Who are we?
It’s a hot August day in Shreveport—100 degrees outside, fumes rising off of the asphalt. I am driving down Bert Kouns towards Mansfield rd. Just before I reach the intersection I look to my left and see a confederate battle flag flying in the cemetery. It stands tall, proudly decaying next to a tombstone and a tree…
Culture is defined as the traditional beliefs, social structure, and characteristics of a racial, religious, or social group. It is the characteristic features of a people’s shared everyday existence in a place and time. It also includes the training, development of language and literature, mental development through education, and the ideas, customs, and intellectual and artistic conditions of a society.
“Who are we,” is a question that has driven me to accomplish goals others told me to abandon before I started. It is a singular quest that has brought me both joy and sorrow. I cannot find myself in emptiness or the void. I do not live in a self contained biosphere that is impervious to outside conditions. In the same way my father’s death contributed to who I am today, so has the collective conciseness of the local society impacted the man I am. As a child, I could only see how my father’s death affected me. But when I became a man I learned and grieved how it affected my mother. I have learned the sin of self and have earned enough humility to look beyond me and see us. In the same respect, I learned that I cannot know who I am by discounting the real causes and conditions of my life, so I must reflect on the heritage of the community I live in.
Once again, it is a hot August day and I am driving through the thicket of fumes on Bert Kouns. Just before I reach Mansfield rd I look to my left and see a confederate battle flag flying in the cemetery. It stands tall, proudly decaying next to a tombstone and a tree with “Word of God-Academy” plastered across the sign in the background. “It is appropriate,” I think to myself, “that it flies in a graveyard.” After all, the Rebellion died long ago in defeat. The flag has since been adopted by fearful hate mongers who use it as a symbol in terror campaigns against the innocent. The flag is the embodiment of failure and “Word of God” surely commanded its costly defeat.
At second glance, I felt pride thinking of the valiant people who died fighting for their cause so long ago. I reflect on how the flag symbolizes the language, beautiful decorum, and nostalgic feelings of a vast region of people. I am conflicted at being unable to separate the valiant heroes from the hate mongering cowards, the beautiful culture from the campaigns of terror. I can neither deny nor embrace what that flag proud, decaying speaks to me. It is not just a passing thought, it is a part of who I am, what I believe and how I feel in relation to my community.
I look for a third time at the bone yard and this time I hear another voice. There was no language used. There were no sounds. The Presence was the Word, and the Word was, “Rise and be what I intended you to be.” If I am to contribute in a positive and creative manner to my community, then I must accept our heritage. Accept the good and the bad, in its historical context and in the present context, as it relates to me and those about me. My other option is to remain immobilized by a lack of willingness to learn from the selfishness of the mongers and sacrifices of the valiant whose actions simultaneously, and in equal portion, influence who we are.
If I allow for the cultivation of my soul, I will then be able to contribute to Shreveport’s culture in a way that is reflective of who I am. Then perhaps I can feel and see the truth that is God’s Power on Earth expressed through us by way of “our” culture.