A Memorial Worth Visiting

“Joshua called out the twelve men whom he selected from the People of Israel, one man from each tribe. Joshua directed them, “Cross to the middle of the Jordan and take your place in front of the Chest of GOD, your God. Each of you heft a stone to your shoulder, a stone for each of the tribes of the People of Israel, so you’ll have something later to mark the occasion. When your children ask you, ‘What are these stones to you?’ you’ll say, ‘The flow of the Jordan was stopped in front of the Chest of the Covenant of GOD as it crossed the Jordan—stopped in its tracks. These stones are a permanent memorial for the People of Israel.’”

The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month. They set up camp at The Gilgal (The Circle) to the east of Jericho. Joshua erected a monument at The Gilgal, using the twelve stones that they had taken from the Jordan. And then he told the People of Israel, “In the days to come, when your children ask their fathers, ‘What are these stones doing here?’ tell your children this: ‘Israel crossed over this Jordan on dry ground.’

“Yes, GOD, your God, dried up the Jordan’s waters for you until you had crossed, just as GOD, your God, did at the Red Sea, which had dried up before us until we had crossed. This was so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong GOD ’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold GOD in solemn reverence always.””
‭‭Joshua‬ ‭4:4-7, 19-24‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Twenty-six years ago I visited The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson in Nashville, Tennessee. The tour was self-guided, which, in 1994 meant, I was handed a Sony Walkman with a cassette recording inside to lead me around the historic premises. There is only one thing I remember vividly about that visit : a slave cabin.

According to the voice inside the earphones, the cabin was moved closer to the main house after its occupant grew too old to walk far. Because he was President Jackson’s “favorite” slave, he was given the special privilege of serving with fewer steps in his golden years. As I peeked inside the cabin with its scarce furnishings and meager household goods, tears began to roll down my face. I immediately thought of the thoroughbred horse farm where my dad worked for a short while and how plush the barn was in comparison to this cabin. I was embarrassed-not because I am white, but because I am human. The reality of how cruel humans can be to other humans created in God’s image was too much for my tears to stay shy.

Fifteen years ago I visited a museum honoring Frederick Douglass in Rochester, New York. I remember much more about that visit. In my career as an English teacher I have both studied and taught Mr. Douglass’s writings with intensity. In that museum his memoir came to life before my eyes. Encased in glass was tattered clothing, rusty shackles, and replicas of cherry branches used by his owner, Mr. Covey, in a showdown detailed in Mr. Douglass’s narrative. Each of these items are still fresh memories, especially the cherry branches. Until I saw replicas with my own eyes, I imagined these branches to be as harmless as a switch cut by an angry southern grandmother. It was only after viewing the display that the fierceness of the battle in his famous narrative became obvious. Although these items remain effective and fresh in my memory, it was the interactive replica of the slave ship that once again caused sadness to overwhelm me – this time with a flood of tears and a heaviness that returns each time I recall this event, not from history’s standpoint alone, but with the heart of an educator-a heart as close to a mother’s heart as an unrelated woman could possess.

The interactive slave ship had only one exterior side. To experience this exhibit, museum visitors were instructed to crawl inside the ship’s small openings. Once inside the coffin-sized entry, I could barely move. It was completely dark, but it was not silent. The cramped, dark space made the audio seem louder. As I heard the sound of waves, whips, and crying, I again felt ashamed to be human. I felt sick. I realized the true agony couldn’t be replayed though an exhibit simulation. I thought of my beloved black students from that semester: Sherry, DJ, Isaiah, Denitra, Martin, Cliff, Bobby, Calvin, Marquis, Rochelle, Brittany, and how in a previous time they might have been passengers there. My heart ached. My mind replays the exhibit every time I read the words “Frederick Douglass” and I am forever changed by the exhibit memorializing his story.

With the current chaos in our society today, I find myself wondering what memorials and museum pieces should go and which should remain. I don’t have all the answers, but I can offer my white perspective from an educator’s heart. America’s history can’t be changed no matter how much anyone would wish it so. It is history-comprised of the good, the bad, the ugly, the just and the unjust. Neither continued injustice nor hatred of honor-worthy authority can change history. We can’t undo what has been done in greed, ignorance, and hatred. We can only ask for God’s help to do better so that history never repeats itself.

The above referenced scripture passing tells of a time in Israel’s history when it was time to cross into their promised land. The Israelites had been oppressed and in slavery for generations. God was ready to perform a miracle to get them across a raging river and into their land of milk and honey. What He expected of them was a memorial and a testimony for their lineage. He didn’t command them to forget the years of slavery;He did command them to remember the miracle He provided in bringing them across on dry land. His holy desire was that they realized some situations can only be resolved by Him.

We have a situation now that can only be resolved by a holy God.I pray for America. I pray for the oppressed. I pray for those in authority. I pray that we can find peaceful, godly solutions to overcome the chaotic river that has raged against our nation for far too long. I pray that the division will cease and that we will truly be “one nation, under God indivisible…” Should we ever reach that promised land, may we be most concerned with declaring His miracle, “so that everybody on earth would recognize how strong GOD ’s rescuing hand is and so that you would hold GOD in solemn reverence always.”” That would be a memorial worth visiting.

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