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After the anger

An open letter to Blount County.

I remember on a cool crisp fall day in 2001 when hate killed thousands of people in New York City.  The sky was so blue it seemed like you could just reach out and touch space itself.  For months after, we flew our flags – not the ones that divide us by religion, nationality, or sexual preference – the one that covers us all with the blood of soldiers who fought and died for the very freedoms we take advantage of day by day.  People drove around with their headlights on in solidarity.  I would never want to go through 9/11 again, but I do miss the patriotism, the kindness, and the love for one another we showed as we stayed out in our driveways after work to just talk to our neighbors and check-in with them. We needed each other.

I was born here in Maryville in 1971, spent my school years in Baton Rouge and returned home in 1989 to attend UT.  I remember going over the Buck Karnes bridge praying I would make it to campus.  I remember when the old Walmart was brand new.  I remember Red Foods and IGA and riding the Cades Cove loop in a trailer pulled carefully by my grandfather’s massive Buick. I remember playing in the creeks and using the red rocks as war paint. I remember Caz Walker and Silver Dollar City.  I remember when it used to be long distance to call home from Knoxville to my parent’s house here in town. I remember the old Kay’s sign with the little boy climbing up the sugar cone.  I remember when Hall Road was two lanes.  I remember when Sandy Springs was just a spring that wound its way behind the old telephone pole fort. I remember a sense of community and kindness. I remember going to my grandfather’s doctor’s office.  He was a pediatrician here in town and was probably the pediatrician of many people reading this or was for someone you know.  He always used to have Dum Dum suckers for the kids.

For the majority of my life I have lived in an area that might be 3 miles end-to-end in 5 separate residences here in Maryville.  It is my home.  I met my wife here and we have raised three beautiful children, two of which are already in college.  One attends UT and the other attends Maryville College where her great great grandfather attended.  The stone house he built next to the campus is still there but it has changed from the days when I would sit in his leather chair in the den with the red carpet and eat the sticky peppermints out of the tray.  He always put ice cubes in milk at dinner time, and served beets and gerkin pickles out of one of my great grandmothers favorite crystal dishes.  He smelled of cherry wood from his pipe he always had in his pocket.  I remember the day he died because it was the first experience I ever had with death.

Hate returned to my town this past week when a coward assassinated one of our home-town heroes in blue. Almost immediately people went to social media and posted hate-filled messages wanting the accused killed on sight.  Others posted pictures of their home in blue lights and sent messages of love and hope to the families of the dead and injured.  It’s hard not to be angry.  It’s a serious struggle. My faith, however, tells me to pray for my enemies so I have to refrain from speaking hate into the darkness.

We have a choice, after the anger subsides.  Do we go back to attacking unknown people on the glowing devices in our hands or do we enter the streets and talk to our neighbors? Do we continue to be rude to each other just for likes and laughs?  I’ll admit that I have participated in that.  Will you?

It’s a simple decision that we, Blount County, must make and make it fast.  I have always taught my children that “we are what others perceive us to be”.  It doesn’t mean that we let others give us our self-worth.  It means that people only know us by the perceptions which we cast to them and  that is our own responsibility to manage those perceptions.  It doesn’t matter what we think of ourselves.  I can think I’m one of the best software engineers in the world but if others don’t share that sentiment then honestly my opinion of myself is completely unmerited.

The other thing I have always taught my children is “do what’s right.”  Right is contextual sometimes and sometimes right is just always right. Sometimes it’s right to help someone else and sometimes it’s right for them to help themself.  So the question here is are we going to get back to community and do what’s right, or let this chance slip?

My new non-profit is called Outreach25. It is a Christian run non-profit serving those in need with a special focus on the families of sick, disabled, injured and terminal children.  We will also have other programs to assist those in need and work to fund local non-profits and ministries which are good at putting the help at the source of the need rather than into churches that spend the money on self-promotion and million dollar parks.  We will serve all people we can regardless of their background. We want to be His church, not attend a building.

I’ll have several board positions posted soon and we will also need volunteers to help.  The mission is coming into focus rapidly and we are working on the website.

So Blount county, will you do the right thing and stand in the gap for those among us who can’t stand for themselves, or will you let this slip? We have a chance to show each other true compassion and kindness regardless of our background.  Our similarities far outweigh our differences and love covers a multitude of our sins.

Keep an eye out for us.  We are going to come out of the gate swinging in a few days.




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