Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 2/27/2011

at Kearsarge Uniterian Universalist Fellowship

I never knew Mahatma Gandhi personally…but as many of you, I always admired Gandhi’s teachings and life of non-violence, and through him, the life and passion of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the foundation of the Civil Rights movement.  Most of us re-discovered Gandhi in Richard Attenborough’s Academy Award winning movie.

From that demonstrated spirit of tough love and compassion, Gandhi was able to warn us of the painful resulting experience of these dangerous social sins…

            Wealth without work
            Pleasure without conscience
            Knowledge without character
            Commerce without morality
            Science without humanity
            Worship without sacrifice

And this morning…”Politics without Principles”.  Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, wrote these words to explain further what this first Social Sin is all about…

Gandhi said, “When politicians indulge in power games, they act without principles.  To remain in power at all cost is unethical.  When politicians, or anyone else, give up the pursuit of truth, they or their parties are doomed.  Partisan politics, lobbying, bribing, and other forms of malpractice are also unprincipled…as when we create power groups to lobby for our cause and are willing to do anything to achieve our goal.

So, what’s happening in Washington, DC, right now and in Madison, and in Ohio and Indiana and New Jersey and Concord…what’s happening there in the legislatures…

            There’s a lot of ugly lack of respect, lack of basic civility.
            There’s a lot of budget cutting on the backs of the poor and the powerless.
            There’s a lot of subtle racism and religious discrimination and bigotry.
            There’s a lot of bitter partisanship hiding behind financial savings.
            And there’s a lot of…”this is my project, my special bill…I will not negotiate…and about your piece of legislation, “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

Well, anybody can describe a dark and disruptive legislature…we get that from the front pages of the Globe and the Times…but this is Sunday…this is church…this is KUUF…c’mon, give me some reason for hope…where’s the good news?

OK, here goes…3 universal truths that promise hope across the nation.

  • We know that individually we have a voice!
  • We know that as a group, courage still works!
  • We know that our principles define us!

Many of you have already seen “The King’s Speech”.  If you haven’t, go this afternoon.  Marvelously acted and spoken, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, as King George and his speech teacher, struggle with the king’s stuttering and his desperate need to lead and inspire the nation with his words during a time of war.

Several weeks ago I heard Tom Hooper, the Director, being interviewed by Tavis Smiley.  Tavis asked him, “What was the main theme; what were you trying to say in the movie?  Hooper said, “Whether it’s some abuse in childhood, or some mistreatment, or painful experience in the middle of live…we all need to let go of that voice from the past, and struggle until we find ourselves in the present.  Because each of us has a voice that is ours.

Here are 4 voices that come from history, from 4 different eras…

Martin Luther in 1546 before the Roman Catholic heresy hearings…
            “It is neither safe nor prudent to do aught against conscience.  I cannot do otherwise, here I stand.”

George Washington at his Farewell Address in 1796…
            “I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy.”

Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois, in 1858 at the Republican State Convention…
            “A house divided against itself cannot stand.  I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half free.”

Emily Dickinson in her Part I, Life, 1876, wrote…
            “If I can stop one heart from breaking…I shall not live in vain…If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain, or help one fainting robin into her nest again…I shall not live in vain.”

Whether at school, or work, or play…at the club, the social event, the family reunion, the discussion group, the market, the hospital, the office, the kitchen, the ballgame, the road…regardless of place, of people, of my past, here and now “I have a voice!”

Second universal truth…”We know that as a group courage still works.  Courage does not always win…but it works…it makes a difference…it changes the parameters.

We have watched the protestors in Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen and Bahrain and Libya and Sudan and Morocco and Iran and even China…and the unique response in each country by the government, by the military, by the youth…we have heard the continually adjusting foreign policies of the United States as we shift to be on the right side.  Those scenes of demonstrators have been both thrilling and energizing and yet often tragic and violent as we witness the courage of the old and the young, even the handicapped and the wounded in the face of unconscionable attacks.  What remarkable bravery!

Nicholas Kristof writes about meeting Ali at the Pearl Square in Bahrain last Sunday.  “Ali is a 24 year old on crutches, his legs swathed in bandages, limping painfully along.  A policeman had fired on him from 15 feet away, he said, and he was still carrying 30 shotgun pellets, to be removed later when surgeons weren’t so busy with more serious injuries.  Ali said he would camp at the roundabout until democracy arrived, or die trying.”

Courage spills out all over the place, doesn’t it…and now in our country, it’s Madison, Wisconsin, among other states, demonstrations against a growing national strategy of union busting, a power struggle across the country.

I have a voice, but together we find a fresh and overpowering courage.  Remember the movie “Invictus”?  Morgan Freeman played Mandela and Matt Damon the captain of the South African rugby team, the Springboks.  The movie, you remember, was one of invigorating courage among a racially divided country.  The theme “unconquered” was repeated in the poem by William Ernest Henley…

            In the full clutch of circumstance
            I have not winced nor cried aloud
            Under the bludgeonings of chance
            My head is bloody, but unbowed
            It matters not how strait the gate
            How charged with punishment the scroll
            I am the master of my fate
            I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus…for us unconquered…courage to stand, to speak, to write, to march, to act…together…but even more, the greater courage, to listen, to discuss, to negotiate, to compromise, to collaborate!

Is there a greater courage…than that?

Individually we have a voice.  As a group “courage still works.”  And the third universal truth…we know that our principles define us.

Of all the poems and soliloquies my mother gently suggested I memorize growing up, the only one I really hated was “If” by Rudyard Kipling.  I still don’t remember why…but I’ve come to grips with my relationship to “If”, and it is probably the one poem I refer to most often…it is quietly profound.  Here are a few lines about principle…

            “If you can keep your head when all about you
                        Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
            If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
                        But make allowance for their doubting too;
            If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
                        Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
            Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
                        And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
            If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
                        Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
            If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
                        If all men count with you, but none too much;
            If you can fill the unforgiving minute
                        With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
            Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
                        And –which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”

Suppose that politics on the State level…if John Lynch and the NH Legislature cared more about educations and human services and the poor and the homeless and the unemployed…supposed Barack Obama and John Boehner and Harry Reid and the Congress cared more about the broken, the struggling, the discouraged, the scared, the abandoned, the hopeless. Suppose our leaders…suppose you and I became even more men and women of principle…just suppose…just suppose…if!

Some of you remember this dramatic scene.  Gandhi is lying on his bed weak from fasting and near death.  His fast was an attempt to stop the fighting between the Hindus and the Moslems.  In that memorable scene on his housetop, resting on his sparse cot under a canopy, Gandhi is visited by the leader of the Moslems who brings bread.  “You must eat.  You must stop the fast.  Your people need you.”  Gandhi replies, “I will not stop my fast as long as Moslems are killing Hindus, as long as Hindus are killing Moslems.  You must stop you killing.”  The Moslem leader’s response, “I cannot stop until I have avenged the death of my only son! He was killed by one of your Hindu Soldiers.”  Gandhi whispers to the Moslem leader, “I cannot bring your son back to life…but you can take a Hindu boy, one whose father was killed by your soldiers…you can take that orphaned boy and raise him as your son.”

Yes, we can.

“Politics always with Principles.”  


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