Thursday, June 07, 2007

"If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything"

Freely we serve,
Because we freely love, as in our will
To love or not; in this we stand or fall
(Milton, Paradise Lost, 1.538)

Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all,-
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall
(John Dickinson, The Liberty Song, 1768)

The kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains;
And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth upon the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? (Revelation, 15)

In the Town yesterday, I am told, some one asked Disraeli, in offering himself for Marylebone, on what he intended to stand. "On my head," was the reply.
(Disraeli, 8 Sept. 1833)

And then my husband - God be with his soul!
A' was a merry man - took up the child:
`Yea,' quoth he, `dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit;
Wilt thou not, Jule?' and, by my halidom,
The pretty wretch left crying, and said `Ay'
(Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, iii.39)

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs, 16:18)

Let the victors, when they come,
When the forts of folly fall,
Find the body by the wall
(Matthew Arnold, Memorial Verses, 1.6)

In the Garden City Cafe with its murals on the wall
Before a talk on "Sex and Civics" I meditated on the Fall
(John Betjeman, Huxley Hall)

But what if I fail of my purpose here?
It is but to keep the nerves at strain,
To dry one's eyes and laugh at a fall,
And, baffled, get up and begin again
(Robert Browning, A Light Woman)

Friend, if you believe that all that is needed to hold a nation together is multiculturalism and human rights, exquisitely defined by our expert jurists, perhaps you are one who will fall for anything. But, if there is some truth in that claim, what do I suggest we, a city with many migrants, stand for? As a first approximation, let's just say: for individual and shared responsibility to look, listen and learn so that we may, each one of us, when the time and place comes, find the courage to stand up and represent, for the first time, that value which others will recognize and share, seeing old truths in our new representations, seeing that for which we need to stand together now, or fall to the forces of social disintegration or defeat at the hands of another, more domineering, form of society.

In suggesting this, I don't think we need to get together to come up with some new manifesto, or ritual law, the terms of which we must all follow to the letter (though we might well do with some talk about shared human origins and principles and the means by which we all make cultural differentiations). No, it is just a call for us to discipline ourselves to use our freedom well. It is a call for building many new covenants, putting less faith in top-down direction, listening less to the mainstream media and the various education bureaucrats. It is a call for covenants, the opening terms of which will variously guide us (without telling us, expert-like, what must be) towards a freely-given reciprocity, so that we may together keep open an expanding future, keeping our hopes, without shutting down the past or leaving the present a meaningless void in which anything that is not immediately most threatening is left to grow, like vandalism of an ugly wall.

It is only when we recognize that we cannot live simply with free economic markets, that markets need horizons outside of them, and that all freedom must be defended against its corruption, that all freedom depends on healthy political markets in which someone, responding to the problems of a particular place and time, gets up and stands for something, making a sign and asking others to pick up the sign and run with it, reworking it, making promises to act into the future, seeking to share together a life of covenants, without being simply told what to think or do, that we will begin to discern the truly sacred things and being(s) around which our shared faith in freedom flows.

This is the work of Covenant Zone; we meet every Thursday, 7-9 pm, in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. We meet in front of Blenz Coffee, with blue scarves. Please join us, wherever you are.

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