Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

King uncorked

Rep. Steve King

You know?--I think I get it. I mean, I got something of what he does in my soul too. I roll my eyes at those dopey bumper stickers that insist "You're not much, if you're not Dutch"; but that doesn't mean I'm not dang proud of my heritage. The first book I wrote was all about Dutch immigrants, and just about everything I've written since has greatly to do with identity. 

I feel the cutting edge of my heritage when I'm in small Midwestern towns that don't have curb and gutter. I feel it in yards gone to jungle, in an acreage with rust buckets that haven't moved since thistles began to reign. I recognize what I come from when I get itchy at public meetings that don't start on on time. I spot heritage all around me in emotionlessness, a stiff, upper lip and a half-smile that's actually embarrassed to be happy. I feel it in dedication, in elbow-grease, in sheer hard work, in a robe of sweat. 

I go out of my way to claim identity as a Calvinist, even though the connotations haven't changed much from the days Elizabethan England called us "roundheads" for insisting on rigid, bowl-cuts. I know what we did when we applied theological elbow-grease to European cathedrals and New England witches. No matter. I'm still proud of my Calvinist heritage. 

And I'm proud of the fact that in the Netherlands, orthodox Protestants were far more likely to be involved with the Dutch underground than other segments of their society. Orthodox Protestants is what I came from. 

But I'm also aware that the Dutch lost a higher percentage of Jews to Hitler's madness than did any other European country under Nazi occupation. I know thousands of Calvinists looked the other way when Dutch Jews were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Germany, never to return.

I know it was the Western civilization he's so proud of that created that little mustachioed madman and disciples to design death factories. The culture of Goethe, Beethoven, and Bach created amazingly efficient mechanisms for genocide.

And I know it never dawned on my immigrant ancestors that the land they claimed for their families had actually been the homeland of Native Americans who never asked white Europeans to swarm into and over an earth they considered sacred. Maybe a decade ago, I held in my hand, a note from an esteemed Christian Reformed pastor who claimed that his experience on the frontier made it unquestionably clear that Indians could never be saved. 

I know white people, inheritors of a Judeo-Christian heritage, killed whole herds of buffalo for sport and amusement, shot them from fancy railroad cars, peed on their rifles to keep the barrels from getting too hot to aim, killed millions not simply because it was fun but because some powerful leaders determined the way to genocide Indians was cut off their food supply and destroy their culture by eliminating bison altogether.

I get it--I really do. I think I know what Rep. Steve King, my own rep in Congress, means when he says that there's nothing quite like Western culture, when he wallows in the glory he believes still grows from good, strong northern European, Judeo-Christian roots. I know something of that myself.

Before a national audience, Rep. King couldn't help bragging about the glories of white culture. “I would ask you to go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you are talking about," he told a commentator. "Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

It wasn't enough for him to argue a month ago that Harriet Tubman shouldn't be on the new twenty-dollar bill or that lately he's been photographed with a Confederate battle flag on his desk, hundreds of miles from Mason-Dixon. He determined, on national television, to go out of his way to deliver a racist homily about white people. And he's my congressman, in good part because 85 percent of the people in Sioux County, where I live, vote for him.

I'm quite sure that our own Steve King considers himself a valuable part of what we white folks contribute to civilization. 

Tomorrow night, downtown Orange City, Iowa, an African-American woman will take the stage in the city park and wail away with her clarinet, playing a species of bluesy New Orleans jazz that's out of the range of most anyone touting a Steve King heritage. We did well at slavery, made fortunes. But tomorrow night a daughter of a race we enslaved will come here and do something few can--bring a joy that's nothing at all like Tulip Time. She'll make small-town Iowans--wooden shoes or not--feel something in their souls that's blessed.

And Friday, in torrid South Dakota heat, I'll bring three dozen high school kids up the hill at Wounded Knee to tell them the story of a massacre created by Judeo-Christian men who killed men, women, and children, some of the dead a mile away from where the shooting began, then buried hundreds of frozen bodies days later in a mass grave on the hill where we'll be standing.

Perhaps Rep. King would like to offer his thoughts about contributions to civilization when standing right there up on that hill. 

1 comment:

herman said...

thank you.