One day at a time.

One day at a time.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Cultural Incompetency: Beyond Guilt to the Sanctity of Humility

Last week, I went to see "Lincoln" with my family.  I walked out of the theatre a little tired (it's over 2 hours long), mostly entertained and glad to have some time with the family.  I didn't think much about the movie beyond this.

A couple friends asked me what I thought and I simply replied, "it was pretty good. I guess it's worth seeing."

My week went on until I came across this movie review.  In a quick flash, everything became apparent to me.  The only black characters in the entire movie with speaking parts consist of two soldiers at the beginning begging Lincoln for equal treatment, Mary Lincoln's dressmaker (Elizabeth Keckley) and Thaddeus Stevens' common law wife (Lydia Hamilton Smith).  What do all these characters have in common?  They rely on Lincoln or another virtuous white character to protect them.

Sigh.

Where is Frederick Douglass?  Not in this movie....

Where are the black soldiers who secured their own freedom?  Not in this movie...

And the countless African American abolition leaders, writers, thinkers, or politicians who lived in the mid-19th century and met Lincoln?  Not in this movie...

What disappoints me more than Spielberg's choices to not include these characters, or give names to the important African American characters he does depict (such as Lydia Hamilton Smith) is that it took a week for this to hit me.  I've just come back from a week-long conversation with colleagues about racism and multiculturalism.  I've taken numerous trainings on white people challenging racism and the like.  I've read books, written sermons and careful reflections on anti-racism, anti-opppresion and multiculturalism.

And in the last week I overlooked racism in a movie, made an exclusive statement in a small group and when considering AIDS Day forgot to mention the significant impact on the African American community, especially black Americans ages 19-44.

What's my point?

I don't desire a wave of white guilt.  And I fully expect some people reading this may become defensive or try to assuage me that I am not a racist.  I am not seeking assurance or trying to inflict guilt.

My point is that racism is still a painful conversation, even for someone like me and my cultural competency does not seem to be improving at the rate of my desire for it to improve.  However, I can say that now after these years of uncomfortable conversations, I am more aware of my privilege to avoid them entirely.  I am better able to take responsibility without swooning with guilt.  And I have no delusions of ever being competent, but great aspirations for humility and learning.

My bigger point is we need to keep having these conversations. We need to create circles of accountability that keep those with privilege engaged and accountable to do so.  I consider myself included in this group.  I still feel angry when someone speaks truth to me.  But now I am accountable to engage in a conversation that has truth for me to hear.  I think this is improvement.

I know I am going to mess up with my words, make mistakes and even hurt people.  I don't desire this-it seems to be human.  But I also know that if I avoid trying to look outside my own narrow vision, I will cut myself off from a measure of love and healing this human heart needs.

So let's keep talking, and hopefully listening too, even if it hurts.



Thursday, November 29, 2012

More than a snooze button....

When I was in college, there were a steady six months I didn't go to the church I loved.

The ministers hadn't ceased inspiring me, the community was still warm and compassionate, and I had access to the means to get there.  There was nothing wrong with the church.  Although I frequently came late after hitting the snooze button one too many times, it wasn't even the snooze button that kept me from coming or the late night sorority gatherings.  It was something more...

Somehow in my college budget and with tuition adjustments that semester, I couldn't pay my pledge.  Sure I could drop a few dollars in the bucket, but if I wanted to pay rent, tuition, bills and buy food, then my pledge would have to be reduced.

In my 1,000 member Unitarian Universalist congregation, I felt like everyone knew that I wasn't paying my pledge.  This was, of course, ridiculous in hindsight.  But I felt guilty even walking through the doors without a monthly check.

Why?  This place and people had taught me kindness and compassion.  They had never lobbied for guilt and fear to guide me.  But somewhere long ago, in places I could now identify, I had learned the force of shame.  And all these years later, even in a new place of wonder, love and compassion, I was still driven by those old feelings.

It finally took a friend of mine sharing that I was in fact a lot more fun to be around when I went to church that sent me back.  I walked through the doors a little worried that somehow still I'd be in trouble.  Those old memories of having to stand up in class in my religious school for the whole first period if you didn't go to church came back to me.

I placed one foot over the threshold.

Instead, one of the ministers came forward and gave me a hug.  "It's so good to see you!  How have you been? Come on in!"

I could have cried but the shock that sent me to my seat where I received more warm handshakes and smiles kept me from tears and in amazement.

The power of shame and guilt can be astounding, even years later in a new place that doesn't profess these from pulpit to pew.  This time of year, when so much stress mounts for many, expectations are high, and finances pinched, I hope wherever you may be, whoever you may be, you know that those reasons "more than the snooze button" needn't keep you from church.

When we give, it isn't out of guilt.  And when we can't give financially, we affirm that stewardship is more than money--sometimes it's simply presence.

It is when you are at your most imperfect or challenged, that you are also often at your most human and beautiful.  In these times, though we may wish to hide beneath blanket because we don't look like what we look like, or have enough money, or seem to be able to get our act together to be presentable, in these times we need each other the most.  Sometimes, our presence is the gift we give in this season.

May you know a church that welcomes you home again and again.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ending Poverty

"It looks like a jail," I mutter underneath my breath to my traveling companions as we enter the school. We walk into a concrete courtyard surrounded by classroom windows, bars on the windows and fortified doors.  The doors have locks on them, the concrete is dirtied and waters seems to dribble from an unknown source.  As we go upstairs, it's more of the same.  On the third level, the classrooms open to a vista.  We look out across the rusted tin roofs and on into the lake, the city of Atilan Santiago crammed up in front of us.

Downstairs, we begin in the first class.  19 year old Juanita leads the class.  I walk into the dreary room filled letters and numbers.

Perhaps through commercials for the Feed the Children or U2 music videos, I am trained to see poverty.  I look at the dirtied clothes, the small box of crayons and the worn shoes.  I glance over the rusted, shaky chairs that form desks.  My eyes dart back and forth from Juanita to the barred windows.  I start feeling depressed sitting in this elementary chair with the fortified door closed.

But then Juanita starts teaching.  The children are entranced as she discusses the forest.  Asks them, "What do you find in the forest?"  Then, she asks us for our help in passing out brilliantly colored green paper, leaves for tracing and scissors for cutting.  Soon, from a focus on the dirt I see their smiles.

It's hard to believe we are even learning Spanish, but Juanita has a clever plan.

One girl asks if I can help her cut.  Little does she know, I won best tracer and leaf cutter in third grade!  I am ready for this task.

We help the children cut the leaves the best we can.  Use of gesture and broken Spanglish (they speak a dialect of Mayan, and I speak English) seems to somehow get us to understanding.  We meet in the middle with smiles, gestures and lots of "muy bien-s!"

The children pile around, glueing leaves to the trees and hug my legs.  We sing songs together in a circle.  "Adios," shouts Senorita Juanita in a sing-song voice.  We follow her lead and on into the next classroom.

A little tear hits my eyes as I realize I don't want to leave these kids I've just met.  My eyes were trained to see poverty, but my heart has been trained to find wealth.  I look at the beauty of the little paper tree in the corner, the smiles on their faces, and my own smile now.

Juanita has taught two lessons today.  I've learned "trunco" means trunk of a tree and that justice grows from a heart that first knows the wealth worth saving.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Road to Santiago...


Begins at a Walmart.  Okay, well not entirely, but it is a stop.


Picture it:

 We get off the plane and head for the exit.  It's clear we were in a different world from Charlotte, North Carolina.  Walking outside toward the car pick up line, residents stand outside the exit with blue and white jerseys, flowers, cameras poised and candy for sale.  Their champion football players are returning home.  And by football, I mean soccer.  Tuk-tuks he half motorcycle, half taxi whiz by inquiring if the gringos would be needing a ride.   No, no we have a ride waiting.  A quick glance up from the busy street and the sign "Kennedy" signals our driver Salvador. 

 As we wind through the city, it has the marking of most urban centers: fast food, traffic jams, horns and sirens alongside tall buildings.  But the shacks on the side of the road and unregulated utilities remind you this is not home.  I get the wonderful sense, which companions travelers that I have much to learn; the wonderful feeling of the mind and soul expanding beyond one's focus.  It happens when deep in conversation with a friend your realize your difference.  It happens in the streets near your home, when lost, you see a new perspective.  It happens when you discover years later a heritage or family story you did not know.

You don't have to leave home for this moment, but a new country does seem to provide a soul sigh.

The driver asks if we would like to go through the Mountains to Santiago or around.  We all nod our heads we would like to see the Mountains, being adventurers. Just as I am soul-sighing to see the world new again, the driver asks if we would like to stop for water.  He knows a good spot.  Yes, we agree.  
Through a winding parking lot we finallly stop and walk into a warehouse-like structure.  Instantly, something is familiar.  Then the jingle "rolling back the prices all over the place" runs through my head.  Oh no.  Really?

Guards stand at the front of the store informing me I cannot take pictures.  

The road to Santiago begins at Walmart.

Is it in the influence of American consumerism? The price competition driving some
businesses out of the market? An idealism for a world apart? That I don't like the color blue?

What is rubbing under my skin at the sight of the large Walmart in this city?

The answer comes hours later driving alongside mountain passes watching wire wrap the mountain cutting it into the trees. 


The Walmart is that wire, for me.  I come to be of service in this place, but also to be reminded, albeit naively, of the paradise possible in the corners where human need lives in contrast to human greed.  Yet, knowing we live in an interdependent world, how could it exist anywhere if it was not already everywhere?  The mountain calls to yearning the world not yet, while finding a way to go beneath the wire to see the world that is now.  Yes, the road to Santiago begins as it should, with a sharp reminder of what is not yet, what is our now, and what could be if wire were not wrapped around it.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Hunger Prayer

This was no game.

It was 4:00 pm when I hit rock bottom.  The first day of my yoga fast.  In truth, I could eat fruit so it wasn't a total fast but there was no caffeine, cooked or processed food, sugar, starch, dairy, etc.  I had been exuberant that morning as I ate my strawberries with kiwi, but without any coffee or my afternoon cookie I suddenly became some Unitarian Universalist version of the hulk.  It was ugly.

I was cranky and angry, what my friend calls "hangry" (anger from hunger).

I had begun this fast as part of a 40 day yoga program to help me realign and center.  But in that one hour window from 4:00-5:00 pm I questioned everything I was doing.  Fruit and water?  For four days?   Can woman live by fruit alone?!  

I sent myself home for the day.  I clearly couldn't work like this.

After laying down for an hour, I woke up anew.  For the next few days, I felt grateful for every meal.  It wasn't easy, but that was the point.

So much in my life often goes smoothly, easy even.  I have few real sacrifices I have to make. Sure, there are plenty of things I might not feel like doing (the laundry is among them). Yet, there are few sacrifices I have to make.  I've never had to give up a meal to feed my children.  I've never had to risk my life for a member of my family.  I've never had to work 12 hours a day in dangerous conditions so I could bring a small share of bread home to my family. Most days I am not even aware of how my food got to my table.  I couldn't tell you the name of the laborers or factory workers, farmers or truck drivers who make something as simple as my garden salad possible.

Now, do I hang my head in overpowering guilt?

No, because this would not be terribly useful.  Feeling bad for the ease of my life also isn't the point of sacrifice.  I fast, sacrifice, to remind me of the blessing and the responsibility.  I fast to connect my life to others; for a day to be conscious of all that happens for that "simple" salad.  I fast to ground again in gratitude. I fast to be called forward to create a world where no one has to give up a meal to feed their children.

How?  I don't know entirely.  But I am led by the hunger.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Are You Out There?


Ever walked into a room and felt that there had just been a big fight or joyous celebration?  Perhaps you are one of those that can “take the temperature” in a room quickly without even knowing what has happened.  There are some who claim that when a world event has happened, they wake in the night not knowing what but somehow knowing.  If you ever lost a loved one, you may know the feeling that comes up in you that something is not right; then you get the call.  Not psychic powers, so much as a deep connection that transcends space and time.

Scientific studies have proven again and again that there is some kind of energy, knowing, and connection that exists beyond the measurement of five senses.  Even the live cultures in yogurt respond to human thought, or at least that’s the plot of Tom Shadyak’s movie “I Am.”  Okay, so perhaps our connections are not that simple.  Yet, surely many of us, not all, but many have felt a moment of transcendence when something beyond us, yet not fully in our grasp, connects to us.  These are the “awe” moments.  Fleeting moments of knowing we are connected and held beyond measure are often seen as the litmus test of spirituality.

Some people spend a lifetime trying to live only in these “awe” moments.

Yet, we know the great sages spent most of their life between moments of transcendence.  Mother Theresa spent years without any sense of the sacred in her life.  I wonder if Emerson or Thoreau spent days in the woods where they wandered without any immense feeling of self-reliance or wisdom unfolding.  I am sure even the Buddha had days of un-enlightenment.

Perhaps the secret, if there is one, to spiritual peace and contentment is not in seeking transcendence but learning how to live in the unpredictable presence of transcendence.  We are called to cultivate satisfaction in the days without sacred space and yet be ever willing to embrace the breezes of mystery and wonder that come through our lives.  It certainly means acceptance of the ordinary days.  

We are called to be worshipers, always considering what is of worth, training our eyes to see the sacred, our ears to hear it, our mouths to taste it, our noses to smell it, our hands to touch it.  We are called to be wanderers, walking in the great absence of “awe”, seeking more than finding, and yet willing when transcendence comes to let it in.  Only then, somewhere between pure moments of peace and the hard streets of concrete and schedules, can we know the great contentment of the sages.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Are We Defeated


For the last six months, we have watched together as people’s personhoods were debated in the public square. We have given every ounce to work toward defeating the constitutional amendment here in North Carolina. You have given your fullest measure of devotion: hours of phone banking, rallies, vigils, public pleas, petitions, political organizing, prayers, worship services, donations and collections. As the day closes on voting, and the results come in, it looks unlikely that we will defeat this insidious amendment.
But, are we defeated?
For the last six months, we have come together. We have created new relationships and partnerships with people joining the struggle for justice and equality for ALL people. New voices have come forth. A network of faithful people now stand ready with all we will need: rallies, vigils, marches, pleas, petitions, political organizing, prayers, sermons, donations, and spirit. As the day closes on voting, and we look out across our beautiful home of North Carolina, it looks likely that something new has emerged in the wake of this vote—a way forward.
Are we defeated?
The better question, friends, is:
Are we ready?
Tomorrow morning, we will rise and wake to a new day. We will make coffee or tea, and drinks sips with loved ones. The dogs will need walking and the cat will need feeding. We will go to work and stand around the water cooler. We will hold hands and hug. We will smile and see our people, God’s people, everywhere. We will go home, call a loved one. We will relish in food that is simple but shared. We will walk forward together making this world a better place. We will listen for the call will come again. We will make love, nurture our children, read bedtime stories, laugh and at last just before our eyes close to the day know that we could never be defeated. Hope lives on.
Hope lives on in this place we all call home. From the Blue Ridge Mountains to the rolling Piedmont and out along the coasts of the Outer Banks, hope lives on in North Carolina and her people stand ready to step into its legacy.
The faith and devotion of those who have gone before us beg us to step forward. From Stonewall to today, they urge us onward and ask a single question:
Are we ready?
Take heart friends, hold onto love and the gratitude of those who have gone before for all that you’ve given. Know the journey toward justice calls us forward. Hope is our promised companion, and equality for all our promised land.
Come and go with me to that land.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Celebrate the Caterpillar



I’ve been thinking a lot about transformation, and not just because it’s the theme for May.  Not just because our chalice circles will grapple with this topic or because I will be preaching on it.  I’ve been thinking about transformation because of a furry little friend, “Emerson.”

Nearly a year ago, our congregation decided to start having a little caterpillar puppet tell the Story for All Ages.  We had a naming contest. “Emerson” is a regular in our pulpit, telling us of his adventures and friends, including soon the appearance of “Fuller” the Flamingo.  Every time I look at Emerson, I think of what an incredible symbol of transformation he is for our congregation; that we are all in this ongoing, exhausting and brilliant process of change. 

And while Unitarian Universalists don’t generally believe in that instantaneous change by the light, we do have our fair share of transformation.  After all, Most of us weren’t raised in this faith.  Many of us have undergone some major changes just to gather on Sundays.  Think about for a moment the religious home of your childhood.  Perhaps, you were like me and raised without a particular tradition, “unchurched” as they say.  Yes, we know something about the exploring journey; what it is to discover home. I couldn’t imagine as a child being a part of such a radically inclusive faith, let alone serving as a minister!  Transformed?  I’d say “yes” and continue to say “yes.”

Inch by inch, we know the crawl to the tree, the long, hard effort of the forming chrysalis, the invisible change beneath the murky sheen of heart and soul, and then the slow push free as a new way of being breaks forth in beauty.  Inch by inch, we know the transformation of a lifetime of learning and evolving even in our own lives. Inch by inch, we know what it is to be transformed not in an instant, but rather as the long journey toward our deepest potential, toward the calling of our spiritual DNA.  Not changed because what came before was bad or needed discarding, but transformed into the beauty that was beneath the surface. Transformed toward ourselves, rather than from ourselves.

Some faiths celebrate the butterfly.  We celebrate the caterpillar.

The bravery and tenacity of living our lives, no matter how seemingly ordinary they appear. We celebrate the great changes that are beneath the surface, lived out in our values rather than proclaimed loudly in flutters of beauty.  We celebrate the tough crawl, the messiness of being, and the beauty from our brokenness.  We celebrate the brave little worm who would believe enough in himself to see that something impossible can break forth from the smallest cocoons.

We celebrate the caterpillar; knowing we’ll discover home—the soul’s rest and rejoice—together, inch by inch.

Yes, inch by inch.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sirens and the Sacred

As each one passed when I was a little girl, I would say a Hail Mary.

"Hail Mary, full of grace
The Lord is with Thee
Blessed art Thou amongst women and
Blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Jesus."

Sirens blaring, approaching now.  I can see the lights.  It's a racing ambulance.  I pull over.

"Holy Mary,
Mother of God,
Pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death."

Ambulance passed.

"Amen."

By the age of twelve, I could speed pray this, reaching "death" before seeing the ambulance lights.  The irony was not lost on me as an adult.

I still utter these words if an ambulance should catch me off-guard and unawares in traffic.

Twenty years between today and when I first learned that prayer.  Twenty years, four years of college, three years of seminary, one year of chaplaincy, one ordination and two years of parish ministry.  Much theology, reflection and development has happened between today and that day I first sat in my 1st grade Catholic school classroom and learned the Hail Mary.  Memorized it by writing it out 30 times. Learned to pray at sight or sound of every ambulance.  Twenty years and I still do it.

Why?

I used to feel embarrassed about it. One time on a plane in severe turbulence I literally put my hand over my mouth because while I couldn't stop the prayer rolling off my lips, I was determined to not be seen being spiritually inconsistent!  I also still pray to St. Anthony when I lose something REALLY important, like the T.V. remote.  It's like auto-pilot.

Now, I don't believe in intercessory prayer personally.  I don't have any trouble with folks that do, but I used to feel embarrassed in my rational religion to be caught dead (again irony not lost on me) praying to anyone as an intercession let alone a saint!  But here is what I've come to know after the last twenty years, four years of college, three years of seminary and one year of chaplaincy, one ordination and two years of parish ministry-- I've come to learn the world is a lot more complicated than I can ever understand. I've learned that the earliest things we experience about religion and spirituality can create grooves of sort in our minds and even bodies.  Auto-pilot indeed, for the spirit.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  The grooves can help us keep balance, and embracing the limitations of our minds for the comfort of memory and grace.  Calling on the saints can actually lead me farther along my paths.  Really?

I think so.

I've learned to not be ashamed that I might say prayers inconsistent with my exact beliefs, or that I might have beliefs inconsistent with the norms of my communities (yes even UU congregations have norms).  In truth, we, humans, tend to be consistently inconsistent creatures.  Come to think of it, life tends to be consistently inconsistent.  And maybe we are all somewhere in between the worn paths in our spirit and the new ones of our chosen communities, trying to find our way home in whatever way we can.

So you are likely to see me praying a Hail Mary on I-85 right before preaching a sermon about the Transcendentalists and a human Jesus.  Yup, consistently inconsistent, but still moved by sirens to offer what grace lips can speak and hands can hold.  Still moved to pull over and pray for healing on behalf of a stranger.  Calling on the saints and whoever else might pitch in to help.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Broken, But Beautiful: The Gift of Being Human

Broken up.  Broken hearted.  Broken: out of order.  Broken arm. Just plain broke.

Brokenness does not have a good reputation in our culture.  Some of us come from religious traditions that preached the fallen, broken nature of humanity.  We were constantly told we were in need of redemption and forgiveness, facilitated perhaps by a grace we could never earn.  Eek! This is tough stuff to absorb, especially at five or six years old.

We Unitarian Universalists are different, well sort of…Unitarian Universalism doesn’t espouse a theology of salvation that includes the concupiscence, or inclination to sin.  We don’t hold that we are inherently sinful beings in need of a regular dose of forgiveness.  We hold up the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  We hold up the beauty of this earth and her people.  And yes, we hold up the imperfections, the brokenness and the not-quite-done.  Yes, we too are just plain broke sometimes.

It is our brokenness, we Unitarian Universalists believe, which saves us.

Unitarians believed there was a great oneness of divinity, which connected us beyond any brokenness. The Universalists held we shared a common loving destiny.  We are yes, broken at times and certainly imperfect, but it is not the imperfections that keep us from being saved, but rather the imperfection and brokenness that saves us.  We can consider our future story, offer compassion in the midst of our own pain, and extend mercy because of our imperfections.

Thus, it is we enter a month that will be filled with images of how our world is still broken, yet beautiful.  

Wars continue as spring blooms.  New babies will be dedicated to our congregation and we to their spiritual journeys as we see a world still struggling to live in harmony.  Members will be welcomed to our congregation, in the midst of a state that would amend its constitution to put some citizens outside of its borders.

Yes, we live in a world of beauty and brokenness, but the goal is not to be perfected by some light or deity.  Rather, we Unitarian Universalists know what it is to be broken and beautiful; to discover our salvation through what could, but will never, separate us. 

Yes the circle is open, but unbroken.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Beyond the Dream

1 Samuel 3:10 
The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening.

Go where you are afraid to go.  In the middle of the night hearing your name called, walk forward and listen for dreams that startle.  Ask the impossible and go to your fears.

Martin Luther King Jr. was the son of a Baptist preacher.  All the way, his family had been not only religious, but religious leaders who responded to the call.  He was not so eager to answer the call, having many questions about Christianity.  At the age of 25 however he became the minister of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  He had answered one call, but there was a greater on just emerging in his life.

I imagine Dr. King had many sleepless nights knowing what would lay before him to pursue this dream.  He would risk all those he loved.  His home would be bombed.  Those he loved would be beaten and some would die.  It would cost him his life.  

Dreams of a calling are hardly ever peaceful.  They rouse us from the slumber of satisfaction in our own lives and call us to the borderlands.  These dreams are not the inheritance of heroes and heroines, or singular figures, they are of people, everyday people, who suddenly see a new way forward in the darkness of the night.  Dreams come to each of us, the extraordinary pastors in Montgomery, Alabama as well as to the people in the pews.  

Imagine Samuel. Sound asleep then he hears his name called.  He walks tipsy with slumber still releasing from his eyes. He thinks it must be Eli, his teacher.  Three times he is called.  Three times he is roused from bed, until at last his teacher tells him to wait, to listen for what dreams may come.

The dreams that come to Samuel are not peaceful.  He is told of the destruction of his beloved teacher’s descendants and house.  He learns that days are coming that are to be the end of Eli’s sons and his dynasty.  An era has ended and Israel is being called back from injustice.  Samuel wakes with a start.  He is to be the new prophet. His first prophecy will be delivered to Eli.

We are told in rabbinical literature that Samuel is the last of the Hebrew Judges and the first of the Major Prophets.  Samuel, not unlike King, found himself in the time between social movements, the most violent time of all and waves collide until a new day breaks and peace is restored.  Samuel liked his world of quiet with his teacher Eli.  He had no desire to be called forth from his home into the center of the world’s destruction.  He had no desire and no need to rise and become a judge in Israel, a job that would make him the most-hated of citizens.

 This is not an uncommon story.  Martin Luther, for whom in part Martin Luther King Jr is named, was a monk that was all too happy being removed from the world’s impurities and disappointments .  His simple cell and his prayers were far more than enough to sustain him.  He listened though in his prayers and he knew in his heart he was called to reform this church that had fallen into corruption and was crumbling around him.  In the words of the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Luther had to leave the cloister and go back to the world, not because the world in itself was good and holy, but because even the cloister was only a part of the world.”

We all live in cloisters don’t we?  It’s a hell of a lot easier to stay where you are comfortable, even for ministers. The dream is not a pleasant experience but a startling call in the middle of night, when it may not at all be convenient, a call to rise.  Have you not had that?  Have you been listening?

It is all too often the place you fear most that your dreams will call you to.  These civil rights movements, these figures of change are larger than life but in fact they were ordinary humans transformed by the extraordinary call.  Martin Luther King’s life and those that walked beside him knew the dreams that startled in the night.  The dream that children would not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character.  They knew dreams meant sacrifice, meant pain, and meant loss before they would be seen in life.  They knew they had to move beyond this fear, even beyond the dream.

Martin Luther King wrote that the great challenge in his movement was not those who hated him and opposed civil rights but the moderates and liberals who were too afraid to join him.  “ The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear,” writes
 Gandhi.  Go where you are afraid to go.   In the middle of the night hearing your name called, walk forward.  Listen for dreams that startle.  Ask the impossible.  Go to your fears.

At last we are stirred by something in the night and thank God we are.  You might ask what are my fears?

I am afraid to be the lesbian minister.  I am afraid to speak up on behalf of the LBGT community because I am afraid that’s all people will see in me.  I prefer to stay in my quiet comfortable world where I am accepted.  I prefer to make people feel good.  I fear being seen as only one kind of preacher, speaking up for my own rights. 

But dreams are stirring.  I would bet I am not the only awakened in the night.  We are going to have to leave the sanctuary, the cloister, and go outside these walls. 

It’s going to make us uncomfortable.  

There is an amendment that is going to change our constitution to discriminate.  Imagine not being able to visit the one you love in the hospital?  Not being able to make decisions for their care?  Imagine losing the rights to parent your children?   Imagine not knowing what would happen to your healthcare or to your home if your partner dies?  Imagine the fear.

It is not just this amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.  It is not just this issue.  It is every issue, every day when you have to live in fear.  It is every face that longs to at last have a dream of a world where you would not be judged by who you love but by how you love. It is not just this amendment.  It is the dreams that startle us of youth who are dying because of this fear that institutionalizes prejudice.

I’m tired of being afraid of speaking.  I’m tired of my fears.  I wonder if you are too.

So we might be vocal.  So we will raise our rainbow flag.  So some might even think we are the gay church.  Well thank God.  Let us also be the poor church.  Let us also be the church of the pagans. Let us also be a church of the doubters.  Let us also be a church of the faithful.  Let us be a church of the immigrant, the stranger, and the outcast.  This is what church does: we defend the very last outcasts and in so doing put ourselves in the borderlands.  And thank God.  This is the church that never crumbles.  This is the call that never ends.  And it’s not just ringing at my home.

“The call goes forth, and is at once followed by the response of obedience.  The response of the disciples is an act of obedience, not a confession of faith in Jesus.” Writes Bonhoeffer.  Think of it.  The disciples did not create a five-point theology when they dropped their nets.  Martin Luther King never wrote a creed for the civil rights movement and Martin Luther looked to the active reforms of the church not it’s doctrine.  Samuel does not make a confession.  He only responds with the simple obedience: "Speak, God for your servant is listening"

We are called: gay and straight, black and white, we are called poor and rich, humble and esteemed, we are called. Speak, speak, speak for we are listening.

Let the people say: Amen.