Years ago, when I read that that people/children were baptized in the name of George WASHINGTON, I renounced what I then referred to as civil religion. GW wasn’t/isn’t the LJC (Lord Jesus Christ). Not God.

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It is so easy to judge and to fault past generations for their supposed wrongs. They were doing what their culture believed, professed and allowed, just as we are in our present culture. Future generations are already faulting us for dropping the atomic bomb in WWII, the Japanese internment, our genocide of First Nations people, our pursuit of wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Ukraine, (which is fighting not only for themselves but as a quasi-client for the 'free' world). Not to mention our inaction on climate change, our policies on immigration and mass incarceration, and our refusal to dismantle the systemic ills that keep inequities in health care, poverty, and social justice in place. SHAME ON YOU, DIANA, for looking past our own sins to decry the sins of the past. Take the log out of your own eye before you take up talking about the splinters out of the past.

And BTW, we have millions and millions of saints in our midst who receive no recognition, and who are asking for none. They are the ordinary people who go to work every day, many of them under extraordinarily difficult circumstances, to support and love their families. And who volunteer in all kinds of places and at all kinds of tasks to love and support their neighbors, and to make the world a better place, even though they could take up talking about how bad things are. Their answer when they see things going badly is to try to do things better. These are exactly the saints we need, and we already have them.

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It's a tricky thing to judge people. Our vantage point may be one of privilege all its own. When it comes to history and the people who lived in it, I find it best to remember that their history is my history. Forgetting that, remember the fabled native proverb, "Walk in their moccasines, first", or something along those lines. For his time, George was prettry good for what was needed. There wasn't anyone else. So I appreciate him, fallible and all. As I do any other person who has done some good, fallible and all. Meanwhile, historiagraphy is an entirely different matter. Truth telling, or its bunk.

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I think we mistakenly believe that saints and heroes are perfect people, never stumbling, never making mistakes, somehow always knowing the right thing to do or to say. This is completely unrealistic: no one is perfect, and trying to be so becomes a burden. I have always liked Frederick Buechner’s thoughts on saints, that “the feet of saints are as much of clay as everybody else’s, and their sainthood consists less of what they have done than of what God has for some reason chosen to do through them…Saints are essentially life-givers. To be with them is to become more alive.” I respect and admire leaders who know what is right and what is wrong, who listen and think before they speak and act, who acknowledge their shortcomings and trust the expertise of others, who are curious lifelong learners, and who mentor the next generation of leaders.

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Mar 15, 2023Liked by Diana Butler Bass

I think the line from the musical, Hamilton, was brilliant: Who lives? who dies? Who tells the story?Our history is always being rewritten. I love the historian Jill LePore. I remember an interview where she stated in the 1960s and the 1970s more women and minorities were able to go to college. And a few of them became historians. They researched and wrote from a different perspective. The story changes perspectives and now we have more. I certainly view our history differently, especially Reconstruction. I learned the southern version, where Robert E Lee was viewed as a tragic hero. He was a traitor who swore an oath at West Point to defend the U.S. In a sad twist of fate he had power over Martha (Custis) Washington’s dowager slaves. He married a Custis. The slaves she brought to her marriage to George were not freed when she died.

My saint is Harriet Tubman.

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Truth does set us free, but it is too easy to judge the leaders of our past by today's standards. Would we have stood on the same moral ground, upon which we so easily now stand, if we had lived back then? GW was a great leader and fought and won the freedoms we now enjoy. Freedom from England allowed us to reach and eventually win our Constitution proclaiming freedom for all. Better to not vilify the leaders of our past through our own lens but remember and protect the freedoms they won for us.

Let us not tear down our past as we sit on our "high horse's." but rather look to our history with better understanding of the times back then and now.

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I have just read Brene Brown's "Atlas of the Heart." She is a good river guide. Her clear description of the deep purpose of our lives is found on page 137. "Connection, along with love and belonging (two expressions of connection, is why were are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives." As a priest in the Episcopal Church I have learned that "connection" with people should have top priority. I am sorry that Washington failed to connect with the lives of his slaves, and that I have often missed opportunities to connect with their descendants.

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The night Barack Obama was elected president, I was celebrating at our local Democratic headquarters. As everyone was watching him speak and I saw the people on TV and those standing around me enthralled by him. I remember thinking to myself that people are expecting to much from him. People were already saying that racism was a thing of the past now that we’d elected a Black man. Eight years later the nation elected Donald Trump.

Progress comes in increments. Two steps forward, one step back. I suppose it is part of our journey of walking in the way of Christ.

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Wow! I love this Diana. Why can't we tell the truth? I'm so grateful for historians like you that help us all to see the complexities of our shared history and of ourselves. So much damage is done with these stories that make our leaders look invisable. We need to see real people with real lives who can still inspire us with their warts and all.

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I just read the following in an article about John James Audubon in the Washington Post: "Another major organization, the Sierra Club, has reconsidered how it represents its revered founder, John Muir. The famed conservationist fought to preserve Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Forest but also referred to African Americans with a racist pejorative more offensive than the n-word to many Black people. He described Native Americans as dirty." we have to realize that our "saints" are real people with faults like we all have. I don't think I have ever done what Washington or Audubon or Muir did in their relationship with people of color, but I have had a continuing awakening to our real relationship with people of color in the past few years since I moved to Oregon. This thinking and re-thinking is an ongoing project for me -- sometimes sad as I learn more of the truth about cherished figures and sometimes joyous as I learn more about the indigenous people and other people of color and how they lived their lives with integrity and love for the natural land I also love. And I really appreciate this Lenten practice of discovering new "saints." I personally will be looking to incorporate more people of color in my pantheon of admirable people. Karen Bloom, Corvallis, OR

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Posted to fb with this:

Couldn't have been said better ... thanks to Dr. Diana Butler Bass​ ...

As I read through her essay, the idea that honesty is freedom, and freedom is honesty, kept rolling through my head. Hard to believe that so many folks aren't interested in honesty, and, then, it's no wonder they're so crabby, because it's hard to live within the walls of a self-imposed prison, a prison of lies ... and to silence the cries of their soul, they have to lie all the more, and lie loudly, and violently.

What a shame ... what a great sorrow, and even worse, that many a Christian tells these lies with a vicious and smug satisfaction, as if they are defending Christ.

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Couldn't have been said any better ... thanks Diana.

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This resonates so deeply with me. I lived half a mile from Mt. Vernon 1970-1972. My understanding of our history and our character as a country was complicated in light of the anti war demonstrations of the time. My understanding then became more complicated when Watergate shenanigans were revealed. We are a complex people constantly swapping our incredible blessings and resources for the cheap trinkets of power over others and misguided patriotism. And yet America is a big step of the journey of humanity to discover an economy that benefits all people and not just a select few. We have stumbled and fallen and reversed directions over and over, but slowly we are moving forward. More people educated, more people fed. The vision of all people being housed, fed, having medical care and being able to realize their gifts still motivates many of our citizens. Keep reminding us of this vision, keep reminding us that this was Jesus' vision as well. Fr. Greg Boyle (my favorite saint) reminds us of the quote from Habakkuk:

For the vision is a witness for the appointed time,

a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint.

If it delays, wait for it,

it will surely come, it will not be late. Habakkuk 2: 3

Thank you for your brilliant storytelling and writing.

Ann Marie

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“The first generation of citizens of the new Republic dispensed with kings and invented mythical men without sin. They put you on pedestals higher than kings — they made you untouchable as the gods.

I wish they’d just told the truth.” Oh man. I’m gonna shout this everywhere I go.

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It is a mistake to make our leaders into perfect saints. I learn much more from the true story. The good and bad of people like George Washington, because I am far from perfect myself. I will always be grateful that George Washington did not allow himself to be a king and walked away from the power he did. Great post Diana!

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This is a good post.

I think of a lyric from a Brian McLaren song:

We will not pretend to be better then we are.

We will not hide our failures or cover up our scars.

This actually makes me think of my dad, who passed away almost two years ago. There’s the public Jack Ward who was well regarded by most that knew him—a servant at his church and in his community. A “good citizen” and “church member.” That’s who they celebrated at his funeral. And it was good.

But then there’s the more personal Dad, which while good—was far from perfect. This was the more private Jack Ward fewer people knew, but it had a huge impact on those he was closest to. He often said, “He did the best he could with what he had.” I guess that’s true, but I’ve realized “the best he could” was lacking in places, and woefully inadequate for what I needed as a child.

Part of my healing the “wounds” of childhood that still influence how I function today is being honest about who dad was: the good, the bad, the ugly—the full picture.

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