Sunday, December 20, 2015

The promise of unity and self-sacrifice turns the discontented into true believers

Eric Hoffer was an American social philosopher and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  In 1951, he published his classic treatise, The True Believer, which sought to make sense of the horror of World War II. Although the book is less than 200 pages in length, it is not a particularly breezy read. But it is an important treatise, especially in our day of global terrorism, including the most recent attacks in Paris. His words have never been more relevant. Although the following interview is imaginary, the responses are pure Eric Hoffer.
What do you mean by “mass movements”? There are three types: religious, political, and revolutionary. All three share the same understanding, that no movement can be propelled by tapping into discontent. The leaders must ignite in the followers a sense of extravagant hope—the hope of a heavenly kingdom or heaven on earth or world dominion.
What kind of people are good candidates for such a movement? Not the destitute; they are too busy trying to survive. And not the conservatives; they are content with the way things are. The best candidates are those who are frustrated and discontented with the status quo: the misfits, outcasts, minorities, youth, and, finally, the sinners, because a guilty conscience can be dramatically eased by dedication to an irresistible cause.
And the object of their devotion? The candidates must be convinced that some astounding leader or compelling doctrine will give them a sense of power and salvation. They must believe that their future will be indescribably beautiful.
What is required of a true believer? They must want to discard their self. They must be ready to dedicate themselves to a cause—to be unified with that cause—and to be willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives. Having lost faith in themselves, they crave a kind of new life, as driven by a holy plan. The act of becoming selfless has enormous appeal and is a real boost to self-esteem.
You write that true believers are “prone to make-believe.” I’m really talking about the theater of ritual, ceremony, and dramatic performance. Hitler dressed eighty million Germans in costumes and staged a kind of tragic opera. At the same time Churchill cast the people of London as heroes when bombs were falling from the sky. For them both, the audience for this spectacle was posterity. Their followers were reminded that their ancestors were watching them. When faith is waning, the spectacle—the make-believe—will linger on.
Why would true believers uphold a doctrine that is illogical? What you must understand is that for the true believer it is not the logical meaning of doctrine that counts; it is its certitude. The doctrine is not judged by its profundity, but by how well the individual is separated from his own autonomy. Listen to the proclamation of Martin Luther: “So tenaciously should we cling to the world revealed by the Gospel, that were I to see all the Angels of Heaven coming down to me to tell me something different, not only would I not be tempted to doubt a single syllable, but I would shut my eyes and stop my ears, for they would not deserve to be either seen or heard.” 
Only the heretics rely on reason? Exactly. The followers are always taught to believe with their hearts, not their minds. This is a critical injunction for all true believers—whether political or religious. In 1934, Rudolph Hess swore in the entire Nazi party. His emphasis on faith was clear: “Do not seek Adolph Hitler with your brains; all of you will find him with the strength of your hearts.” The Nazi agenda was to strip all individuals of their moral independence; only then could the masses be molded to suit the needs of the movement.
Are the believers turned into puppets? I don’t use that word. I will say this: Every radical mass movement—church, nation, or party—seeks to vilify the helpless and sinful self. When that is accomplished, salvation is found in the doctrine of the holy corporate body.
What are the true believers being saved from? From two things really. First, the followers are saved from the emptiness of their lives, but, secondly, from the devil or, if you prefer, the enemy. Every mass movement needs an enemy, especially a foreign enemy, to galvanize the troops. Hitler was once asked if the Jew needed to be destroyed. He responded, “No, we should have then to invent him. It is essential to have a tangible enemy, not merely an abstract one.”  The more tangible the devil, the more powerful the movement.

Currently there is a horrific maelstrom of violence in the Middle East with deadly tentacles creeping around the world. Could Eric Hoffer’s counsel from the preface of The True Believer be any more germane?  He wrote, “The true believer is everywhere on the march, and both by converting and antagonizing he is shaping the world in his own image. And whether we are to line up with him or against him, it is well that we should know all we can concerning his nature and potentialities.”

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Our lives belong to the whole community

My wife, Nita, and I are dying. Maybe not immediately, but soon. After all, we are in our seventh decade of life, making us older than ninety-one percent of the American population. That gives one pause.
            With our own mortality in mind, this year we have taken on the challenge of writing our last will and testament, a task that has forced us to consider our history and our legacy.

What is our history?
            My wife’s parents were Quaker missionaries in Guatemala for forty years. Growing up in Central America, Nita always believed that love was color-blind. Her best friend was Gloria, a beautiful brown-skinned little girl. For Nita, her favorite treat was to eat rice, beans, and corn tortillas at Gloria’s modest casita.  (They are still friends to this day.) In just a few years, Nita’s moral compass was set: Love had no borders.
            She began her professional career as a kindergarten teacher and, later, a reading specialist. Finally, for twelve years, she was the director of the migrant program for the Pasco School District. She was a pioneer in advocating reading in a child’s native language, knowing that reading fluency in a mother tongue is a prerequisite to literacy in a second language. She was a champion for many Hispanic students and young professionals, many of whom became teachers and administrators across the state.
            For myself, I have always had a calling for peace, community, and equality. In the 1970s, I registered as a conscientious objector, learned French, and, along with Nita, taught English as a foreign language in a small mountain village in Algeria for two years. Although we were still proud Americans, that experience taught us that the United States was not the center of the universe.
            We were enthralled by our students, many of whom spoke four languages—Berber, Arabic, French, and English. Not unlike young Americans, they had a passion for soccer, music, and the freedom of ideas. I remember one student, Mohammed Abdul, leading me into his bedroom, sliding a striped closet curtain to one side, and showing me six four-foot stacks of French and English novels. “I want to know about the world,” he said proudly. Thirty years later that same student sent me a letter that humbled me. “You were my favorite teacher,” Mohammed wrote, “and I have decided to become like you. I am now a high school English teacher in Tizi Ouzou. I want my students to know that the world is much bigger than we can ever imagine.”
            Those experiences taught me what it meant to become a citizen of the world. In February 2003, that realization was reaffirmed. George W. Bush had been pushing for a preemptive war on the false grounds that Iraq held weapons of mass destruction. Twenty thousand French patriots took to the streets of Montpellier, France. I was among the protestors, all of whom walked slowly, respectfully in funereal silence. I was touched by the French, who told me repeatedly, “We are not marching against Americans—we like Americans—we are marching for peace.”
            Looking back, my professional life was always dedicated to shaping character, building relationships, and creating consensus—even when such notions were occasional discounted as “soft” or “irrelevant” by a few hard-core executives.
            Today, as a semi-retired activist, educator, and writer, I am still an advocate for peace and community. In that respect, nothing much has changed.

What is our legacy?
            The fabric of our legacy echoes our history—in a word, a dedication to community.
            That passion was captured beautifully by the Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, who wrote, “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and, as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.”
            Those words resonate in our hearts like a thundering cascade. Indeed, our lives belong to the “whole community.” For that reason, my wife and I will always stand—even in death—for all members of the community. No one is excluded, from those who have not yet taken their first breath to those who are breathing their last—regardless of their social status, race, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, or gender. We have no qualifiers.
            Because we are childless, our last will and testament will reflect our historical affinities. Consequently, our financial legacy is very simple. It will be divided among the institutions that support international peace, social equality, community, and the fine arts (for even an activist is stirred by the human yearning to sing, dance, paint, and act).
            I don’t think I have ever thought more clearly about my mission. Perhaps that comes from my senescent vantage point. Perhaps it is the outcome of listening to the wisdom of my wife for nearly fifty years. Whatever the reason, I am persuaded that knowing my mission is a vital, if not my most important responsibility. It forces me to be deliberate, to align my actions to my purpose. For, as the American patriot, Alexander Hamilton, once cautioned, “Those who stand for nothing fall for anything.”

            As for me, I stand for community—world-wide community.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

In Defense of Freethinkers

            In the course of civilization—or what has passed as civilization—there have been a precious few courageous souls who have pushed against the tide of propriety.
In the mid-eighteenth century, when slavery was at its peak, the American Quaker John Woolman traveled from one farmhouse to the other and simply asked some troubling questions. What does the ownership of slaves do to your moral being?  What spiritual legacy does it leave for your children? He did not preach. He did not scold. He gently questioned. And, amazingly, he did it for thirty years. As a result of his persuasion, the Quakers were the first to outlaw the ownership of slaves, some one hundred years before the American Civil War.
On March 3, 1913, eight thousand women, led by Alice Stokes Paul, marched for women’s suffrage from the Capital to the White House.  Not everyone was in agreement. In the crush of antagonists, one hundred suffragists were hospitalized while the police looked the other way.
Abel Meeropol composed, and Billie Holiday sang, the haunting strains to “Strange Fruit”:  “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”  The year was 1939, and one club owner after the other disallowed Holiday from singing the soul-searching protest song.
These people were not always embraced by their compatriots. All too often they were reviled as enemies of the state.  But thanks to them—and to their inspired progeny—those days are gone. Today no mindful citizen would ever challenge their revolutionary pleas for the end of slavery, women’s inequality, and racist lynching.
And now I introduce another outrageous claim—one that, once again, may be reviled by the popular masses. Inspired by John Woolman, I will simply pose a few disquieting questions.  My hope is that the ideas may be considered mindfully—unfiltered by unchallenged doctrines. These are my questions:
Is God real? Did he create all living things? If he is real, does he love us more than we could ever imagine? Is his eye truly on the sparrow—and on every other living thing?
If God’s love is boundless, how is it possible that two of his smallest creatures—mosquitoes and tropical freshwater snails—are responsible for an annual death toll of one million people, most of whom are children? Are we being punished? Are we being taught a lesson? Is our faith being tested? Are we being taught to love God more fully, more purely?
Are Christians right when they argue that all evil comes from Satan? But if that is true, what do we do with Isaiah 45:7 that reads “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things”? Or what do we make of Lamentations 3:38 that reads, “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”
And is Satan even real? When Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” was he singling out the “rock of the church” as an omnipotent and evil fallen angel? Or was Christ merely drawing on the Hebrew translation of “Satan” as “an adversary”? Likewise, when Jesus referred to Judas as “a devil” was he telling the world that his disciple was indeed a monstrous demon, or was Judas, however flawed, just an ordinary human being?
And although one million annual deaths by mosquitoes and snails are horrific, what should we make of the forty-five-million global abortions each year?
Is God off the hook because humankind is blessed with free will? Was it not the Supreme Being who gave us independent will and an implacable sex drive?  Should not an omniscient God know what he was creating? Should he not have predicted the murderous wedding of two volatile and voracious human temperaments—sex and free will?
Would any decent father place his children—born and unborn—in the path of so much misery? When I was a child, my father might scold me or even apply a wakeup swat to my backside, but would he ever choose to kill me? Would any conscionable father murder his child to teach a lesson?
Those are my questions.
I realize that my inquires may go against the grain in a country where seventy-seven percent of the population believes in angels. I also understand that for many, perhaps for most, the concept of a loving God is comforting—what the evangelist, Billy Graham, celebrated as “life’s greatest joy.” For those believers I am genuinely happy that they have found a wellspring of peace.
However (to conclude with a few additional rhetorical questions), may the same grace be extended to a nonbeliever? May the source of personal peace be secular?  May a moral life be based on the scriptures of nature and social civility? May that creed be the extent of one’s faith? May nonbelievers live a life of independence—free from the restraints of doctrine or dogma? May they be guided by good sense and compassionate sensibilities?
To speak personally, for these precious few days on earth—a blink of an eye in cosmic chronology—may I live a life of peace and honor by the good graces that nature gave me? With deference to all other religious and philosophical penchants, may I be granted, without derision or disdain, the right to be a freethinker—a free man?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Tolerance requires both private and public victories

My brother Ray is my hero. What makes him heroic is his commitment to continuous spiritual growth. But that evolution has not been without its trials. When he and I were in our late twenties, I noticed that Ray was drifting away from me. It was a strange feeling. We had always been best pals, going one-on-one under the backyard basketball hoop in what was always “the match of the century.”  But a few years out of college, I sensed a shrouded reservation. Something was wrong. I could not pinpoint the source, but I could feel the heat.
            I finally kindled enough courage to confront him. “Ray, what’s going on?” I asked.  “What has separated you and me?”
            Then he said the words that broke my heart. “Don’t you know? The Bible teaches us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”
            I was speechless. In fact, we both were speechless—for thirty years.
            Then, after the death of our parents, Ray had an awakening. “Allen, I’m sorry,” he said in hushed tones. “I have not been a good brother to you. Can we try again?”
            “It’s all I’ve ever wanted,” I said. “But I have one condition. Can we both be nonjudgmental?”
            “I think I can do that.”
            “I think I can too.”
            Today, my brother and I meet every Saturday morning for breakfast. I would not relinquish that time together for the world. I soon discovered that Ray had grown exponentially during those long, silent years. He had learned about tolerance, reconciliation, and unconditional love. Most of all, he had learned how to embrace his renegade brother. 
            Ray tore down the wall of exclusivity and judgment—embracing Saint Paul’s definition of love as that which “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preserves.” That’s why I call him heroic. He broke the chains of legalism and replaced them with gossamer strands of brotherly love.
            With that model of tolerance in mind, there is another wall to consider—not one to tear down, but one to buttress.
            On the first day of 1802, Thomas Jefferson quoted the First Amendment in a one-page letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. He declared:

Religion is a matter which lies between Man and his God” and that the “legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.

            That wall of separation is a sacred tenet of our American history. In 1962, the Supreme Court heard the case of Engle v. Vitale and determined in a six-to-one decision that it was unconstitutional for state officials to require the recitation of an official prayer in public schools—that it was a breach of “the constitutional wall of separation between Church and State.”
            In the 1968 case of Epperson v. Arkansas, the Supreme Court ruled that the State of Arkansas violated the constitution by forbidding the teaching of evolution in any public school. The court decreed that “the state has no legitimate interest in protecting any or all religions from views distasteful to them.”
            Some American believers may argue that God’s law trumps man’s law. That may be true in the private domain of believers, where religious doctrines do not conflict with social laws. But in the public domain—the domain of the state and constitutional law—it is another story. As the Supreme Court has ruled, the state has no obligation to protect the church from distasteful views. Conversely, the church has no authority in matters outside its domain. Religion may rule the heart, but it does not rule the state.
            To his credit, Saint Paul astutely resolved all controversy by proclaiming that state law and God’s law are one.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1-2. Revised Standard Version.)

            Both august authorities—the authorities of the state (in the voices of Jefferson and the Supreme Court) and the authority of the church (in the voice of Saint Paul)—are in agreement. They have both commanded their citizens to obey the law of the state.
            What does this mean in today’s American society?  It means it is time for all citizens—believers and nonbelievers—to acquiesce to the law of the land. And yet acquiescence is not always the first choice for recalcitrant Americans. For example, on June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional. And yet, despite the affirmations from Jefferson to Saint Paul, believers have rallied to protest and even seek to reverse the decision in whatever way possible. Missouri’s Dent County commissioners voted to lower the courthouse flag “below half-staff” one day a month for a year out of mourning over the Supreme Court’s decision. Most 2016 republican presidential candidates have voiced their disapproval, some couching their displeasure in Christian language and pledging to reverse the decision through a constitutional amendment.
            Perhaps those politicians have ignored or do not fully understand the tenet of “the wall of separation.”  Or maybe they are unfamiliar with Romans 13—especially with Paul’s admonition in verse 10: “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
            So here is my sacred pledge: To honor the wall of separation of church and state, yes, but to crush the wall of judgment and declare with clarion conviction, “I may not believe as you—democrat, republican, gay, straight, believer, nonbeliever—but that disparity will never diminish my love for you.”
            My brother has proven to me that even the most devout believers can come to love an earnest nonbeliever. Can Americans build on that kind of private victory and extend it to a public victory—to expand their love for a brother to the love of all humankind?
            That model of democratic love is reflected in the closing paragraph of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. Despite his affinity for deism over traditional Christianity, the president wrote these words of inclusiveness: “[I] tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.”

            Isn’t it time for Americans to hold others—apostles and apostates—equal in “respect and esteem?”

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Male bonding offers a sanctuary for truth

I blame it on my mother—this longing I have for community. My mom was a full-blooded Greek who could make friends with a stranger as swiftly as one Mediterranean wave follows another. I’d like to think I inherited a trace of her calling for fellowship, and for that I am grateful.
            Three years ago I acted on her example by forming a small men’s group. Originally I thought there must be other men who felt as I and that they would surely invite me into their fold at any moment. So I waited by the telephone for the call that never came. Finally I realized that the making of a men’s club was up to me.
            My idea was to cast a small circle of guys who were bright, articulate, confident, and willing to be open. I found six men who easily qualified. At first we called ourselves “A Gathering of Men.” Then, in a moment of shameless hubris, one of the fellas said we should call ourselves “The Magnificent Seven” or “M7” for short. The name had just enough derision to stick.
            We meet twice a month over dinner for two to three hours. Our mission is to talk about whatever is important to us at the time. Sometimes the chatter is lightweight bantering about sports, movies, and politics. At other times it becomes a more cautious exploration into the stew of our misgivings: career changes, lost and found loves, the malaise of mortality.
            We are usually served by a young waitress we call Danny. She is an affable and hard-working twenty-year old with a winning smile and a delightful sense of humor. We like her style, and I’m sure she enjoys us. That’s why I was a little surprised by her reaction one night after dinner.
            “So, tell me,” Danny asked, “why do you boys meet twice a month?”
            “Oh, it’s just a time for some male bonding,” I said smiling, as I always do whenever she calls us “boys.”
            Danny laughed out loud. It was not a titter or a chortle; it was a tsunami guffaw—a sardonic tidal-wave of a whoop. Grown men bonding? How perfectly strange—as demented as organizing left and right sock drawers or hosting birthday parties for cats. In Danny’s eyes we were seven weird human beings. Suddenly our self-branding as “The Magnificent Seven” peeled off my face and pooled in my shoes.
            I tried to explain myself to my nascent friend, but I’m not sure I got it right.  So let me try again.
            What is male bonding anyway, and why would a bunch of guys want to do it?
            I define bonding as intimacy plus commitment.
            By intimacy I mean the willingness to be courageously transparent and considerately empathic. In other words, to speak the truth and listen for the truth.       
            By commitment I mean a willingness to bring a guest into our family—to celebrate his victories and seek to understand his missteps. There is no scolding or preaching, but there is nurturing and problem-solving. We are there for each other in times of joy and sorrow. The Magnificent Seven have shelled peanuts at baseball games, grilled steaks on an open fire, and lovingly encircled a member at his father’s funeral. We are present—one for the other—to my mind the perfect example of male bonding.
            Each member of M7 might say it differently, but I can tell you why I seek them out and why I call them “brothers.”
            First, there is something revitalizing about having a circle of friends who can look beyond my shortcomings. Recently one of our members said, “Knowing Allen takes an acquired taste.” And yet my gentle critic still stands by me. Yes, he knows I can be a martinet when it comes to standards of excellence. He acknowledges that I don’t suffer fools. And he is well aware that I am repelled by my own inconsistencies—that I’ll never be the man my dog thinks I am. Despite all that, he still loves me. I can tell by the way he teases me: not by vicious jabs of one-upmanship, but by a playful reporting of the obvious—that his friend Allen may admire himself a scintilla too much.
            Second, male bonding is a release. In the world of business (we are all professionals within the fields of education, psychology, insurance, medicine, and law), we attach our “game faces” with Super Glue. We are expected to perform with supreme confidence and competence. We need to get the right things done the right way and without a lot of coddling, which is just the way we like it. Still, in the workplace coworkers seldom ask how we are doing (unless, of course, they are cataloging our weaknesses).
            So when M7 gets together, it is a time to open up the valve cap and let the pressure bleed out. At the end of a two-hour dinner, it’s not uncommon for a member to say, “Wow, I really needed that. I feel like I can breathe again.”
            Third, the world requires us to be staid and politically correct. We have to be on our toes at all times, careful not to offend the boss, the client, and a wide range of institutions. So when our happy band of brothers is irreverent, profane, and politically provocative, it is a good thing. Why?  Because for 120 minutes we can speak the truth, even when the truth is forbidden by policy, doctrine, or social mores. We can say, “The emperor is wearing nothing at all” and not be crucified for our temerity.
            So I’m thankful twice over.  First, for my mom who taught me that life is sweeter when shared in community.  And, second, for the Magnificent Seven, who have enriched my life with equal measures of acceptance, release, and profanity—all wrapped up in a waft of sweat and bravado. Arrrgh!

            And that is why we seven—we mighty, perplexed, and vulnerable few—choose to reunite twice a month to slap each other on the back and ask, “So how ya doin’ anyway?”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Laws are unnecessary when morality is sufficient

            In the wake of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre in Charleston, the South Carolina governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds in Columbia. Although controversy remains, the national tide seems to favor Haley’s position. Wal-Mart, Sears, Target, EBay, and have announced that they will remove all Confederate flags from their product lines. In Mississippi, Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn has stated that the Confederate battle emblem is offensive and needs to be removed from the state flag. “We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us,” Gunn said.
            Despite these signs of appeasement, lowering the Confederate flag for good may be a long struggle. The flag was first raised on the South Carolina capitol grounds in 1962 as a recalcitrant reaction to advances in civil rights. In 2001 Mississippi voters insisted by a two-to-one margin that the Confederate battle emblem remain flying. A 2015 CNN poll reported that 75% of Southern whites described the flag as a symbol of pride, while only 18% identified it as a symbol of racism. (Not surprisingly, those numbers were reversed for black Southerners.)
            The South needs to be awakened.
            Of course such controversies are not limited to Dixie.
            In 1968 I graduated from Northwest Nazarene College (now University) in Nampa, Idaho. We called ourselves “The Crusaders.”  When that name was chosen, I’m sure the board of trustees was thinking about devotion to God. They probably did not consider that the Crusades ended in the slaughter of Moslems, Jews, and even Eastern Orthodox Christians. Despite such blasphemy, the Crusader mascot still stands to this day.
            Northwest Nazarene University needs to be awakened.
            A society becomes mindful of prejudices through spiritual evolution—when it realizes that we are all connected, that when one suffers we all suffer.
            Richland, Washington is the nearest community to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation where plutonium was manufactured during World War II.  On August 9, 1945 that plutonium was used in Fat Man, the bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan. Today many of the people in Richland remain proud of that heritage.
            In 1965 the atomic mushroom cloud was depicted on the coat of arms for Richland’s Columbia High School. In the 1970s the cloud was adopted as a logo on the school’s football uniforms. Then, on June 14, 1988 a Japanese delegation arrived at the renamed Richland High School to speak with students, teachers, and the World War II veteran principal Gus Nash. Two of the delegation members—Sakae Itoh and Hiroshi Hara—were survivors of the atomic bomb. They wanted to express their horror of nuclear warfare and, by extension, their angst over the mushroom cloud logo that was so proudly emblazoned on, among other regalia, Richland High School lettermen jackets.
            The discussion did not end well. “We can go back to history and recall a lot of things about the war,” Nash said late in the meeting. “I could say some things here that would be very disruptive to you people, but I’m not about to do this. I’m going to say one thing, and you should remember this. We did not start that war, and I think that should end it.” With that Nash walked out of the room to the applause of local attendees. Later 1,300 students overwhelmingly approved the mushroom cloud as the school’s logo.
            In all these cases—in Charleston, Nampa, and Richland—I am persuaded that the most powerful determinant of behavior is mores, the unspoken moral standards of the community. The French philosopher, Emile Durkheim, once said, “When mores are sufficient, laws are unnecessary; when mores are insufficient, laws are unenforceable.” 
            What does that mean?  It means that our moral standards are more powerful than any law, any mandate, any declaration. In other words, our actions are the natural fruit of our mores.
            Regarding Richland, forget the fact that 550,000 Japanese civilians were killed during World War II. That makes no difference if—and only if—the mores of the day hold ancient grudges or devalue other races. Forget that the high school logo of the atomic cloud would be tantamount to a Japanese school touting a logo of the capsized USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Can you image Americans tolerating that? Still, that logic makes no difference if the community’s mores are marinated in rebellious and chauvinistic bravado.
            When mores are deficient we are driven not by moral standards, but by the survival instinct of fight or flight. We are driven not by forgiveness, but by fear, arrogance, and revenge.
            Every individual who has clawed his or her way out of moral decay has endured a daunting journey of spiritual evolution. They are like the noble families of the historic Charleston church—like Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance, who tearfully said to the 21-year-old shooter, “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
            Nadine Collier is one whose mores incorporate forgiveness and redemption. I am inspired by such a model of compassion. She teaches me that in a crowd of booming, arrogant voices, of lethal belligerence, of youthful swagger and self-importance, there are still those who, in the words of Martin Luther King, “Look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
            During the First World War an anonymous Peace Prayer (erroneously attributed to St. Francis) passed from soldier to soldier in the mud trenches of France. That beautiful prayer captures what it means to be committed to a higher calling, where mores are sufficient and laws are unnecessary—where a society is awakened not by ego, but by spirit.

The Peace Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.


          Now that’s an awesome “coat of arms”—worthy of our highest aspirations.