Friday, September 30, 2005

Rowing Alone from Dictatorship to Democracy

I just want to give this guy a hug. Or send him a present. Or something.

It seems he set out to break the record for the fastest west to east crossing of the Atlantic by rowboat, but ended up setting a new record for the slowest, almost doubling the number of days he had initially hoped to beat. Bless your heart, Mr. Hicks. I can only imagine that you must be at least a little bit disappointed, but you did it! Two months into your journey, you knew you weren't going to beat the 62-day record, but you kept going. And now, 124 days after leaving the North American shore, you're home. It may have been a pretty dumb idea to start out on such a journey in the first place, but you did, and when the original schedule started to fall apart, you stayed the course.

I guess there's not a whole lot of other places you can go in the middle of the Atlantic, when you realize your journey isn't going according to plan. You just have to keep rowing, and make sure you stay on course. It may take a little longer than you had hoped, but if you stop in the middle of the Atlantic, you're screwed.

You know, I never supported the war in Iraq. I supported the war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, but can't bring myself to see what has happened in Iraq as directly related to 9/11 or terrorism. Was I president of the Saddam Hussein fan club? Of course not-- he was a coward, a murderer, and a dictator. But there's far too many cowardly, murderous dictators in the world for the US to take out in one war. Does that make me a liberal? I hope not. Does it make me un-patriotic? I don't think so. I love America and all that it is, has been, and can be. Do I support democracy, and would I want democracy for all the people oppressed and frightened by their dictatorial governments? Yes and yes-- everybody deserves freedom. I'm just not yet convinced that it is the role of our military to enforce democracy worldwide.

But the war has been started, and an entire regime has been dismantled. So many of our soldiers have given their lives in this war to ensure that the Iraqi people experience real democracy. The whole world has seen the United States government promise that we'll be there every step of the way. We've rowed out into a very precarious position, but the only option is to go forward. If we turn tail and head back for home, we've failed our nation, the citizens of Iraq, and our military; if we stop short of the goal we will have dishonored those men and women-- fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives-- who have given their all in the name of democracy and freedom. There is no rewind button, only forward (even if it isn't so fast). We have to press on, as efficiently and quickly as is feasible, and pray that with patience and strength, we will finish this race, albeit some time later than originally hoped.

You see, with a task so large, whether it be rowing the Atlantic or re-developing an entire nation's governmental and economic structure, you have to be at least a little bit crazy to think you can do it expediently. Neither one strikes me as the kind of thing you can rush, nor are they things in which you can dictate an arbitrary schedule. You cannot predict and schedule the behavior of insurgents and a newly-formed government any more than you can schedule ideal weather for a trans-Atlantic crossing. Nature is nature, even when it is human nature, and nature carries an inherent element of the unexpected and uncontrollable.

We could stop our part in the war now if we wanted, but the war wouldn't end just because we stepped out of it, anyway. We have to keep our promise. We have to finish the race we've started. And when we do, we may not feel the exuberant joy of a record broken, a prize achieved. We're too far behind our intentions for that. But we will celebrate completion, and there will be resolution and closure. That's the only way it will ever be over.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Cyclist Fear and Selfish Idiots

For those of you who have never seen me in real life, let me just tell you that I could stand to lose a few pounds. I'm not "please-oh-please-become-a-contestant-on-the-biggest-loser" big, but more like "holy-crap-I-really-am-thirty" big. A little lost around the middle, a little shrinkage in the chest, and a little lift in the backside, and I'd be pretty hot (again). But anyway...

So I've decided to get my big ol' rear in shape. I have a membership to the YMCA, but so little time, between my jobs and kids and hubby. But as of 2 weeks ago, I am the proud owner of a bike, a helmet, some glasses (so my pinguiculae won't be bothered), and an armband radio. I've been riding to work (5 miles, up and down hills) 3 days a week, and once I can do that without feeling an impending heart or asthma attack, I'll start riding back home, too.

Being on a bike, you're a little more aware of your surroundings than when you're in a car. You think about more, get a little more "Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance"-ey, and are constantly hoping that the day's car-drivers are nice, patient people. I've discovered that there are three different kinds of car drivers I encounter:
1) People who move over, possibly into the other lane, and it isn't a big deal.
2) People who move over, possibly into the other lane, and glare/honk/give the finger.
3) People who make a point of moving over as little as possible, just so they can make sure you know they're annoyed by your presence.

Now, dear reader, if you are in group one-- you are an angel and a blessing, and a contributing member of the human race. If you are in group two-- be a twerp if you like, as long as you don't hurt anyone. If you're in group three-- you're an idiot, a slug, and a shame on the human race.

It got me thinking about our fast-paced, me-first culture, and what a real shame it is upon our society that we have allowed ourselves to become so self-consumed. Someone in front of you is driving a little slower than you, they're a stupid granny keeping you from where you're going. Somebody chooses to ride a bike to work in a city where it is illegal to ride on sidewalks, and they're in your way, slowing you down, and they deserve to be frightened for screwing up your day. You feel a little depressed, and you wonder what is wrong with you, why is this happening to you. Did you ever think that perhaps everything isn't all about you after all? Perhaps you didn't plan well enough to leave on time to get to work; nobody is intentionally holding you back. Perhaps the reason you're feeling down is because our society is so whacked out that we think everything should always go our way all the time, and when it doesn't we act perplexed and hurt.

Maybe part of the reason you're glaring is because you wish you could get out of your box a little more. Maybe you're stressed out and angry because you've convinced yourself that's all you can be. Maybe that's what your parents were like, or somebody else you knew, and you just grew up thinking that random outbursts of temper and stupidity are normal. Here's a clue: they aren't. They make you look like a complete fool, and could not only hurt the person you're lashing out against-- they could hurt you in the long run.

Whenever somebody gets ahead of you in life, whether it be in their car, on their bike, in your office, or in some other area of your existence, get a grip. Act like a human. Don't be a baby. And for Pete's sake, pretend you have some self-control.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Family Time

My oldest son and I went to Camp Daniel Boone this weekend with our Cub Scout pack. We had a grand time—the Cradle of Forestry, the fish hatchery, the campfires. It was real, good old fashioned father-son time. I realized that that time is what I was missing. I sometimes forget that it’s not all ME in this world, and I have a wife and, especially, three wonderful, intelligent, sensitive, loving kids in my life—a family. A real, honest-to-goodness family. And suddenly all the slime of the daily grime washes away and I walk into the sunshine of genuineness.

Now, I’m not a Pollyanna. There will be times of frustration, anger, and disappointment in my life and in the kids’ life. After all, they’re only 8, 5, and 3. But I do have an optimistic outlook. I have good kids. I have a remarkable wife. I have a good life. And, really, that’s all anybody wants or needs.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Miss Clairol and Squeaky Clean Christians

I rented a great movie the other night-- Woman Thou Art Loosed. I've passed it in Blockbuster about a million times, but have always hestitated to rent it. Frankly, I'm all squeaky-cleaned out. As someone who never grew up in church, I always saw Christians and other church people as a bunch of head-in-the-clouds hoity-toities with no idea what it was like to live in The Real World, where Really Horrible Things can happen. When you hear about a movie, song, or TV show that is Christian-inspired, you can usually assume a few things:
1) Nobody will cuss.
2) Nothing remotely gritty will happen.
3) Anybody who does bad stuff will be stereotypically portrayed as an evildoer.
4) Somebody who was an evildoer will find Jesus, thus becoming squeaky-clean, super-happy, and bleached-blonde pure.
5) All loose ends will be neatly tied up, thus proving that if you turn to Jesus, you will never have a bad day again.
6) Chances of sucking are relatively high, as a good number of people throw artistic integrity and creativity out the window, trusting that the moral fortitude will provide all the necessary credibility.

So, renting a movie by Bishop T. D. Jakes was not high on my to-do list, particularly when the movie title sounded a bit chick-flicky and my husband would vomit if I made him watch it.

Sweet husband went out of town over the weekend, so I figured, what the hey. It may be stripped of any real grit and intensity, and it may feature extended discussions of romance, haircolor, and dreamguys, but maybe it will be okay for a night alone.

When I'm wrong, I admit it. This was one of the most intense, gritty, real-life, real-issues, speaks-to-me, put-it-out-there, what-it's-really-like-to-be-a-Christian movies I've ever seen. It's about paying for your sins, learning to look to a future you never thought you deserved, and realizing that forgiveness involves more than coming to the altar and declaring yourself to be free from your past. It's about the silly and pretentious ways we puff ourselves up for others, and how highly we value looking the part when it comes to sanctity. It's about self-sabotage and self-aggrandizement; and it's about stepping into the presence of God wretched, hateful, fearful, and bound, all the while reaching for the peace of mind and love you'd never before experienced.

And it really made me aware of how very rarely we see church people honestly portrayed as struggling the way I'm sure they must. Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that all church people are former crack-addicted, child-molesting wife beaters. But everyone has their pasts, and everyone's present is speckled with questions and gray area. This is what it is to be human. And some church people-- many more than you would ever think-- DO have seriously intense sinful lifestyles in their pasts. Jesus invited prostitutes to the table 2000 years ago; they're still taking Him up on the offer.

So why do we so rarely see this accurately portrayed in Christian media? For that matter, why is this so rarely acknowledged by the congregations of our churches? Full and public self-disclosure doesn't have to be a requirement to become a member of the church; Internal honesty about who we, the church, are does.

To those of you who look at yourselves wondering if someone like you could ever be accepted in church-- you already have been by the One who matters the most.

And to those of you who are so doggone saved that you can't even relate anymore to the YOU you used to be-- get over yourselves and get real. Jesus came to save us and to wash us clean-- NOT to bleach us beyond human recognition. You may think that you've covered your tracks and that everyone sees you as a pure work of God, but trust me, your roots are showing.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Confederate Flag Brouhaha

(Forgive me if this post is off-kilter. I just spent 45 minutes typing the original post, only to lose it without saving-- AAAAAAAGHHH! It will be impossible to capture the original spirit of the post, but I will try, because I love you, and because I'm so darn stubborn.)

Thank you, The State for demonstrating the way that the whole argument over the Confederate flag has become ridiculous.

For starters, the flag over which they are fighting is not the Confederate Flag, it is the Confederate battle flag. The first flag of the Confederacy looked surprisingly like the flag of the United States. It had 3 red and white stripes, representing the 3 states of the Confederacy that were original states in the United States, and a blue background in the corner with stars representing all Confederate states. Check it out:

The Confederate battle flag, which most people know, was only created later to avoid confusion on the battlefield caused by the similarities between the Union and Confederate flags. The First National Flag of the Confederacy is a much less divisive emblem, and one which (shamefully) many of the "proud southerners" claiming to want to honor the memory of their Confederate ancestors would not even recognize. Consider yourself better educated than more than half of our legislators and most of the writers for The State.

Now to the Sons of Confederate Veterans...

It is a fact that the Confederate battle flag was raised over the South Carolina State House during the height of the Civil Rights movement as a slap in the face of social progressivism and the movement for racial equality. The battle flag has been emblazoned on the bumper stickers, t-shirts, and tattooed arms of loud and proud southerners for decades. Often, it accompanies some sort of racist slogan like, "I Wish I'd Picked My Own Damn Cotton." Ironically, the ancestors of most of these rednecks most probably did pick their own cotton, as it is likely to be a miniscule few descended from the plantation class. Don't get me wrong-- I myself descended from a long line of southerners who picked their own cotton and tobacco and whose only whipping post was the occasional misbehaving son or daughter. But I'm not inviting public scrutiny into the possible hypocrisy of my racist declarations when compared to the reality of my lineage.

It is a fact that the Confederate battle flag, however noble its origins, is now a symbol that inspires mixed reactions among Americans. While it is a symbol that our Confederate ancestors honored, it has since been hijacked by racists and bigots, in addition to the few Confederate descendants who are genuinely wanting to honor their ancestors. The United Daughters of the Confederacy uses the First National Flag of the Confederacy in its insignia, and in so doing has avoided the whole "heritage vs. hate" dichotomy. Why must the Sons of Confederacy march carrying the Confederate battle flag when there is an option with fewer negative connotations?

My ancestors fought under the banner of the Confederate battle flag. They also stood teary-eyed, gazing proudly on the first national flag of the country they were defending. I feel no betrayal in my choice to honor the flag that more purely represents the ideals on which the Confederacy was founded-- the ideals my ancestors held so dear. If I can honor them and honor my heritage without bringing up in others reminders of the fear, anxiety, and horror of racism, then I am willing to do so. That best exemplifies the Christian compassion I'd like to think my ancestors would have wanted for me. The fact that the SCV cannot see this, and in so doing, is driving away the less-radical descendents of Confederate Veterans is sad. It simply promotes the popular misconception that all who honor their southern heritage are stubborn, narrow-minded, uneducated, backwoods rednecks masking their racism under the guise of historical preservation. I want no part of that.

Shame on The State for promoting ignorance, and shame on the Sons of Confederate Veterans for putting obstinant "tradition" above the best interests of the organization.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

More on Old Dudes

Like my picture? You know, the old dude sitting on the ground, pondering. I wonder if he ever could have known that in the year 2005 his son’s son’s son’s sons’ daughter would be sitting around pondering about him. On a computer. In a blog. That complete strangers around the world could read. I bet he would have liked that!

That old dude is my great-great-great grandfather, William. He was a CSA veteran, rumored to be the only one in his family to survive the War between the States. He’s the enigma of my father’s genealogical line—The One beyond whom we cannot find ancestry. His father died when he was young, and his mother quickly remarried, so there are not (at this point in my research) any records existing of who his father was (none that weren’t destroyed when the South was burned). Thank you, General Sherman. Your march took away something from generations to come that can never be given back.

You might wonder why it matters. I sometimes ask myself that, during moments of frustration when the records lead me to another dead end. After all, my present is my joy and my future is my focus. I have three beautiful children, a husband who should be canonized for putting up with me, and a family I love. I’m working on building my own legacy by improving myself, supporting my husband, and by loving my children and teaching them the values, morals, and scriptural truths they will need to build their own legacies.

Still, there’s something to be said for knowing who started this whole sh’bang that became my life. They’re pieces in the history of my state and country that make so many distant and faraway things seem so present. I can understand the Great Depression from reading about it in a history book; I can experience it through the eyes of my Great-Grandma, or my husband’s Granny’s childhood. I like to watch The Patriot and read about the founding and founders of our nation; but knowing that my ancestors Enoch, Thomas, and others gave their all to create a nation built on freedom and opportunity fills my spirit with pride in their accomplishments and in my country.

I can watch documentaries about the War between the States, or read historical writings, and these things help me to get it, for sure. But when I learn that my ancestor, who never owned any slaves, fought bravely to defend his nation, a nation that lasted only four years, because he wanted to preserve the agricultural, locally-governed, southern heritage in which he believed… That melts my heart. To see that his heritage has been hijacked by a handful of small-minded fools, that his battle flag was commandeered in the 60s by hateful bigots, and that very few people even remember that there was a small, fledgling country that issued its own money, operated its own government, earned international recognition, and made illegal the importation of slaves—these things weigh heavy on me.

I think about the things that I hold so dearly to be right—freedom, harmony with nature, the primacy of the family in social life, racial equality, gender equality, the importance of education, and the power of prayer. What will these things mean to my children’s children, and to the generations to come? Will they know that in 2005, a woman sat down at her computer, challenging them to remember?

My dreams for the future of my family extend so far beyond just my children. In learning about my ancestry, I’ve become acutely aware that in building strong children, I’m building for their children as well. You don’t leave a legacy in one generation. You build it throughout eternity.

My father is Thomas, and his father is Arthur, and his father was Roy, and his father was Lonnie, and his father was William. My mother is Tina, and her mother is Louise, and her mother was Victoria, and her mother was Maggie. They loved their children and grandchildren, and they would love my children and grandchildren and would want me to raise them right to continue the beautiful legacies in which even they were only a part. I’m doing my best…

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Katrina and Old Jerks

I grew up in the South. Not just the South, but Deep South, where everything is fried, preferably in bacon fat, and where there's only one kind of tea. For the last 8 years, however, I've lived on the west coast of Florida, with lots of transplants from all over the country, and with a very different sort of atmosphere/attitude/society/mojo than in the real south. I guess it kind of grew on me, although (in the end) it is why I longed to move back home.

Just over a year ago, I relocated back into the Deep South. Small town. No real mall nearby. Except the old one with mostly dead stores whose only purpose is to have its parking lot cruised by teenagers in low-riders every Friday and Saturday night.

So far, I've maintained some standards. I haven't been to a mud boggin or tractor pull, although I did go to bull-riding last February. I've tried to maintain some of my healthy eating habits, although it's been tough. I've tried filling my children with some of those lofty sociological concepts about genetics, social justice, race, gender, and history that I learned in an anthropology class long ago. And I've never been in a fight with a toothless old man at Wal-Mart, until last week.

Ever since Hurricane Katrina hit, our local stores have had booths set up outside by "Hearts with Hands," a local aid organization collecting items to fill a tractor trailer that they will send to hurricane-devastated areas. They have shopping lists with the kinds of items that might be needed, and you may (if you like) pick up a few items while in the store to drop off on the way out.

As I was walking into Wal-Mart, I decided that today would be the day I pick up a few items on their list. I went to pick up a list, only to be slowed by a toothless old dude, repeatedly saying, "Huh?" quizzically, almost as if to annoy the lady staffing the booth. Finally, I collected my shopping list, and started to head inside the store.

The old man puttered through the doors with me, and then turned to me, as if he thought I would surely be in agreement with him, and said, "Well, I think I've just about heard enough about that damn hurricane."

Not usually one to let a snide comment go by without contributing one of my own (a fault, I'll admit), I turned to him and shot back, "Yeah-- I bet all those people who live there have just about heard enough about it, too!"

Not ready to give up, he snorted, "Well, they've got nobody to blame but THEMSELVES."

By now, my eyes were red and steam was rising off my cheeks. I wanted to shout obscenities and call him the meanest names I could come up with, even if it meant making up a name or two. Instead, I turned to him and snarled, "You know what, I hope it happens to you one day, SIR!"

I am officially becoming a redneck, I think, and I'm not sure what to think about it.

In any case, it made me realize how easy it is for us to judge someone we know nothing about. I grew up in a coastal region of South Carolina, and lived for a few years in a beach town in Florida. I survived Hugo in SC, and Charlie in FL, and helped with numerous other relief efforts along the years. I remember what hurricane evacuation alerts meant when we were kids. They meant that a couple of my friends whose parents were nerds evacuated, and everyone else stayed. They meant that my parents and all their friends got together in the home of whoever had the sturdiest house with a keg of beer, some candles (just in case), and some board games. They meant that we got a couple of days off of school, during which time we could row our pool floaty boats down the streets, or ride bikes in knee-deep water. They meant that some goofy government official had gotten his panties in a wad again, usually over nothing.

I remember, as an adult, living on the Florida coast during quite a few storms. Every time a storm alert was issued, the city was a buzz. I'd go to the store to pickup some dinner, and have to wait in line behind the horde of crazies that had cleaned out all the bread, water, and batteries in the Tampa Bay area. Then I'd go home, and watch the news as nothing happened. A little rain, some minor street flooding, and an occasional branch blown off a tree.

It's no wonder people find it difficult to take seriously the government that cries hurricane at every deep-bellied sneeze in the gulf.

Fast forward to Katrina. So much blame, so many people to lay it on... Still, EVEN IF the mayor had issued a mandatory evacuation days in advance, there's no guarantee they all would have (or could have) left. EVEN IF the governor had coaxed the National Guard out of their bunker at the Convention Center, there's no guarantee they could have established order. EVEN IF FEMA had been competently managed by someone whose experience extended beyond horsing around, and IF the president had laid his pretty little feet on New Orleans soil sometime BEFORE 12 days after the hurricane... there are no guarantees that these things would have fixed it. But one thing is for sure: I can never lay blame on someone who didn't, couldn't, or wouldn't leave at the first breath of a hurricane warning or evacuation. I've lived coastal too long.

Nobody deserves to have their home demolished, or their family members lost or killed, or their babies starved or poisoned by unclean water. Nobody deserves to have their daughters raped while they wait for help. Nobody deserves to be blamed at a time that they've been victimized by the ferocious power of nature and are at their weakest moment ever. They need our help, now, not our judgment. And the same people who would say that it is not the government's place to provide that help need to step up to the plate and support private efforts to take care of our nation's citizens.

Old dude, you done pissed me off. But I feel sorry for you and your sad, sick little way of thinking.