Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Slavery, Mepkin Abbey, and the Rest of Us

On Sunday, I saw Twelve Years a Slave.  What a powerful movie!  I wrote more about the movie in this blog post.

As I watched the movie, I was left breathless at the beauty of the land.  I was also in awe of the labor that it took to transform that land into plantations.  It's the U.S. South, shown in all its swampy, draped-in-Spanish-moss beauty.

The riverside landscape reminded me of Mepkin Abbey, which isn't surprising. Mepkin Abbey was once a slave plantation.  I knew that from the first time we got there.  The plantation eventually became part of the property of the Luce family, who donated part of it to Gethsemeni Abbey, which sent monks to form Mepkin Abbey.

There's a monument to those who lived and worked the land:

This monument is connected to the bell tower, which chimes on a regular basis.  I try to use the chiming of the bells to remind me of those who made it possible for me to be restored by the Abbey.

I've spent much of my life in the U.S. South.  I don't know what it's like for other regions in our country, but for my life, it has been impossible to escape the knowledge that slave labor built the foundation for our current fortunes.

I've lived in some of the poorest states in the nation.  I was shocked and startled the first time I realized that a lot of these states were the richest in the nation before the Civil War.  Maybe people in the Dakotas have similar epiphanies, but about Native Americans.

I haven't seen that many people in the U.S. South who are in denial about slavery and the past.  We may all be in denial about how slavery has left scars on all of us.

I left the movie and drove past billboard after billboard exclaiming the talents of Miami area lawyers and plastic surgeons.  It was surreal.  I drove past shopping centers that had been hastily slapped together at some point in the last 10 years.  I had spent 2 hours watching characters carving out the wilderness, and here it's bulldozed immediately.

At least the monks take their stewardship of the land as a serious mandate.  I think of monastics as having an appreciation of those who have come before, whether they've been slaves or saints.

And sadly, many are still profiting from current slave labor--literal slave labor, not just the pittance we pay our fast food workers or college adjunct instructors.

Let me take a minute to appreciate all that I have, and to say thank you to those who made it possible.  Let me always be aware of the ways that my successes don't always have much to do with me and my talents.  Let me extend a hand to those who could use the help.  Let me strive to move the world to one where slavery isn't possible, where all are paid fairly for the work we do.

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