Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Crossroads of Hope

This is my column that appeared in the Arab Tribune on Wednesday, March 30, 2016. The editor told me it made him cry. I'm honored (I think!).

There are times when I feel like I’m standing on the crossroads of history, and it always brings with it strangely mixed feelings.

As I see it, standing on crossroads is different than having memories of historical events. I can indeed remember when I was four years old, watching the first man walk on the moon. I was mesmerized on the den carpet.

I can remember being seven when my mother sat me down to watch the president resign and cry on TV. “This is important, you will thank me later” she said.

I remember being on the bus on our college choir tour watching the Space Shuttle explode on television, over and over and over.

I remember the high school classroom where I was hosting teacher appreciation day, sponsored by the church I was starting, on 9/11. Our hospitality room took on a quiet and heavy tone as teacher after teacher came in to watch the news.

All these are powerful memories of potent experiences. But the feeling of standing on the crossroads of history is more than that. It is being in a place where many roads intersect and many memories collide, where my personal recollections blend with corporate remembrances of previous struggles.

One of these crossroads was a result of my involvement with the Marshall County Leadership Challenge. Some 25 leaders from our great county have been on a journey together all year, and this month we went on a field trip to Montgomery to explore state government.

After a fascinating tour of the capitol building, which I had not seen since grade school, I walked out upon the front steps. For a moment, in the midst of a crowd, my emotions were whisked away and there was a strange feeling of silence.

As if suspended in time, I stood on the steps where Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederacy, was inaugurated. From there, I looked out upon a street scene which was the focal point of the march from Selma in March of 1965, peacefully demonstrating for the right for African Americans to vote. From this vantage point, I could clearly see the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Martin Luther King, Jr. had preached for several years prior to leading that march. To my right, I could admire the “moon tree,” a pine that had grown strong and proud from where it was planted, after Governor George Wallace had its seeds sent to the moon and back.

Our tour guide had already told us that his was the voice narrating the movie “Selma” and he had himself been in that march, having escaped injury on “Bloody Sunday” a few days beforehand. That was certainly impressive, but for me, this quiet space was more powerful than that.

Here in one place, experiencing a few moments to myself, I stood on the crossroads of several layers of bondage and brokenness, of heritage and hope, with stories of struggles stretching well over a hundred years long. Yet I could clearly see them from one standpoint. This is a crossroads indeed.

Since that moment on the Alabama courthouse steps, I have been thinking about my life. I am 50 years old, and a lot has happened in my one little life span. The march for black voting rights, which I experienced in my mind’s eye from the top of the steps, happened just six weeks before I was born. In subsequent weeks, before I saw my first daylight and breathed my first breath of fresh air, the first commercial communications satellite was launched.

Now we have had an African American president for eight years, and I can follow the news on election primaries on my phone which, by the way, holds more power in my pocket than the massive computer that put the man on the moon, an experience I had watched on a black and white TV.

I am an Alabama boy. I’ve never lived north of the Tennessee state line, and not one of my ancestors was a yankee. I am descended from fifteen Revolutionary War patriots and about half that many Confederate soldiers.

But I live in a new South, one that is even newer than the “New South.” It is where I love my heritage, and where I live my hope.

Perhaps my life, in itself, is a crossroads. I suppose that’s part of what makes it worth living. My character has not been forged by its struggles and successes in a vacuum. Our lives are lived in context. They take shape in the midst of the grand movements of history as well as the deeper and more subtle movements of grace.

These are difficult times. There is great hostility and violence, of divisiveness and hurt, in our world. But it’s not the first time, and it’s not the last.

There will always be brokenness, but there will always be healing. There will always be sin but, thank God, there will always be grace. There will always be hopelessness.

But there, on those steps, what overwhelmed me was hope.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer who pastors Arab First United Methodist Church. His blog, “Musings of a Musical Preacher,” is found at