This is a challenging time. It’s okay. I don’t mind being challenged. It just makes a big difference to have a sense of supportnot necessarily agreement. That’s what gets us through.
Thomas Paine said it in his famous essay, Common Sense: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country, but he that stands now, deserves the thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered…and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.”
I’m referring to the freedom to speak out against the arrogant jingoism coming out of the White House. A free pulpit has been placed in my care; it must be used as an instrument of that freedom, which is an awesome responsibility. Never has it been more challenging than it is now as the guns are aimed at Iraq.
The war on terrorism, in response to September 11, is a strange war. The enemy in the war on terrorism isn’t located anywhere, but is purported to be everywhere. It doesn’t feel like the wars we’ve endured before. This war confronts us with the extremely sensitive issues about civil rights being taken away in the name of homeland security. Shall we sacrifice democracy and freedom to save it? Isn’t that the justification they gave for destroying a village in Vietnam? Is it necessary to bomb Iraq to keep the peace, as our president puts it with the old familiar Orwellian double-think?
They seem to be saying, “Now that the war machine is rolling, and we’ll silence critics with accusations of being unpatriotic, why not bomb Iraq so we can control the oil?” Iraq has nothing to do with the war on terrorism, which is not to say that Saddam is not an evil tyrant. He’s shown that he is, but will we allow him to determine how we will be? It feels to me that we’re being led down a dangerous path; it feels to me like the war-time mentality is being used to scrap the laws, put democracy on hold, ignore the United Nations, and confirm what the enemies of the United States have been saying for some timethat we will impose ourselves on the rest of the world come hell or high water. Well, why do they hate us?
For the past two Sundays the pulpit has been put to its most challenging purpose. There are some who believe that has been misused. Some have used their own freedom to tell me so, and I respect and appreciate their doing so. One said, “If you don’t want politicians imposing religion on you then as a religious leader you shouldn’t impose politics on us.”
It’s an apples and oranges analogy. I’m called to serve this particular congregation. Membership in and participation in this congregation is voluntary. Furthermore, you are under no compunction to agree with me. Paraphrasing the Buddha I have said time and again that you should not believe things I say; you should not believe things because they are in books or New York Times editorials; but you should think for yourself and believe only what meets with your most elevated thoughts and your personal experience.
I was delighted to get an email message this morning from a family who told me about a discussion about things I said in last Sunday’s sermon, including the question of what’s appropriate from the pulpit. It was a family discussion. It began at the dinner table then spilled over to the sink as they did the dishes together. They told me, “You must speak up when you believe that politicians are in the wrong. It is your moral duty.” While I appreciate the specific sentiment, I’m delighted with the conversation that was sparked by flames coming from the pulpit–the idea of a family continuing what was started in the pulpit.
I will balance these difficult sermons, which afflict the comfortable, with those intended to comfort the afflicted. While I make no apologies for the volcanic eruptions I do make promises of peace, comfort and mutual support through these challenging times. May you touch that place of peace today.