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Make America Great Again, the Top Hog BBQ way

When we came to Tennessee to watch the total solar eclipse, which was a wonderful event., we had decided to stay in Tennessee for a few extra days, hoping to soak up a little bit of the local culture. Yet it seemed like every restaurant recommendation we found was to some polished place in a mall somewhere, a mall that could have been anywhere in America.

On Wednesday, we headed towards a state park to see some of Tennessee’s great waterfalls. We drove through Franklin, where a statue of “Chip”, a confederate soldier was surrounded by green ribbons and private property flags. We didn’t know the details but guessed it had to do with the struggle over what we choose to honor and remember about our history.

As I prepare for seminary, I’ve been reading Radical Welcome by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers and been wondering how we welcome those who want to hang on to statues of Confederate soldiers and how we welcome those who want such statues removed. I’ve been wondering what sort of southern culture people are seeking to defend and what it really takes to make America great again.

In the evening, we headed out to dinner. A course that I’ve signed up for this fall is “Religion and News Media” at the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum. There was a video conference orientation session that I needed to join. I had some difficulties joining in and ended up participating from the backseat of the car as we drove to dinner.

How can we have meaningful and respectful dialog about religion in America? This is one of the topics we will be struggling with and talked a little bit about on the video conference.

My wife and daughter headed into the restaurant while I finished the end of the call. I had not seen the roads my wife took to get to the restaurant, but this was not in a mall. Walking into the restaurant, it was clear that Top Hog BBQ was different. On the walls were old advertisements for nickel bottles of Mountain Due, pictures of Barney Fife and the cast of The Wizard of Oz. There were big wooden tables, and no small plastic sign saying, “Please wait to be seated”. I looked around and saw my wife and daughter sitting at a table sipping fruit tea.

I’m not a big fan of sweet tea, so I thought I would skip the fruit tea, but when I looked at the other choices which were mostly soft drinks, I decided to give the fruit tea a try. It was great.

This was the experience we had been searching for. From the first sip of the fruit tea, to the last bite of BBQ, it was clear that this place is the real deal. Good solid tasty food. My wife loved the spicy turnip greens and my daughter who went with a simple cheeseburger declared it the best she had had in ages.

As we finished up, we got into talking with Patty, who owns the place. We talked about the eclipse, our families, our interests, and good food. It seemed that she personified the sort of southern culture that we need to be preserving and what it really takes to make America great again: attention to quality and detail, the kindness and friendliness.

So, if you’re serious about preserving southern culture and making America great again, I have one recommendation: Eat at Top Hog BBQ. I you can't make it to Gallatin, find someplace like Top Hog BBQ. Go in, have a great meal, talk with the staff and the other customers. Appreciate good food and good company and spread the word.

Eclipse Reflections

Today, there were lots of discussions on social media about the eclipse. One religious friend posted that he didn’t see what the big deal about the eclipse was. I responded, “I like anything that gets people to stop and look at God's creation differently and to share with one another a sense of awe”

Another friend posted about lost productivity. I responded,

“My wife and I took vacation to watch the eclipse. The productivity would have been lost whether we were watching the eclipse or doing something else.

Yet thinking about the beauty of the eclipse, it seems like we need to ask, is productivity really the ultimate aim of our lives?”

Friends that saw totality have been posting about how wonderful and magical it was. It was my fourth total eclipse and I look forward to many more. Two years from now in Argentina? Seven years from now in the United States again? We’ll see which ones we manage to make it to.

On one friends reflections, I commented:

“We had a wonderful impromptu eclipse party down in Castalian Springs. People from Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Russia, and I'm not sure where all else, sharing stories, eclipse glasses, peaks through telescopes, Prosecco, ad contact information to stay in touch.

It has been a wonderful day, and I too, love that so many of us from various different backgrounds could stop, even briefly, to enjoy one another and some of the beauty of creation.”

So my hope remains. However you think about creation, the creator, the source of beauty, the source of kindness, the source of love, I hope that you managed to stop and appreciate a little of the beauty of the created world, and share some joy and love from that experience to those around you.

Radical Inclusion

As I prepare to start seminary next month, I am reading various books from the recommended reading list. One book, Radical Welcome by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers has particularly caught my attention. While the focus is more on how local churches can be more welcoming, in a radically transforming manner, there is much in the book that could be considered for other parts of the ecclesiastical structure or even for our country as a whole.

After Charlottesville, I have been wondering about how our civic life can become more radically welcome, up to, and including how we can welcome those young men who are being drawn away by hate filled ideologies like white supremacy.

In an interview, ‘I’m not the angry racist they see’: Alt-Righter became viral face of hate in Virginia — and now regrets it, Peter Cvjetanovic, the face of the torch wielding angry crowd on Friday evening says,

“I came to this march for the message that white European culture has a right to be here just like every other culture,” Cvjetanovic opined. “It is not perfect; there are flaws to it, of course. However I do believe that the replacement of the statue will be the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States and the people who fought and defended and built their homeland. Robert E Lee is a great example of that. He wasn’t a perfect man, but I want to honor and respect what he stood for during his time.”

It is easy to dismiss this as the self-justification of someone whose hatred and wrong-doing has been exposed. It is far more challenging to accept him as another person loved by God and created in God’s image. It is far more challenging to listen to what he has to say and work towards reconciliation.

What is this “white European culture” he is talking about? What does that mean to him, to us, to those who have been oppressed for generations by representatives of this “white European culture”? As we take down statues of Robert E. Lee, what can we put up that radically includes those who feel their culture slipping away?

As a northerner, I find parts of my heritage challenged. Thanksgiving was a very important day for me, but I have grown to understand how it is not a day of celebration for those who were here before white Europeans came and I seek ways of celebrating my ancestors arrival in a way that is respectful of those who were already here. I seek to learn about and celebrate their culture as well.

What are the things that white Europeans from the south can celebrate? The first thing that comes to my mind is Juneteenth. If you don’t know what that is and don’t celebrate it, go out and spend some time learning. What are other things? I don’t know. I hope my white European friends from the south can share some ideas. Perhaps it has to do with Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. Perhaps it has something to do with southern cuisine.

If we can radically welcome young white men who fear their culture is slipping away, perhaps they can join with us as we all battle symbols of hatred and oppression.

Random Thoughts on the Death of Heather Heyer

In the Shadow of #Charlottesville: Blessed are the Peacemakers – Ginny Bouvier

This morning, I delivered the homily at the memorial service for Ginny Bouvier. Before I speak, I like to spend time in prayer. This morning, before my prayer time, I glanced at the news on Facebook. The wife of a friend of mine was gathering with clergy in Charlottesville, VA in response to the Unite the Right march planed there. I watched a live stream from Charlottesville of clergy praying and singing this little light of mine before I shutdown the computer, prayed, and headed over to the service.

I mentioned Charlottesville and the importance of peacemakers in our country, here today before I delivered the following homily. Please continue to pray for peace, for peacemakers, as well as for those who mourn the passing of a great peacemaker.

Today, we gather to remember Ginny Bouvier. Mingled with the grief and sadness of her passing, I suspect many of us will also feel a sense of awe and wish we had known Ginny better. You see, today we are remembering an important peacemaker. Jesus spoke about peacemakers in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”. Sometimes we may think of ourselves as peacemakers - like when we get to friends to make up after a silly argument. That’s an important form of peacemaking. Yet Ginny’s peacemaking was on a very different level. In her position as chief of operations in Colombia for the U.S. Institute of Peace, she played a vital role in reaching the peace treaty which resulted in Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

I’ve always been interested in those who work behind the scenes, the way Ginny did. I remember when I first learned about the life of St. Francis of Assisi and wondered who were those nuns that prayed over him. St. Francis asked God to make him an instrument of God’s peace, and I think those nuns played an important, though often overlooked role.

Perhaps this tells us something about some of Ginny’s success. You see, Ginny included the overlooked in her work. The United States Institute of Peace noted that the peace accord was “unprecedented in its inclusion of victims, women and minorities, due in no small part to Ginny’s unrelenting support and advice to so many of those involved”.

An obituary in the Wellesley Underground, an alternative alumnae magazine, speaks of Ginny as a “secret Wellesley” an important person whom others find out later, went to Wellesley. Ginny “had been the first ever Latin American Studies major at Wellesley”. The author goes on to say, “though she hasn’t been part of the pantheon of Wellesley heroes, many of us who work on gender, peacebuilding, or Latin America policy would agree she deserves to be.”

Another aspect of Ginny, which is very important to many of us here, was her love of poetry. Her mother Jane told me that while Ginny was in the hospital, a young Dominican brother came and read her poetry, almost every day. It is part of why the adapted version of John Donne’s No Man is an Island is so meaningful. It was adapted to be more inclusive, the way Ginny worked on making the peace process in Colombia more inclusive. It was adapted to reference Colombia because of her work for peace there and how Colombia is the less as a result of her passing. The bell tolls for Colombia. It tolls for all of us.

Her love of literature went beyond just poetry. In 2014, when Gabriel García Márquez died, she wrote a blog post in memory of him. “The entire world mourns with Colombia as we also celebrate his life and legacy.” We can say the same about her life and legacy.

Later on in the blog post, she writes, “It is ultimately our capacity for imagination and faith that allows hope to triumph over despair, life to conquer death, love to conquer hate, and forgiveness to win out over vengeance. In the end, it is our exercise of imagination that allows peace to claim victory over war.”

These are important words for us to consider today. Our imagination and faith will sustain us as we mourn. It fits nicely with the reading from Revelation. The Faith Study Group here at Grace and St. Peter’s has been studying this book and this week we discussed the passage read today.

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”. It is the promise to those “who have come safely through the terrible persecution”. It is also God’s promise to us today.

As Jane and I talked about the music for the service we tried to find some way of working “Julian of Norwich”, sometimes called “Loud are the bells of Norwich” by Sydney Carter into the program.

“All shall be well, I'm telling you, let the winter come and go. All shall be well again, I know. “

So, as we mourn the passing of Ginny Bouvier, let us all aspire to be peacemakers, to include those too often overlooked, to rely on our faith and imagination, and to trust that God will wipe away every tear and all shall be well again. Amen

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