And after the suburbs America, where will you go?
Where will you flee to escape from the plague that sweeps from
The rotted inner core of your once-prided cities?
And where will you teach your children America?
Will you build your churches higher?
Can you afford the hypocrisy, the two-faced scandal
Of equality for all men?
And how will you teach your children, America?
Will you teach them to love and respect each other
For the sake of our integrity?
Or will they live as you have lived --
In fear, hate, and mistrust?
And after the suburbs America, where will you go?
Tell me America, I want to know!
That was the opening song for a tribute to the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. I composed when I was 14 years old in Abilene, Texas. The year was 1970. Martin Luther King had been assassinated just two years before, and I, like millions of others, was still deeply effected by his loss. And probably more importantly, by the unshakable feeling that our country had turned a terrible corner. The optimism of the sixties was brutally erased by the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, Jr. Since that time, many of us feel there is some shadowy dark group of people manipulating world events. I personally feel that in a more pronounced way these days than ever before.
In 1970, I got as far as composing that song I just sang because, even though I could imagine the “Martin Luther King Peace Cantata”, I did not have the compositional skills to complete the entire piece. My intention was to set some of his writings to music. The culmination of the piece would be the magnificent “I Have A Dream Speech”, which I thought was the most powerful and eloquent oratory ever spoken by an American person. To my young mind, that speech was the essence of what an American should ascribe to be. Because it resonates with the soul our great nation, I thought it should be attached as a “postamble” to the “Declaration of Independence”, or somehow enshrined as a separate, albeit, long article in our constitution.
When preparing for this sermon a few years ago I could not help but ask myself “What would Martin Luther King, Jr. say about the world we now live in?” I imagine he would ask why we would seek to impeach President Clinton for lying about having sex with an intern, but not seek to impeach President Bush for lying about weapons of mass destruction, then using that as a pretext for invading another sovereign country. Martin Luther King, Jr. might have problems with an executive branch that exempts itself from laws against the use of torture. He might feel something is very familiar about our government spying on its citizens. He could tell us all a thing or two about FBI wire taps used to discredit him. He was a subversive after all, because he and his confederates were attempting to overturn lawful segregation in the South. Recall that the government was “protecting” us against him at that time.
I strongly believe King would be one of those forcefully raising his voice against the notion of an endless war on terror. I believe we would hear him say the same words he spoke on April 4, 1967 at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned about our war Vietnam at Riverside Church in New York City:
“As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”
Those magnificent words about the unending nature of violence were spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. 43 years ago, yet they ring so true today. Allow me to read the first three paragraphs of that address. I invite you to think about our present situation with the use of violence on an international scale and how it so eerily relates to the time when King spoke these words. Do as I did and replace the word Vietnam with the phrase “War on Terror” and you may glean the timeless wisdom of King’s position:
“I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join with you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization which has brought us together: Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam. The recent statement of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: "A time comes when silence is betrayal." That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.
The truth of these words is beyond doubt but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement well and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.”
The speech entitled “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” is probably the least well known of Dr. King’s speeches, but I believe it must be read with new eyes for a new generation. Of course, the “I have A Dream” speech is timeless, but this one is quite timely, and is painfully appropriate for this moment in history. Some of you have heard me speak on the subject of compassion and justice. I have challenged this congregation to consider the moral consequences of how we prosecute this war on terror for years now. In a sermon entitled “Spiritual Challenges of Asymmetrical Warfare” on September 26, 2001 I said:
“As a nation we must learn to defend ourselves and at the same time try to understand the circumstances of disenfranchisement, bitterness, and hopelessness that created those with which we are engaged. As human beings we must reach out to each other when it seems impossible to do so. As members of a spiritual community we must look inside ourselves for the God who has the power to transform the world. We must understand, on a molecular level, that we are all responsible for everything that happens, and that we are bound inextricably to one another.
Yes, we should pray — and so will our enemies to the same God. Yes we should defend ourselves by launching attacks so devastating and awful they will make the entire world afraid to attack us — but they will, and do so with ever more terrible consequences. We will call our enemies evil — but discount the evil inside of us. We will all dance the maddening dance of war and will bathe in unspeakable and secret places. And when we are exhausted from our mutual struggles that will go on, perhaps for generations, there will come the time for putting aside our weapons. Then it is entirely possible we will embrace each other and be best friends, perhaps united in a common struggle against those pesky outer space aliens.”
My God, what has over eight years of warfare revealed to us. We now see the consequences of this bathing in unspeakable and secret places I warned of. Consider what we now know of Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo Bay, the “rendering” of people to be tortured in other countries for us, thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens dead, the outing of intelligence operatives who disagree with our national policies, the erosion of our civil liberties, and recently the revelation that our government has been spying on us.
Please don’t misunderstand me. My intention is not to turn this sermon into a political speech. My intention is to honor a great American who had enormous insight and wisdom concerning issues of social injustice and lack of compassion, and how that ultimately leads to spiritual bankruptcy that can poison an entire world. .I am not a genius politician and I am not a prophet. However, many of you can attest to the fact that I predicted our current spiritual and moral crisis as regards to this war on terror nearly five years ago. The accuracy of my predictions are quite easy to explain… they are drawn from an understanding that we have sacrificed our spiritual compass for the sake of political expediency.
King was able to do the same thing forty years ago. In his case, he was a political genius and a prophet. Listen to what he said on April 4, 1967:
“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”
Tell me, if a man like King could see nearly fifty years ago where we are now, what does that say about who we are as a nation. I feel like I have a moral and spiritual giant speaking for me in the person of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was able to say much more eloquently than, I what I wish to say about the importance of practicing our UU principles and being witnesses to their transformative power.
I will end this sermon with the conclusion of the one I delivered nearly eight years ago. It says what I want to say today.
We know everything we need to know about how to end wars before they begin. It is a mistake to believe that our governments are going to solve the deep problems the world is encountering. Those problems are not rooted in governments but in the hearts and minds and spirits of people. Young people who do not have jobs, do not have homelands, do not have power over their future, who live in squalor, who have been nourished with a steady diet of violence and hatred all their lives... those are the people we need to care for. That kind of care and compassion does not come from governments, but from each individual person making conscious decisions every day about the kind of world they want to live in. Compassion, love, honesty, patience, and integrity need to be practiced by each individual so that we can infuse our children with those qualities, and thereby create governments that reflect those values and make them the cornerstones of policy, both domestic and foreign.
The world is now too small for human beings to treat it like it is not a schoolyard. We all know the rules which we learned in kindergarten, but have somehow forgotten:
treat others as you would have them treat you, ask for forgiveness, say please, walk a mile in someone else's shoes, apologize when you hurt someone, take care of each other, don't push, always share, and listen when someone else is talking.
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!