, no matter how ugly the protests get, I will spend eternity at the feet of that monument. That's a claim I just can't make about the others.