This fall as I watch the leaves from the large oak tree outside of my window turn and drop onto our deck, I anticipate the array of beautiful colors that are soon to come in the landscape across the water that runs between me, and the rocky bank topped with rolling caps of forest. In anticipation of the splendor of this season, there is a perpetual song running through my head lately, “I see your true colors shining through, your true colors, and that’s why I love you. Don’t be afraid to let them show, true colors, shining through.” This song is playing 24/7 lately.
Thus, when I recently passed a little black truck flying a Confederate flag that is as big as the truck itself, I thought those same words and tune. However, a little rewrite came to me immediately . . . “I see your true colors shining through . . . why you’re not concerned, I’ll never know, but I see your true colors flying through.”
Just down the road from me I often pass another display of true colors. It is a property that appears to have been added on to over a long period of time. There are little sheds out back that appear to be occupied by different family members. There is a collection of building materials that appear to be the rescued parts of a demolition . . . perhaps for repurpose. . . on the next shed addition. There is a wood pile that runs the length of the property (for winter heat) and every year the pile grows into what looks like a wall. There is a 5th wheel camper out front of the main house that must have a leak because it is covered with a blue tarp. There are multiple relatively new vehicles. There is a fence, a gate, and foreboding “keep out” signs protecting the junkyard with dilapidated buildings where the people stay. I always slow down to try to observe and understand the life of the inhabitants of this property.
All of these curious details of the property are the backdrop for the two faded flags flying proudly out front. The tattered American and the confederate flags always make me wonder about the colors, the true colors, the faded colors, and the tattered ideas that seem to be driving the inhabitants who seem to be fantasizing and wishing for an imagined glorious past. Somehow the scene seems to reflect the true colors and hearts of the people who exist there.
There are delipidated, partially dismantled, and recycled values from an era past that many of us still cling to. Clinging to the methods and fantasies about the “good ole’ days” is another display of our true colors and true values. Although, unlike the flags I witness regularly and proudly articulating those ideas here in Arkansas, our true colors are often more disguised.
Grasping at these so called “traditional values” and “culture” are often a similar to wishing for the turning, dying, and now rotting leaves of a previous year. In truth, these leaves, colorful and beautiful as they be, are a demonstration of death, dormancy, and a season without growth for the trees.
Similarly, exercises in legal and social preservation of the values and fantasies about “American confederate heroes” white nationalist culture, confederacy and other white supremacist cultural ideas are like the faded and tattered flags and the turning, dying, dropping, rotten leaves. Stinky, mildewy, and dirty.
Jesus proclaimed his mission as recorded in Luke 4. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
He was more concerned with the poor, brokenhearted, captive, blind, and oppressed than the comforts of the safe, comfortable, protected ones. Jesus came so that we may prosper in our souls, and that prosperity would show up in our lives and possibly even bank accounts, not the reverse.
He came to help us rise above our arrogance, our self-importance, our cultural preferences, our hometowns, our biases, our small ideas, and our small hearts to fulfill a bigger dream of being reconciled to God and humankind. He came so we would be empowered and selfless enough fulfill the purpose of the life we’ve been given on this earth, and the new, expanded, amazing life in Christ. If we are to do so, we will have to release the resentments created by fictitious narratives of “Godliness” we pretend that our culture was built upon during those “good ole’ days.”
Let us grow up instead of wishing for the rotten leaves of last year, or the former “glory” of the tattered, faded flags and the culture they represent to us. Let us learn the truth, dismantle lies and cultural idols, learn how to love our neighbors, and shine the true colors of a repentant, redeemed, and truly prosperous people. Let us participate in Jesus’ mission to preach the gospel to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind. Let US be engaged in setting at liberty those who are oppressed.
We can make room this fall in our hearts and homes for this redemption and repair if we will open both to the neighbors we have been excluding by the idolatry of our own cultural ways. Jesus empowers us to rise above, to learn something and someone new, and to represent Him with truer colors than we have been able to see before. Let’s be about it.
By Doc Courage