Reverend M. Vincent Turner
4th of July, 2015
Growing up on a small seven-acre farm in rural Maryland during the 1950s set the framework for who I have become. Our small farm was nestled among far larger ones, some reaching as many as 1,000 acres. During my sophomore and junior summers I worked a 700-acre farm thinning orchards and working the hay wagons. Skinny as hell, strong as a titan I tossed and stacked hay bales two and three courses up.
We had livestock for which I was responsible to water and feed; throw down hay into the barn for our sheep. Sunday school each Sunday was mandatory. I was in choir, youth leadership, fundraising and Boy Scouts. All that was normal fare for young lads growing up in the fifties, coming of age in the very early sixties.
“Family values”, so much a touted mantra by certain segments of current day America were seldom spoken about while played out on a regular basis. “Yes ma’am/sir” and “No ma’am/sir” were not options. If you did not understand what either parent might have said, you NEVER responded with, “Huh?” Oh, no, NEVER. You responded asking, “Ma’am?” “Sir?”
Evening and Sunday meals were preempted with a prayer of thanksgiving. Before leaving the dinner table, one was required to ask permission to leave.
Hard, harsh? No. I think not. Too bad this training and discipline is not so prevalent and prominent in today’s culture.
My dad was the iron pipe; black is black, white is white; period. A strict disciplinarian, he had little tolerance for “foolishness.” The boundaries were tight; limited. My mother, on the other hand, brought and gave love and balance in an otherwise somewhat stoic environment. My dad never was outwardly biased against any one group except for the Catholic girl I was dating in high school: “Date her as long as you want, but there will no Catholics marrying into this family!” Ah, well, no worries dad. It never happened.
But mother was the one with no outward or known biases. She truly was a woman balanced by love. As I matured, she would caution, “If you meet someone or a group of people you dislike, leave them alone. It is not your duty or place to try to change them to your liking. Find those with whom you are comfortable and make those your friends.”
It is from those early teachings and leanings that I grew up open to the entire world without preset prejudices. Joining the U.S. Air Force in the summer of 1962 led me into a wider universe of types and personalities. I loved it!
In Military settings one finds his or her own set of friends. Others find theirs. But, open prejudices are arrested fairly early on. A sense of community prevails.
So, now, let us fast forward to today. Prior to the arrival/appearance of the likes of Newt Gingrich on the national stage I cannot recall such visible, vile in your face vitriol galloping across our national landscape. The later arrival of foul-mouthed/potty-mouthed Rush Limbaugh simply escalated and elevated widespread mean-spirited and downright nasty discourse. Suddenly, it was perfectly acceptable to say whatever you wanted to say, wherever all the time. Social decorum and propriety had taken a nosedive. One must ponder why so many are attracted to so much filth.
Recent events make a clear statement of how vulgar and nefarious parts of our nation have become; or remain but more visibly. The culture of hate has reached a heightened visibility and, sadly, a large pool of influence. The dark side of humanity has captured the national stage.
White cops killing blacks, most often unarmed blacks. Nine blacks shot to death in a church in Charleston, South Carolina by a white racist influenced by fringe white racist and KKK groups. The battle cry to save the Confederate flag rages on. Same-sex marriage got a nod from the U.S. Supreme Court, an act many right wingers say signals the final nail in the coffin of our dying nation. Yet, those very critics started putting nails in our coffin decades ago. It’s always easy to “blame the other guy” for one’s own failures, wrongs and sins.
Nastiness is the prevailing platform for many with the highest profiles across the land. If “I don’t like it, just kill it,” is a common narrative. Some of the more potent right wing politicians are lifting up references to Nazi Germany. Really! Have they even bothered to read the history of Hitler’s demonic horror show? (I have.) Have they given any thought to how such remarks might resonate among America’s Jews? Are they aware that homosexuals were gassed along with the Jews? Of course not. It does not matter to them, what with their bodies and minds altogether filled with the bile of evil. Theirs is insensitive, intolerant hate driven hyperbole. We have given witness to the rise of the American underbelly, now having taken its prominent seat upon our national land-scape. Plato wrote, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
So! I lean on the title of this essay, “Why can’t we all just get along?” I return to my mother’s oft-cautioned, “If you don’t like them, leave them alone.” Simple enough, I believe.
If you dislike blacks, simply leave them alone. Do not demonize them or transform them into monsters they are not. And, stop the sweeping incarceration of black men into profit making prisons. Is there anything more evil than profit making prisons? Reflect on how many “good white Christians” hanged and burned alive black men in the South. And, yet, the media rages on about ISIS. Where is Jesus in such moments?
If you dislike gay marriage, then don’t marry a gay person. Do not pretend gays and lesbians are not owed the same equal rights under the law. And to those who extol the viability of heterosexual marriage, remember that 55% of first marriages result in divorce; and, 50% of those second marriages result in divorce. So much for a “protected, hallowed” institution. And, oh! I all but forgot: Jesus actually says that if a man divorces, he is never to remarry. Oh, well, scratch that instruction!
If you dislike Jews, then disassociate from Jews. Remember, though, that some of the greatest benefactors to our hospitals and universities are Jews. Also remember how the Jews do not proselytize their religion. They will not kill you if you do not embrace Judaism (unlike what has been done often in the name of Christ).
I could continue with my list of people or groups you may dislike. But, I won’t. The imbalance and disharmony that has gripped this earth, and our nation, is a massive toxin; a global cancer. The human landscape of slaughter in parts of Africa and the Middle East are monstrous evils against all of Creation. The barbarity of the Chinese skinning and plucking animals alive goes against every grain in my body. Yet, the Chinese own the United States financially. Hail to the not so great Walmart. Horrors!
In our nation we see pols ponying up to step onto the Republican Caravan of Fools, those pols spewing out lies and hate. This is what our nation has devolved into. And, no, this is not an endorsement of a Democrat. They are weak-kneed and all too frivolous. They, too, have failed this nation.
Before throwing stones, instead how about an embrace? Is the human race actually a creation of some “God”, or simply a mistake in the evolutionary process? Why use the term “mistake”, you might ask? Look at the rampant destruction, murders and slaughter exercised by one tribe against another. Those actions do not speak of the God I believe in, a belief I am increasingly questioning.
If you dislike, or worse “hate” a particular group or person, remember this: They have as much right to share this earth as you do. In seminary we were taught to “honor the holiness of the other.” You are no more “holy” than the person next to you. You do not own any more space on Mother Earth than they do. Until humanity embraces a true and authentic sense of community, we simply will not be able to just get along.
In the Gospel of Matthew there is a passage, “Evil lives in the hearts of men.” Women are not exempt, by the way. But, the Disciple Matthew raises an important aspect of the human condition and situation. The challenge is not to express our evil, however inherent it may be. Our calling, even if one is non-religious, is to be a good neighbor, a good citizen and a caring custodian of all of the creatures of Mother Earth. We fail dramatically at that. What does that fact bode for our future generations; the future of Earth? Think about it. We have become destroyers at heart, rather than builders and preservationists. Why can’t we all just get along?
Finally, let me close with this:
“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”