An Opportunity for Thinking about Meaning and Significance in an Age of Fear
By Rev. David H. Rommereim
The photo above was taken in the spring of 1973 along the Golden Gate Bridge. In the photo is my sister Mary, brother John, great friends, Sally and Rick. It reminds me of an age of fearless hope. We clicked our heels when Pete Seeger was marching with Anti-War protesters in Berkeley and in Anti-nuke actions all over the nation. Later we learned that Pete and others were beginning the 40 year battle between General Electric and the superfund clean-up of PCB's they dumped into our beloved Hudson River. That battle remains a hot topic. He sung about it until his last day January 27, 2014 at the age of 94.
Mr. Seeger sang his way into social and political transformation. He knew that any social transformation begins with the interior revolution each of us must face if we are to get involved with faith and community to change the policies and patterns of greed or bigotry. The interior revolution begins the way of justice-love. Pete Seeger knew that an economy which does not first take care of the worker becomes barbaric.
Pete Seeger sung so that you could hum along. Eventually you would sing along. When I started singing my inner revolution began.
Mr. Seeger knew, however, that if transformation was all about doing, doing, doing, making better, making better, making better, without the inner spiritual revolution, each of us would develop "compassion fatigue." Ethics and morality without the inner revolution becomes a momentary encounter with being nice. But, nice has a hard time with the profundities of justice-love. Without the inner revolution we are not able to work for social transformation in the long haul. We are fatigued. The slightest defeat sends us home, alone. For 94 years, singing kept this American Icon alive. It kept him intimately involved with those on the margins. It kept him practicing justice-love.
I remember seeing Pete Seeger at Zuccotti Square, better known as Occupy Wall Street, autumn 2011. He was singing. At his passing, he reminds me of a decade I spent as a pastor in the Bronx. After a week of hard earned ministry we would sing, "We are a gentle, angry people; singing, singing for our lives...." We sang that chant in our worship, usually after we spoke about our neighborhood that needed the faith community to practice, teach and act, justice-love. Our love for each other and the singing, kept us from compassion fatigue.
While those fearless heels clicked on the Golden Gate Bridge in 1973 some political activity was known, and a lot was unknown. We knew of the war and felt the bourgeoning development of a polarized political economy. But we did not know of the secret work of the FBI and what became NSA. We were not aware of the policy shifts which benefited wealthy and corporate America more than the middle and lower strata of our society. The war on poverty was in full swing. The Vietnam War swung low. And Nixon was nearing his WaterGate. Yet, heels clicked an abiding hope.
Regardless of our parental political persuasion - we were white suburban kids - we knew that there was an important public responsibility of every citizen. We did not have a church community that supported these political and social conversations. Inner transformation did not mean getting involved in social transformation. It was personal. The church was silent, private. And because of that the church as an institution was moving to the sidelines. However, the fearlessly hopeful still wanted to make sense of faith and life. Was there a place for the faith community to accompany those who were seeking to practice justice-love?
A simple way of understanding what we clicked our heels about is expressed in a simple sound bite: “learn to share.” In our political naiveté we supported the initiation of “Affirmative Action” so that there is a shared opportunity story for all Americans of each ethnic core. That coincided with what we learned in High School American Government Class. It is best expressed when were told to memorize the preamble of our Constitution. Our emotional naiveté included a hidden factor in the guiding principles that if sharing took place through our tax system, there would be an improvement in the circulation of money throughout the nation (rich and poor alike). Everybody wins when people (rich and poor) share. Why would some receive benefit and others not
“Heel clickers” felt OK about policies that targeted equalizing opportunity regardless of race and ethnicity. Opportunity was a proven commodity of our political policies lived in the previous three decades. So, “sharing” was the right thing to do. After all, we were well aware that each of us heel clickers could go to college if we chose state schools with low, to no, tuition. Opportunity was available. Fear was a non-factor in our upbringing. Pete Seeger, and his fearless colleagues, sung about overcoming all things, and every thing that kept us numb to social responsibility. His singing and physical acumen pulled us into action (spiritual, political, social, and communal).
Were we afraid? Yes. Did we stop clicking our heels in the slow lane? No, not yet.
Peter Ludlow wrote in the New York Times on January 19, 2014 that we live in “Fifty States of Fear.” He reminds us that fear has become the major factor in raising a steady, healthy community. It is not far afield to say that fear has become one social conundrum that controls our society now, more than ever. Fear keeps us from clicking our heels.
We have been at war in Afghanistan for over 12 years. Most of our children in the Good Shepherd Ministry have lived their entire lives with war on their television screens and in the sounds of adult conversation. The War in Afghanistan, like the War in Iraq, was, and remains, a war built on retaliation. It is war nurtured by fear.
Other examples of our fear based policies is in the little known fact that the NYPD has the Middle Eastern community under surveillance cameras throughout Bay Ridge. In a section of our Bay Ridge Village that used to be full of Ol’ Norse bars and shops, now is full of halal shops and other middle eastern village businesses. We, at Good Shepherd, have been learning about these policies through the relations with leaders from the Arab America Association of New York. I mention them here because this is all based on fear.
We have become a fearful society. And, in pure irony, it is that fear that makes me afraid. Can I click my heels today? I am not quite sure.
Now I ask, “What are the transforming qualities that make for peace?”
At that moment, I turn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his writing of “No Rusty Swords.” He says:
“How does peace come about? Through a system of political treaties? Through the investment of international capital in different countries? Through the big banks, through money? Or through universal peaceful rearmament in order to guarantee peace?
Through none of these, for the single reason that in all of them peace is confused with safety.
There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war.”
Every way we turn we are afraid something might happen so we protect ourselves and our community by every means necessary. More and more I find families less able to “click their heels” in the slow lane. I find us less able to even get to the slow lane to practice clicking the heels.
However, I remain a person of faith, in a community which understands that some of us believe all the time, some of us believe some of the time, and some of us believe none of the time. But it is that community of people who journey with Gd to seek the inner song, and take that to the choir. I truly believe that we, at Good Shepherd, have let Gd develop an alternative. We are able to practice “heel clicking.” That is the spiritual audacity of hope.
We practice giving our children, and our members’ children, our most diligent attention to find the soul affirmation needed to love that self so that, perhaps, Gd will continue to inspire them, and us, to love the other. You remember the old Jewish and Christian spiritual policy: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Through 32 years of pastoral care, I have said, “It was Jesus who reminded us that if your want to love your neighbor you have to love yourself.” Or, said in another way, “Love yourself, so that you are able to love your neighbor.” This is the great fear quencher! It is the great heel clicker!
Time and time again fear takes the love of self out of the picture. My job, focused on the holy mysteries of your faith, is to remind you (parents, teachers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and just great friends) that your job is to make sure our kids love “self.”
We older folks of Good Shepherd congregation, grew up thinking that loving self was bad. … It was related to selfish … egotistical love. Yet, the Christological mistake happened when they, church leaders, forgot to teach you that loving self was like a photograph of Jesus’ holism of Christian living; a “Way of Life.”
Jesus was trained by the Levitical community who knew that part of being faithful was “Love yourself so that you could love your neighbor” (Leviticus 19.). What became Jesus’ style was to help adults teach kids that they must be unafraid to love self … so that … they are able to love the stranger. And to today’s child the stranger includes all that is attached to that stranger; the two legged, the four legged, the winged, the H2O, the C02, and the CO3. All is centered on the quintessential evangelical proclamation, “Do not fear.” This is where Jesus, and the Way silences fear and replaces it with the audacity of heel clicking hope. Such hope continues to change the world.
 Give it a try and remember that preamble. If you have difficulty go find it on the web.
 Such principles have been with us since Adam Smith in his 18th Century document, Wealth of Nations.
 Such a phrase was offered through the Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschell, who also sang with Pete Seeger long ago.
 This is a regular statement by the profound biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann.