Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jeff Gundy's "Touching a New Kingdom (On William Stafford and Peace)"

This sermon by poet Jeff Gundy deserves a wider audience; Gundy, a Mennonite, has been one of the contemporary poets who has struggled with the question of how we respond to violence in both poetry and life, and I admire his steady and grounded vision:

"Touching a New Kingdom (On William Stafford and Peace)"
Sermon Given at First Mennonite Church, 9/11/2011

I suspect everyone here who’s old enough remembers the morning of 9/11/01, ten years ago today, and what we were doing when we heard about the planes crashing into towers and buildings. I was at my desk, getting ready for class, and at first thought the web headline about a plane crash was just a curiosity, a freak accident. Of course, I soon learned otherwise.

But a moment I especially remember came a few days later, when Marlyce and I got to talking with some other soccer parents. We were all still stunned and reeling from the images on the news, collapsing buildings and plumes of smoke, people running through the streets, faces of hijackers, all the rest. And yet here we were at the field on a beautiful early fall evening, watching our sons run around. It seemed so ordinary, and yet we knew things were going to change.

“One thing I know,” another parent said, “things like this bring us together as a country.”

“True,” I found myself saying to him. “But together to do what?”

I’ll come back to that question. But first, a little background on our feature person for today, poet and pacifist William Stafford. He was born in Hutchinson, Kansas in 1914, grew up in various Kansas towns, in a close but not wealthy family. He was an older student at the U. of Kansas in December 1941, already starting to write poems; his life was changed by Pearl Harbor as ours were by 9/11, but even more dramatically. Stafford was not a birthright Anabaptist or member of a peace church; but when his society was swept up in war fervor and total mobilization for the vast enterprise of World War II, he became one of that small group who refused to go off to war. He convinced his draft board to grant him conscientious objector status—then a new thing—and was sent to Church of the Brethren camps in Arkansas and California, where he did forestry work and firefighting.
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