Love vs. Hate

Reading 1:

A Network of Mutuality by Martin Luther King

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,
tied in a single garment of destiny.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to
justice everywhere...
Before it is too late, we must narrow
the gaping chasm between our proclamations
of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate
perpetuate war.
One day we must come to see
that peace is not merely a distant
goal that we seek but a means by
which we arrive at that goal.
We must pursue peaceful ends
through peaceful means.
We shall hew out of the mountain
of despair, a stone of hope.


Reading 2:

from The Cure at Troy  
By Seamus Heaney
Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.
The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.
History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime, the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles and cures and healing wells.
Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.


Sermon Part 1

Once again the media bring pictures and descriptions of conflict and violence to our doorstep.  This time it is from Burma.  You have probably seen the images – they’ve been splashed on the covers of our local newspapers and covered widely on television.

The monks with their shaved heads in their red robes are marching. They chant as they walk along in orderly lines – many walk with hands joined in a prayerful position.  Their faces show no anger or hatred - they look peaceful, calm.  People lining the streets bow to them.  They link arms to form a human barrier to protect the monks. The demonstrations grow.  A hundred thousand people fill the streets of Burma to press for freedom.

There is a feeling of hope – of excitement.  Maybe this time there will be a change.  Maybe this time, it will be peaceful.  Maybe this time freedom will come without blood being spilled.

At first, the authorities act with restraint. The monks are almost universally revered.  The military leaders eager to protect their positions know that strong action against the monks will further inflame the public mood. Eventually though, the restraint melts away. Images and stories emerge of armed police firing directly into crowds of peaceful demonstrators. Police and pro-government thugs beat monks and laypeople alike until they lie bloody and immobile. Images…  A pair of sandals left on the road in a pool of blood. A Japanese journalist thrown to the ground and executed for recording the advancing police.  

The scale of the crack-down is undoubtedly greater than we have seen.  Some reports now say that 200 have already been killed.  Reliable information is very hard to come by.  Under ordinary circumstances, foreign media are not welcome in Burma.  Local media is tightly controlled by the state.  And now, communication into and out of Burma has been all but eliminated.  Internet access within Burma – the means by which images and stories had been getting out of Burma – is shut down.  Telephone and email communication has also been restricted.  A dark curtain has been lowered so that the outside world can not see or hear the horrors taking place… They hope that we will forget what we have seen…

Let’s step back for a moment from the present crisis.  It is important that we understand something about the history that led to today’s situation.  We are all easily influenced by images and stories of repression and know that we must be thoughtful enough to understand the overall reality before responding.

Burma, which is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, was a part of the British Empire from the late 1800s until 1948, when it became an independent republic.  Sadly, Burma’s period of independent democracy did not last long.  In 1962, General Ne Win led a coup that toppled the civilian government.  The government has been dominated by the Burmese military in the 45 years since then.  The military renamed the country Myanmar.  Opposition groups and some western countries continue to use the name Burma as they do not recognise the legitimacy of the ruling military government or its authority to rename the country.

In 1988, unrest throughout the country led to widespread pro-democracy demonstrations.  In the crackdown that resulted, hundreds – if not thousands – of demonstrators were massacred by the security forces.  In the resulting instability, another General – Saw Maung – staged a coup and declared martial law the next year.  

With the military government under intense international pressure, in May of 1990, free elections were held for the first time in nearly 30 years.  The National League for Democracy – the party of Aung San Suu Kyi – won the elections decisively.  Suu Kyi – the daughter of a hero of Burmese independence – became a powerful symbol of freedom and change in Burma.  She was awarded the Nobel Peace prize the following year.  Sadly, the military junta annulled the election results and refused to step down. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrested, where she has remained for nearly 17 years.

Under British colonial administration, Burma was one of the wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia. It was once the world’s largest exporter of rice. It produced 75% of the world’s teak wood. It supplied oil through the Burmah Oil Company.  Its population was highly literate. 

Despite its proven potential, Burma is now one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia.  In addition, human rights abuses by the military government are rampant.  There is no independent judiciary.  The military controls the media – even censoring internet content available to the Burmese people.  Human rights organisations report that forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common in Burma.  They have also documented the military’s use of sexual violence – including systematic rapes and the taking of sex slaves for the military.

"We meet hate head-on with love.  We send our love to all the people in the world. We should not kill each other."

This is what the monks are chanting.

"We meet hate head-on with love.  We send our love to all the people in the world. We should not kill each other."

In these words, we hear echoes of the great peacemakers.  Of Martin Luther King, of Nelson Mandella, of Ghandi – those who led peaceful struggles against oppression.


Responsive Reading

Mohandas K. Ghandi

If someone with courage and vision can rise to lead in non-violent action, the winter of despair can, in the twinkling of an eye, be turned into the summer of hope. 


Non-violence is not a garment to put on and off at will.  Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our being. 


Non-violence, which is a quality of the heart, cannot come by an appeal to the brain.  It is a plant of slow growth, growing imperceptibly, but surely. 


If a single person achieves the highest kind of love it will be sufficient to neutralize the hate of millions. 


If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children. 


The future depends on what we do in the present. 



Sermon part 2

The moment came when prayerful monks chanting messages of love came face to face with the police forces intent on stopping them – Armed men with fear, anger, and hatred in their hearts.

I wanted to see the police throw down their arms and bow to the monks.  I wanted to see them embrace the demonstrators.  I imagined guns turning to flowers in the face of so much loving-kindness directed at them.  I wanted the sea of police to part and for the demonstrators to be able to walk through unharmed.  I wanted the hand of God to reward piety and love with peace.  I wanted the very earth to quake with the force of that love.

These things did not happen.

Love was met with violence and brutality.  It has been before and it will be again. 

Real life is much more complicated than we would like it to be.

It is tempting now to lose heart – to call the demonstrators naïve.  How could the monks think that their peaceful approach would change anything?  How could they allow the people of Burma to be put in such danger?   How can anyone think that folded hands and chants of loving-kindness can defeat guns, tear gas, and prisons?

Our lofty values and deep convictions are tried in times such as these. Must violence be met with violence and hatred with hatred?

Where is the miracle we dream of?  Where is the proof that love does conquer hate?

As much as we would like one, we are not waiting for a miracle.  Guns will remain lethal, police will follow orders, and entrenched military rulers will make their people suffer in order to protect their positions. 

But something has happened indeed.  In the unrest of 1988, demonstrations turned violent and destructive, which gave the military an excuse and greater public support for a brutal crack down.  There was more killing then and there was less outrage from the world community.

The peaceful demonstrations and the gentle loving people we have seen in Burma have touched our hearts.  They have shown us another way to be and they may just have reawakened in us an awareness of how we are all connected – a truly felt sense that, as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to, justice everywhere...”

We may feel agonised at the suffering in Burma.  We may feel a crushing sense of disappointment that freedom has not come yet to these people.  We may feel helpless and frustrated.  But we are not helpless and we are not powerless.

19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker promised that ‘the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’  Martin Luther King famously borrowed these words to reassure his disheartened followers.

But I tell you as they did: That arc does not bend on its own!  Ours are the hands and hearts of the universe and it is up to all of us to see to it that the pressure toward justice is always present.

Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador who was murdered in 1980 was thinking of this long gentle arc when he wrote these words:

We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities. 
We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way…
We may never see the end results…
We are prophets of a future not our own.

We are free to speak out in ways that the Burmese people only dream of. Aung San Suu Kyi herself begged the people of the West: 'Please Use Your Liberty to Promote Ours.' 

We can not free the Burmese people on our own, but we can plant a seed.  We can water seeds already planted.  We can do something.  And as Margaret Mead put it, ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.’

Burma’s military junta hopes that we will forget what we have seen. They know that pressure from the rest of the world can wipe out whatever little legitimacy they have. It can weaken their power base. It can deprive their forces of guns and ammunition. It can deprive them of their posh cars and homes.  

Let us not forget what we have seen and what we have felt.  We can make a difference.  We are connected to one another.  We are “…tied in a single garment of destiny.”  “We shall hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”

So may it be with you.