If you follow closely our nation’s politics, it’s hard not to be discouraged. The right-wing wack-jobs are pursuing their various agendas and the left-wing loonies are theirs. And none of them agree with you and me, who of course are always right. It makes you despair for the future of our country.
The next time you are doing something like reciting the Lord’s Prayer in church or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag or singing “Take Me Out To the Ball Game,” quiet your own voice to a whisper and listen to those around you. (Those who’ve heard me sing wish that I would try it more often.)
For me, this is kind of a magical experience. The voices are synchronized, almost blended into one. We who were many become one because we are pursuing a single goal, we are following the same plan.
But we can still follow the same plan without all doing the exact same thing. Music is good at this. You’ve got the melody up top and the harmony down below and they have to go together or it doesn’t work.
Singers can do the same. I like the old timey hymn books, like the old Cokesbury, that have duets in them: “I’ll fly away (in the morning) I’ll fly away.” The individuals do something different at one point but it works for the good of the whole.
The Apostle Paul in describing the Church as the body of Christ waxes eloquent on this same subject. There are many parts but one body, each of the parts exercising its own gifts for the good of the whole.
At the university we’ve got teachers, groundskeepers, degree-checkers, custodians, librarians, and administrative assistants, each performing a designated task with the single purpose of educating our students. And I think we do a darn good job of it. We each are doing our own thing but, our common purpose brings it all together like when you say the “Our Father” at church or sing “Home on the Range” at Rotary.
Monday was the Fourth of July. This is the day of the year we celebrate the founding of our nation by eating corn on the cob (originally grown in Mexico) and hamburgers (invented in Germany) cooked on the grill, and by attempting to blow our fingers off with fireworks (made in China).
If you look on the back of the one-dollar bill at the Seal of the United States, the eagle is holding a ribbon in its mouth that reads E pluribus unum; out of many, one. To me this means that at the creation of the seal, they were making a big deal of the fact that we were united. I’m thinking they wouldn’t have brought it up if they didn’t have their doubts. And why wouldn’t they, everyone who came to our shores had a different agenda.
Some of the folks came here so that they could have the freedom to worship in their own way. Some of those came so they could make everyone else worship in that way too. Some folks came here to have the freedom to make a lot of money, and, some of those took that money and bought other people with it to have as slaves and to earn their money for them.
Then we fought the War for Independence partly because we didn’t like paying taxes to the British and not long after the establishment of our country came the Whiskey Rebellion because some folks didn’t even like paying taxes to other Americans. Go figure.
Then there were those few years in the early 1860s where we formed a couple of armies and tried to kill each other for about 5 years. That was kind of a rough patch and we sill sing songs about it.
We’ve been a rowdy bunch from the first, but we are one people.
If you ever doubt it, go abroad. The foreigners will tell you for sure. Americans like other Americans. Once in Moscow I met a right-wing, militia nut-job. Seriously. Our politics couldn’t be more different. But he saw I was a fellow American and he helped me:
“Spread your money around; it’ll be okay.”
We may argue; we may disagree strongly on many issues; but that is part of who we are. That is the common song that we are singing.
And it is beautiful.
(Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University.)