Keep Calm and Carry On

Now, civility and love are not the same thing; you can despise someone in your heart and still be polite to them. And it’s love, not mere politeness that changes the world. But I still believe civility is important because it upholds a certain level of decency, without which our basest instincts are encouraged. Without it, hatred flourishes more freely. Its given license to breed. Civility can help to keep it in check.

And as we all know, no one excels at civility more than the British.

Sure, they have a great deal of etiquette and protocol that can seem overbearing, but at the end of the day you’ve got to admire their sheer determination to be polite. That’s a stereotype, sure, and it’s not always true, but tell you one thing that I’ve seen firsthand; they have the most courteous and respectful signs that I’ve ever seen. I had the privilege of spending one day in London many years ago, and that was the first thing I noticed.

They were all over town; the words “please” and “thank you” were everywhere. Please do not park here, thank you. Thank you for not smoking. Please refrain from eating the urinal cakes, thank you. A lot of these signs actually have the words “polite notice” emblazoned across the top; others feel the need to justify themselves, resulting in posts that are extraordinarily lengthy by American standards. One sign spotted in a local pub reads, “This is a polite notice for our customers. We do not have a queuing system in place in our pub. If you as customers decide to stand behind one another, that is your decision to make. Please know that if a customer comes to the bar, he or she will be served. To reiterate, we do not ask customers to queue. Thank you.”

He’s never been to England, but my son Ethan posts signs like this all over the house. My favorite was a sign that he put on his mother’s office door; I don’t remember what it said exactly, but he placed another sign just beneath it that read, “Please do not take down the signs. Thank you.” It also included a stick figure image of mom taking down the sign, with a big red circle and a line drawn through it.

But I digress; the most famous of all British signs is, of course, one that was designed in 1939 at the dawn of World War II, a politically tumultuous time if there ever was one. The government, on the brink of war, anticipated fire bombings and poison gas attacks in major cities within the next few months. With this in mind, they issued the words that have recently been enjoying a renaissance – Keep Calm, and Carry on.

I believe those are words to live by. They don’t tell us to sit still in a crisis, or to do nothing in the face of evil and hatred. But they tell us to keep calm, to maintain our composure, our decency, to refuse to give in to hatred, however hateful the enemy may be.

“But Pastor Seth,” you may protest, “civility didn’t win the war.” Maybe not; but it was hatred and a lack of civility that started it.

Take care not to equate civility with silence. We can, we must, call out injustice and evil. But we can do it without name calling, or mudslinging, or violence, or hatred. And if we don’t, then we aren’t much better than whoever we deem to be our enemies.

Hatred always inflicts more damage on the one who hates. It strips them of their humanity. Their heart. Their name. The one who only stands against something stands for nothing.

I’m angry at a lot of what I see in this world; in this country. Furious, to be honest. And I intend to do whatever I can to work for justice. But I’m also going to try to keep calm. To keep myself, so I can still look in the mirror and recognize the face that stares back.


Excerpt from sermon “Keep Calm and Carry On” by Rev. Seth Ethan Carey, July 8, 2018

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