What living and observing may do to stereotypes

Stereotypes 1

Some of the most progressive minded people are White guys who wear John Deer baseball caps, drive pick-up trucks and chew tobacco. How oxymoronic does that sound? As unlikely as it may be, it’s probably true. I remember when I was about twelve years old, I was working one summer with my grandfather. We were bailing hay, outside of my grandfather’s small farm operation, to make some extra money. We were working with a poor White family, who sharecropped on-what I thought to be- a rich White guy’s land.

I don’t remember much detail about the family with which my grandfather and I were working, but I do remember how they interacted with us. You’ve got to remember, this was in 1962, John F. Kennedy was still president and none of the historic Civil Rights Legislation that would come in the sixties had been put on the books. Separate but equal was still strong in Southern public schools, even though the Supreme Court had ruled separate schools for Blacks and Whites was unconstitutional. Let me get back to this poor White family. These folks were like no other White family I had ever been around. The father treated my grandfather with respect that I had never seen any White person treat him. His sons even referred to my grandfather as Mr. Jeffrey, and they always answered him with yes sir and no sir.

Bailing hay was some of the hardest work I had ever done. At twelve years of age, I hadn’t been asked to do a lot of the really hard work. I, along with the other young men, would remain on the trailer and arrange the bails for transport to a storage facility. If memory serves me well, one of the boys drove the tractor. My grandfather and the father of my co-laborers did most of the heavy lifting.

I had gone on other part-time work assignments with my grandfather, and we had always brought our lunch along with us. Normally, we would find a shady place to sit, rest and eat our provisions until it was time to return to work. The most shocking thing happened on the first day of working with this family. When lunch time came, the father invited my grandfather and me to come into their home to have lunch with them. The look on my grandfather’s face was indescribable. This had to be the first time in his life, and it would be the last time, that he would be invited to sit down to take bread with a White family.

I don’t remember a lot about these unusual White folks. I don’t even remember their names, but fifty-six years later I do remember their hospitality. Maya Angelou is famous for a saying, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Fifty-six years later, I still feel a comfortable level of warmness in my being whenever I think about our encounter with this poor, unusual White family, in Arkansas, in 1962. This was the first time I was afforded a sense that people are just people; we work, eat and laugh at the same things. We’re motivated by all elements of God’s creation to react similarly in seeking comfort, survival and success in the much the same manner.

Stereotype 3

I’ve experienced a lot of life since that summer of 1962. Much of it has been dark and unaccommodating; however, I’ve been blessed to have numerous encounters with people from all walks of life that have shattered stereotypes assigned to them. Usually, these were people who lived as God would have them to, whether they knew it or not.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Aren’t there some good things, too?

good stuff in the world

Have you turned on the television news lately, read a newspaper, accessed social media on your cell phone or your computer to take a gander at what current events are shaping the profile of the world? Of course, you have. When you did, were you inundated with depressing presentations of things that are trending in the world?

One thing that I do a lot of these days is observe. I think when you reach my age, you discover that you’ve seen a lot, and that you’ve acquired some degree of skill that gives you the ability to see the trees in the forest, while being able to enjoy the massive beauty of the forest itself.

I heard a prayer offered in church recently, and the words were just what the congregation needed to hear at the time. There was, however, something said that caused me to think. The person praying said that there are a lot of bad things in the world. This description wasn’t submitted in some kind attitude of hopelessness, instead it recognized the fact, in faith, that even though there are numerous bad things, God will provide refuge. I don’t deny that faith stand at all, but I couldn’t help but think there are a lot of good things in the world, too.

forest for the trees 2

Politics, financial shenanigans, mass shootings, plain old disrespect for each other, and countless other ungodly acts can oftentimes cloud our ability to see the good stuff. We can sometimes find ourselves submitting prayers to the Father, while standing amidst the best of conditions, and lamenting galore. I certainly don’t mean to say that we should turn a blind eye to injustice and all manner of social ills that darken the landscape of humanity, but don’t you think the good always outweigh the bad? Don’t you think we should lavish praise to the place/person from where our good fortune comes? Don’t you think our good fortune is a tool to be used in making whatever adjustments we can-no matter how small-to change some of the bad stuff? I read or heard somewhere that when each of us performs at least one-act of kindness, the world is changed. That seems infinitesimal, when seen in the light of the seven billion people on this tiny blue dot, doesn’t it, but it’s true.

We’re conditioned, and not always so subliminally, to focus on tragedy. The media have conditioned us to pay homage to the bad stuff. We sit and watch TV dramas where there is a murder in a small town every week. Wouldn’t that town be empty of citizens at some point? Even the unrealistic portrayals of dramatic entertainment delivered to our living rooms are scripted to focus on the bad stuff.

I’m sorry if you read this thinking you might find something uniquely stimulating. I just wanted to muse about something that Sherlock Holmes might say is, elementary. Or you might look at something a real-life individual said: The late Alex Haley, author of roots, said in an interview, “In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.”

forest for the trees 1

Yes, there are some good things in the world and there can certainly be a whole lot more.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too

Home Town is how I want it to be

restoring house 1

One of the things I enjoy is watching HGTV (Home and Gardening Television). I think I can honestly say it’s one of the many pleasures I relish in my old age. There’s a show that comes on HGTV that I find to be a metaphorical fix for many ills of the world. Of course, I realize that real-life TV isn’t totally real-life, but this show is one of the better ones that can lay claim to the moniker that I’ve seen yet.

Home Town is filmed in Laurel Mississippi. It’s hosted by residents Ben and Erin Napier. These are two of the most down-home, optically enjoyable people you could ever see on TV. Their deep southern accents, honest affection for each other, and love they harbor for their small town seems genuine, not concocted by the shows production efforts. Ben is a highly skilled wood worker and Erin, his wife, is an artist. During each episode they show two houses (in need of varying degrees of rehab) to someone, mostly couples, who is  in the market to buy a house. The buyer selects one of the homes for purchase. Then, Ben and Erin, along with a crew of professionals (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc.) skillfully apply what seems like the Midas touch to a home in need of loving owners.

restoring house 3

Mississippi has a history of not being a very progressive place. I live in a place that also has had to reckon with some less than progressive attitudes that have erupted into actions many of its denizens would prefer never happened. I live in Little rock, Arkansas. This show contradicts all the stereotypes one might have about small-town Mississippi. I’ve watched the show since it premiered on HGTV, and I’ve seen a world of diversity in the people Ben and Erin offer their assistance to in acquiring a home. There have been folks from above the Masson Dixon Line; couples of mixed-race, who during my first two or three decades of life couldn’t have dreamed of purchasing a house in the neighborhoods shown on this show. There was one episode where an older African-American lady not only purchased a house that Ben and Erin resuscitated, but also established a business in the downtown area of Laurel.

As I watch Home Town, I find myself drawing comparisons to Mayberry, the fictional town where Sheriff Andy lived. This was an ideal southern village too, but the timeframe was different. For one thing, there was no ethnic diversity on the show. It also didn’t present real-life scenarios.

restoring house 2

As Ben and Erin work passionately to grant older homes in Laurel a look far better than their original profile, to improve the landscape of their small southern town, they have no idea that there’s and old guy in Arkansas, just 350 miles west of them who thinks Home Town is, “How I want it to be.”

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Isn’t sacrifice necessary in a civil society?

power of forgiveness

I had a conversation not too long ago with a small group about forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of those things many of us are taught to practice early in life. I remember those school-yard tussles that were stopped by a teacher, who tried to cap the battle by having the tiny titans shake hands. Evidently, this action signified some outward sign of forgiveness that was supposed to result in the two kids being civil towards each other ever after. It didn’t always work.

As I harken back to my formative years, I can recall the mixed messages I would receive about this whole thing of forgiveness. On the one hand, I was bathed with images from media where revenge seemed to be the way to go when you’re done an injustice. Somehow it was all okay if the avenger wore a white hat and spouted some platitude about serving the greater need of society. There just wasn’t a great deal of focus on this idea of forgiveness; how its practice would purge one of unhealthy emotions and allow healing of both sides of a dispute.

For those of us who were exposed to Sunday school coming up, forgiveness was espoused. That horrible image of Jesus dying on two rough pieces of wood, fastened together to make a cross, projected the most profound example of forgiveness I saw at an early age. I can remember thinking, though not with enough understanding, how sacrificial this act of selflessness was. Of course, this was God. He could do it. The image of Jesus voluntarily dying for the transgressions (sins) of others was lost on the young me. Little did I know His act was for the benefit of us all.

wine and bread

 

The symbolism, the metaphorical representation Jesus’ death demonstrated came to me later in life. He forgave, showed us what “loving to death” really means, and moved on back to heaven, fully restored to the status previously occupied thirty-three years before. His sacrifice was example enough for how we are to achieve the goal of a civil society.

I’m of the opinion that the reason it’s so hard for us to forgive is because forgiveness requires a symbolic dying of our selves. When we are done an injustice by another, we’re hurt, we’re ashamed, we often suffer a host of emotions that might cause physical and emotional imbalance. Shouldn’t I have access to my pound of flesh? Shouldn’t I relish in the witness of some suffering on the part the one who did me wrong before forgiveness is even entertained? As we scroll down through the list of emotions that are available for use in reacting to the retched soul who did us wrong, we’re blind to the fact that we’re ill of soul. To relieve the misery, the best solution is to allow our need for revenge to die. That death denies us something we think we need; however, that death begins a healing process. Two sides, making peace, is an example of the most civil of behaviors society can witness. Extend that behavior from a family, to a neighborhood, and the larger world community and we might see what civility can look like in its rarest of forms.

sacrifice the word

Is forgiveness and the sacrifice it’s built on easy? No. But the best things in this life aren’t always easy to come by.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.