Does Rev. Dr. King have a message for Us?

"His message is for all"

Drum Major Instinct: Still Leading For A Future Yet Unseen

I am on the board of That All May Freely Serve, a national Presbyterian organization working for full inclusion of LGBT persons for ministry.  In that capacity I am part of our board’s pastoral care team.  We use an online ministerial presence with one another to create the spiritual support and presence ‘while we are absent one from another’ (Genesis 31:49).  I offer my latest meditation and prayer to the board, wondering if in celebrating and honor Rev. Dr. King trying to answer the question, “Does Rev. Dr. King have a message for Us?

I am sitting here thinking about the sermon I am in the middle of processing for a Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Shelter Rock on Sunday, January 16, 2011.  It is a sermon I am giving on behalf of the Poverty Initiative here at Union Theological Seminary.  The Poverty Initiative’s mission says that “The Poverty Initiative is dedicated to raising up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty, led by the poor.”  The sermon I am preparing is based on Rev. Dr. ML King’s speech “The Drum Major Instinct”.  I’ve attached a link below.

Here is my reading for the day from that speech:

“I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. (Glory to God) He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. (Amen) One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. (Lord help him) When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend….

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.”

I share this text with you for a couple of reasons today.  I share it to remind us that Christ always went against the grain of what others thought should remain the status quo.  King did not  say this to remind us the suffering we have to go through in order to fight for what’s right.  He did it moreso to  remind us that greatness is adjective that is assigned to us by others.  Meaning, it doesn’t take greatness to make the change in the church we are making.  It takes very real people, willing to humbly stand for what’s right, willing to speak up for injustices. And everyone of us are a part of what makes this church we serve “great”.  You see others cannot defend the status quo of this church and it’s greatness without realizing that it is each person in it, each part of the body, is what makes up that greatness.  It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.  The picture on the outside of the box is what we call “great,” but it is its pieces working together inside the box that make it so.

In all honesty, Dr. King’s attitude toward the work we do would have had to undergo some major shifting to get behind us.  The leaders of the Civil Right’s movement relegated the openly gay man, Bayard Rustin-organizer/planner extraordinaire, to a behind the scenes piece of the legacy of the movement.  It was fear of the government leaking Rustin’s sexuality that convinced King to take a part in this process.  But in my heart, I do believe that King would have come around.  I believe that King would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Rustin in solidarity.  I believe that he would be able to finally stare Rustin in the eyes and say the words to him that mean so much for the work we do, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”*

That is a Jesus message if I ever heard one.  That is the truth of the Good News we bring to our church.  May we stand steadfast in the struggle.

I remember last fall, here in NYC we had these winds like you wouldn’t believe.  One could barely walk down the street without having the wind blow you off balance for a second or two and sometimes you could barely walk against the wind without threat of being blown over.  I remember looking out the window watching person after person walk up the wide boulevard, struggling to walk into the wind.  From a less windy side street, I saw an older couple who I imagined to have been together for at least 50 years.  Before they turned the corner onto the windier street they did something I will never forget.  They turned and looked toward one another and then side by side they burrowed into each other.  They turned the corner and walked straight into the wind together.  Step after measured step, they held tight and walked unwaveringly through that wind.  When they reached the deli their destination they stepped into the doorway and gave each other a quick kiss and went inside.

If we can continue to link arms and walk forward in the wind of opposition, we can cut through it, diffuse its power, and reach our destination. The winds died down that day.  Be assured dear friends, that we can weather the storm.  But remember to hold on to one another tightly.  We have turned a corner and are out of the shadows of the church.  That is why the winds of resistance have been so fierce upon us.  Hold on…the deli is at the end of the corner for us too!

We serve a church that tries to care for the poor, the unloved, those devastated by war, the hungry, those who don’t have clothes on their backs.  We are a church that seeks to love and serve humanity from Arkansas to Angola.  But let us continue to remind this church and shine the the light on their shortsightedness.  Let us continue to speak of our injustice here within the church as we minister to the world outside.  Friends, let us remind ourselves, the church we serve and the world we are a part of that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Ashe and Amen.

Loving and most gracious God,

We come to you in thanksgiving because we have come so far.  ’We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on the Lord.  Trusting in Your holy word, we can’t turn around.’  Int his moment of renewed commitment to service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Help us to cling to one another as we move along this journey we have undertaken.  Help us to recognize our failings and our prejudices, the ones that hinder us from serving your church.  Help us to remember as we fight our struggle, so that one day all of your children can be free, that our struggle is the struggle of the poor, those in prison, those with no food or clothes.  As we get bogged down with the important work of strategizing, planning, organizing, claiming victories and mourning defeats–help us to remember that we are not just fighting our fight but we are fighting for injustice everywhere.

Bless this board, oh Lord.  That we may hear and discern your will for us and in the work that we do.  Bless the ones we love as they support us in this work.  Help us to love those who would see us fail, those who would rather see us leave your church.  Help us to maintain the truth of our ministry.  We ask these things in our solitary prayers, but we ask them now collectively that you would bless this body with those virtues that you hold so dear.

We ask these and so many other blessings, we bring these concerns and so many others in our hearts to you.  Thank you for giving us the courage through your grace.  We thank you, oh God and give thanks in the name of Christ and the blessed communion of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

*Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

picture from Yahoo Pictures

Immoral Acquiescence

As the military speaks of how to dismantle the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Policy in regards to gays in the military, I am hit by the profundity of the policy itself. Basically, people willing to lay their lives on the line have been asked to lie about their true understanding of self. So now there is an effort to dismantle a policy so that people can speak the truth. How odd…

It goes beyond just asking people to lie. It’s what that lie actually says about the power structure of institutional authority, as well as the person who must submit to that institution. I’m feeling that way about these arguments about gays in the church. The parameters for the discussion of the issue has been set in such a passive aggressive tone. Of course, the primary foundation reduces people who are LGBTQ to nothing more than what they do in their practice of sex. And that is the fight: to be able to claim who is moral and who is immoral.

Much of the church’s argument seems to hinge on this idea of moral superiority. My personal belief is that the LGBTQ person is not immoral. Lying is immoral. Living a lie is immoral.  (Upon further thought, what I meant to say is that living as though it seems one must live a lie is immoral.  For the choice to be out or not is personal and should be respected as such.) Don’t get me wrong, I am a human being and know that I have human failings. But it seems that I am being asked to acquiesce to the idea that loving someone of the same gender is immoral before I can gain acceptance into the institution that is church.

I guess I’m just saying that I will not acquiesce to being immoral. When I am asked by the church to lie and agree that LGBTQ falls outside of the realm of who God wants to serve God’s church, then I am being immoral. Immoral acquiescence…can’t do that for any human. I have to answer to an even higher authority.

**use of the term “church” is specifically monolithic to express the ideas here and is based on experience in many denominations

RE: How did it get this way?

Derrick, I kept picturing you with your Bible, poring over commentaries, working hard to get it right, get a word out to reach someone in need. I kept thinking about the platform of preaching, especially for LGBT folks. Thinking about how, when we are permitted, we send out our words from a pulpit and then they are out there – out there to be received by bodies in whatever fashion they will be. What an honor, what an incredible responsibility.

And then I saw this:

Right there sitting on my counter next to my coffee, right there on the front of the New York Times the heading, “Foe of Gay Marriage Says Its Nothing Personal,” with a picture of Ruben Diaz Sr., a New York State Senator and Pentecostal minister in the Bronx. Right up in my face at 7:30 a.m. All that incredible hypocrisy right up in my face as I sit next to my 6-year-old daughter while she eats pancakes.

Another man with a platform, this one on the front page of the Times.  A man who tells the reporter that of the two brothers and a granddaughter and the various other folks in his life who are gay, “I love them. I love them…but I don’t believe in what they are doing.” “I love them. I love them,” he says as he actively tries to bar same sex marriage from getting to the floor of the Legislature.  And I think, no, no, that’s not love, honey, that’s greed. You want what you want from them. You want what they give to you and how they enhance your life, but you don’t want what makes them happy for themselves.

No, preacher, that’s not what we do – we don’t just get to take what we want from folks and ditch the rest. No, in love, we don’t decide that when we’re uncomfortable with what makes that person tick — what is their soul’s essence – we don’t  decide that we’re going to deny it. In love, we don’t pretend that sexuality, the very fiber of what makes us human, is superfluous to our relationship and that our efforts to limit that aren’t “personal.” No, no Mr. Senator, that is not love, that’s greed. That’s taking what’s not yours to have.

“I love them. I love them…but I don’t believe in what they are doing.” What are we doing?

This is what I’m doing: I’m sitting next to my daughter while she eats pancakes.

And I’m going to seminary. I’m sitting in classes and working at a church and trying my best to figure out what God has in store for me.

This is what I’m doing: I’m working hard at reading scripture, praying scripture, doing research in the library and then confronting the reality of the congregation seated in front of me. Folks of all different ethnicities, shades, and sexualities; some folks who are barely making ends meet, folks who have lost jobs and countless hours of sleep, others who are sitting in the lap of luxury; some riddled with health problems, others living in difficult, loveless marriages; folks whose lives are full and those whose are broken; folks who come to church to hear some good news, others to be in company; folks who need more time in their lives, more time and less to do. I’m standing periodically before folks from all different walks of life with all different reasons to both praise and curse God and I’m doing my best to minister to them. That’s what I’m doing.

Then I’m going home to a partner whom I’ve shared a bed with for 12 years and with whom I have two amazing children. I’m going home to love her. I’m going home to work out all the stuff of this difficult world, to find solace and relief and comfort and…did I mention the love part? I’m going home to her to refresh my spirit so that I can go back out into the world and do what God continues, despite myself, to call me to do.

How did I get this way?

I guess it’s time.  As a member of the Queer community already, it is time to come out of the other closet: I am a preacher.  It wasn’t something I chose.  I was just born this way.  My partner, Preaching, and I have been in a committed relationship for quite some time now.  We live in full communion with others in our neighborhood–God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, a family of believers. Even if others will never accept who I am, Preaching and I hope that our relationship will speak for itself, that we can model how to be in relationship.  Now I know that many churches are putting the validity of our relationship to referendum and I don’t know what that vote will look like.  In the meantime, Preaching and I will just go on loving each other, gifting the world with our love and holding on to each other and the friends in our neighborhood for comfort.  Preaching and I would love to invite you into our lives.  Just bring yourselves, we’ll supply the bread and the wine.

Just wondering…..what would it be like if the people heard this as my testimony?

Once you have preached a sermon, exhaled the last amen, it seems as if that is the end of story.  It is now out into the atmosphere where it will either move through, past or deep into the hearer.  But what about the other end of the story?  Each time I start to prepare a sermon the same question comes to mind, “What could I possibly bring to preaching?”   And each time I start with the same two things, the Bible and myself.  That may be all I have, but between the two there is still so much to unearth.  I love looking at a verse, examining the words, thinking about the history that surrounds that text, as well as the nuances in the original languages and subsequent translations.  I get excited when I see the words on the page take the shape of a message of good news.  I am grateful when those words give comfort to a hurting soul and this hurting world.

A smile forms on my lips when I think about this, but then my heart sinks for just a moment.  I remember for a moment that there are many who would silence my voice, try to break up this relationship that I have with the Word and its proclamation.  I remember that there are many who believe that I should not have the honor of spreading the gospel because I am a member of the GLBTQ community.  I often think to myself, how queer this situation is.  It is like living in the time of the Markan Jesus.  I have been blessed, but asked not to tell anyone.  I experience healing, but am asked not to speak of it.  I have chosen to bear witness to Christ on the cross, and am asked not to share the story of God’s gift.  I have even looked into the empty tomb, and am asked not to shout, “Christ is no longer here!”  How queer that God would give me the most incredible thing to witness, and that some would tell me to go away and tell no one.