It’s been a bad few weeks for monuments.
I’m not overly concerned with whether many stay or go. There are a wide variety of buildings, or permanent structures, that represent our cultural values and aspirations. They become fixtures that we seek to be remembered by, or to force others to remember.
Some will last and some won’t.
I’m glad that the symbols of the confederacy are being removed. Let the monuments be placed in cemeteries or museums. There is no need to memorialize the slaveholder rebellion. It was four years of history, and there are a bazillion other reasons to value southern culture. We can visit the images of the stars and bars in a book.
Other monuments are more complicated. I’m glad to see some fall, but I remain perplexed by the choices about whose monument gets to stand. I wonder why and then who decides what stands and what doesn’t. Was there a committee meeting I missed when Grant was being decided?
Some monuments can be opportunities for us to think more complicated thoughts about our past. I remember how disappointed I was when my father shared with me a more complicated description about Lincoln. I’d already at a young age come to terms that our founding wasn’t as pretty as the textbooks say. That knowledge helped me handle the complexity that any person brings to their context. Build a plaque for some and add some questions. Give a longer and broader retelling. Let us not be afraid of our history so much we must conceal it.
Similarly, there has been some conversation about the worship of monuments of white Jesus, and his presence in public spaces. First, it’s clear that there are no Nordic or European people in scripture. But the faith always comes inculturated – so we will often imagine Jesus (and Mary) in a fashion that is more like a mirror. It’s similar to just as Shakespeare has become the property of all nations, scripture is important because it speaks to YOU. When it doesn’t, then it is merely another book.
Some people have primarily experienced white representation of Jesus. In my view this is a diminished vision of God. We need not dispense with it, expand our perception and vision of him. As we practice with a variety of images of who Jesus looks like for us now, we can better perceive the Christ in one another. If you have not done so, a practice of envisioning Black Jesus in your prayer life may be rewarding and edifying.
To end the monuments of racism in our minds, build new ones.