I do not write to pick sides, although sometimes it may be obvious which side I am on. Some people do write to pick sides. That is not my intention. I write to think on paper, and in doing so anyone that reads is carried along with my personal attempts to make sense of the world I am in. Agreeing or disagreeing is never my point, although it happens.
I rarely read to agree or disagree. I read to gather information. Sometimes it is reasonably accurate. Sometimes it is an emotional mess that tells more about the writer than the subject. I read to stimulate my thought. I also find that reading those with opposing views generally helps my thought process more than reading only what I already have concluded. Religious groups can be notorious for shutting out dissent, as can political parties and radical sports fan bases (I miss sports).
Having said that, I would like to share a few thoughts about statues and symbols. Some of you may remember this: “There is one sign the Soviet Union can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace. General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev … tear down this wall!” — Ronald Reagan, June 12, 1987.
In a New York Times article in 2017, Jacey Fortin recalls several iconoclastic moments in history. There is the famous destruction of the statue of King George in 1776, which was melted down to make musket balls. The Spanish destroyed many statues when they invaded Central and South America. And how did it make you feel when the Taliban blew up ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001, or when ISIS destroyed parts of ancient Palmyra in 2017? I recall when the statue of Saddam Hussain came down in Iraq. I felt good about that. I have visited the Mall in Washington, D.C., on a few occasions. The Jefferson and Lincoln memorials are massive and evoke emotion if one simply makes the effort to take it in. I have visited the war memorials and am always moved by them. I was too young to remember much about Vietnam, but I am still moved to tears by the names — I cannot imagine what happens to the veterans. I was recently angered on a late-night walk around the WWII memorial as kids on scooters were using it as a race circuit. I do not blame them, but their parents. I have stood at the feet of statues of dictators in Eastern Europe and felt their imposing presence. Wonder what it was like for the Christians in the Roman Empire who walked among all sorts of statuary representing the power of Rome and fear of the gods? Those Roman ruins that remain are indeed history, but some have become bywords for hubris and pride. In the Bible, statuary does not fare well at all. There is the constant reminder to Israel and Judah to tear them down (granted most were representations of gods and many were simply standing stones). The Golden Calf was destroyed. And God showed his superiority through Elijah to the Baal and Ashteroth. There were also conflicts with a statue in Babylon we read about in Daniel. And most shocking of all, Jesus himself not being all that bothered about the temple in Jerusalem going away!
I was in Tirana, Albania, soon after the statue of former dictator Enver Hoxha was pulled down. I saw the base and some of the bolts were still sticking up through the cracked concrete. The people I talked too were proud of what they had done because now they were free and would be treated fairly. There were two incidents that stick out in my mind in this context. I was walking outside a hotel, and under a balcony was a boy of about 12. He was wearing only underwear and was filthy. His legs were mangled (intentionally broken as a baby so that he could lead a beggar’s life). I stopped and awkwardly stared at him. As I reached into my pocket to give him something my guide told me not to bother, he was a gypsy. I did it anyway. A couple of days later, walking across the square, a very small, bent woman started following us, clearly asking for money or something. The people I was with turned and made a physically threatening gesture toward her and called a nearby policeman — she disappeared.
Statues come and go. Some go by consensus, others by vandalism, others by rebellion, war or religious conflicts. They are powerful representations of something — and that something may be different to those who see them. Historically, their destruction has been based on societal change, rebellion, change in government or anarchy. They are put up for various reasons and torn down for various reasons. Clearly, tearing down the statue did not make things better for the gypsies in Albania at that time. That would require a change of attitude and heart.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.