Aug 212017
 

We All Have History

“Why can’t they just get over it? It all happened such a long time ago.  Everyone has moved on, why can’t they?”

I heard this comment in the last week.  It was not, however, about African-Americans; nor was it about Southerners clinging to the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy.  The comment had nothing to do with the removal of monuments, anti-Semitism, or people that are homophobic. 

The comment was made about people who have been hurt by churches or church leaders and who can’t seem to move on with their lives.  

You see, we all have a history of things that we have done and, indeed, things that have been done to us through the course of our lives. That personal history has a continuing impact upon people’s lives, albeit in different ways.  Some of us drag the hurt and injuries with us throughout our lives.  The scars are always on display for anyone who wishes to look.  Others of us bury the hurt deep within ourselves.  The distant pain is only manifested when an event, or a comment, triggers the reaction.  A few of the more fortunate survivors of such harm attempt to integrate what they have gone through into the broader scope of their lives, using it as a basis of understanding in helping others who have gone through the same or a similar experience, or, indeed, to show compassion for those who  are still in harm’s way.

If, perhaps, we can understand our reactions to our personal history, it may help us in areas that extend outside the church as well.  My mother, who turned 90 this year, was born in the South but brought up in the North.  One of her earliest memories is being in the back of her father’s car traveling through a small Southern town.  Her father had slowed the car and suddenly turned around to say, “Don’t look… shut your eyes.” But it was too late.  There had been a lynching in the town square, and my mother had seen the crowd inflicting yet further indignities upon the body of an African-American man hanging from a tree.  She remembers the incident clearly to this day.  Some years later, being newly married, she was visiting her in-laws in north Florida.  Her second day there, she made a big mistake.  She was talking to Hattie, my grandmother’s African-American cook, in the front yard.  When they turned to go into the house, Hattie turned to go round the house to the back door.  My mother immediately said, “Don’t be silly, come in here” and held open the front door for her.  She walked in to make her way to the kitchen, but my grandmother was in the hall way.  She slapped Hattie in the face and told her to go outside and use the back door.  Then my mother was lectured about “how we do things in the South”, after which she left the room crying.

Now, this was my mother’s history and it shaped her perceptions and her actions for years to come.  For instance, in my father’s company there were a number of African-American employees.  When company parties were held in our home, they were always invited – an unusual situation for a suburban white family in Ohio in the early 1960s. This was but one way in which my mother’s history shaped her values and perceptions.

Yet, there was another history at play and my mother understood this to be the case, not perfectly, but at least in a small way.  Hattie, the cook, had children and, I imagine, grandchildren who are likely alive today.  The story recounted above is also part of their history.  It most likely became a story that was passed down through the years affecting perception and subsequent action, not only of Hattie, but of others as well. Did the African-American man lynched in that small southern town have a family, or descendants, or brothers or sisters?  I do not know. I do not know how it may have happened or how it was recorded, but surely that horrific incident became a part of the history of a family, a community and, indeed, part of our own history as a nation. Yet, even though we may not know about what took place in that family in an objective manner, we can be certain that the history of that outrage belongs particularly to those who personally experienced the pain of what took place.  

In his ministry on earth, Christ seems to have been particularly concerned to include, to understand and to reach out to those with a different history – the Samaritan woman at the well with a moral and religious history that set her outside the “norm”; the Roman centurion, whose loyalties obviously lay elsewhere, with a servant who was ill; the woman dragged from a house and about to be stoned having been taken in the act of adultery… the examples are varied and many. Additionally, we might note that he does not take issue with their history (although he is aware of the history) or their perceptions, but he deals with the need of the moment. 

All this is to say, many of us may not fully comprehend the visceral reaction to Confederate monuments expressed by some, but our own histories should allow us to have some measure of compassion and understanding. I am not Jewish, nor was I a witness to the parades of storm troopers in Berlin in the 1930s. Yet, while we may not fully comprehend the fear engendered by marchers shouting anti-Semitic slogans in a torch lit march in Charlottesville, our personal histories might allow us to reach across the divide and seek to alleviate the anxiety of those who, through families and friends, have such a history.  Our own personal histories, if given the opportunity, at the very least, might engender in us some sense of active empathy. Our own experience might even lead us to reach out in love to those with a different history that we can only vaguely comprehend.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

  33 Responses to “We All Have History: Duane W.H. Arnold PhD”

  1. Good object lesson and a good reminder to keep things in perspective… those of your mother’s generation (mine) all of us growing up in any part of America have stories to tell – hopefully, not as traumatic as a lynching… yes, they happened and way too often

    but the point remains that this out of control push-back against the Charlottesville supremacists demonstrators is not the answer… we have made so much progress in this nation over the last half century by means of laws and grace and reason… we need to urge each other to stay the course

    what i don’t quite understand is why these throwbacks to racism and Nazism are legal groups in this nation today… ? … free speech should depend on what you’re advocating…
    the Georgia congresswoman and others who’ve openly called for the assassination of the President… that used to be illegal? we’re losing our understanding of what respect for law is all about… in a nation governed of, by and for the people is precious, too precious to throw away in a great national tantrum

    much to pray about today indeed (including Michael)

  2. The ability to get in someone’s shoes is key to peacemaking and progress.

  3. #1 Em

    “but the point remains that this out of control push-back against the Charlottesville supremacists demonstrators is not the answer”

    Firstly, I’m not sure that it is out of control. By the late 60s, American Nazis were almost a joke (remember “The Blues Brothers”) and the KKK was on its way out. For many, I think seeing them march in Charlottesville and subsequently given a certain degree of cover by Mr. Trump provided a wake up call that there were groups of this sort, now armed and active and once again on the rise in our country. We are losing the generation of people like my mother who witnessed what it used to be like, as well as those who fought the Nazis and saw with their own eyes the liberation of the concentration camps. Certainly the pushback is a strong reaction, but it may be a reaction that has been needed as these older generations pass from the scene.

  4. Duane,

    I haven’t heard anything about “out of control” at the Boston march last weekend. But the overwhelming participation of thousands of people rejecting the alt right and worse elements, was a very good sign. I hope this example gives hope to other people in other parts of the country that a spirit of racial reconciliation still persists in America, and encourages all of us to be peace makers.

    One thing is fairly certain: The racist message of the Klan and Nazis will not just flicker out on its own.

  5. Well done, as usual, Duane.

    I think this understanding of of the history of others has to extend to the different cultural and oral histories we all have grown up with.

    The example of Jesus is perfect as always…He met people fully where they were before drawing them to where they needed to go.

    We have a section of this country steeped in traditions that need changing…but to bring those folks into a fuller understanding of Christian race relations we are going to have to meet them where they are at and walk with them in gracious dialog and not with coercion if we want the change to be real.

    We also have to understand that some people are going to choose evil regardless of how we act…and those folks have to be marked for what they are.

  6. #4 Jean

    Many thanks. I agree, some evils need to be confronted…

    #Michael

    I agree, but only to a point. I live about 30 miles south of Marion, Indiana – the site of the last lynching in a northern state in 1930. This is to say, I am afraid historically racism is not confined to a section of the country, as much as a segment of the population. The integration of southern schools required calling our both regular troops (101st Airborne) in Arkansas and the federalized National Guard in Alabama. It was simply the need to enforce adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law.

    With regard to memorials, statues, etc., the German Criminal Code outlawing the use of National Socialist symbols, images, etc., arose directly out of the denazification efforts of the Allies. I wonder how the world would have felt if, say in the 1960s and 70s the Germans began raising statues and memorials to the leaders, or even the generals (many of whom were not party members) of that period. This is not an exact comparison, but one worthy of consideration.

    I’m afraid that I have to agree with Elie Wiesel when he implored Reagan to cancel a visit to a German cemetery where SS war dead were buried. ”That place, Mr. President, is not your place, your place is with the victims of the SS.” I still think, as Christians, our place is with the victims of persecution and hate and not with the perpetrators, even if the crimes occurred long ago…

  7. Wow Duane

    Great insights. I would say Jesus sometimes took issue with their history, and other times not as was the case with the man lowered through the roof, the man at the pool of Bethesda.

    Jn 5:14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

    Luke 5:24 “But, so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,”—He said to the paralytic—“I say to you, get up, and pick up your stretcher and go home.”

  8. #7 Descended

    Many thanks. Yes, but I found that in most instances Jesus recognized the history – a Roman, a Samaritan, a tax collector, etc. – but did not allow that history to create a barrier, even if he addressed it after meeting their need. I sometimes think the “shock value” of these encounters often escapes us. For us, a Roman is a Roman, a Samaritan is a Samaritan – not a ritually unclean outcast!

  9. No, he didn’t😊

  10. Thank you Duane. Being of Jewish heritage and having a mother that escaped Nazi Germany while losing many family members causes your article to hit home with me.

    For those who are in good faith responding to the events in our nation I applaud them.

    What concerns me are those on the fringe from both sides. No matter what it’s never going to be enough for them. They’ll look to create problems with absolutely no care of what terrible results they bring.

    Sadly it’s the fringe who are the loudest and appeal to people’s wicked nature.

    I’m sure people have various ideas on how to address this. All I know is we as believers are to reflect Jesus as best we can. Again, people would have disagreements there. Thank you again.

  11. As MLK said, “wait” means “never.”

  12. ” Certainly the pushback is a strong reaction, but it may be a reaction that has been needed as these older generations pass from the scene.”

    as the old, my generation i guess, pass from the scene, we carry the guilt of not educating the young… my daughter was in high school in the 70s and the students had to circulate a petition to get American history classes… civics without history is ignorant at best and manipulative at worst… IMHO

    Charlottesville was a strong reaction and dangerous event… Boston was a demonstration that owes a debt to their police… we shouldn’t need these demonstrations, nor should we, Christian or heathen, feel somehow righteous for participating in any mob… the goal should be to empower the downtrodden to a good end, not to perputuate or cater to anyone – as an old southern hillbilly might advise, “you keep pickin at that thing and it’ll never heal” 🙂

    our goal as a nation IMHO out to be to mature to the point where we can call out bad behavior without editing it for skin color – we ought to be able to analyze the Charlottesville
    episode as there is much to be learned from it – where are the teachers and leaders with the ability to do this?

    BTW – in spite of the blot on our recent history, racism isn’t a white disease, it lurks in the hearts of some no matter the race – and my question remains, why are any supremacist groups legal today?

  13. #12

    It comes down to Constitutionally secured freedom of speech and assembly.

    If we take that away from some, we take it away from all.

  14. #10 Erunner

    Thank you for that comment. As a younger man, I always thought about lynching as something “abstract”, until my mother told me of her experience. Likewise, when visiting Yad Vashem in Israel, I was troubled that I was not more greatly moved, until that evening I bought a Coke and as I was handed the change by the clerk, I saw the number tattooed on his arm. I came close to falling apart. This is about real people and real histories…

    I regret the fringe groups as well. That being said, I saw few, if any, “mainstream” people among the alt-right crowd.

  15. #13 Everstudy

    Agreed. It is the strength of our system, even if it is a bit messy at times.

  16. Okay, looking for someone with some legal insight when speaking of freedom of speech and assembly.

    When groups like the one in Charlottesville apply for a permit to publicly gather together and do their thing, to what extent can such groups be denied (or not denied) on the basis of their beliefs? Charlottesville allowed the gathering in their city. Other venues have denied permits for similar groups to gather.

    Can they deny at all on the basis of a group’s beliefs, or are the denials more along the lines of concerns of public safety? Are there other factors in play?

  17. #16 Kevin

    From the Library of Congress – the information on the US and the right of peaceful assembly begins on page 18…

  18. Thanks, Duane. From that document, it would seem likely that the rationale for denying these white supremacist groups (or even other groups) would fall under a concern for public safety.

  19. #19 Kevin

    That would be my reading. What I think is becoming increasingly problematic, however, are the open and concealed carry laws in most states. I grew up in a time where a protest sign might be carried, but not an AR-15 or an AK-47…

  20. i think if i walked down the street carrying something other than a hunting shotgun or rifle, i’d be stopped by the police pdq – maybe even carrying a hunting rifle would get the attention of the police, dunno… (at my age, that presents a very funny mental image)

    i saw that the synagogue in Charlottesville said that they were stalked by the supremacists during this last episode; can one really walk the streets brandishing a semi automatic gun? the police there didn’t seem clear as to what their duties were

    #13 – perhaps we need a clearer definition of assembly and our right to do so? i recall that the WW1 vetrans tried to protest – by camping on the Capital Mall – when their promised pay didn’t materialize and the government used a young officer named Douglas MacArthur to drive them out of town… weren’t some killed?

    when does right to assemble and to protest become insurrection? “it is a bit messy” indeed

  21. My home sits just a few miles from the former Aryan Nations headquarters. This community did an excellent job uprooting this hate group. It wasn’t easy and it took time. They used to march in town. It was awful. But I must commend the restraint that was shown by our citizenry.

    Some of these goons still roam around the back woods, but I haven’t seen anything in town for about 5 years. In the 80’s, North Idaho was defined by racist activity. Now, you have to look really hard to find it. But there of course are pockets here and there. Hard to uproot entirely.

    When it comes to dealing with racism, I think we must deal with people differently. It makes me think about how I’ve had to deal with people as the react to my son’s disability.

    Some people suffer from ignorance. They need to learn a different way. One of the best ways to break down the walls of their heart is get them face to face with people different than them. I can be a bit patient with them.

    Some people are blatant, in your face jerks. I have less patience with these folks, They people need to be challenged. One of the best ways we do this is by becoming a unified, inclusive, loving community. It makes them so mad, but if we hold tight they finally move on because they can’t handle people who are different getting along.

  22. Ok, after reading the post and the comments associated with it I’m a bit confused about what the main point is.

    Is it Jesus and His being the Messiah not just to the Jewish people but all the peoples of the earth?

    Is it about those whose faith was in the church establishment and were hurt through it?

    Is it about Western religious church history and all the errors it committed over the millennium?

    Is it about the violence in VA?

    Is it about gun control?

    Maybe it’s about Germany and antisemitism?

    Rather a loose homily, just not sure if I should take sides with any of it. But, I think it’s safe to write, you gathered people’s attention and passion.

  23. #24

    This is always a safe environment,,,,

  24. Then it’s safe to say that this was really well done, Duane. So glad that, although Jesus is very well aware of my history, His grace extends to my present.

  25. #24 – i think it’s been about all those things and asking ourselves how we respond to today’s issues … dunno, but thinking… thinking…

  26. As a historian, I have been accused of “living in the past.” I tell people I study, and teach history understand how the past informs the present. We haven’t come to where we are by accident.

    I spent nearly ten years studying extremist, and radical political movements. First researching the anarcho-syndicalism of the IWW during WWI, and then moving into researching Bolshevik political education policies during the Russian Civil War. Later I did personal study of “hate” groups in the late 20th Century.

    The common thread is a feeling of disenfranchisement (real or imagined) of the group members. The leaders of radical movements tend to masters of social manipulation, and propaganda. They find a perceived enemy, and exploit there followers by instilling fear and hatred.

    At this juncture both sides are being manipulated to believe this struggle is about statues and monuments. This avoids the true hard cruel truth of racism, bigotry, and prejudice in the US. As long as folks are tilting at windmills, nothing will change for the better.

    And, unfortunately, certain leaders of American Evangelicalism are selling their followers down the river. I don’t know if it is out of averice, or hubris.

  27. #28 David

    It is a sad commentary when you see business and art leaders distance themselves from Mr. Trump’s remarks re: Charlottesville, while those on his Evangelical Advisory Council stand with him. I think it is the desire for “perceived power” that now motivates them…

  28. For those who are interested, I would commend to your attention a Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Slavery By Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans From the Civil War to World War II” by Douglas A. Blackmon, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. It’s a chilling story based upon impeccable research.

  29. #30- this has been a sticking point with me for a long time… i think the focus on slavery is another red herring… but it keeps us from airing what the blacks went thru after the Civil War – IMV a far more egregious spot on our nation’s history as it is without any compelling excuse…
    the earliest pioneers were: “Young men and brave with optimism and competence. They came with Bibles, plows and muskets; the Word of God was their anchor. But their master, what drove them on, was the dream.” that dream may have overridden the Native American’s objection to their presence and the unwilling black immigrant’s resentment, but after the Civil War – it was just plain ugly human nature that surfaced… and fear, maybe

  30. #31 Em

    The book is about a practice that I knew little about. In several states in the South specific laws were placed on the books targeting blacks, such as “vagrancy”. They would be arrested, fined and assessed court costs. As they did not have the money, they would be sentenced to hard labor and their “contract” would then be sold to mine owners, farmers, etc. As they also had food and so-called shelter costs deducted from their contract, it meant almost perpetual hard labor, chained at night, until they died. (Slavery by another name.) This practice continued in many southern states until WWII. The corporations that benefited from this included large entities such as US Steel. This practice involved between 100,000 to 200,000 African-Americans. This at the very same time Jim Crow laws went into effect and… oh yes, the raising of statues commemorating the “lost cause” of the Confederacy in the South.

  31. working on a chain gang… hmmm ugly and God does see… their sins will by now have found them out, i suspect… so many souls – millions maybe – have suffered injustice and hardships – this truly is the devil’s world system… for a while longer
    reminds me of a song that old Tennessee Ernie Ford used to sing, “Saint Peter, don’t you call me, cuz I can’t go – I owe my soul to the company store” … in the Pacific Northwest (maybe other areas) logging companies would require the “employees” to purchase from the company store and live in company housing and, from the stories that i’ve heard, it was impossible to break even…
    we’ve come so far in franchising the common man in this nation… while things aren’t perfect (can they ever be?), we’ve got to be careful not to lose our system of checks and balances fighting old dead injustices…

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