This week, Rebekah and I went back to the North Carolina Museum of History to pick up the story where we left off last time. We had made it through indigenous peoples, Conquistadors, Colonists, Pirates, and Independence.
The first exhibit we looked at touted North Carolina’s refusal to ratify the U.S. Constitution until it included a Bill of Rights designed to protect individual liberties. I found that deeply ironic given that the following room took a detailed look into the role of slavery in shaping the nascent state.
“War. What is it good for…?”
From there we explored the impact of the Civil War, the tragedy of divided loyalties, and the complete devastation that is on the one hand unimaginable and on the other far too easy to contemplate given the level of mistrust and hostility that defines today’s social/political climate.
The next period of North Carolina history showed the terrible aftermath of war, culminating in the violent overthrow of Wilmington’s elected government in 1898 and the implementation of Jim Crow laws across the South. Again, especially in light of how close such an action came to overturning the 2020 presidential election, 1898 did not seem so far away.
Rebekah and I looked at the history of North Carolina’s agriculture, and industry. Pine tar, turpentine, tobacco, textiles, furniture, and more. The inventions, the innovations, the abuse of workers of all races – including children. The constant struggle to remember that when we advertise ourselves as a “free” nation (one that values “liberty and justice” for all), such an ideal requires our collective will to achieve and then maintain, and that economic justice tends to lead to increased prosperity – especially for those who can’t loose themselves from their greed!
We were finishing off the World War One part of the museum, and moving into the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920, when we realized we were tired and it was late. So we are saving North Carolina’s most recent 100 years for next time.
Thread of continuity:
So on the way home, talking about what we had seen and learned, I asked “What thread of continuity did we see that runs through the story?”
I saw a mountain of hard work, of self-reliance, of pioneer spirit, or self sacrifice, and of commitment to the definitive American ideal of liberty from bondage – political and economic.
But at the same time I saw – and I still see – this ongoing struggle where people become unable, or unwilling, to view the world from the perspective of community. The most fundamental values of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition are expressed in the following two scriptures; yet, in a state and a nation that touts its Christianity so publicly, these values are routinely shoved aside in favor of individualism, nationalism, greed, and exploitation.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”Micah 6:8, Matthew 12:30-31
It is this struggle of identity that I see as the consistent thread. It is a struggle that can only find answers in the context of turning to God over politics, of following Jesus instead of personalities, and of rediscovering the essential Christian principle of living in community – where we value others ahead of ourselves and where we are not afraid to love.
There is so much to digest when we look at our history; there is so much to learn; and there is so much that we are called to do in response – DEREK