Ouzts Reconciling a Lineage Part Three: Fractured Ideals

Fractured ideals and a contradictory life seem to be a part of the human condition. How do you reconcile the irony and reality of history and your place in the grand scheme of it all.

Ouzts Reconciling a Lineage Part Three: Fractured Ideals
Hand Written Tomb at Family Cemetery

Part One | Part Two

For those who prefer to listen to the article here you go:

I went to a private school from kindergarten to second grade. The three things we did daily were read the Bible, recite the pledge of allegiance, and sing America or 'My Country 'Tis of Thee.' As a kid, the words only held as much weight once I got older. Hear me out. I'm fascinated with words, mainly how they're used and defined. However, there is uniqueness, depending on who you're talking to.

As I recalled the pledge and My Country Tis of Thee, the words can mean distinctively different things from person to person. Now, there's no other country I would rather be born in than America, specifically when I was born. I genuinely love my country, more so the state and county I grew up in. I'm from Prince George's County, MD, and it's a unique place to grow up in. It's been considered the most affluent black county in the nation. If you look at the top ten black communities in the country, five hail from my county. So, I didn't have to go far to see black excellence growing up. Seeing engineers, news reporters, doctors, lawyers, and the like was commonplace.

However, with love, there is always truth. History, in general, is messy, and America isn't an exception. Two significant issues from the past are slavery and the Trail of Tears. My lineage comes from both groups, black and native, and historically, they've been the most oppressed people groups in America. When you really pay attention to the lyrics of My Country Tis of Thee from that lens, it hits you differently.

My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From every mountainside Let freedom ring!

The words and ideals are a beautiful arrangement, but it was written in 1832. If you know your history, the Civil War didn't begin until 1861. If you're still looking through the same lens, especially in this time period, those words aren't real to you. Samuel F. Smith wrote the song in Massachusetts, and given the benefit of the doubt because of geography at the time, I believe his intentions were pure. However, the ideals were incongruent with the realities of the times.

Now, diss tracks weren't foreign in the 1800s. We get a proper diss track in 1843 by A.G. Duncan. He happened to be a white abolitionist. He drops some knowledge using the same melody and style of My Country Tis of Thee:

My country! ’tis of thee,
Stronghold of slavery,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Where men man’s rights deride,
From every mountainside,
Thy deeds shall ring.

Now, slavery and genocide have been a part of the fabric of humanity since recorded history. Oppressors and the oppressed have always been with mankind as well. I believe we as humans love evil; that's definitely me included. So I'd say there's something fundamentally wrong with us. I look to a unique place for comfort, with parts of my lineage coming from an oppressed ancestry.

The ancient powers of Rome, Assyria, Persia, and many others have fallen to history. However, a group of people has stood the test of time through slavery, a thriving kingdom, conquered and reconquered. I'm referring to the Jews, and they also went through the holocaust. If you want to know what it means to survive and thrive as a people group, look to the Jews.

Finding Hope in the Past

A couple of years back, I traveled to Aiken, SC, my grandfather's and his siblings' hometown. My favorite type of trip is one with no set plans outside the destination. It allows one to enjoy the journey and the opportunities that present themselves. On the trip, a roadblock made me backtrack a little, which made me come through the outskirts of the town. Reaching the town was a unique experience. It's a very charming town rich with history and art.

One of the best ways to learn about a place is to experience its art or food. I'm from the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia), and some of our expressions are found in a local sound called Go-Go. I passed through the local art exhibit in Aiken, which displayed art, pottery, and jewelry designed by local artists.

Now, I had the privilege of being accompanied by my grandfather's memories while walking through his hometown. His face would light up when he reminisced about his experiences and the adventures of his childhood. I remember asking my grandfather to make me rubber band balls while I was young, and he'd talk about some of his stories from time to time.

Ancestry Worship and Honor

Now, I love my grandfather and some things he taught me, such as punctuality. However, there are things I didn't like about him as well. Ancestry worship and honor is one of the earliest forms of worship and homage. It's saturated through pretty much every culture. Some Eastern cultures are still more direct in respecting and honoring the practice. A good illustration is looking at the movie Mulan (animated). In the film, there's a shrine for the ancestors of Mulan, and they have a comical exchange.

Within most Eastern cultures, reflecting on where one comes from is a part of the culture. Typically, in any culture that comes from a traditional model of a caste system, emphasis is placed on one's ancestry. America is quite different in how this similarity is expressed. As Americans, we love underdog stories, which can be traced back to the Revolutionary War. Being self-made is almost a rite of passage. Hustle culture is woven into the fabric of the collective conscience of we Americans.

Poet Criss Jami has a unique take on such an idea:

"A good work ethic is not so much a concern for hard work but rather one for responsibility. There have been a great many men and women who have in fact used work or hustle or selfish ambition as an escape from real responsibility, an escape from purpose. In matters such as these, the hard worker is just as dysfunctional as the sloth." - Criss Jami
We tend to worship those of influence, prestige, and power. That's generally a human thing, but we in America seem to have it in copious amounts.

We worship the founding fathers, the civil rights leaders, the colleges we attended, sports teams, celebrities, or tech titans. For me, there's a distinct difference between worship and honor.

Now, I come from a family of great athletes. I had an Uncle Pete, who was a local legend in the DC area—so much so that they renamed the community center gym in his commemoration. My father, uncles, and cousins were and are good athletes. I'm a decent athlete as well. I love competition, but competition breeds ambition or vice versa. Ambition is a fickle idea because it seems to morph into a form of worship more often than not.

I firmly believe everyone worships someone or something. Ambition isn't bad, but selfish ambition is. For example, the Bible says this:

James 3:16
16 For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

When I run into people who claim to not be religious, I laugh a little. When I observe how I and others react to sporting events, concerts, products, and/or many other things. Passionate conversations come about. Fanatical and religious in nature. History is filled with men and women consumed by their selfish ambition; however, there are those whose ambition for their fellow man or a higher calling spurred them to do wonderful things.

The Forms of Slavery

I am privileged to live in Charleston, SC, which is affectionately known as Holy City. The irony of the whole situation is it was the premier slave trafficking port on the East Coast. I find it a sobering experience when I walk around the city and can almost visualize my ancestors being chained or roped and sold at an auction. I'm in this weird paradox where I'm saddened but encouraged simultaneously.

Thanks to their sacrifice and perseverance, I'm here today to be able to share this because of them. Though I'm more educated, have been able to help serve in my church and community, and can provide for myself, I feel they had a more vibrant and authentic faith than I do. All they had was hope and faith, that's demonstrated in many Negro Spirituals. I think the verses that help illustrate this come from the greatest sermon ever delivered, that being The Sermon on the Mount by Jesus in a section called The Beatitudes:

3 “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
4 God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
7 God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
9 God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
10 God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.

One cool thing that happened in the months when I first moved to Charleston was taking a boat ride with some people from church. During the trip, we saw the catalyst place of the Civil War, Fort Sumter. Some wars have been fought over resources, but the majority have been a clash of ideals. This is why I'm cautious with abstract terms such as:

  • Justice
  • Liberty
  • Love
  • Freedom

Others can be on that list as well. The disconnect happens depending on how one filters those terms. We've been fighting a battle for the minds and souls of humanity since the dawn of time. As I look at the landscape of the American culture, my heart breaks because I see us moving to the same type of collision that was found at Fort Sumter, though not predicated on race or ethnicity but built on what we believe to be the truth. If we don't course-correct... yeah.

Ambitious Desires

Back to the book James he states:

James 4:1-3
1 What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? 2 You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.

One thing I found in my life that has been passed down in my family, specifically in the men, is our pride. I can't take credit for initially noticing this pattern. My dad was the one who saw the pattern some years ago, maybe even before I was born. Our pride is not this expressive and vain type of pride. It's so much more subtle and deceptive and actually praised by the culture. If you don't know me, it's tough to pick up on unless you were once a pride addict.

I like how C.S. Lewis breaks pride down:

There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

I like learning from anything that I do. I love good, well-crafted stories. One of the best stories I've experienced in the last five years is from a video game called Persona 5. It's not a game I would recommend to just anyone because it's for maturing individuals in thought. It does an excellent job of taking abstract concepts and visualizing their depths.

This ties in with the Book of James quite a bit. The game takes this notion of desires when they become distorted.

Desires aren't inherently evil at their core; more often than not, they come from good intentions; however, when they become misaligned, they tend to move to a form of idolatry.

Some of the characters' distorted desires materialize into this treasure that they idolize. The depths of the soul change to an environment that's at its peak of complete distortion, related to the character in question. If you've seen the Lord of the Rings, Smeggle/Golem or Frodo are good examples of the distortion of desires. The game, though, follows the classic list of the seven deadly sins.

  1. Lust
  2. Vanity
  3. Gluttony
  4. Wrath
  5. Greed
  6. Envy
  7. Pride

It's a good illustration of how our evil desires can take hold of us. I'm glad my dad instructed me to have a healthy view of my desires, ambitions, and motives. He pointed me to a verse that helps keep him grounded, and likewise, it helps me.

Romans 12:3
3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.

Hopeful Future

I love looking back at Jesus' lineage's complexities because it wasn't pretty. It had some prestige with Abraham, Jacob, and David. Then there are those in his line. I don't even know who they are. At the end of the day, he arrived at the right time. An equation I use for myself is:

Reflection (Past) + Projection (Future) = Injection (Present)

Reflection (looking back) is, at its core, past tense. To look back not just over your life but also to those who came before you and to history is to reflect. I don't believe you can become wise without reflection.

Reflecting on my life and observing others, I see that we begin to live aimlessly and not fulfill our lives when we lose sight of the vision or goal. Paraphrasing Frank Turek, we focus on the pursuit of happiness and not the pursuit of purpose. Without hope, why project (look forward) and think about the future?

Injection is simply using the wisdom of reflection, coupled with a future vision, to focus on what to do now. It's the details of living in the moment without losing sight of the past or future.

I'm naturally an optimist, and America is a very young country compared to the rest of the world. Forgiveness and gratitude are virtues that are so scarce in our culture right now. We should be grateful and have the capacity to forgive daily. That comes with changing how we think, which can be challenging.

I'll close with this quote:

"The way you remember the past depends upon your hope for the future." - Story Musgrave

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