There is something my parents wove into the very fabric of my soul that will not allow me to firmly, finally and glibly judge a whole culture. Since 9-11, I have been strongly tempted to do that but I keep reaching for more understanding.
Tag Taggert perfectly expressed my attitude when he said, “The universe is not a melting pot but a stir fry.” A melting pot wipes out the special characteristics and identities of its ingredients but a stir-fry preserves the essence, flavor, color and character of every single food in it.
Decades before the Supreme Court decision on the desegregation of schools, my Republican father would not tolerate disparaging remarks about black people, much less use of the “N word.” Mind you, such talk was all-too common among white people in those days. The only black person we saw up close in those days was a field hand of Sterchi’s Dairy and he was openly nicknamed “Coon.” Even if that man had told my father that was his name, I am absolutely certain my father would have never used it.
Mother’s grandfather was part Cherokee and retained many of the Indian ways. She treasured him for all he taught her about Indian culture. She was fiercely proud of her Cherokee heritage. I expressed my pride in her Cherokee blood with a song titled “Cherokee Tears”:
They lived here
Maybe for a million years
In mountain streams
It’s their laughter that you hear
And in the night
When the wind is in the trees
It’s their cry, Cherokee Tears
And there must be
A lot of Cherokee in me
For when I see my mountains choking
Behind a gray haze dark as death
It’s got to be the devil’s breath
So I cry Cherokee Tears
My desire is not to boast that my family and I are more advanced but to explain why I am compelled to understand the Islamic and all other human cultures. Just as I knew the burning cross and all its spoken and ritualistic pretensions to being Christian did not make the KKK a decent expression of the Christian value system, I know that 9-11 cannot be the best face of Islam. I want to see, understand and taste the good pieces of the Islamic pie.
I do not desire this new interface for their sake. Their world will go on with or without my understanding. The world of my birth and experience will truck right along, too, with or without their acceptance and understanding.
Here’s a big reason I want to become more enlightened: We do not now have a human civilization. We are still uncivil with each other and especially with people who look, talk and live differently. We are only slightly civilized.
Whether or not all my values click with you, I am sure I do understand the rudimentary spirit and teachings of the founder of Christianity. I had two parents who lived those values so well I have always thought back on it with a feeling of awe. I do not believe hate can ever be reconciled with those things I have seen lived out before my own eyes.
I think there are Muslim parents who lived out the highest values of their religion as well as my own parents manifested theirs. Just to know some people like this might make me a little more civilized.
Purely aside from religious considerations, I wish to be the best human being I can become. If there were no religions, a society of human beings would experience peace and progress to the extent that they respected and learned from each other.
I recently spent three hours talking to Vietnam veteran Brandon Bull and he completely convinced me that unconscious, indoctrinated hate is the biggest threat to human existence. That’s why I am working to civilize myself. Plus, it’s an old family tradition.
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