Author // Sherei
What I'm listening to // Mumford & Sons
I was at Shipwreck Island, a little water park in Panama City Beach, Florida with my nieces and family. It was a Tuesday. We hit a lull in the afternoon where everyone started to do their own thing. One of the babies was napping on a lawn chair with "Gummy", the world's greatest grandma. My brother-in-law, sister-in-law and Daniel were hitting the 'big rides'.
I, being the book nerd that I am, decided to take a leisurely float down the 'lazy river' while I caught up on some reading. The lazy river is a slow moving 'river' that circles the park. Babies and couples bob down it while taking sun-soaked naps.
Now, for the record, I was reading an intense battle scene in a war book when the idiocy began, so I already had my "justice" face on. A plump, sun-baked, southern girl, who we'll called Offensive Olive, started wading into the river about 5 feet from me. I looked up because I had been carefully pushing my vessel - a floating doughnut - clear of any passerbys that might wet my book. She was sporting a white bikini, emblazoned with the confederate flag on top and bottom.
I had the sickening, knee jerk reaction that I normally do whenever I see this flag:
Oh my gosh, I need to get out of here.
Why do I live here?
This is old.
Are any of my black friends or family with me?
This is embarrassing.
This is offensive.
Great, this is why people get scared when I say I'm from Alabama.
I HATE that the region I love has this attached to it.
I think I qualify as a southerner by now. I've been in the South for over half my life - and yes even though there are things that are super not southern about me (I don't like sweet tea), I think I've earned my right to say, "Not cool, fellow southerners".
Right at the exact moment that Offensive Olive was entering the water, a fellow confederate flag lover was crossing the bridge overhead. He yelled in a drunken twang, "YEA. THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. LONG LIVE THE SOUTH".
Offensive Olive began shaking her hind parts in the air and yelled back at him, "THAT'S RIGHT! SOUTHERN PRIDE BABY".
I shut my book. Stood up, and tried with every polite bone in my body (I only have a few) to firmly but peaceably say, "Please stop. Please stop. That is incredibly offensive."
Offensive Olive tucked her tail between her legs, and left the river. Our other friend, who I will call Clueless Clyde, turned to his friends with a smile on his face that seemed to be the visual equivalent of the look in a little boy's eye when he's about to torment a bird with a broken wing.
He yelled over the bridge, "LONG LIVE THE SOUTH, LADY. HEYYYYYYYYYYYY IS YOUR BOOK WET YET? HEYYYYY LADY. IS YOUR BOOK WET YET?"
Now, for some reason, I guess insulting my book is more offensive to me than insulting like half of the country, so I (and I'm not proud of this), responded, "I'm sorry sir. I've made it a policy of mine to not engage in conversations with racists."
By this point my doughnut was floating past yelling distance. He waded out of site, laughing like a wild hyena with his pack of rowdy boys.
About 5 minutes later, I heard what can only be describe as a guttural siren, yelling from atop one of the wooden slides, "HEY YALL. HEY EVERYONE. THAT GIRL DOWN THERE WITH THE BOOK IS A RACIST. HEY YA'LL. THERE'S A RACIST IN THE LAZY RIVER".
I could feel the eyes of injustice burning at me from every angle. I was being called a racist for asking a few people to not parade around in their confederate flag at a public park. Cool.
A few women were floating just behind me, who had witnessed the whole thing. One of the ladies said to me, "Hey, he's talking to you".
I couldn't tell if her tone meant to say, "Hey, check out this clown, how amusing", or "hey, I'm sorry you got yelled by at by a crazy drunk guy but serves you right for disrespecting our flag".
Just for safe measure, in case she was of the latter persuasion, I said, "He's an idiot".
The women started hysterically laughing when to my relief we passed a life guard.
I told the life guard, "There's a deranged drunk guy in black shorts with a beer belly out to heaven up there yelling offensive remarks off that tower. Just thought you'd want to know. What will all the children around." She immediately walkie-talkied her supervisor, and the entire horrible ordeal was over.
As I prayed through the event later, and genuinely wondered what the right thing to do or say was, I came across a lot of stumbling blocks.
The most resounding of all was, "love your enemies." Images of handing the guy my coveted chocolate dippin' dots and telling him I still loved him despite everything about him came into my mind. Umm..no.
So, I asked a harder question: what does love look like?
The compass of justice in my heart tells me love doesn't look like:
being a doormat
sweeping everything under the rug
staying silent...no matter what
In my quest to figure out how I could have responded differently, I realized my error. In part, the reason I stood up and said anything to begin with was because justice burned in my heart, and I couldn't stand the idea of a single little child at the park feeling ostracized by people like Offensive Olive and Clueless Clyde. But another, at least equal part, to my response was I just wanted them to stick it where the sun don't shine. I wanted them to be humiliated and ashamed for their ridiculous behavior. I wanted to prove them wrong.
And THAT, is not Christ-like.
Jesus doesn't call us to be constant pushovers, ignoring issues of justice all in the name of 'love'. He's a table flipping, eyes of fire kind of guy. In that though, his motivations are not to humiliate or dehumanize people. He's always in the business of restoring. He DOES call us to see reconciliation and resolve, at all times. To be agents of peace - meaning to make peace - when things are unsettled. To have an agenda of restoring the earth, to see the world become 'like heaven', and to act in love more than we speak in frustration.
I could have quietly pulled Offensive Olive aside, offered her my dippin' dots, and gently explained why her bathing suit made me feel unsafe in a place I came to enjoy with my family. I could have spoken to her heart, and told her stories of growing up in a multi-racial family, and the woes that came with living in the south and having a mixed background. I could have genuinely realized that Clueless Clyde was..well drunk...and shouldn't have been in the park under that level of intoxication to begin with.
I don't regret speaking up in any way, but I am learning there's a more peaceable and genuine way to stand for justice that always has the light of reconciliation and restoration in mind.