Todd Thomas, aka Speech, of the band, Arrested Devlopment, penned these words about his youthful remembrances of our state:
Take me to another place
Take me to another land
Make me forget all that hurts me
Let me understand your plan…
Then outta nowhere you tell me to break
Outta the country and into more country
Past Dyersburg into Ripley
Where the ghost of childhood haunts me
Walk the roads my forefathers walked
Climbed the trees my forefathers hung from
Ask those trees for all their wisdom
They tell me my ears are so young.
My father’s family is from Gibson, Obion, and Dyer Counties, so I know the land he is talking about. I saw it from another point of view — that of being a white child visiting white relatives. These are two different experiences of the same place and almost of the same time, though I am somewhat older.
There’s a lot about the Civil Rights movement that I’m too young to remember. I did notice as a very young child that the tiny west Tennessee town that my grandfather lived in was divided into two or three streets where black people, like our friend Maude, lived, and two or three white streets. I thought that was odd, because I saw everyone interacting with each other during the work day. It was only at night that they divided over an invisible line. People whose yards met on the line could just about shake hands across it.
My grandparents and parents didn’t think that this was the way it should be, but they accepted it as something hard to change, I guess. They protected me from the harsher realities of that era. When I was a little older, I began to understand that there was enormous pain on the other side of the line from my grandfather’s yard.
Fast forward several decades. The Civil Rights movement did bring Tennessee and the country to greater racial and ethnic unity. Legally, things are much better than they were then. Still, there are racial tensions, and they are flaring once again. Once agan, we are having to march across invisible lines to grasp each other’s hands.
Can the group one one side of the line understand exactly what it’s like for the other group and vice versa? Maybe. Maybe not. But, we we can definitely try. We can listen. Failing everything, we can love beyond the limits of our understanding.
How are Tennesseans and people of this country to love like this?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know one secret: It’s one that Speech and I and all true believers in Christ share. It’s this:
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Colossians 3:11
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
When Christ is all, it does break all barriers down. Both the offender and the offended can love each other. In the church fellowship which Speech and I have both been a part of (though in different cities), former rebels and former government soldiers in various South American countries have become brothers and sisters in Christ. In pre-Apartheid days, we had a church made up of black, white, and interracial citizens. People have given up wealth to minister to and to live among the poor. People have spent time learning each other’s languages and culture. One reason why I was attracted to this church in the first place is because I saw black and white people worshipping together, not only on Sundays, but throughout the week. We have a church in the middle east made up of Arabs and Israli believers. Stories like this abound wherever and among whomever there is faith in Christ.
All of the racial pain that we are feeling in our country now makes me sad. It won’t be overcome with platitudes. It’s only with deep faith and a willingness to love across the invisible lines that divide us that we can have peace.