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We Were All Children Then
Published on Friday, December 15, 2006 by
We Were All Children Then
by Caroline Arnold

In January of 1970 the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent called a 21-year-old pre-theology student at Oberlin College, Bill Schulz, to supply our pulpit.

Despite his youth and long hair Bill was an accomplished preacher, socially and politically mature. He moved easily among the 60-odd largely academic and progressive members of a congregation just over 100 years old, founded on the Universalist belief "All souls will be saved."

Our major concerns then were: getting out of Vietnam, ending the draft, and countering repressive federal actions. The church basement was the venue of draft-counseling and meetings of the fledgling Kent Environmental Council. A Saturday night coffeehouse of the local SDS had been closed after the students failed to manage their logistical and financial responsibilities.

That April our young minister organized discussions of "Institutional Commitments – Yes? No? Under Some Conditions?" about war, the draft, racism, environmental concerns. On Sunday, May 3, 1970, he preached on "The Nature of Religious Commitment – Part Two: "Why Not Take Up Serpents?"

The next day, scarcely two miles away, four Kent State students were killed.. In the following weeks we did what we believed we should. In defiance of a city council ruling against gatherings of more than five people, Bill led a memorial service for the slain students. The congregation adopted resolutions censuring President Nixon and urging withdrawal of our troops from Vietnam, and we voted to withhold payment of the federal phone tax.

On Saturday December 9, 2006, as part of the church’s celebration of "140 years of Standing Witness" we invited Bill to return and speak to us. He had grown up into the Rev. William F. Schulz, retired from heading the Unitarian Universalist Association and Amnesty International. We had grown larger but were still involved with issues of war, human rights and civil rights, and had recently passed resolutions against torture and against the death penalty.

Despite the desperate world situation our reunion was full of merriment and stories – of Bill’s weakness for sequined jackets and rubber-chicken props, and of church coffee-hours with marijuana brownies. An e-mail from a former member recalled having tried, on Saturday nights, to get Bill too drunk to preach on Sunday. "It never worked," he noted, "but it was a fun game. Of course, we were all children then."

Later in the sanctuary decorated for Christmas, Bill told us how May 4 had been a transforming experience for him, his first direct encounter with government turning force on its own citizens. He also spoke about how his experience with Amnesty International taught him that our common humanity – we are more alike than different, and irreversibly connected to one another – is the one resource we have in dealing with the fundamental tragedy of creation. He reminded us that our responsibility is to take care of one another, especially the least among us, especially those damaged by poverty, sickness, hate, fear, injustice and war.

Afterward, as I read of the slaughter of three children in Palestine, of the shackling, blindfolding and muffling of a prisoner for a short walk to the dentist; of the intentional destruction of prisoners’ minds, spirits and bodies through the policies of a petulant child in the White House, my mind kept returning to the words: ‘we were all children then.’

We’re still all children. We thought we had grown up after Vietnam, after Nicaragua, after Kosovo, yet six years into the 21st century we’re still conducting real-time killing games not very different from the FPS video games we put under Christmas trees for our teenagers.

We’re still children trying to persuade ourselves that God will bestow peace on us if we just drop candy peaces into stockings, put more American soldiers under Iraq’s Christmas tree, or hang a nuclear bomb in the sky over Iran in lieu of a star.

We’re still children playing Christmas games of shopping and consuming, neglecting our adult responsibilities. We’re still little kids letting the big kids with money and power make the playground rules, letting our "Justice" Department justify torture, secret detention, and denial of due process, and providing our "Defense" Department with cluster-bombs to defend us from the children of the Iraq and Lebanon.

We’re children showing the world our expertise at murder, torture and destruction, teaching the world’s children fear, revenge and hate, and selling them bombs and deadly weapons. We talk childishly of what some bad guys are doing to other humans, but blow off our adult responsibility to care for and protect one another, to love our neighbors, and treat others as we would be treated.

This Christmas we face the reality that if we are not to destroy ourselves, we must start acting like grownups, stop killing, stop torturing, stop raping our earth, and stop thinking of humans as commodities to be marketed for profit, as partisans to be tweaked for politics, or as pawns to be sacrificed for victory. We have to take charge as adults and separate the child in the White House from his devilish games and monstrous toys of death and destruction.

The Rev. William Schulz reminded our small church anew that in our quest for human rights: "we must remember that it is our generous hearts that makes what we cherish worth guarding in the first place."

If we fail to control our childish impulses to kill and hurt each other, we not only we mock the Christmas spirit, we fail our adult responsibility to conscience, to our human family, and to all creation.

Caroline Arnold served 12 years on the staff of U.S. Senator John Glenn. She has been a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent since 1968. In retirement she is active with the Portage Democratic Coalition and the Akron Council on World Affairs.


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