Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith and media:

A time to heal. As I wrote last time, in 2020 America desperately needs a Healing Agenda to treat our national auto-immune dis-ease brought on by a steady cultural, media and political diet of inflammatory negative energy – the symptoms of which are various combinations of counter-productive rage, contemptuous claims of intellectual and moral superiority and purpose-sapping shame.  Together they combine to distract us from a common path forward to a more peace and just future for everyone while clawing us back into the unforgiving darkness where negative energy thrives.

Negative energy has an agenda. It is to disrupt and divide. America’s Healing Agenda (AHA) seeks to innovate and multiply opportunities so that all Americans may obtain the blessings of liberty. Negative energy would have you believe that to be hokey and unattainable goal because, at its core, America is irredeemably racist. Negative energy is lying.

There’s no doubt that the evil of slavery (itself a very cruel form of negative energy) is an unfortunate and indefensible part of America’s past. But it the past. And, yes, the cliche that we still have a lot of work ahead of us is true. But, as a society (we’re not talking about every single individual heart here) we have given slavery the backs of our hands and turned away from the condoning of any form of racism. While slavery has historically existed all over the world, we are, in fact, the only country in the world to fight a bloody civil war to end it. And, while it took way too long, the civil rights movement of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, went a very long way toward (mostly peacefully) abolishing true institutional racism. In the years since, the hearts and minds of most Americans have bent in accordance with Martin Luther King, Jr’s vision of the Moral Universe’s long arc toward justice.

Today, we live in an era when nearly all Americans affirm the absolute requirement of color-blind justice and opportunity. The only real debate is about how to achieve those ends. Factor in the amazing blessings of science and technology and there truly has never been a more hopeful and promising time to be alive. But these are the conditions negative energy detests. It must disrupt peace and sow division if it is to survive.

Imagine meeting a recovering alcoholic or drug addict who, after realizing and acknowledging the destructive addiction of his or her past, had spend the last twenty years or so sober, trying to live a good life and, overall, moving in the right direction. Would you constantly browbeat and shame that person about the past or would you encourage that person to appreciate how far they’ve come and to continue moving forward toward a brighter future. Never mind which tactic (or narrative) would be more compassionate. Which would be more productive? The answer, of course, depends on if you want to produce negative energy or lasting progress. The same principle holds true for our nation.

Negative energy has seized control of the national narrative, inflaming division and using our very idealism to attack the American body. Like an immune system gone awry, our national ideals are being used against us to devour that which is actually best about us – including our constitution.

The first step in treating the malady that afflicts us is to take back control of our national narrative. Here are some ideas for doing that.

  1. Do real and meaningful police reform and do it quickly. The horrific killing of George Floyd graphically spotlighted the foothold in truth that negative energy requires to make its move. While it’s undoubtedly true that most cops (of all colors) actually want to do their jobs well and help people (of all colors), there are certainly enough bad apples to make it in everyone’s interest to clean up the system. The doesn’t mean “defunding the police” (which is negative energy talking) but it does mean doing what is urgent and necessary to fix the problem.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), an African-American, swiftly introduced a bill to do that. He expressed admirable openness to amendments but, hating solutions and feeding on perpetual animosity, negative energy put the kibosh on the legislation moving forward.

2. Include reducing violent inner-city crime, true criminal justice reform and supporting quality education for EVERYONE as part of AHA. More on those absolutely vital subjects to come.

3. Separate Confederate symbols from other icons of American history and culture. In the years following the Civil War, naming military bases after Confederate leaders may have been a reasonable conciliatory gesture to a fallen and humiliated South. Whatever the justification there may have been then, those days are long gone. Even most Southerners understand that much of the healing we need now is along racial lines.  It wouldn’t hurt, BTW, to rename at least a couple of those facilities after African-American war heroes.

In that vein, bravo to Mississippi lawmakers for voting to remove a Confederate emblem from the state’s flag. Wisdom and simple respect for our African-American neighbors tells us that waving symbols of their historic oppression on government buildings is wrong. Put those flags, as well as the statues erected to honor Confederate leaders away, in context, in the museums where they belong. None of this should be done in the spirit of anger or with a sense of revenge. It is simply time to move on from a past which does not define today’s South.

Most people, including a clear majority of Southerners, would surely agree with that. But negative energy hates agreement that eases societal inflammation – while, ironically, insisting on oppressive thought conformity in other contexts.

So, insatiable negative energy must find other issues to divide us. Hence, commemorations to the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Theodore Roosevelt and virtually every American icon you can name must not only come down but, preferably, be violently toppled by an angry mob. Even Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit musical Hamilton, which just a few months ago was still being hailed as a masterful multicultural expression of American ideals, is now being deemed problematic. True, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned slaves but, unlike the leaders of the Confederacy, they’re being remembered for moving the arc of history toward liberty and social justice. Context and nuance are important. They remind us that imperfect people who are products of imperfect times can rise above imperfection to envision ideals worth striving for. I hope future generations will be able to say the same about us.

Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial, Washington, D.C LCCN2011630730.tifEmancipation Memorial.jpg

Negative energy distorts context

 

And, yeah, the imagery of D.C.’s Emancipation Memorial depicting a slave kneeling before a standing Abraham Lincoln might, at first blush, seem dubious – until you consider that it was funded by freed slaves, actually portrays a freed slave (shackles broken) in the act of rising and, in 1974, was intentionally rotated so that the former slave is facing away from the Capitol and toward the then newly-erected statue of the great African-American educator/humanitarian Mary McLeod Bethune (whose monument was sponsored by the National Council of Negro Women). In that context, taking it down begins to seem more like a sacrilege than anything even resembling racial sensitivity. That’s what negative energy does. It leads (or rather misleads) us to destroy what is good while under the destructive delusion that we’re acting righteously.

While President Trump unfortunately way too often does his part to either feed feed negative energy or takes its bait, his idea for a National Garden of American Heroes to honor a diverse assortment of positive participants in the American narrative is actually constructive and brilliant. Among others, the list of proposed honorees includes John Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, Henry Clay, Frederick Douglas, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Dolley Madison, James Madison, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald Reagan, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Antonin Scalia, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington, George Washington and the Wright Brothers.  That’s a pretty neat assortment of great Americans. I’d also suggest including some notable achievers of Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic and Native American heritage as well. Indeed, let’s set a goal of honoring Americans of all backgrounds with statues and monuments throughout the country. That’s positive – and long-overdue – inclusion. As a general rule, it is better to build up than to tear down.

There are also some related issues that government can’t (or shouldn’t even try to) settle for us.  For instance, as we spin our wheels going after commercial images of the likes of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Mrs. Butterworth as hideously demeaning, could we take a breath and, perhaps instead, consider them as gentle reminders of the sort of perfectly authentic, good and dignified people who ought to remain part of our collective cultural consciousness? Is it possible that airbrushing them out of the American story is what’s actually demeaning? And, when we have the choice between being offended by the moniker of a sports team or reasonably choosing to take it as a cultural tribute, doesn’t the latter option just make us happier?

And, finally let’s…

4. Harness the healing power of language and symbols: Let the American Healing Flag wave!

America didn’t invent slavery and we aren’t the only nation built on conquest. Those are two often forgotten facts that need to be at least occasionally noted if we are to have a balanced view of world history and our place in it. That said, and honestly acknowledging that we’re not all about to pick up and head back to our ancestral homelands, it is important to recognize and honor the totality of the American experience for all our people.

Words and symbols, of course, have been used for both evil and positive purposes throughout history. Particularly in this era of 24-hour cable news and social media, the forces of negative energy have been remarkably adept at harnessing the power of language and of symbolism. So-called Progressives (a nice positive-sounding word) are somehow always drawing our eyes away from prize and (ironically) backward toward the worst of our past – and when they do have us look toward the future it’s with a decided sense of fear and dread. In their narrative it seems that the only way America can save itself is for its people to admit that our history and cultural values are rotten to the core. And then we must burn it all down – because, having admitted that it follows that America really isn’t worth saving anyway. As negative energy creates a seemingly endless array of virtually unanswered hashtags designed to whip us all into an America-shaming frenzy, it’s worth remembering that good, fruitful decisions are rarely made amid frenzy.

Meanwhile, those of us who acknowledge America’s very imperfect past but, nonetheless, also see a history of enormous heroism and a continual and earnest striving for the highest ideals, are either shamed into silence or baited into pointless fights in which the language, symbols and rules of engagement are stocked against us. In either case, negative energy utilizes grains of truth (for traction) to produce big picture-false, unproductive and, ultimately, destructive narratives.

Seizing the national narrative tops America’s Healing Agenda because we are at a critical moment when our belief in ourselves is under intense assault. To maintain and build on multi-generational progress (in the real sense of the word), Americans of this generation need to believe in our essential individual and national goodness.  Without that basic rock-hard faith foundation, riding out the storm produced by negative energy is like expecting a house of cards to withstand a cruel and unforgiving hurricane.

Using words intentionally (understanding their sometimes subtle but powerful implications) and creating symbols that speak straight to the heart have a combined power that the forces of negative energy understand all to well. It’s time to turn that power around to regain our equilibrium and effectively push back with a narrative based on gratitude for the expanding blessings of liberty upon all Americans as well as hope and faith that those blessings will continue to expand for generations to come.

Thinking creatively, there are a lot of ways to do that. Here’s one idea I’d like to put out there. It first hit me when I came this classic song of idealism and healing on YouTube.

So, there it is.  God’s skin is black, brown, yellow, red and white – five colors that cover the human (and American) spectrum.

What if we were to adapt the American flag to proclaim that emancipating, inclusive and healing idea? Keep the traditional red and white stripes (representing the blood and courage of military and domestic first responders who continue to heroically serve and protect us from foreign and domestic dangers) and, within the blue upper-corner box (representing eternal faith and hope in the future), include the fifty colorful state stars – 10 black, 10 brown, 10 yellow, 10 red and 10 white – as a powerful declaration of the equality, contributions and indivisibility of all our people.

The American Healing Flag – to be produced, worn and displayed without any formal designation by the government – is a grassroots proclamation by Americans of all backgrounds that racial harmony and unabashed patriotism live side-by-side in our hearts. BTW, you can – if you choose – kneel toward it to honor both causes.

They say that being too rigid amid the winds of change is apt to cause one to snap. It’s healthier, we are told, to bend a bit. That’s true – at least to a degree. But, when our very identity and self-worth is under growing existential attack by negative energy, it’s better to wave with healthy defiance and confidence. Upon signing the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin reportedly said “We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”  True then, true now. The American Healing Flag says we choose to hang tough together. We will win this war of wills by remaining together – kind, disciplined, mutually-respectful and strong. May God continue to bless the United States of America.

What Color is God’s Skin

Good-night” I said to my little son
So tired out when the day was done.
Then he said as I tucked him in
“Tell me Daddy what color’s God’s skin?”

What color is God’s skin?
I said it’s black brown it’s yellow
It is red it is white.
Everone’s the same in the good Lord’s sight.”

He looked at me with his shining eyes
I knew I could tell no lies
When he said Daddy why do the different races fight
If we’re the same in the good Lord’s sight?”

What color is God’s skin?
I said it’s black brown it’s yellow
It is red it is white.
Everyone’s the same in the good Lord’s sight.”

Son that’s part of our suffering past
But the whole human family is learning at last
That the thing we missed on the road we trod
Is to walk as the daughters and the sons of God.”

What color is God’s skin?
I said it’s black brown it’s yellow
It is red it is white.
Everyone’s the same in the good Lord’s sight.”

Words & Music by: Tom Wilkes & David Stevenson

 

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