Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Gets In Front of Your Gospel? Or, the answer to the perennial question, "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?"

Question, "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?"
Answer, "Who cares?'

I have lived in the South for 14 of the last 16 years, and in the deep South for 9 of those years. So, I know about, and have experienced a bit, the race issue. I know, for instance, that not all Southerners are racists, nor were they in the past. I know that all racism is not of one kind, either. And, I know that many, if not most, Southern white folk would love to leave the race issue far in the rear view mirror. It is an embarrassment, a blot on an otherwise fine region of the country.

But, then there is always the sad spectacle of what happens on and around Martin Luther King Day. And, I am trying to understand that. The news headlines inevitably and appropriately focus on the King day celebration. Flawed prophet that he was (as all prophets are flawed), he led a movement that ended segregation in the South, and elsewhere.

Living in an impoverished city that is majority African American, I know that post-desegregation history has not been all sweetness and light, for white or black. Officially desegregated whites often segregated themselves by income into suburbs and private education.

But, as a suburbanite, I rejoice that my children had an African American principal, and my son had a fine African-American teacher. It does my heart good to go to a school and see not only black children and white children, but Asians and Indians. And, this in Mississippi. This is good.

But, the jarring reality of life in the New South still includes the matter of race and history. How bizarre that, while many gather to celebrate the achievements of Dr. King and those who followed him, a small group of Southerners get misty eyed around the Confederate battle flag, and commemorate Robert E. Lee?

The South, more than any other region of the country, is a place captivated by wispy, romanticized myth --think Gone with the Wind, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and almost anything written about New Orleans. Southerners romanticize the past. That is not to say that most people long for the days of manorial estates, hoop skirts, cotillions, and Negro spirituals wafting up from the slave quarters. No, we live in the twenty-first century, but southerners do look at the past under a romantic patina --glossing over the ugliness of slavery, and fire hoses, and murdered children without justice for decades.

Just as in our own lives, we need to look deep into our own hearts, and come to terms with our own sin, I think that each region of the country needs to look its past full in the face. We need to understand our presuppositions, our opinion-forming myths, and be able to look at these in the light of the gospel.

The Southerner immediately protests that the North was godless, Unitarian, heartless, and just as racist, and that the federal government grew tyrannical. The case can be made. What's the difference? The North doesn't celebrate U. S. Grant. Even the celebrations of Lincoln are not pseudo-religious in nature any more. He gets (rightful) credit for freeing the slaves. Nobody weeps at Grant's tomb.

And, they will also often protest that the Civil War was not about slavery. That claim is not completely without merit. The Civil War was the product of many influences and much history, and not about one thing. Mostly, it was about wounded honor, I think, as I hope to demonstrate below.

One of my college history professors explained the Late Unpleasantness in terms of the civil strife between the Cavaliers and Roundheads in Merry Olde England. England was not so merry in the seventeenth century. Kings and Queens rose up and slaughtered Protestants, Protestants beheaded kings. The Roundheads were the followers of Cromwell --Puritans, merchant and middle class, untitled rising wealth. They were, in short, Yankees. They settled Massachusetts, Connecticut, and all of New England. The kings were ready to be rid of them --let them have their Holy Commonwealth. The Puritans developed (or were heir to) a culture built on justice --it is not hard to see where John Adams got his sentiment "A republic of laws, and not of men."

The Cavaliers were the landed nobility, the warriors of the status quo. And, cavalier culture was built not on justice, but honor. Losing face was the cardinal sin. The loss of honor was a stain that lasted throughout generations. And, the Cavaliers shaped the cultural mythos of the South --though they themselves were soon outstripped in numbers by the Scots and others. People are at a loss to explain the contradiction that was Thomas Jefferson --against slavery, but holding and profiting from and likely fathering children with, slaves. Or to explain the contradiction that was Strom Thurmond --an outspoken segregationist who carried on a torrid love affair with an African American.

But, these are no strange things in an honor culture. Look at Italy and omerta, or the Middle East with its ancient grudges and self-immolating zeal for honor , and one will again see similarities. Justice societies think in terms of guilt or innocence, right or wrong. Honor societies think in terms of offense or shame --why Arab fathers will murder their own daughters for dressing too provocatively. Sin is not guilt measured by an impersonal standard so much as it is betrayal against a person.

All of this explains why the War of Northern Aggression still sits so heavily on the Southern heart. It is not just a matter of a lost war, but the overweening vengeance of the victor in the period after the war. Grant and Lincoln were far more favorably disposed towards rebuilding the South than the Radical Republicans were --and they did no Southerner, black or white, any good.

And, it also explains the Klan (which was despised by most patrician Southerners, and opposed heroically by some) and George Wallace (who, again patrician Southerners despised), and why Emmett Till and Medgar Evers didn't get justice for thirty years or more, and why a Detroit housewife named Viola Liuzzo was shot in the face.

So some Southerners nurse the wounded pride of the lost cause. But, let's be clear about what that cause was. It was a cause of building wealth off another man's labor. It was the cause of breeding humans like livestock, of stealing children from tribe and family, of splitting up families, of opposing evangelization of the slave population, of rape and beatings. And, in the twentieth century, it was the cause of bombing churches and murdering little girls in a church, and murdering anyone working for change, and barring entrance to universities because they had the temerity to eat at a lunch counter or not move to the back of the bus or enroll at Ole Miss, that halcyon and hallowed institution.

And, the question, after all this, is, "Christian, is Robert E. Lee worth putting in front of the gospel?" Lee was a man of sterling character, a person worthy of esteem in many regards, a true gentleman and a Christian. But, none of that matters now. If the white church holds him up as some sort of paragon of Christian virtue, what are our chances for reaching our African-American neighbors with the gospel?

Some will protest that this is "their" problem, if it offends "them." Scripture says we ought not to eat meat if by our eating we destroy our brother for whom Christ died. And, more pointedly, Scripture says that race pride is a practical denial of the gospel, and that those who practice it within the church may just forfeit the kingdom.

I love the South and its history. I labor to understand it. I think it needs to look its history square in the face, and by the power of the gospel, turn away from it.


  1. As a historian, I love the paradoxes of history, inherent in the study of a creature both made in the image of God and also fallen into sin. The constant push and pull of good and evil within the same historical leaders and movements is what makes history a constant source of interest and truth.

    But frankly, what I see as a Christian view of history is least appreciated by "my own crowd" of conservative Christians. I've learned to keep my mouth shut when around my fellow theologically conservative believers, who in general hold a view of history in which there existed at some point in recent history an almost-heaven-on-earth. That somehow, America was closest to heaven and perfection at its founding and that only in the last generation or so has it been polluted by sin or Communism or Socialism (sometimes I can't tell if they're all the same or not). Or that everything went bad when the South lost the Civil War (I admit to being tempted toward this point of view, at the same time admitting the evils of slavery but also believing that God isn't an industrial capitalist either). Or worse yet, that it was when America started accepting non-white citizens into full participation in our government.

    No one who loves and studies history can help but acknowledge the complete injustice of the Jim Crow system, and no matter any particular person's flaws, the courage it took to stand up to that all-pervasive system must be admitted and applauded.

    I am so thankful that, unbeknownst to me, God placed me in a neighborhood that has transitioned to majority African American in the time I've lived here. I have to say, I wonder at the patience and kindness of my black neighbors toward me, knowing the terrible history. I wonder if Mississippi had fewer black Christians in the early 20th century if there wouldn't have been great violence and an overthrow of the white minority (at the time).

    It's not amazing to me that the Civil Rights movement happened, but that it happened with relatively small amount of bloodshed. We should thank God for that, not scoff at the way it was accomplished. And knowing how completely many Christians accepted and participated in that system of oppression in injustice, we should examine our own culture for our own huge blind spots.

  2. Okay, how come nobody is commenting on this? You must have kicked the hornet's nest for sure. Let me speak in support of what you're saying from the perspective of a recovering Confederacy-worshipping-racist-reformed Christian (I know, its an oxymoron, hang on). I grew up more or less indifferent to race. My Delta grandmother had a yard man and a maid who wore a uniform but we kids loved them like part of the family. I went to a public high school and had a few, but not many, black friends; the atmosphere was more or less one of peaceful (but separate) coexistence. At Ole Miss in the early 80's "Dixie" and the flag were still king and things could occasionally get ugly when frat boys got a few drinks in them; but all that was more sort of settled institutional racism. The greatest irony is that I did not become a virulent racist until I was converted my junior year and was exposed to and charmed by the vision of the "land of cavaliers and cotton farmers;" Dabney, Stonewall, Lee, and especially Jackson, were elevated to positions of honor bordering on the extreme. Some of the rhetoric that we good white christian boys tossed around could get pretty ugly. Maybe some of it was a bit tongue in cheek, but a lot of it was not. I think it was Faulkner who said every southern boy (and especially Ole Miss boys, heirs to the University Greys) can imagine himself crouched in the trees up in Pennsylvania as George Pickett lifted his sword to order that glorious (?) charge toward the Yankee line up on that far away ridge. Could there be a more honorable death than to die in the service of our beloved Southland? Like you say, its all about honor, right? And we bought this stuff, hook, line and sinker. Along with the racism that went with it.

    Its been a long journey from those days. It began when I left a large church to go sit under the preaching of an abrasive Yankee in an older church on Northside Drive. Our pastor challenged our racism. He challenged our worship of the old south and its heroes. He even called Robert E. Lee and Stonewall “war criminals” (or something to that effect) from the pulpit. I really thought there might be a killin that day. Slowly God began to change my heart. As our church grew and its outreach to the neighborhood grew, I found myself taking communion next to black friends. How can the n-word roll off your tongue after that? And so its gone over the years. I’ve made good black friends in the church; they are my brothers and my sisters. I’ve read more in the history of the civil rights movement and the atrocities that were committed during those times and am horrified by the violence and stirred by the courage of those of both races who stood for truth and justice; courage, by the way which easily equals that displayed by our boys in grey in the 1860’s. While I have the obligatory (and genuine) respect for General Lee,General Jackson, and all those brave men and boys who gave life and limb for the sake of "home", I have grown to be an even more passionate fan of men like William Wilberforce and John Newton.

    So can we honor our heritage? Absolutely, but we must not worship it and make of it a false god. And we must never be unwilling to look at the sins of our fathers and call them what they are without being anachronistic or pompously judgmental. Likewise, we can honor the bravery and passion for justice demonstrated in the civil rights movement while acknowledging the flaws of the movement and some of its leaders as well.

    All to say, you’re right on the money. Yankee boy.

  3. It is always dangerous to comment on something that you have a fairly limited understanding of, but I've never been one to think before I leap...

    It seems to me that the message of assigning blame to the south is unfair or at least somewhat unbalanced. I say that because all human institutions since the fall are built on the exaltation of one man at the expense of another. There seems to be plenty of historical evidence of racism in the northern states during and after the War Between the States as well. Especially RJ seems to be implying in his post that everyone who holds Lee, Jackson et al. in high esteem is a racist needing of reform. I think you would have to ask the same questions of anyone who elevates Lincoln, Grant and the "heroes" the north puts forward in an unhealthy way. There are qualities that are to be admired of men like Jackson and people who recognize them should not be painted with such a broad brush. If the WBS is recognized as a war fought about states' rights, which I think it was, the ugly reality of slavery of that time (and throughout history, by the way) should not be laid at the feet of one of the sides. As Lincoln himself said, "If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery."

    Is it not true that we should then down-play the heroism of good ole' Abe? Slavery and racism is ugly in all its forms and it exists in many places today, both in the north, south, east and west.

    My humble opinion...

  4. "Gleasonesque",

    The danger in commenting as an intern is the assignment of copious amounts of additional reading, partly out of pristine pedagogic motivation, and partly out of scholarly vindictiveness.

    So, I would (ahem) recommend laying your hands on the hard-to-get 4th volume of the Discussions of Robert Lewis Dabney, in which he argues against the ecclesiastical equality of persons of African descent (after the war), the speeches of Edward Rudledge, delegate to the 2nd Continental Congress from South Carolina, particularly the use of the words "our peculiar institution."

    And, then, also the grandiloquent speeches of the inimitable Sen John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, particularly noting the use of the word "nullification."

    Then The Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. Then, Wrestlin' Jacob by Erskine Clarke.

    Then read a biography of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the hideous Southern general (worse than Sherman by far, I think) and founder of the Klan.

    And then live in a Southern small town for 3 years, and deal with racist elders.

    The problem with the states' rights theory/mythos, is that it is overly simplistic. The right to do what? IF the federal government, before Roe v. Wade, had come in, and told the states in which abortion was legal, that their practice was immoral and had to cease, would you have objected?

    To try and extricate the Southern cause from its entanglement with its agrarian slave economy is an exercise in futility. States rights (like state sovereignty in more recent memory) was the right to keep and sell slaves. And, it was a wretched system.

    Say what you may about the North, the north did not breed people or split up families.

    One of the greatest philosophical arguments against abortion is just the concept of basic human life versus idealogical and esoteric rights. In short, when it comes down to a choice between an intangible (like a "right") and a person, the person wins out. Jesus, for instance, didn't die for states' rights, but he did die for slaves.

    But, the larger point is not whether Stonewall or Lee were good men, but who cares? IF I were to preach (as some PCA pastors of note do) on the character of Robert E. Lee, I might be fully right in my estimation. But, if there is an African American in the congregation, and he hears the name "Lee" like a Jew hears the name "Hitler" (and not without reason), then I have put my allegiance to an historical figure in front of the gospel.

    And the question simply is, "Is it worth it?"

    More to follow.

  5. The whole call to get over it is that the history is long past. What is more recent are the murders of Vernon Dahmer and Medgar Evers and Emmett Till, and the little girls at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, and the fact that many of these people did not see justice until the 1990's. Why? Why all the bloodshed? Why the violence? Why separate washrooms and drinking fountains, etc? Why George Wallace in the doorway? For a lost cause. For a romanticized ideal of the past. It is wrong. And our call as preachers is to be prophetic against the ills of whatever culture in which God places us. No culture is more friendly than any other to the gospel. You will discover, if you live in the south for any length of time, that the Christian veneer of the south is just that --a veneer. Sometimes, I long to serve where the battle lines are clearer, and the distinction between church and world is a bright line, not a gray one. Because here, the church sweeps a load of hideous evil under its beautiful Karastan rug. The South is a wonderful place to live. But, as one of the best Southern authors has said, "The South is not so much Christ-centered as it is Christ haunted." (paraphrase). Christ sits here as a cultural specter, a part of the myth, a part of the romance. But, for many folks, he is not a living reality. And thanks "RJ" for your comments, brother!

  6. "It seems to me that the message of assigning blame to the south is unfair or at least somewhat unbalanced.....Especially RJ seems to be implying in his post that everyone who holds Lee, Jackson et al. in high esteem is a racist needing of reform"

    Oh Gleasonesque please read the post! First of all, my post was a toned down version of thoughts I'd shared with Ken offline; If you want to hear the PG 13 version I'll be glad to have that conversation. Second, I truly hope my post is not open to the interpretation you took away from it. Please note (a) it largely anecdotal, based on my personal experience (having nothing to do with wholesale indictment of the South); (b) I'm careful (I think) to say we should honor Lee, Jackson et. al. to some degree. I was careful to say we should neither condemn them with an anachronistic pompousness nor should we elevate them to a place of undeserved prominence when that may become a barrier to the Gospel or cause harm to an African American brother (I have the classic painting of Jackson leading prayer in camp hanging over my desk....I wonder how my African American friens who come into my office feel about that?). I will say this however without apology: if that "high esteem" for those men is a cloak for a pride-born class hatred of men and women created in the image of God then YES, it should be repented of. If its not; no problem.

  7. It's interesting that this discussion, which started out with a post about Martin Luther King Day and the perception of the Civil Rights movement in general among conservative white Christians, has turned inevitably back to the Civil War. I happen to disagree that equating Lee with Hitler is ok. And while I don't think a pastor should be preaching a sermon about how great Lee was, on the other hand, if a black congregant holds such a negative view of Lee that he sees him as a Hitler figure, that is yet another cultural viewpoint that should be challenged.

    But Ken and RJ are right on the money about the Civil War/Lost Cause/States Rights arguments being used as a cloak to disguise a much deeper virulent (but nowadays mostly polite) racism that survives, to our shame, mostly in conservative white Southern Christians.

    I don't agree with all the consequences of the Civil Rights movement (as I don't think all the consequences of the Civil War were helpful to our society), but the bottom line was the South had legally oppressed, lynched, denigrated, and humiliated a whole class of citizens, humans, created in God's image, for a hundred years since the end of the Civil War, and finally enough people took a stand against that injustice, including some often naive but still very courageous white liberal young people (some even COMMUNIST!!) from the North. That the federal government had to further intrude on states' rights in order to bring about change, and that some of the changes have brought about harm to the black community, are secondary to the main point before us, which was, why did it have to come to that? Why couldn't white Christians stand up to their own culture and make the first step in the Civil Rights movement? That's a shame on ourselves, and should cause us to re-examine our relationship with our culture.

    And while we're all into being ashamed, I should mention that in fact, I think Mississippi (and the South in general) will be better off in the long run than places up north and out west where they have never had their noses rubbed in their own inconsistencies and hypocrisies. Here in Jackson at least, I see a humility and willingness to work through problems because of the knowledge that we acted so badly in the past. I have met older people who were once completely oblivious to the racism around them who now happily live in an integrated neighborhood. Unfortunately, the children of those same people have often moved to the mostly segregated suburbs where they use terms like "safety" and "for the family" or "good schools" as the new code words.

    The King Edward grand opening a few weeks ago was such a wonderful time of blacks and whites coming together to do something productive for the whole community. It was a great celebration of the new integrated Mississippi. But so many of the letters to the editor from outside the city said it was a foolish venture and would come to no-good. I wonder how many of those same letter-writers were sitting in their pew on Sunday singing songs about the beautiful City of God and how all the nations would be in it?

  8. Hey Jennifer,

    Good thoughts. I am not sure it is okay to see Lee as Hitler --certainly there is no moral equivalence there in my view. It is rather whether that interpretation matters viz putting something in front of the Christian message.

    And, I actually think the suburbs are more integrated here than many other places. I love that my kids are with Indians, Chinese, African-Americans, Arabs, and the like.

    The quality of education is a real issue. Note that the highest percentage population moving to Rankin County from Jackson is African-American.

    And it is folly for the suburbs not to care about the city. Detroit is a classic example, and now the short-sighted suburbanites are the ones paying the awful price --the Pontiac Silver Dome was built for 22 million in 1977, and sold for $500,000 in 2009.

    I would not have put my kids in Jackson schools because of the quality and safety issues, which are real, black or white.

    And, likewise, I would have had major qualms with the private schools because they tend to be fairly white.

    I rejoice in Jackson because there have been such great strides made, particularly in the last 15 years. When we lived here before, an ugly letter was circulated among the membership of the church to which we belonged, protesting that church's involvement in MIssion Mississippi, and saying very hateful things about their then pastor, and taking back "our" church.

    I don't think you would see that today. I think there is a deep sense of shame and a desire because of that, on behalf of most of the Christian community, to come together, and be "color blind" (which is not a non-acknowledgement of color or culture).

    I also love the energy invested in downtown and Fondren, etc. But, for the sake of black child and white, schools need to be addressed. Teacher and administrator cannot be wholly blamed, of course. Family structure has much to do. Yet, a caring teacher / administrator can overcome a lot of familial problems.

  9. First, an acknowledgment to RJ that my summary of his post was inaccurate. My apologies for not reading to the end of your thoughts.

    In addition, reading Ken's posts again I think my initial response was not called for. Like Stuart said last night, "You don't know what you don't know." It is not uncommon that I fail to recognize that. Happily I acknowledged that at the beginning of my first post. I'm sure it is a lesson I will learn in the distant future and a mistake that will be repeated with some regularity in the future. With spring semester starting up and knowing that I will not be able to read what is necessary to gain a clearer understanding, I yield the floor to the rest of all y'all. The exercise has not been entirely futile. It has (re)piqued my interest in the WBS and I intend to do some more reading on the subject (of those who both argue favorably, and unfavorably about the south) when time permits. Thanks for taking the time to point out inconsistencies in my thought.


  10. Wasn't going to comment on this -- I told you that I end uo eating my foot all the time because I comment largely upon MY experience and then when I look back on my comments I can see where they could be interpreted the wrong way or sound as though they're meant to point outward when really they're inwardly focused... But I like this discussion and I just wanted to say that I agree with the statement that by the power of the gospel, we should turn away from our history -- study it, yes. Value it for showing us where we've been, yes. But worship it, no. There is no shame in admitting that you and your heritage have been wrong -- one might actually find freedom in the truth. We're all human and we all have parts of our heritage that are sinful. It's not embarassing to be wrong because we're all in the boat together to some degree or another. There's no need to get relative and point out that the North was racist too. While it may be true, it's no excuse for our bad behavior. One of my dad's favorite phrases is "Two wrongs don't make a right." Whatever ills came from the Union will never balance out whatever ills came from the Confederacy. It is time to move on. And as Rob illustrated so well, the Holy Spirit can and does change us and allow us to move forward. But I think racial tensions will always remain in our country because we are sinful. All we can do is our part.

  11. "Sometimes, I long to serve where the battle lines are clearer, and the distinction between church and world is a bright line, not a gray one."

    This is not sarcasm. I am genuinely curious -- is there truly such a place? Sounds like a utopia to me...

  12. Katie,

    Good comments above.

    Of course there are tons of places like that. Seattle would be one. NYC. Toronto (Hi Geoff). New England. Western Europe.

    Of course, if I were in those places, I would long to be here...

    Sigh....life is longing, as CS Lewis rightly pointed out!

  13. :) I get it. I've never lived anywhere else, so I didn't know. Seems to me that there are always going to be ugly aspects of humanity to deal with. Though I understand that Jackson is pretty separated not just racially but class-wise as well. I love it here and this is my home but I have seen the ugliness that we are capable of. For instance, in college (*clears throat* a small, Baptist college in Clinton that I will not name *clears throat again*), I was an RA my sophomore year. At the end of the year, it was time for the girls to sign up for rooms and we were over the new dorm. There was a group of black girls that really wanted to get in to the new dorm because the old dorms were pretty gross. For some reason, the RD over us felt that these girls would cause a problem and made us stand across the front of the line to watch out for them. I was too intimidated (shamefully) to refuse, so I asked to just work the table so I wouldn't have to stand in front of these girls like a 60's police officer. Nevermind that there were plenty of prissy, white, well-coiffed and made-up girls in the line looking out for their own interests as well. It had to be the black ones that were suspect. And I knew those girls and knew that there was no previous behavior that should cause concern. They cried that night because they were forced to the back of the line so they didn't get to sign up for the new dorm. I have never hurt so badly for another human being in my life. I completely understand why you long so badly to be somewhere else. I do too sometimes but I'm thankful that we're here because if we all left, there would be no one else to balance things out and try to effect change.

  14. *Affect* change. Urgh. I can't get away from grammar!

  15. Ken,

    Thank you for this post. The follow-up discussion has been profound as well.

    Jeff Hutchinson
    (You know, Chris' brother)

  16. Ken,

    I think we're walking together through most of this, but I think here's where I go off-track: "But, for the sake of black child and white, schools need to be addressed. Teacher and administrator cannot be wholly blamed, of course. Family structure has much to do. Yet, a caring teacher / administrator can overcome a lot of familial problems."

    First, why the passive voice "schools need to be addressed"? I wish I could explain how much this sounds like a soldier who has left the fight yelling back to his compatriots still in the trenches, "Charge!" You can't have a huge chunk of a population leave (along with their taxes) and expect that things will continue to work well, especially when the chunk is primarily middle and upper class. Our society has become so fragmented and self-centered that there's no sense not only that individuals have a commitment to their community, but that that community will and should include poor and disabled people and that these people are God's children too. That's a concept that I think the Roman Catholics have Protestants of almost every stripe beat hands down.

    I have three group homes for troubled kids (two for boys, one for girls) within two blocks of my house. Which is fine--my parents ran a similar home as I was growing up (we were out in the country though)--but here's the kicker--the owners (a middle-class black couple) live in Madison with their own children, and farm out the management of these homes to others. Meanwhile, they answer all neighborhood concerns with "we've got to help these kids. Don't you care about the kids?" Well, yeah, I do, but excuse me, if you really cared about the kids yourself, you'd have them next door to you in Madison, or you'd come live here in Jackson with them. Your expressions of concern (speaking as if to these people) are absolutely without merit when you won't even make the commitment to live in the situation with these kids.

    And, to finally get to my second point, yes, the problem is familial, and teachers can help, but the best way to help poor, single-parent families is to live near them in neighborhoods that they can afford. Help watch the kids in the street, talk to them, give them snacks, get to know their relatives, build relationships. Just be there helping watch the street and keep away as much of the bad stuff as you can. It's not a one-off thing. It's a life thing.

    I'm sorry to seem so grim--this is something I've been thinking about, possibly brooding about, for a long time, mainly when I had to face down drug-dealers on a regular basis in front of my house, and when Darrell was off safe in sound in Iraq :-) A little more help and a little less carping from the sidelines would have been appreciated then, and perhaps I got a little bitter over that experience.

  17. Jennifer,

    I guess I am somewhat at a loss as to how to respond. I agree, in principle, that we cannot abandon the city, and that it is a travesty that community has all but ceased to exist in the US.

    The problem of schools is thornier than simply staying in and putting your kids in and going and yelling in a mic at school board meetings. You need a mass of people, and local control to fix anything.

    I really think the answer for Jackson would be charter schools. If we had had them when we moved here, I would have more seriously considered Jackson.

    We chose Madison but public because our two options really were Madison and public or Jackson and private. Neither is a perfect choice.

    MY heart would be to live in a neighborhood like Fondren or Belhaven, and certainly not in places in Jackson that are even more segregated than Madison (Woodland Hills, for instance or Eastover).

    So, I am glad you are where you are. But, at the same time I cannot see how it must be the right answer to put kids in a system that fails them and all around them.

    Is money and white (and now black) flight part of the problem? Certainly. But, it is a chicken-egg problem. Desegregation caused whites to flee --and that was wrong. Drugs and poor education are causing blacks to flee. They want better for their children.

    Fleeing is always bad, but I understand wholeheartedly the wanting better.

    After all, it was the wanting better for Abby that caused us to leave an idyllic church in the midst of an idyllic mountain setting, and an idyllic tight community to move once again to Jackson!

  18. Not that I could have afforded Eastover or Woodland Hills! :-)

  19. Anything, even church, can get in between man and Christ. Ask the sincerely religious men who were roundly criticized during Christ's work here. I would even say that going to a racially diverse church ( I do) can get in between a person and Christ. Once "my" congregation gets to thinking that our sins are less than yours are, we've got trouble. Anytime I select a congregation to worship with on the basis of anything other than a love of Christ, I have trouble.

  20. RE Jennifer's 2nd post: we need a Southern equivalent to Godwin's Rule. :)

  21. Denise, I was drinking a root beer when I read your comment and snorted so hard it almost came out of my nose. I am cracking up. What a great point!