Sunday, July 22, 2007

Coming Home - My family and I had occasion to visit Royal, IL this weekend as part of a celebration of sorts. Since the time of its settling by Ostfriesian Germans some 150 years ago, Royal has had the distinction of being an agricultural community, and is presently part of the Midwest's corn and soybean belt. Corn prices being what they are, business is brisk and farmers are very busy; fortunately they take time to commemorate special events. As longtime readers of my scribbling will recall, my father-in-law is an ordained clergyman in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As part of a 125th Anniversary celebration, he was invited to deliver the weekend's homily for St. John Lutheran Church, where he served as pastor 30 years earlier. As he eagerly accepted the invitation, he asked my wife and I to join him and my mother-in-law for the trip.

In the weeks prior, my mother-in-law sought to prepare me for our visit; she recalled to her dismay that her first time in Royal was not always pleasant. So as mothers who love their daughter's husbands are wont to do, she spoke to me of narrow minds and sharp tongues that might not take well to black men and their white wives. I appreciated her concern, and asked her if she was telling me all of this to discourage me from going. She assured me that such was not the case, and that she only wanted to apprise me of what would hopefully be an unlikely occurrence. I told her of the sincerity with which I appreciated her concern, and quickly changed the topic.

By fortune's providence, my time in Champaign County was - except for freshly picked sweet corn, tender pork chops and homemade cakes and pastries - entirely unremarkable. The town of Royal acquitted itself admirably; the only mention of color was to differentiate chick peas from soybeans (a conflation that I will not commit again.) Were it not for the distance I could see myself visiting regularly, as I made a number of new friends, to include a fellow conservative by the name of Rick. He, a straw-haired farmer and shirtsleeve scion of the Teutons, and I (formerly) woolly-headed son of urbane Chicago by way of North Mississippi by way of West Africa, were able to break bread and share our admiration of all things right-wing.

To be sure, I am under no illusion that such would have always been conceivable, let alone possible. Nor would I conclude that Royal is devoid of racist attitudes, as the town is cut from the whole cloth of America and American history. But the fact that both my mother-in-law and I were quite willing to prejudge Royal and its people in the absence of facts speaks volumes, and not all of it entirely flattering. Perhaps we can be forgiven for any offense, as this is the nature of race in the modern day. While racists these days do us all the favor of cloaking their attitudes in something more stylish than white robes and pointed hoods, the issue of race still buzzes around us like gnats at a picnic. We hear the noise, but we can't quite see where it comes from or why it arrives just when we least desire it to do so. And like a gnat, sometimes the issue of race stings.

But more often than not thankfully, it is just a buzz in our ear.

The buzz between Rick and myself was about what we could do to enable the resurrection of the currently moribund GOP in Illinois. Partly co-opted, mostly corrupted, the Illinois Republican Party is but a shell of what it should be given the red/blue demographics of the state. Much of what ails the state party is what increasingly besets the Republican Party nationally; we are understandably asthenic, as we have borne the burden of leadership in wartime. We face opponents at home and abroad of equal savagery, save the fact that Democrats do not (yet) behead those with whom they disagree. And we are titularly guided by a president who as of late seems more eager to abandon us during times of difficulty than we've been to abandon him.

We are surely at an hour of decision. Are we to remain in the suffocating security of the known, or do we push forward haltingly into the unknowable that lies ahead? By my lights, we can only be sure that our future will be the product of change; we should rightly set ourselves on an odyssey to come home to our future. Over a series of occasional posts, we will look for foreshadowings of that future, all to the end that we might be the change that we hope to see.

I do know that the future of the GOP is out there. I hear it buzzing in my ear.

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