Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dream August 1, 2009 -The Store

Since my recent dream referred to the 'family store' I'll share this dream from several years ago:  I was working at my dad's original sporting goods store, Dixie Supply, on Court St. in Florence. The store was closed but several of us were working there. I and two of the college football players were working after store hours.( My brothers hired many football players as a good will gesture to the local college and because they were usually good workers. I liked these guys a lot with rare exception. They were fun.) A family came to the locked  door  thinking we were open but L.C.  explained we were closed. They were disappointed. Then, to my amusement,  he asked if anyone had played in a game today. A little girl said she had. "Then" he said "that gives the whole family special permission to come in. " Another of the guys was working on a riding lawn mower(which i don't think we ever sold, though we sold most everything at one time or another.) He said he had just tuned one up and it was running perfect. There was clean engine oil several places on the floor from these mowers. I began to try to clean it up with paper towels, a big mess. I wondered what caused them to leak oil. Something must be wrong with them.

 REFLECTION: The store was my main place of experiencing adults who were not members of my Church of Christ denomination. That experience was  extremely  good. I came to think that adults were kind, honest, and of good will. I also enjoyed hearing stories and jokes. I was comfortable working and playing with and around a lot of different people. The 'family coming in' is a little 'grace'  story. Cleverly the young man gave one of the children a way to make it so the whole family could come in even though we were officially closed. Perhaps a reminder of that central gospel truth that we are  'saved',   'admitted'  'accepted' by sheer grace. We are all in the same boat and equally loved by the Sacred, by God. The 'little girl' is an echo of Jesus'  words on the importance of children among us and on keeping the 'child within us'  alive. Not an easy task for adults.

But something was wrong in the world of the 'store'.  Oil, something so important and good, was getting out of bounds and making a mess. I was very naive as a child about social problems. I was blind to racism's shadow, to evil that was always near but never discussed. One of the players told me a joke story of two black boys each claiming to be the blacker. The punch line was ."I'm so black that when I Poop the soot just flies'.   I laughed aloud not realizing that this story reflected the deep 'seemingly innocent'  racial prejudice and superiority so common among whites.  My brothers hired probably the very first black player at  the college near the end of my time of working at the store. I do not recall him being  overtly mistreated. I know that I  looked up to him just as I did the others because he was a football player and that my brothers had hired him to work here. To me that overcame any color prejudice.   I realized  much later that  if we had all gone out to eat , which we did sometimes, he would not have been invited. It is sad to learn that   'Acceptance among nice folks is sometimes a very shallow thing'.  Whites called such surface acceptance of black people  'treating them right.'  The other 'black help'  that sometimes worked at the store were considered second class, the butt of jokes and teasing etc. The whole atmosphere of my upbringing was one of unspoken white superiority in many ways. But it all seemed so 'innocent and harmless' to me at this time in my life. It was 'just how things were' and how we were. Maybe there was 'oil on the floor' but I rationalized that it was 'clean oil.' This kind or racial discrimination was supported by the churches as much as the other institutions. Blacks 'knew their place' for sure. That was a seriously thing 'wrong' in my culture, an 'oil on the floor.'  Perhaps the  wrong  I was imbibing  was 'clean' in the sense that I was naive and  consciously innocent. But it was a serious  cultural moral failing that affected everything.  This  rampantly loose 'oil' was nearly impossible clean up. It was too much on the inside of people. 

Another 'oil' I was raised with was that my Christian denomination believed  we  were the only ones going to heaven, the only ones rightly connected to God. Our Church of Christ denomination was the most numerous in the county so we could support each other in such exclusivity. I'm glad I had a lot of encounters with other religious kinds: Baptists, Methodists,  Jews, Presbyterians , Catholics etc.  My Daddy was a very public figure and demonstrated a genuine enjoyment of and connection to all kinds of people. He was an excellent  role model in that way but not an activist to change the racist environment. But there was no else doing that either that I was aware of. Besides I did not know there was a problem.

I did not realize what a  'split' was building in myself. Not until I reached mid life did I fully confront the distortions I had internalized......racial prejudice and judgmental exclusive religion. These would be major  inner splits I would be expected to face and would need healing from. I think , but one never knows all their  own blind spots, that I have had that  confrontation with myself and with my religious exclusivity  and by grace have transcended these serious flaws in my cultural upbringing.   But the scars from the harm done to others are deep and these realities are still hurting many people of color and ones marginalized and oppressed in our American culture in other ways as well.

I have very strong positive nostalgia about my warm and safe upbringing in Florence, Alabama. I hope that does not cloud what this dream is reminding me of , of what was going on with ones who were not so accepted and privileged there.  Jim

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