Still Dreaming @thebfuu 1/16/15
Call to worship (here)
Dreams. We all have dreams and we need to keep dreaming them. Langston Hughes, an African American poet who was part of the Harlem Renaissance and also a gay man, had this to say about dreams:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
We cannot let our dreams die, no matter how long or how hard we have to work to make them real. Faith can help, as in our reading, “With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
We have all known despair. Even after all these years, Martin Luther King’s dream is not yet realized. People still need to proclaim that black lives matter, because too often, it seems that they don’t.
The Rev. Dr. King was not a Unitarian Universalist, although he and his wife did attend one of our churches for a time.
It was not an accident, however, that there were more Unitarian Universalist ministers involved in the civil rights struggle movement than from any other predominantly white denomination. Some of them gave their lives, most notably the Rev. James Rheeb, who died after being beaten by a gang of white segregationists. Clark Olsen, who then served as your minister here at the Berkeley Fellowship, was with Rheeb in Alabama during the attack.
Our faith tradition is one that lives in this world and what we do in the world matters.
As Dr. King said from the Birmingham jail,
“Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men (and women) willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
The time is always right. And the time is always right to do our owning healing. To live our lives with compassion and forgiveness and with hope. Sometimes we need to turn inward at times to find the peace that can come from a recognition of just how precious life is and yes, just how precious each of us are. Dr. King must have prayed very hard that night in Birmingham before he agreed to let those children march. The prayer centered him and gave him strength.
Dr. King always tried to live his life guided by love. He was a visionary, an activist, but most of all; he was a man of faith that believed in love.
He stood tall and he walked proud. He faced dogs and fire hoses, and finally an assassin’s bullet, but he never lost sight of love. He reached out to both his enemies and to those that hung back on the sidelines.
Near the end of his life he also worked to end the Viet Nam war and he worked to end poverty. His life was not about a single issue.
Our faith gives us so much, a welcoming place, a place where we can all feel accepted, where we can be free to be who we are, where we can follow both our heads and our hearts, where we can find a place to be whole. But our faith also is a demanding one, one that asks us repeatedly to keep learning and growing, and doing. It isn’t easy to walk our talk. It isn’t easy to live according to our values.
Unitarian Universalists worked to abolish slavery in this country. We worked for child labor laws, and for women’s rights. Many of us marched with Dr. King. We have been in the front lines in the struggle for full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
But action can be risky. James Reeb and Martin Luther King were both murdered. Vic has a song he will sing later about how King was killed. Many others have also lost their lives in similar ways. But what is most important is not how they died, but how they lived.
It is unlikely that any of us here today will ever be asked to risk death for living out our faith. Instead, we are called to risk life, to risk our lives by actually living them.
We might not be asked again to boycott a bus system; we might be asked to ride the bus instead of driving in order to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
We might not asked to sit at a lunch counter demonstrating for the right of all to be served; we might instead be asked to not go out to lunch at all and to instead spend our hard earned and shrinking dollars on something that will make a difference in the world. We might even be asked to give more to our religious faith, to support the work we need to do.
We don’t have to be a James Rheeb, or a Martin Luther King to follow in their footsteps, to keep their dreams alive. Not just their dreams, but also our own dreams, and the dreams of our children and all who will come after them.
I want tell you some of what MLK said in a speech he gave, at our Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in 1966. It wasn’t one of his most famous speeches and it isn’t quoted often, but it was addressed directly to Unitarian Universalists and can, I think, speak to us today.
He titled his talk, “Don’t sleep through the Revolution.” Do you know the story of Rip van Winkle? Dr King said,
“One thing that we usually remember about the story of Rip Van Winkle is that he slept twenty years.
But there is another point in that story which is almost always completely overlooked: it is the sign on the inn of the little town on the Hudson from which Rip went up into the mountains for his long sleep.
When he went up, the sign had a picture of King George III of England. When he came down, the sign had a picture of George Washington, the first president of the United States.
When Rip Van Winkle looked up at the picture of George Washington he was amazed, he was completely lost. He knew not who he was. This incident reveals to us that the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that he slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up in the mountains a revolution was taking place in the world that would alter the face of human history. Yet Rip knew nothing about it; he was asleep. One of the great misfortunes of history is that all too many individuals and institutions find themselves in a great period of change and yet fail to achieve the new attitudes and outlooks that the new situation demands. There is nothing more tragic than to sleep through a revolution.”
Dr King went on to say that the church needs to stay awake and be responsive to what is going on in the world.
“Certainly the church has a great responsibility because when the church is true to its nature, it stands as a moral guardian of the community and of society.
It has always been the role of the church to broaden horizons, to challenge the status quo, and to question and break mores if necessary. “
Dr King said, that “First, we are challenged to instill within the people of our congregations a world perspective. The world in which we live is geographically one. “
“We must live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. This is a fact of life. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone.”
“All I’m saying is this: that all life is inter-related, and somehow we are all tied together. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
“It is not enough for the church to work in the ideological realm, and to clear up misguided ideas. To remain awake through this social revolution, the church must engage in strong action programs”
MLK changed hearts and minds. He changed the world. But he didn’t do it alone. Thousands marched with him, thousands went to jail, and many were killed, as he was, by violence.
Martin Luther King did the eulogy for James Rheeb, and in that eulogy he spoke of hope, saying he was not discouraged by the future, despite the heartache, despite the tragedy that was all around him.
He faced despair, a whole mountain of it. A system of segregation that many believed would never really change. But in his dream he climbed that mountain of despair and saw a vision of the other side. He carved a stone of hope from that mountain, one that kept his dream alive.
Many of us are in despair today. We are in despair over the state of the world, the wars, the impending environmental disasters, the racism; the massive scale of human suffering that exists on the streets in this city and all around the world. Some of us may also be in despair over something that is going on in our own individual lives, a relationship gone bad, a health crises, a job loss, a need for housing, or for even a little bit of financial security. As a congregation, many of you have been in despair for a number of years over the future of this fellowship. Will it thrive; will it even survive?
We need to keep dreaming. We need to keep doing, to keep on working, making the effort, taking the risks. The largest problem can be tackled, step-by-step and piece-by-piece. Work for justice. Do your part to help heal the planet. Ask for help when you need it. Dare to keep on dreaming. I am still dreaming. If we keep dreaming together we can make those dreams, those visions of a better world, of a better life, of a rocking religious community; we can make those dreams come true.
I will end with these words by Rev. Wayne Arnason
Take courage friends,
The way is often hard, the path is never clear,
And the stakes are very high.
For deep down , there is another truth:
You are not alone.
Amen and blessed be.