A Vision of America

by Frederick N. West

How, then, do we lead with love? Certainly compassion is an essential element of our rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Sometimes we in the United States seem to forget why the founders were so careful about the first amendment rights: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceful assembly, freedom to petition, and freedom of religion. It is because these things were not part of a person’s legal rights in the Old World.

Although a vast majority of people in the world do have values based in religious teachings, those teachings are not the law of the land.

Our founders knew that the discoveries of Galileo were suppressed for 300 years. Jefferson knew that the pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock having fled the religious edicts of King James. The framers of the constitution were well aware that Voltaire spent time in the Bastille prison for advocating for separation of church and state. He lived in their time.

In the United States, we are free to worship as we see fit as long as it does not interfere with others’ legal rights. We are also free to not be identified with a faith.

These matters are before us now in many important court cases. It is important to note that although we do not have a state subscribed religion, we do have shared values that we uphold that are far older than the founding of this country.

Consider these diverse teachers:

Rabbi Hillel declared that to love your neighbor as thyself was the most important message of the Torah. The golden rule is nearly universal in all spiritual teachings.

Buddha described expressing love through a desire to alleviate suffering in the world.

The great Lakota warrior and visionary Crazy Horse spoke of his dream, “I see a time where all the colors of humankind will gather under the sacred tree of life.”

Can we now say to our fellow citizens, “Can we bring love and unity back into the civic discourse?”

Instead of the word “love” can you substitute “the heart of America” and see if that fits your vision of the kind of community you want to build. Let the heart of America be kind and gentle; the heart of America does not insist on its own way.

Compassion gives us then a north star to guide us in our policies concerning how we treat the stranger in our midst, how we open our doors to people fleeing civil unrest and violence in other lands. Doors are open rather than slammed shut; our hearts are open rather than closed and locked.

Let Americans all gather now together under the sacred tree of life, and let us seek out all citizens of the world to meet with us under that tree.

And so we come to exercising our right to participate in democracy. if there is anything sacred to us, it is our right to an unobstructed vote! To secure our rights, governments are instituted among people deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. All good people. That is you.

Introduction to “Bridges, Not Walls,” Dale Rector

During our “Music Crosses Borders” tour from San Antonio to Tijuana, we sang at churches, migrant shelters, an airport, and a warehouse full of tents with women and children.

We brought the message that music, like nature, ignores political borders.

In San Antonio, we learned from organizations like RAICES, which provides legal counsel of all types, and the local Mennonite Church, which offers many aid programs.

In El Paso, we stayed at a Columban Mission dedicated to supporting undocumented migrants.

We crossed to Ciudad Juarez, and sang with detainees awaiting adjudication of asylum at Casa del Migrante.

In Tucsdon we worked at a safe-house for Central American women, then split into teams to Nogales, MX, Tohono O’odman tribe, and locations where water and provisions are left for migrants passing through,

In Tijuana, we sang to mothers and kids in tents, and to recently deported men at Casa del Migrante.

Throughout the tour, we shared music and learned so much from dedicated people who have been doing this work for decades.

We tried to live the words of Doug Balcom’s beautiful and stirring song, “Bridges, Not Walls.”

Courage My Soul: lyrics and transcript

Song lyrics

Verses 1 and 2 and the refrain are by Charles Albert Tindley, updated by Donald Vails and Kent Stevenson.
Verse 3 is by Frederick N. West.

Verse 1, sung first by soloist:
Courage my soul, and let us journey on,
For the night is dark, and I am far from home.
Praise be to God!  The morning light appears.
The storm is passing over, the storm is passing over,
The storm is passing over, Hallelu!

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!
The storm is passing over, the storm is passing over,
The storm is passing over, Hallelu!

(Seattle Peace Chorus then repeats Verse 1)

(Courage Ensemble joins SPC for Refrain)

Verse 2, sung by Courage Ensemble:
Thunder rolls, and billows shake the ground.
See the lightning flashing, and dark clouds all around.
Jesus walked the sea, and calmed the waters down.

(Courage Ensemble then sings Refrain)

Verse 3, sung by Seattle Peace Chorus:
Come together, people of one song!
Where the people lead, the leaders come along.
Heal the mighty seas, and turn this world around!

(Courage Ensemble joins SPC to sing Refrain, 3 times)

Transcript of Kent Stevenson’s closing remarks

It is our hope, with all of us working together, that the storms of injustice will indeed pass over. As we celebrate the life, and the home-going, of United States Congressman John Lewis—a man of pure joy and perseverance, a man who was a peacemaker, who led by example—we, then, are emboldened and empowered to keep our eyes on the prize, and never stop working for justice and peace, as John did. And one day, after all of our work has been made manifest, we can all say together: “Hallelu!”