Monday, January 31, 2011

Sermon - "No is Not a Dirty Word"

“No” is not a dirty word. In fact I have referred to saying “no” as a spiritual practice, one that some of us could learn deeply from. I mean that seriously. For some of us, saying “no” is a spiritual discipline. It’s something that we should be doing to deepen our sense of self and to improve our relationship with creation.

I know it sounds strange to say that religiously, we should say “no” sometimes. Especially when we so often focus on openness and affirmation and giving. That sense of openness and giving is pretty much the core of Unitarian Universalist theology.

But, theology never happens in a vacuum. It always comes from a particular person, or people, and it is always directed to a particular person. Theology should respond to the needs of the person hearing it. And our needs vary pretty significantly from one person to the next. Even from one moment to the next, what we need to hear in life can be very, very different.

The vast majority of theology within our tradition as Unitarian Universalists, and the theologies that we draw on emphasize the role of compassion and giving in our lives. They are based in a sort of openness and connection. Whether it is our Christian heritage, Buddhism, Paganism, or our shared ethics as human beings, we usually dwell on the responsibility to give more freely of ourselves.

That’s all well and good. I know it’s a message that I could use more of on occasion. But some feminist theologians have raised a question about this theology. They have wondered exactly who this message of giving more of yourself is written for.
Are we telling disempowered women that they should be more compassionate and be MORE giving? Are we telling underpaid laborers and disadvantaged people of color that their real spiritual quest is to learn how to give more freely of themselves? Should abuse spouses be more generous? Should we telling the disempowered to give more?

No. That would be foolish.

We heard in our responsive reading earlier today, that there is a season for every thing. A time to be born, a time to die; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing… and of course there is, a time to say yes, and a time to say No.

That raises the obvious question, when is that time. Do you have to be a member of an oppressed group? Do you have to be abused or unappreciated? Well, not exactly. Here are a few rules of thumb about when to say “no”.

First we should be clear that, “no” is not be your first response, either spoken or thought. This is a sermon about drawing reasonable boundaries, not about shutting out the world. I think it is deeply important to live our lives with a sense of openness and opportunity. Just two weeks ago I spoke about the discipline required to live in a state of hope. With all the world around you ready to say no, let it be our goal to greet new opportunities and ideas with the a positive intention.

But sometimes, we realize that giving of our time or our energy doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel fair. I think one of the most important times to say no is when saying yes builds up resentment of another person. This happens in all sorts of different ways. In very mundane ways, it could happen when we always give in to what our partner wants to eat for dinner. Too many “yes Dears” is likely to end up in a pretty heated discussion. If you really do mind, then say something. But it can also happen in more significant ways. One of them that I want to be sure to talk about, is in giving our time to our community, our Fellowship. We ask a lot of our members, and most of the people in our community are incredibly generous with both their time and their money. It is deeply appreciated, and hopefully it feels like a good investment of both.

But I do not want you to resent your church. I don’t want anyone to resent the number of hours they spend on a project or the physical effort something takes, or the money they give. Certainly it may give us a little pause, we may even joke a little about all that we do. But if there is any serious resentment about how much you give, if your giving of time makes you question your relationship with the Fellowship, then by all means stop, or at least cut back a little. When you begin to resent your giving, it is time to say no. Whether it is with this Fellowship, your family, your work, or any other venue. Giving should be what you do willingly. If it is done with resentment, then no one wins.

My final rule of thumb, is that we should say “no” when saying yes is actually harmful. Who wants to end up like the “Giving Tree” after all. That is exactly the type of scenario that this sermon is about. What happened to the giving tree was completely destructive to the tree. There was literally nothing left of her at the end of the story. Her generosity destroyed her as a person.
And her generosity was destructive in another way. The boy in this story never learned in ways that he could have. Just imagine if the tree had encouraged the boy to plant other apple trees rather than giving all that she had. Imagine if the tree had said no, because I love you and want you to learn more sustainable ways of being relationships. Saying yes wasn’t just harmful to her, it was also harmful to the person that she loved.

Just like the tree, we are called to say no when what is asked of us is harmful to ourselves or to the person asking. We’ll get into the theology of it later. But from the most basic idea, sometimes saying “no” to someone we care about, is necessary for our own basic well-being or for theirs.

So just to recap the rules of thumb about when to say “no”. It shouldn’t be the first thing, but that doesn’t mean it is never said. Second, we need to say no when saying yes builds resentment in our hearts. And finally, we need to say “no” when saying yes is actually harmful.

But we can also couch this in terms of our faith. I said earlier that our faith tradition typically leads us to a sense of openness and sharing. It’s hopefully our initial response to things.
If you were here last week, you know that I did a “question box sermon.” I answered questions that people wrote down on pieces of paper. I was largely satisfied with the answers that I gave. But there was one that I knew by the afternoon was inadequate. The question was about how Unitarian Universalists are called to respond to fundamentalist religions, be they Christian or Muslim or any other. My initial reaction, and what I think the gut instinct of our traditions, was to say that we should listen, truly listen to the world view that they are coming from. And that was a theologically diverse tradition, we have something fairly unique to offer in the venue of inter-religious dialog.

I stand by that idea of listening, but it’s not quite enough. We also are called to say “no” on occasion. That’s right, our listening and our acceptance of other cultures and traditions has boundaries. When religious traditions dehumanize people or sanctions violence, we are called to stand up and say No. Just this past week, a gay-rights activist in Uganda was beaten to death in his own home after a local paper published the names and addresses of gay people in the community, and suggesting that they should be hanged. This violence was a part of religion. And we are called to stand and speak against it. Just as people of good conscience throughout history have stood up to say that religious persecution is not okay.

Obviously, we in this room do not face immediate danger because of our religious beliefs. We fortunately live in a country where our religious liberty and right to political speech are pretty safely guarded. This example of when to say no may seem extreme and obvious, but there is a point. The gut reaction from our Unitarian Universalist principles is openness and acceptance. We aim to hear the other out, as a religious value. But those same religious values tell us that we MUST stand up and say no on occasion. According to our own principles, there is a time for openness, acceptance and giving, and there is a time to say no.

We usually talk about these principles providing a sense of openness and giving, but that isn’t always the case. Our first principle is respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We remember that one pretty easily and quickly. And we acknowledge that everyone has worth, even those most in need. But today I want to remind us that EVERYONE includes yourself. You have your own inherent worth and dignity to respect. Sometimes we disrespect ourselves when we just agree to everything that is asked of us. Sometimes saying “no” is necessary to respect our own dignity.

And there are other principles that we hold that speak to the issue. Can someone tell me what the second of our principles… without looking? It is
Justice Equity and Compassion in human relationships. Justice and Equity both depend on knowing some limits, knowing when to say “no.” The story of the giving tree was nowhere near just or equitable. relationship I think at first glance we call it compassionate. But was the boy able to grow in compassion at all? Sure the tree was compassionate in her giving, but her giving wasn’t met with anything resembling reciprocity. Sometimes Justice and Equity mean saying no.

Okay, someone give me the fifth principle…. It is the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in our congregations and in society at large. The use of the democratic process can be a tricky thing for us to understand sometimes. We get the first part of it, that everyone gets a vote. We celebrate that quite well. But the other part is that everyone gets only one vote. That’s right, one vote per person. No matter how much of a fuss any individual raises, no matter how deeply held his or her convictions are, they get only one vote. It is up to the community to decided together, in an equal manner how it will govern itself. And a democratic community in turn says “no” to a smaller group who disagrees with the result of a vote. Functional democracy is about the ability to say no, in a way that is not dismissive or oppressive or rude, but still saying no to some people when the final decision has been made.

And the last principle, the one that we know and perhaps encapsulates UU theology most completely… respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. This finale principle, the one that guides so much of how we live as a religious community is all about recognizing our relationships. It is taking seriously the lyrics of the song that we sing every Sunday: “From you I receive, to you I give, together we share and from this we live.” To sustain our relationships in a loving way, we should build them without resentment. And to be able to have long-term relationships, sustainable relationships, we can’t give ourselves completely away, or like the giving tree, eventually, there will be nothing left of us to give.

Everyone has their limit, and the limit is different for each person. Some people are able to give in ways that baffle me, and to do it for a long time. But we all have a limit to our patience. I’m reminded of Jesus overturning the tables of the moneychangers at the temple. This was the only action remotely resembling physical violence that Jesus engaged in. I’m not totally clear about the details of the money-changers. But the way I understand it, the money-changers or bankers were there to make correct change for of the pilgrims who had come to pay the required half shekel as an offering at the temple, but essentially ripping them off in the process. Seeing people making money by ripping off faithful pilgrims put Jesus over the edge. He said clearly, no more of this. “Not in my house,” he said.

The last example of saying no that I want to leave you with is perhaps the most useful to our diverse lives. The Buddha found limits in a different way, perhaps the best way I can think of for us as a model. He always advocated for the middle way. In a nut-shell, he left a life of opulence as a prince, to live life as an ascetic holy man. Finally he realized that both these extreme lifestyles were a barrier to becoming his best self, and he took care of himself, so that he could take care of others. Totally selfish greed wasn’t the way, but neither was a total rejection of his own needs. There was a balance to be struck, a middle way. That’s hat I hope for us, to find in each of our lives the sacred balance, a time to say yes, and a time to say “no.” Because it is not a dirty word. In fact it is a necessary word if we are to live out our principles in this world.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Sermon - "A Heart Felt Faith"

A Heart Felt Faith

Dr. Martin Luther King’s most famous speech has to be the amazing “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered August 28, 1963, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It may be because of the magnitude of the gathering that this speech has become the hallmark of Dr. King’s legacy. But there seems to be something more to it. It was this particular speech in which Dr. King had the audacity to dream of a world that was fundamentally better, a world where the tables had turned. It was a world some believed could come into being only after revolutionary change had occurred.

What was remarkable about Dr. King and what I want to focus on today is his audacity to have such a bold dream. Not only did he hold room for this dream in his heart, he shared that dream, idealistic and naïve as it sounded, he shared it publicly with the entire world.

His dream wasn’t a specific blue print. It was simply an insistence that things can and should be better. You see that’s the whole point of a dream. It’s not a plan, it’s simply naming the goal. It’s not a how to, but a vision.

We can learn from Dr. King’s insistence on a dream. Rather than feeling overwhelmed like many of us do, saying “Where do we start? I can’t do everything.” Rather than losing footing in the mess of problems that we see before us, we can hold fast to a vision, a dream. It doesn’t have to be a step-by-step plan. A simple dream will do just fine. Remember the dreams that he spoke of.

I have a 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 on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

All men are created equal, sitting together at the table of brotherhood, people being judged by the content of their character. This is the language of dreams. This is the language of a revolutionary change. This is a dream that King knew, and we still know is a long ways off. It’s a dream that’s nearly impossible, which is the only type of dream worth fighting for.

The struggles that Dr. King and the civil rights movement faced are difficult for me to wrap my head around. The story from earlier felt almost too violent to tell our own children. The challenges that they faced were tremendous, and still the challenges that we face in making our world a more peaceful place, and an ecologically healthy place can be completely overwhelming. But every leader that I admire has realized and insisted, that we can be better. Our dreams may be far, far away, and the path to them unclear. But one thing is for sure, we can be better.

We can be better and we have all the resources we need at our fingertips. Everything we need to enrich our souls and care for our world. We are giving tremendous gifts. We sit nestled in a creation overflowing with all that is necessary for life. And earth that heated by the sun is delicately balanced to spew forth life. We are given logic and passion and all the gifts of the human spirit. We have been given the power of love. We have been given the power of community. We bask in a deep pool of potential. There is no reason to argue with the fact that WE can do better, as long as we remember that it is possible.

Most religious traditions are joined together in a way that we are not. They have a common object of veneration. Whether it is God, or Vishnu or Allah, or a set of commonly held truths about the universe. Without such a unifying focus we face a pretty big challenge. And on occasion, we Unitarian Universalists supplant our faith in God for faith in this community or in our institutions.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this tradition. I grew up as a Unitarian Universalist and it informs every part of my being. And I am growing to love this little congregation in ways that I never understood as possible. Heck, I even have a flaming chalice tattoo. But, This institution is NOT the goal, it is not the dream. It is simply a means to get to that dream.

When we come together in worship, if we spend that time worshiping ourselves, and the institution that we build, well that’s pretty twisted. There must be something greater, some broader dream that drives this community, some reason for our being. Community is wonderful and our Fellowship is wonderful, but it is a means to an end. Naming that end can be a little difficult sometimes, but it is out there.

I have attended workshops on the subject and been a part of a few endeavors. From what I have seen, it’s very, very difficult for a church to write a mission statement. Most of us find it nearly impossible to summarize in a few words why we exist, not what we do, but why we exist. Why invest time and energy into building this thing. What need does it fill in the world?
We can very easily name some of the things that we do as a religious community. We have worship services, we do social justice work, we do pastoral care, we do all of these things. But why do we exist?

I think we exist to provide sanctuary and to create a more just, peaceful and loving world. And we do both of those things at the same time.

I want to talk briefly about what it means for us to be a sanctuary. We are in the business of being a safe place. A safe place for broken hearts, a safe place for outcasts, a safe place for people of all ages. Last year I spoke about our congregation being a butterfly sanctuary, a place where we could come and be safe, as we make the vulnerable and sometimes scary transform into magnificently beautiful selves. We exist to be a sanctuary for people in their times of need.

We aim to be a sanctuary for those who need a safe place. And we also aim to be a sanctuary for each other’s dreams. In a world that is quick to say “no”, and is more interested in a bottom line than what rests at the bottom of your heart, we create a place that we can nurture one another’s hopes and dreams. We build a sanctuary for hope.

I recently read from one a UU theologian that “Human beings often need sanctuary. But so does the Spirit.” (A House for Hope)P. 148 This caught my attention. We are quite aware of the needs of individual people. But we also offer sanctuary in a different way. We offer sanctuary to the spirit, the divine, our highest ideals, the ineffable source of life, whatever you want to call it, we make room for it here, we welcome it, we celebrate it.

Too often in religious life we speak so highly of those ideals and of the divine, as if they don’t need our help and encouragement in the world. But just like our downtrodden brothers and sisters who come here for a moment of support and peace, so to the spirit of life and love needs the support of a community, this community. “Human beings often need sanctuary. But so does the spirit. “

So we are here to be a sanctuary, and we are here to make a more just, peaceful and loving world. What’s remarkable is that we accomplish those two things at the same time.

As I shared with you in the opening words, King said that “One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we week but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” He understood that there can be no division between the goals that we have for the wider world, and the methods that we use to move toward those goals. They are one in the same. As we create the beloved community here, we bring it about in the wider world. And as we struggle for justice for all people, we deepen our relationships with one another. The method and the goal are the same thing. Peace is both a dream and a practice. Building the beloved community is both our dream for the wider world, and our practice of offering sanctuary in this Fellowship.

One of my most striking moments of ministry happened not too long ago, many of you were here. It happened when Tom McGrew stood here and told us about his commitment to this Fellowship. I think it was probably a fundraising pitch, during the pledge campaign. What I heard was way more important than a passionate ask for money. And I tell this story not to toot a horn or ask for more money. I tell it because it cuts to the heart of who we are as a Fellowship.

Tom was describing why this church was important to him, why he chose this place to support with his time and his money. And he said that he feels like it makes him a better person. Not in a self-righteous way, like “I go to church, I’m better than you.” Not like that, but in a way that causes him to pause and think about his words and his actions. In a way that he feels encouraged and inspired to follow his conscience more fully. He said that UUFLB impacts his life, he said that WE impact his life in a positive way.

Hearing this is a very sobering moment for a minister, and I hope that it is a sobering moment for you as a congregation. What we do here, building this sanctuary impacts people in real ways and makes them better people out in the world. Building a sanctuary helps not just those that seek its shelter. Building a sanctuary helps a world in need.
Our Dreams

I spoke earlier about Dr. King’s willingness and bravery to hold a dream. And I spoke about the role of this congregation as a sanctuary for dreams. We can be better, we have everything we need at our fingertips. We can be better to each other and we can build a better world as long as we remember that we have a dream to strive for. But I’m curious. What is your dream? I’m curious, and I think other people need to hear this as well. In one or two words what do you want for our world? Not just for yourself or for this church, what do you want for the world? Yell it out. Don’t whisper it, don’t say it. Yell is aloud so we can feel it.

Let us be about the business of making our dreams a reality. Les us never forget the dreams of others in this room. More importantly let us never forget our own dreams for a better world.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sermon - "Blessed are the Meek"

Blessed are the Meek

I learned something in college. Like many of the important lessons of college this happened outside of the classroom and outside of books. This was a sort of personal adventure.

In college I was just coming out, and just coming to understand what it meant for me to be gay. It was a big time for growth that way. So my freshman year I decided I would check out the GLBT student organization. The first time I went I was so frustrated that I didn’t return the rest of that year. They had a guest speaker. He was a local activist and small business owner. He told the group something I found disturbing. He said that he experienced everything in his life as a gay man. From going to the grocery store to driving down the street. As a business person he understood his business to be gay and every thing that he did or was was a part of being gay.

Well I thought this was absurd, and on the verge of offensive. After all, I was just the same as everyone else in the world. I just happened to be attracted to other men. That was it. That was the extent to the meaning of this small detail of my life. How strange for him to think that EVERYTHING he did or was was somehow gay.

But that first year of college something changed. As I become more comfortable being myself, I came to understand what this guest speaker had meant. It wasn’t that everything I said or did was a direct reflection of my sexuality. It’s more nuanced than that. He meant that everything that I experienced and learned, came through my experience of being in the world in a certain way. He, and I experienced our world as gay men.

The best way I can describe it is sort of like a mask. A couple of weeks ago, in our Weaving the Fabric of Diversity workshop, we made masks of our personal identity. We wrote and drew symbols of all of the pieces of ourselves. I wrote that I was a gay white man, a minister, an able-bodied 32yo, and several other details. And everyone wrote about their own identity on their own mask. Now obviously, some of those things are the things that we see on the surface of other people. It is the mask that we wear when we interact with the world. Some of those things are hidden and some are seen, but the pieces of our identity shape how people see us.

But there’s more to the mask than that. These masks were a really helpful metaphor because not only do outsiders see a mask on our faces. The mask that we wear shapes the way that we see our world. We look through all of those details of identity and experience like a telescope with multiple lenses. And those lenses shape the way that we understand the world.

Incidentally, that speaker that I found so strange my freshman year became someone I deeply respected by the time I finished college. And that organization that I wouldn’t attend for an entire year, well eventually I came to lead it. It just took a while to get comfortable enough in my own skin to understand that I interpret the world in a particular way based on my particular experience.

This different perspective is something that people have been talking about for a long time, especially the perspective of those who are outside of the mainstream or those whose voices have been ignored or oppressed. There are several ways in which the oppressed have a different understanding of the world around them. Marxists, feminists, liberation theologians, a whole range of people talk about the phenomenon. But before we dive into that heavier material. I want to talk about an example of this that some of you may have seen before.

I have an unfortunate affinity for reality TV these days. One of the shows I have seen a couple of times is called “Undercover Boss.” You may have heard of it. The premise of the show is that in every episode the CEO or owner of a large company dresses up as a new employee. The camera crew then follows this undercover CEO as he or she tries to work in different entry-level positions in the company. Without fail, the boss has a life changing experience. Some affirmations are gathered, but also some very hard lessons are learned about the way people are treated in the company. I have only seen the show a few times, but from what I have seen, there are always tears shed, as the boss, the person in power comes to realize what life is really like in the world that he or she controls.
What’s more, that boss takes the information from employees and the new perspective to IMPROVE the company. You see the people on the ground are the one’s with the important information. The people doing the hard work, the work that is usually overlooked, they are the ones with the insight about how the company might be better.

Well, just like undercover boss, some of the most influential people in history have tried to explaining the exact same phenomenon, the fact that the people on the ground, the people doing the work have a different, and often better insight about the way things should be. It is the core argument within Marxism. Karl Marx said that the working class has a particular experience and understanding of the world. And eventually the working class will advocate for and achieve a society in which material resources are distributed in an equitable way.

And other groups have focused on the power of perspective. It’s a core belief for most feminists. They argue, and who would disagree, that not only are women intellectually equal to men. But also, because of their experience as women, they bring unique insights to the table. Their voices that are often ignored should especially be lifted up and recognized as a new, life-affirming alternatives to the male dominated discussion.

And similar arguments are made about the perspectives of people of color and people with disabilities. The bottom line is, our unique experiences in the world shape our understanding. And often, those voices that are most shut out of the conversation, are precisely the voices that hold the clearest perspective and offer the best solutions.

This idea of the masks that we see through, and the insights of marginalized people is where my mind goes when I hear the Beatitudes. We read them earlier together. “Blessed are the poor, Blessed are those who mourn, Blessed are those who hunger. Blessed are the peacemakers.” These words are likely familiar to us all, if not from religious life, then from popular culture and films.

The Beatitudes are a set of eight blessings. The language is a little bizarre, but they come at a very important point in the Bible. They are actually the opening lines of the Sermon on the Mount, which is understood as the most authoritative summation of Jesus’ moral teachings. These eight rather strange blessings are set at the pinnacle of Biblical authority. It’s like the Preamble of the constitution. It’s the piece of writing that we are familiar with even if we don’t know much else.

Because of their prominent place in the Bible, and also probably because they come across as so jarring, the Beatitudes have been interpreted, criticized, and reinterpreted by an endless number of Christian theologians. Many people rail against this passage claiming that is reinforces slavery mentality. While other social justice leaders point to the Beatitudes as a message about supporting those most in need.

And like everything else, it has been spun to mean a huge variety of things. I was a little shocked to hear that the “Blessed are the peacemakers,” line was actually used to Augustine in his “just war” theory, the idea that some wars could be morally justified. Apparently because the passage speaks of “peacemakers” rather than pacifists Jesus would agree with some wars. I’d certainly call that a stretch.

But like I said, I interpret this well-known passage through the ideas that I spoke of earlier. The idea that our particular identity and life experience opens each of us to particular insights. Perhaps the poor, the oppressed, the meek have a unique perspective to offer the rest of us. Perhaps we are called not to just to feed or fix them, but to listen to them.

This idea of unique insights coming from a place of meekness is not drawn out of the blue, and it’s not unique to this passage, or to Jesus, or to Christianity for that matter. Remember Moses, the archetypal prophet of the Hebrew Bible. When did he find his spirituality and redefine his role in the world? His life changed only after he left the palace of the Pharaoh and returned to a simpler life in the desert. Only from that perspective of living with the enslaved Israelites could he learn what he needed to learn to lead God’s chosen people.

But like I said this idea isn’t unique to Christianity or Judaism. The Buddha had a strikingly similar experience to Moses in this sense. If we know anything about the life of the Buddha, it is that he was born and raised in a palace. His father surrounded him with a perfect world, totally absent of pain and suffering. Until one day the Buddha journeyed outside the walls of the palace to the real world. There he began to see the challenges of the real world. And only after he left the palace, after he left behind all the power and opulence that is father’s wealth had to offer, only then could he face the challenges of life and become enlightened.

Each person, whether a great religious leader or the person on the street corner, each person has their own perspective of the world. It is shaped by identity and experience. And often those people we ignore most in the world, the people whose voices have been the quietest, the oppressed are the people that we need to listen most closely to.

This is why I am a fan of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. There are countless relief organizations out there. I believe that most of them do good work and intend well. But UUSC is particularly notable because it makes a practice of listening deeply to the communities it helps. Rather than dictating an answer to the problems that people face, UUSC supports the projects that people choose for themselves. Whether it is improved agriculture or women’s business development, each project is chosen and led by the people affected.

Today I decided to draw on a piece of Christian scripture, but the concept is far from unique to that tradition. As I said just about every justice struggle I know of has dealt with this concept. The marginalized have a particular experience and voice, and it’s one with tremendous insight. It’s a lesson that we as Unitarian Universalists could stand to take to heart.

If you have been around UU churches for long, you probably know that first of our seven Principles. WE believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. A simple read of that principle is very affirming. I have worth and dignity. It’s something that we sometimes forget. It’s very affirming. But the principle is a little bit broader than a message of self worth. Today, as we talk about the meek, the oppressed the marginalized, I want to remind us about the inherent worth and dignity of EVERY person. More than a self-affirmation, we can take our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person as a challenge, a big challenge. For the inherent worth and dignity of every person to become manifest in the world, some people who have had their voices heard, some of us, well we need to shut up and listen to a different perspective for a while.

We need to listen to the voices of those most affected by our decisions. What do women have to say about family reproductive choices? What do parents in inner cities have to say about failing education systems? What do the homeless have to say about their own needs and the efforts to provide shelter and food for everyone? What do same sex couples have to say about love and commitment? What do immigrants have to say about our broken system of laws and regulations?

As we go about the business of making our world a better place, let us pause to listen before offering our answer.