Find the Cost of Freedom

Find the Cost of Freedom

9 January 2011 © Rev. Fred L Hammond

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

“Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground

Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down.

Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground.

Mother earth will swallow you, lay your body down.[1]


This song welled up within me as I listened in horror at the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and eighteen other people including the death of Federal Judge Rolls in Tucson, Arizona.

In my mind, my initial thoughts of yesterday’s event went something like this: Who is behind this attack.  Was it domestic terrorists connected to a right extremist group?  If so, will there be more attempts on others who do not share their ultra-conservative agenda?

I am ashamed to say the news that the assailant was mentally unbalanced brought me a sigh of relief and released some of those fears.  But I am equally afraid that my initial response is more typical than not.  But I am not so sure that I should surrender to framing this event solely as a very tragic but isolated one.

Dianna Butler Bass, on her blog on Beliefnet.com wrote:  “We already know what form the analysis of the assassination attempt will be.  Everyone will say what a tragedy it is.  Then commentators will take sides.  Those on the left will blame the Tea Party’s violent rhetoric and “Second Amendment solutions.”

Those on the right will blame irresponsible individuals and Socialism.  Progressives will call for more gun control; conservatives will say more people should carry guns. Everyone will have some sort of spin that benefits their party, their platform, and their policies.”[2]

And she is correct.  The opening for the left to begin their blaming came when Pima County Sheriff Dupnik in his report stated, “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately, Arizona I think has become t…he capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

While I believe that Sheriff Dupnik is correct in his statement, the blame also cannot be fully framed as a result of vitriolic language.
And my framing it as a tragic but isolated event also does not serve us well by pointing the finger at destructive behaviors of mental illness as the scapegoat.

Both are a symptom of something else that is endemic to American Society.  If a caricature of Americans were to be drawn, it would depict us as an inherently violent people.  We talk peace but our actions are violent.  Our history from the earliest days of European settlements all along the eastern seaboard has been one of violence against what we call the other.  My own direct ancestors were responsible for the some of the most brutal massacres against the native people in Manhattan; many of them were given in marriage to the European settlers.  So even when we were connected by blood relations, our nation’s earliest settlers were spreading the seeds of unbridled violence into our nation’s DNA against the other.

In our 235 year history, we have had peace for only 40 of those years.  For 195 years we have been at war with someone that we did not like for some reason; usually because we wanted what they had, namely land that would become incorporated into what is called the United States or oil. We are not known for being a peaceful people.

Truth be told, we European Americans who have been the rulers of this country, do not like people who do not look like us, talk like us, or think like us.  Our history confirms this on every level.  We have consistently treated immigrants inhospitably.  We hated the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, and the Jews. Before any group could be fully integrated into our society they had to first experience, for lack of a better word, a hazing of disdain; complete with violence and oppression.  And that is for people whose skin color is pale like the English, what we did to people whose skin color was darker is beyond any sane person’s imagining.

So this heinous act yesterday is more than just a response to vitriol by radio and TV commentators or politicians; this is a symptom of the American ethos that needs radical treatment if we are to thrive as a healthy nation and fulfill our American creed.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahondas Gandhi, tells a story of such a radical treatment to create a community where people respect, understand, accept and appreciate one another.  He writes, “One day Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, was seen in the ashram kitchen cooking. This was unusual and so Gandhi stopped to inquire. “What are you cooking?” he asked.

“Ramdas,” she explained referring to their married son, “is going home to his family this afternoon and I thought I would make some sweets that his children like so much.”

“Do you make sweets for the children of all those who visit the ashram and then leave?” Gandhi asked.

Surprised and bewildered by the question Kasturba turned to face Gandhi and said: “No, of course, not.”

“Why not?” Gandhi asked. “Are they not, like Ramdas, also your children? Should we not learn to treat everyone equally?”

Kasturba thought she knew what Gandhi was leading to by creating the ashram but this was a dimension she had not considered. She quickly saw the wisdom in what he said and decided to make amends by not giving Ramdas the sweets but making more of them and distributing them to all the children in the ashram.

There must never be, Gandhi said, any double standards in our relationships and our attitude towards each other, our families and humanity in general. What applies to one, must apply to all, he said. For most people this may be totally unacceptable. Perhaps, too high a standard to attain. But Gandhi believed this was the only way to understand and respect each other.[3]

This treating others as we would have them treat us is hard work, it seems.  It is far easier to denigrate others, to ostracize others, to refuse to understand the other’s plights.  Yet, we must begin to see that each person is part of who we are as a people.  When one person suffers in our country, we all suffer.  When an injustice is done to one person; injustice is done to all of us.

We might not see its effects immediately, we might not even feel its effects for years after the injustice occurred, yet injustice permeates through the fabric of our lives staining and weakening the very threads of our community.

Our faith calls us to examine our principles in times like these.  They are not just nice sounding words that mean very little.  If we are to claim them as our own and use them to help guide us to live life to the fullest, then we must wrestle with the meanings of these words to uncover how we measure up.  How do we understand inherent worth and dignity of every person?  How do we find justice, equity, and compassion in human relations?  How do we experience acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations?  How do we conduct a free and responsible search for truth and meaning?  These are not easy questions to answer.  Nor are they answered once and then checked off as in a list.

To live our faith is to wrestle the meaning of these principles for our own lives.  To undo the history of our nation’s propensity to violence takes each of us to transform our own hearts towards peace, towards nonviolence in all areas of our lives.  Not just in reducing physical violence against another but also seeking to reduce emotional and spiritual violence towards others.  A harsh word as we have seen can engender physical violence in another.

Events that occur in Tucson stir our hearts with grief; but it is safe to contemplate the horrors of violence in another part of the country.  What about similar events that occur right here in Tuscaloosa?  Could we make a difference in the Jared Loughners that live here in Tuscaloosa so they can chose a different path?

To find the cost of freedom, we need to choose another way. Freedom is not won by violence, though that is commonly believed.  195 years of war in a country that is only 235 years young, is not a free country.  That is a country that bullies others into submission and calls standing with our foot on their neck freedom, when it is a form of our own enslavement.  We do not dare remove our foot.

Yet, if we are to be free, to be truly free, we must not only remove our foot, but help the other back up onto their feet so that they are again at an equal standing with us.  We need to begin to evolve beyond the use of violence; physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual violence must be put behind us if we are to experience the freedom that we claim we want in this country and abroad.  It means a radical shift in how we relate to one another on every level of our relationships.

Arun Gandhi writes: “An average American family, it is said, moves 13 times during the span of a career. This means there is no time to establish roots or build relationships anywhere. We end up having a nodding acquaintance with people in the neighborhood. Individualism is our culture and this determines the breath and depth of our relationships. Individualism and community building have an inverse relationship. Only one can flourish and that too at the expense of the other.

“In the pioneering days individualism could survive because the objective was to build a homestead and acquire personal property. Now we are faced with the task of building a community and a society, which means interdependence, interconnectedness and integration. Exclusivity must give way to inclusivity if living in peace and harmony are our objectives. The choice before humanity in the next millennium, therefore, is: Learn to respect life or live to regret it.[4]

We have been given yet another wake up call to respect all of life.  Will we push the snooze button in the hopes that another wake up call will stir us to action later?  Or will we awake suddenly and realize that we overslept and find ourselves in a situation of dire circumstances that could have been avoided.  May we awake fully and begin practicing the ways of non-violence within our families, within our relationships, and in our communities, and finally in our nation.  Blessed be.

[1] Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

[2] Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/christianityfortherestofus/2011/01/congresswoman-gabrielle-giffords-speaking-for-the-soul.html#ixzz1AVWuuDgk

[3] Arun Gandhi from the Community of the Future.
[4] Arun Gandhi from the Community of the Future.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you so much. This is excellent!

  2. Thank you for your reflections. As I listened to the CSNY song, I was struck by their capsulizing the history of war in this country – and how plaintive the initial line of the ending was. “Do we find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground?” A question – then a statement. Would that the answer to the question were no longer “yes.”


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