Beyond Dreaming

Martin Luther King had a dream for this nation. It is an important dream. The dream was more than voting rights for people of color. The dream was more than desegregation of lunch counters, buses, and schools. The dream was more than little black boys and little black girls holding hands with little white boys and little white girls. These are all wonderful aspects of Martin Luther King’s dream but it is not the whole of his dream.

His dream included ending the terror of living in America as a black person. And that is a much nobler dream than all the other pieces of the dream that people speak about when they talk about King’s dream.

The emotional history of African Americans in our nation is one of terror . The dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. was to rid this terror from the experience of people of color in this nation. The world that Martin Luther King, Jr. was born into included this fact: If an African American even so much as looked at a white person, that African American might at best have been beaten unconscious or worst lynched from a tree. With no consequences to the white people who committed such heinous acts. No person should live a life where fear is the norm.

The gift Martin Luther King, Jr. gave to African Americans in the 1950s/60s was to no longer be afraid of the consequences of seeking to do what is morally the right thing. When confronted with the morally right thing—sitting at a lunch counter, remaining seated on a bus, requesting voting registration, confronting Jim Crow laws, refusing to be humiliated—white America responded with violence to put African Americans back into their ‘assigned’ place of subjugation. When people stand up for their rights and are willing to absorb violence and not strike back, not defend their bodies, then those people are free. They have reclaimed their agency to self-determination in a society that denied this basic human right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was expanding his dream beyond racism to include classism. King was speaking up about the effects of poverty in America. He was speaking up about the effects of exploitive work practices on the white and black poor in America. His last days were to apply pressure on the city of Memphis regarding the work conditions and poverty wages of sanitation workers who were on strike for better treatment. His assassination on the 4th of April 1968 brought an end to the focus on poverty in America. The status of the average American worker has deteriorated ever since. The class divide in this country has not seen such a widening gap since the eve before the Crash in October 1929.

I believe that if King had lived, he would have achieved the same for people of poverty that he had for people of color. He would have instilled the ability to face their own fears of not being able to provide for their families by organizing and demanding justice in the work place.

It has been fifty years since King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Fifty years to take his dream and move it beyond dreaming and into reality. But it hasn’t happened. The time is now.

The march had a list of goals that are still relevant today as they were then. Here is a sampling of the goals for the March on Washington that may not be well known:

• A Federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring;
• A $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide;
• Enforcement of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by reducing congressional representation from States that disenfranchise citizens;
• A broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to currently excluded employment areas

Do any of these issues still sound familiar? In 1963 the federal minimum wage was $1.25 an hour. In 2014 dollars that pay scale would purchase the same as $9.58. Our federal minimum wage is $7.25. This amount does not allow a family of four to afford the average rent. The proposal in 1963 was to increase minimum wage to $2.00 an hour or in 2014 dollars–$15.33. There is a current push to raise the Federal minimum wage to $10 an hour. This is a start but it still does not even bring the middle class back to the purchasing power they had in 1963.

Alabama does not have a state minimum wage. The federal minimum wage only applies to businesses of over $500K, businesses that involve interstate commerce, and hospitals and schools. Domestic workers are only covered if they work 8 hours or more a week for one or more employees. Therefore there are many people, such as farm workers, who may not even be earning minimum wage because their jobs fall outside of the purview of the federal law.

I recently saw a poster that said The Middle Class is too big to fail. If the Middle Class fails in our nation, then all our ideals collapses as a failed experiment. It is time for us to move beyond dreaming and address minimum wage for all workers, including restaurant workers whose minimum wage of $2.13 has remained static for 22 years.

The business community has lobbied successfully against such measures. They are only looking out for their shareholders, those people who are in the top 10% of controlling the wealth of the nation. A recent report came out stating that 85 people control the same about wealth as half of the world’s population . We are approaching 7 billion people on this planet.

Winnie Byanyima, the Oxfam executive director stated, “Without a concerted effort to tackle inequality, the cascade of privilege and of disadvantage will continue down the generations. We will soon live in a world where equality of opportunity is just a dream. ” Dream in this case means fantasy, not feasible goals like Martin Luther King’s dream.

But the argument against a rise in minimum wage is that it would take money from the shareholders, approximately $11 Billion dollars based on a 2007 study so this is a dated figure, but only $1.6 Billion of these dollars would benefit the working poor. It is argued that the Earned Income Tax Credit would be a better way to go as it can be adjusted upwards, cost $2.4 Billion of which $1.4 billion would benefit poor families. But if we as a people of faith even have an inkling of considering remediating income inequality and improving the quality of the lives of the poor, then we need to consider doing both; raise the minimum wage and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit.

A recent empirical study of what happens when poor people get cash showed something rather amazing. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino when it opened in 1996 decided to proportionately share its profits with its 8,000 members. A professor from Duke University had already been following the rural children with a good percentage of them being Cherokee. A substantial baseline had been established over a course of four years prior to the casino opening.

In 2001, when each Cherokee was receiving an additional $6,000 in income a year, the poverty level of the Cherokees had dropped by half. But what was also discovered is that the frequency of behavioral problems within the poorest of these families dropped by 40%. It was also discovered that the earlier this money arrived in their children’s lives the better their children’s mental health. What was also discovered is that the supplemental income saved money in the community in the long run. The children were one third less likely to abuse drugs or to have psychiatric issues as adults and this reduced community costs. On schedule Highschool graduations increased as there were fewer children repeating classes. This means that students were able to focus on their studies and not worry about their next meal.

The amount of money the casino disbursed amongst its members was not enough for anyone to not need employment but it was a substantial unconditional cushion. As a society, we might not be able or even want to provide what King advocated for which was a guaranteed minimum income to abolish poverty in this nation. But if we were to raise the minimum wage and increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, we would be offering the same type of assistance as the Cherokee Casino. Just as the members received a lump sum check disbursement, the income refund check would be a similar boost. We would give back personal control to those who are desperately poor in this nation. It is time to move beyond dreaming and working towards creating the society that we know we can be.

The 14th amendment was as much an issue in King’s day as it is today. In fact, it may be even argued that the problems this amendment caused in our society have only compounded in the years since the March on Washington in 1963.

The 14th amendment which was written to grant full citizenship to emancipated slaves is now being used to enslave all of American workers. It is said that a law has no real influence until it is faced with litigation. It is in the litigation that the law comes alive and develops teeth. This amendment was litigated 150 times between its passage and 1896. Only 15 of these cases had to with the citizenship of the African American, the remainder had to do with the personhood rights of the corporation. We have seen the devastation this gross misinterpretation of this amendment has caused throughout the 20th century and now with the Supreme Court ruling of Citizens United four years ago; our very democracy is at stake. Citizens United has created the ability for Corporations to have the privilege to create and purchase passage of laws that benefit solely the shareholder’s profit and not serve their purpose of serving society’s welfare. As we observe our society today, it is clear that corporations do not have society’s welfare best interest at heart.

We have created a protected class in giving corporations personhood. They are able to poison our water supply, cause irreversible environmental damage through oil spills, and destroy the economic lives of thousands without assuming any accountability for their actions. We have allowed corporations to become too big to fail which has placed the very quality of our lives at risk when they violate laws and are allowed to continue to do so after paying what amounts to a mere penny of a fine.

We have seen corporations in the form of for-profit prisons make contract deals with the government that turns people into nameless quotas to be filled. This requires the creation of laws that change misdemeanors into felonies and condemns a class of people to a life of perpetual dehumanizing institutionalization. Our nation represents 25% of all incarcerations in the world, yet we only represent 5% of the world’s population. Contrary to our national myth we are not the land of the free; we are the land of the incarcerated.

The 5th and 14th amendments should be ensuring due process and equal protection under the law. But instead we are feeding our corporations quotas by creating laws such as stop and frisk. Minorities are disproportionately singled out for stop and frisk in direct violation of the 14th amendment . It is time to move beyond dreaming and reclaim the 14th amendment for its intended purpose, strip it of its litigated purpose and assure that all citizens, born or naturalized, have equal protection under the law.

We live in a state that still allows discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We shame our young LGBTQI teens by teaching abstinence until marriage and ignore the realities of their lives. We still require our Alabama schools to teach homosexuality is a criminal offense and do not consider the ramifications of such a statement on our gay children. Housing and employment discrimination against the queer community is still a reality. Homophobia is still an acceptable behavior in the state. We need to support pending legislation that will protect their rights and limit the damage that homophobic religions in our state spew on these innocent lives. We need to move beyond dreaming and stand up for our siblings of sexual and gender diversities.

We need to move beyond dreaming that things were different and begin embodying our values in our daily lives. T. E. Lawrence also known as Lawrence of Arabia stated “Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible. ”

How we decide to move beyond dreaming is open for discussion but the issues that Rev. Martin Luther King sought to address are still with us today. We must not be afraid to speak out about them. If we move together in community to address these issues we need not be cowering in fear. Sister Simone of Nuns on the Bus said, “The antidote to fear is community. In community, we know we are not alone and that someone has my back. This shared responsibility calls us to exercise our civil obligations. In fact, community can only exist if everyone contributes to the shaping of our society.

Let us as a community move beyond dreaming of how things might be into the light of day of making it so. Blessed Be.

[Sermon delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa  on January 26 2014 (c) by Rev. Fred L Hammond

Sources:

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/08/29/1011562/-Most-of-you-have-no-idea-what-Martin-Luther-King-actually-did

http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/20/oxfam-85-richest-people-half-of-the-world

http://modeledbehavior.com/2010/10/26/why-the-minimum-wage-should-go/    The link for this study actually sent me to the Congressional Budget Office’s study from 1986 and not to the 2007 study it reportedly was quoting.
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/18/what-happens-when-the-poor-receive-a-stipend/
http://www.progress.org/tpr/martin-luther-king-on-guaranteed-income-social-dividend/ http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/stop-and-frisk_tactics_by_new_york_cops_violated_fourth_and_14th_amendments

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/t/t_e_lawrence.html

http://standingonthesideoflove.org/blog/day-8-the-antidote-to-fear/

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The Baptist Minister Knocks on the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Door

The other day a Baptist minister and a congregant came to my apartment door.  They were passing out tracts and alerting the neighborhood of a revival his congregation is hosting.  After exchanging a few pleasantries, he found out that I was a Unitarian Universalist minister. He launched into a series of questions of what if I am wrong in my faith and damnation awaited my eternal soul after death.  I assured him I had faith that was not the case for me or for anyone. He suggested I was making a huge gamble.  I assured him my faith was sure.  He requested that I read the tract he was passing out and I told that I would not because I already knew what the tract was going to state and was not interested.  He told me I was afraid of the truth.  I reminded him it was as he perceived it and not truth as I perceived it.  He continued to challenge me on reading it.  And after I stated again I was not going to read it, he told me I was pitiful.  And continued to call me pitiful as he walked away.

I found it quite interesting that he could not accept an honest answer to his question therefore he had to resort to insulting me.  The difficulty that I have with Christianity as it is presented here in the Deep South is that it is based on fear and contradictions.  That fact alone should be a red flag for any would be converts.

The Baptist minister and I agreed that God is love.  Yet, the Baptist minister also believes that if Jesus is not accepted as Lord and Savior then that God of love will condemn the person to eternal damnation of fire and brimstone.  This is a contradiction.  A god of love does not condemn the beloved. A skilled parent may punish their child for doing something harmful to themselves and others but the parent never condemns their child to everlasting punishment.  The parent seeks to protect the child.  The parent seeks to nurture the child.  The parent seeks to instruct the child. The skilled parent does not use fear of condemnation to achieve instruction.  Condemnation destroys and removes all hope of reconciliation.  The God the Baptist believes in is an abusive manipulative parent who uses fear, intimidation, and condemnation to oppress and control his people.

As a society, we try to remove the child from such abusive parents because we recognize the damage such brutal relationships causes within the child’s maturational development. Is it any wonder given that sort of relationship with a god who requires being fearful of eternal damnation in order to achieve loyalty results in state laws that are punitive on those less fortunate?   This is not the teachings of Jesus.  His teachings that refer to damnation are aimed at his followers who become smug in their salvation and do not recognize the divine in each other.  ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ (Matthew 25:44 New American Standard) This is a parable.   Jesus is not referring to an actual location one will be sent but rather is referring to how far a distance one might be in following his teachings when they only take on the shell of his teachings and not embody them.  How different the world would be if we recognized the presence of the Christ, the Buddha, the divine in each other and nurtured that to blossom to full bloom and then to seed?

The Baptist minister in promoting fear and coercion to convert others is likened to another teaching of Jesus’ “Now you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but on the inside you are full of greed and evil.” (Luke 11:39 International Standard Version).  Having the appearance of salvation but not the spirit of love within is no salvation at all.  If he was truly a follower of Jesus, he would not have needed to resort to insults as he parted. I am sure he felt very smug and good at his ability to cast dispersions on my honesty in telling him ‘no I will not read’ his tract.  His behavior does not speak well of his religion.  He did not impress me with his arrogant stance.

To be honest, I have difficulty with a faith where the message is, ‘See what you made me do to your elder brother because you would not listen to me? You made me torture him and crucify him in the most horrendous fashion all because you refused to obey my commandments.’    This is the abusive parent.  And since the church is considered the bride of Christ, this is the abusive spouse.  ‘It is your fault because of your sinful nature that I strike Jesus with the lash and drive nails into his body.  If only you would just do what I ask and not make me so angry, I would not have to beat up Jesus. Can’t you see how much I love you? I crucified my son for your evil behaviors.’  This is the abusive message the Baptist minister was preaching to me the other day.  Every victim of domestic abuse has heard this rationale for why their spouse struck them. The only difference is that instead of striking the victim, the abuser strikes someone else in their stead with the warning ‘this will happen to you for all eternity if you do not do as I say.’  I was already all too familiar with the subtext of the tract he passed out to have a need to read it.

I prefer a religion that invites me to be more than I am today.  There are versions of Christianity, albeit rare in the Deep South, that  invite others to grow beyond where they are today.  I prefer a religion that calls me to love my neighbor.  I prefer a religion that calls me to make straight the path, to encourage justice to roll down like waters, to be a river of righteousness, to be an up-lifter of people. Such a religion will also lead me to lie down in green pastures and to drink from still waters to restore my soul. Such a religion will place a yearning in my heart to create justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly through-out my days.  That is a religion I can follow, not because it ‘tickle’s my ears”  with words I want to hear as the Baptist minister suggested, but because such a religion confronts my prejudices and biases, chastises my false convictions, and reveals where I have fallen short in my relationships with others.  Such a religion makes me think long and hard on how my life affects the lives of others.  It also reassures me of my humanity when I miss the mark and invites me to begin again.  Such a religion reaffirms my inherent worth and dignity with the love that is offered me not because of anything I have done but simply because I, too, am a child of the universe/god.

My chosen faith, Unitarian Universalism, is not the perfect religion either.  We have our own issues with racism, classism, and other isms as they are manifested within our congregations and denominational structures.  But I believe we strive to not be coercive with fear mongering. I believe we strive to honor our principles and struggle on how to live those principles in our daily lives.  May we seek to fulfill our covenant with love and affection and leave fear behind.

 

 

 

Bring Moral Mondays to Alabama!

The state of Alabama is considered one of the poorest states in the nation.  Governor Bentley in his state of the State address brought home the point that Alabama has the poorest county in the nation.  Yet, he refuses to allow medicaid expansion because after three years of full Federal funding, the state would gradually be required to pay 10% of the tab by 2020.  A price tag that he believes is harmful to the people of Alabama–despite the 435K additional lives Medicaid expansion will save–despite the 12,000 jobs created to the health care field by 2016–despite the additional creation of jobs that a billion new dollars coming into the state annually would generate.  This action by the governor does not serve the people of this state even though he feigns concern for the citizens in Wilcox County, the poorest county in the nation with double digit unemployment rate in post ‘Great Recession’ America.  He is doing nothing to ensure these people have access to health care despite his protests of care and concern.

His stance is unethical.  At best he is being penny wise and pound foolish, but his disdain for the federal government is made complete by his total lack of compassion and concern for the people of this state.  There is another word for people who voice 100% disdain for the federal government–unpatriotic.  Now I am not one who insists on flag waving to show patriotic sentiments nor do I believe in the mantra ‘my country right or wrong.’  But when attempts to help people in dire straits such as the good people ofWilcox County and elsewhere in the state, and he refuses to accept that help solely because he is against the President of this country, then he is unpatriotic and a hypocrite.  A governor worth their salt would graciously accept the federal government aid and seek to find ways to implement it in ways that show innovative ways to empower the citizenry as well.

His leadership is being followed by the state legislature with bills that are equally unethical and immoral. The current HB31, the Health Care Rights of Conscience Act is exhibit A in a list of ill conceived and immoral attacks on the people of Alabama.  This bill is aimed at preserving the rights of people of conscience in the health care field to refuse to treat people whose life choices they disagree with.  The bill is specifically aimed at those who are seeking “abortion, human cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, and sterilization.”  And the services are the full continuum from admission to treatment care.

This act has language that hints at  later expansion of conscience to other religious objections.  Our state still criminalizes homosexuality for example and is already a target by conservative religious groups.

The bill reminds me of an earlier time in the nation’s history when in the 1980s and 90s hundred of thousands of people living with AIDS were denied health care because the staff at hospitals and hospices were opposed to homosexuality and fearful of the disease.  It reminds me of an even earlier time when people struck by polio were denied services because it was believed they had done something wrong to incur God’s wrath.  This bill is only different in that this bill legalizes such refusal based on questionable theological grounds.  I do not recall anywhere in the Christian Scriptures where Jesus said to heal the sick unless your conscience dictates  to disagree with their life choices.

This bill increase stigmatization and is intended to bring shame on those who for a myriad of reasons have come to the decision to abort a pregnancy.  Such a bill is immoral.

This is not the first time this state in recent history attempted to legalize discriminatory practices against people disapproved of by the State Legislature.  As if the State Legislature has the moral authority to make such proclamations.  HB 56 passed into law a few years ago had several provisions in it that would force citizens of this state to discriminate against immigrants.  The sections deemed immoral by leaders across the religious spectrum were eventually permanently struck down by the 11th circuit court.

Exhibit B is SB 194 which would fast track the appeals process in capital punishment cases. This fast tracking would increase the risk of putting wrongly convicted people to death.  The governor and the state legislature have made clear their desire to eliminate abortions in the state and their actions to date show the need to show utmost prudence when making a decision to abort a pregnancy. While I personally believe it is ultimately the woman’s right to choose the fate of her body, I agree that prudence in making such a decision is of utmost importance. It is not one that should be made in a cavalier manner.  This same prudence should be shown for people convicted of crimes judged to be worthy of the death sentence. Insisting that such prudence be made at the end of life is also of utmost importance and also should not be made in a cavalier manner.  Fast tracking death sentences shows disdain for life just as much as fast tracking a decision to abort a fetus.  This bill shows the hypocrisy and the lack of moral aptitude of the state legislature.

The state legislature is facing an election year.  They are wanting to get bills passed in double time so they can spend their time campaigning.  The people of Alabama need to make clear that their actions have hurt the people of Wilcox County and no amount of using their name in vain will persuade us that they have any other intentions then to continue doing so.   If these and other bills of questionable moral standing pass as have other bills in the past few years, then we the people must make our voice clear at the election booth and vote out such people who are more concerned for their own self interests than they are for the people of this state.   We need to slow down the State legislature this year in making their hideous laws.  One way to do so is bring the Moral Monday Civil Rights movement in North Carolina to Alabama. We need to act now.

Published in: on January 18, 2014 at 10:21 am  Comments Off on Bring Moral Mondays to Alabama!  
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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  Thank you Dear Readers, I had no idea how far this blog has traveled this past year.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Published in: on January 14, 2014 at 4:52 pm  Comments (1)