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:    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.

Harry Potter, You-know-who, and Unitarian Universalists

Here is the story for all ages and the homily I delivered on 29 August 2010 to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL.

“Harry Potter: The Boy That Lived” A story for all ages based on the stories of Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling adapted by Rev. Fred L Hammond.  Given to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa, AL on 29 August 2010

This is the story about Harry Potter’s early years when he was just an infant.  He was born in a time of great political distress.  The source of this distress was a powerful wizard, whose name shall not be mentioned. This wizard used his magic for harm rather than for good.  He was out to destroy all who stood in his way.

Now Harry’s parents were among those who fought against the bad things this wizard was doing. They did everything they could think of to stand up against this wizard.  The wizard had learned a very powerful spell that would kill any who stood in his way.  He killed many, many people.

But the time came when the wizard came to their house to kill Harry’s entire family.  The fierce wizard drew his wand and uttered the curse of death, and Harry’s parents were struck dead.  He did the same against Harry as well, but something happened.  Harry Potter did not die.  In fact, Harry Potter lived.

Harry Potter was taken to live with his relatives where it was thought he would be hidden away and safe from the forces of evil.   And in his absence, the story spread … Harry Potter, the boy that lived.   He unknowingly became famous because no one ever lived after being struck by the death spell. Harry Potter did all the things that young boys do; the only mark that something horrible had happened was a jagged scar on his forehead.

But why did he live?  What was the source of his protection?  No one really knew until many years later.  There is a magic that is greater than evil.  And this magic is available to everyone, even to us Muggles, who are not wise in the ways of magic. Do you know what this magic is?

This magic is said to be the source of all of creation. This magic makes the flowers bloom, the birds to sing, and rainbows to appear in the sky after a rainstorm. This magic enables people to speak up for what is fair and just.  This magic empowers people to express joy when justice is served.  What protected Harry Potter all those years ago from the evil wizard is the magic of love.  His parents loved him very much and so while pain and injustices might happen, the love his parents had for him would prevail.  Love would be the ground on which he would walk.  And that foundation is what kept Harry Potter safe and alive after the evil wizard’s spells.   May we also walk on the ground of love all of our days.

“Harry Potter, You-Know-Who, and Unitarian Universalists”  Homily delivered by Rev. Fred L Hammond 29 August 2010 (c)  Unitarian Universalist Congregation Tuscaloosa

At the end of the movie version of The Goblet of Fire, we witness Harry Potter in a battle with You-know-who, the dark lord who is so evil that to even speak his name is feared to bring harm to those present.  In the process of this battle, a classmate, Cedric is killed by You-know-who.

So when we pick up the story in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the ministry of magic has determined that Harry Potter and the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore is lying.  The ministry of magic has used its influence to have the newspaper of the wizards, the Daily Prophet, inflame the public by discrediting Harry Potter and Dumbledore.  The paper also is declaring that all is well and that You-know-who has not returned.  The head of the ministry has come to believe that Dumbledore is stating You-know-who is back in order to take the head magistrate’s job. But as Remus Lupin tells Harry, people become “twisted and warped by fear and that makes people do terrible things.”

Fear is rampant and the ministry of magic has determined that the common enemy is Harry Potter and Dumbledore.  In order to regain control over a presumed renegade school, the ministry of magic places as the professor of the dark arts, a Delores Umbredge.  When she is introduced at the school, she states, “Progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged, let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected and prune practices which ought to be prohibited.”

She then begins to systematically take over the school.  She begins by scrutinizing everyone’s move, punishing Harry Potter for speaking the truth, and announcing that anyone who questions her is therefore suspect of disloyalty. An inquisitor’s team is developed to hunt out those who are disloyal and / or plotting against the ministry of magic.  Teachers are dismissed.  The dark arts become a class on theory and not on practical defense.  She resorts to posting more and more restrictive rules on the school.  She uses fear to maintain order and resorts to torture to keep control.  And the ministry of magic focuses on security as being the number one priority for the wizard nation.

Any of this sounds vaguely familiar?  We have a lot of things being discussed around our nation.  In Arizona and across the country we have hatred and fear being spewed about immigrants.  In California, hateful lies have been spread about same sex couples causing a law for same sex marriage to be placed on hold.  In New York City, in Murfreesboro, TN and in Gainesville, FL we have angry, hateful lies being spread about American Muslims and their alleged intentions.  In Gainesville, a church plans to burn copies of the Qu’ran on September 11th to send a message to Muslims living in America.  Yesterday, Glenn Beck and his tea party met on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to allegedly ‘restore honor’ to the civil rights movement on the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech.

These are all outrageous events happening.  It makes our blood boil.  This isn’t just about the politics of the extreme right versus the politics of the left.  This is about how are we to live as a people in a nation made up of minorities.  And we are all members of a minority group.  Some are minorities by skin color, others are minorities by sexual orientation or gender identification, and others are minorities by ethnicity or by religious or political affiliation, or by class, or even by life experiences.   This nation of minorities is again debating somewhat angrily, and with violence as in Murfreesboro yesterday, who gets to join the coalition of the new majority and the benefits and privileges thereof.  Do gays?  Do immigrants from Mexico?  Do Muslim Americans?  Do African Americans?  Who else should be excluded as other?  Where is the line to be drawn that says these are the real Americans?

In 1947, the US government created a short film called “Don’t be a Sucker” that dissected how a fascist government could come to power here in America. 

The process was to divide people against the other.  Tell the nation that these individual groups are not really Americans.  These others are here to destroy the American Way of life, to take from real Americans what real Americans fought and died for.  Speak of the threat to national security these groups pose. And offer the hope of a better life to the ‘real Americans’, those who have labored long and hard for freedom by passing laws that restrict these other group’s freedom.  Oh, and one more thing, have the news agencies; print, radio, TV, and internet become part of the same conglomeration so only one side of the news could be told, the side that those in power want told.

The narrator in the film stated, “We have no ‘other’ people in America.  We are all American people.”  He instructed us to stand together, to be who we are, say what we think, and “to guard everyone’s liberty or lose our own.”  There is no we and they, there is only us.

The story line in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is also about fear of the other. The ministry of magic thought if they could keep You-know-who to remain underground then there would be no cause for alarm.  If hatred is kept out of public sight then all must be right with the world.  But hiding hatred or using politically correct words to mitigate hatred to something sounding less threatening does not get rid of hatred; it only causes hatred to seethe underground and then it erupts violently.

I understand the outrage at demagogue Glenn Beck and Fox News who are skillfully weaving hatred across the nation against other people, against our president, against our government.   But outrage is not going to change the outcome; it will only burn undirected energy into ash.

Just as in the story where Harry Potter and Dumbledore are on the vanguard, we need to be intentional and public with our presence of acceptance of the other. There is a need to be visible in standing on the side of love with those most impacted by the hatred. There is a need to say the word that no one else wants to say, just as Harry Potter states matter of factly Lord Voldemort’s name instead of the hushed You-know-who, we need to say the word racism and bigotry because that is what is at play here.  And there should be no apology for doing so.

Harry Potter’s story also reveals some very creative ways to combat those who manipulate fear to control and intimidate others.   The responses that Harry Potter and his friends make are responses that Unitarian Universalists can also use to address the issues of our day.

The Weasely twins in the story plan a very intricate and wonderful act of civil disobedience in response to the new tyranny that Professor Umbredge has imposed on the school.  With their magic, they disrupt the school’s final examinations with fireworks and breathing dragons made of fire.  In their doing this they show the rest of the school that they are not going to be intimidated by the forces of oppression; that they will continue to live free.  The Unitarian Universalist’s ‘Standing on the Side of Love’ campaign with immigrants, with sexual minorities, and with Muslims is a visible way to show that we are not afraid of the forces of racism and bigotry.  And there are other creative ways to show that what is happening is not acceptable in a country that values liberty and justice for all.

Harry Potter and friends search out the words of prophecy because they believe that therein may indeed be information that might guide them in their actions against the dark lord.   Search out and use the prophetic words of women and men for clues on how we might respond to the concerns of our day.  Make their words known again in editorials, letters to the editors, and paid advertisements letting others know that there are higher ideals that all can be striving towards.

Yesterday friends encouraged friends on facebook to hear the words of Rev. Martin Luther King’s famous speech “I Have a Dream.” Because within these words lie a dream of hope that all people of America might one day realize the power of the American creed for themselves.  The words of this prophetic leader are just one who speaks through the ages of how to be a nation, judged not by the color of our skin but by our character as a people.

I know that I have spoken much lately about what is happening in this country from a variety of angles.  As a people of faith who historically heard the call for justice in the civil rights movement, the call is being sent out to stand on the side of love once again.  The cry for justice is not just in Arizona, or in New York City, or even in Murfreesboro, TN. Yes, their cries are being heard from afar.  But the cry for justice is coming here in Alabama as well.  Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon the cry for justice will be sounded here as well.   Will we be among those who respond?  Will we be prepared like Dumbledore’s Army skilled according to our unique abilities the ways for justice?

In the words of Martin Luther King, “I refuse to accept the view that [hu]mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” May it be so.

Keeping the Dream Alive

“Keeping The Dream Alive”  delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa on 17 January 2010 © Rev. Fred L Hammond

 “I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed—we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal… I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, that one day, right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today!” (Martin Luther King, Jr. I Have a Dream)

These words of Martin Luther King, Jr. resounded loud across the mall from the Lincoln Memorial and they still echo today, I have a dream. I would love to be able to stand before you some forty plus years after King’s words were shouted from the roof tops of injustice and tell you that the dream has been fulfilled. But fulfilling the dream is not simply declaring through legislation that all people are created equal or by having little black boys and black girls joining hands with little white boys and white girls. Nor is it in electing the nation’s first African American as President. Nor is it by marching tomorrow in the annual Unity March that honors the life of this great man, a prophet for our times.

No, these are only the symbolic and surface acts that either mirror what is within our hearts or act as a deflector away from what is in our hearts. We have learned the hard way that racism is more complicated and more insidious than the behaviors that are displayed publicly.

Towards the final days of King’s life, he too was beginning to realize that racism in America is more than just black and white relations. He was beginning to talk about racism as it is tied into economic justice and war. King in his famous speech, “Where Do We Go From Here?” stated “it means ultimately coming to see that the problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.” I want to tell you today that even this realization of King’s is too simplified regarding racism in America.

Over the last forty years our denomination has also learned that racism is more than just the symbolic act of marching. We learned that the hard way. Our History in relation to the Civil Rights movement in the early 1960’s is a proud one. We joined King in the fight for voting rights, for desegregation, for employment opportunities. We marched with him in Selma and we even lost lives there. We thought we understood racism fairly well.

But after the marching was done, after the civil rights act was signed, riots broke out across this land, and we as a denomination sought to respond to this crisis and found ourselves to be complicit in racism. The consequent Empowerment Controversy of the late 1960’s and 70’s became a painful moment in our history that few want to revisit. To define the Empowerment Controversy with all its complexities and nuances simplistically, the question being asked was, were African American UU’s on an equal and level playing field with white UU’s for projects to address the justice issues in the Black communities? Whites, privileged with power and in control of the money sought to define what power, what self-differentiation African American UU’s could or should have within the denomination. Dr. Norma Poinsett, a former member of the Black Concerns Working Committee, a group that was formed in the 1980’s said at the 2001 General Assembly, “…We argued that black people should take charge of affairs affecting black people. We argued that only we could determine what our values should be and what was good for our communities. We were experts on our chaotic condition, we contended, because we faced racism daily both north and south.” (P12 The Arc of the Universe is Long [TAUL]) The answer that appeared to arise resulted in disaster. We are talking painful, gut wrenching disaster that nearly ended our faith. The UUA backed away from its commitments, African Americans left the denomination en mass. It was a painful time in our history. A moment in our history that made us realize that as a faith group we had our work cut out for ourselves.

After many years of licking our wounds, we started again to address the issue of diversity and race within our congregations. We began to revisit the issues with an Institutional Race Audit in 1980-81. This audit gave 31 recommendations to the UUA. Included in the audit was a cultural phenomenon they called the Liberal Syndrome. An example noted “while talking about racism, many UU’s assumed the liberal church to be enlightened and therefore, not needing to do anymore in the way of action.” (p 20 TAUL) The UUA board adopted to implement 25 of the audit’s recommendations yet the UUA was slow to act.

In 1983, the Commission on Appraisal released its report, Empowerment: One Denomination’s quest for Racial Justice 1967-1982. It took a hard look at the controversy that nearly destroyed the denomination. The result of this appraisal was a task force on racism. The task force recommended the establishment of the Black Concerns Working Group with the charge “to eliminate racism within the Unitarian Universalist Association” and gave the working group a budget of $5,000 to do so. This was a high expectation and scant resources to meet it. It seemed as if the true expectation to be put in place was failure.

The work that this group began would continue over the ensuing years to evolve and morph into other models and groups for dialog. The work would suffer push back. The work would engender anger within the denomination. The work to change the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations into an anti-racist multi-cultural institution has proved to be long and hard. We made mistakes. We learned some things as well along the way.

One of the lessons learned was the mistake of taking on an anti-racist program steeped in Lutheran Christian theology and applying carte blanche to UU’s. The program in its first incarnation known as Journey Towards Wholeness contained in its theology an approach of guilt. Jacqui James, religious educator stated that the message was, “You’re guilty, you’re racist… the whole approach of guilt. We didn’t spend much time helping people think about their identity and that’s important. Racism affects all people of color but our histories are different and it took us a while to understand that.” (p 379 TAUL )

The current programs and trainings on anti-racism focus more on listening where people are at, sitting with them attentively as they discuss how racism impacted their lives growing up. We have all been impacted by racism because our societal structures were created with one group of people in power over and above all others. Whether we are viewed by others as being a member of a certain race or we identify as being a member of a certain race, we are all impacted by racism. Therefore the current programs on anti-racism include learning how to recognize and let go of the behaviors that are unconsciously ingrained into our repertoire.

We learned that racism is not just a black / white issue, it was also a Latino/a, a Pacific Islander, a Native American issue. And each area and region of the country had slightly different concerns that impacted on how racism was experienced.

For Latino/as culture and language come into play. Rev. Patricia Jimenez writes about how this might affect a congregation. She says, “from my own culture [what] informs my ideas of an ideal religious community … include: a respect for elders; a profound sense of the importance of family and community; the inclusion of children in all activities; and of the need for celebration which includes the joys of both culture and language.” (p 290 TAUL)

Becoming an anti-racist institution requires listening from the heart. And it requires a re-introduction of anti-racist multi-cultural concepts every time the group changes dynamics. Gini Coulter, moderator of the UUA, discovered this when she first served on the board of the UUA, that just when the board agreed to be an anti-racist board—the new people would come to serve new terms. A whole new dynamic with new stories and histories being consciously and unconsciously presented at the table meant starting over again to agree to be an anti-racist board.

And so it is in most congregations where the turnover rate is about 10-15% per year. New people come in who may not be as savvy on internalized racism or homophobia. The work needs to be refreshed and people welcomed in.

What is being learned as the association slowly continues this work to root out racism from the denomination is that we need to learn new skills to live in a pluralist society. And if our congregations are going to mirror that pluralist society, then we have to learn these new skills here as well.

One of these skills I believe is a skill in comfortability. It is a word I coined a few years back at an anti-racist audit for Meadville Lombard Theological School. Comfortability is the skill in being able to sit in our discomfort when topics such as racism begin to hit too close to home. Discussion of racism inevitably if we are honest with ourselves, regardless of our racial identity, will cause a bit of discomfort. It will stir up memories of experiences that we have had that may still be raw in our emotional psyches and may have nothing to do with what the person or persons are discussing specifically. It is hard to look at how our behavior, even those committed unconsciously, affects another person of a different perspective or different ethnicity. If we are not able to tolerate that discomfort then we tend to shut down, tend to stop listening, and tend to become angry. We may even lash out at the speaker without meaning to cause harm because of our unresolved experience or memory. Developing the skill of comfortability allows for us to stay at the table even if what we are hearing is painfully true about our own behavior or painful in the memories it stirs up or simply painful to hear in general.

The work towards racial equity and justice is not easy work. It is not something we can symbolically do once a year and expect to suddenly be inclusive of all people. It is not a check off on a list of things to do in life like passing 4th grade and exclaiming now that is done, I never have to revisit the 4th grade again. This work is relational.

This work is one on one relational and it is also relational in a group setting because we each bring to the table our own histories, our own woundedness, our own successes and regrets. And each group is different from the last because the make up of the group changes the dynamics each time it comes together.

So let’s bring this home for us today. Tomorrow we will be walking with the Unity March to honor Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. It is important that we are there because our faith ancestors marched with King in Selma and in other communities for racial equality. It is important that we honor this history that our faith ancestors had a part in creating with their sweat, tears and with their lives.

But what will we do come Tuesday? Will we say to ourselves that is another check off on our list of things to accomplish in 2010? If it is then we will be fooling no one but ourselves.

I don’t know if any of you saw the paper on Friday where there was a story about an event celebrating King’s birthday at the Hargrove Memorial United Methodist Church. The minister there said the event was aimed at promoting racial reconciliation. I am sorry that I didn’t know about it in advance as I would have enjoyed being there. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were able to sit down at a potluck with members of his congregation and talk about racial reconciliation?

We have already been successful in sitting down with our friends at University Presbyterian Church. To my knowledge nobody died from that experience. We have done some joint programs with UPC and some new joint programs are coming up in the near future.

What if we reached out to Hargrove Methodist Church to get to know them, enter in a dialog to learn from them their experiences of living in Alabama in the 21st century? Share a meal together. And then who knows what might happen. Perhaps there are social justice issues that we can collaborate on with them. Perhaps we already are and don’t even know it.

Imagine what could occur from such a meeting? Imagine the friendships that we could develop. Imagine the difference we could make in Tuscaloosa if our two congregations were able to have this happen.

I imagine that members of this church may be marching tomorrow. I would like to challenge you to begin conversations with the people we meet tomorrow. And if any of you meet people from this church I would like you to ask them if they were at the event their church held on Friday night. Ask them to tell you about it. And just listen to their story and allow things to unfold. Then later, talk to each other about your experiences at this march. The people you met and their stories and more importantly share your experiences in marching. Listen to one another attentively as we tell our stories of the day.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. It is a dream that is unfolding if we keep it alive in our own hearts as each day passes with each person we meet. Blessed Be.

Published in: on January 17, 2010 at 5:08 pm  Comments Off on Keeping the Dream Alive  
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What I Ought to Be

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” – Martin Luther King, Jr

I am seeing this quote popping up a lot lately in many different circles.  It is used as a stand alone quote.   I don’t think it works as such.  In the context in which Martin Luther King, Jr. said this, it refers to the power of racism and how that hurts all of us.  Racism keeps the oppressor as well as the oppressed from being their full authentic selves.  And so in this context, until the oppressor begins to see the sin of racism and how it has scarred, wounded, and held back the oppressor from their full potential then the oppressed can never be their full potentials.  That is the context for this quote but rarely is the quote given in context any more.  The hearer needs to be literate to the context of racism to grasp what this quote is about.

As a stand alone quote it is a bit circular and self-defeating. Some one has to start the process of reaching full potential and since the only person I can change is myself, then it must begin with me.  Quoting this statement is just an excuse for not being any different from what I currently am.  It says, if only you were different then I would be different but since you aren’t different, this is who I am.  Don’t blame me for my actions, my personality, my behaviors;  these are your fault for not being at your full potential of who you ought to be.   This quote removes responsibility from me and places my behavior as a result of who you are. 

Martin Luther King did not wait until the oppressor realized his sins and changed his ways before living the life of a free black man.  He began by stating that he was already free of the oppressor’s yolk and living accordingly.  He began the process to being what he ought to be. He did not wait for the voting rights legislation to be passed before encouraging the vote.  No, he began by casting ballots first as a full citizen of this country.  Rosa Parks did not wait for the Montgomery Bus Company to change its seating policy, she began by taking her seat. 

The quote as a stand alone is an excuse for being the same ol same.  There is no empowerment in it.  There is no life in it.  Just excuse after excuse of why things remain the same.  If only such and such were true then life would be better.  If only that person would see what I can do then my life would be better.  If only that group of people would just stop what they are doing then my life would be better. 

I like Gandhi’s quote,  “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It places responsibility back on me.  And if I be the change I wish to see, and you be the change that you wish to see, and we be the change that we wish to see in the world, well low and behold… a whole lot of people begin to be what they ought to be.   Blessings,

MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA

MLK National Historic Site in Atlanta, GA

Published in: on September 25, 2009 at 2:07 pm  Comments Off on What I Ought to Be  
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