Here’s my problem. I find myself, naturally, falling squarely into one camp when it comes to the brutalization of public property. …Specifically the idea surrounding the destruction of monuments and history. Instead of jumping headfirst into my typical posture, I want to step back for just one moment and consider as objectively as possible the core of this.
Recently, at the Iowa State Capitol, there has been a push through social media by a group or groups to tear down both the statue of Christopher Columbus as well as the “Pioneer” statue. Inside the Capitol is the “Westward Mural” – a massive and beautiful depiction spanning a huge wall. Some posts call for a presence to “insist” they all come down. Other posts are calling for people to swarm and physically destroy them.
I don’t see what some see apparently. To my understanding Christopher Columbus never stepped foot into America. He explored and made several trips across the ocean in a ship I wouldn’t float on my pond, but I’ve never understood the connection some make in this instance.
In the case of “Pioneer” statue, which I’ve gazed upon many times, it includes three characters. An adult male settler, youth male settler, and an American Indian. Some are claiming because the Indian is ‘behind’ the two “settler invaders” that he’s depicted in a “less powerful, dejected position” to the others. I’ve never considered that in all my years pondering that statue. My takeaway? The symbolism surrounding the ‘father/son’ duo was a duality for me. It shows the idea that settlers were families and they homesteaded together through thick and thin. Additionally, it bestowed upon me the idea of generational progress. Iowa wasn’t settled in couple weeks, just like Rome wasn’t built in a day. It took, and continues to take time and effort. Thus, the youth are engaged to continue forward.
The American Indian? I find that significant as well. Why? Because the settlers needed a guide. My daughter and I are watching a series on Amazon Prime called: Expedition Overland. A bunch of trail junkies basically put together a well-planned series of trips all over North and South America. Crossing multiple countries as they drive, explore, blaze trail, and camp, they routinely and consistently enlist the help of local guides. They’d be stupid not to. The local guides help them with communication, interpret customs, and unlock otherwise hidden experiences. The X Overland folks either wouldn’t get far or would miss countless life altering experiences without local guides. When I look upon the American Indian in that statue, I thank my lucky stars they collaborated. I’ll bet they had some unbelievable stories to tell around the campfire, right?
The “Westward” mural? This work of art is 40 feet wide. It was commissioned and painted 120 years ago. Each time I look at it I see what appears to be a group or family of people making the trek west. Angels are sewing in front of them. To me, that symbolizes seeding the way. This is a concept within the sharing of Gospel to many. One person plants a seed with the ‘good news’ about Christ. Another comes along and sprinkles water on that seed. Yet another comes along with sunshine, so that seed may sprout and grow and bear fruit. This analogy instantly springs to mind when I gaze upon that breathtaking mural in arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in the Midwest. I don’t see strife or dejection. I see hope, and the beginning, and the promise of more to come little by little.
If I take all that I think I know, and place it neatly in a box, high up on a shelf, and for just one moment consider the very worst I could pull from these pieces, I still can’t bring myself to believe defacing or eradicating them outside due process is somehow justified. There are iron clad pathways to accomplishing change. This I assure you. I’ve now been immersed in advocacy for the better part of my adult life. I have a firm handle on how hard it can be to adhere to a law you’re working to change or remove all the while. I know. I’ve done it. I’ve lived it. I continue to. There is no shortage of law and policy I would like to see altered or removed. However, I’ve never advocated breaking the law we’re expected to embrace, even when I despised it.
The concept of law provides equality, no matter what anyone else may claim. The law lays a foundational precept upon us all. The law provides a level playing field and universal expectations. It begins for me with God’s law of course, but there is plenty of man’s law as well. And when you think about it rightly, THERE IS NO FREEDOM WITHOUT LAW. Some of my libertarian friends just popped their circuit breakers, but my statement is true. The underlying concept surrounding freedom through law is presuppositional.
This brings me to my conclusion. I concede upfront and completely, the eyes through which we view these pieces of art and history differ. They may not depict the same things for everyone. However, two things underpin each of us, regardless of what we think we see. The first is the context and intent of the subject at hand. When vital context is overlooked, we’re not being honest about the subject matter. The second is the lawful means to approach the idea of change. We should always use the civil and democratic process to implement your change and stop the mob mentality. When you embrace the ‘might is right’ notion, it becomes a beast that wanders the community tearing down anyone and anything it lays eyes upon with quick and reactionary flare, and often the wrong things, for the beast becomes loose from the notion of control. It is absolutely incumbent on us all to adhere to these governing principles.
When we don’t seek the indispensable and fundamental context of the subject matter, we’re ignoring truth. When we raze and sabotage items of history as a mob, we’ve ignored law and the code that binds us to the civility of our communities. That too is to ignore the truth.
Can you and I inhabit a world without truth?