John W. Simons, Commentary (sermon)Sermon given by National Guard chaplain John W. Simons at St. Philip's on May 10, 1970
Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me. Sticks and stones will break your bones and names will hurt you if you throw them long enough and particularly at men with loaded weapons. The tragic events at Kent State were tragic by the escalation of events that led up to that volley. A tragic play is one in which you know a series of happenings will produce a tragic end. You know the end will not be sweetness and light and want to halt the train of events, but cannot do so. How many of us have said that someone is going to get hurt badly if the expressions of discontent and our means of handling them do not change? One shocking thing is that some people wanted it to end that way. The radicals on the left who want to turn this tragedy to their own use and reactionaries on the right who want to do away with Bill of Rights to save the flag. A pox on both houses.
Words; we have made them so cheap that we have cheapened lives and lives are not cheap. Words, words, we spread them around as if there are not even spread out, but thrown in a pile like manure with even less creative results.
We have forgotten that words are powerful. They set attitudes and lead to actions. They can give a person dignity or strip him of respect. A word can wound or kill, or lead to that.
Our Lord Jesus warned us that actions begin with thoughts, which are often put into words. So he said, "You have learned that our forefathers were told 'do not commit murder; anyone who commits murder must be brought to judgement. If he abuses his brother he must answer for it in court; if he sneers at him he will have to answer for it in the fires of hell."
We have seen and heard high officials in both state and federal government sneer at those who they are suppose to be leading, and indeed, sneer at each other. They wonder why the youth are not respectful. In many cases the youth are not respectful of words, property or people; neither are adults. Who was breaking heads and property last week in the trucking strike? Youth?
We don't know how to listen, how can we talk? Without really listening and talking how can we creatively act?
Exactly 200 years ago British Troops were quartered on the Boston Commons and five Colonial citizens were killed as the troops tried to break up a mob. This became one of the series of events that led to the loss of the American colonies. Big daddy knows best and you will be punished if you don't listen to big daddy.
As I stood in the center of the commons of Kent on the edge of the command of Dent, American troops fired into a mob of students and four students are dead. As tragic as their death is that tragedy can become even worse if it becomes one of a series of events that leads to our losses of freedom. We will not lose that freedom because there is a communist under every rocky event, as many of our elders believe. Rather we will give up our freedom because it is too expensive. By we I mean those of us who are the so called middle America, middle aged, middle income and middle education. We will give our freedom away to whoever will give us quote "law and order".
We can send men to the moon and back, but we cannot find means of controlling a mob, except by gas and bullets. We would rather simit the right of assembly and petition that solves the mob control problem in a creative fashion. Some would like to limit the freedom of the press, because we don't like the way the news is handled. I can say from first hand experience this past week that the press is much more responsible that many of it's critics. I have heard of a survey that showed more than half the people questioned would be prepared to set aside temporarily the Bill of Rights in order to straighten this country out. It is a lot easier to back into a police state than fight your way out to freedom. A free society is one in which there is a lot of tension and push and pull; it is never perfect and solutions are never simple. We ought to all grow up and realize that there are no simple answers to problems that are people problems. People are not simple, we are very complex.
As I do not agree with those who would have peace at any price, neither do I agree with those who would have what they call law and order at the price of freedom and justice.
We desperately need to declare a moratorium on cheap words and offensive on deep listening. The great bulk of us needs to get involved and by clear words and actions correct the ills of our society aid in the process hold in check those radicals on both extremes who think they are gods, and can control our lives