First posted on Facebook on Wednesday, August 16 2017
Let me say a couple of things. I’m groping in the dark for the right words.
I majored in history. In general I want to see historical artifacts preserved. I also know that some of what history calls “great men” are often people with great flaws. Humans are complex creatures, not easily divided into good guys and bad guys. Unlike in old Western movies, we can’t tell them apart by the color of their hat — much less the color of their skin.
Fact is, most of us are both. The one person many of us would agree is an exception said, “why do you call me good? There is only one who is good, that is, God.”
So it’s no surprise that some people think of Robert E. Lee as a good guy, others more as a bad guy. He was the first person Lincoln wanted to appoint as head of the Union army. (Good guy?) He chose instead to fight for Virginia. (good guy? Bad guy?)
In those days, with brother fighting brother in the bloodiest conflict this continent has ever seen, it’s hard to say there were any good guys. My great-great-grandfather left a wife and two sons in Massachusetts to join the Union army in 1861, and was buried in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1863. Was he a bad guy, or a good guy?
I don’t know who killed him, or whether that was a good guy or a bad guy either. So far as I know there is no monument to either of them. Should there be?
Do we have monuments to slaves, in city parks? Should we?
I think reminders of history are important. But what kind of reminders do we need?
Many of our founders were slave-owning freedom fighters. Good guys or bad guys? They wrote eloquent tracts on the equality of all men, while writing a constitution that defined some men as 3/5 of a man. Oh, and women? Not even mentioned.
Good guys, or bad guys?
As I said, I am generally in favor of reminders of history. But sometimes new things have to happen, to bring us to healing.
Know what I think? I think our country is still bleeding from the war that left my grandpa’s dad an orphan.
I live in the county that John Wilkes Booth escaped to. This history is very much alive.
It was also an important waystation for the Underground Railroad. That history also lives.
The wounds we still bleed from aren’t all the same. But we all bleed.
There is another historical reminder that hangs on the wall of many churches. It commemorates the way a certain person was executed as a criminal, long long ago. That same person who refused to be called good. We call it the Cross.
It reminds us of someone who chose to suffer rather than inflict suffering; to embrace death rather than impose it.
It points to our path out of this wilderness:
“But I say unto you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. …. do to others as you would have them do to you.”
That man practiced what he preached, and those who followed him called it victory. It’s the only way we can win.