I was born during the Civil Rights era. Too young to live it, old enough to read about it and know I was a piece of it. Living in the southwest in a diverse neighborhood of poor white, Mexican, Chicano, Yaqui Indian, Jewish Pharmacist, Korean, Italian, and Black (still saying “Negro” and not catching on to “African American” yet). Everyone got along in their own space so-to-speak. The children played together fine; it was a few parents who with time would cast the shadow of doubt of who was “OK” or not.

I learned how to speak a bit of Spanish and make tamales and tacos from the neighbor around the corner. I learned how to make the best spaghetti sauce from my neighbor across the street who did not read or write any language but taught me that two glugs of red wine was how much I needed for the sauce. “Two glugs! That is all you need Cathleen! That’s all! Two glugs!” She was right and it always tastes perfect. She had married an American GI in Italy during the Korean War. They had moved to the southwest, but she divorced him after his drunken abuse became too much. In exchange for the cooking lessons, I grew tomatoes, squash, collard greens and would give them to who liked them.

Although, I don’t remember my elementary school years, I read the history I lived through and I was still living in the making. How many of you remember Billy Joel’s hit, “We Didn’t Start the Fire“. So me, having no talent as a songwriter and only seeing my historical timeline, I might frame my version of Billy Joel’s song something like:

Harry Truman, lynching, Cold War, nuclear bomb drills, Freedom Riders, Segregation, JFK, Bay of Pigs, Marilyn Monroe’s Happy Birthday, March on Washington, “I Have A Dream”, President Assassination, L.B.J,
Purgatory on earth is still burning
Won’t stop until the love begins
And the hate ends. We didn’t ignite the fire,
But we can extinguish it.
Civil Rights Riots, 1964 Civil Rights Act, EEOC, Malcom X assassinated, Selma, Bloody Sunday, Martin Luther Jr, another Assassination, Richard Nixon, Watergate, impeachment, Vietnam, napalm, innocents die, Saigon to Ho Chi Minh,
Purgatory on earth is still burning
Won’t stop until the equal love of neighbor begins
And the hate ends. We didn’t ignite the fire,
But we can extinguish it.
Greed, politics, Bill & Monica, Loved and hated, prosperity and gain, Hillary, It Takes a Village, Village splits, impeachment,
Purgatory on earth is still burning
Won’t stop until the equal love of neighbor begins
And the hate ends. We didn’t ignite the fire,
But we can extinguish it.
recession, fallen education, failed health care, cartels, cocaine, 911, War on Drugs, Afghanistan, Iraq, Desert Storm, Colin Powell, Humvees, Desert Camouflage, flak jackets inadequate, George Bush, Blackburn, Dick Chaney, CIA, Rumsfield, coverups, the rich get richer, the economic divide now is an abyss.
Purgatory on earth is still burning
Won’t stop until the equal love of neighbor begins
And the hate ends. We didn’t ignite the fire,
But we can extinguish it.

I will stop there. Here we see the rub. Obama is elected. We see our true colors. What are the true colors of a zebra or a tiger? What are our true colors? Many felt when Obama was elected, we had matured as a country. Many felt we had moved past the color barrier. I am learning we have not even begun. We have not acknowledged our history in a factual manner. We in the white American society, have not acknowledged our “original sin” of “making this country great” on the backs of slaves. I am still learning the “real facts” about our United States of America history. Many of us who grew up in the southwest, have not or rarely hear of Juneteenth. That in my opinion, should have a recognized holiday decades ago. I should have learned of this important event long ago and so should have my now adult children.

As a child, I remember wondering why the Confederate flag was still recognized in the South and flown proudly as it represented an oppressive regime. Therefore, in this country of purported “freedom” why would we acknowledge a symbol that dictates otherwise? I was never given a satisfactory answer. I suppose it is like the few Nazi’s sympathizers keeping the swastika flag as their sign of oppression and white supremacy. Today I hear answers such as the Confederate flag is only a historic symbol. Historic symbol of what? In America we do have the 1st Amendment of freedom of speech as uncomfortable as that is for the large majority who do not feel the same as those who would display a Nazi or Confederate flag or even demonstrate their bias and discrimination in other ways.

I can’t help but look for the God image in people. I usually find that image looking back at me. I look at the sacrifice that Christ made for our sins. Knowing we are sinners and having God’s continued Grace and we have God’s redemption does not make it right to pass down prejudice from generation to generation. These biases are taught. There are the men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our freedoms, let us not use those freedom unwisely.

After speaking to a soldier who was tasked to picking up the remains of his fellow soldiers who had been killed by a suicide bomber, “I want people to know their sacrifice means something. They didn’t die for nothing.” Before Jesus was crucified Pilate announced that he had no basis for a charge against Jesus. Herod was pleased with the mocking of Jesus and of the soldiers ridiculing him. They dressed Jesus in an elegant robe to mock him further. Despite Pilate’s appeals, the crowd’s frenzy because of their leader Herod, they shouted, “Crucify him!”. As Jesus hung on the wooden cross he was forced to carry, Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Forgiving but not forgetting. Historical transparency. Love thy neighbor. Honest discussion with compassionate listening and discussion with “I” statements and “I wonder” statements. It sounds simple and can be simple in small steps as we get to know ourselves and our neighbors again with love.

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