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Passing by a Statue of Christopher Columbus, and “Old Glory” at Half Mast

Christopher-Columbus-2.jpgThe statue is of Christopher Columbus.  The flag at half-mast is to honor another Christopher, Ambassador Christopher Stephens, killed by mob violence in Benghazi, Libya.

When I was in grade school Christopher Columbus was portrayed as a hero, a bold adventurer and resolute leader of a little fleet of sailing ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  Just as Neil Armstrong opened a new realm for humankind when he stepped onto the moon, so Christopher Columbus, we were taught, opened a New World when he first tread on a continent later to be called North America.

History is usually written by conquerors, but other historical perspectives eventually surface.  Suppressed voices cannot be suppressed forever.  When I became a young man I heard other opinions about Christopher Columbus than those I had learned as a child.  From people of color I heard that he is a symbol of European arrogance over indigenous peoples, a romantic gloss on exploitation.

I did not know Ambassador Stevens, but from what I’ve read he was a Christopher of another kind, one who listened sincerely and strove to honor the people he was living with, advocating for their welfare.  People with a kind and courageous spirit such as this, sailing into troubled waters sometimes lose their lives, overwhelmed by the very forces they sought to oppose.  So it was with Jesus, whose cross the other Christopher holds.  Whether that cross is perceived as a symbol of the gravity of dying for peace and justice or a marching standard for imperial might depends in large part on the tribe one was born to, how much one dares to listen to voices outside it, and how much courage one can muster to sail where the weather threatens.

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