Category Archives: Diversity
Through these past months I have listened carefully to all those speaking and sharing their opinions and positions on the issue of changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School. I wanted to hear what those opposing the change are saying and thinking. I wanted to hear what they are feeling. I wanted to hear from those in favor of the change. What are they feeling and what are their motives for change? I have stated earlier what my initial thoughts and feelings were on this issue, and I was struggling. I was not “on the bandwagon” for changing the name!
Through my personal processes of questioning and consideration, I have moved to a position supporting the name change. As I have listened to the speakers opposing the name change,I consistently hear arguments defending the traditions of REL High School and how important those traditions are to its alumni – in some cases two to three family generations of alumni. I hear defenses of the life, legacy, and character of General Robert E. Lee. I hear admonitions that we can’t erase or forget our history. And, I hear the often-used “slippery-slope” defense. “If we change Lee’s name, what’s next – John Tyler, the City of Tyler, Hubbard Middle School, etc.? Where does it stop?” Amidst all the words I hear feelings of loss, fear, and anger. And, you know what, I get that! I hear and understand those feelings.
For now, let’s consider the feelings of loss. Robert E. Lee High School has a storied history that has often been stellar even though dogged at times by the legacy and accouterments of its namesake.
But more importantly, tens of thousands of students have walked it corridors and filled its classrooms. They played on athletic teams, marched and performed with the band, sang in the choirs, participated on debate teams, performed in dramatic productions, danced with the drill team, cheered in the cheer squad, and so much more.They made friends and sometimes enemies. They excelled academically, and they sometimes faltered.
They made memories. Maybe that first kiss came while secreted in a hallway corner or leaning against a locker. Maybe that high school sweetheart is now one’s spouse. Who ever forgets the first Belles Dance, Junior-Senior Prom, or the excitement of Homecoming Week? Yes, Robert E Lee High School is a place that has molded and influenced so many young lives, and the traditions and stalwart school spirit lives on in each of these lives even if they are not so young anymore.
So I think I get it! I understand that sense of loss that might come with a name change. The sense of losing a place that holds memories and so much of what was our youth. I get it! I understand! I started my teaching career at REL. I have two sons who graduated from Lee. I have albums of photos and mementos recalling Belle Dances, band performances, choir concerts, and certificates of achievement. I get it! My question is — At this pivotal point in time, and given the current context of our school and community, can we acknowledge our feelings of loss, move through them, and focus on the future of our students, school, and community? What is best for the common good, today? What is best for our future tomorrow and in the years ahead.
REL High School is no longer about us, the middle-aged plus folks. We will always have our traditions and history with REL. It is true! We cannot erase our history. We carry it with us. Hopefully, we learn from it. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we don’t. We decide, individually, and subsequently corporately, what we do with our history and whether we remain steadfastly stuck in it or allow it to guide us into new eras, new beginnings, and new possibilities. Most histories I have read are written in chapters. What will be the next chapter for our school and our Tyler community?
Changing the name of Robert E. Lee High School could be like finishing a chapter in a good book. The information and events in this chapter are vital in giving context to what comes next. Hopefully, the reader is excited and eager to keep reading and discover what the next chapter holds. Or, we might want to think in terms of those inevitable “chapters of our lives.” We know them because we have lived them! Some of our life chapters are natural ends followed by new beginnings – high school graduation, college perhaps, entering the work force, career moves, getting married, having kids, the empty nest. It is my experience that coming to the close of a life chapter brings some natural feelings of loss and accompanying sorrow. Yet, I move to the next chapter with hope and anticipating the new.
In moving forward, it is the desire of my heart that all of us with meaningful ties to REL hold on to our personal memories and recall with fondness the traditions we enjoyed even while moving beyond them and focusing on the our present and future young folks and our community. We are in a different time and place than we were in 1958. Robert E. Lee is a different school. Tyler is a different, growing, and diverse community. Can we focus on what is best for our future-for the school and our community? Can we feel our loss and move forward in support of our new school with a new name and all the new possibilities that brings to our community.
It is my hope and prayer moving forward that our sense of loss will be softened by the promise of a new beginning, a new era, a new chapter for our beloved school and our community.
You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.
— Jay Weatherill
I am going to jump into the fray of the REL name change dialogue for a bit. Why? Because I have questions. I don’t necessarily have the answers, but the questions, I believe, are worthy of consideration. By the way, I have a habit of asking “Why?” and other questions. You’ll see! I don’t know that it is a desirable habit, but I do know that it sometimes keeps me awake at night.
Admittedly, my first inclination with the REL name change issue was “Oh, geez! Do we want to go there? Do we need to go there? It’s history! Let it lie!” You know, “Sleeping dogs don’t bite!” Yet, as I struggle with my own questions and my heart for loving and honoring all persons with the respect and dignity they deserve as sacred human lives, I continue to ask “Why?” And, specifically, “Why did our city fathers, all white men, name the school after the Confederate General Lee, who, to my knowledge had not particular, specific, or sentimental ties to the City of Tyler?” Let’s think about it!
In 1958, in the rising tide of the Civil Rights Movement, in the wake of the 1954 Brown vs, Topeka School Board of Education ruling making school segregation the law of the land, and in the midst of increased racial tension and violence, our city fathers name a modern, new school after a “historical” Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, who for all his good attributes had some unsettling character problems. Were there any good reasons to do this? Or, were our city fathers, like much of white America at the time and especially the South, recoiling and resisting the changing times, “the writing on the wall” with regard to segregation and the emerging voices and political power of our African American citizens? Our city fathers had grown up in the Jim Crow south of East Texas, and their world of separatism and “white supremacy” was being turned upside down. Were they fearful? Were they angry? Was the Robert E. Lee name a subtle, or not so subtle, means of defiance? Were they “thumbing their noses” at the new wave of authority. Excuse me, but in East Texas vernacular, “We’ll do what we damn well please, just watch us!” I don’t know the answers to these questions. I do not dare claim to know the hearts, thoughts, or motives of our city fathers in 1958. The questions simply come from my habit of asking “why.” I do believe they are worthy questions that we all should consider. I repeat, I DO NOT know the answers! If anyone has more insight and/or personal experience with the Robert E. Lee naming process, I would welcome your thoughts.
I do know that Robert E. Lee High School has been and continues to be an exceptional school with achievement in all areas–academic, music, art, theater, and athletics–worthy of community praise. I commend the past and current faculty, staff, administration and students. I began my career in education as a student teacher at Robert E. Lee. My two sons attended and graduated from Robert E. Lee. I was the ever-present, proud band mom in the stands and out supporting our students and cheering for the football team. Our schools in so many ways are the epicenter of our community and family activities. We need and must rally in supporting them.
I do know that Robert E. Lee High School has been impacted by the racial implications of the name, the Rebel mascot, and the Confederate flag. We know the history, a court mandated mascot change and the banning of the use of the Confederate flag. This occurred in 1972 after four African American football players refused to run onto the field under the huge Confederate flag. Think about it! Can we blame them? Here’s my habit again, “Why was the name not changed then?” Was Judge Justice seeking a compromise action that would in some ways appease all sides of the community in the context of that point in time when Lee was a majority white school? Again, I do not know? I simply ask the questions and encourage consideration.
Again, I ask “Why?” Why would we not consider a name change for Lee High School at this time? Given the tenor of the unseemly, ugly rise in white supremacy groups and racial tension in our nation, why not be proactive and consider the good that we can propagate with the name change. If, and again, I Do Not know, but if the Lee name selection was motivated in any way by the anger, fear, and defiance of a threatened Jim Crow South mentality, do we want even a hint of that legacy prominent in our community? With a thoughtful, considered name change could we not chalk up many positives for our community? We can acknowledge and be respectful of the history and feelings of the current student community at Lee. We know that Lee is now a minority majority campus with the majority of the student body being non-white. Being a teenage student these days is stressful enough, if the name change is beneficial to the students and the overall morale of the school community, then let’s change it. Let’s get some student input! What are they thinking? What do they want for their school? Don’t we want what is best for our students-all of our students? There I go, questions again! We, a community of the whole, can model reasonable dialogue along with considered and respectful actions in our community and for our children to witness and learn from and hopefully repeat in generations to come.
We do know that REL, thanks to the good folks of Tyler, is slated for an extensive remodel and renovation project. Again, I ask the question, “ With the opening of this “new” school, will there ever be a more opportune time to recognize the thousands of students that have passed through Lee’s corridors, applaud the gigantic efforts of its students and leaders, and celebrate the multitude of student accomplishments during its 60-year history while dedicating a “new” school with a new name. A new name does not erase the past, but offers an opportunity for an authentic narrative of the history, and can usher in a new era, a new chapter, championing and promoting all that is good in and for a beloved school and the community it serves. Another question! Can we do this as a united community? I don’t know? The answer is only within each of us individually.
Again, I DO NOT know the answers. I simply succumb to my habit and ask the questions. Questions, in my opinion, worthy of consideration. My final question, and I am still questioning, “Are there any good, rationale reasons not to move forward with a name change for Robert E. Lee High School, or at the very least initiate an exploratory process focused on a possible name change?”
Let’s just breathe, ask the hard questions, consider answers together, and explore the possibilities before us.
You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.
— –Jeff Weatherhill
What is happening in Charlottesville? We know what’s happening in Charlottesville! Again, factions of our society have chosen some one, some event, some thing to rally around and espouse their opinions and beliefs-prejudices and ideologies perhaps. And, again, being the diverse peoples that we are, opposing factions have rallied in protest. And again, mutual respect and rationale thinking has been replaced with anger, hate, and violence. And again, sacred lives have been injured and killed. When will we learn that we must come to respect human life, be respectful in our disagreements, and seek peaceful cooperation and co-existence with one another? Succumbing to violence harms us all, physically and/or morally, and contributes to the decay and demise of our nation.
The “thing” that has become the rallying point in Charlottesville, and other places, is a statue. In this instance the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a prominent figure in our nations history during the Civil War. The debate over removing the statue is burning! Proponents for removal argue the statue is a symbol that honors Lee, the Confederacy, the enslavement of hundreds of thousands of African Americans, and memorializes racism. Proponents for keeping the statue argue it honors our Southern Heritage.
It is a statue-mere bronze and stone. Although Charlottesville officials report it will cost $330,000 to remove it, it has no value compared to a human life. It is a statue the primary purpose of which is to make us remember. Yes, we need to remember the Civil War-slavery, succession, reconstruction. We need to remember the misery, the suffering, the cruel, inhumane treatment of our African American brothers and sisters, the families broken and destroyed, the deaths both off and on the battlefield. We need to remember and embrace this portion of our national history as the horrific and tragic era that it truly was. We, white Americans, need to confess and repent for the sins of our fathers and perhaps in some degree our own-the sins of fostering white supremacy, either intentionally or unintentionally, and subjugating African Americans to the horrors of slavery and oppression. Out of genuine confession and repentance, can we ask for forgiveness? In no way being able to know the experience of my African American brothers and sisters, I dare not speculate on what they might need. Could we not rally, even around the statue, for these purposes? With remembrance and repentance, can we then refocus on hope and healing amidst our national values- truths that we hold to be self evident, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”?
What’s happening in Charlottesville is reported as “white nationalist” rallying around the Lee statue honoring “Southern Heritage.” Really! I don’t think so! Folks are carrying Nazi flags, chanting “blood and soil,” as well as “Jews we will replace you.” Doesn’t look or sound at all like “Southern Heritage.” One might ask, “What nation?” Maybe shades of another nation bent on white supremacy in another horrific and tragic historical era, and hopefully not our nation of America today.
And, by the way, I don’t know that the presence or absence of a statue is going to change hearts and minds one way or the other without the presence of meaningful relationships and community. We need a narrative change, a paradigm shift. We need to remember, repent, forgive, and refocus on hope and healing grounded in our national self-evident truths.
As the dialogue and apparent divisions within the Baptist General Convention of Texas and local congregations over the issue of a welcoming and affirming stance toward their LGBTQ members continue, I encourage us all to stop and ask ourselves, individually and congregationally, this question: Who are we welcoming and what do we really want to be the focus of our affirmation? The “who,” I believe is relatively simple. We want to welcome ALL peoples into the love of Christ and the fellowship of His Body, the Church. Answering the question, “What do we want to be the focus of our affirmations?” may be a bit more complicated. Or, maybe not!
I sometimes wonder if we, christian folks and congregations, have not allowed ourselves to be overly focused on the sexual orientation and same-sex marriage issues. Do we really want to spend our time and energies squabbling over these issues and in the process threatening our unity in and ministry for Christ? Enough is enough already! Let’s truly practice our belief in the priesthood of the believer and respect the spiritual discernment of our brothers and sisters in Christ and our congregations in these particular matters. If we continue contentious dialogue or debate, insist on being right or winning the other side over to our “right” way of thinking, or denying fellowship, we are all wrong, and we all lose with the greatest loss being the cause of Christ. We can respectfully state our beliefs and our respect for the others discernment process, acknowledge our disagreement, and agree to disagree. When we do this, we can then turn our energies and cooperative efforts toward focusing on far more meaningful areas of affirmation.
What might be the affirmations of a welcoming and affirming congregation? Here are a few suggestions for starters:
— Let’s affirm God’s sovereignty over all our lives.
–Let’s affirm our love of God and our love for our neighbors.
–Let’s affirm the sacredness of every person – every human life. Let’s live out that affirmation by treating everyone with respect, seeking to listen to and understand their stories and struggles, and participating in their lives in ways that engender human flourishing, spiritual growth, and opportunities to reach one’s God-given potential.
–Let’s affirm the sacramental nature of all relationships for every relationship has the potential to be a portal of God’s grace in and to our lives.
–Let’s affirm and encourage fidelity and commitment in marital, covenantal relationships.
–Let’s affirm the value of our children and our families by offering support, encouragement, and guidance to parents as they nurture and guide their children.
–Let’s affirm our desire to follow Christ and be His Body and Presence in and to the world.
I believe the BGCT and local congregations can be both welcoming and affirming. I believe this as I recall the first scripture verse I ever committed to memory: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” — Philippians 4:13
I am a little late to the party with this commentary! I have been caught up in my own ruminating, reflection, and recovery from the last eighteen months of our horrific, unprecedented presidential campaign and election trying to get my perspective and stability refocused and centered. I am not completely there yet, but moving forward. Upfront! I voted for Hillary. Both candidates were/are flawed as all human beings are with some being more so than others. Given Hillary’s upbringing in middle-class America, her decades of national and global public service in both domestic and foreign affairs, her heart for and demonstrated efforts on behalf of all families and children, I truly believe she was, and still is, the most experienced and best qualified person to serve as President of the United States. That being said, Donald Trump is our President-Elect. And, in all honesty, I believe it is a travesty that in our “alleged” democratic nation someone who did not win the popular vote will be elevated to the highest office in the land. Barring defections during the Electoral College vote, that is what will happen on December 19. There are rumblings of such a defection; however, we all know that is unlikely. Yet, given the history of this election – never say never! In the meantime, let us resolve and hear Mr. Trump’s pledge “to be President for all Americans” and remember Hillary’s gracious words and move forward giving Mr. Trump “an open mind and a chance to lead.” I intend to do just that even as I continue to speak out for the values I hold dear, the values our nation was founded upon — justice for all, domestic peace, our common defense, our common good, the blessings of liberty for all, and a more perfect union.
A more perfect union! Of all the flaws, both individual and as a nation, illuminated by this campaign and election none are more glaring than the deep divides among our people. We (and the media and pollsters) have sliced and diced ourselves into such varied social, racial, cultural, economic, religious, etc. groups that one might ask, “Where are the Americans?” That’s a good question, but an even better question might be “Who are the diverse American people?” If we are to find that “more perfect union,” we must reach out and seek to know one another. We are allowing our “tribalism” and suspicions of the “others” to destroy us – our families, our communities, our nation, and ultimately, ourselves – our souls. We rally around candidates and causes. We protest policy and positions. Yet, we fail when it comes to reaching beyond our tribal groups to embrace, know, understand, and respect those of other groups. When will we learn that foremost we are all of one “tribe,” and at our most basic level need and want the same things – respect, love and acceptance, peace, safety, liberty, happiness, and opportunities for prosperity.
What are we called to do to seek and nurture that more perfect union? Though admittedly an idealist, I am not naïve enough to believe that a “perfect” union is possible, and if so, it might be a bit boring, but I do believe we can do better. We must do better if we hope to avert greater division and civil disturbances among our people. Maybe we could reach out to one other person outside of our routine tribe and seek to know them better, listen, try to understand and walk in their shoes, build a relationship. Maybe we could begin to speak up when we see or hear someone being ridiculed or demeaned. Let them know that they are worthy of respect. Let the offender know that his/her actions are not acceptable. Or, maybe we could open our homes and host some “get to know you” gatherings. I am sure there are many things that we could do to foster unity among us all. The question I must ask and answer is, “What will I do?” And you, “What will you do?” Let’s do something so we can all enjoy that “more perfect union” and enjoy the party!
Last Saturday, June 11, my morning coffee companion was Henri J.M. Nouwen and Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life written and published in 1975. Much of his basic premise is that “the spiritual life is that constant movement between the poles of loneliness and solitude, hostility and hospitality, illusion and prayer. That morning I was contemplating Nouwen’s words reflecting solitude not as a state of loneliness, but as a condition of our heart and soul that makes “it possible to convert slowly our fearful reactions into a loving response.” How was I to know that the very next morning, June 12, the nation and I would be horrified by the Orlando attack on the LGBT community?
I am a christian, a follower of Christ. I am also a lesbian. For most of my life I kept my same-sex orientation a secret and did everything I knew to do to not have the attractions and not be gay. It was a secret that took me to the depths of depression, the doors of insanity, and the brink of suicide. In my journeys into contemplation and spiritual solitude I have moved toward acceptance and reconciliation—acceptance of myself as a lesbian christian woman and reconciliation between that fact and my basic spiritual beliefs. I certainly identified with Nouwen’s counsel that in our solitude the events of the world around us “as well as the many personal disappointments and pains, no longer can be seen as unavoidable concomitants of our life, but all become urgent invitations to a response; that is a personal engagement.”
Faced with the burdens of our reality, the few “extremists” or “fanatics” become “indispensable reminders that no lasting healing will ever take place without a solidarity of heart.” These few “force us to ask ourselves how many games we play with ourselves and how many walls we keep creating to prevent ourselves from knowing and feeling the burden of human solidarity.” Nouwen proclaims that we fluctuate “between the humble confession that the newspaper holds more than our souls can bear and the realization that it is only through facing up to the reality of our world that we can grow into our own responsibility.”
Do we and how do we protest the realities of our world out of solitude? Hopefully we do as “life can teach us that although the events of the day are out of our hands, they should never be out of our hearts, that instead of becoming bitter our lives can yield to the wisdom that only from the heart a creative response can come forth.” Nouwen reminds us that, “When our protest against war, segregation, social injustice, (the Orlando attack against the LGBT community,) do not reach beyond the level of a reaction, then our indignation becomes self-righteous, our hope for a better world degenerates into a desire for quick results, and our generosity is soon exhausted by disappointments. Only when our mind has descended into our heart can we expect a lasting response to well up from our innermost self.”
Can we, in the solitude of our hearts truly listen to the pains of the world—most especially now the pains of our LGBT community? Nouwen asserts that we can for in the solitude of the heart “we can recognize them not as strange and unfamiliar pains, but as pains that are indeed our own. There we can see that what is most universal is most personal and that indeed nothing human is strange to us.” When we stand in solidarity with our fellow humans, our LGBT brothers and sisters, in their suffering and pain, then “our first attempts to alleviate these pains can come forth.” Feeling another’s pain leads us to compassion, which “brings healing and new strength. The paradox indeed is that the beginning of healing is in the solidarity with the pain.” Nouwen recalls our history “when men and women have been able to respond to the events of their world as an occasion to change their hearts, an inexhaustible source of generosity and new life has been opened, offering hope far beyond the limits of human prediction.” My thoughts go to the work and movement of Ghandi in India, Mandela in South Africa, and King in America.
Nouwen reminds us that spiritual “movement from loneliness to solitude, therefore, is not a movement of a growing withdrawal from, but rather a movement toward, a deeper engagement in the burning issues of our time.” Our acceptance, affirmation, and welcoming of our LGBT persons has been an issue in our nation for decades. Does not the senseless, violent attack targeting the LGBT community known to frequent Pulse, prominently known as a gay club, elevate the issue to that of “burning issue?” Must we not respond and engage this issue from the solitude of our hearts!
And then Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, happened! With my shock and horror of the attack, with my heart both numb and yet heavy with sorrow and compassion, and with Nouwen’s word fresh in my heart, I was moved to engage, to seek a creative response — to bring our local LGBT community as well as our community at large together in a gathering to remember and honor the Orlando victims, and to stand in solidarity in our pain and sorrow as well as in our hope and resolve for positive change and a brighter future. Over 200 people gathered at a local park on Thursday evening, June 16, and we did just that. My words to that gathering and to everyone, everywhere:
On behalf of East Texas PFLAG and our other sponsors – Tyler Together, Pineywoods Voice, Tyler Area Gays, Tyler Transgender Support Group, East Texas Islamic Society, and Life Covenant Church – I want to say welcome and thank you for your attendance and participation this evening. We are gathered here as a community to stand in solidarity with Orlando and the families and friends of the victims in the horrific attack on the LGBT community there last Sunday. Earlier this week, our president called for our nation’s flag to be flown at half-mast in memory and honor of the victims in Orlando. Tomorrow our nation’s flag will return to full mast “normal,“ if you will. But life will never be the same for friends and families of the Orlando victims, nor for the LGBT community, most especially for those whose lives were murderously taken last Sunday morning. They have no life to live. We want to take this time to remember and honor those killed and reflect on 49 lives, 49 sacred souls with names and faces that were snuffed out by an act of senseless violence fueled by hate and terrorism. As we seek to come to grips with, and process the shock and horror of the attack, we grieve and we support one another. For those of you who may not be an integral “part” of the LGBT community, we want you to know that your presence and your shared grief and support is important, desperately needed, and much appreciated.
Now, we will remember and honor the victims, their families and friends as we join one another in the bonds of our common humanity – our sorrow in loss and our hopes for positive change and a brighter future. John David Creamer, pastor of Life Covenant Church, will lead us in prayer.
(As each name and brief bio of the 49 victims was read a volunteer from the crowd walked to the front carrying their picture. A bell was rung.)
As we prepare to leave this place may we carry these sacred lives with us. May the light of their lives continue to shine in us and through us and may their light guide us and give us courage. Courage to act in ways that champion acceptance, not accusation; courage to seek out and participate in conversations and community, not condemnation; courage to speak and act in ways that foster love and compassion, not hate and violence. Courage to know, not just in our heads, but also in our hearts, that every human life is sacred and to live respectfully of one another and our beautiful, God-given diversities. In doing these things, then, and only then, will we truly remember and honor these 49 beautiful, sacred lives.
Join me in 49 seconds of silence as we remember these, reflect, and resolve to act and live in ways to honor these 49 and ultimately ourselves and our community.
Anwar Khalifa with the East Texas Islamic Society will close our gathering.
It was an outpouring of community solidarity, grief, compassion, and love. In his closing, Anwar asked all the clergy present to come to the front and join him for the closing prayer. A very moving and much needed gathering together. It is my hope and prayer that as a local community, a nation, and a world we will seek the solitude of our hearts and that our hearts will change in ways that nurture our compassion and desire to live in solidarity with all humankind.