By Dr. William C. Turner, Jr.
Associate Professor of the Practice of Homiletics
Duke Divinity School
***We offer in this New Year excerpts from Dr. Turner's sermon "21st Century Courage." May God bless each of you in this season!***
21st Century Courage. What are some challenges in the search? Are new lies being told to the present generation, or have the old ones been ensconced in the way the world is configured? In short, what is the courage required to live authentic existence?
What shall be the source of courage when there is no evidence of a payoff? What shall be the enduring legacy? How will a generation be remembered? What is Intrinsic Good? In a day when there is no failsafe promise of becoming rich, wealthy, or famous, what are the Intrinsic Values to be embraced?
One of the most courageous moves for the current generation would be what I call abandonment of dinosaur logic. I take this expression from Brazilian theologian Reubem Alves in his book entitled Tomorrow’s Child. He made the interesting comment, which I shall ever remember, concerning why the dinosaur became extinct. The dinosaur, he said, did not die out for being small, weak, or powerless. Just the opposite was the case. The problem was that the dinosaur knew only how to get larger. As he grew in size he consumed all that was necessary for being sustained. Once he had decimated his environment, the dinosaur had nothing left on which to feed, and he left no legacy but fossils. A generation with courage will take heed. Look instead for ways to open doors and make opportunities for others. Who, for instance, will “make work” for a generation that for all practical purposes is useless?
It was a hard sounding word when he said it, but Bill Cosby is right. There is a generation around us that could not qualify for slavery. Now you don’t get the full weight of such a comment without knowing your history. The truth is that in large measure slavery was productive in the South due to the skills—not just the labor--of the African slaves. South Carolina became filthy rich because slaves had technical knowledge of how to grow rice for the world market. A slave invented the machine for removing the seed from cotton—a credit that went to Eli Whitney.
Visit old plantation homes and you will see ornate artistry in wood, brick, and iron that is the handiwork of slaves. The engine that drove the economy of the Antebellum South came not only from the brawn, but also from the brain of slaves. Until well into the Civil Rights Era it was not uncommon to find black men who were geniuses with their hands. They could make or repair anything. I grew up around men who could listen to an engine and tell what the trouble was. My father could do anything with his hands. If he and others like him only had the opportunity and financial backing they would have been wealthy, or they would have raised others with them. This is indeed the legacy of those who used their knowledge for uplift and financial enterprises.
In some serious ways 21st century courage is like the courage of previous generations, but perhaps with exception. It must look into the apocalyptic cup of abominations and be chastened by the consequences of consorting with the beast. It takes courage to imagine a future that offers more than poverty, and hopelessness when this is the order of the day. But such courage is needed.
Accept the fact that this is not the pioneer generation. There is no longer a disposition of pity within the nation. Nobody accepts blame or feels guilt for the poor, or the left behind. The fund of guilt has been exhausted, if ever that were a sufficient reservoir for progress. It takes courage to look for new career paths, to make work for self and others, to reach back for someone needing a hand. This is a good day to revalorize our view of serving professions, to learn again how to live from the land, and to look toward a future that is clean and green.
As a Christian preacher and theologian I look to Jesus, who heads a procession of heroes in courage. The writer of Hebrews positioned himself as something of a Marshall making a Roll Call. Judging from who is admitted into the line up, I would dare to anticipate some further admissions. There are some in the list any bible reader might expect. But other unexpected ones also are included for the tremendous courage they displayed. Reaching backward he included Rahab and Jeptha along with Sarah and Abraham. It seems that moving forward the line-up might include Ghandi, King, Mandela, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer and other lesser known souls who found courage.
So strive with your last ounce of courage. This is your century!