I was driving down US 36 the other morning on my way to breakfast with the Quaker Men, and fell in behind a pick-up truck. It had a sticker on the back window that I couldn’t quite make out, one of those silhouette stickers, so I sped up a little to see what it was, the way we do when we’re curious about a bumper sticker and want to read it. I saw one last week that read, “Sometimes I wrestle with my demons, and sometimes we just snuggle.”
But I wanted to see this sticker, it was a silhouette of something, so I sped up to pass it, and as I drew closer, saw that it was a silhouette of an AK47 assault rifle. I had a visceral reaction to it. I immediately thought of all the mass shootings in America and the tragedy and grief they’ve caused, and thought to myself, “Why in the world would someone put a sticker of an AK47 on the back window of their truck? What kind of person would do that? Why would they want to honor a weapon expressly designed to kill mothers and fathers and children?” I was sickened by it.
I sped up again, because I wanted to see who in the world would put something like this on their truck. Think about it, you have the opportunity to share your philosophy with everyone who sees you, you could put some beautiful, uplifting saying, but instead you put a picture of a gun that has brought death and misery to untold millions. Who would do that?
It was a young man, barely old enough to shave. He was growing a beard to look older, but just had this downy, patchy growth on his face. I don’t think he was more than 16. The sticker was a perfect example of a cultural disorder I’ve been hearing about recently called toxic masculinity, which defines manhood around the characteristics of violence, sex, status and aggression. Our culture tells its young men that this is what it means to be a man, which is one reason our prisons are full, why there are so many sex crimes against women, why one’s position in society is measured by wealth or power, and why some teenage boys drive trucks with gun stickers on the back windows, and treat Native Americans with contempt at rallies in Washington D.C.. Toxic masculinity.
We’ve been talking about the fruits of the spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This morning, I would like us to think about gentleness, which is the antithesis of toxic masculinity. The priorities of gentleness are cooperation, empathy, sympathy, and dignity, which are qualities a culture must possess to be livable and civilized.
Without gentleness, a nation will constantly be at war, for it will seek dominance and control, and never mutuality and cooperation.
Without gentleness, a nation will never achieve health care for all, for it will always link physical well-being to wealth, and never to need.
Without gentleness, the right to rule will fall always to the elite, and never to the commoner.
Without gentleness, the strong will do what they can, while the weak will suffer what they must.
Without gentleness, we will learn only to fight, and never to snuggle.
Every societal ill, every neurosis, is rooted in a moral or mental toxin that has poisoned our ability to live together, care together, and grow together. Which is why when Paul was identifying the divine principles, he said gentleness must be a priority.
When Joan and I were married, the minister marrying us gave us a hundred-question test to measure our suitability for marriage. We must have passed because he agreed to marry us, but I don’t give tests when I marry people. I look for gentleness. If I’m meeting with a couple wanting to get married and I see no indication of gentleness, if all I see are uncompromising rigidity and judgment, I don’t do the wedding. I treasure my weekends too much to spend them officiating at weddings I know are bound to fail. So I look for gentleness, because as long as people are gentle with one another, they can work through almost any struggle. Gentleness doesn’t guarantee the absence of difficulty, but it does promote the healthy resolution of difficulty.
We have a love/hate affair with gentleness. We want our politicians to kiss babies, but we also demand they be tough. Even Donald Trump kisses babies. I Googled it just to make sure. There are all kinds of pictures of him kissing babies, which I applaud. And some of those babies are even smiling, which means they’ve seen something in him that I haven’t.
I’ve been thinking about Donald Trump a great deal these past few years. I have these dreams where the FBI hauls him off to the pokey in handcuffs and I wake up so happy. But I’ve been thinking that’s a bad dream for a Quaker to have about somebody—to be happy only when someone else is miserable. I hate to think what that reveals about my soul, that his misery is my elation. I need a new dream; gentleness requires it of me. Maybe a dream where Donald Trump has this great insight and something shifts inside him, some beautiful flower of compassion blooms within him and he forgets about walls and nicknames and Twitter and money, and lets go of his toxic masculinity, which seems to afflict we men. Then, in my dream, he spends the rest of his life visiting people all around the country, practicing the 8th step of Alcoholics Anonymous. Make a list of all persons you have harmed, and be willing to make amends to them all.
Maybe I should do that, too. Maybe we all should. Because too many times we have fought, when what we really needed to do was snuggle.