Welcome Table -UUP 11/19/2017
Would you harbor me? Would I harbor you? The song we just heard by the choir asks important questions. Would you offer a safe harbor to just about anyone who needed it? What does it mean to harbor someone? Do we always have to say yes when someone is seeking sanctuary? Is everyone really welcome at the table of this congregation? Do we want to open our doors really wide? What would that mean? How would it change us?
These are practical questions, but they are also spiritual ones. The practical ones are difficult enough, but the spiritual can be even harder.
Today is Transgender Remembrance Day. As was explained in the reading, it is a day when we are asked to remember those who have been murdered in the last year because of their real or perceived gender identity. We are going to do that now. It is important.
2017 has already seen at least 25 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means just in the United states. The world-wide total is much larger. Most are people of color.
I will now read the names of a few of those precious souls. Please hold them in tender care, knowing that each name represents at least hundreds and probably thousands of others.
- Mesha Caldwell, 41,a black transgender woman from Canton, Mississippi, was found shot to death the evening of January 4.
- Sean Hake,23, a transgender man in Sharon, Pennsylvania, died after he was shot by police responding to a 911 call from his mother.
- Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, 28,an American Indian woman who identified as transgender and two-spirit, was found dead in her apartment in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
- JoJo Striker, 23,a transgender woman, was found killed in Toledo, Ohio, on February 8.
- Tiara Richmond, also known as Keke Collier,24, a transgender woman of color, was fatally shot in Chicago on the morning of February 21.
- Chyna Gibson, 31,a Black transgender woman, was shot and killed in New Orleans on February 25.
- Ciara McElveen, 26,a transgender woman of color, was stabbed to death in New Orleans on February 27.
- Jaquarrius Holland, 18,was shot to death in Monroe, Louisiana, on February 19.
- Alphonza Watson,38, was shot and killed in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 22.
- Chay Reed,28, a transgender woman of color, was shot and killed on April 21 in Miami.
- Kenneth Bostick, 59, was found with severe injuries on a Manhattan sidewalk, he later died of his injuries.
- Sherrell Faulkner, 46,a transgender woman of color died on May 16, of injuries sustained during an attack on November 30, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
- Kenne McFadden, 27, was found in the San Antonio River on April 9. Police believe she was pushed into the river, which runs through downtown San Antonio.
- Kendra Marie Adams, 28,was found in a building that was under construction and had burns on her body on June 13.
- Ava Le’Ray Barrin, 17,was shot and killed in Athens, Georgia on June 25 during an altercation in an apartment parking lot.
- Ebony Morgan, 28, was shot multiple times in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the early morning of July 2.
- TeeTee Dangerfield, 32,a Black transgender woman, was shot and killed on July 31 in Atlanta, Georgia.
- Gwynevere River Song,26, was shot and killed in Waxahachie, Texas, on August 12.
- KiwiHerring, 30, was killed during an altercation with police on August 22 during an altercation with her neighbor.
- Kashmire Nazier Redd, 28,was fatally stabbed by his partner on September 5.
- Derricka Banner, 26, was found shot to death in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 12.
- Scout Schultz, 21, was shot and killed by Georgia Tech campus police on September 16.
- Ally Steinfeld, 17,was stabbed to death in Missouri in early September.
- Stephanie Montez, 47, was brutally murdered near Robstown, Texas.
- Candace Towns, 30,a transgender woman who was found shot to death in Georgia.
May their spirits rest in love and in peace. Let us hold their memory in a brief time of silence.
Why did these individuals and so many others like them die such violent deaths? Did no one harbor them? Could no one, even those that loved them, provide enough protection?
One of the ugliest aspects of human social behavior is the tendency we sometimes have to treat people who are different in cruel and often violent ways.
I am not sure why that is, really. Maybe it is fear. People who are different can challenge our own identities, our sense of security, and our ideas about the way the world works. We like to divide the world into binaries: male and female, black and white, religious and secular, theist and atheist, us and them, and right and wrong.
People who identify as transgender challenge that simplistic and dualistic way of looking at the world simply by living their authentic lives. The world is more than black and white. There are all the colors of the rainbow in nature, and gender expression can be just as diverse. In many indigenous cultures, people who cross traditional gender boundaries are honored as being two-spirited and often are given roles of religious leadership.
In cultures with more rigid gender roles, in cultures where crossing the gender line can threaten the patriarchal power structure, such people are instead disparaged and abused. Ours is a patriarchal culture.
Things were slowly beginning to change for the better, but we are now in the midst of a serious backlash. Transgender people were attacked early with the president wanting to ban them from serving in the armed forces, but so many people with marginalized identities of all types are at increased risk by not only the current administration, but by the forces of hate, bigotry, and division that have always been with us, but have been given new life and energy. Nazis are marching in the streets of our cities, shouting the vile slogans of racism and anti-Semitism.
Will the candles we light be brighter than their torches? Will our love be enough to save us?
How can we live with the despair we feel when we faced with so many tragedies, day after day, after day? Our hearts are weary with listening to the long lists of those lost; we weep over the names and faces of the victims of violence and hate. So much is painful these days. How can we stand to live in a world with such horrifying and rampant gun violence, with the frightening impact of climate change which has made the storms and fires so much worse, or with the deep knowledge that sexual assault is woven into the fabric of our culture when virtually every woman alive is crying out, me too, me too?
Can we find a safe harbor for ourselves? Can we provide one for others?
What does it mean to harbor someone? Is it just giving physical shelter or is it more? I think it is a lot more. It is the spiritual promise we make when we affirm our first principle: to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Harboring is welcoming, really welcoming with open arms, hearts, and open doors. We say it often on Sunday mornings, when we welcome everyone with a whole laundry list of just who that welcome includes. Repeating that list is important because when some churches say “we welcome everybody” they only sort of mean it.
They welcome everybody who is willing to accept by faith the beliefs of that particular religion. Some even ask people to change who they are. We try to practice a more radical kind of welcome here. Yes, we have some rules. You can’t smoke during the service. If you go around screaming at other people, we will ask you to be quiet or leave. We expect people to be kind and respectful of other people. But smoking and screaming and being unkind to others are behaviors, and behaviors can be changed, and we are all works in progress. Part of the mission of a religious community is to help us learn to be our best selves.
Churches are sanctuaries, spiritual sanctuaries, but also legal ones. The state is not supposed to interfere with what happens in churches. That is part of the first amendment. I love the first amendment.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The first amendment is in trouble now. The free press is being dismissed as fake news, facts are optional, the truth is whatever serves the purpose of those with the power. 1984 has come and gone and is back again.
Offering sanctuary, harboring someone is always risky business.
Some of our states have passed laws that make it a crime to even give a ride to someone who is an undocumented immigrant. Need a ride home from church? Show me your green card.
The Unitarian Minister, Theodore Parker, is said to have written his sermons with a pistol beside him because he had fugitive slaves hidden in his cellar.
In Nazi Germany, if you harbored a Jew, you could be sent to a concentration camp where you could be tortured and killed.
Would you harbor me if you put your own life at risk to do so?
Not an easy question to answer, but it is one we should all be thinking about.
Even if we don’t risk death or imprisonment, really harboring someone is still risky business. What would happen to this community is we took the risk to create the kind of congregation that truly welcomed all? What would happen if we decentered the white middle-class culture that permeates almost all that we do here? What would happen if we actually welcomed Christians with the same warmth and care that we offer to those who have been hurt by Christianity?
I do believe there is hope, it is part of my faith to believe in hope. I have to keep singing, singing for all of the precious lives who need a sanctuary, who need a place to renew their spirits, a place to get the energy to go out and keep working for positive change. This community can be that kind of place, an open inclusive space, where different cultures, beliefs, and ways of being are respected, honored and celebrated. We are almost there, you have been working on it and do so much well. It will never be perfect, because nothing is ever perfect. But the stretching, the experimenting, the trying, the continual opening and reopening of our hearts and minds to a wider vision of a welcome table, that effort will help us create a beloved community that will be a true sanctuary for all who are seeking one.
Hold me, harbor me, I will hold you, I will harbor you.
Say it to yourself, say it to each other.
Hold me, harbor me. I will hold you, I will harbor you.
Now say it now to someone you don’t know, someone who isn’t here, someone maybe that you may never meet. Say it to all the hurting searching souls.
Hold me, harbor me. I will hold you, I will harbor you.