Live and Let Live
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye….12“In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets. (Matthew 7:1-5, 12, NRSV)
Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). “Live and let live” is another way of saying the same thing. This is a tall order for humans. We judge people all the time without even thinking about. We try to size people up on the basis of how they look, how they dress, how they talk, how they interact. This is an intuitive process, a skill that helps us find our way in the world. Many times first impressions are accurate, though sometimes they become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We need to be open to the fact that sometimes our impressions are wrong, sometimes we make wrong assumptions, or miss the real person because we never get beyond the surface. As we’ve been told since childhood, you can’t judge a book by its cover. But we do of course.
In today’s scripture lesson Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged.” A more modern translation reads, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. (Matthew 7, MSG).
And yet we are all judgmental at one time or another. History overflows with the mistreatment of the so called inferior minority by the so called superior majority. Judging is what Jesus called it and it comes in many forms: Judging that people of a certain color were not born to be free but instead to be slaves. Judging that people of a certain gender do not deserve an equal right to vote and even today, do not deserve to be paid the same as their male counterparts. Judging that only one sexual orientation is right and good. And judging that any other sexual orientation is wrong, bad, contemptable. Much of the world sees it that way.
Colleen told me about a decorator she follows on Instagram, B. Patrick Flynn, who recently posted pictures from his wedding to a person of the same gender. As a result, 900 people stopped following the decorator and people wrote horrendous and hurtful comments including calling them disgusting and saying they were filth. Why can’t we just live and let live?
Every generation is critical of previous generations. We, the moderns of the moment, look back in disbelief at those who came before us and their blatant hatred and racism. It’s hard to believe that slavery in America goes back as far as the 1620’s when slaves were brought to the northeast, to Massachusetts and New York. It’s hard to believe that only men could vote from the ratification of the Constitution in 1788 until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. That’s 132 years where only men could vote in our democracy where we espouse that “all people are created equal.” After 1920 many African Americans, both men and women, were blocked from voting in the South due to the Jim Crow laws of the time. It took another 45 years and the passing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act before many African Americans could even register to vote. We look back and shake our heads. Why can’t we live and let live?
One of the major cultural transitions of our day is the full acceptance of all people, including people who happen to be LGBT. This fight is far from over. This battle is far from won. But progress has been made and we’ve come a long way. When we look back to the 1940’s, it was illegal to have romantic relations with someone of your same gender, you could be arrested. And people were.
Such is the case with Alan Turing. Perhaps you’ve seen the 2014 movie based on Turing’s life called “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch. In the film, Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, one of Turing’s closest friends. Alan Turing was an English computer scientist, mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. He is considered the father of theoretical computer science and his Turing machine was the first general purpose computer. He is best known as the WWII code breaker who helped the Allies win the war.
According to one source, “The Cambridge- and Princeton-educated Turing, who had been working [only] part time at Britain’s code-breaking organization…reported for duty at Bletchley Park immediately after Britain declared war on Germany in 1939. He quickly became one of the government’s greatest assets, with the cracking of Germany’s Enigma code.”
The German Enigma code was considered unbreakable. There’s a great exchange in the movie where Alan Turing says: “I like solving problems, Commander. And Enigma is the most difficult problem in the world.” Commander Denniston responds: “Enigma isn't difficult, it's impossible. The Americans, the Russians, the French, the Germans, everyone thinks Enigma is unbreakable.” Alan Turing quips: “Good. Let me try and we'll know for sure, won't we?”
Turing was a quirky genius. Ronald Lewin, author of Ultra Goes to War: The Secret Story, tells of how Turing rode his bike to work and noticed that every so often the chain would malfunction. His solution was to count each revolution and determine how many it took for the bike chain to malfunction. After that, he counted as he pedaled and stopped just short of the chain malfunctioning. He then made a slight adjustment to the chain, and headed off again counting as he rode. Also, he had bad hay fever so in the spring he would ride to work wearing a gas mask to avoid breathing the pollen.
On a much more serious level, Turing envisioned what he called a “universal machine” that could solve any problem instead of only solving one narrow type of problem. His universal machine was flexible because it was not just programmable, but more importantly, re-programmable. This brings us to Gloria Cunnick’s piece of art on the altar in memory of Alan Turing. Notice the two parallel lines dividing the last fourth of the painting from the other three fourths. Then notice the six black boxes, each a different size. This reminds us of Turing’s universal machine. Previous machines were built to do one thing and one thing only, hence the two solid lines. On the contrary, Turing’s universal machine could take information, crunch it and give the answer. Then take an entirely different piece of information, calculate it and give the answer.
Alan Turing’s universal machine defied all the odds and could decode messages coded in Enigma. By doing so, he allowed the Allied Navy to know the whereabouts of the deadly German U-boats, the submarines sinking Allied ships throughout the Atlantic. The sinking boats not only lost lives, and millions were lost, but it also sank food supply ships carrying 100,000 pounds of food from America to Britain every week.
Many historians agree that by breaking the Enigma code, Alan Turing helped save millions upon millions of lives. It was estimated that 7,000,000 people died every year due to WW II. If Turing helped shorten the war by two years that’s 14 million lives, if by four years it would be 28,000,000 lives saved thanks to Turing’s critical breakthrough. “Prime Minister Winston Churchill said Turing’s work was the single greatest contribution to the Allied triumph.”
Sadly, the heroic dimensions of his life were all but forgotten when, in 1952, he was arrested for having romantic relations with another man. He was given two alternatives, go to jail for two years or take hormonal treatments resulting in chemical castration. Turing knew he’d never survive jail, so he chose the chemical treatments. In the movie, as his life continues to unravel, Turing tells his friend Joan that he would have been better off had he been normal. Joan replies, “No one normal could have [cracked the Enigma code]. Do you know, this morning...I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up on my work... a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. Now, if you wish you could have been normal... I can promise you I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.”
It is ironic that Alan Turing, the genius who saved millions of lives and helped save Britain from Hitler’s war machine, was now being persecuted by the very government that he helped save. It all got to be too much for him. On June 7, 1954 Turing committed suicide. He was 41 years old.
In the movie it says, “Behind every code is an enigma. A top-secret life. You do not know this man. Yet he has changed our lives. Unlocked the secret. Won the war. The true enigma was the man who cracked the code. Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.”
“In 2009, following an Internet campaign, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for ‘the appalling way Turing was treated.’ Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013. The Alan Turing law is now an informal term for a 2017 law in the United Kingdom that retroactively pardoned men…convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.”
Jesus said, “Judge not.” We will never know the further contributions Alan Turing could have made to our world, the scientific breakthroughs, diseases cured, more lives saved. So we look back at the narrow minds and harsh laws of his day and shake our heads.
Many of us look back at the blue laws of yesteryear and shake our heads. During part of my growing up years, Sundays could be a challenge if you needed groceries because the grocery stores were closed on Sundays. Forget getting your meds as the drug stores were closed. Forget going to a movie because the theaters were closed. Forget going to the dry cleaner or laundromat. Forget buying gas or getting a tire patched. The list went on and on and no, I wasn’t Amish.
We shake our heads when we look back at the “white flight schools” that sprang up in response to busing in the early 1970’s, the vast majority of them founded by conservative Protestants, mainly Southern Baptists in the South. I attended a “white flight school” for high school. I didn’t hear the term “white flight school” until many years later and I shook my head in disgust.
So years from now, what will make subsequent generations shake their heads at the ignorance and narrow thinking of our day? Surely they will shake their heads at the slaughter of the innocents we allowed to happen with legal assault weapons. Surely they will shake their heads about the detrimental effects of climate change that we continued after knowing better: Plastic bags in the ocean. The burning of fossil fuels. The destruction of the rainforest.
Surely they will look back at the presidential portraits and shake their heads that all of them, all 45 of them, were men and all but one have been white. We should all shake our heads at this reality. I have no doubt that someday the various occupants of the White House will reflect the beautiful diversity that is America in skin color and gender and sexual orientation.
A very modern paraphrase of the Bible, Jesus says this in Matthew 7. “It’s…playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part…Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.”
“Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” That was certainly true of Jesus of Nazareth. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
March 11, 2018
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Loving God we give thanks for your eternal mercy and grace, how you love us and stand by us even when we fall short. Open our eyes that we might see the progress we need to make. And open our eyes to see the boundless love and acceptance that you provide. As we continue the path of Lent, we ask that you would help prepare our hearts for the struggle ahead during holy week, and the miracle that awaits on Easter Sunday. Until then, draw us closer to you and closer to one another. Through Jesus Christ we pray. AMEN.