Tag Archive | Martin Luther King

Top of the Mountain @UUP 1/15/17

 

That song by Sweet Honey in the Rock (Would you Harbor Me), an a cappella group of African American women activists, almost always brings me to tears.  Who would you harbor?  As Unitarian Universalists, our congregations have long harbored some of the outcasts of our larger society – religious heretics and skeptics, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are the most obvious of the groups that have found shelter with us over the years. We have also provided a religious home for interfaith couples and their children.

 

Today is the Sunday closest to the Martin Luther King holiday, and I think it is even more important this year that we look to his example so that we can find the courage to open our hearts wide enough so that all who seek shelter can find a safe harbor with us.  Would we harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew?

 

Our President Elect has said he is planning on having American Muslims register with the government.  Will you be willing to register as a Muslim in order to help defeat this horrible and Un-American plan?

 

Becoming a Muslim is fairly simple, one only needs to say the Shahada, the Muslim statement of faith, twice, with sincerity.  lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāh, muḥammadur-rasūlu-llāh or in English: There is no god but God. Muhammad is a prophet of God.

 

Personally, I don’t have a problem with that statement of faith.  As a Unitarian Universalist, my theology is grounded in a belief that if there is a divine presence in the universe; that presence is universal, open to all and loving all.  Muhammad spoke of that presence as have many others that I would name prophets of that one light that guides us all toward justice and wholeness. So think, as the days before our new president takes office grow shorter and shorter, think about what you might be willing to do.

 

There is one thing that is, I think, critical for our survival in this new age, and that is holding onto our dreams for a better world.  Our outgoing President spoke to this in his farewell address, but it is a truth that bears repeating.

 

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.

 

I don’t want to live like broken winged bird.

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 responsive reading this morning, “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 last election fanned the flames of the racial hatred that has always been a part of the American story.  It feels like we are moving backward, not forward into making the dream a reality.

 

A song we did not sing today because it was a little too challenging musically if you don’t know it well, is hymn #149.  You might want to look it up and glance at some of the words.  Often called the Negro National Anthem, it is being sung this morning in most African American Churches and many of our Unitarian Universalist congregations as well.  It is a song of hope, but it also names the despair, the hard times.  The second verse in particular, “stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died, yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet come to the place for which our fathers sighed. We have come over a way that with tears have been watered, we have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.”  That verse references both slavery and the civil war, yet ends with a vision of a bright star of hope.

 

We are entering into hard times again, but the star is still shining if we look for it.

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.

 

Our faith tradition is one that lives in this world. If we had a Holy Trinity in this faith of ours, it would be Justice, Love, and Compassion.

Dr. King always tried to live his life guided by love.  He was a visionary, an activist for justice, 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 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.  We are involved in immigrant rights and the Black Lives Matter movement.

But action can be risky.  James Reeb and Martin Luther King were both murdered. Many others have also lost their lives in similar ways.  But what is most important is not how they died, but how they lived.

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.

Dr King told us 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” he said, “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.”

“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 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.

We need to keep dreaming.  We need to keep doing, to keep on working, making the effort, and keep 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. If we keep dreaming together we can make those dreams, those visions of a better world, of a better life; we can make those dreams come true.

I will end with these words by MLK

“When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows. Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

We are part of that creative force that will find a way to keep bending that arc toward justice.  May it be so.

 

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Still Dreaming @thebfuu 1/16/15

martin-luther-king-jr-washington-speech-i-have-a-dream

 

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.

Take courage.

For deep down , there is another truth:

You are not alone.

Amen and blessed be.

Rainbow Tears

What does it take to kill a dream?

Can they make a rainbow cry?

I’m old enough to remember

That day when Martin was killed

And Meredith’s brave

March against Fear

Was ended by sniper fire.

Harvey was shot while he sat at his desk

Matthew was tied to a fence.

But their dreams go on

In the lives we live

Hate can make

A rainbow weep

But the sun still shines

Within our hearts

Hope can part the fearful clouds

Dreams flying free at last

The power of love will win.

 

Rainbow-with-Clouds-Background

Have a Dream

Video of sermon (here)

Call to worship (here)

Sermon text:

Quoting MLK: “From every mountainside, let freedom ring. When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Ah, the dream of freedom.  The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. had a lot of dreams. He spoke of one of them in his most famous speech given during the march on Washington so many years ago.  That dream was about racial equality.  He was, however, a man of many other dreams, some that came to him in his sleep but many more that came to him from his work with people.

The selection Kaya recited was about peace. It upset people when he started speaking against the war in Viet Nam. “Why can’t he just stick to civil rights?” they said.   King also spoke about economic inequality which got even more people upset.

Talking about the Poor People’s Campaign, he said,

“We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. We read one day,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” But if a man doesn’t have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.”

King would have loved the occupy movement and he would be appalled at the ever increasing income inequality that we have not only here in America, but in the world.

Martin Luther King had dreams.  He was an inspirational leader; there is no doubt about that.  He was also a minister and like all ministers, much of his inspiration came from his congregation.  He also happened to have a really big congregation, one that included just about everyone in this country.  He preached love not hate and reached out to his enemies as well as to his friends.

Sometimes his congregation pushed him to do things he was reluctant to do.

One  example was in Birmingham.   This is a story told by Kate Rhode.  Things were not going well there.  People were afraid of the sheriff who was named Bull Conner. He was scary. King was having a hard time recruiting people who were willing to protest.  One night, he asked, “Who will demonstrate with me tomorrow in a brave attempt to end segregation? Who will risk going to jail for the cause?”

No one answered his call and he tried again, “The struggle will be long,” he said.

“We must stand up for our rights as human beings. Who will demonstrate with me, and if necessary, be ready to go to jail for it?”

There was a pause, and then a whole group of people stood up. Someone gasped. All the people who stood up were children.

(Children and youth please stand if you are willing to work for justice)

The adults told them to sit down but they didn’t.

Martin Luther King thanked the children and told them he appreciated the offer but that he couldn’t ask them to go to jail. They still wouldn’t sit down. They wanted to help.

That night, Dr. King talked with a close group of friends about the events of the day. “What are we going to do?” he asked. “The only volunteers we got were children. We can’t have a protest with children!” Everyone nodded, except Jim Bevel. “Wait a minute,” said Jim. “If they want to do it, I say bring on the children.”

“But they are too young!” the others said. Then Jim asked, “Are they too young to go to segregated schools?”

“No.”

“Then they are not too young to want their freedom.”

That night, they decided that any child old enough to join a church was old enough to march.

The children heard about the decision and told their friends. When the time came for the march, a thousand children, teenagers, and college students gathered.

The sheriff arrested them and put them in jail. The next day even more kids showed up—some of their parents and relatives too, and even more the next day and the next day. Soon lots of adults joined in. Finally, a thousand children were locked up together in a “children’s jail.” And there was no more room for anyone else.

Sheriff Connor had done awful things to try and get protesters to turn back. He had turned big police dogs loose and allowed them to bite people. He had turned on fire hoses that were so strong the force of the water could strip the bark off of trees. He had ordered the firefighters to point the hoses at the children and push them down the street. People all over the country and all over the world saw the pictures of the dogs, the fire hoses, and the children, and they were furious.

The white people of Birmingham began to worry. All over the world people were saying bad things about their city. Even worse, everyone was afraid to go downtown to shop because of the dogs and hoses. So they decided they had to change things. A short time later, the black people and white people of Birmingham made a pact to desegregate the city and let everyone go to the same places.

Today when people tell this story, many talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. We should also remember the thousands of brave children and teenagers whose courage helped to defeat Bull Connor and end segregation in Birmingham and the rest of the United States.(The Children’s Crusade by Kate Rhode, in What if Nobody Forgave? and Other Stories, edited by Colleen McDonald (Boston: Skinner House, 2003).

Martin Luther King did not do it alone.

A minister never does anything alone.

Those of you, who are members of this congregation and also on our church email list, got a message from me last Thursday night.

In that message I said that I have decided that I will be leaving Utah and moving back to my home in California at the end of this coming June. It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, but it is the right one for my family and for myself.  By the end of June, I will have served as your minister for seven years. They have clearly been some of the best years of my life, and it will be very hard in so many ways to leave you.

So why am I leaving?  There are a lot of reasons, some fairly obvious and others less so.  When you first called me, I promised you five years and it has been seven.  I will be 64 in February and it is time to slow down and think about retirement.

Also, as almost all of you know, Anne and I got married last July in California, even though we delayed our wedding until we could celebrate it on our anniversary.  That made a huge difference to me.

I had never expected to be able to legally marry the love of my life, but when the Supreme Court ruled against DOMA last June it suddenly became real.  We could be married by both God and by our country, at least in some states.  In fact that was how the minister who conducted our ceremony pronounced us married, “By God and by Country.”  It was really hard coming back to Utah and no longer having our relationship recognized.  We’d had a taste of freedom and equality.

You know what I mean; everyone here also got a taste for 18 days in late December and early January.

It was then I began thinking seriously about leaving at the end of June.  We also miss our kids and the good friends we have in California.  It won’t surprise you that I also miss the weather and the much better air quality.

All those reasons are important, but there is another one, that at least makes it easier for me to leave.  UUCO is doing great!  You have strong lay leadership that knows how to do church.  After the end of year appeal results, we are in at least decent shape financially.  You are an awesome church and I know you will continue to do wonderful and amazing things.

And you know what else?  I am no Martin Luther King.  You will easily find someone who will lead you just as well if not better.  Remember, that a congregation creates the ministry and mission of the church.  The minister is simply a guide who tries to keep everything on track.

Next Sunday, your board president, Doris Lang, will talk with you about what happens next.  Basically, you will hire an interim minister who will serve you for a year while you search for a more permanent settled minister.  It is a well-established process within our denomination and it will go very smoothly.

Some of you have asked me what I will be doing after I leave.  I won’t look for another settled ministry.  I will see if I can find an interim position for a year or two, or possibly something part-time.  If nothing else, I will write and do guest preaching, and there will no doubt be some type of social justice work that I will feel the need to do.

OK.  Now you know that I will be leaving at the end of June.  But it is still January, and we have quite a number of months, almost 6, a half of a year, until we have to actually say goodbye.  Let’s just keep doing what we have been doing.  I know I will treasure the rest of our time together.  I hope we use it both wisely and well.

I will end with another King quote:

“And I submit that nothing will be done until people of goodwill put their bodies and their souls in motion. And it will be the kind of soul force brought into being as a result of this confrontation that I believe will make the difference.”

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Ogden knows about that kind of soul force.  You know about the power of love.  You know about dreams.  Keep dreaming and make those dreams real.

Amen and Namaste.

Dreams – Yours, Mine and Martin’s

Some dreams come slipping to us

From somewhere else

Just as we drift

Alone in that quiet space

Right before waking

Fantasies of longing

Memories mixed in

Weird rhythms of our minds

It is hard to know

What they mean.

Other dreams are created

From the hard days of our lives

The walls we long to scale

The wrongs we’d like to right

Visions of justice and freedom

Bringing hope to our hearts

Even as tears stream from our eyes

Martin had a dream

I have a dream

You have a dream

We can work with love

To make them real

Gay is Great! 6/2/2013

Today is pride Sunday. Many of our members, both gay and straight, are not in church this morning because they are attending the parade and celebration down in Salt Lake City.  That is great!  That is so gay!

It is interesting how much tone can matter.  If I had said, “That is great” or “That is so gay” it would have drawn a very different reaction from this mostly straight but hardly narrow group that is gathered here today.

When I attended seminary, there were a number of students there who identified as transgender and the issue of pronouns came up.  It can be awkward.  The solution was to simply ask what individuals preferred and then try to be respectful of their wishes.  People made mistakes, however.  Gender cues are complicated and cultural norms run deep.  One of my professors, understanding this, said, “Whatever you call me, it will be OK, as long as you say it with love.”

Another story comes from when I worked for Social Security.  I was in a meeting with other line managers planning a strategy for handling a large workload that was coming soon.  We wanted our plan to be approved by our boss, so we were discussing how to approach them.  One of the other managers said, “We don’t want to queer the deal.”

Without thinking about it, I said, “Joe, some of us think that would be a good thing.”
There was some silence and then he turned bright red. There was some laughter in the room and he said he hadn’t meant it that way, and I just said, “I know.”

He hadn’t meant anything by it, in fact; it was just a figure of speech.  But he never used it again.  He’d learned something.

Most of us do not go out of our way to hurt other people’s feelings.  Sometimes it takes someone saying “ouch” before we know that something we have said or done has hurt.

This has been a banner year for GLBT rights.  Marriage equality is now the law in 14 countries, 12 states and the District of Columbia.  The Supreme Court will issue a decision this month on California’s Prop 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  It is great to be gay in times like these.  It is a level of progress that I never thought I would see in my lifetime.  When I first came out, it was a crime in most states to engage in sexual activity with someone of the same gender.  Then again, this country used to have segregated drinking fountains and schools.  The struggle for desegregation was a long and bloody one.

I will never forget the image of George Wallace in 1963, when he was the Governor of Alabama, standing in a doorway at the University of Alabama, trying to prevent two black students from entering.

There are a lot of public schools in this country named after Martin Luther King, but I don’t know of any named after George Wallace.
He was and remains a symbol of racist bigotry.  Naming a school after him would be hurtful to African Americans and others.

Some of you probably know where I am going with this.

Yes, I want to talk some about Weber State University’s decision to name their Center for Family and Community Education for Boyd K. and Donna S. Packer.

It is a tricky and controversial topic. The folks at Weber State are our friends.  Many members of this congregation work and study there.  Others are former students.  The University has been very supportive of our OUTreach program.  Still, their decision indicates to me that Gay is still not so great here in Utah.  Of course we knew that.  This legislative year statewide non-discrimination ordinances failed yet again.  (Stuart Reed, the state senator who represents Ogden was one of the prime opponents of that legislation by the way.  He said he could not support legislation that condoned immorality.)

Other states have the freedom to marry, but here many people have to stay in the closet for fear of losing their jobs or their homes.

It isn’t right and Boyd Packer, like George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door, has been standing in the way of justice and equality for the people of this state.

Let me say clearly that I have no problem with honoring someone who is active in the leadership of the LDS church.
A Gordon Hinckley Center for Family and Community Education would not give me heartburn.  It would not cause my heart to ache. I’d be OK with Thomas Monson too, or pretty much anyone other than Boyd Packer.  The LDS church has contributed a lot of very good things to Utah.  It is appropriate to recognize that.  It is also important to understand that the LDS church seems to be trying to change how it responds to gay people.  The changes are coming mainly from internal pressure, from the people in the pews.  There are literally hundreds of devout Mormons marching in the Pride parade today, carrying signs and speaking out in support of equality.

The LDS church believes in ongoing revelation, and I am confident that eventually they will come to understand that God does not make distinctions based upon either sexual orientation or gender.  In other words, and you can call me crazy, but I think that someday Mormon Lesbians will hold the Mormon priesthood.

Let me say another thing, slightly off subject, but important.  We need to be very careful in how we talk about the LDS church here in this congregation.  Followers of that faith are on their own search for truth and meaning.  It is not OK to mock their theology or their spiritual practices.  Every religion has its quirks.  Some would think our flaming chalice is a bit odd, for instance.  There are also hundreds of jokes about the number of Unitarian Universalists it takes to change a light bulb.  We can make those jokes and laugh at them.
It’s kind of like the difference between saying, “That is so gay” as a gay person or an ally and saying “that is so gay” in a disparaging way.

Respect for the worth and dignity of others and recognizing that all religions contain at least some truth, does not mean, however, that we should be silent when people are being hurt.  Respect sometimes means telling them that you don’t like something they are doing.  Boyd Packer’s many statements over the years have hurt many people, most of them members of his own faith tradition.  By this time, he must know they are hurtful.

Publicly honoring him is just not appropriate.  Maybe the decision makers at Weber State just weren’t thinking.  Maybe they were like my friend at work who “didn’t want to queer the deal.”  Maybe.  I hope so.  I hope they did not realize how hurtful this would be.  I hope they did not decide to go ahead anyway, despite knowing the pain they would be causing.

They clearly know now, if they did not before.  Even if they do not change their decision, they have learned something.

When you can say “gay is great” and mean it, then you aren’t afraid to say “ouch” when something hurts.  A least most of the time that is true.

I have another story.  When I worked for Social Security I traveled a lot and often took a cab home from the airport shuttle stop.  One time, fairly late at night, the cabbie yelled, “Move it faggot!” at another driver.  It scared me.
I wanted to say something but worried that if he figured out I was a lesbian things might get really ugly.  I stayed quiet and got home.  He did not get much of a tip, but I didn’t say why.

About a week later, I was riding in another shuttle to my office through downtown Richmond CA.  It is a low-income, primarily African-American community that was plagued by crime and gang violence.  The driver started making cracks about the neighborhood, and about “those black people.”  I was able to respond and said that I worked with a lot of the people that lived there, they were good people, and even more unhappy about the crime than he was because they had to live in the midst of it.

It felt safe to say something because I was obviously white.  I did not feel vulnerable to a racist attack, verbal or otherwise.  It took some courage, but not as much as it would have to confront the cabbie on his homophobia.

We need to forgive ourselves when we are silent because of fear.  It will make it easier to speak up in other situations.

Utah is a funny place.  I love it here. I really mean that, but it is a state full of contradictions.  Salt Lake has one of the largest Pride celebrations in the country, despite the fact of no state level protections.  It also has a very high percentage of same gender partners raising kids, despite the fact that it is against the law for gay couples to adopt or even to be foster parents.  They can’t even foster a gay teen that has been kicked out of their family for being gay.  It could make you crazy if you let it.

Still, there is progress, even here in Utah.  People speak up when something hurtful happens.  There is a dialogue at least, and time really is on our side.  One by one, counties and cities have adopted non-discrimination ordinances.  We even did that here in Ogden although it took a lot of hard work and dedication.  The city council chambers looked like church, there were so many of us there week after week.  We stood up for our religious principles, we stood on the side of love.

That’s so Unitarian Universalist!

Let all that we do be done in love.