Let’s admit it. We all like it here. We like the Facebook world, where all our lives seem larger than they really are. We like the Twitterverse where we see how many followers we can amass. We like our Instagram followers. We like the endorphin release we get when we get lots of “likes” on a post. We get disappointed when our posts are apparently not as clever as we thought they were. Our jokes fail. Our words fail. And, unfortunately, our power to persuade never even existed outside of our ego.
We politically persuade no one on social media; we only alienate them. We parade our religion around as if it were a fluorescent neon sign for a cheap motel, flashing, flashing, flashing, angry when others deny the four-star rating we are advertising for it, and thus ourselves. We push people away. We demand that they think like us, look like us, speak like us, shop in the same places, go to the same schools, be members of the same fraternity, or the same country club. We demand that they have the same diet as us, listen to the same music as us, drive the same cars as us. We isolate ourselves among the billions of people inhabiting the planet, and circle our wagons against enemies that only exist because we helped create them. We, in our wagons, are able to circle them because we’ve built a bubble of like minded people who are clones of ourselves. We have cast off those who are not like us.
I am not much on the diversity program that seems to accompany modern-day political correctness, because it seems an artifice, a contrivance. Our celebration of diversity is superficial. There is no need to celebrate diversity; it simply is. We celebrate different cultures in a manner that seems to imply that our personal culture is superior to all the others, or inferior to others, and for heaven’s sake, there are those out there who have lost their own culture, preoccupied with acknowledging other cultures that can never be theirs. A most pitiful thing to me is one who has become a culture-less, androgynous mass of protoplasm, alive but unthinking, only feeling and reacting to stimulus.
We all seem to have become reactionaries to stimulus. We reacted when the current President, or his predecessor, or the predecessor of his predecessor, or the predecessor of the predecessor’s predecessor said “A”. We reacted when they didn’t say “A”. We reacted when they said “A”, but didn’t say it soon enough, or loud enough, or repeat it a hundred times, as though we believe a thing said often enough must be true. We reacted because the media, mass and social, primed us for reaction.
We react when they say crude things, forgetting the crude things we have said ourselves. We react when they have improper dalliances, never giving a second thought of our own behavior that might shame us if it came to light.
“But we must hold our elected officials to a higher standard,” shout the masses and the media.
Hold them to a higher standard than what? The standard we set for ourselves? Nay!! Let us first set the higher standard on ourselves, then we can legitimately express our disappointment when others don’t measure up. Did you hear that? Disappointment? There is a big difference between expressing disappointment and vilification. Hyperbole seems to remain the order of the day, because hyperbole makes for good headlines; it always has and still does. We are sucked into the hyperbolic vortex, spitting venom that was seeded in us, but we grew it, we nurtured it, and it came to full fruition when it spewed out of our mouth. It is written that what is in our heart proceeds out of our mouth. I think that is true, and I am saddened by what so many hearts seem to harbor. The heart-harboring of these things is not new, but as old as mankind, as old as the first recorded incident of murder in the Bible when an envious, jealous Cain killed his own brother over a religious dispute. Men have been doing it ever since.
I am thinking of four people who are precious to me. These four people are as politically divergent from me as I think it is possible to be. Some are atheists, some are agnostic, some are uber-leftists, and some are outright Marxists. In spite of these things, we all like each other.
It is no secret that I am an Evangelical Christian. I am a believer. I am not an agnostic. I am not an atheist. I am not a deist. I am not a spiritualist. I am not a universalist. I am not given to gnosticsm. If you are of a mind, you can look up Romans 8:38-39. This sums it up for me. I shall not be moved.
It is no secret that I am a conservative. I am a Republican, though, like many others, I am no longer sure what that means. If you are a Democrat, you may be able to make the same statement. There is a blurring of the lines and the platforms of the parties are moving targets that shift so much that those who make their platforms must be persuaded that we, the people, have no memory.
Paul Birch lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is a law librarian at the University of Richmond Law School. I met Paul in 1978. After graduating law school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, he moved to Tuscaloosa to take a job at The University of Alabama Law Library. We were already friends, but became fast friends, life-long friends. We are as far apart, politically, as I think it is possible to be, though each and every argument I had with Paul was civil, passionate sometimes, even somewhat animated…OK…HEATED. But we never failed to like each other. I’ll go ahead and admit that in the course of our debates, I even learned something from Paul, if nothing more than to be a better debater, which is not an unuseful thing. We still like each other. I miss his company every day. It has been a few years since I’ve seen him. He came down for a visit and a trip to The Sucarnochee Revue. Before that, my family went up and visited him and his wife Linda in Powhatan, Virginia, at their home. Paul Birch and I will remain friends until one of us passes from this earth. When that happens, the one left behind will be saddened. If you don’t believe me, ask Paul.
Greg Boyd, who owns Greg Boyd’s House of Fine Instruments in Missoula, Montana, was born and raised in Meridian, Mississippi, just like me. I knew all of Greg’s family and loved and miss them. Sadly, Greg is the only one left in his immediate family. I spoke to him on the phone, yesterday. I don’t suppose I ever knew a finer, more honest person than Greg Boyd. There is no guile in him. You get the truth from Greg Boyd. Of course, you get the truth as he earnestly sees it, but honest men can have honest disagreements and differing opinions, and you can count on the fact that if it comes from Greg’s mouth, it is his earnest belief. I do not have to agree with him; he does not expect me to, though he tries his best to persuade. So do I. We never make much progress, but it does not affect our relationship. I treasure it.
I have known Gerry Tenney for about six years. Gerry and his wife, Leslie, live in Oakland, California. Gerry is an activist-leftist. I think he may even be a Communist, because he is pretty far to the left of a Socialist. He will gladly tell you what his politics are if you ask him, and will demonstrate the things he passionately advocates, and will not hold back when doing so. Gerry knows me, and he knows what my thinking is. We can never agree on most things, yet we still like each other. Gerry, Leslie, and their son, Noah, are precious to me. So is Leslie’s brother, Joe. While the Tenneys are Jewish, I seem to recall Gerry telling me that he was agnostic, and I may be understating that, but not wanting to put words in his mouth, we’ll leave it at that. He will correct me if I’m wrong. But, I am sure that he is not a Christian, and there are some of my own tribe that would tell me that I cannot be friends with Gerry. I reject that premise. I already am his friend. My job is to love and respect Gerry Tenney and his family as human beings and treat them with the same respect and courtesy that I like to be treated. The Tenneys have been gracious to me. I am thankful for that, and for them.
Steve Goldfield also lives in Oakland. I met him at the same time as I met the Tenneys. He is a hard case, and, according to his own words, an unrepentant Marxist/Atheist. He is, I believe, even further to the left than Gerry Tenney. Steve knows of my faith. He knows of my politics. We share nothing in common in either, yet we like each other. Steve has a razor wit that will sail right past you if you are not paying attention. If you are, he makes some of the driest, wittiest comments I have ever heard, funny only to those who appreciate dry humor, however, there are lots of us. There are certain things that Steve and I will not hazard a discussion on, knowing there can be no good outcome, so we just avoid them. I have not seen him in a few years, but I keep up with him on Facebook. I am looking forward to the time that I can sit down with him, break some bread, and have some refreshment at his table, which I have done before. And, for your information, if you choose to argue with Steve, bring your facts with you. I think he has total recall, which goes well with his Ph.D. in Chemistry. My limited recall prominently holds a memory of me arguing a point about the process of making ethanol with Steve. He corrected me. I argued back. He corrected me again, clarifying his correction with, “I have a Ph.D. in Chemistry.” It is good to know when to fold your hand. I wisely thought it pointless to continue with my argument, shut up, and learned something as he explained the chemical processes to me. I reckon that’s why two ears and one mouth is a good thing.
What mischief could we make with two mouths? Though we only have one mouth, we have all likely at one time or another been justly accused of talking out of both sides of it, which is a universal human condition and condemnation. One mouth….one word.
So there you have it. There are others, precious and dear to me, who fall into the same category. They know who they are. If one were to wonder just what it is that gives me anything in common with the four people mentioned above, other than our shared humanity and the spectre of the grave that awaits us all, the answer is easy.
All of us share music. We have all played music together which creates a bond that is as hard to break as it is to understand. If it was a chemical bond, Steve Goldfield could explain it to us. If it was a legal bond, Paul Birch could explain it to us. If it was a political bond, Gerry Tenney could explain it. If it was the bond of ethics and forthrightness in business dealings, then Greg Boyd could explain it.
But I can explain it. It is just twelve notes, repeated at doubled and tripled frequencies above, and halved and quartered frequencies below, but the same twelve notes, expressed in different pitches, accentuated at particular times in particular rhythms; tones which connect our souls like the stars above unfold to our view if we stop long enough to look up and let our eyes become accustomed to the darkness, which soon reveals the infinite brilliance of the heavens: the blending of ancient tones which connect divergent individuals into one, unified, harmonious sound.
If that is not enough on which to base life-long friendships, then there is no hope for the world.
But, that hope is mine.
Perhaps, above all things, we should teach music to our children…in our schools, in our religious gatherings, and in our homes. We should teach them to hear the essence in the music. We should teach them to hear it and be moved by it. The music should make us reach for something beyond ourselves, or to express that something beyond ourselves we have made our own essence. Good music either reaches for it, or it distributes it to those who are able receive it, or some portion of it.
While I am not a Sufi mystic, this Sufi mystic offered us some priceless gems. This one goes to the heart of this post:
Music is the language of the soul; and for two people of different nations or races to unite, there is no better means than music
Hazrat Inayat Khan
The downside of Social Media? This week, I have seen friends turn to bitter enemies over ungracious, unsavory, and recklessly precipitous posts that in the long run mean nothing, serve nothing, and yield nothing but briars and bitterweeds clinging to a meager life on barren ground.
Guess what? They were both musicians.
It makes my heart ache.
©2018 Mississippi Chris Sharp