My husband is a Virginian. Born and raised. He is a gentleman. He holds doors. He says sir and ma’am. He loves his family. He loves food and butter. Lots of butter. He is even named Robert Lee. You don’t get a lot more Virginian than my husband.
I almost didn’t marry him. For a few reasons, but for sake of this post, being a former New Yorker, I wasn’t so sure about The South. I had a skepticism about people who spent their whole lives in the south, but to be fair, I have this skepticism about anyone who lives any one place their whole lives. The world is so very big and diverse, and to not travel and see other places seems like you are purposely remaining ignorant and obtuse. And I want to know why.
I want to know why. I like to know what makes people tick. I like – no I crave – to understand people at their core, what drives them, what makes them afraid. I’m an INFP. That means I have a general sense of a person, but I need to be affirmed in what I think. I honestly want to know when I’m wrong just as much as when I’m right. I try to assume the best in people. I desperately want to be right about that.
I came to reside in Virginia in 2007. It was summer. It was the most humidity I have ever felt in my entire life. I remember visiting the area as a kid. I remember riding the Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens. I remember seeing Jamestown and seeing people dressed in colonial garb at Williamsburg. As a college student, I came with a friend to visit again. It was fun. Never in a million years would I have guessed I’d be living here. Little did she know…
And here I am ten years later. Married to it, you might say. My husband left but was drawn back. I kid him. Why do you think you can leave Virginia? It’s a playful jibe, but it’s filled with a heavy weight. What is Virginia? What is it made of? How does it tick? Can we separate out the hateful and dark parts of the past from the Commonwealth we find ourselves in today? How do we define ourselves? What does our definition include? What does it leave out?
This is a good time to be perfectly clear. A lot of innuendo and allusions don’t serve us well any more. Let’s be clear.
First, I cannot speak for any group of people. Neither can you. We are all trying to. It’s a futile effort, so reserve your breath for the important dialogues we need. I am speaking for ME, my experience, my opinion, my hopes, my fears. See them as that and non-representational. For every opinion I have there will be several others. I am not trying to answer them all. I never will try. I’ll leave the representation, for better or worse, to the politicians whose job it is to figure out who and what to represent.
Second, one of my deepest heart desires is NEVER to shame anyone. Shame is destructive and encompassing. I do not ever intend to make someone feel shame for anything – anything they have done, have not done, or are.
As such, I do not ask anyone to try to feel ashamed of their whiteness. I will never ask anyone to renounce their heritage in its entirety. Just as I am a Korean-American, I cannot and will not be made to feel inferior – nor superior – to any other ethnicity. We are equal. Truly equal in the eyes of the Creator-God, and according to the laws of this land. I do not dispute this.
At the core of what’s happening, we are asking really just one thing of each other and that is this: give up. You give up. No, YOU give up. This is how it’s going. This is the argument boiled down. You can call it “The argument of monuments.” Maybe that’s how it will be recorded in history. You say we’re proud of our heritage as is. They say, Make a better monument.
I believe in the debate. Some people would rather bury the debate and just say let it go- bygones be bygones and what not. To them, I say no. Every generation should rise up and question. It is a necessary rite of passage, if you will. It is necessary to a free and democratic people to question all the decisions of those that came before. Are we still of the same mind? Do we still see things that were as they are now? Hindsight being clearer, history is a path lit by the full noon sun. Why do we continue to try to view history with a small candle and flickering shadows?
So as we view the past, I’m asking you to consider your lens. I’m asking you to consider what legacy you are preserving. I’m asking you to consider others better than yourselves. I’m asking you to put others first. Not because I’m superior to you. Not because I know better than you. I am among you. I am one of you. And I am asking you because Jesus is asking you. The world is watching you for what it means to be a Christian and a Virginian. They’re waiting for your definition. They’re waiting to see what parts you want to hold up for all to see.
And all of heaven is watching you. Watching how you run the race. Watching to see what you do with the grace that’s been given, the extravagant grace, the prodigal grace. Has God squandered His grace on you? Has he thrown his goodness and mercy and riches at a people who just don’t know how to love well? Has he not shown us how high, how deep, how wide love can be? Have we not learned, after all this time, to love our enemies, how to love the Other well? If you cannot put aside your American-ness, your Southern-ness, your Virginian-ness, you are effectively putting aside your Christ-likeness. Be warned. Humble yourself or God will.
As a Jesus follower, I believe the monuments we build in life are at odds with the ones being built in heaven. As someone striving to Love God and Love Neighbor, I firmly believe that anything we erect here on earth that does not significantly point us to Jesus is a waste of resources. I believe that clinging to our heritage at the sacrifice of others’ well being is not what the Kingdom of Christ is about. We are not going to see monuments to any other man or woman in the new heaven and new earth. What we will see is the laborers, the very few, become spotless, precious jewels and pillars of the glorious temple made of every tribe and nation joined together in the most perfect monument to the most perfect and High King. What we will see is the unification of the multi-colored Bride, adorned and gorgeous, a living monument to the Shalom bought and won by the blood of Jesus. I stand with the only Victor that matters. My hope is in his victory alone. All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.