Here’s an interesting question: what types of ceremonies, rituals, and celebrations are appropriate for remembering the war officially known as “The War Between The States”? (So said Congress in 1948, one reenactor pointed out to me last weekend.) Actually, Wikipedia refutes my friend the reenactor, saying Congress never officially legislated a name for the war. I’ll bet I’ll come across someone soon who will argue the point. Any takers?
Anyway, given the wide range of feelings Americans have about the war, I’m wondering what you think is appropriate. There’s a great article about this over at Civil War Memory. (Tremendous resource, by the way.)
I’m writing a play that began as a rather innocuous attempt to do something timely with Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, but the more I’ve read about the war, the less inclined I am to do something that simple and that straightforward. The realization that the Civil War, the emancipation of the slaves, and the ongoing struggle of black Americans over the past 150 years, compels me to go deeper, rummaging around in the complexities of culture and skin color relations that still impact many of the simple human exchanges that mark day to day life in America.
Yesterday, I posted a list of things that were on my mind as a result of my reading over the past couple of months. I’m not sure why this topic has seized me by the throat emotionally. Frankly, I have been moved deeply by the stories of suffering, abuse, bravery, loss, compassion, and struggle that were a part of this great American upheaval. I’ve learned about the all too real tension between Federal power and States’ rights. I’ve been reminded again about the power of, well, power, especially economic and political power. No wonder God is on the side of the poor, the weak, and the oppressed…who else is going to be on their side? I’ve been profoundly reminded that evil is out there, and that the actions of a few can turn the tide of history for large groups of people. I’ve been instructed on the intricate dance everyone dances as they try to get it right when talking about race. Offense is always lurking, and I’m pretty sure that over the course of the next couple of years, as I explore this, I’m bound to offend more than my fair share.
I’ve also been challenged to look around me, and see where injustice of this happening right now, today, and how I’m being called to respond to it. I applaud the shift in many Christian cultures (you thought there was just one?) toward social justice and an awareness of serving the whole human being. At the same time, I stumble over the question of Jesus and Paul glossing over the slave culture and torturous capital punishment cultures of their day. They did not rail against Roman civil and military authority, instead going after religious leaders and the problem of the hypocritical heart. The transformed heart, of course, transforms everything.
Anyway, back to the first question: should we celebrate this war? And if we at least commemorate it in some way, how would you suggest we go about it? Will you remember it? Attend any events? And if you do, what are you most interested in commemorating?
Another thing I’ve learned?
Most of us just don’t care that much. I certainly didn’t.
Maybe we should…