It’s Not All Black and White
You see that image above? Men squaring off on each other. I shot that a few years ago at Shiloh Battlefield – what do you know about Shiloh? (Shiloh means ironically, a place of peace) Does it matter today in terms of our own social unrest in the streets and squares of any of our cities across America? Fighting each other. Killing each other. Sound familiar? Do we even really know why we are so angry?
You know, when I left Kentucky as a young man in my early twenties, ready to fight for “Justice,” and to begin my journey to change the world, I didn’t realize just how ignorant and naive that ideology was in the context of social justice and even in terms of the Biblical life in Christ. I was a believer and a sold out follower of Christ, but I really had no idea the magnitude of warfare I was wandering into or just how many landmines there were in the ever changing human landscape of the modern age.
This writing is for those who wish to heal a nation, restore broken lives and fractured souls, and for those who wish to participate in the freeing of those held captive by many years of hate and bigotry.ElusiveFreedom
“Elusive Freedom” pretty much sums it up for me these days. While I have a much greater understanding of the battle fronts and can even stand my ground in any race-driven discussion, I remain perplexed by the complexities and pitfalls that continue to drive the hearts of men to hate one another. Oh man, there will be some that will read this and they will become inflamed. They’ll take the position that I am a white man and that I have no place in taking a position or speaking into the matter of racial tension and conflict. Over the years, it has amazed me how many times this has happened. It’s really interesting when it happens on social media and is driven by people who have literally no investment in racial relations or who have never suffered the trauma created by racial tension. I have. Many have. And, it is for these folks of all races that I begin this journey into the hearts of men.
The truth is, we all have a bit of angst in our hearts. We all have some biases. We all share different and diverse cultures. Sometimes, we believe our culture is better than the other guys. But, you know what? I’ve learned over the years that it is OK to be different. We don’t all have to agree. We do however, need to learn to respect one another. We must learn to communicate with each other and learn to listen.
You see, I have had the opportunity to meet many of the heroes and villains of the civil rights era. I have been on the receiving end of both black and white hatred. Ironically, whether it was dealing with black militants or white supremacists, I found one common element in all of them… ignorance. On the other hand, I have also had the pleasure of meeting some of the “greats” in Atlanta and around the south, both white and black; men and women dedicated to pursuing healing and reconciliation. Don’t we owe it to humanity to at least attempt to work together in slaying this dragon that threatens us all?
Here’s the thing… and, it is a thing… God created all of us equal. That does not mean we are all equal in every way. It means that he loves us and that he died for ALL of us. It means that we have equal opportunities to serve and to live our lives as we choose. The decisions we make will frame our lives. In my case, decisions that others have made have had a huge impact on framing my circumstances, beliefs and biases. Yet, there’s this one thing that makes us all equal and it levels the playing field for every single person. It’s called the cross. But, that discussion would involve discussions about power, love, rational thinking – rather than fear, envy and strife. Those discussions will come a little later. But, for now, we’ve got to establish a few boundaries and lay a few ground rules. In the end, I’ll share with you the single most important factor necessary to solve these issues of culture wars and bigotry.
You know how it goes, because you’ve felt it too. “Some” will always have something hateful to say. Let’s not involve them in the discussion. What if we keep the discussion in the light and without bias? What if when we identify bias and confirmation biases, we call them out with grace, and we dig deep to find ways to communicate better? What if… what if we were honest enough to believe that there are enough wounds to all races at this time in history and that all people deserve a chance to be heard? What if we fought hard together, to be sure that Truth is encountered and even pursued during our cultural engagements?
This writing is not for those who walk along those paths of strife and ignorance. This writing is for those who wish to heal a nation, restore broken lives and fractured souls, and for those who wish to participate in the freeing of those held captive by many years of hate and bigotry.
This article isn’t for those who wish to square off as the thousands did over and again in the American Civil War. Neither the Revolutionary War, nor the Civil War ended or concluded with the freedom of all in mind and heart. It was about 2008 when I took my little family to Gettysburg for the first time. It was there that the years of my frustration with racism came into view, and subsequently into focus. It was there, that I realized the massive sacrifice that many thousands had given to free the black man from his oppression. It was also there that I learned not to hate those who had done the same thing over and again to me as I missed promotions, endured slanderous remarks and unprovoked violence, recovered from injuries inflicted by race-driven conflict, and ultimately – it was there that I came to terms with wickedness of my own human heart. For the first time, I understood the burden of the black man, but I found something deeper after realizing that my own great-great grandfather had fought and sacrificed much, as he and his brother fought throughout what was then called the “Western Theater” and what we now refer to as “the South.”
I’ve been to Gettysburg more than a dozen times since, but I’ve also traveled the many battlefields where my grandfathers fought for their own freedom, as well as that of the slaves. I wonder often what it must have been like to be a young German immigrant fighting to support a nation of bigots who hated them too. Yes, this issue of racial hatred is much bigger than blacks and whites. In truth, all lives matter and in the course of history, I have learned that yes, we must turn into the headwinds of black/white tensions. However, it’s not at this level where we will find healing and restoration. The problem isn’t inherent in the color of our skin, or the differences in our cultures. The problem is very much rooted at the very depth of depravity in the heart of man. The human heart. It’s human nature to hate and it’s human nature that causes us to war with each other. (See Book of James, Chapter 4, any version of the Bible)
We Have to Look Back
So, can we sit down here with each other for a minute and talk, real-talk? I’m not kidding. See this man? See those lines in his face? I can’t tell you how many discussions I’ve had with men just like him. The lines in my own face are beginning to really show. If you are 50 or older… your probably like the rest of us, and it really doesn’t matter if you are black or white – or any color of skin for that matter.
Some folks like to say, “Don’t look back because you’re not going that way.” I’d say to you that if you buy into this nonsense, you are never going to get to where you are going.– davidHenderman
Why did I share with you about Gettysburg and the Civil War? It’s really pretty simple. That war never ended. The man who was trying to end it was killed and a long road to healing actually never happened.
Some folks like to say, “Don’t look back because you’re not going that way.” I’d say to you that if you buy into this nonsense, you are never going to get to where you are going. Not because you don’t know the way to your destination, but because you really don’t understand where you came from. I shared a little about my ancestry and family history because it was only when I really stopped, looked at where I was in life at that moment, and then looked back, that I realized I was off course. It was from the “looking back,” that I realized I needed to make some serious course corrections before I was completely lost.
I began to pray. Fervently, I began to seek God and ask him to deal with my own biases and my own developed hate toward those who had hurt me deeply. The odd thing about it was that I didn’t recognize my anger and hate for being what it was… hate. I believed I was frustrated. I believed I was justifiably angry toward people who used their color of skin as an excuse to hate me because I am a white man and “representative” of a culture that “they” hate… sound familiar? So, I shared a little about my family history to lay the groundwork of now more than a dozen years of research and preparation to turn into this headwind. That history I learned as I traveled from battlefield to battlefield would also release my mind and emotions to begin to understand the roots and causality of a problem that is actually much deeper than race and race relations. Over the months to come, this blog and associated podcasts, videos and resources will explore many of these findings. I’ll introduce you to people like the man above who care and who are not in “the movement” to shine a light on themselves, or to capitalize on the deepest rooted tragedy of the “American Dream.”
As it turns out, my ancestors were persecuted from Scotland by the English, to young Benjamin and his brother Leo, by the Americans they fought to defend. It’s a story in itself, how the two secretly joined the Union Army and fought from the birth-pangs of the Civil War which erupted in guerrilla warfare in the hills of West Virginia, to the battlefields of Shiloh, Chickamauga, Perryville, Stones River, Chattanooga, and others. Benjamin would escape war to become a respectable man and fight to protect the voting rights of all who wished to vote after the war. But, Leo would become an outlaw criminal who died from emotional wounds, very likely from bigoted commanders who drove him to a criminal mind and pursued him, only to force him back into Union service after he decided he had had enough – much the same as many thousands did on both sides of a war that would never end in the “United States.”
“Elusive Freedom” is my way of saying, I don’t buy into the narrative. The plan here is to share with you why, and to share with you what I’ve learned over the years with respect to the realities of the human tragedy that we now attempt to paint over with slogans, programs, books and even riots.
Amazing Grace, My Chains are Gone
So you want to solve the problem of “racism?” After years of observing and experiencing the hatred of others, I will offer you this one key to the entire problem. Oh… no. It’s not a key or cure that is going to be a “magic bullet,” or a wand with pixie dust to sprinkle and it’s all going to be better… Because, you see, just the idea that I would use the words “magic bullet” in this paragraph is going to turn some readers against me right out of the gate. It’s bias – and we all have it. We also all give in to our own levels and versions of confirmation biases, which push us on to believing our own rhetoric and versions of our own truths… I wonder if you were one of the ones who read those words and immediately labeled me as a white cop who… you fill in the blanks.
Look, social media is the most dangerous toxic weapon to ever enter the realms of our generations. I’ve written some professionally about that, but that issue is a volume to itself. Here’s a link to a professional paper I wrote a couple years ago that might be interesting for you to use as a discussion guide for your organization, group, or even your family. Racism in America is a catastrophic issue. But, it doesn’t have to be. Yet, it will continue because America is intoxicated with killing Truth and destroying anything that pushes back on the “rights” of individualism. So much to unpack here, but we’ll save that also for a later time.
So, what’s the key? I started with it… First, let’s get real. Let’s get really real and get down in the weeds of authenticity. Anything less is going to fail. As this project unfolds over time, we’ll talk about the old South’s use of a post Civil War program called the “Lost Cause.” Have you ever heard of it? Talk about not being real! What a crock and a load of dung, designed to spin a “new reality” and a new narrative. That narrative has contributed greatly to millions of Americans misunderstanding the events that led to the American Civil War. Battlefields like Stones River, just outside of Nashville go unnoticed because it’s not big enough for the big screen like Gettysburg. Yet, I bet you didn’t know that thousands of white Americans, including my great-great grandfather fought there to free the slaves. They knew exactly what they were fighting for and thousands of them would die in this battle for freedom. Benjamin’s blood still runs in me, and I am just as committed as he was to seeing the end to this plague that looms over this nation.
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was prepared to make concessions and even pull out of the Civil War had that battle been lost? Did you know that the great sacrifices made by thousands of white Americans on those blistering cold days of December resulted in the ratification and signing of the Emancipation Proclamation? Whoa! What’s that? It’s really critical to know and understand that racial bias goes in all directions. We are human beings dealing with hearts that harbor wickedness. That wickedness has played out in tragedies of brother-against-brother since the beginnings of mankind. But, there are weapons that can win this war. There are strategies that can lead us to victory!
Now how cool did that sound? But here’s the thing… The truth is, we can talk and sit around tables, campfires, alters, street corners and mountain tops until the Lord comes back… But, if we don’t stop, take a look at ourselves – all of us, and realize that this generation in America that is dealing with racism isn’t the first generation to suffer, we will completely miss the opportunity before us.
The “opportunity” is that we do have the possibility of being the generation that fought and killed the giant of racism. But, the probability of that happening is diminishing. Why? Because the Church in America is diminishing. Racism didn’t begin in America and it won’t end in America, as it relates to the rest of the world. Slavery is alive and well today. It continued after the Civil War in several forms in both farming and mining. Did you know that? Did you know that the average white person believes that black people are more hateful than whites. Why is that? Does it bother you that I said that? It should. Yet, it is a true statement.
Then, other white people have no experience with racism and they believe everything they hear in the news. They jump on a social justice program at their church or community and now armed with social media, they become self proclaimed “experts.” It is really ridiculous to see white people trying to relate culturally to African Americans when they have no cultural reference points. I’ve said these things realizing they may be inflammatory to some. I’ve also shared them, as they will also sound like music in the ears of both blacks and whites who live in the real world and who really want to see our generation fight this cause and build on the great works laid down by the fathers who have gone before us.
esse quam videri – to be rather than seem
The key to this fight is to begin first by realizing that the matter is a matter of the heart in ALL men and women. Our biases and hates come from who we are and who our parents were. We must look back to find a steady course forward. We must look back, and then again to the front to establish a course that makes sense and that is based in reality. We have to fight this battle with truth and we must ALL learn to listen to each other. Remember this: Our generation did not start this problem. But, neither did the one before us… or before them… or before them… hate courses the veins of us all… History can teach us what we need to know in how to kill this toxic vine at its roots.
Want to end racism in America? We start that fight by becoming AUTHENTIC. Our Churches are the places we start this process. We find and build our faith roots strong and we find in each other the good that God created and the strength to wage a war of peace. We win that fight by being REAL. esse quam videri – to be rather than seem. I have lived by this standard for many years and even incorporated it into the heraldry of my now retired security contracting company. After retiring that firm, I committed my path to something I now call my Journey to Authentic. I hope and pray you will join me!