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A different kind of Monument

There has been a lot of talk about the rights and wrongs of various Civil War monuments in recent weeks. Most of the ones garnering attention were erected or have become artifacts and idols of what historians sometimes refer to as “The Religion of the Lost Cause.” The thing about this religion is that it has as one of its primary functions the sanitizing of the brutality inherent in the slave system of the South, the centrality that slavery had as an impetus for war, and even–oddly since it glorifies the suffering of the South on the one hand–the sanitization of the suffering endured during and after the war. Even as it lifts up the idea of the suffering south, the Lost Cause mythos has a tendency to knock off the rough edges, and make everything seem soft around the edges like the scenery of Gone with the Wind.

This is a reflection on a different sort of monument, the sort that highlight the rough edges and brutality of that suffering.

In 1996, when we buried my maternal grandma in the cemetery at North Fork Baptist Church in Big Pine, Madison County NC, I went looking through the grave stones. One stood out to me as having a deeper story:

The epitaph on the grave stone of Emeline McFeatures Bucker reads “Wife of Chrys & Ephram Buckner: Gone but not forgotten”

How, I wondered, had Emeline been married to two different men? I thought it was likely that she had been widowed, but it still seemed noteworthy that she had married two men with the same family name. Later, as I was doing genealogy research, I learned a bit more of the history.

Christopher S. and Ephraim H. Buckner were both sons of Absalom Buckner, who was something of a patriarch of the Buckner family in the mountains. Born in 1800, it seems that he was the first Buckner to make his home and raise his family in this part of the mountains. He and his wife Elizabeth had eight children:

Rebecca (1830-1872)
Joseph Hardy (1834-1864)
Caroline (1835-unknown)
Christopher S. (1841-1864)
Noah (1842-1864)
Lydia (184?-1932)
Ephraim H. (1846-unknown)
Nancy (1851-unknown)

You might notice a common death year among several of the sons: 1864. Absalom–even though he was in his 60s by the time the war came–along with Joseph Hardy, Christopher S, and Noah enlisted in the Confederate Army. Joseph Hardy and Noah were captured at the Cumberland Gap and both died at Camp Douglas in Chicago Il. Their names are memorialized in another monument, marking a mass grave at Chicago’s Oak Wood Cemetery where the remains of the more than 4,000 Confederate soldiers who died at Camp Douglas–sometimes called the “North’s Andersonville,”–were removed to after the war.

The monument at Oak Wood Cemetery

Though I’ve not yet been able to visit Oak Wood Cemetery, I’m thankful for the ability to see the plaques up close. Because of that, as well as register of deaths from Camp Douglas available at Archive.org, I was able to confirm that Joseph Hardy Buckner and Noah Buckner rest here:

Noah, 14th from the bottom on the second column, Joseph Hardy (J.H.) 17th.

But this doesn’t explain what happened to Christopher. Unfortunately, this may not be an answerable question. His name isn’t on the death records at Camp Douglas, and there’s no death record anywhere that I have yet found. An old family bible simply has a note next to his name: “Never came home from war.” A few years after the war Emeline married his younger brother Ephraim.

I’ve always wondered what it must’ve been like for those words to be someone’s epitaph: never came home from war. What did his wife, mother, brother, and father think? I once read an article about another family that had lost a son in the war–the mother set a place at the table for him every night until she died.

Since Joseph Hardy and Noah didn’t have similar notations, I assume the place of their deaths were known, if not their final resting place (I’m not sure if anyone would’ve had the responsibility of letting the family know, especially once the bodies were moved after the war).

These monuments show a deeper truth of the war: the suffering and loss it brought. The most recent figures, released in 2012, revise the number of combined war dead upward to approximately 750,000, or the equivalent of about 7 million (a little over 2% of the population) today.  But war dead tell only a partial story. The National Park service estimates that the Union sustained a total of 642,427 casualties have been divided accordingly:

  • 110,100 killed in battle
  • 224,580 diseases
  • 275,174 wounded in action
  • 30,192 prisoners of war

The Confederacy is estimated to have sustained 483,026 total casualties, including:

  • 94,000 killed in battle
  • 164,000 diseases
  • 194,026 wounded in action
  • 31,000 prisoners of war

That’s a whopping 1,125,453 total combined casualties of the war–when the total population is only estimated to have been about 25 Million–at about 4.5%.

All of this demonstrates the depth of the effect the war had to have had on local communities. one story that demonstrates this has stuck in my mind for years.

I came across one story during my college career that highlights the brutality and deep woundedness of many communities following the war. It struck me then because it concerns the very county my ancestors above were from, Madison County NC. Madison county went by the nickname “bloody Madison” for a while after the war, a name it unfortunately earned. In his book “Victims: A True Story of the Civil War” Phillip Shaw Paludan retells this story (I first read it in Welman’s The Kingdom of Madison, but the testimony of the mother concerned was enough to bring it up in this newer book in a Google book search):

This personal sense of righteousness spanned the Civil War era and frequently overwhelmed whatever regular due process might have required. During the war a group of soldiers moved into Shelton Laurel and surrounded Nance “Granny” Franklin’s home. The widowed mother of four sons, she had to watch as the troops opened fire and killed three of her boys. She tried to stop the killings but only succeeded in just missing death herself when a bullet clipped off a lock of her hair. The soldiers left, but revenge lurked awaiting its chance.

After the war it came. A few miles away from Shelton Laurel, men were trying to rebuild Mars Hill College, and masons and carpenters from the region came to help. One day one of the bricklayers got to telling war stories to some students. He told of being in on the Franklin killings and recalled something sort of amusing: “Usually I can knock a squirrel out of a tree at seventy-five yards, but I took aim at that woman, almost close enough to touch her, and all I did was shoot off a piece of her hair.”

One of the students took this story with him when he went back home that weekend to Shelton Laurel. He told it to James Norton, who was Nance Franklin’s brother, and Norton offered the student a five-dollar gold piece if he would point out the bricklayer. The student identified the unsuspecting veteran, who retold his story. When he finished, Norton announced, “That was my sister you shot the hair off of, and one of her boys you murdered was named James after me.” He pulled a revolver from under his coat, shot the bricklayer in the stomach, and ran away. He was soon arrested, and trial was held in the neighboring county.

Nance Franklin rode through the mountains to testify on behalf of her brother. her descendants remember the testimony vividly, and the jury and spectators at the time were moved, too. Especially memorable was her answer when the judge asked, “Madam, you tell us that you sent your young sons out to fight and kill and be killed. Did you bring them up for that sort of thing?”

“I brought them up as Christians,” she answered. “I told them always be good boys, tell the truth, and be honest. But I told them something else. If you’ve got to die, die like a damned dog with your teeth in a throat.” The jury decided that the victim deserved killing. James Norton went free (Paludan, 21-22).

The Home Guard had killed her sons, her brother killed a veteran of the Home Guard after the war. Blood paid for blood. And so it went after the war to such an extent that it shaped the politics of the county for decades after. My mother can remember when people carried guns with them to vote because tensions were so thick. The short hand I was once told is that, generally, the old Republican families in the mountains had been Unionist, while the old Democratic families had been Confederates. And yet, it can’t be that simple. My mother’s family were Republicans from a long way back, but there were four men in one family who fought for the South and three didn’t make it back home.

Two of those men are my direct ancestors. My great grandfather Elbert was the grandson of Christopher S. Buckner, who never came home from the war, and his wife Julina, was the granddaughter of Joseph Hardy Buckner, who died at Camp Douglas.

At any rate, when I think about monuments that speak some truth about the Civil War, I think about that monument at Camp Douglas, with those names inscribed on it, and that grave stone, with the names of two husbands: one who never came home, and one who picked up and raised his brother’s children as well as his own.

To those monuments, we would be well served to add monuments to the experience of the Black Americans who endured slavery and nonetheless made this nation their home–out of necessity yes, and with great burdens–but to the benefit and enrichment of us all. As I read recently, we Southerners are a big mixed up family, with white and black cousins and neighbors afraid to see themselves in each other because of a shared history that too often has divided and continues to divide us. It’s time to put up some new monuments that help to highlight those truths, and that help to bring us together rather than glorifying the things that separate us. As Michael Twitty writes:

“I dare to believe all Southerners are a family. We are not merely Native, European, and African. We are Middle Eastern and South Asian and East Asian and Latin American, now. We are a dysfunctional family but we are a family. We are unwilling inheritors of a story with many sins that bears the fruit of the possibility of ten times the redemption” (The Cooking Gene, xvii).

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Get down from the cross and pick it up

This is the sermon audio from the 10:30 service at St. Joseph of Arimathea on Sunday, September 3, 2017. As always, there are slight variations between the 8 o’clock and 10:30 service. My notes are below as well. The audio includes the sequence hymn and the Gospel reading. To start with the sermon itself, begin at 3:39.

The scriptures of the day are: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26:1-8; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

[unfinished notes]

Sometimes it would be helpful if Jesus would give more detailed instructions. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). It’s a rather difficult concept for us, and we have the benefit of hearing the instruction on this side of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. It’s an important command, we know that much.

We even have a hymn that reinforces it: “Take up your cross the saviour said, if you would my disciple be; take up your cross with willing heart, and humbly follow after me.”

We know it’s an important command. We also know something of what we must do to keep it. We can’t be crushed by the weight of the cross, we have to bear up under it. We also have to be willing to get down off of it. We can’t spend our time nailed to it, frozen.

“Get down off your cross” was just the advice hospital chaplain Debra Jarvis gave to a patient she knew. Jarvis believes that the role of a hospital chaplain is to “comfort, clarify, and confront.” I think that’s part of every pastor’s job description, but the timing is more acute for a chaplain. It’s fair to say telling someone to get down off their cross falls into that “confront” category.

The background is important. As I heard Jarvis describe this a few days ago on one of the interview programs on NPR, she recounted an occasion when she encountered a patient she hadn’t seen for a year or so, a woman who had undergone cancer treatment. She was back for her annual check up and had just learned that her tests came back showing “no evidence of disease.” This was happy news, and the woman’s adult daughters where there with her, so I’m sure they were excited and relieved to hear the news. But once the woman started talking to chaplain Jarvis, she started recounting her cancer experience in great detail, even though Chaplain Jarvis had seen her frequently during that six month period. Once the woman started going, her children looked at each other and excused themselves to go get coffee. That’s when Jarvis told her: get down off your cross.

Those could be some pretty harsh words, and it helped that Jarvis herself had an experience with cancer. What she noticed in this woman, was the same thing that makes her nervous about using the term “survivor” to identify people who have had cancer and have gone into remission. She sees it as, in some cases at least, subsuming a person’s identity in the experience of the disease. In this case, she recognized that the woman was stuck. She was retelling everything that had happened to her in the present tense as thought it was happening to her right then. She was alienating her family with her inability to move ahead. Chaplain Jarvis recognized she needed to get down before she could move on.

The woman in Jarvis’ story had become defined by her disease, even as it was in remission. She had become trapped, nailed, to her cross. But we know from Jesus that our crosses aren’t meant to define us. New life is. Just as Jesus isn’t defined by or in thrall too the cross–he’d still be dead if that were the case–instead, we know Christ is Lord because of the power of the resurrection.

We now have an idea of what one type of cross might be: serious and possibly terminal illness. There are many others. As one commentator pointed out–you don’t have to go looking for crosses to bear.  In the course of life, plenty will find us.

And often they’re not the things people jokingly–or perhaps not so jokingly–refer to as their crosses to bear. No, our crosses are those experiences and situations or maybe even relationships that threaten to make us collapse under their weight, or leave us feeling like we’re drowning, to leave us stuck as surely as if we were nailed to them.

The thing is, I think we often hear Jesus’ words as a challenge, as assigning burdens to us. But crosses always come. they always threaten to crush us, leave us stuck being defined by them. Sometimes we even climb up on them, martyred to whatever tribulation swamped us.

But Jesus’ words, as always, are words of healing, of exhortation. They come after his rebuke of Peter. Can we discern a cross that Peter must bear? I submit to you it is his inability to spare his beloved friend and Lord the pain of the literal cross. One of Peter’s burdens will be his powerlessness to prevent Christ’s execution, and his inability to remain faithful during the trial. Peter had a choice: be defined by his powerlessness. Be swamped by despair, or bear up under the weight, and put one foot in front of the other to follow Jesus, and be his disciples, and a martyr to the hope of the gospel, to life rather than to the crosses he collected, to despair and hopelessness.

We know what it looks like to not bear up under the weight. We have the counter example of Judas, who became a martyr to the despair of a cross built by his betrayal.

Christ too had his crosses to bear before going to the Cross. Consider his anger at the money changers, or at the religious leaders who separated others from God. Consider his agony in the garden, where we see his apprehension and fear of the cup from which he must drink. Jesus had to bear these crosses and more–his mother’s grief and anguish–to the cross. But in so doing, he is defined not by death, but by resurrection.

[wounded healer, vs. wounded wounder]

What are those things that threaten to drag us down. The things that paralyze us? The things that would define us, but circumscribe us so that we don’t flourish and become who God desires us to be? I’m sure we all have something that has left us feeling powerless. Something that we grieve over, and maybe obsess over. We have to stand under the weight of them. In some cases we need to climb down off of them, because they’re preventing us from being who we’re meant to be, and we can’t move forward, we can’t follow Jesus unless we climb down or stand up, and bear our crosses, not as burdens that drag us down, but as a testimony that we have found the power to move forward, because of the one whom we follow. We can bear our crosses, because he bore his. We are not defined by ours, because we are defined by what he did on his, and by his rising to new life.

–We need to carry our crosses, so that we don’t end up crushed, or nailed to them.
–When we carry our cross, and follow Jesus, we’re not alone. That’s good news.

 

 

Communicants & Communicators

This is my sermon from the 10:30 service at St. Joseph of Arimathea on Sunday, August 27, 2017. As always, there are slight variations between the 8 o’clock and 10:30 service.

The scriptures of the day are:
Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

Countering Despair with Faithfulness & Discipleship

This is my sermon from the 10:30 service at St. Joseph of Arimathea on Sunday, July 30, 2017. As always, there are slight variations between the 8 o’clock and 10:30 service.

The scriptures of the day are:
1 Kings 3:5-12 | Psalm 119:129-136 | Romans 8:26-39 | Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

I have left the reading of the lessons in this recording because I think it is better to hear scripture at times than it is to read it. If you would rather not hear all of the readings, the sermon itself begins at 9:37.

Don’t Spray Your Neighbors with Herbicide

This is my sermon from the 10:30 service at St. Joseph of Arimathea on Sunday, July 23, 2017. As always, there are slight variations between the 8 o’clock and 10:30 service.

The scriptures of the day are:
Isaiah 44:6-8, Psalm 86:11-17, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

I have left the reading of the lessons in this recording because I think it is better to hear scripture at times than it is to read it. If you would rather not hear all of the readings, the Gospel procession begins at 7:50 and the sermon itself begins at 10:38.

Covenant: Methodists and Anglicans: Zeal and patience

Reading this, it would be easy to think that with quicker communication, division could’ve been avoided. But faster communication doesn’t mean better communication, as the past few decades of ecclesial conflict have shown. We find plenty of ways to divide from one another even when we can generally communicate immediately. You might even argue we find more ways to divide…

The healing of Anglican-Methodist division requires an honesty about our differences and our history.

Last month, the Episcopal and United Methodist bishops who lead the bilateral dialogue between the two churches issued a letter commending A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness, a draft proposal for full communion. The proposal builds on several decades of ecumenical discussion aimed at healing a division that dates back to 1784. “The needs and concerns of the post-Revolutionary missional context,” as A Gift to the World calls it, gave rise to two solutions that, as yet, remain incompatible. Each is directly associated with a dynamic figure who definitively shaped his church’s future story: John Wesley, the prophet, a man of zeal; and Samuel Seabury, the priest, a man of patience.

Source: Read it all: Methodists and Anglicans: Zeal and patience

The Bitter Southerner: Where You From, Honey?

A great reflection by Gwen Mullins:

For years I coasted, tightening up my accent whenever I traveled to New York or when I spoke with a colleague from Massachusetts or Maine, which I frequently had occasion to do at work. Sometimes, when I drank too many glasses of wine, my accent slipped in, my vowels becoming swollen and elongated. Years passed. When I wrote short stories, they were set in cities like New York or, worse, they were set nowhere at all, and my characters were accentless and well traveled, like a bunch of newscasters from the Midwest.

{Read it all}

Mark Clavier on the danger of causes

I’ve often shared with people that I think it’s imperative to prefer people over any ideology. Mark Clavier unpacks a number of the reasons why I say this in his latest for  Covenant:

I think it’s the rare saint who can both feel passionately about a cause and resist treating others badly. I’ve known a few and respect them all the more for it. But ordinarily there’s something about our fallen nature that makes it hard for us to champion an idea or sentiment and still treat everyone with moderation, respect, and love. In fact, the nature of causes is such that they dispose us to downplay the failings of our allies while exaggerating those who oppose us. And if you seem to have betrayed the cause, even devoted pacifists begin to reach for long knives.

{Read it all}

The wisdom of infants

Sermon notes
Proper 9
July 9, 2017

Scripture: Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Audio: The audio is from the 10:30 service. Since I only use notes, the sermon as preached varies somewhat between services, and from the text.

“I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants” (Matt. 11:25).

This saying of Jesus’ has been seen as enigmatic by some interpreters because of the strand of thought relating to knowledge being purposefully hidden by God, or people’s eyes being made unable to see. As is often the case, Jesus is turning several common expectations on their heads with his teaching. And turning them on their heads not only for ancient people, but for us as well.

First consider the positive elements of the statement: God is revealing something to infants. Not literally infants–or at least not solely to literal infants–but those who share something in common with infants. Later in this gospel after all, Jesus will tell Peter that the truth which he confesses in calling Jesus the Son of God is the fruit of divine revelation.

But what characteristic of infants could Jesus be commending? There are a lot of things we could say about human infants, but if we look at human babies and reflect on what makes human babies distinct from other mammals, I think we can come close to what it is that Jesus is commending to us as his disciples.

The basic truth of our infant existence is that we are utterly dependent upon others. Defenseless little people whose heads are much too large, limbs are much to weak, and whose balance is initially nonexistent. Other mammals walk within hours or days, the length of time it takes us to walk, let alone become self-sufficient is measured in months and years.

But if we can stretch the idea of knowledge to include not only consciously acquired information, but “hard-wiring,” then we can see that infants are acutely and instinctually aware of their vulnerability and dependence. All the default settings of little humans are wired toward connecting with momma, and daddy, and the other family members they’ve heard in utero. The sense of smell is heightened and the smell of mom and the direction of milk is impressed upon those little psyches, as is the instinct to suck, or to cry when hungry, or wet, or confused.

Basically, we come into the world instinctively knowing nothing so firmly as our need for someone else.

I believe it’s precisely this sense of need that Jesus finds to be missing from the wise and intelligent of that age–and often our own.

If we consider who was considered “wise” or “intelligent” in the ancient world and in the context of first century Judaism, it was precisely those people who had committed themselves to study of the scriptures, or who had been educated. We can relate to this, I believe, since we still, despite some differences, consider education to be a marker for both wisdom and intelligence, if not things that completely overlap.

For Jesus to thank the Father for hiding “these things” from the wise and intelligent, he’s offering thanks that those who have been educated are having a harder time seeing things for what they are than those who have not been. Even though he says “thank you” I half wonder if thanks is the proper term for the sentiment Jesus is expressing in the first part of this statement. I don’t think Jesus particularly wants the wise and intelligent to continue–ironically–in their ignorance. But he does want them–he wants us–to come to grips with the limits of our own ability.

It is precisely those who are considered wise and intelligent who are acting, in a negative sense, like children: “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds'” (Matt. 11:16-19).

In other words the inability of the learned to discern the work of God that is before their eyes–and their propensity to decry it–is a testament against the viability of their wisdom. In effect, their wisdom, being false and deceptive, has become foolishness, while those who are not expected to be wise, but who recognize their dependence, have had the truth revealed to them.

This demonstrates that when Jesus praises the “hiddenness” of the truth, he’s overturning other common expectation. Many apocalyptic teachers–those who spoke about the last things that were to occur–taught that knowledge of these last things was hidden from everyone who lacked specialized knowledge or revelation. In contrast, Jesus tells them that they will find their rest–an eschatological term–in him. In other words, God has “hidden” the truth in plain sight, and is available to everyone. Those who would see it only have to cast off the assumptions that prevent them from seeing it. As one commentator put it:

“children have not yet received any schooling; they still have to be initiated into the world of adults.  The smallest of them are called by Jesus, who is Wisdom incarnate, to come to him … and learn from him. They are particularly suited for his interpretation of the Torah, while the wise and the intelligent are hampered by the knowledge that they already have” (Weren, Studies in Matthew’s Gospel, 45).

“Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds,” Jesus says. In other words, wisdom is proven by it’s ramifications. True wisdom is to recognize the truth of Jesus’ message and to see him for who he is.

This is good news for us. Far from being a strange and obscure command, to become like little children and enter the kingdom of heaven requires very little of us. It’s simple. As Jesus tells Martha when she complains about Mary: only one thing is needful. That one thing is the recognition that we need Jesus. This is the “better part.”

Jesus’ prayer continues as he says “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). The good news is that Jesus has chosen to reveal the Father, to reveal the heart and reality of God to us all. No one is left out. As one of the collects for mission in Morning Prayer puts it, “Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace…” (BCP 101).

To be embraced by Christ, to lay our burdens down at the foot of the cross is to recognize and to receive the revelation of Christ’s words, “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you” (Matt. 11:28, KJV, part of the “Comfortable Words” in Rite I, BCP 332).

What we find, in other words, is the good news that taking up the yoke of Christ entails a lessening of our burdens rather than an increase of them:

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30).

Thank God for the grace of God to recognize that we’re never really any less dependent than we are the day we enter the world. We need one another, and more so, we need God. And thank God that in Jesus, we find what we need to carry on.

 

Tim Farron’s resignation symbolises the decay of liberalism

Good thoughts on some of the political goings on in the UK:

BY NICK SPENCER

Some will claim that Tim Farron’s resignation yesterday shows that Christians in the Britain can no longer hold high political office. It doesn’t. What it does show, however, is something potentially more worrying: the decay of liberalism.

Source: Tim Farron’s resignation symbolises the decay of liberalism

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