Tag Archives: history

Did we win?


Bill Paxton brought all of his “Big Love” Godly smugness to his role as Randal McCoy.

The History Channel has aired its much-hyped “Hatfields & McCoys.”  I’ve only watched two of the three parts.  Thanks to the magic of Tivo, I’m hoping to finish it tonight.

I’m not a feud historian, but I’ve read a little bit about the dealings between Ole Ran’l and Devil Anse Hatfield.  Being a McCoy, I have been asked many times if I am related to this famed feuding clan.  While we don’t have any definitive genealogical proof, we do have some circumstantial evidence that points to the possibility.

There has been some family history done by one of my Dad’s cousins, and it appears that my family can trace its roots to Kentucky and West Virginia at about the time of the feud.

And then there’s the picture.  Many years ago my uncle Larry McCoy found a picture of Randal McCoy.  I wish I had a good picture of my Uncle Larry to show you.  You’ll have to take my word for it: there is a resemblance.

That being said, watching the History Channel mini-series was a somewhat strange experience for me.  I wasn’t just an objective observer.  I guess you could say that I had a rooting interest.  I remember as a kid when I heard about the McCoy-Hatfield feud, one of my first questions was, “Did we win?”

Me and my great-great-great-great uncle? I’m not sure, but the guy on the left is me, and the guy on the right is Ole Ran’l McCoy

Even now, as I watched the movie I found myself “rooting” for the McCoys.  It was clear that Anderson Hatfield was a terrible person for deserting, and profiting while his brethren and friends suffered.  It was clear that Old Ran’l was wronged when that thieving Hatfield stole his hog, then trumped up testimony in the trial. In the ruckus in the courtroom after the case, McCoy shouts, “This is a case of Godly right versus Damnation wrong!”  And I was all, “Hell Yeah!”

I had to catch myself.  It wasn’t about that at all.  It was about pettiness and grudges.  Eventually, McCoy’s godly self-righteousness started to grow tiresome. I couldn’t help but chuckle when later in the movie Hatfield tells Randall, “If you feel the need to bring up God one more time, and who’s side he sits on, you won’t be making the ride home.”

I won’t go through all of the details of the movie, or analyze any characters, because pretty quickly into the second episode it was clear that there were no good guys in this story.  I haven’t seen how it ends, but I feel like the movie has done a great job of showing the feud as what it was – futile.  There were no winners.

Stubbornness, false pride, hardened hearts, vindictiveness, and revenge fueled the feud.  As a child I saw the world in black and white and just assumed that the McCoys were good, the Hatfields evil, and there must have been a clear winner.  I’ve realized now that life is usually more about shades of gray.  I’ve learned that revenge is never good fuel for a soul.  As I watch the last episode, I’m hoping someone figures that out.  Then I’ll know who won.

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Filed under Media

The Fat Pastor Goes to Washington

The last time I was in Washington DC, I was 12 years old.  Even then I was a history geek and remember the chills when I first entered the Lincoln Memorial.  I remember standing in front of the Gettysburg Address.  I read it out loud, unafraid if anyone thought I was crazy.  It was the first time I read it, and I was in awe.  Now I am 34, and last night when I walked into the Lincoln Memorial, the chills came back.  I stood in front of those words and read them aloud again.  Tears rolled down my cheeks.

My giant head makes it hard to see Abe, but I’m using a pretty old camera phone.

I’m in Washington DC for the 2012 Young Clergy Leadership Forum hosted by the General Board of Church and Society.  It is an awesome privilege to be here among 51 other clergy from over 30 Annual Conferences.  I’ve already met some terrific people.  I got into Washington yesterday afternoon and spent about four hours just walking around the mall.  I think my goosebumps tally was four, and my tears came twice.

I think the most emotional part of my night though, was when I approached the Martin Luther King memorial.  It is set up so that as you come to it from the Lincoln Memorial, you have to walk in between a few huge stones.  The opening between the stones is aligned with the Jefferson Memorial, creating a beautiful geographic juxtaposition.  I stood with Lincoln, the man that helped save the Union, behind me and with Thomas Jefferson, the man that wrote “all men are created equal” directly in front of me.  In between is the rock that reads “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope.”  It was quite powerful to think about the promises that were offered by Jefferson, the tragic work of Lincoln, and the dream of King.  I paused and read some of King’s quotes that adorn the memorial.  I sat by the water and pondered his dream.  Surely there is much work to be done, but I am awestruck at how far we have come.  The mountain of despair remains daunting, but the stone of hope is sure.

The Jefferson Memorial can be seen through the rocks of the Martin Luther King Memorial

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Filed under Personal Reflection

Prayers for Liberia

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Photo taken by Rev. Robb McCoy.

The Illinois Great Rivers Conference and the Liberian Conference of the United Methodist Church have a deep and growing partnership.  I became a deeper part of this relationship in February 2011, when I went with a group of new clergy to Liberia.  The people of Liberia remain in my heart, and my heart has been troubled over the last few weeks.

Prayers for Liberia are needed.  For months people have been looking to October 2011 as a major test of Liberia’s fragile peace.  The wounds of 14 years of civil war are still fresh, and many of the major players in that war are still in positions of leadership in the Liberian government.  The Presidential election of 2011 was basically a three-way race between current President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Winston Tubman, and Prince Johnson.

On October 11 the election saw a voter turnout of 71%.  In that election, it was Johnson-Sirleaf (44%), Tubman (33%), Johnson (12%).  Since no candidate won a majority of the votes, a run-off election was planned for November 8.  After the election Johnson threw his support behind President Sirleaf, essentially ensuring her victory.  Despite the fact that all independent election authorities called the elections fair and transparent, Tubman declared that there was mass voter fraud and disputed the results.

He advised his followers to boycot the run-off election and staged demonstrations across the country which intimidated people from voting.  Some of the demonstrations became violent.  Clashes between the Liberian National Police and demonstrators caused at least two deaths.  The leader of the LNP recently resigned after pressure from President Sirleaf.

In the run-off elections, the turn-out fell to 38.6%, and President Sirleaf received over 90% of the vote.  Tubman’s party, the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) continues to protest the elections.  They have promised to make Liberia “ungovernable” if their demands are not met.  They are calling for a second set of elections, and seem to be holding the nation hostage with threats of violence.

The situation remains fluid, but there seems to be some signs of hope.  On November 29 there was a Peace and Reconciliation Jamboree.   And the CDC seems to be falling apart.  According to this news article, five influential leaders have been ousted.  From what I have gleaned from different sources, these leaders were the most vocal and were the ones trying to organize the kind of rallies that so often turn violent.  According to this story, the CDC has backed off of plans to have street protests.

All of these stories come from a source called allAfrica.com.  It seems to be a credible source.

There is still relative peace, but the situation is fragile.

Brief summary of the primary candidates in the 2011 election:

Prince Johnson was a primary leader in the civil war.  He gained much notoriety for capturing, torturing and executing President Samuel Doe.  In the early stages of the war, he was an ally of Charles Taylor, but the two ended up bitter rivals.

Winston Tubman is an Americo-Liberian and was a member of the Doe administration.  He was Johnson’s  primary competition in the election after joining with George Weah.  Weah was Tubman’s running mate, and was the runner-up to Johnson in the 2005 elections.

George Weah is probably the most famous Liberian in the world.  In 1996 he won the FIFA Football Player of the Year Award, and was named the African Football Player of the Century.  He ran for President in 2005, but lost in the run-off with Johnson.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been a public figure in Libria for three decades.  She is a Harvard-educated financier, and worked for many years for the World Bank.  Her international and business experience is second-to-none in Liberia. In 2011 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Partners in Hope Video I created after my trip.

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Filed under Christianity

Inaugural thoughts

This post appeared last Thursday in the Chenoa Town Crier:

As I write this I am watching the inauguration of Barrack Hussein Obama as the President of the United States of America. This is a remarkable day in the history of this country. Inauguration Day is always a day of looking forward.

It is natural to think about what will happen in the next four years. At this inauguration, it is difficult not to think about the last forty years as well. We are at a unique place in our history – a place future historians may use to mark the change of an era.

We look back on a troubled past. We look back on three hundred years of slavery, another hundred years of segregation and Jim Crow. We look back at race riots in our cities. We look back on fire hoses spraying and dogs attacking young people in the streets. We look back at white hoods, burning crosses, and ropes hanging from trees.

On a day such as this it is difficult not to think of the road that has led to an African American man being sworn in as the President of the United States. It is a road marked with tragedies and triumphs, of villains and heroes.

As we look at Barack Obama laying his hand on the Bible that was last used to swear in Abraham Lincoln, it is easy to feel good about the journey we have made. Yes, there have been some mistakes along the way, but today we see that the ideals on which this country stands – that all men are created equal – are more than words.

We also have to know that the road has not ended. An African American in the White House does not mean that racism in America is over.

This is a lesson I learned a little over a year ago.

I received a letter with no return address, addressed in barely legible handwriting. It was a newsletter and recruitment letter into the Ku Klux Klan. This group, which has the audacity to call itself a Christian group, sent this letter to me in hopes that as a Pastor, I might be interested in joining.

It made me physically ill. I believe I was targeted in their recruitment because I am a pastor. They obviously did not know that I was a student member of the St. Louis chapter of the NAACP. I don’t remember the details of their newsletter. I didn’t keep it. But it served as a stark reminder that our journey is not over.

Even as we look at our road and feel good for the distance which we have traveled, we are reminded by gestures, both large and small, that we have a long way to go. In recent months I have had conversations with people that believe we will never be one people. That race problems will always divide us.

Every day I live, every sermon I preach, every page of the Bible I read tells me that is not how God wants us to live. In the core of who I am is the belief that we as a people are created by God in God’s image, and that what unites us is stronger than the forces that try to divide us. I know the journey is not over, and it will probably not be over in my lifetime, but the struggle continues.

We may not make it to the Promised Land, but we continue to struggle. One person at a time, one relationship at a time, we move toward the day when the love of God overcomes all. As Christians we are called to do no less than work for the Kingdom of God.

So today I pray for Barrack Hussein Obama, and I pray for those that sent me that recruitment letter. I pray for our country, that we may overcome the challenges we face. And I pray for our world, that as children of God we may move together one step at a time toward the Kingdom of God.


Filed under Politics