…better keep your head.
The Confederate flag.
Done. Whatever noble or ignoble heritage it once represented, it does so no more.
As a son of the south, who was born in Tennessee, raised in Florida, then spent his adult years in Texas, I freely admit that I relate to the southern culture of warm embraces, a welcoming at the front door, a plate of food at the ready, a well-meant “hello” to strangers and friends alike, and a touch of rebellion and love at every turn. These are traits I learned in the south, from southern gentlemen and gentlewomen.
One of my earliest memories is of riding to downtown Nashville on a bus with my most southern and most gracious mother to shop at Castner-Knott department store. This would have been circa 1959 or 1960. Returning home, we got on the bus, and there were no empty seats, except at the back of the bus. I started back that way, and my mother said, “We can’t sit there. We can stand right here.” And we stood. My mother moved politely out of the way–and made me do the same–when a black woman got on the bus, making it ever so slightly easier for her to make her way to the back of the bus.
I thought the back of the bus was for special people. Of course, now I know that it was limited and designated ONLY for black people back in the pre-Civil Rights days, and I clearly remember the red line separating that section of the bus from the front section of the bus. I had no idea what was going on, as I was four, or maybe five. As it turns out, that part of the bus was for special people after all, because I couldn’t sit there. Mom wasn’t being racist. She was being practical and law-abiding. She was being southern. And she was being caring.
During this last week of discussions and arguing regarding the south and the Confederate flag, I keep returning to Revelation 3:15, which you can find easily enough at the back of the New Testament of the Bible, much like those seats were found in the back of the bus…
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
And later in verse 19…
So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
So, I choose to not be lukewarm. I do not care to be spewed out of the mouth of God! I have to pick a side–either hot or cold. Either racist or whatever it is that is the opposite of racist. So if He can invite me in to eat, then I can do the same to others, as did my mother and father, and those who came before them.
I choose no more Confederate flag. I choose whatever it is on that other side. I choose love.
I may very well know more about the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia and its history than some–or very much less than others. But this I know beyond a shadow of a doubt:
Whatever and wherever and however that flag began, it has become a symbol of racism and hatred, and during the last week, a symbol of murder.
As for my southern heritage? I cling to that as I do the Holy Bible, for that is where I learned the love of Jesus, the grace of God, and the importance of a cup or three of sugar and a stick of butter in the chess pie that my mother served to hundreds of people over the years.
My southern heritage is not tied up in a racist symbol of a renegade group of brave and honorable men and women who happened to believe in slavery and fought against what may or may not have been a northern aggressor attacking their way of life. But it is clear that the flag was then co-opted by the Klan and too many others as a symbol of hatred and fear. No.
I do not need the Stars and Bars to define me nor my heritage. I have so many more issues to serve that purpose. If you are from the south, then you do as well. If you are from the north, then you have your own issues, and you may deal with them in your own right.
Rather, my southern heritage is enveloped in that aforementioned chess pie, and ice tea with a cup of sugar in every glass, and Sunday dinner on the “fancy table, and two kinds of dessert (maybe three) at most meals, and at least three vegetables, and hymns sung under the trees in the front yard, and capturing lightning bugs in a Mason jar with my grandfather, and seeing the good in others even when they showed you their worst, and Wednesday night “prayer meetings,” and the Grand Ol’ Opry every Saturday night (with the Confederate Gallery), and praying before meals, and the smell of tobacco in the hanging barn (even though my grandfather was not in favor of using tobacco), and working hard for what you wanted, and hand-fans in the country church with the picture of a hipster Jesus on one side and the funeral home advertisement on the other, and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, and the painting of the Jordan River behind the baptistry, and “bless your heart” when it didn’t go your way, and the little communion cups in silver trays, and the hugs my father gave to all who entered (whether they wanted them or not), and Christmas Eve at Grandmommy’s house with the cousins and goofy costumes, and the Bible as a cornerstone of all decisions, and the Chuck Wagon Gang, and the “Do This In Remembrance Of Me” engraved into the communion table, and the love and caring of my parents, and their parents, and their parents–going back to the Civil War–and their parents, and their parents–going back to the Revolutionary War–who opened their doors to all who visited. And those visitors, without exception, whether white or black or brown, as it developed, left our home knowing that at least one household in the world–in the south–held nothing but love and care for them.
I am from the south. I do not own a Confederate flag. I don’t think one should be displayed in any state house, but I am not in charge of flags and state houses. In a museum? Maybe. That’s for the curator and the public to decide. As for me?
Chess pie, baby.