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Let’s keep one of those monuments

Here’s my July column for the award-winning @HollandSentinel:

With all of the interest right now in taking down monuments and statues in public spaces, I want to speak up for one, which has had an outsized impact on my life.

First, though, I should explain that I have no problem with taking down monuments and statues honoring Civil War figures. Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, and Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate Armies, led an armed rebellion against the United States, in defense of slavery, that resulted in 620,000 American casualties. (For comparison, World War II resulted in a little more than 405,000 American casualties.)

Davis and Lee would have been hung as traitors after Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, but Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant decided that allowing them (and their armies) to go home was a better long-term choice for the country. Honoring Davis and Lee with monuments and statues, however, is nothing less than an attempt to rewrite history. I have no time for traitors to our country and don’t want to look at statues which honor them.

Monuments and statues that honor Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington are more problematic. Jefferson and Washington were slaveowners who knew at some level that owning slaves was wrong. Jackson and Roosevelt were racists, no doubt, and the Indian Removal Act of 1830, signed into law by Jackson, led to the forced relocation of around 60,000 Native Americans, one of the most shameful acts in American history, now remembered (mainly by Native Americans) as the “Trail of Tears.”

I don’t have an easy answer to the problem of monuments and statues which honor these men, but I believe that the conversation is an important one for our country to have, if we can find a way to have it.

The monument that has had an impact on my life was more of a plaque than a statue. Outside the dining hall where I enjoyed three meals each day during my seminary years were four plaques honoring classmates who gave their lives in service to their ordination vows. No one called them martyrs, but that’s what they were. Each time we passed these plaques we were reminded that one day our call to ministry might require something similar from us.

When Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends,” he was thinking of someone like Elijah Parish Lovejoy, who is honored on one of those four plaques. Lovejoy was a Presbyterian pastor, journalist, newspaper editor, and abolitionist. I took particular interest in him because I was a writer and at one point had considered a career in journalism. (I must have decided that a career as a pastor would be more financially lucrative.)

Lovejoy graduated from Princeton Seminary and was ordained in 1833. As far as I know, he never served a church as pastor. His call was to the printed word. After ordination, he became a newspaper editor in St. Louis. He wrote editorials critical of the Catholic Church, liquor, and tobacco, but it was his editorials about slavery that drew the attention of most readers. Slave owning was legal in Missouri at the time, and slave owners were convinced that they would be economically disadvantaged if slavery were abolished.

Lovejoy’s printing presses were destroyed on several occasions, but he refused to change his views. After the third riot, Lovejoy resigned his position and moved across the Mississippi River to Alton, Illinois, nominally a free state, where he continued to write about his anti-slavery views. In 1837 a white mob once again destroyed his printing press, but this time they dragged him to the street and shot him five times, killing him. This was after he reminded them that he was a hardworking and God-fearing citizen who had broken no laws. Presbyterians in Alton were so fearful of the pro-slavery mob that they buried Lovejoy in an unmarked grave, and no memorial service was held.

I have thought often about Lovejoy over the years. I wondered mainly if I used my position, privilege, and authority to speak out on behalf of those in this country who couldn’t speak for themselves. The truth is, I was no Elijah Parish Lovejoy. One of the regrets of my life has been that I was often too timid and fearful when I should have been bold and fearless.

Monuments and statues can serve an important purpose. They can remind us about what we admire most and what we should aspire to be.

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Learning to listen

Here’s my June column for the award-winning @HollandSentinel…

I am no expert on race relations.

Where I grew up, in southeast Grand Rapids, our idea of cultural diversity was having Christian Reformed Church and Reformed Church in America people in the same neighborhood. We were always so proud of our mutual forbearance.

Our next-door neighbors during my childhood were Roman Catholic and went to church on Saturday afternoon, which seemed strange and somehow not right. They were also Irish, and therefore different. I remember that we kept our eyes on them.

I was a young adult before I learned that, during my childhood, there was also a synagogue in Grand Rapids. I had no idea. I can tell you this much: none of the members lived on my street. Continue Reading →

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“Pancreatic Cancer” — A Short Story by Douglas Brouwer

Pancreatic Cancer

I had been hoping for another repair this time, something relatively easy to fix.

(To continue reading, click here. This is a short story, a work of fiction, published in an online literary journal.)

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Crisis and Opportunity

Here’s my May column for the award-winning Holland Sentinel…

As the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, I am becoming less and less enchanted with this whole quarantine thing.

At the beginning, it was kind of fun. Or if not fun, then at least a challenge, something I could overcome. I’ve never had a challenge that I didn’t want to meet. Just tell me that I can’t do something, and my response will invariably be, “Oh yeah? Watch me.”

But this feels different. And not in a good way. Continue Reading →

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A little something for holy Saturday

It’s Holy Saturday, the day before the big event. My younger daughter, who with her family is staying with us during the quarantine, asked this morning over coffee and the morning paper if I missed being a part of it, which was an unexpected question. I had to think about how to respond.

I think about all the Easters of my life, and how Saturday was not so much a day to pause and reflect, but a day to get ready, to make sure the sanctuary looked just so, to put the finishing touches on a sermon that had to be my best one of the year, though it seldom was. Saturday was the day I picked up corsages at the florist for my daughters, though the idea for that was really their mother’s. She was the one who got everyone dressed and ready and off to church on Easter morning. Most years I left the house in the dark before anyone was up.

Easter, for much of my life, seemed like a show that I was responsible for. Continue Reading →

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Plagues and Quarantines


Here’s my Holland Sentinel column for April…

Plagues and quarantines are nothing new. History isn’t crowded with them, but there have been enough of them that we should have learned a few things over the centuries.

One of the earliest examples was the Plague of Justinian. It arrived in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, in 541 CE. Historians believe that the pathogen came over the Mediterranean Sea from Egypt, a recently conquered land paying tribute to Emperor Justinian. No one knew what to do then to avoid getting sick except to avoid sick people. Continue Reading →

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Let me explain something to you

Here’s my March column for the Holland Sentinel…

I’m fed up with old white men. A few old white women too, but that’s a different story. Let me stay with old white men for a few minutes.

Hardly a day goes by when I’m not embarrassed by old white men. Listen carefully, because I’m not going to say this again, which is something old white men like to say. I know, because I am one. I like to explain things, especially obvious things, because those are the things we old men like to talk about. But listen anyway. Don’t even try to stop us from saying whatever is on our minds. We can talk louder than you. Continue Reading →

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I’m exhausted

Here’s my February column for the Holland Sentinel…

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted by the news.

The House impeachment hearings, the Senate impeachment trial, the 2020 presidential campaign, the Iowa caucuses, the State of the Union address, the daily drama of it all—it’s too much. I find myself talking back to the TV, which can’t be healthy. I do it even if no one else is in the room. I also grumble aloud while reading the newspaper, mostly animal sounds, not actual words. Frankly, I don’t recognize myself anymore.

I did a news cleanse after Christmas and spent a wonderful week in California with my children and grandchildren. I glanced briefly at the headlines in the morning because, well, I get up earlier than anyone else and couldn’t help myself, but I spent most days playing, laughing, and being silly, which seems to delight the grandchildren, if not their parents. I can’t wait until next year.

But now I’m right back to old habits, as if there had been no cleanse and no detox. I don’t dare look away. Continue Reading →

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The Courage to Tell the Truth

Here’s my January column for the Holland Sentinel…

I admire people who tell the truth. But I especially admire people who tell the truth when they do so at the risk of personal loss. Losing a job, for example.

So, I admire Napp Nazworth, the former editor of The Christian Post who resigned last week from a position he has held since 2011. Announcing his departure, he said he could not in good conscience continue with a magazine that, as he put it, was “joining Team Trump.” As I understand it, he has two children about to enter high school, and now, at least for the moment, he is unemployed. I call that courage. I would like to think that I would have been able to do what he did. Continue Reading →

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No more let sins and sorrows grow…

creation groans

(reprinted from December 24, 2013)

Romans 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

I’m aware this Christmas Eve 2013 that I am joining with Christians all around the world, millions and millions of us, to wait patiently, though groaning inwardly, for God to complete what was started in Bethlehem a long, long time ago.

Come, Lord Jesus.

I wish all of my readers a very merry Christmas and a joy-filled new year.

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