Service at First Church on February 9, 2003 by Rev. David HutchinsonOpening Prayer
A belief in a higher cause
is sometimes the only belief
that remains intact when confusion determines the rule of the day
and competing voices vie for common agreement.
But what do we do when there is no agreement?
Where do we turn when there is no direction?
An appeal to conscience is our constant.
It is our one solution.
It is an ally in the center of turmoil.
It is an asset when all else fails.
It is our means to seek clarity when
we do not know what to think and
we do not know where to turn.
Love is the constant.
It is the higher cause
and it will endure long after the temporary confusion of the day has passed. AMEN.
Equal and exact justice to all…of whatever state or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none…Freedom of religion, freedom of press, and freedom of person…These principles form the bright constellation which has gone before us, and guided our steps through an age of revolution and reformation. The wisdom of our sages and the blood of our heroes have been devoted to their attainment. They should be the creed of our political faith, the text of civil instruction, the touchstone by which to try the services of those we trust; and should we wander from them in moments of error or alarm, let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.
- Thomas Jefferson First Inaugural Address
When we talk of the American democratic faith, we must understand it in its true dimensions. It is not an impervious, final, and complacent orthodoxy, intolerant of deviation and dissent, fulfilled in flag salutes, oaths of allegiance, and hands over the heart. It is an ever-evolving philosophy, fulfilling its ideals through debate, self-criticism, protest, disrespect, and irreverence; a tradition in which all have rights of heterodoxy and opportunities for self-assertion. The Creed has been the means by which Americans have haltingly but persistently narrowed the gap between performance and principle. It is what all Americans should learn, because it is what binds all Americans together.
- Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
No one knows what the day will bring.
Men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.
There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it and built huge siegeworks against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But soon nobody remembered the poor man and his words were no longer heeded.
So I said, "Wisdom is better than strength."
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools.
Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one sinner destroys much good.
The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.
Even as he walks along the road, the fool lacks sense and shows everyone how dull he is.
If a ruler's anger rise against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great errors to rest.
Do not revile the king even in your thoughts, or curse the rich in your bedroom, because a bird of the air may carry your words, and a bird on the wing may report what you say.
"The Four Freedoms"
Annual Message to Congress; January 6, 1941
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
(adapted from The American Creed, Forrest Church)
Just as our national policy in internal affairs has been based upon a decent respect for the rights and dignity of all our fellowmen within our gates, so our national policy in foreign affairs has been based on a decent respect for the rights and dignity of all nations, large and small. And the justice of morality must and will win in the end.
(He added the most memorable part of his speech at the last moment, in his Seventh draft. It proclaims a global vision based on the establishment of four Essential freedoms.)
When it comes to international affairs we can see each of these approaches in full swing. Our world right now is like a glass of water that's half full. But even in the midst of this current crisis, there is just as much reason for hopeful optimism as there is for fear.
America is not the entire glass of water. We may be the dominant economic and military power and undisputed leader of the free world, but we are still only one member of the international community. It is the responsibility of a powerful nation to use its power not only for its own benefit, but for the benefit of all.
This is the vision of a great America; to take its ideals of democracy, liberty, and justice and to extend these principles to the rest of the world as universal and inherent rights of all humanity. It is in this sense that America is larger than one nation. We have our own national self-interests, but these must not compromise the larger values that our nation was founded upon.
During the last U.S. presidential campaign in January 2000, Condoleeza Rice, now the National Security Advisor, wrote this revealing statement in a paper called "Life After the Cold War."
"Foreign policy in a Republican administration will proceed from the firm ground of national interest, not from the interests of an illusionary international community."
And in his recent State of the Union Address, President Bush said,
"The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others. Whatever action is required, whenever action is necessary, I will defend the freedom and security of the American people."
This statement received one of the loudest and longest standing ovations of the evening, Democrats and Republicans alike. To me, it was a shrinking back from full involvement and contribution to international cooperation.. It was a stepping back to a smaller America whose scope does not extend far beyond its own national interests. In contrast, I thought of Eleanor Roosevelt's words when she said that "we must use all the knowledge we possess - all the avenues for seeking agreement and international understanding - not only for our own good, but for the good of all human beings." In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that she helped to co-author it states that "all people are equally endowed with reason and conscience. The inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation for freedom, justice, and peace in the world."
When the declaration was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, no country voted to reject the declaration. Russia, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa abstained. And before you're too hard on these countries, and this may be hard to believe, but to this day our own United States Senate has never ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights!!
Our current National Security Strategy outlined by President Bush this past September is probably more in line with the direction our country is heading. But this is not in the direction of a larger America. It is not in the direction of peace built upon justice and equity.
During Sarah's service two weeks ago when Kay Bell, Sister Juanita and Sarah were speaking about their trip to the Washington Peace March, Bruce suggested that we contact the office of Senators Snowe and Collins and Representative Michaud to see if we could arrange a meeting to express our views and concerns regarding a possible war with Iraq. We ended up writing an open letter, drafted in large part by Susan and tweeked by many, collected signatures and were surprised (or at least I was!!) when staff members were willing to come down to Houlton and meet us right here in the parlor this past Friday. Bruce did a splendid job conducting the meeting and each of us (14, plus 2 young children, who always make convenient political props for such occasions!!) had opportunity to share our prepared statements or to speak extemporaneously. (which is always a little dangerous!!) This was a chance to exercise democracy in one of its most direct forms. That's all you can really ask for. It is direct input into the system and then you have to trust the democratic process. Even if we did have significantly differing views from the staff representatives at our meeting on Friday, of which I'm sure we did, just knowing that our letters and comments were going into a report somewhere (whether Snowe, Collins or Michaud ever see them or not) just knowing that it's on record, along with the civil and respectful manner in which the process was conducted, and placing a human face and name on our local connections to Washington DC where the decisions do get made; all of that in itself was a necessary and valuable expression of democracy in a time when the highest forms of democracy are needed in our world. I view this kind of activity not only as a political exercise but as a spiritual practice. Our 5th principle as Unitarian Universalists is the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregation and in society at large. The time that individuals put into writing their thoughts and speaking their thoughts in a conscientious manner refines the soul of the citizen as well as society. Copies of our open letter and several of our personal statements are available in the foyer for your perusal.
Near the end of his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower began to recognize the new perils that democracy faced with the seeming collusion of business interests and military expansion. In his Farewell Address he warned, "The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government…We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic process. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together."
America is still an experiment in progress. It was started over a hundred and twenty five years ago and we're still working out the details!! And even though we may get side-tracked from time to time, the experiment continues. Novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote,
"I believe that we are lost here in America, but I believe we shall be found… I think the true discovery of America is before us. I think the true fulfillment of our spirit, of our people, of our might and immortal land, is yet to come. I think the true discovery of our own democracy is still before us."
The American Creed is our guiding principle.
It is our reference point when the nation faces a defining moment.
It is a reminder of our potential greatness.
America; larger than one nation.
It is the hope of the world,
A dream of Liberty and freedom
In our own hearts,
In our own land and
everywhere in the world.
Let us continue.
Let us not grow weary.