The Color of Bravery

halfstaffrespect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed – Romans 13:7

Recently while walking on one of those picturesque Southern courthouse squares, I was troubled while looking upon the granite memorials sitting atop the Saint Augustine carpet. On both the World War I and World War II monuments in this small southern town, there were not one, but two alphabetical lists of men who died in their country’s service. On one monument there were two sides, “Colored” and “White”. On the other monument the “Colored” list came after the first list (presumably the “white” list).

It is one thing to be divided in life, it is quite another to be divided in memoriam. I know the history. I know units were desegregated in 1948. But these monuments are not military rosters, they are monuments dedicated by a small town to honor their local heroes (both monuments were erected in the 50’s).  To add insult to injury, there is not one, but three Confederate monuments on this same lawn (not to say having one is inappropriate).  I am not necessarily advocating the removal of any monument or even necessarily the replacing of present monuments, I am simply reflecting on the sad state of a community that differentiates its heroes in such a graven way. I am not an advocate of erasing history, but I do hope for the day of an equalizing of history. We may also note not in this town, but in other towns, there are courthouses built of red clay bricks bearing the thumb prints of the slaves who made them and laid them while the granite cornerstones give credit to white architects, civic leaders, and financial contributors. Acknowledgement is due to all who built and contributed to communities regardless of their lineage or heritage. Every man and woman who lived, loved, and died in these communities loved freedom and is an indelible part of the American fabric – a quilt woven together by the lives given to hold her together.  The artificial division of those lives on a stone monument is a travesty. What differentiates the men on these monuments is not their color but their courage, not their status but their sacrifice.

The colors that matter are the red that ran through their blue veins and the white in their determined eyes. On this Memorial Day, let us be grateful for all of America’s true heroes with no distinction but the bravery with which they fought.

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Cussing like a sailor, in need of a great Savior

John was not a pleasant person to be around.  He was young, a spoiled brat, haughty, conceited and horrible.  He invented some of the worst blasphemous language one can imagine, he dabbled in witchcraft, was grotesquely lustful, and gave meaning to the term “cusses like a sailor.”  He was unhappy, wrapped up in his own sorrow in a job he did not like, far away from home, and with no friends to speak of.  In fact, had he died, few would miss him, and many would think “good riddance.”  One night, he was binge drinking with some fellow ruffians, alternating rum and gin to see who could get the drunkest quickest, and still hold his liquor.  At one point in the drinking game, he began to dance around wildly, but not steadily and was about to fall off the boat, when one intoxicated buffoon had just enough wherewithal to grab his coat just before he would have plunged many feet into cold, murky water where he most certainly would have perished.  Had that drunk guy not responded to his reflex, then the despicable twenty year old would have drowned, and would not have lived to look back on his life and write these words:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

The young man was John Newton, who, after seeing a great deal of life in sin, would one day return to the Grace of God that he had learned as a younger man.  He would go on to pastor, to write songs, and to even be influential in the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. At the end of his life he would say, “I am old, and my memory fails me, but two things I remember:  I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.”

Perhaps there is someone you have given up on (even yourself), someone that you should be praying for, someone that you should care for.  Even if they “curse like sailor” they are in need of a great Savior, and that need may yet be met!

( I am indebted to biographer Jonathan Aitken and his book From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, Crossway Books, 2007.  – for greater details to this story see pgs. 70-71).