Last weekend, I broke my usual habit of working in my office on Sunday afternoon, going to First Unitarian Church of Toledo (OH) to hear a morning sermon and then an afternoon lecture by Bill Schulz, recently retired after twelve years as head of Amnesty International USA. Before that, Schulz was head of the UUA for eight years, after seven years there in other positions. At present, he is on a year's sabbatical at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. An article by Schulz on his experiences in dealing with torture, and a short sketch of him by Kimberley French, can be found in the Winter 2006 issue of UUWorld. The article about him can be found on line at uuworld.org.
His morning sermon was rather general, entitled "After the Ecstasy the Laundry: Human Rights and Our Unitarian Universalist Calling". It did not strain his voice or the opinions of the large audience, at least twice the size of the usual attendance at First Church. He brought his sermon to a close with a look back at his past twelve years, in words that I noted down at the time because they were so striking: "When I was the head of Amnesty International, I lost my faith every night, and every morning I regained it with the coming of the light."
In the afternoon, he moved on to the topic of his present concern, and hit his stride, speaking of "Restoring America's Good Name: The State of Human Rights Today". I cannot recall the details of his exposition, and those who read the newspapers do not need to hear them. But again his conclusion was telling, and his point will be well made if I retell it as best I can. He told of how one of his Polish Jewish relatives (an uncle, I think) had gone back to visit Poland repeatedly after the Second World War. There are few Jews left in Poland, and Jewish visitors are not always welcomed. On the first time that he went back there, when he visited his former village, the uncle was mocked and abused by six Polish boys. In return, the uncle told them a Jewish story. Those who have read Eli Wiesel and Martin Buber know the magic of such stories. The uncle came back to that village many times, always interacting with the young people, and somehow building and maintaining a connection with the young people who at first had mocked him. Finally, of course, he died, and the six young people who at first had mocked him, now grown, said the Mourner's Kaddish for him, the Jewish prayer spoken for the dead person by those who mourn him. You may not realize it, but you know the essence of the first part of the Kaddish prayer, because the first lines of the Lord's Prayer are based on it. But what speaks particularly to Schulz's point, although he did not say so, is its end: "He who maketh peace in his high places, may he make peace for us and for all Israel; and say ye, Amen." In view of the conduct in the world of our country in recent years, Schulz said that he was concerned as to whether there would be anyone who would say Kaddish for us if it were needed. He spoke these words loudly.