Service at First Church on November 10, 2002 by Rev. David HutchinsonPERSONAL NOTEBOOK
The cold came earlier than expected this year. Even the Farmer's Almanac missed this one, calling for above normal temperatures; a mild and rainy first week of November. After my complaints of last year and my reckless rantings to the snow gods, this year I will shut up. I am content. And I have garnered a new-found respect for what the frozen-turf deities can accomplish by election day!!
I must admit I was caught by surprise. I had been lulled into a false sense of security, delaying fall tasks a little later each year thinking that global warming was buying me extra time. Yet, in spite of the gods' treacherous early-season antics this year, we still succeeded in stacking our winter's wood, tilling the garden and planting next year's garlic crop. But where we did get caught with our pants down (and it's damn cold right now to be caught in such a position!!); our propane company is still waiting for more opportune conditions to get down our hill and deliver our winter's gas supply and our wharf is still floating in the stream encased by ice like Captain Shackleton's doomed ship in the Antarctic. So here I am in this personally awkward position of having to petition the deities that be, to back-off and give me a break. (or at least let me pull up my pants!!)
When I woke up this morning, I woke up in a thoroughly Republican-controlled country. Even a strong cup of camp-brewed coffee couldn't wash the taste out of my mouth. As I stood on the front porch watching the snow fall, I noticed a snowflake just to my right that wasn't moving. It was just hanging there in empty space!! It was a huge, fluffy flake, the kind where you can see space in-between the snow crystals, and it had two distinct parts like a mechanical model of a molecule in high school science class. I reached above it about 4 inches, pinched my fingers into thin air and moved to the side. The snowflake followed. It hung below my hand like a delicate pendant. I moved again and the invisible force moved the snowflake as well. It was weightless and silent, defiant of its fellow snowflakes that let inertia and gravity have its way. As simple wonder abdicated to practical scrutiny, I could see that the snowflake had been snagged on a spider's web-strand hanging from the edge of the roof. Then to my delight I spotted 4 or 5 more hanging in the same manner. And as I walked in the woods I noticed more of these snow pendants hanging like nature's jewelry. It may be awhile before I see this phenomena again, but I can damn well say I saw it. And on a morning like this, it is a timely sign. It is a snowy sign of personal defiance and adherence to ideas and policies that sometimes defer from a comfortable political majority drifting down. It hangs solitary, but it's not the only one, and I will keep an eye out for more of these aberrant snowflakes as I sit here in the woods, waiting to see what the mischievous snow gods come up with next.
Transcript From The Phil Donahue Show (MSNBC) 10/28/02
Special Guest: Michael Moore, "Bowling For Columbine"
MOORE: Yes. I believe our mentality as Americans is to shoot first and ask questions later. We go for the gun in a way that no other country does. Let's just go for that gun, and that's how we're going to resolve our disputes. And I don't mean that just on a personal level, I mean that on a political level and on a global level.
Just look what we're dealing with right now with Iraq. The guy who's sitting in the Oval Office wants to bomb. We don't need any more inspections, let's just bomb them and we'll find out later if they have the weapons. That's the American way right now and I don't like that. I'm an American. I paid for those bombs. And I want it stopped.
(There's a scene in the film where Moore confronts K-Mart about selling amunition for handguns.)
MOORE: I believe that every human being has a conscience, even corporate executives.
MOORE: They're human beings. Somewhere deep down in there, you know, at one time they were good. And I've always, I've had this weird kind of optimistic belief that, if you appeal to their conscience, things can change.
I'm hoping against hope that they will not go away and say, well, what did we have to do with this? We just put the bullets on the shelves. You know, the good German. I just drove the train. I had nothing to do with this. Well, we all have something to do with it. And if you put the bullets on the shelves and you're selling them to teenagers, you do have a responsibility for it. And I want you to understand that and I want you to stop selling this ammunition. And I was completely stunned when, 24 hours later, they cried uncle and said, OK. That's what we'll do.
HOMICIDE GUN DEATHS PER YEAR
MOORE: I'm-in this film, I'm trying to show that many of the policies that are set up, for instance, by the state of Michigan or whatever, create a very dangerous situation. You know, if we lived in a society that said our first goal was employment at a livable wage for everyone, if the person living next door to you-if that person's making $40,000 a year, what's the chance they're going to come in and steal your TV or harm you on the street? Absolutely none. And this is what we should all push for. Republicans, Democrats, liberal, conservative, you're all better off-we're all better off if everybody's working and earning a decent wage. You're going to have fewer problems and less violence.
MOORE: I think we've got to get new blood that's going to run this town and other towns like this. We've got to remove the people who have presided over all of this despair. Nothing ever gets better. I'm sick and tired of it. 12 years ago when "Roger and Me" came out, we had 50,000 GM jobs still. We had lost 30,000, but we still had 50,000. Today there's 12,000 GM jobs left here in Flint. And nothing has happened. It's only gotten worse. During a time of incredible wealth in this country, cities like Flint, Michigan, have just been on the ropes. And you know, I got to say, if I were the mayor of this town, I would be down there to Ford Motor, and I'd say, You want to make General Motors look bad? Put a factory here in Flint, Michigan. Put a factory here because people will line up around the block, and they'll work their butts off for you. Pay them a good wage, and that'll bring this town back. You know, but there's no thinking like that about how to bring new jobs here.
Henry David Thoreau
The government itself, which is only the mode which people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it. Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively a few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.
Must the citizen even for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right. It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience.
All voting is a sort of gaming, like checkers or backgammon, with a slight moral tinge to it, a playing with right and wrong, with moral questions; and betting naturally accompanies it.
There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.
Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence. A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight.
One Vote is One Voice
Last month when the U.S. congress was debating the resolution on Iraq, President Bush said, "We need to pass this resolution to show that America speaks with one voice." I know what Bush meant (he only needed a majority vote for it to pass), but it failed to give the dissenting minority appropriate credit for their views. My knee-jerk response to his statement was, "Wait a minute…we're not unanimous on this!!" Even if only 22 senators voted no, and less than one third of the house, I would hesitate to call the results "one voice". And I believe, in part, it is due to this feeble dissent of the U.S. congress which has led to the vigorous protest of American citizens and peace organizations in recent weeks. One of the protesters interviewed by Maine Public Radio at last month's peace rally in Augusta said, "We'd like to thank George W. Bush for bringing us here today and making all this possible…"
According to the numbers in Washington DC, ( officially estimated at 100,000 / organizer's estimate 200,000) this was one of the largest protest events since the height of the Vietnam war. This was a BIG story, but the major media sources seemed almost reluctant to cover it. NPR had their original estimate at 20,000 (and I don't think it was a typo!!) and the New York Times received so many angry e-mails and phone calls about their coverage, they wrote a new article for their Monday morning edition. There are over 290 million voices in this country and each one has a legal right to be expressed. Of course there is no guarantee that you will be part of a winning majority or that you will have as direct access to those in power as some do. But you do have a voice and you have a vote. And of the two, your voice may have the more direct impact. You only vote once every two years, but your economic, political and moral impact is constant. Like Thoreau said,
"Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence."
At GA in Quebec City, Bruce and I both attended Bill Shultz's lecture on Human Rights in a Post 9/11 World. We didn't plan it that way. (The room was so large I didn't even know Bruce was there until afterwards!!) And now we have both ended up doing sermons on the topic!! Consider this part 2. During the Q & A session someone asked Shultz if he would consider running for the United States senate. He quickly replied, "No." He said he had more influence as president of Amnesty International than he would as a junior senator in the U.S. congress, without the liability of having to spend a large portion of his time financing a campaign. He could speak his mind freely and with integrity, beholden to no one but Amnesty International. Why would he want to give that up?!
Those who are in power make policy,
But it is we who have the power to influence those who occupy those positions.
Look at the example of a Martin Luther King Jr.
or a Mahatma Ghandi
or a Jesus of Nazareth
Their strong voice stood as a majority of one.
Thoreau and Emerson were both part of a peace movement in the 1840s. Along with the antislavery movement, these were the two issues of the day. Later, when significant numbers of abolitionists began to endorse the use of force, the peace movement broke away and formed a separate and much smaller movement. In 1838, before the split, the American Peace Society (of which I had never heard) sponsored a series of lectures in Boston. Emerson gave the seventh lecture in the series titled, The Peace Principle.
War is the subject of all history and the principle employment of the most conspicuous men. But war reflects only the primitive and early part of human development. The sympathy with war is a juvenile and temporary state. To thoughtful people of the present day, war begins to look like an epidemic insanity. The cause of peace is not the cause of cowardice. If peace is to be maintained, it must be by the brave, by persons who have attained such a perception of their own intrinsic worth that they do not think property or their own body a sufficient good to be saved by dereliction of principle.
According to Robert Richardson, in his biography about Emerson, The Mind On Fire, "Emerson expected the future to bring an end to war and that a new era of international law and cooperation would replace the era of nationalism and competition. Emerson looked forward to an international 'congress of nations' as a forum for settling disputes, and he challenged his audiences to look on peace as an even more heroic endeavor than war."
The peace movement of that time also protested the relocation of Indian tribal nations from east of the Mississippi River to the west. Andrew Jackson's removal bill had narrowly passed congress in 1830 and by 1832, 12 Indian Nations had signed a treaty. The 13th treaty with the Cherokee was in dispute. The Ridge Party, a faction of a few hundred Cherokees signed a removal treaty for 5 million dollars and land in the west. The Ross Party protested, presenting a document signed by 15,964 Cherokees repudiating the treaty. The US government recognized the initial treaty. Opposition was substantial, which included Daniel Webster, Chief Justice John Marshall of the US Supreme court, as well as General Wool, commander in charge of all US troops in the Cherokee Nation. Local town meetings were also held across the nation to voice opinions against the policy. Yet, in spite of this, President Martin Van Buren was determined to proceed. In April of 1838, Van Buren replaced Wool with General Winfield Scott (a name you may recognize if you watched Ken Burn's documentary on the Civil War…), and ordered Scott to proceed with the eviction of the Cherokees, by force if necessary.
The town of Concord called a meeting that same month of which Emerson was the first speaker. He outlined the situation, read the "appeal of the Cherokees," and voiced his own strong disapproval of the government's position. He also composed an open letter to President Van Buren which was printed in newspapers in Concord, Washington , and east-coast cities. This letter was "out of character" for Emerson and took on more of an outspoken, editorial flair. In it he says,
"This country stands on the brink of a terrible crime, a crime that really deprives us as well as the Cherokees of a country; for how can we call the conspiracy that should crush the Cherokee our government, or the land that was cursed by their parting and dying imprecations our country any more?"
In his journal he wrote,
"Yesterday went the letter to Van Buren, a letter hated of me. Why shriek? Why strike ineffectual blows? The amount of it, be sure, is merely a scream, but sometimes a scream is better than a thesis."
Footnoted in Richardson's book is reference to the American National Archive. A petition is dated May11, 1938 addressed to the second session of the Twenty-fifth Congress signed by "Ezra Ripley and 491 citizens of Concord, praying that the treaty made with the Ridge Faction of the Cherokees, not be enforced." It was tabled.
The commissioner of Indian Affairs later wrote in his report: "Good feeling has been preserved, and we have quietly and gently transported 18,000 friends to the west bank of the Mississippi."
This is the voice;
the internal core of our being,
finding its expression in our speech and in our action,
to petition those who have the innate capacity to listen,
to lobby for the specifics of justice and peace with unmistakenly democratic means.
This is the voice that will not go unnoticed This is the voice that will not go undocumented.
It is on the record of human concern.
No military force can suppress it.
No government can ignore its content.
For in the end, I am convinced like I have never been convinced before…
Peace is stronger than war.
Justice is more tenacious than oppression.
Democracy is the freedom of our being.
The integrity of the individual eternal.
On Friday, I stood for the first time with the group STAND FOR PEACE. We stood for fifteen minutes by the peace pole in Monument Park at twelve noon, braving the bitter-cold, holding two signs, one of which is on the wall behind me, in silence. (I figure if I can wait in line overnight at Baxter Park headquarters in early November for winter reservations, I can stand for peace across the street for a quarter of an hour!!) It was a powerful experience for me. Several cars honked their horns in support, and as I watched cars go by, driver's heads turned , curious I suppose as to what was going on. The standing in silence is a meditation or a prayer, a political statement, and personal resolve all at the same time. It is a standing alone in the most existential sense, but a standing together in solidarity with others who feel just as strongly.
At times like this, we need something we can do.
I am proud of Sarah and Ann leading the way at the Augusta protest last month. I appreciate Bruce's service last week on how human rights is in all of our best interest. I commend this congregation and each person who is here today, that although we may be a small society, we are doing the work of peace and inquiry. Yet, it is only a start. There is much to do. Our collective efforts may surprise even ourselves. Our singular efforts combined are unlimited.
The end is never in sight.
And now may the peace that we seek,
be the peace that we find in our own soul,
the endless pursuit in freedom of spirit.