Sunday, January 12, 2020

Meghan, Harry, and History

The British royal family provides pop culture with a look at real-life royal majesties. While it looks like a storybook way of life, Harry and Meghan appear not to like the story.

The Royal Couple has decided to opt out of responsibilities associated with the British monarchy. I have always wondered how conscience works in the mind of a prince or princess. From infancy these heirs are addressed as "your royal highness." Most, it seems, come to believe in their own highness. Some take this belief to such an extreme that they believe they can do no wrong. Others use their highness to bring about justice and hopefully prosperity.

But the British monarchy has been built upon untold generations of exploitation. The subjects have always been in service to the crown. And the British empire has reached to every continent on the planet, colonizing along the way. The little people of the undeveloped lands have been organized for their own improvement, and, of course, for the benefit of the empire. Everybody wins when the empire exploits.

As an American, I can see how colonialism can have desirable long term results. But, unfortunately, we Americans have taken too many pages from the imperial playbook. While we have no king, we understand the advantages of building empires and exploiting others.

So, Harry and Meghan sit on the top of the heap of history, enjoying benefits of royal oppression. What is one to do? We can speculate about how much influence the now-princess had on the life-long prince. But I wonder if Harry has experienced pangs of conscience for quite a while. It certainly looks like he has found a soul-mate in Meghan. We may never know if they plotted their defection from royalty all along.

I suspect that Meghan's egalitarian perspective has helped to open Harry's eyes to some absurdities he has always questioned. Why is one family to be so revered? Why must royals adhere to such arbitrary rules, such as the way one crosses her legs? Does any of this seem, well, silly to you, Harry? Do we have to keep playing along?

Does the royal role of highness really bring more justice? Is there any way to correct the wrongs of colonialism? Can monarchy truly be reformed, or is it a lost cause?

If Harry believes that the monarchy is a lost cause, how miserable he must be. To follow his conscience, he would have to turn his back on his family. What a wretched choice he must make.

It seems that Harry's relationship with his brother William has become quite strained. This saddens me the most. As a casual observer, I have always thought that the brothers shared an unbreakable bond. But the tension in Harry's heart seems to be pulling the brothers apart.

What a grave responsibility has been given to these men at birth. May they find wisdom to do what is right.

Maybe it is time to ask some fundamental royal questions. And maybe the empire can really set people free, all around the globe. Meghan and Harry are boldly stepping out and away to experience that freedom.

Friday, December 13, 2019

We need a Greta Thunberg

Time Magazine's person of the year, Greta Thunberg, created a stir when she spoke to the United Nations on September 23. She received a wealth of media coverage for her challenge to world leaders who are failing to address climate change. She spoke with conviction and passion. She also spoke at the 2019 Climate Action Summit, where she declared that failure to stop climate change has robbed her of her childhood. She spoke with urgency and conviction.

She called out leaders who care more about public appearance than actual solutions. She has some good points, although she seems to believe that changes in human activity can completely solve the problem.

I think that we need a Greta Thunberg to speak out against the U.S. debt. The debt is entirely within human control. It has possibly reached the point that it will never be paid off. Every president since Jimmy Carter has sounded the debt alarm while campaigning. And every president has allowed the debt to grow. Obama said that deficit spending was irresponsible, yet the debt doubled on his watch. Trump criticized Obama, yet he has proposed a budget with an annual deficit of $1 trillion.

How dare these politicians spend our money this way? How dare they waste dollars on anything but essential government services?

And a trillion is a lot. A million seconds is about a week and a half. A billion seconds is about 32 years. A trillion seconds is about 32,000 years. In other words, all of history has not yet seen a trillion seconds. We are $20 trillion in debt.

How dare our leaders not take this seriously? How dare they ignore this threat to our country?

What will happen when the dollar collapses?

Unlike climate change, we know that this is entirely our fault. And everyone wants to ignore it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

God's Helping Hand

So often we think of God as the cosmic cop, looking for all the ways you mess up. We hide from that kind of surveillance. And we resent it.

But God is not really like that. The word "satan" actually means "accuser." God is not our accuser. He's our helper.

"For I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand and says to you,
Do not fear;
I will help you." --Isaiah 41:13

With divine tenderness and compassion, God reaches through all the clutter, busyness, sin, rebellion, fear, and anger in our lives. He reaches through and takes us by the hand. He is for us. He is with us. He longs to help us, right where we are.

God is reaching out his hand to us in the midst of all the pressure, travel, temptation, expectation of this holiday season.

Take his hand. He is with you. He is for you.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Tears for America

This morning I was reflecting on Veterans Day, and I thought of all my friends who have served in the U.S. military. I thought of the great privilege of living in our country. It really brought me to tears. My father, grandfather, and other ancestors fought for our freedom.

In our land, we live in peace. I don't have to worry about marauding gangs coming through town, breaking into houses and businesses. Soldiers don't stand watch on the corners because we don't need them there. People from all around the world long to live in the U.S. because of the great opportunities, resources, and freedom here.

We celebrate innovation in America. We allow creative minds to benefit from their inventions. Inventors can patent and market their new creations, bringing new products and technologies to the rest of us. We expect every gadget to be improved every year, from cars to vacuum cleaners to cell phones. And we also expect to be able to get any item in the world delivered to our door, often overnight. Our culture is all about better, faster, cheaper.

We are also a generous people. As charities thrive, our country shares love with all kinds of needy people--those with medical needs, financial needs, emotional needs, spiritual needs. When there is some disaster, we respond with food, medicine, equipment, workers. We do that across the country and around the world.

Our great blessings bring tears to my eyes. But there are also other kinds of tears. We incarcerate more people than other countries. We don't always live up to our belief that "all men are created equal." Our free market has rewarded greed. There are high rates of suicide and addiction. We can monetize virtually any endeavor. We tend to be materialistic. We claim to value life, but often fail to protect people until they are born. We believe in equality, but minorities find that some are more equal than others.

We long for society to be just, fair, and free. Our highest ideals are lofty, and we often fall short of them. In spite of our imperfection, we also like to "encourage" other cultures to take on our ways of life and government, assuming that our way is best for everyone. Doesn't everyone think like we do?

At home, too many are at each others' political throats. The "gotcha" culture sets a trap for everyone who takes a stand. Our principles say that everyone has a right to free speech, no matter how absurd or offensive that speech may be. But some self-appointed guardians have created arbitrary rules of political correctness.

There is a gap between our principles and our reality. But our principles really are worth fighting for. Thank you to our Veterans for taking that stand and putting their lives on the line. May we seek to honor that sacrifice by living into the real American values of truth, honor, and justice.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

The Big Itch

Yes, it's a big itch. Somehow this stuff finds me. My last two bouts with itchy plants have been particularly severe, and I never saw the offending plants.

I am rather an expert at spotting poison ivy and poison oak. Poison sumac, I'm not so sure about. Apparently it was sumac that attacked me in August. Then last week I was pulling out kudzu when again I was exposed to urushiol, the poison in those poison plants. The gap between my work gloves and my long sleeves provided plenty of room for skin contamination.

I did wash my arms, but not soon enough, not thoroughly enough. Sigh.

I have heard that the reaction to these poison plants worsens with each exposure. And I've been getting the rash since childhood. I have gone for months and years with no breakouts, but this season has been brutal for me.

I want to find some spiritual lesson in this, or maybe a Bible verse about no itching in heaven. In the meantime, I can only try soaps and lotions to treat myself.

I promise to be more careful. I promise to wash my skin, way more than necessary. I promise to keep looking for something good in these plants. No, that's a lie. I just want to kill it.

A severed poison ivy vine by the farm creek. 
I blew through this vine with my 12 gauge one winter.
Die, hateful plant.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Reparations for Slave Descendants

I need to start with a disclaimer here. I have not researched the case for giving reparations to descendants of American slaves. There may be some compelling reasons for the U.S. to make these payments. But in my ignorance, I have a few observations.

Americans of African descent live in a context that white people cannot begin to understand. A black friend of mine told me recently that if his car broke down at night along a highway near Stokesdale, he would not consider leaving his vehicle to find help. It would be dangerous for him to flag down another car or to approach a house nearby. People would feel threatened by him and could cause him harm. That is not the world I live in as a white man.

Money fixes everything. Or so we think. Our American capitalist society agrees that everything can be monetized. Spending money equals addressing a problem. If Americans of African descent have been wronged, then we can buy our way of it. The payments might not make things right, but they will make things better, the thought goes. And if things are not actually better, at least we did something. We tried. This mode of thinking minimizes the struggles of black Americans. It is based on a false assumption: that money will fix everything. But reparations cannot make my friend feel safe on a roadside at night. No amount of money can change that.

Reparations can actually be harmful to the recipients. An American Indian friend of mine believes that reparations to Native Americans exacerbated their plight. He talks about growing up on "the res" and the struggles of his neighbors to navigate in the broader American culture. Not only did the reparations fail to help, they actually hurt Native Americans. I must confess that I was unaware of these payments to Indians, but my friend saw a lot of negative fallout from them. Reparations for African Americans might work better than those for Native Americans. But we would do well to anticipate unintended consequences from reparations.

I think reparation payments are the wrong approach to the racial divide in America. This divide runs much deeper than dollars and cents. Hearts and attitudes need to change. And maybe that will get us started on changing law enforcement, food systems, the judicial system, hiring practices, lending practices, and mistrust.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Farewell, Dixie Classic Fair

So, we went to the Dixie Classic Fair for the last time on Saturday. Next year the Fair will have a different name. Now we know that the word “Dixie” is offensive. So much for Dixie Cups and Dixie Chicks.

The term Dixie actually comes from New Orleans, where French culture influenced the local slang. In French the word for ten is dix. The ten dollar bills that circulated were known as “dixes.” Over time people associated dixes with the Louisiana region and eventually all of the South was known as “Dixie.”

I have rejected the effort to change the Fair’s name because it attributes a racist, hateful quality to a word that has no such meaning. Or does it?

Thanks to an article in the Greensboro News & Record, I learned that there is more to it. The Fair began in 1882 as a grain exposition. A few years later they included tobacco in the exposition. From there the Fair grew. But in 1956 they changed the name from the Winston-Salem Fair to the Dixie Classic Fair. It was a whites-only event. The (Colored) Carolina Fair was the black version in the 1950s. Until 1963, the DC Fair remained for whites only. Hmm, does that look racist?

The article quoted a Winston-Salem resident who remembers being excluded from the DC Fair as a child. She surely sees the name of the Fair differently than I do.

I wish they would not change the name of the Fair. I have decades of Fair memories, especially with my children. The Fair represents happy, carefree times—times of cotton candy, funnel cakes, Ferris
wheel rides, petting sheep, feeding goats, seeing huge pumpkins, and admiring creative crafts. My associations with Dixie Classic Fair are all positive.

That’s not the case for everyone.

Would I be willing to accept a name change, even though I don’t like it? Maybe that is especially appropriate. African Americans for centuries have had things forced on them. Things that were not right, not fair, not reasonable. An event name change is a small annoyance for me. Maybe, just maybe, I might have some slight idea of the injustice our neighbors have endured for generations. Maybe this name change will help me see that many people look differently at the DC Fair. Events that bring me happy memories can bring painful memories to others. Maybe they should just get over it.

Maybe with the name change I should just get over it.

I wish they would not change the name of the Fair.

Even more, I wish that the Fair had never excluded anyone.