Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day / Juneteenth


Today, instead of one 15 to 20 minute sermon – I have two shorter selections for you. The first is a Father’s Day Reflection entitled, “JG Perfect.”

JG Perfect

I remember well “report card days” when I was in elementary school. My brother Johnny and I would bring our report cards home and come through the front door at our house on Woodrow Avenue – and there my daddy would be in his recliner --- and he would raise up in it and say, “Let me see them.” And my heart would beat faster – regardless of what my report card had on it. My dad, J.G. Altman, was a large man – and though I only got one whippin’ from him my entire life, I always had a kind of fear of him – perhaps a respectful fear – but a fear nonetheless.

I thought it strange that daddy would always be at HOME on the day we got our report cards…. Then eventually I realized that we always got our report cards on Wednesdays! And back then, in Statesboro – all the businesses closed at NOON on Wednesdays. And so did my dad’s car dealership. And unlike many of the other businessmen who would head to the golf course or the river fishing – my dad would usually head home for that big recliner.

We would hold out our report cards in those brown folders and he would look them over. I knew before he looked that even if I had a good report card, it would not be quite good enough. It would not be “JG Perfect.” Usually he would nod his head and tell me that I “done good” – before he would ask why I had not done even better. I was not necessarily a straight A student in those days (I didn’t develop that need for perfection till I was in graduate school). But even the few times back then that I brought home straight A’s, he would ask if I couldn’t do better and make them A +’s. Now it’s interesting that my dad would have such high expectations of us when he himself was not a good student. (I didn’t find that out till later on though.)

It wasn’t just academics – daddy expected a lot in other areas. He would show us how to do something, like polish a car – and he would show us in just one small spot and make it really shine, then say, now you should make the whole car look like that. My brother caught the brunt of those expectancies because I did most of my work in my Mama’s beauty shop.

My brother does a lot of work for my mom now – and helps me with repairs too, and when he finishes something, he usually says, “Well, it’s not “JG Perfect,” but I think it will do.

As you may know, my dad died in 2006 – the morning after this congregation ordained me and installed me as your minister. So it’s been almost five years. And I still sometimes find myself trying to please my daddy. What is that about?

I think I saw my daddy as bigger than life. And I knew that if I could please him, then I had really accomplished something. So I did try, and I still do. I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m going to accept that as a gift from my dad. I knew that he cared about me, and I wanted to please him. And isn’t that the way it is with so many of our relationships. If we care for someone and know that they care about us, then we want to please them. I realize this can be carried to extremes – and I know that sometimes I go a little overboard with my work, but I try to catch myself.

My dad had a funny saying that he used sometimes when he would do something for me – like make a home repair. He would do an excellent job – but then he would say, “Well, it’s not perfect, but it’s good enough – for who it’s for.” And we’d laugh.

I miss my dad – but not a lot, because he is everywhere around me. Reminders of him are all over the place. I look at the pond, and remember him on his bulldozer enlarging it when I was a child. And I look over at the beautiful little cabin that he built with such care and can see his work everywhere –including the dock he built. He engineered everything so that when the water level was high, it would run-off into a well on the other side of the pond just as it neared the top of that concrete dock – so that the dock would never be flooded. It is perfect – JG Perfect.

He also helped to make me. Half of my genes came from him – and he was a major influence for much of my life. I am not JG Perfect. But then I know now – neither was JG.

As I got older – and as my dad got older, I realized that he was certainly was not perfect. But that’s okay. He was good enough – for who he was for.

May we all be so!


Juneteenth

Today is not only Father’s Day – it’s Juneteenth!

I got much of this information that I’m going to share from the website nationaljuneteenth.com which encourages the recognition of this holiday.
According to that site:
“Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation - which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance….
“One of General Granger’s first orders of business was to read to the people of Texas on June 19th, 1865, General Order Number 3 which began most significantly with:
‘The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.’
“The reactions to this profound news ranged from pure shock to immediate jubilation….
“The celebration of June 19th was coined "Juneteenth" and grew with more participation from the descendants of these freed folks. The Juneteenth celebration was a time for reassuring each other, for praying and for gathering family members. Juneteenth continued to be highly revered in Texas decades later, with many former slaves and descendants making an annual pilgrimage back to Galveston on this date….
“Juneteenth today, celebrates African American freedom and achievement, while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures. As it takes on a more national, symbolic and even global perspective, the events of 1865 in Texas are not forgotten, for all of the roots tie back to that fertile soil from which a national day of pride is growing.”

Now there are 39 states that recognize and honor this celebration. And guess what? Georgia became the 37th state to do so this past February. As you folks may know, there have been several attempts in the past to get Georgia to apologize or express regrets for slavery, but it hasn’t happened. So this resolution may be as close to an apology as we will see.

I looked it up on the General Assembly website. It includes some of the history I’ve already shared with you and makes this declaration:

“WHEREAS, Americans of all colors, creeds, cultures, religions, and countries of origin share in a common love of and respect for freedom, as well as the determination to protect their right to freedom through the democratic institutions by which the tenets of freedom are guaranteed and protected; and

“WHEREAS, it is only fitting and proper that the State of Georgia appropriately recognize this glorious event marking the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom for so many who had wrongfully suffered in this state and nation.

“NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE SENATE that the members of this body hereby recognize “Juneteenth Celebration Day” in remembrance of those who received the exultant news of their freedom and as a memorial to all those who suffered from the cruelties of slavery, and encourage ceremonies, celebrations, and other activities to be held in their honor.”

This year – June 19th happens to fall on a Sunday, so I thought we should lift up this holiday here in our UU Fellowship. Not because Georgia has recognized it this year – (I didn’t even know this till I was writing this reflection), but because the celebration connects so deeply with our UU principles – specifically:
#1 – The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
#2 – Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations;
#5 – The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large; and
#6 – The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Oh, Oh, Oh – May it be so!

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