Intersections and Bright Orange Vests Part II

26 08 2010

Along highway 15-501, you’ll find great stories and meaningful lessons, all by watching people – the begging people. Their actions, clothes, bodies, hair, stations and signs tell a story. Granted, a lot of people don’t believe that story and suggest that they are misleading, living a comfortable lifestyle amongst their friends creating a business of begging, but I beg to differ.

I don’t disagree that they may have another concealed life, but I do disagree that their lifestyle is comfortable. I can’t imagine begging as a comfortable practice or business venture. I can’t imagine what is so relaxing about degrading oneself day after day to get a dollar, or even a few coins. Being on the underside of the economy is uncomfortable. It is humiliating. It is distant. It does not even require contact. Begging is a lonely business, a disconcerting effort to survive and live wrapped up in looks of disdain and harsh glares from passersby’s.

And the beggar’s overall invisibility and one-dimensionalism  is strangely a survival mechanism. Smile your toothless grin, say “God bless” and continue doing the dance of “I need your money, please help me.” That is surely humiliating.   

I was at the light in the third lane over frantically searching for a dollar from my change compartment hoping that I would have enough time to signal him over to get whatever I had on me, but the light changed suddenly and slowly traffic was resuming.

Knowing it was too dangerous to pull the stunt of holding up traffic and ask him to dance across two lanes of fast-moving traffic; I replaced the dollar hoping for another opportunity later. What I looked up, he was gone. A second later he stood up as he now stood erect from the crouched position he had when he was previously picking something up. Dangerously close to breaking the median-lane barrier, he stood staring at whatever it was in his hand. It was a dollar bill. He stood looking at the bill for what seemed like eternity. He was in disbelief.  

Suddenly his stare changed from the bill to the car the bill had come from, a silver car speeding hurriedly to its’ next destination. He stood staring.

I could feel his hurt all the way from my car, and he hurt badly. He wasn’t even human enough, worthy enough, visible enough to have a dollar bill placed in his hand.

The ground was more respectable.

What would or should have my Gospel, our Gospel have done?

I don’t want to learn about the Confederacy

2 08 2010

Normally I’m not this bold but we were early for a wedding. So the passenger in my car took the picture after I did a very illegal U-turn to get a much desired picture of this strange sign.

I call it strange because I don’t know what to do with it.

As a person with dark skin it should automatically offend me.

And it started to.

But then I paused. And thought.  Then I wasn’t so sure if I was offended.

But I was confused, not only because this sign was present in Brodnax, VA, in my home state, where I know African-Americans live, but because I’m Nigerian.

And in all honesty, a Nigerian DOES NOT have the same history as a African-American in America. Our histories are quite different. But sometimes as a second generation immigrant (or 1.5 generation immigrant as a friend so cleverly pointed out), I don’t think I have the right to be a certain kind of offended.

I have the right to be angry on behalf of my brothers and sisters whose history tells a dark tale of greed, hate and Christian intentions, but I myself have no right to fully feel the pain that they feel.

Because I literally can’t. I can ask my grandmother what town she was from and what our people did, and are good at. I can go home to the continent of Africa and know that this is where I came from.

Many of my brothers and sisters can’t do that, let alone have to deal with the fact that missing identity, forced lack of memory and the legacy that is African Americanism, is a painful one and one not asked for.

Sure I’m grafted into “being” African-American based on my accent and look, but that only lasts a moment. People hear my name and know that I am different. Even if I wanted to be African-American in solidarity with my brothers and sisters, I can’t.

And I shouldn’t try to. I wouldn’t be me if I did.

So back to this billboard. Am I offended? I think so. But I’m not selfishly offended. In other words I’m not offended because it’s the black thing to do. Its presence may hurt others, therefore it offends me.

And I’m sorry for the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives for the livelihood of slavery. They lost their lives for a terrible cause.

I’m sorry that they have passed but I’m not sure I would celebrate the cause of their death.

Perhaps this isn’t patriotic, but perhaps it is.

Death is easy for no one. But that doesn’t mean that every death is a good one.

This flag, this billboard, this African death at the mercy of white Southern pride is a prime example for me. One dying on behalf of the “right” to continue remembrance of the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual death of tens, hundreds, thousands, and millions of people is not something to celebrate. It is something to mourn over, slowly and painstakingly.

So no thanks “Sons of Confederate Veterans”. I don’t want to learn more about the flag. If it’s a painful reminder of hate to others, then I’m not sure I’m interested in taking time to learn about those who adamantly defended it. Let alone loan them my honor.

This issue is exactly the tension different cultures trying to exist in one country face. One can’t be proud without offending another. Self-pride is nearly impossible. Because one is lifted up at the downfall of another.

So I guess the solution is humility.

What that looks like all around is for each us to pray about and decide in community, especially in a community that isn’t carbon copy “me’s” but a community of people who don’t look like, sound different from, talk different from, and believe different things are important than us.

Jesus looked for those He wasn’t supposed to be with and named them and their hearts ideal candidates for the Kingdom of God. I have a feeling God’s kingdom won’t care about the North or the South, black or white. I think God’s Kingdom will care about peace, and love, and stuff that self-pride won’t permit.

The real question is are we willing to look to others for the truth about ourselves? Are we willing to forfeit “who’s right” for “what’s right” in God’s sight?

God willing, we are willing. But that requires honesty.

And less billboards.

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