Yes, I Want To Erase History

In the current debate over statues of confederate leaders one of the objections has been, “You just want to erase history.” I’ve not heard the most obvious answer to that.

Which is, yes.

Erasing is what we do when we’ve made a mistake. In this case erasing doesn’t mean pretending that the Civil War never happened, as if the battlefields of Gettysburg would let us do such a thing. In this case, erasing means acknowledging that an interpretation of history was incorrect.

More properly said, it is erasing mythology. It’s a mythology so beautifully displayed in Gone With the Wind – the noble Lost Cause, the valiant fight for states’ rights.

And not a word about slavery.

It is erasing a mythology that says that white people are better than black, that white people should be in charge and make the decisions and keep themselves separate from blacks. Separate and truly not equal.

Lest you doubt that this is the mythology supporting these monuments, consider that many if not most of them were erected in times of civil rights struggles, both at the turn of the century and in the 1950’s. They celebrated not the sacrifice of war dead but the worldview for which they died: whites are better than blacks and should be able to determine where those black folks went to school and where they sat and where they ate and where they relieved themselves.

Look, we are erasing and revising all of the time. Sometimes it’s because our knowledge is always incomplete and as we learn more, we have to erase as fact what we once thought to be true. For example, I was taught in school that by a certain age our brains were fixed. We could lost brain cells but could not add to them. That’s what everyone thought.

And it wasn’t true. With new imaging possibilities, we’ve learned that our brains are capable of making new connections throughout our lives.

Sometimes we revise as act of repentance, realizing that what we once held not only wasn’t true, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right to deny black children the same educational opportunities as white children. It wasn’t right to treat black folks as less than human because they are just as much beloved children of God as the whitest Daughter of the Confederacy. It wasn’t right, even though preachers of the time argued that it was what God intended.

And it isn’t right to put upon a pedestal people who fought to keep another people enslaved. Move the statues to the museums where they can be put into a context. Erect statues of people who fought injustice, not those who perpetuated it.

Lest you think this is just another knee jerk liberal writing this, let me tell you a little bit of my history. As a proud Virginian, my grandmother had two portraits on the wall of her house: George Washington and Robert E. Lee. I grew up seeing Gone With the Wind every year when it came around to our movie house. As a teenager I loved going to the Salem College bookstore because there  I could buy books about the Civil War, including a biography of Lee. I have lived my entire life south of the Mason-Dixon line.

My ancestor was wounded at Gettysburg, fighting for the Confederacy. And my ancestors owned slaves. In a surviving will provision is made for one of those slaves.  I own that part of my family history but do not celebrate it.

Let us declare the mythology for what it is. And let us continue to write a true history.


Free preview: When You Can’t Find Your Way Home

Free preview: When You Can’t Find Your Way Home

(Today I’m giving you a peek into my free Heart Callings group on Facebook. Each week I share a reflection. You can join us here.)

“God told Abram: ‘Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home for a land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1, The Message)

Many years ago I was working in my home office when I noticed the dog trotting up the street. And then down the street. And then up the street. Looking from one side to the other. Always staying in my portion of the block.

I could almost hear him thinking, “I know it’s around here somewhere.”

I stepped outside and called to him. Without hesitation he came dashing over to me, tail wagging. Without a word, he curled up gratefully on my welcome mat.

It didn’t take me long to find his home. He was a rescue, newly adopted by my next door neighbor. He’d gotten out but didn’t yet recognize his new home.

Joan Chittester writes that in order to have creativity we must first have confusion. We must have the confusion of the old structures no longer standing, no longer serving their purpose. Like Abram, we must leave the home of all that is familiar in order to receive God’s promise of all that is being made new.

The structures and beliefs that once served us may have brought huge blessings to our lives. I grew up as a Southern Baptist. Although now I don’t claim them (and they sure wouldn’t claim me), I recognize that I received many blessings from that structure (not the least of which was a top notch seminary education that cost next to nothing.) Over time, however, they changed and my beliefs changed and we no longer fit together. I can bless what was without having to cling to it.

Lest our structures – and even our beliefs – become our idols we must be willing to let go of what was and what no longer serves.

Sometimes Christians get nervous when they hear someone talking about changing their beliefs. The person in question is branded as less than faithful and possibly heretical. But it is more heretical to make a god of our beliefs and to forget that we always know in part. This much that we know now – it may be exactly the faith we need at this time in our lives. But God always calls us forward. Sometimes that means traveling to a new place in our lives. Sometimes that means traveling to a new place in our hearts and souls… and minds.

We don’t embrace change for the sake of change. We (sometimes grudgingly) face change because God is not done with us. We have to endure the confusion of not being certain in order to allow the space for Spirit to do her creative work.

In the meantime, however, we can feel like my canine friend. The old home is no longer here. But we don’t recognize the new one yet. We dash from one end of the block to the other, hoping to hear Someone call our name.

The testimony of faith isn’t that we never leave one place for another. Just ask Abraham and Sarah about that. The testimony is that we never journey alone. God always goes ahead, preparing a place for us.