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  • Reverend James Squire

For Whom the Bell Tolls


Photo by Peter Bucks


Britannia Insula which translates to “Britain is an Island” is the very first phrase that I learned in Latin class many years ago. John Donne, the English poet, wrote the following familiar words in 1624 in his Devotions, “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Most people are familiar with this statement, but few know how his words continue after those. “If a clod be washed away to the sea, Europe is less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”


That last phrase, “for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee” could be a theme for Ash Wednesday and Lent. The tolling bell is a reference to the tolling of a church bell announcing the death of someone. Recall that we began the Lenten season with the reminder of our mortality. Donne’s phrase could be a substitute for “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The passage is also meant to underscore the connectedness of all people. When one of us dies, we each feel a bit of ourselves dying as well. Violence will never cease until all of us commit ourselves to a non- violent world. Ernest Hemingway chose the phrase of “For Whom the Bell Tolls” as the title to one of his most poignant and popular books that was published in 1940 about the Spanish Civil War. He wanted those phrases “for whom the bell tolls” and “no man is an island” as themes that he hoped would become rather commonplace. He wanted to establish solidarity with the allies who were fighting the fascists.


Donne is really working on answering the biblical question, “Who is my neighbor?” His answer is that all humankind is our neighbor.


What does the above have to do with the power catastrophe in Texas where people have been without electricity, water, food, and warmth? As they examine what happened, they may want to channel some of the thoughts of John Donne and leave their island mentality. On top of this they received power bills for thousands of dollars in the midst of this crisis. The political officials asked the federal government for assistance. The Biden administration has provided all sorts of aid in response to their request even though the governor tried to blame the whole thing on renewable energy.


But hey, it’s Texas. The great state that has given us the most hated man in Congress, Ted Cruz, who fled town to Mexico and threw his children under the bus blaming them for wanting a trip to the warmth of Mexico. He returned to Texas when he was caught. His children’s school had written all parents telling them not to travel because of the Pandemic. He broke that rule as well along with shirking his responsibility to be on the ground with his people. The school will be requiring his children to quarantine for 7 to 10 days. The parents in the school have applied pressure to make sure that happens. Cruz was only thinking about himself. That’s a lesson for all the Texans to learn who acted like Cruz.


The ethical lesson here is rather obvious. It is a cautionary tale. I have many friends in Texas who don’t buy into the supersized ego of how things are bigger and better than in any other state. We have all heard the jokes and seen the T shirts with maps of the USA with Texas taking up most of the country with the rest of us pushed to an insignificant corner.


Let’s go back to the very beginning of the Texas power system, ERCOT. Texas decided not to get involved with the rest of the nation because they didn’t want any of the national regulations. ERCOT guaranteed that they would always have power and lower electric bills. Boy, that decision has come back to haunt the residents. You don’t hear much about the root cause on the news. In essence they weren’t ready for low temperatures.


I am aware of a businessman who worked for a year to set up a program in Texas with the condition that it would be part of a national enterprise. After a year’s work on the ground, the Board of Directors of the Texas part of the company indicated they didn’t want to contribute to a national initiative. They only wanted to just serve the people of Texas.


We all need to have pride in our state, but this cautionary tale of the loss of power in Texas reminds us all that we live and die as one nation. That tolling bell during Lent reminds us of what should be commonplace in our souls that we share a common mortality but also a common humanity connected to one another. That is the real power! It’s also our hope to curtail climate change.


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