Wednesday, July 9, 2008


We Americans, this displaced, mutt-ish people love to tell others about our ancestral percentages--I'm 33% this and 25% that and so forth. It helps explain strange last names, different skin tones (where applicable) and give excuses for our temperament, so we think.

What's funny about it is that depending on our mood and current likes, we can appeal to whatever race or nationality we feel like at the time. Someone says, "Yesterday I was feeling dramatic and passionate, so it must be my Latin blood, but today I'm stoic and closed-minded--that's my German coming out." However, the true reason we feel passionate and grumpy, hard-headed and then fun-loving is that we are dis-integrated sinners, whose entire personality is slowly becoming undone as we slavishly follow the whims of sin and temptation. You may call it "being yourself," but yourself is often a selfish, wicked pig whose identity is being corrupted by sin. Me too. To be sure, our German-ness, Irish-ness or whatever-ness is not to blame.

Of course we can also celebrate our ancestry in a Christian manner, remembering how God brought our disparate forebears together, confirming them in their faith (or not), doing good (or not), and so on. Our past, our family, is important, and as Americans we have the nearly unique privilege of having many families, many pasts, forebears of many nationalities.

Who am I? My mother's side is 100% German...well, Jewish German on her mother's side. This was a family secret for some time. Apparently my Granmother's cousins freely admitted it, but she denied it to the grave. My mother only found out about fifteen years ago. So sometimes I like to play the "Jew Card." At the seminary I would occasionly say, "During the Exodus of my people..." or "You Gentiles are now part of Israel like me." Many found it irritating. Some of those (anglicized) family names are Lovercamp, Inselmann, Heaper, Neuhaus. Mother's father's family immigrated here before the 1860's; some of these fought on opposite sides of the American Civil War. Others fled Germany relatively later, coming only to America in the last 120 years.

My Father's side is more mixed--Anglo-Saxon and Celt: we have Hall, Thompson, and Patrick. We've got some colorful stories on this side. One Great-great uncle lived next to the James Farm in Kearney, MO. He told my grandpa stories of that trashy, good-for-nothing James family--"Frank and the Old Woman" he called them. Jesse was dead by then. Once the FBI blew up the farmhouse, the "Old Woman" moved to town. A decade or so after her death, the house changed hands and my grandmother was born in it.

Those in the St. Louis area may be interested that another Great-great Uncle was John Ravenscroft Patrick, an amatuer archeologist and alleged antiquities (grave) robber. Concerning the Cahokia Indian Mounds, Wikipedia accurately reports, "the survey made for local dentist Dr. John R. Patrick in the 1880s marked the beginning of modern understanding of the Cahokia site as a whole, and its relationship to other sites in the area."

I like to think of him as a teeth-pulling Indian Jones.


  1. Dixie said...

    However, the true reason we feel passionate and grumpy, hard-headed and then fun-loving is that we are dis-integrated sinners, whose entire personality is slowly becoming undone as we slavishly follow the whims of sin and temptation.

    GREAT point. Our true nature, our true personality, our true distorted by sin. The manifestation I see and know as "me" is not really "me" at all! It is "me" as corrupted by sin. My priest often makes the point that as a Christian grows in his life in Christ he becomes more "real"...more like the true person he really is.

    Cool that you have some noteworthy relatives. Being originally from STL I know of Cahokia Downs...have been to the James home in St. Joe (?) and even driven by the farm.

    So I am guessing the Lutheran came in from your mom's side of the family? (My mom was German as well, but was Roman Catholic as was my mostly Croatian father. My 15 years as a Lutheran was courtesy of my husband's family.)

  2. Christopher D. Hall said...

    (After fact checking...St. Joseph (Joe) is where James was shot and killed by that coward Robert Ford. His boyhood home is there in Kearney.

    I was wrong about the was the Pinkerton Det. Agency that bombed the house.)

    I first remember hearing this understanding of sin from CS Lewis, but have also found it expressed in the Church Fathers.

  3. Dixie said...

    LOL! I just saw read my initial post and saw "Cahokia Downs" rather than Cahokia Mounds. Too much television or radio in my youth, I fear...remembering the ads for Cahokia Downs!

    You know...I had heard the expression "Frank and that Old Woman" before. I wonder if it was common to all the people living in the area at the time? My husband's family hails from the St. Joe area. (More precisely, Wathena, KS) and there are some James stories in his family somewhere as well.

    Lewis is awesome. I am not acquainted with anyone in this age that is a complement to Lewis. Sometimes I think the world is getting dumber... (Well...I know I don't add much to the overall intelligence factor!)

  4. Past Elder said...

    That's amazing to be connected to the great American heroes the James brothers!

    The Old Woman would be Miss Zerelda, his mother, who lived almost as long as he did, and gave tours at the family farm. Price, one dollar.

    She is not to be confused with Jesse's wife Zerelda, his first cousin and who was named after his mother.

    The arson criminally visited upon the family farm by the Pink Men killed one of the younger brothers (Archie) and disfigured Miss Zerelda.

    Frank was well read in Shakespeare, and married his wife Annie (Ralston), a school teacher, right here in Omaha, where the tellers at my bank once carried shotguns in case the boys showed up. They never did, which attention to the bank's ownership would have indicated would be the case.

  5. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    As your fellow Lutheran Rabbi, I will simply comment here that while even in Lutheran Elementary school, I loved saying, "Boy, I hope Paul is right about you gentiles, I'd miss you guys in heaven!"

    It's ironic that when we misbehave with blame it on ancestry, yet not correctly. We could point to the Old Adam and be spot on - but no, we only push it to the aftermath of Babel.

  6. Doorman-Priest said...

    Actually we do this too, only we use the Vikings, Celts, Romans and Normans as our template.

    I don't get many insults about my Norman/Celtic/Hugenot ancestry.

    "Hey you Celt", doesn't have quite the ring of "Hey you Wop"