Preaching on July 4

This morning, I got to preach in First Parish of Concord, Massachusetts, the church of the Minutemen. Imagine preaching to that historic congregation on Independence Day! It was great fun, and I feel lucky to be invited to preach there on July 4th.

I wrote a kind of historical sermon on evolving notions of liberty, and since it’s Independence Day, I thought I’d share it with you — the sermon’s posted over on my sermon blog.

5 thoughts on “Preaching on July 4

  1. Carol

    It was really excellent. Its conclusions were consistent with attitudes we’re seeing in this country lately summed up as “why doesn’t the government do something about it?” And “committees? I don’t have time to attend meetings.”

  2. Jean

    Some thoughts, no particular order, after reading the sermon:

    Ah. Yes, sitting at home surfing the web/facebook (poor facebook, you do despise it so)/television — I’d agree: this is not much liberty at all, but rather a shallow pond, a kind of dull slavery. Bring back the book! No, not the “e-book” but rather the book with real paper pages!

    I hope the sermon didn’t convince people to become members of committees, or validate that particular impulse. I’m not convinced that committing to committee work will save the planet, or the species. And I say this as someone who works in a field in which committee work is prized as the agent of change (academia). Too often I see people congratulating themselves for work done on a committee, work that is as much talk as action, work that results in nothing but talk, reams of pages of paper, hours of work to create the words on those pages, and no substantive change. I mean, really? How many times have you been part of a committee that labors to create a “mission statement” or a “vision statement” or “action statements” ? They sound fabulous, and make the makers feel brilliant. But what changes?

    Individual action, rightly directed, can be a valuable instrument for change. And should be valued.

    This complaint is as much directed at those in my field as anything else. What underlies this, however, is the question that I think goes unanswered in the sermon — yes, if I’d been at coffee hour after the sermon, I would have said this too:

    What, in fact, *is* that “common good” of which you speak? Must it involve human beings at the center? And which human beings? You? Me? Someone in China? One of my students in rural Indiana? The over=paid administrators where I teach? A man in Uzbekistan? A woman in Libya? A child in Uganda? All of these? Is there such a thing as “common good”?

    Perhaps the notion of “common good” could be assisted in its definition by removing human beings from the equation altogether. Then, perhaps, the rest of the fauna — and flora — on the earth would have a chance to live decent lives. We are a rather vile species, prone to self-delusion, vicious wars, mean ideas, and even meaner punishments of our own species, others, and the very earth we live on. Maybe our time is over?

  3. Dan

    Jean @ 1 — Re: committees — Lots of people are questioning the value of committees right now. We’re seeing major changes in the patterns of volunteerism in the Baby Boom generation, a generation that is volunteering at a rate higher than any previous generation, but they are far less interested in serving on committees; so in the non-profit world, paid staff are taking on administrative and leadership functions that used to be held by committees. On the one hand this is very good, because volunteers get to do more satisfying work; on the other hand, I’m not convinced that concentrating power in the hands of paid staff is necessarily a good thing. So personally I’m ambivalent about committee work.

    You write: “What, in fact, *is* that “common good” of which you speak?”

    That is the question, isn’t it? I promise to solve that problem in my next twenty-minute sermon.

  4. Jean

    What I find noxious about committee work (where I work) is that we as faculty are compelled to serve on committees, do the work of some task or goal or vision that someone in administration has deemed Extremely Important, and so we do that work — gathering information, making reports, presenting information and reports, defending what we present — and then? The administration (aka Highly Paid Staff) says: Oh. We’ve changed our minds. Let’s table that for now. We’ve got Another Priority. We’ll be forming Other Committees. Thank you for all your hard work.

    And that hard work? Pffffffft. It just dissolves into thin air. I’m very very weary of committee work. It’s some of the most useless work I do.

  5. Tom Donovan

    081810–Googling for an October UU rental on Martha’s Vineyard (so far unsuccessfully), I was happily diverted by your photo of nesting ospreys, which led me to this post.
    My 2-cents …in defense of committees, reluctant defense I admit, I believe committees help keep the power in societies and organizations from devolving to a few individuals.
    Sure, committees are frustrating and often lack purpose or consistent focus. Like democracy: sloppy, always in need of sprucing up and looking after. But I have served in some committees that have accomplished meaningful change, thanks to effective members and a charter charging the committee to create improvement rather than merely to list recommendations. Actually USING that power-to-change helps committees serve the common good.

    Of note: the bureaucracy I recently retired from frequently dashed around in an ever-growing number of “urgent” fire drills. Those that didn’t involve an entire department stopping everything to develop a response to what could well have been simply idle executive wool-gathering (waaay beyond “committee” work), have since become oft-named “study teams”. This at least prevents unrealistic expectations that you as a committee member may actually accomplish anything.
    So: real committees creating real results, si; so-called committees which create nothing but ennui, non!
    With apologies for my jaundiced (retired) eye toward what was a fundamentally terrific employer, I would still willingly become a committee member today, though I would be very selective in what committees i joined.

    Still looking —without benefit of chairperson or sub-committees— for inexpensive lodging on Martha’s Vineyard October 3 or 4 through October 6 or 7, 2010, I remain Tom Donovan

Comments are closed.