Saturday, April 30, 2005

What's with those Five Stones?

At the April 26 City Council meeting, I emptied five smooth stones – from our garden – into my left fist and, referring to 1 Samuel 17, suggested that that’s all we need to defeat Wal-Mart. The mayor quipped – nervously, I thought – that he was glad I didn’t have seven stones. “Seven Stones for Seven Council Members,” now there’s an idea for a musical!

So, what, you ask, was that all about…the five smooth stones, I mean? What did I have in mind? As a student at Berkeley’s Episcopal School for Deacons, I usually have in mind my next sermon…at the school or at the church I’m interning at. Were that sermon here in Vallejo, I might well choose 1 Samuel 17:32-49:

And David said to Saul, “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine. And Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and smote him and delivered it out of his mouth; and if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and smote him and killed him. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” Then Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a helmet of bronze on his head, and clothed him with a coat of mail. And David girded his sword over his armor, and he tried in vain to go, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, I cannot go with these; for I am not use to them.” And David put them off.

Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the brook, and put them in his shepherd’s bag or wallet; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

And the Philistine came on and drew near to David with his shield-bearer in front of him. And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance. And the Philistine said to David,”Am I a dog that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.”

Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down, and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth; that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with the sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.

When the Philistine arose and came and drew near to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine.

And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground.

Thus endeth, one might say, today’s Bible study, with perhaps a slight addition: “My, those Old Testament writers were bloody minded.” But so too are our 21st century Philistines from Bentonville. A good preacher might also add a word of explanation relating the Scripture to the ethical issues of the world of today we live in.

This one’s rather simple, a “no-brainer” I’m inclined to say. Saul? David? Israel? They are a community – our community – Vallejo. The Philistines? They are that mob of anti-union, anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, and, yes, predatory anti-business purveyors of the cheap, the mediocre, the unworthy, the stuff produced by non-union, non-American, unregulated workers in overseas sweatshops in China, Central America, and on tiny Pacific atolls. They go by the collective name of Wal-Mart.

Unfortunately, they’ve got allies –sycophants – in Vallejo – the voices that the Times-Herald likes to trumpet – those satisfied with “cheap town” and that shopper who reports that “(At Wal-Mart) I can get a lot of cheap stuff.” Is that really what we want – a “lot of cheap stuff” in “cheap town.” Have we no self respect, no compassion for the down-trodden foreign workers who produced our “cheap stuff,” no solidarity with our fellow American workers displaced by the exploitive practices of Wal-Mart’s minions worshipping at the altar of a rapidly shrinking Almighty Dollar…minions whipped into a semi-religious frenzy by their champion, their Goliath, Lee Scott.

Take heart. You’ve already beaten those earlier “lions and bears” - Bechtel and Shell. You’ve proven your dignity and worth. You – we – can do it again. The only question is: How many stones? The Biblical five? The seven demanded by a six-member city council? Or that one flung by David? Not wanting to tempt the Lord, I’m inclined to say “One is enough…one well-chosen, highly polished, well-aimed stone.”