The Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Eve of Election Day

Somehow, curiously or not so curiously, we finished reading our two novels on Reconstruction today, the day before the big election. History has always been interesting to me, but as I teach it to my children, it seems to come alive even more. What can we learn from the past? How does the past apply to us right now? I have found so many parallels, not to specific events or specific people per se, but to the concepts of a nation deeply divided and in need of healing. I need to be quick and clear in saying I do not think we are at the point of a civil war or that the horrendous atrocities committed today can compare with the horror of slavery (goodness, I sure hope not!), but it seems that if there is a method of dividing a group, either by age, gender, religion or non religion, economic status, race, occupation (!), political party, pro-this, anti-that, that it is happening. And there are groups of people fueling fires and encouraging discord and disharmony for whatever personal agendas they may have.

How do you get a nation, so divided, to come back together, freely forgive, and in return humbly ask for forgiveness?

I don’t know exactly how our nation did that after the Civil War.

However, in reading to my children, a few key elements keep repeating themselves and have left a big impression on me, and in turn I am trying to leave that impression on my children as well. I don’t think they are too young to understand this. In fact, I think the younger we teach our children these vital truths, the better life will be. So yes, the oldest three are only 4th, 2nd and kindergarten age, but in this entire (what has become a) 2 month unit on the American Civil War, we are ending it off with a message of respect, humility, repentance, and forgiveness.

The first post Civil war novel I read was called “40 Acres and Maybe a Mule.” It followed an ex-slave boy of about 12 years old, his older brother, and group of friends and acquaintances right after the end of the war. They follow their dreams and hopes and the promise of 40 acres to own and farm as they wish. What was most remarkable to me (and this book really has enough in it for it’s own blog post) is that after they had fought racism, violence, and so much discrimination – even from the people who had come down from the north to help them make a better life – and finally made their dreams into reality, it was stripped away from them in an instant.

And they were back to nothing.

What do do? Should they be angry? Should they fight back with violence and bitterness? Well, they were angry. But they also realized that sometimes change comes slowly and even with setbacks or what seem like insurmountable roadblocks, in their hearts they knew what was right and they were not going to give up.

The book we finished today is called “Shades of Grey” (no, not the naughty book with the similar title.) This story followed a white confederate aligned 12 year old boy who had lost everything in the war and is sent to live with his traitorous uncle – the uncle’s crime being that he chose not to fight for either side in the war. He, too, lost everything, although through the eyes of the young boy, he is a coward and a traitor for not standing up for Virginia and the Confederacy.

The lessons taught in this book made me feel like it was written for our nation at this very moment. Many of us are so angry. Many of us feel that the”others” have taken or are trying to take away so much from us – our values and principles and what we feel is good and right. And how dare they! How can they be so blind and so unfeeling and so wrong! If you vote for Hillary, then obviously you are voting for a liar, under criminal investigation, a self-centered woman up for sale to the highest bidder who will say and claim anything, totally committed to killing unborn children and stripping all rights and freedoms away from whomever doesn’t fit with her plan, especially those with religious convictions.

As so many are willing to shout at you.

But if you vote for Donal Trump, then obviously you are voting for a liar, under criminal investigation, a self centered man up for sale to the highest bidder, totally committed to promoting himself at all costs, even if that includes saying he is for (or against) everything he has been against (or for) throughout his entire life, violating women, decency, and religious freedom.

As so many are willing to shout at you.

I completely understand those who are holding their noses and voting for Trump because they are so afraid of what a Clinton administration might do. And I completely understand those who are holding their noses and voting for Hillary because they are so afraid of what a Trump administration might do. The fear is so very real and I am afraid, too. And of course, there are a number of people who are voting for one or the other because they really do feel their candidate will make a wonderful President of the United States. I can’t say I agree or really even understand that, but I will always support someone in their right to vote how they see fit. So many of our country men have fought and died for that right, and I am not about to tell someone they don’t deserve it simply because I disagree with them.

But what about my little family? We aren’t voting for either one of them. And still WE and thousands like us around the country are getting bullied, harassed, guilted and shamed for not choosing one of the two bigger sides. I felt like that poor uncle in the novel, who refused to fight with the South because it was a cause he did not and could not believe in, but refused to fight with the north because he would not be a part of the violence, death, and destruction it would bring to his home and the people he loved. At one point in the novel, a sick and injured Union solder comes to their farm asking for help. Will, the young boy, is horrified and disgusted at the thought that his uncle might actually help this young soldier who destroyed his beautiful Virginia. He confronts his uncle, and his uncle’s response could have been my own to those who are telling me that I am wasting my vote, that a vote for my guy is a vote for Hilary or a vote for Trump. “Uncle Jed looked down at him quizzically. After a few moments he said, ‘I do what I think is right without worrying as to whether it will cause me gain or loss. A man doesn’t want to stop and try to figure out what everybody else might think or do each time he has to make a decision.'”

And you know what? I would bet you just about EVERYONE voting is doing what he or she feels is right, no matter who they are voting for or for what reasons their decision feels right to them, be it a strategic vote or a principled vote. And you know what else? I would bet you just about EVERYONE, down underneath, values and holds dear the same principles of decency, honesty, and brotherly kindness.

But we are so caught up in a war of words, of accusations, of insults and degrading and disgusting language and behavior. Our passions are running wild and we have lost all sense of reason and calm. We no longer listen for understanding, or understand that understanding doesn’t have to mean agreement. I’m not sure that many of us are even listening at all!

How do we heal our nation? How do we bind the wounds and move forward, a strong and united country? How do we get past these awful last few months? How did the North and the South get past those horrific and deadly 4 years?

This novel, that I read to the kids, suggests four main needs; respect, humility, repentance, and forgiveness. And the key to humility is to recognize that both “Yankee” and “Rebel” bleed the same red blood. They were once both little babies sung to and rocked in their mothers’ loving arms. They both have families that they adore and mean everything to them. They both have fears and hopes, they have insecurities and strengths to offer. They both have to work hard and experience fall backs from time to time. Both “Yankee” and “Rebel”  – and even those who refuse to fight and still have to suffer the consequences of the war – are of great worth in the sight of God. One side is not loved more, and more importantly although technically the same thing, both sides (all sides) are loved just as much by a Father in Heaven who weeps when we forget that we are all His children, all brothers and sisters who have forgotten we are in this life together, not in opposition to each other. We need it on a national level, like young Will did in overcoming his anger and hatred toward the Yankees. And we need it on a personal level, just as Will did when confronting the bully down in the town.

I will admit that I am not the perfect example of humility and repentance. But if nothing else positive comes out of this election for me, I will know that I have been brought to a remembrance of my personal need for forgiveness and my personal need to remember the great worth of all souls. Again, from our story, “Uncle Jed came out of the barn and said, ‘You look like you’ve got a belly ache.’ Will smiled ruefully, ‘That’s probably ’cause I’ve had to swallow my pride so many times today.’ ”

I don’t think we are in as critical of a position now as our nation was about 150 years ago. But I think we, as a nation, and as individuals probably have a lot of pride to swallow.

And in case you are curious, I am voting for Evan McMullin tomorrow.