Monday, June 27, 2011

Sermon - "Humanism: A Matter of Perspective"

Humanism: A Matter of Perspective

This morning we are talking about Humanism as one of the sources of Unitarian Universalism. The word Humanism used to be used a lot more than it is today. That may be in part because we’re not sure exactly what it means. Some of us know that it’s sort of like atheism, but it’s not really the same thing. Other than that, for the most part we aren’t very sure. But humanism has had, and continues to have a huge impact on us as a religious tradition. In fact, next to Christianity, humanism probably influences Unitarian Universalism more than any other source. We just don’t know it, because we take many of it’s ideas for granted.

When you talk about humanism outside of religious circles, people usually think about the Italian Renaissance of the 14th century. Before that time the vast majority of art had been religious. It was either funded by the church, or depicted sacred subjects. But, in 14th Century Italy artists and intellectuals began to look elsewhere for inspiration. Rather than turning to Christianity, writers and artists turned to the Classical themes of Greece and Rome. The Renaissance was a re-birth of Classical thought. More than a new artistic expression, this shift away from the church inspired a tremendous intellectual advance that embraced all of life’s experiences, not just the religious.
Along with the transformation in art, scholars began to downplayed the importance of religious doctrine. They encouraged the use of reason in understanding the Bible. They understood the ethical teachings of Jesus to be more important than the miracles surrounding his story. And they became focused less on the rewards of an afterlife and more on making the best of this life. It’s pretty UU stuff, I’d say. That historical moment of 14th Century Italy was the root of humanism.

But Humanism as we use the word within Unitarian Universalist circles came to its full force in the 20th Century. There was a defining moment in 1933. After the conclusion of World War I a sense of human possibility was in the air. Between scholars and theologians, the humanist ideals of equality, scientific achievement, and human dignity were at an all-time high. Eventually a group came together and to try and summarize what it was that these modern day Humanists were getting at. So in 1933 they published the Humanist Manifest. Sixty-five prominent thinkers were asked to sign the document. Over half of them were Unitarians, and half of the Unitarians were clergy. From that moment to this moment, Humanism has been a strong and clear movement within Unitarianism.
That manifesto was the foundation for Humanism as we know it today. It’s a pretty lengthy document including aspirations for human relationship, and of war and inequality, statements about religion and science. What I want to talk about today are the three major ways that Humanism came to shape Unitarian Universalism of today.

Perhaps more than anything, humanists believe in the ability of science to describe the world around us. Both hard sciences and social sciences have supplied humanity with unprecedented understanding of the Universe. No longer are humans beholden to mythical explanations for natural events. No longer do we derive our ethics from theological speculation. Through reason and experimentation we have the means to search for the answers ourselves.
Humanists believed, we believe that it is irresponsible to dismiss the findings of science in our religious lives. What is true in a house of worship must reflect the truth of the classroom and the laboratory. What is true of your faith must also be true of your mind. Humanists believe, and we believe that science and reason cannot be ignored in church. In fact, they can be embraced and they can deepen our sense of meaning.

While the Humanists of 1933 pushed new limits, saying that science essentially trumped theology, they came to that understanding as a natural outgrowth of the Unitarian tradition. Remember Unitarians didn’t become a separate tradition in America primarily because they rejected the Trinity. They became a new religion because they insisted on using reason to understand ethics and history to understand the Bible.

William Ellery Channing and the early Unitarians said, hold up. We humans have something special, a special ability to use our intellect and our compassion to become better people. And becoming better people should be the focus of religious life. Religious liberals risked everything to argue that we use reason in our religion. We were intelligent beings, not robots. We are called to use our minds to come up with the best understanding of our world.
Then, as now, much of this debate revolved around the Bible. While Channing and other early Unitarians began to see the book as a text created in a certain historical context, with meaning for that context, the Christian orthodoxy would have no part of it. To them the Bible stood on its own merits, apart from history or science. It was the word of God.
I want to read to you a brief quote of what Channing had to say about the Bible in 1819. “We profess not to know a book, which demands a more frequent exercise of reason than the Bible… its style nowhere affects the precision of science, or the accuracy of definition. Its language is singularly glowing, bold, and figurative, demanding more frequent departures from the literal sense, than that of our own age and country, and consequently demanding more continual exercise of judgment.”

As he shaped Unitarianism as a new American religion, it was clear to Channing that we must use reason to interpret religion. What he started was carried deeper by the humanists of the 20th century and today.

Because humanists are so invested in science, it should surprise is that they take issue with those aspects of religion that seem to happen outside of the laws of nature, the “Supernatural.” Humanists oppose supernatural expressions of religion. They reject the idea of miracles happening outside of the laws of nature and science. That is the second major contribution of Humanists then and now.

At first glance, this rejection of miracles is pretty simple. We UUs typically don’t buy into the miracle stories of the Bible, or of other religions sacred texts for that matter. Be they ancient stories of virgin births, or contemporary stories of faith healings, we are a bit skeptical. We don’t embrace the supernatural. The flip side of that is that we do embrace the natural. While we reject the supernatural miracles of religious myth, we embrace the miracles of the grandeur of nature, the miracle of human compassion, the miracle of life. You see the Humanist stance on supernaturalism isn’t just a rejection of fairytales. It’s also a deep and fulfilling embrace of an earthier spirituality.

My favorite passage on the way we understand miracles comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson. In a sermon to a graduating class at Harvard Divinity School, where he had been a student, Emerson said, “the word Miracle, as pronounced by Christian churches, gives a false impression; it is Monster. It is not one with the blowing clover and the falling rain.” (Wright, Three Prophets, p. 97)
I am especially fond of the way that Emerson deals with miracles because he tells us why we should not accept them. Our lives are full of beauty every day, in nature and the compassion of people around us, the blowing clover and the falling rain. Why then, should we build a faith on the supposed miracles of generations past.
In one of his most famous pieces of writing, Nature, Emerson wrote, “Why shouldn’t we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why shouldn’t we have a poetry of insight and not of traditions, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?” (Albanese, Spirituality, P. 46) For Emerson and the theologians that he inspired, life was full of sacred and holy moments. There was no reason to rely on mythical miracles of the past. In fact dwelling on those stories only degraded our own awareness of what is truly sacred.

The final, and most important contribution of humanism was a new perspective for role or religion within human life. Humanism brought new perspective to religious life, it brought new and much needed perspective to Unitarian Universalism.
I said earlier that Humanism is a bit like atheism. But they are not exactly the same thing. Atheists believe that there is no God, that science and the laws of physics are the only way of understanding our life experience. It’s a pretty clear and simple statement of belief.
Humanists, on the other hand believe that God is not necessary for a meaningful life. They don’t explicitly say that God does not exist. Humanists argue that we humans have enough going on with reason and ethics and artistic expression to have a rich and meaningful life, without speculating about supernatural beings. They don’t argue against the existence of God; they just don’t think God is necessary or all that helpful.

But the really fascinating twist is that Humanists embrace religion itself. They believe that religion with all of its ritual and culture is a tool that humans create to make meaning out of their lives. Religion builds community, it shares history, it builds an ethical atmosphere, it organizes to help care for those in need. We know this, it is the story of our Fellowship. Religion does a lot of wonderful things, all without God. Religion has a tremendous capacity to contribute meaning to people’s lives. And religion is a product of our innate moral values, the truths that we are able to discern through reason and emotional depth.
What humanism brings to liberal religion is a sense of perspective. People create religion to make meaning out of their lives. Often times that is good and helpful. But the key is that people create religion, not the other way around. Religion is helpful, meaningful, and true only to the extent that it enriches people’s lives. Religion exists for people. Not the other way around.

The easiest way to understand Humanism might be to understand humans at the center of things. Just like Copernicus discovered the heliocentric solar system. It was revolutionary when he realize that the sun was at the center, not the earth. It totally transformed the way we understood our place in the world.
Well in religious life, the humanist twist is just as revolutionary. Humanists believe that the worth and dignity of every person is of supreme importance. It should be the central concern when we gather in community, not speculation about God, or adherence to outdated myths.

I hope you can see a bit now why I said that Humanism influences Unitarian Universalism more than any other tradition, with the exception maybe of Christianity. It has demanded that we take science seriously as a religious tradition. Humanism guided us toward embracing the wonder of the natural world as a source of inspiration and spirituality. And humanism upholds the inherent worth and dignity of every person above religious speculation or traditions. It has deeply shaped who we are.

Unitarian Universalists hold a great variety of beliefs about God, and humanity. We are about as theologically diverse as a religious community can get. That diversity often leads to the assumption that you can believe whatever you want and be a Unitarian Universalist. But it’s not quite that simple.

You cannot believe whatever you want and be a Unitarian Universalist. Because, we expect you to have integrity with your beliefs. I don’t mean that you have to write a complete systematic theology. You don’t have to have it all figured out. What you do have to do is integrate your mind with your faith.

Sound theology, meaningful theology has only two criteria. It must make sense, and it must make a difference. You have heard me say this before. It wasn’t until this week until I realized how much that grows out of Humanism. That’s it, it must make sense, and it must make a difference.

You can’t leave reason and science in a totally separate compartment of your life. These two truths have to come together, to reconcile somehow in your heart and in your head. What you believe should make sense to you. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should make sense.
And your belief should make a difference. Your belief should inspire you to be a better person in the world. Because this world, this life is the one we are certain of. This is the one that matters. Let your religion be a well to draw from, not a trap that ensnares in the past.


Monday, June 20, 2011

Sermon - "Respecting the Web"

Respecting the Web

Often when we talk about the web that connects us, one to the other, I’m reminded of a wonderful Buddhist image. It’s Indra’s net. I’m reminded of Indra’s Net for first, because obviously a net and a web are only slightly different things. But much more importantly, I love the way that Indra’s net describes so beautifully what we call the web of life or the interconnected web of all existence. I found this quote that describes Indra’s web beautifully.

“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring”
(Francis Harold Cook describes the metaphor of Indra's net from the perspective of the Huayan school in the book Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra)

Isn’t that beautiful. The Buddhist interpretation of this metaphor is quite different from what you or I might first suggest. Buddhists understand the infinite nature of the web to talk about the insignificance of self. Each of us is merely a reflection of the world around us. Like a reflective jewel, our very essence is a composition of other things. We are nothing more than a combination of physical parts, the ideas in our hear, or the cultural way we express ourselves. We are a composite reflection of everything else, not a unique and separate entity. Quite simply, Buddhists see the net as a metaphor to say, “Get over yourself.” To live a meaningful life is to get over self-obsession, and accept that we are products of the world around us. We are a jewel, a beautiful jewel reflecting all the other infinite jewels in the net. And once we do get over ourselves, we are inspired to help others.

That’s probably not what you first thought of when you heard this reading though. As Unitarian Universalists, our interpretation of the web is quite different. We start with the belief that every person has inherent worth and dignity, and that we are endowed with bodies and particular skills to change the world; we start from a focus on the way we can impact the world, rather than the goal of getting over ourselves. It’s worth pointing out that wherever we start from, as Buddhists or as Unitarian Universalists, Indra’s net teaches us that the religious life is about considering and caring for others.

There is one more take on the Net, or the web. It’s the undersatanding that we usually suggest when we talk about the Interdependent web of all existence as our Seventh Principle. That is the truth, the fundamental truth that we depend on one another to live. As living beings we eat breath and live in relationship with the natural world. Other lives make our life possible. Both the world of science and the world of religion have pointed to this fact of life. We are in fact jewels that reflect the infinite other jewels in the net. We have together on the interconnected web.

I wanted to bring up all of these various interpretations of Indra’s Net because there are just as many interpretations of our Seventh principle. For some it’s about the spiritual truth of interconnectedness. For others is about acting to help out because we’re all in this together. And still for others it can be a source of humility, and recognizing our place in the web. As our responsive reading said, We did not weave the web of life; we are merely a strand in it.

Sometime’s it’s easy to respect the web. Sometimes we feel connected and motivated to do that little extra to help the environment. But for me, it gets a little overwhelming. Perhaps it is a generational thing. But my head has been crammed with so many messages about how devastated our planet is, it’s hard to feel like what I do matters. I haven’t even bothered to bring you the latest scientific information on global warming. But you know as well as I do, it’s bad, worse than we thought.

The scale of the problem just seems to swallow the impact of my efforts. How does my choice to recycle this paper, or take a five minute walk rather than fire up my care make a difference? How can I make a difference in such a tremendous global problem?

Perhaps more than anything today, I want this sermon to be a remind that our actions are also like a web. Every choice that we make reaches out across space and time to affect the world in a multitude of ways. I know that sounds dramatic but it’s true. Every time we choose to recycle, or walk, or eat a plant-based diet, or turn off the lights, our action is reflected in countless ways across space.

I’ve been focusing quite a bit in my daily life on the broader impact of my decisions. It’s as simple as the the question “Is this who I want to be in the world.” Do I want to be the kind of person who recycles, or the kind of person who doesn’t care. Do I want to be the kind of person who finds some greener way to get from A to B, or do I want to pollute more? I have been trying a lot lately to ask the question, “is this the type of person I want to be,” rather than the question, “is this what I want to do.” In the moment, in a tired disconnected moment I often frankly want to do the thing that is fastest and most comfortable. But that doesn’t usually lead to being the type of person I want to be.

That question actually sums up a whole field of ethics called virtue ethics. I don’t want to go into it in detail, but basically the idea is that the ethical choice isn’t just about what you do in this moment. It is about the type of character you build, because you’re like to act that way again, and again, and again. So the impact of your choice today is likely to be repeated over and over in the future.

Our actions as like a web. They spread out across time as we learn to make the same choice over and over. One recycled can, one reuse-able grocery bag, one vegetarian dinner becomes many more as we cultivate habits of helping the earth. Our choices do make a difference in this global challenge. Each individual choice to respect the web spreads out far and wide.

Sometimes making the right choice casts an array of benefits far beyond what we first intended. It touches people and places we never knew about. It spreads across tremendous distance to make a difference. The best example I can think of in this was is eating organic foods.
You all have heard that eating organic foods is better. Some of us do it, some of us think it’s silly and expensive. But think with me for just a minute about the broad consequences of making the choice to eat organic. At the simplest level that we are all aware of, eating organic foods means that you aren’t exposing your body to pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones that are in many of our foods. Eating what nature produces is healthier than eating what comes out of a science lab. That seems reasonable.
But eating organic has other benefits that you may not be as aware of. Those chemicals that you want to avoid eating are also bad for the environment. So when we buy foods that have been grown without them, we save not only ourselves from those chemicals, we also reduce the use of petro chemicals, oil production, water pollution through run-off and soil erosion. So when we keep those chemicals out of our own diet, they are not spread in mass quantities over soil. So we keep those chemicals out of our bodies as well as out of the ecological system we all depend on.
But there’s more. Eating organic actually helps the diversity and health of our food sources. You see the foods that are grown for commercial production are selected and bred for maximum production with the help of chemicals. They aren’t the crops that are the heartiest or most drought resistant. They aren’t the crops that have the best natural defenses against disease or insects. They are the crops that grow the fastest and the biggest, with the help of chemicals. The vase majority of food produced in the United States comes from an alarmingly small number of genetically modified breads of plants and animals. But, by choosing foods that don’t rely on chemicals to grow, we encourage healthy strains of food sources, we help nature to do its job of creating a beautiful bounty of resources, without a chemicals or genetic tinkering.
And there’s more. Eating organic means that you save the people who grow and process our foods from being exposed to the harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers used in conventional farming. Far from the bucolic image of American Gothic, or Norman Rockwell paintings, conventional farming is a massive industry with tremendous risks to workers, not the least of which is the harmful chemicals that saturate their work place. Keeping those chemicals off our plate also keeps farm workers out of harm’s way.

I’m sure a real environmental wiz or foodie could tell you more benefits of eating organic foods. That’s just the little bit that I know of. This is not meant to be an ad for organic foods. Yes, that is one way of respecting the web. But more importantly, it is an example of how our choices tug on a string of the web. One choice can have multiple layers of impact. Tugging on one thread of the web can have a very, very broad impact for the better. In the face of global climate melt down, we absolutely must remember that our individual actions reach out in ways we may never have known to help build better, stronger web of life.

I want to leave you all with a short story of hope. It’s a story that has touched me tremendously because I see it every day. Those of you who are one facebook may remember a few months ago how delighted I was to see so many marine mammals at main beach. There were dolphins and sea lions. I was thrilled.
But the really thrilling news is that they have stuck around. You may have noticed this yourself. The number of dolphins off our coast has skyrocketed. And I finally found out why.
It’s because of kelp. But not just any kelp. It’s because of giant kelp forests that have been restored. This is kelp that people helped to grow, with the explicit goal of repairing the marine habitat off our coast. And it has worked beautifully. I love seeing dolphins at the beach when I walk my dog there. They are amazing creatures. And there presence is even more magical for me now, when I realize that those beautiful graceful mammals are there, because a handful of committed people cared enough to grow kelp, which fed sea urchins, which fed fish which feed dolphins.
Some people are turning the world around literally. They are restoring species, and reinvigorating nature to its glory. There’s too much work to assume that you can’t make a difference. There’s too much need to set this one out.


Monday, June 6, 2011

Sermon - "Pride and the Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Person"

You may have noticed our rainbow flag was outside this morning. It’s been hiding in the back corner of the sanctuary for over a year. It’s nice to have in here, but I’m glad to tell you that the flag is coming out. It’s going to be out on the patio on Sundays now. The only reason it hasn’t been out there is that that slightest breeze would blow the thing over. You see that plastic base that it sits in was empty so it had no support. So just a couple of weeks ago, Brian figured out how to fill the base with some heavy clay to give it some weight.

And that’s exactly what I aim to do with today’s worship service, to give some weight to the idea of Gay Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Pride. Because whether you know it or not, it’s about more than a parade or a picnic or a rainbow flag. Pride is about a community, struggling for survival, standing up for its rights, standing up to proclaim that they too are human beings with dignity and worth.
Most of us know of the Gay Pride Parade as a fun day, with colorful floats and costumes. There are amazing parties going on all month, it is non-stop dancing in the street. But, the Gay Pride Parade, is more than just a party. Every year in June, pride parades mark the anniversary of one very important night, forty three years ago. That night, June 28, 1968, at a gay bar in New York City, for the first time the queer community fought back, literally.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, gay bars in New York and SanFrancisco were regularly raided by the police. Once a month, police would come to take names and pictures of customers, arrest anyone in inappropriate clothing, meaning clothing of the wrong gender. And they would confiscate all the liquor and close the bar.

This particular night, around 1:30 in the morning, the gay bar call Stonewall Inn was full of people when the police began their raid. But things did not go as expected. From the very outset of the raid, there was a new level of tension. First all the male patrons were lined up and asked for identification. Meanwhile, customers dressed as women were taken to the restroom and ordered to prove their gender to a police officer present. For the first time, they began to resist the humiliation, for the first time some of them said no.

Later, outside the bar when the police were arresting a butch lesbian who was struggling, she was knocked in the head with a billy club. She yelled out to the crowd of hundreds, “Why don’t you do something?” The police threw her in the back of the wagon, and the crowd became a mob. … Years, decades, of humiliation and police brutality would be confronted that night. A series of nights of chaos in the Greenwich Village neighborhood where the bar stood became known as the Stonewall Riots, the seminal moment for the modern Gay Rights movement. Within weeks, two major organizations were formed, the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance, organizations that continue on today under different names.

The next year, 1970, the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots was clebrated by marches in New York City, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Those marches became what we know of as, the Gay Pride Parade. Then, and now, there is a purpose to pride. It is not just a party, it is an anniversary to one of the most important moments of LGBT history, a moment of saying NO to humiliation and police brutality.

One important piece of this history, a piece that is often forgotten is that the moment that the Gay Pride Parade commemorates, the Stonewall riots, was not a well organized political event. It was not popular or comfortable. It was not funded by a national organization. It was not lead by wealthy white men. Quite the contrary, the beginning of the gay rights movement, the Stonewall rebellion, was the result of some fierce drag queens and butch lesbians. Those people most marginalized, were the ones with the guts to say, we’re not going to take this anymore. So as we pause to remember gay pride, we must also pause to remember the lesbian and transgender folks. Without them, who knows how long it would have taken to stand up. If pride is all about celebrating who we are, we must remember all of who we are, all of the brave men and women, the fierce drag queens, the butch lesbians, the sissies who were the first to say NO, to the humiliation.

Fortunately times have changed a bit. Gay bars are no longer raided by the police, at least not that I know of. And the Gay rights movement has moved far beyond using violence to get its message across. It is a well-funded and organized political movement, chugging along on the track to equality. But they still march every year, and not just in those three cities where it started. Gay Pride parades occur in every state, in pretty much every reasonably sized city.
In fact we will participate with other UU congregations in the Orange County Pride picnic in August. It’s a great time.
But why? Why have pride in 2011 some might ask? Why fly this silly rainbow flag here in Laguna Beach? The answer is, because it’s still necessary. Still today many, many people who would rather LGBT movement disappear. Many , many people think that everyone should be heterosexual, and if they are unable or unwilling to do so, they simply shouldn’t have the same rights. As long as that is the case, as long as some people try silence or hide our queer brothers and sisters, then Pride will be necessary. Because it’s not just about a party. It’s about pausing to celebrate progress and make the world pay attention, whether it wants to or not.

I debated about brining this up, but I can’t let it pass by. Not this week. I think it is too important for you to know. Last month, Laguna Presbyterian Church made the bold move to publicly stand in opposition to it’s national body. Last month, Laguna Presbyterian Church made a clear and public statement that it stands in opposition to allowing faithful gay and lesbian individuals into ordained ministry.

The largest and most prominent church in our town feels compelled to publicly declare that faithful gay and lesbian people are not fit for ordained ministry in their church.

This is why we have a pride flag out front, and will continue to fly it. Because as a religious community, we have a specially calling to celebrate the inherent worth and dignity of EVERY person.

I feel deeply for the members of Laguna Presbyterian Church who have lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family members and friends. Perhaps most of all I feel for the young queer people growing up in that church, young people who should be finding a source of comfort in their faith, not condemnation. Many of you in this room have felt the pain of not fitting the mold of a religious tradition.

We celebrate LGBT Pride in the month of June because it is still necessary to stand up and say everyone has inherent worth and dignity, including our Gay Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender brothers and sister. Everyone, every single person has inherent worth and dignity.

All this Summer we are going to focus on the Seven Principles and Six Sources of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Today, I’m especially concerned about the first Principle. You can read it on the back of your order of service or on the poster on the back wall of the sanctuary, or in any Unitarian Universalist church across the country. “We the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

If you’re a member here, you have no doubt heard this bit about the inherent worth and dignity of every person. It’s a pretty strong and important theological statement. The inherent worth and dignity of every person. But you may not be as familiar with the introductory language. We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association covenant to affirm and promote.

You see the seven principles is often misunderstood as a list of things that we as individual UUs believe in. While the Principles do help point in that direction, that’s not what the document is about. The Seven Principles is a covenant between congregations. It is a public commitment, sort of like a mission statement. It is a commitment to affirm and promote these concepts that we hold dear, and to do so as a community. “We covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

We don’t just believe people are good. That’s just the very beginning, the very surface layer of this statement. Don’t get me wrong, we do, I do believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. But also, we believe it is our job as a religious community to affirm, to call out, to bear witness to that goodness. And it is our job to promote it. It is our job to create a community and a world where people can grow into their best selves, where inherent worth and dignity of every person can blossom into its full glory.

I’m occasionally asked about our message of love and tolerance. This support for the inherent worth and dignity of every person, does that mean that anyone can say or do what they want and we support them in it? Do we support unjust behaviors or things that break down community? The answer is no, we do not.

As Unitarian Universalists our faith calls to love and acceptance, not to being doormats. While we do believe that people are inherently good, we also recognize the crucial religious work of building community. Every person has inherent worth and dignity, not a right to act irresponsibly or hurtfully. Every person has inherent worth and dignity, not a right to be destructive to others.

That’s why it is important that we embrace the full statement of our first principles, and all of our principles for that matter. Our principles are only meaningful when are analyze them, challenge them, give them context and depth. Otherwise they are nothing more than a poster on the wall. It’s not about reading them, it’s about living them in our real complex lives. It’s not just a list of the things that we believe about the world, but a list of the ways in which we will act toward creating a better world. Unitarian Universalism is a religion of action, not belief. One of the actions that we hold most dear is creating a world where people are safe to flourish into their fully beautiful selves. Sometimes creating that world, where everyone is safe to flourish means saying “no” to destructive people and to intolerance.

The song that we are about to sing as our closing song is called “We are a Gentle Angry People.” It was written in 1978 to be performed at the memorial for Harvey Milk. Thanks to the recent film about his life, many more of us know his story. Harvey Milk was a fiery politician who was the first openly gay man elected to public office. After serving for just 11 months Milk was assassinated, along with the mayor by a disgruntled former City Council Member.
His assassination left an entire community devastated. It was bad enough that Harvey Milk the man had died. But that bullet also struck the heart of an entire community’s hopes and dreams. In that moment of deep, deep loss, this song was written. “We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing for our lives.”

This song was written by and for the Gay and lesbian community in their struggle. But I think it speaks to us as Unitarain Universalists and as human beings. There is reason to be angry when our inherent worth and dignity is challenged by the world. But that’s not something that happened with one shot in 1978. It’s not something that happens only to the LGBT community.
It’s something that happens to every single one of us. Each and every one of us feels the affect of being ignored, being told we are somehow less than. Whether because of the way we look, the way we talk, how old we are, who we love, how much money we make. Each one of us has at one time or another had our dignity challenged.
So as we sing this closing hymn together, I want you to join me, in celebration of gay pride, and in affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Let us sing for our lives, and the lives of others.