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Essays and Sermons

DSCN0624Journey to Israel and Palestine: What I saw, what I heard, what I felt

A sermon for the Unitarian Univeralist Church of Marblehead, Massachusetts

November 1, 2007

By the Rev. Dr.GeorgeKimmichBeach

[photo: Bethlehem, the Wall]



BenGurionAirport in Tel Aviv is huge, sleek, new enough still to have the shine on it.  Not their fault that my suitcase went missing in Frankfurt. The woman at the lost luggage counter was 100 percent helpful.  She quickly traced it to Frankfurt. Where was I staying tomorrow night?  In Bethlehem. We only deliver in Israel, she said.  And who was my contact person?  George Rishmawi, I said, and gave her his cell number, but not no answer.  That’s two Palestinian indicators, I thought, with trepidation. What I didn’t know at the time helps explain their delivery policy: Palestinians cannot travel into Israel, and Israelis cannot (without a special pass) travel into the occupied territories.  As an American I am more free to travel than they are!  Of course, these are “security” measures and have nothing to do with building walls of mutual isolation.  Well, I would have to get back to her by phone with information about a Jerusalem hotel where my bag could be taken.  I said a little prayer that it would come at all.  And it did–prayer answered!

In the vast lobby I hooked up with some of our UUJME group, coming on various flights from various cities: Boston, Detroit, New York, Washington.  We were nine UUs plus a rabbi and her friend, who discovered us through our guides. George and Michel operate Siraj, a nonprofit travel service.  They seem to know everyone everywhere in the tight little world of Palestine.  Their van took us to our modest hotel in Beit Sahour, home for the first four nights.  More hot water than other venues, I was to find.

In stark contrast to the highways in Israel, the roads beyond our first checkpoint, quickly passing into occupied territory, reminded me of Ceaucescu’s Romania: the rubble and potholes of long neglect.  So too a checkpoint that we encountered, some days later, crossing from Palestine into Israel: there we cooled our heels for two and a half hours, along with hundreds of Palestinians, most of them on foot, pushing their way into the cage-like entrance gate.  It felt chaotic, volatile. The guard soldiers, here as everywhere, tote automatic weapons, at the ready, grim young men, occasional women.  Finally our van was waved forward to the crossing.  They gather our passports and soon return them; it feels perfunctory, the long delay (making us very late for our dinner meeting in Haifa) was strictly for harassment purposes.  A soldier steps onto our little bus, slowly looks us over with hooded eyes and asks: “Do you like Jews?”  Some murmured, “Yes, oh yes.”  I thought of Goneril and Regan (Oh yes, father, we love you!).  And felt the humiliating tug in the gut: ingratiate yourself with the man with the big gun!  No doubt he just wanted us to know that he’d sized us up for what we were: American bleeding hearts, consorting with people who (he imagined) only hate Jews. It’s a sad position, for him, to be in, really: What did he have to do with 60 years of deadly, destructive oppression, and its aftermath, by now an almost bottomless pit of rage?

So began our ten days in October, a “holy land” tour with a strong political flavor,  organized by a persistent little organization called UUJME, Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East.  No, we should call it “the unholy holy land.”  Palestinian human rights was the dominant focus.  The organization is led by Don McInnes, an attorney in Cambridge who has developed many contacts there in the course of several fact-finding tours (no, that sounds too academic: I would call it a witnessing tour.)   Don had recruited George Rishmawi to be our chief guide (except in Israel, from which he excluded).  He is a Palestinian Christian (Orthodox branch—but they draw no denominational distinctions when it comes to friendships, nor even inter-religious distinctions that I could see in relations with Muslims and Jews.)  He is personable, and humorous (they love to tell Arafat jokes), and a backyard-oven chef, and passionately, an advocate of a one-state solution!  Hmm.  Suddenly I began to question my own “two state” assumptions.

Why did I abandon the glories of an Appalachian Piedmont October for a journey into this heart of moral darkness?   Because here as nowhere else religion and politics and  history converge, and I’m drawn to such places.  Because this is the most profound moral challenge of our generation—given the history of the Holocaust of the Jews and their passionate quest for a secure Jewish homeland (triumphant in 1948), and given the Arab and Muslim and Palestinian sense of  continuous victimization, repeated failure, and loss of homeland (The Catastrophe, as they call it, of 1948).  And because this is not just their moral and political challenge; this is our own, “made in USA” responsibility.

I saw graffiti on the Apartheid wall: “Made in USA.”  A T-shirt slogan in an Israeli souvenir stand: “Don’t worry America, Israel is behind you.”  A highway in Hebron built with US-AID money to serve the Israeli settlers and the native Palestinians alike: a road through the very center of Hebron, from which Palestinians are now excluded.  “For security reasons,”of course.  The feeble protests by U. S. Presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, against Israeli settlement policies have, in effect, given them a green light. Even now they are create as many “facts on the ground” as they can as quickly as they can.

Yes, there are grave human rights abuses in several lands: Sudan, Burma, Tibet. . .  but none is so directly our responsibility as this.  I went, finally, because I believe in justice for all God’s people, which is all people. I know  precisely when it was that middle eastern events broke through the veil of ignorance that I like most Americans had clung to, regarding U.S. policy: 1982, the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon.  Our own government, taken by surprise, was incapable of protest.  General Ariel Sharon knew what he was doing: setting up an extermination campaign against Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Shatila camps.  That’s when I preached a sermon, “Israel Is Creating Palestine.”  And today, 25 years later, it is still in the making.   Palestinian national consciousness and pride are still being forged in response to the occupation: we heard this from Palestinians themselves during our travels.

All these years later, I decided to do something more than complain about it, and write occasional letters to The Washington Post (never once published), and worry that I’d be called an anti-Semite for saying out loud what is apparent to anyone who has followed the news during these decades.  I wanted to see for myself.  I wanted to show these people that some Americans support them in their struggle.  (How warmly we were  greeted!  No wonder.  They see few outsiders these days.)  And I wanted to be engaged, more directly than I had been, in their cause, “for this [in Isaiah’s words] this  is a people robbed and plundered, they are all of them trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become a prey with none to rescue, a spoil with none to say, ‘Restore!’” (Isa. 42.22-23)  And the prophet asks, “Who among you will give ear to this, will attend and listen for the time to come?”—a question I was never able to get entirely out of my system.  So I decided to go and see, and listen, and somehow faithfully to respond.

We saw the security barrier.  That is what Israel calls it.  Where it is formed by giant concrete slabs, it is ten meters high, twice as high as the Berlin wall.  It has one clean side, and one graffiti-strewn side.  It snakes its way through the hills surrounding Jerusalem, cutting settled areas off from open land—land declared unused and open to confiscation.  It almost surrounds, or fully surrounds, ancient villages, cutting the people off from family, jobs, commercial life, olive groves.  It dominates what once was the commercial center of Bethlehem, a wasteland almost next door to the Intercontinental Hotel where (even while we were there) Secretary Condoleeza Rice met with President . Abbas and others of the Palestinian Authority, to set up this month’s Annapolis peace conference.  (A conference for which we heard zero optimism of success, and much foreboding for the consequences of failure.)

Most of the security barrier is not a concrete-slab construction, but a chain-link fence with motion sensors, military-only roads on both sides, plus an earth ditch, plus a second fence, running across hills, again cutting farmers off from their orchards.  (We learned that Palestinian farmers have increasingly abandoned intensive farming—vegetables—because water for irrigation is no longer allowed them.  Nor is the JorrdanRiver itself, that gives the West Bank it’s name, accessible to Palestinians.  It is a vast military-occupied zone.  Some say the Wall is “the water wall,” all about water rights.

DSCN0616The security barriers have some gates, like the one we saw at Bi’lin, a village in the northern part of the West Bank.  There we met with leaders of the local Peace and Justice Committee, an association formed around the protests that sprang up months ago against the barrier.  At first the demonstrations were daily; now they are weekly.  At first they were entirely local; now they attract such “internationals” as can make their way there.  A courageously-made video shows non-violent protestors taunting soldiers, being beaten with clubs, being dragged away under arrest.  There are small victories to report: the Bi’lin protesters have succeeded in gaining a legal order to move the security barrier part of the way off their ancestral lands.  Part of the way.  And here, as most remarkably through the land, there are voluntary associations (a. k. a. NGOs), creating a civil society, the sinews of a nascent democracy. Maybe Israelreally is creating Palestine.

These walls and fence systems serve various purposes, but the primary purpose seems apparent: to demark and protect the illegal settlements which dot the landscape, regularly on hilltops (illegal according to international law, which forbids appropriation of occupied lands).  The map of the West Bank area is a crazy quilt of Palestinian towns, Israeli settlements and “outposts.”  For security, of course.  And if these trailer parks grow into permanent colonies, what can we say?  It is called “natural increase.”   The settlements need soldiers to protect them, of course, and they need roads—restricted to settlers and military—so that the settlers can commute to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem unimpeded.  Not to worry, the World Bank is paying for underpasses in some places to allow local Palestinians to pass underneath.  The new Israeli roads are big and beautiful.    Some are still open to Palestinians, because the alternative roads, just for them, haven’t  been completed.  One will link the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, now almost totally severed by “greater Jerusalem,” a Jerusalem even Herod the Great could not have dreamed; it will take Palestinians far around the city, to the east, eliminating any passage through Jerusalem.  Along these roads our guide pointed out what they mean by “making the desert bloom”: stumps in neat rows, where Palestinian orchards once stood.  Palestinians ask: Does this security barrier really keep suicide bombers out of Israel, when there are plenty of Palestinians already living inside Israel?  Does it have other purposes, in fact?  No wonder they call it the apartheid wall.

We went to Nablus, Ramallah, and Jenin (a major city that did not even make it into my Lonely Planet guidebook—lonely indeed!)  Also to Hebron and Bethlehem, Jerusalem, where we saw the ancient and the modern, the Church of the Holy Sepulchur and the Holocaust Museum; where I stood at the Western Wall one night, shoulder to shoulder with Jews, many in orthodox garb, and prayed for those closest to me although far, far away—my parents, wife, children, grandchildren.

In Haifa, in northern Israel, we visited a Palestinian medical doctor and his family and neighbors: successful and apparently comfortable people, who professed to have no influence at all on the policies of their government.  I suspect they say that  to spare themselves too much strain.  But they are working to redress the radical inequality in funding of children’s education, in a system that strictly segregates Jew and Arab.  The ratio is something life 7 shekels to 1.

So many incongruities!  Sitting together on a porch high above HaifaBay, a beautiful sunset evening sight, looking down upon the place from which, in 1948, thousands of Palestinians were herded at gunpoint and into boats, into exile in Lebanon a few miles north.  Not all made it.  Also in Israel we visited Tel Aviv, the city they claim was built on bare sand.  There we met Eitan Bronstein, of Zachrot—an organization for “Remembrance of Destroyed Villages”  He showed us, in photographic displays of villages now erased from the cityscape without so much as a placard.  He does not hesitate to use the term “ethnic cleansing.”

Eitan, an Israeli Jew, also advocates a one state solution, meaning that Isreal would have to abandon its Zionism and become a secular, multi-religious state.  No time soon!  And yet the alternative, the seemingly practical “two-state solution,” looks like  death by a thousand compromises.  It is hard not to despair of any solution.

We also visited the unrecognized village of Ein Hod, a village not quite destroyed but merely displaced from its ancient locale by an Israeli “artists’ colony”—well, old is quaint!  Their restaurant, high on a hill with the Mediterranean in the distance, served the most delightful food of our trip.  Hmm. Some day the Israelis may realize that theArab markets have more tourist value than all the Burger Kings and imitation Starbucks in the world.  Markets flourish in Jerusalem, on the very streets walked by Romans.  In Hebron, a city several millennia old, the market is mostly shuttered, by order of the military; the market streets are covered with nets to catch the garbage and trash thrown down from above by  Israeli settlers, encamped in apartment settlements in their midst.  We also saw the home of a local activist, who we met, locked away by the army behind a gate.

We met many remarkable people in meeting after meeting.  Matt Shein, an American now retired from IBM, moved from Connecticut to Jerusalem to be near children and grandchildren. A religious Jew, he was frank with us about his commitment to the Israeli policies.  He misses Ariel Sharon, who gave him confidence.   The issue is trust, he said, trust alone: Talk of peace all you want, the Palestinians have proved themselves untrustworthy again and again.  If somebody breaks into your house, he asks, and you drive him out, do you turn around and give him everything he came after?  We were admonished to be polite, and aside from a little skirmishing about historical facts, polite we were.

One evening we met Khaled Althweb, a Hamas councilman from Bethlehem.  He began: “In the name of Allah, the most merciful, we thank you for coming to listen to the Palestinian people, and talking about the Palestinian cause.  Many United Nations resolutions have been trampled in the dust.  The UK started the trouble, and now the US carries it on—vetoes in the Security Council, not being serious about peace, strategic alliance with Israel. . . . The Palestinian people demand a state within the 1967 borders [the so-called green line drawn at the armistice of the Six Day War, preemptively started by Israel].  The victims accept but not the victimizers.  . . . You need to see the root of our difficulty. . . .  Israeli policy is pushing our people to be violent.  But we don’t love violence; we seek peace.  Ask the Christians how good are the relations between them and Muslims.  We are not hostile to the Christian religion.  Sometimes our anger is expressed in violence.”  I pressed are Mr. Althweb on the question of suicide bombs.  “God forbids you to fight those who do not fight you,” he said, and Islam condemns the September 11 bombings, for any action must be done in the place where the oppression happens.  Beyond this he would not go—unwilling, I’m pained to say, to repudiate suicide bombing for the absolute immorality that it is.  It’s not hard to understand why endless subjugation and humiliation     can end this way.  But to understand all is not to forgive all.

Consider Geroge Saadeh, the vice mayor of Bethlehem, who has chosen forgiveness.  He appears in the very powerful documentary film, “Encounter Point,” in which Israeli and Palestinian parents of children killed in the conflict come together, seeking a way beyond hatred and revenge.  Mr. Saadeh told us his story: Going to the grocery store one evening with his wife and two young daughters, and approaching an intersection where there were Israeli army vehicles but no soldiers in view, suddenly they came under fire.  The last words he ever heard from his younger daughter, in the back seat behind him, was, “Daddy, they’re shooting at us.”  He too was seriously injured, and in the van taking them to the hospital one of the soldiers said, “Sorry, we made a mistake.”  They had thought it was the car of similar description they were looking for.  Shoot first, ask questions. . . never.  No official apologies, no compensatory payment, nothing—but, of course, for that would be to admit culpability.  Now Mr. Saadeh speaks of forgiveness, and calls it a tragic accident.  I do not think I could.

Or consider Hiyan Subhi, who was inspired by her eldest son, Imad, “the light of her life,” to create an art center for women in Jenin (the unrecognized Palestinian city of the guidebook, where they have a huge statue of a horse constructed by an Italian artist out of scraps from wrecked ambulances).  With Imad’s younger sister acting as interpreter, Hiyan told how her son’s newspaper was shut down by the occupation, how then he worked for the Reuters News agency, and how one day during the Second Intefada (“shaking-off” in Arabic) while photographing the destruction of electric poles with a bulldozer, he was shot dead by an Israeli soldier. She gave copies of this commemorative photo by Imad, the kind of pastoral scene he loved.  “The light of her life” lived on in the women’s art center she founded.

We encountered many people on this journey: students and professors, activists and organizers, political figures and United Nations agents—among them many practitioners of the tough-minded virtues of the voluntary association.  Call it the ethics of timely relevance.  What hope can we cling to in this decade-after-decade crisis?  The persistence of hope, kept alive by communities and networks of friends.  The denial of powerlessness, manifested in the will to organize.

Finally, consider Rabbi Arik Aschermann, who leads Rabbis for Human Rights, the only group, he said, that brings together all brands of Jewish religious leaders.  He speaks passionately—in denunciation of Palestinian violence against Israel and its people, and equally against Israeli violence and oppression.  He tells how he grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, where he learned to equate Judaism with justice.  Emigrating to Israel he was shocked to find a nationalistic religion that did not share that view.  He preaches “a humanistic understanding of Torah,” he said, and courageous activism.  He said, “It all comes down to hope.  We and the Palestinians have been living in depression, in hopelessness, for the last seven years [since the Second Intifada].  On both sides they do not believe that the other side wants peace.”  On April 15, 2004, he tells, he was in a nearby village and saw a young Palestinian being physically manhandled by the military.  Later he read how this fellow described the incident: “A tall Jewish man with a skull-cap came to my rescue and told me not to be afraid.”  It was a moment of healing.

Oh, yes, we also saw many “holy land” sites, more than I have time to name.  We sailed the Sea of Galilee on Sunday morning, and there on “the Jesus boat” I preached—ah, much more briefly than this morning!—to our little UU band.  I recalled the Gospel story of Jesus preaching from a boat to the people on shore. And how he “did not speak to them without parable.”  (Mark 4)   I said the Gospel also tells that he stilled  a violent storm  in this very place.  We today can recognize this storm as the storm in our hearts, the fear and anger and despair that beset us, for all manner of reasons, and especially when we are met with passionately felt contests, setting whole peoples against one another.  With a faith strong enough to “fear no evil,” these storms are stilled.  Then we sang “Spirit of Life, come unto me: . . . Blow in the wind, rise in the sea, move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.”  The words are both prayer and parable.  With them we pray that our hands may do the work of “giving life the shape of justice.”  Hands that harvest olives where walls would deny access.  Hands that greet strangers, who are friends ever after.  Hands that help our very words to embody our deepest commitments, and give life the shape of justice.












Vaclav Havel: Taking Time Seriously

Words for the 90th Anniversary Celebration of the Unitarian Church in Prague, Czech Republic, on April 15, 2012, here abbreviated and supplemented

by George Kimmich Beach

We know the meaning of 1968, the year that the Soviets crushed the Prague Spring.  A year later we found the names of its tragic leaders, “Dubcek — Svoboda”, still painted on walls in out-of-the-way places.  And we know the meaning of 1977, when Vaclav Havel and the other authors of the Charter 77 issued that famous declaration of human rights.  And we know the meaning of 1989, the year of your miraculously nonviolent “Velvet Revolution.”  We rejoiced with you, at last!

We measure our lives by such world-changing events.  James Luther Adams spoke of “taking time seriously” as the touchstone of an authentic liberal faith, a faith that “reads the signs of the times” and acts on its commitments.  He made this phrase the title of an autobiographical essay, written in 1939, when your Unitaria was still flourishing  under Rev. Norbert Capek.  Already in 1938 Adolf Hitler had, with Western acquiescence, taken the first item on his agenda of conquest, the Czech “Sudetenland.”  Adams witnessed the Hitler Youth marching in Nuremberg more than a decade earlier.  Nazi intentions and coming world war were ever more apparent.

In the face of these events, Adams’s adopted Unitarianism seemed to him complacent, lax, uncommitted.  As religious liberals we believed in progress and reason and democracy—all good things; but for dictatorship and irrationality and regress into hatred, we were utterly unprepared.  We had not yet learned, he said, to take time seriously.

Twelve years ago, when Barbara and I were last here, your democratic institutions were again firmly rooted.  Vaclav Havel was already serving his second term as President.  They say the sheen had worn off his public image, as always happens in the rough and tumble of politics (ask President Obama!)  Still, at his funeral last December he was honored by deep and widely shared expressions of grief.  His memoir, To the Castle and Back (2008), reveals the inner life of a hero, but what a self-effacing hero he was!  Joseph Campbell notes that “the hero’s journey” follows the same path in virtually all the myths: venturing outward and returning inward.  So was Havel conscious of venturing far and risking all in the public arena, and finally returning to his private sphere: to the Hradcany, the ancient and magnificent castle which is the seat of Czech government, and back once more to the moderate world of domesticity and work and introspection.

To publish self-reflections and confess self-doubts is unusual in a statesman; but it humanizes and endears.  I love these words, coming near the end of his memoir: “I’m convinced that my existence—like everything that has ever happened—has ruffled the surface of Being, and that after my little ripple, however marginal, insignificant and ephemeral it may have been, Being is and always will be different from what it was before.”   He does not speak of “God,” but his Being does rate a capital B.  Paul Tillich’s term for God is “being itself.”  James Luther Adams spoke of “the covenant of being”—God as binding all things together in one interrelated web.  God, Adams said, is “the community forming power,” a power at work within time and history.

Just so, Vaclav Havel gives his capital-B Being a place in time: “I have simply believed that what is once done can never be undone and that, in fact, everything remains forever.  In short, Being has memory.”  In Havel’s “Being-ology” we can say that by celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Czech Unitaria we have created our own “ruffles on the surface of Being.”  Hereafter, even forever, in Havel’s words,  “Being is and always will be different from what it was before.”  We are here today not only to refresh our spirits, but to refresh the memory of Being itself.

Vaclav Havel’s long essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” was published in a book of the same title in 1979, together with essays by various kindred spirits and the text of Charter 77. Havel begins: “A spectre is haunting eastern Europe, the spectre of what in the West is called ‘dissent.’  This spectre did not appear out of thin air.  It is a natural and inevitable consequence of the present historical phase of the system it is haunting”—a system that strives tirelessly to eliminate “all expressions of nonconformity.”

Ah, “the present historical phase”!   Dr. Adams would have loved that, for he taught us to discern in social change the meaning of the present age, and to move with its spirit, the Zeitgist.   Havel’s manifesto, this ironic echo of the Communist Manifesto, is a call to “take time seriously.”

Havel raises a voice of dissent in the name of moral aims, fundamental values.  He says: “If the basic job of the ‘dissident movements’ is to serve truth–to serve the real aims of life—and if that necessarily develops into a defense of the individual and his or her right to a free and truthful life, . . . then another stage, . . . the most mature stage so far, is what Vaclav Benda has called the development of parallel structures.”  What are “parallel structures”?  New forms of social organization, outside and alternative to the official structures of the state.  He also calls it a “parallel polis,” or city.

A historical parallel: Unitarianism was also born as a “dissident movement” speaking for our human “right to a free and truthful life.”  And Unitarianism also is more than “a good idea.”  It founded a religious community outside of and alternative to the state church, a “free church.”  Just so, 90 years ago Nobert Capek called together this “parallel ecclesia”!

Havel is saying that the Velvet Revolution that he and his friends “called into Being” reaches maturity when it develops its own institutions and begins to work, to act, to create, without official permission, even against officialdom.  He goes on to insist that the aims of a “parallel polis” must be rooted in universal moral values:

“Historical experience teaches us,” he says, ”that any genuinely meaningful point of departure in an individual’s life usually has an element of universality about it.  . . . It is not something partial, accessible only to a restricted community. . . .  On the contrary it must be potentially accessible to everyone. . . .  It is not just the expression of . . . responsibility that individuals have to and for themselves alone, but responsibility to and for the world. . . . Jan Patocka used to say that the most interesting thing about responsibility is that we carry it with us everywhere.  This means that responsibility is ours, that we must accept it and grasp it here, now, in this place in time and space where the Lord has set us down, and that we cannot lie our way out of it by moving somewhere else, whether it be to an Indian ashram or to a parallel polis.  . . . Christianity is an example of an opposite way out: it is a point of departure for me here and now—but only because anyone, anywhere, at any time, may avail themselves of it.

“In other words, the parallel polis points beyond itself and only makes sense as an act of deepening one’s responsibility to and for the whole, as a way of discovering the most appropriate locus for this responsibility, not as an escape from it.”

This is a wonderfully simple moral principle.  Havel ascribes it to Jan Patocka, in whose memory he dedicates “The Power of the Powerless”: responsibility is something we carry with us wherever we go; we cannot escape it, for it is constitutive of our humanity.  Religion is not an escape hatch from the responsibility to discern and choose and act, but a pathway deeper into time and history. Havel speaks of “living within the truth” as the fundamental meaning of “responsibility.”  Such a life cannot be defined by a set of rules.  It can only be defined by our commitment to live responsibly in the time and place where we find ourselves.  By taking time seriously.

Vaclav Havel did not claim to be a religious leader.  But he articulated a vision of what he called “the human order” which must transcend any political order:  “Above all,” he said, “any existential revolution should provide hope of a moral reconstitution of society, which means a radical renewal of the relationship of human beings to what I have called the ‘human order,’ which no political order can replace.  A new experience of being, a renewed rootedness in the universe, a newly grasped sense of ‘higher responsibility,’ a new-found inner relationship to other people and to the human community—these factors clearly indicate the direction in which we must go.”

So Havel and his friends in the Charter 77 movement set out to articulate something that they believed in, something worth risking their lives for, something that would draw diverse people into a unified movement and struggle.  The very act of articulating their aims becomes an historic “sign.”  He asks, “Is not the attempt to create an articulate form of ‘living within the truth’ and to renew the feeling of higher responsibility in an apathetic society really a sign of some kind of rudimentary moral reconstitution?   . . . “

He continues: “I know from thousands of personal experiences how the mere circumstance of having signed Charter 77 has immediately created a deeper and more open relationship and evoked sudden and powerful feelings of genuine community among people who were all but strangers before.  This kind of thing happens only rarely, if at all, even among people who have worked together for long periods in some apathetic official structure.  It is as though the mere awareness and acceptance of a common task and a shared experience were enough to transform people and the climate of their lives, as though it gave their public work a more human dimension. . . .”

This kind of thing happens only rarely.  But something like it seems to have happened 90 years ago, here, when, we are told, “over a thousand people gathered and proclaimed out loud: ‘In love of truth and freedom, and in the spirit of the greatest revivalists of humankind, we join to the service of God and humanity’. . . ,”  and so founded the Religious Society of Czech Unitarians.

Never underestimate the power of moral idealism and religious vision: they seem so powerless—until they are articulated and affirmed as present realities, until we experience them and work together for them.  Havel concludes “The Power of the Powerless” with these words:  “For the real question is whether the ‘brighter future’ is really always so distant.  What if, on the contrary, it has been here for a long time already, and only our own blindness and weakness has prevented us from seeing it around us and within us, and kept us from developing it?”  Here Vaclav Havel affirms and invites the future in the same way that Jesus affirms and invites the kingdom of God: as a reality that is powerful when we awaken to it, a mystery already present and, in the power of hope, yet to come.

This is to take time seriously—as persons within the human family, as nations within the community of nations: cast off apathy and self-doubt, and lay hold of the spiritual and moral resources that are already at hand, within us and all around us, present and yet to come.  And yes, not only as persons and nations, but also as a religious community, within the covenant of Being.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Capt. Howard Stoodle permalink
    January 27, 2011 5:08 am

    A rich and positive site which I will study often. Thanks for including me in your circle of knowledge.

  2. Qiyamah A. Rahman permalink
    January 27, 2011 9:52 am

    Good to hear from you and to see what you are doing. I am sure I will be following you blog. It appears very informative and about things I am interested in. I have a blog that I use as a journal mostly reflecting on things going on in society and topics that move me to put pen to paper (

    ps You have a very sophisticated blog. I came to the essays & sermons page to explore what you had and it had already put in my name and email address. That is impressive!

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