Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 15:18-16:11) transports me to the waning years of the golden era of country music, in the late sixties and early seventies, when I ate breakfast every morning accompanied by the sounds of Radio Ranch, 570 WWNC, coming from the transistor radio on the kitchen counter. When I hear some of what emerges out of Nashville today, both musically and politically, especially from the likes of Hank, Jr. (who has doubled down on his concert tirade, We’ve got a Muslim president who hates farming, hates the military, hates the US and we hate him!) I realize how different the world was back in my formative years. It was the beginning of country’s cross-over success into the world of pop, and one of the unlikely artists leading this crossing was Skeeter Davis, a Southern Baptist tee-totaler from Dry Ridge, Kentucky, who refused to play any venues where alcohol was sold. One of her top hits from 1970 helped to popularize the phrase, I’m a lover, not a fighter. Continuing this line of thinking, in 1972 Skeeter received a Grammy nomination for covering the anti-war theme song, One Tin Soldier. I remember her country-hippie voice coming through the radio, Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend, do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end. Adding to the oddity of Skeeter Davis’ life, the next year she was banned from the Grand Ol’ Opry, but not because she was recording these liberal peacemaking songs. No, Roy Acuff exiled her for making an on-stage statement in support of some evangelical street preachers who had been arrested by the Nashville police. Go figure. Anyway, she was the last of a dying breed; I don’t think the Opry ever saw another Southern Baptist tee-totaler anti-war advocate getting into trouble for speaking out on behalf of Bible-thumping street preachers.
While there was a lot of hating and fighting going on in our world in the early 70s, Skeeter Davis was not the first to claim I’m a lover, not a fighter. Neither was the British group, the Kinks, who had recorded a song by the same name in the early 60s. No doubt there were earlier uses of the phrase, in all the various periods of hate and violence that have rocked our world through the ages. We can trace them all back to Jesus, the ultimate lover and not a hater, who commanded his disciples to love and followed that command with an immediate warning that they were entering a world of haters and fighters. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day would hate those first disciples of the Way, because the Way called their livelihood and privilege into question. Jesus understood a troubling truth of human nature, that elements of hate crop up in every culture, invariably using religion as a cover. The world system, with its prejudices and privileges and profits, is threatened by any faith that calls these into question. And throughout history, zealous adherants to various faiths of the world, including the Christian faith, would hate their neighbor in the name of heaven.
There you have it, the world we live in: lovers and haters, all claiming the same fount of faith and religious zeal. Skeeter Davis’ cover song described the division being between the mountain people and the valley people. The valley people resented the mountain people having a treasure, buried under a stone, and they wanted the treasure for themselves. The mountain people offered to share the treasure, but the valley people wouldn’t hear of it, and proceeded to slaughter the mountain people. Now they stood beside the treasure, on the mountain dark and red. Turned the stone and looked beneath it, “peace on earth” was all it said. Scripture tells us that the Prince of Peace taught his disciples the truth about the hateful reality of fighting and the compassion-filled promise of peace, all so that they would not fall away. In our own world of hate, with hateful speech and actions coming from all corners, from every faith tradition, may the followers of the Way of grace and peace stay true to their convictions, preaching the gospel of love in the streets and singing along with Skeeter Davis, I’m a lover, not a fighter.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email. etc.