Posts Tagged With: culture

We Were Wrong…

We Were Wrong…

Marion Aldridge

As I matured as a Christian, I reflected, long, often, and sometimes sadly, even painfully, about much of what I believed as a youngster, and into adulthood. Because my doctrines, my ethics, and my habits have sometimes undergone enormous changes, there may be those who are presumptive enough to wonder if I lost my faith.

Quite possibly, I lost your faith. I found my faith. The Bible calls these transformations “repentance.” Here are some of my confessions:

WE WERE WRONG to believe that science and God could be enemies. Truth is truth wherever we find it.

WE WERE WRONG to assume uniformity in thought or action was better than independence or creativity.

WE WERE WRONG to accept what our culture taught us about racial segregation and the supposed inferiority of black people.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that we could somehow obey the Great Commission by paying for and praying for missionaries to go to Africa while ignoring the Great Commandments, disrespecting the African-Americans who lived down the dirt roads from our churches. We were either unaware or didn’t care that they often drank polluted water, had leaky roofs, and had no indoor plumbing.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that a glass of wine on Thanksgiving would send someone to hell but that it was okay for the preacher to be 100 pounds overweight and continue to stuff his face with fried chicken.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that people in other denominations who paid attention to the Christian calendar (Pentecost, Maundy Thursday, and Ash Wednesday, for example) were somehow less spiritual than Baptists who built their church calendar around secular holidays (such as Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and July 4).

WE WERE WRONG to believe we could be comfortable and Christian at the same time.

WE WERE WRONG to believe the primary thing that Jesus or the Christian faith cared about was Heaven and Hell.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that somehow America was the Kingdom of God.

WE WERE WRONG to believe the assumptions of our secular society, that bigger is better, that might makes right, that getting is better than giving.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that highlighting a few isolated verses could sum up the Bible, as if God could be contained in a bumper sticker.

WE WERE WRONG to trivialize prayer, as if getting all the things we want is the point!

WE WERE WRONG to believe God intended to silence the female half of the human race.

WE WERE WRONG to assume other people could practice the Christian faith on our behalf: pastors, missionaries, youth ministers, and social workers. When was the last time you got to know a welfare mother or a drug addict?

WE WERE WRONG to say there is only one biblical way to focus on the family. The family of Abraham looks different than the family of Jesus, which looks different than the family of King David, which looks different than the family of Mary and Martha, which looks different than the family of Esther and Mordecai.

WE WERE WRONG to think that Roberts Rules of Order, rather than the Bible, is the primary guide for working out disagreements in our churches.

WE WERE WRONG to teach (or imply) that talking, telling, and preaching, was more important than listening. The great sin of the Old Testament, according to Roy Honeycutt, was “They would not listen.”

WE WERE WRONG to let bullies, blamers, gossips, and other spiritually unhealthy people dominate the conversations and the decisions in many of our congregations.

WE WERE WRONG to think that repentance was primarily for non-Christians outside of our churches instead of for those of us inside. The more I know about Jesus, the Bible, the Christian faith, and the Holy Spirit, the more I know I am called to change, to repent.

WE WERE WRONG to believe that any tradition, law, bible, preacher, program, building, doctrine, convention or any other part of creation—even if God made it and blessed it—could possibly be as important as the Creator.

This, by the way, is the short list. I could write a book!

I have always been a loyal kind of guy. For decades, I hung in there, as much as possible, with the ecclesiastical world I inherited. I knew racism was wrong, however, and one by one, I began confronting the errors and inadequacies of my childhood experiences. I am grateful for the church of my childhood, for my family, for the appropriate lessons from my South Carolina culture. But I am also grateful I had permission to continue to grow, to get un-stuck from the habits, behaviors and beliefs of my childhood and adolescence.

(Four years ago, I wrote this column for the newsletter of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina.)

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Holiday, Lists/Top Ten, Race, South Carolina | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance, reviewed by Marion D. Aldridge

Hillbilly Elegy is a “New York Times #1 Bestseller,” and, according to all accounts, an Important Book, meaning, we should probably read it. Written before the 2016 election, it explains a lot about the perceived disestablishment of older white men throughout much of the country, the formerly powerful feeling powerless, and even the rise of Donald Trump. Hillbillies never had much clout, but Vance argues that, previously, they could at least make a living for their family.

Vance subtitled his volume, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. His roots are the mountains and hollers of Kentucky and sections of Ohio to which the economically depressed people of Appalachia transplanted themselves.

My dad’s family came from the Horse Creek Valley in the sand hills of South Carolina, in many ways similar to Vance’s Appalachia. My granddaddy and daddy were mill workers. My dad’s nickname was Rube, which means country bumpkin. The great difference in Vance and me appears to be that he blames his culture for the slights he’s endured in his thirty-one years of life, while I credit my family, as deprived economically as his, for providing a solid foundation of core values.

He writes, “Yes, my parents fought intensely, but so did everyone else’s.” I don’t believe that. It’s not even true of the other members of his extended family. Vance falls victim to universalizing his own experience. It makes a good story, but it ain’t necessarily so.

He bemoans his mother’s alcoholism and drug addiction, and I can feel his pain. He doesn’t burn with the anger of Pat Conroy who wrote creatively and passionately about his father’s abusiveness. But Vance writes well and interestingly about his family and culture. Yet, all the while, I kept thinking his issues were as much family as culture. After all, there are alcoholics and drug addicts in the wealthiest neighborhoods of every community. Maybe the numbers are disproportionately high in so-called hillbilly communities, but he didn’t convince me.

Obviously, culture affects us, whether we grow up with a military family that moves every few years, or in a Chinese neighborhood in San Francisco, or in an urban setting in Chicago, or on a small island in the Pacific.

Vance introduced me to a term with which I was not familiar, Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), apparently a kissing cousin to PTSD, to explain symptoms in adults who suffered various types of emotional or physical violence in their childhood homes, e.g., a parent who attempted suicide. Such experiences are in no way limited to the people of Appalachia. Adversity also happens in Hollywood and Hawaii.

Vance’s anecdotes from his childhood are entertaining, but a few more statistics would have been helpful to make his case.

Vance comes close to being the definition of a “self-made man.” He quotes his sister Lindsay, “You have to stop making excuses and take responsibility.” After a rocky childhood, Vance joined the Marines, graduated from Ohio State University, and then finished Yale Law School. He has impressive credentials and is now, something of a media darling, a member of the Ivy League Elite. Upward mobility appears to be his mantra. He credits individuals within his culture and family system with being helpful but is openly disdainful of government involvement. Yet, public schools, the Marines, and the Ohio State University are all government entities.

I think both/and/and/and/and/and is more honest than either/or.

Family, local hillbilly culture, American culture, teachers, the Marines, personal decisions, intelligence, white maleness, dumb luck, grace, providence, and hard work are each a part of Vance’s success story.

I like this book. It’s easy to read and provocative. It’s one of the narratives of some working class white people, but not the whole story.

Categories: addiction, Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Family | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Phases/Chapters/Stages/Layers/Transitions of my Life

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Some people, when they reach my age, are still thinking and saying pretty much the same things they said when they were 18 years old, freshly minted high school graduates. I can name clear phases where my life has been altered—more or less in this order:

 1)   Where I began: Conservative/Cultural—I thought and said what I had been taught to think and say by my parents, church and culture. Also, I love nature, sports and reading.

2)   Friendships—The importance of peer pressure is huge for teens as well as adults. We tend to become like the people we spend time with. I have been fortunate to have good friends with positive influences.

3)   Intentionally Evangelical, but, at the same time, less churchy. Young Life was important.

4)   Socially Conscious—I became aware of ethical issues in the world, particularly racism. “There are none so blind as they who will not see.”

5)   Ecumenical, I became aware that the Christian world was larger than my Christian denomination.

6)   Family commitments, marriage and daughters altered my worldview and priorities.

7)   Pastoral care skills learned—I discovered there is pain in the world I had never experienced. The knee-jerk responses, opinions and habits that were intuitive to me were inadequate to deep challenges of the human condition.

8)   Travel—In my early thirty’s, I began to travel and discover worlds about which I had been ignorant. The world opened up for me.

9)   Listening better and paying attention affected every area of life.

10)  Professionalism, i.e., developing the skills needed to manage/administer/lead the organization(s) and people that paid my salary.

11)  Scholar. Eventually, I discovered I had a brain and enjoyed thinking. Wrote two books about worship.

12)  The language of Alcoholics Anonymous and Codependency became important to me as I attended AlAnon meetings for half a year.

13)  Humor—I discovered not only that I was funny but also that the world has plenty of irony and paradox at its core.

14)  Grace—I was slow to get to grace, but eventually I did. Wrote another book: Overcoming Adolescence.

15) Interfaith. Aware of the positive values within other faiths: Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and other. My understanding of God kept getting bigger and bigger. God told Moses his name is, I AM WHO I AM.

16) Yoga—Not sure yet what I will discover, but, after half a year, already I am learning and profiting from this new experience of focusing on breathing and mindfulness.

I’m 67 and still growing, wondering what’s next…

What phases, transitions or chapters have you experienced since adolescence?

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Health, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Smoke, Mirrors and Truth: The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A masked magician hosts an occasional television show called “Breaking the Magician’s Code.”  On national television, Val Valentino, the Masked Magician, exposes the tricks of the magicians’ trade.  When he shows us how our attention was misdirected, we say “Aha,” and acknowledge that we were duped. 

 We use the term “smoke and mirrors” to explain how we are distracted.  We only see and paid attention to what the illusionist wants us to see: “Look over here at what’s in my left hand.  Watch this.”  Then he waves a wand or points toward a beautiful assistant with an entertaining amount of cleavage.  Meanwhile, the magician’s right hand has been sneaking about doing something else.  We are fooled.  We do not perceive the truth because of the magician’s chicanery.  Gullible people sometimes believe a magician has supernatural powers.  How else can you explain the inexplicable?  A miracle?

 The culture of my childhood practiced a kind of sorcery when it came to race.  We were seduced to ignore the realities in front of us.  Some of us were even taught that the world we lived in reflected the “will of God.”  Just accept what you see as true.  Don’t think about it too much.

 “Let’s send missionaries to Africa because that’s the most important work that can be done on the face of the earth,” was a common mantra.  Millions of dollars were collected for “foreign missions.”  Meanwhile, we ignored the dirt roads right beside our churches and the impoverished African-Americans who lived down those rutted paths.  They may have had poor drinking water and inferior medical care, but we didn’t see that.  Smoke and mirrors.  Sleight of hand.  Let’s send our money to the Mission Board so they can tell the gospel story in Africa and Asia.   Some marketing genius called this misdirection “The Great Commission.” 

That allowed us to ignore what Jesus called “The Great Commandments,” which said that we should love God and we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  He was not collecting money.  He was answering a question about what is most important.  We didn’t do a very good job of loving our brown-skinned neighbors in those days.  That should have been obvious to anyone whose attention had not been diverted.  However, following the sleight of hand of a master magician, our vision was pointed elsewhere.  We collected lots of money to send people all over the world to talk about Jesus while we treated people of color as a second-class caste here at home.  Untouchables?  We wouldn’t even touch what they touched, so we had different drinking fountains and separate restrooms.

Martin Luther King, Jr. helped us remove our masks and see the truth.

The churches of our childhoods were co-conspirators in the illusions that were perpetrated.  Our “Bible studies” focused on lakes of fire and streets of gold, on the second coming of Jesus at some point way out in the future.  We ignored the real problems many of our neighbors faced.  I never heard a sermon on gluttony in spite of a church full of fat people.  I never heard a sermon on racism, in spite of injustice and prejudice against people of color.

Martin Luther King, Jr. saw the world differently and helped us see what he saw.  He made some bullies so mad that they erupted in violence.  Children were murdered.  Black men were lynched.  I can’t imagine that the magicians’ union, if there is such a thing, is very happy with Val Valentino exposing the truth about their tricks.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was despised by those who had a vested interest in keeping people blind to the truth. 

But Martin Luther King, Jr. opened my eyes.   For the first time, I saw behind the curtain.

Thank you, Dr. King.

Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Holiday, Race, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Guest Blog by Holli Emore: Hmong in North Carolina

Image My friend Marion really loves to travel.  Reading his most recent post here on Where The Pavement Ends I was reminded of my adventures with the Hmong Laotian tribes-people living here in America.  For several years I worked with the United Hmong Association of N.C., even serving on staff for a year or so.  During that time I learned a great deal about the importance of going to faraway places. 


For those who missed the Clint Eastwood movie, Gran Torino, a few years ago, or who never heard of the Secret War, here’s the very short version of “Who Are the Hmong?” (pronounced “mung”).  They are one of the indigenous tribes who lived in northern Laos, were recruited by the French during World War II, then recruited by the CIA during the war in Vietnam.  Hmong soldiers fought proudly for the U.S., interrupting supply trails along the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail and rescuing many American pilots who went down behind enemy lines.  When we pulled out of Vietnam, guess who we did not take with us?  All these years later, the Hmong are still hunted and murdered in Laos.


The good news is that a great many of them made it through harrowing treks across the Mekong River into Thailand, lived for years in refugee camps there or in the Philippines, and eventually emigrated to a handful of western countries, including Australia, England, France and the U.S.  North Carolina is home to one of the larger concentrations of Hmong population in the country, but most folks don’t even know they are there, assuming that these brown-skinned people of small stature must be Mexican.


It’s difficult to overstate how much I learned about culture while working with the North Carolina Hmong.  These very misunderstood people opened their hearts and lives to me, embraced me as part of their community, and patiently answered every one of my thousands of questions.  I had lots of those:


What is this food? 

Why do you grow the garden in scattered places, not rows? 

What is the shaman doing with the tray full of rooster feet? 

What is the storyteller singing about? 

Why are Hmong people so loyal to the country which deserted them after the war? 


I found out that my ideas about animal sacrifice were all wrong.  I learned how to notice the difference between names from Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.  I got where I could say Happy New Year, Hello and Thank you.


Oh, and about the travel – every year there are Hmong festivals all over the country, particularly around the new year (October and November), and particularly in the states with heavy Hmong settlements: Wisconsin, California, North Carolina, Oregon and Minnesota.  Festival time was always fascinating to me, with so many colorful costumes, native foods and very loud Asian music.  As an American, I was intrigued to see that even the teens sporting hip-hop attire would alternate between cruising with their friends and hanging out with family.  No one seemed the least bit annoyed to be watching a younger sibling, or sitting with an elderly grandparent. 


Many in the festival crowd would have filled up a car and driven cross-country to reconnect with their clans for a few days.  Sometimes, in doing research for a grant, perhaps, I would mention a possible out of state Hmong contact to someone in the office.  An answer always came back, “Oh yes, he is in my mother’s clan, I last saw him in 2005,” or some such.  These community ties are something fragile that many of us in the U.S. have either taken for granted or allowed to dissipate.  My Hmong friends taught me many things, but among them was that travel is not just a vacation. It is good for the tribe and good for the soul.


Categories: Faith/Spirituality, Family, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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