Scout and Jem all over again

My mom has a signed copy of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I paint a little so, for her birthday a few years back, I painted her a Mockingbird. I painted the bird on a red background so it would match her book cover. She proudly displays the painting with the book and tells everyone who asks, and some who don’t, that her son painted the picture. She even forgets about how Harper Lee signed her book. This is strange because I think it is one of her favorite books. Harper is not really her favorite author because she really only wrote one book, more or less. But, that is a whole new story that I won’t bore you with now.

I think mom likes the book because it attempts to reach into the cracks and crevasses of our fear. It especially explores our fear of people who look different. Sadly, part of our walk on this earth is to separate, characterize and sort. As babies only a few days old, we instinctively know we must be able to differentiate men (?) and women (lunch). Later we learn things like triangle headed snakes put you in the hospital while the round headed ones just hurt a little.

I guess you have figured out by now that this is not a book report.

As Harper so painfully points out, we in the south have brought differentiation to a whole new level. My best and most personal example of this is the difference between my first and second grade years in the Nashville Metropolitan School System. It seems that the good citizens of Nashville held out for “separate but, equal” as long as they could. The piper finally came around right before I graduated the first grade. When other kids were buying pencils and notebooks my classmates and I should have been buying riot gear and helmets. When mom dropped me off on the first day of second grade, the white parents were out in force. We were lucky they were only throwing epitaphs and holding signs not fit for Sunday School. Once in the class, I met big black Mrs. Battleaxe (not her real name). She quickly informed us white kids that she and those black kids had been on the bus since five that morning and they didn’t need any slack from us. After beating me with a three-foot wooden device designed to draw circles on a chalk board, she informed me that I was a lazy boy that would never have made it at her old school. Soon after that, she told me I was too stupid to pronounce my own name.

You may have spent some time in a war zone and maybe we can compare notes sometime.

This was our reality for months. We were a bunch of innocent seven year-olds, black and white, just trying to survive another day. Finally, mercifully, a truce seemed to take hold. After the adults got tired of war, we kids did what kids do. We began to discuss culinary differences between fried bologna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We made friends I still Facebook today. Sadly, many of my cross-town brethren have fallen victim to the vicious street. Mrs. Battleaxe even came around a little. She stopped forcing us to listen to stories of the marble steps and golden bannisters of her former school.

Like Harper, you probably know the pain is in the resistance and not the change.

The first step toward a solution is always admitting you have a problem. We have passed bad ideas to our children because we can’t get honest with ourselves. We perpetuate the problem by whistling past the graveyard and by doing so, we continue to fight the same battles. By being silent, we allow people who look like us to force us all to feel the pain of resistance over and over again. Forget the moral arguments if you like. Ignore new covenant if you want. By the way, Jesus’ skin was probably a different color than yours. Seek change because you are tired of the pain of resistance.

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