(I didn’t actually give this sermon this morning. I had planned to do so, but time did not allow. Turns out it wasn’t necessary. The rest of the worship service connected with Spirit and fed the spirits of all in attendance – no need for a sermon! Here it is, anyway.)
Back in 8th grade, Dr. Mosdell was the only person I felt actually comfortable talking with. And no one will get the help I received. It’s heart-breaking.
People love to say we are the future. And we are. We are the ones who are going to continue to lead this world. By firing Dr. Mosdell, you are showing so many students that what we want to learn about doesn’t matter.
There was also the student who cried through their whole testimonial, so grief-stricken at the loss of this counselor.
These are the voices of a middle school student and former middle school student in Piscataway just three nights ago, as that school district roils with the recent, sudden, and surprising denial of tenure – basically a firing — of a beloved school psychologist.
Surprising? On one level: yes. Surprising and heart breaking for vulnerable students who experienced the programs she created as a safe haven in a society we like to think is progressing – and it is – but not fast enough for some young people who experience the underbelly of this nation’s cultural, legal, and social ambivalence about being truly welcoming of all, truly honoring and celebratory of all lesbian, all gay, all bi, all trans, all queer, all genderqueer, all nonbinary, all genderfluid, all asexual, all pansexual – the whole joyous, abundance of humanity.
Surprising? On a political and cultural level: no. We are in the midst of backlash. It may be more evident and explicit in Alabama with its governor salivating to sign transphobic legislation and in Florida where they supposedly can’t say – gay – but be very careful, because there are versions of backlash and reactionary reaction here. As Piscataway and its Education Superintendent are demonstrating.
We can say gay.
We will say gay.
You in the sanctuary and you at home: can you shout GAY along with me?
Perhaps you remember when I preached about the uproar against so-called critical race theory. That uproar – which sickly has included not only banning books, but burning them – is the evolution of 20th century white supremacy that once took the form of Bull Conor’s dogs and fire hoses.
Just like pushing out an effective school counselor, safe haven for queer kids who are always in need of a blessing and shelter, is an evolution of late night police raids of night spots on Christopher Street and the publishing of arrest records that led to suicide from public humiliation.
I am thankful for Charles Darwin and his theories, particularly the ones that don’t get much airtime ~ the ones that highlight the necessity of cooperation for survival.
But if the kind of evolution we have to look forward to is that of making intolerance, exclusion, and corruption of the human spirit more acceptable and assimilation, I say: DOWN WITH EVOLUTION!
I say: UP WITH TRANSFORMATION.
Up with the transformation of the Pride glad into a Progressive Pride flag. I say up with the transformation of middle schoolers who know their own inherent worth and dignity and who speak out and up on behalf of someone who has been their shelter and their blessing.
I think of us as a welcoming congregation. An imperfect, but truly welcoming congregation that wants to do right when it comes to not just tolerating, not even just welcoming, but fully celebrating the adults and the children for whom this flag is essential to their self-identity.
But we haven’t always been so. Some of you old timers know this, but I learned it just this past week for the first time (or if I was told it in the past, it did not sink in). I knew that in 2004 this congregation did the work and voted to become a Welcoming Congregation. I also knew that there was at least one family who left specifically because of that vote. [That’s fine! As you leave, don’t let the door slam you on your backside!]
But that effort and that successful vote was the second attempt. There was a first attempt to grow the congregation’s understanding into being a Welcoming Congregation. It was in 1994-1995. It was led, as these things always are, by members of the congregation. In this case, mostly or all gay men.
It was contentious. It was painful.
Apparently, the Minister attempted something that was intended at reconciliation, but instead broke the hearts of those gay men. The congregation did not become a Welcoming Congregation – it did not extend a true and loving welcoming to gay or lesbian members, who were probably the focus of the education at that time (not much attention to bi people or trans folx at that time).
Most of those gay men who hoped to transform this congregation: they left. Can you blame them? I mean, can you imagine staying under those circumstances?
All but one left. Which is the only reason I have come to know this history. Thank you, Ken, for staying. I am sorry that this congregation let you down in that way. I am sorry that the Minister at that time broke your heart.
Thank you, Ken, for helping this congregation to transform into the Welcoming Place and People it has become – gender neutral restrooms; a religious education program that explicit honors all transgender, cisgender, and nonbinary children and youth; a congregation that welcomes its genderqueer member to bring awesome music at a Sunday service dedicate to marking the theological, spiritual, religious, and social importance of Pride month.
This pride that I have, the world didn’t give it to me. This pride that I have, the world didn’t give it to me. This pride that I have, the world didn’t give it to me. The world didn’t give it, the world can’t take it away.lyrics from the song, This Joy
Which reminds me, I hope you know about the upcoming fundraiser on June 26th in Highland Park, being organized by that same musician. It is raising funds and people who will help organize a local annual Pride celebration. It is my hope that the Board of this congregation, as part of our commitment to ongoing transformation and living our values out loud, will explore how we can actively support this effort.
Our Unitarian Universalist values know that such celebrations are necessary for the shelter and blessing of LGBTQ+ communities. Our Unitarian Universalist values know that every student, whether in private or public school, needs teachers and counselors and administrators who will be shelter and blessing for them. And that those teachers and counselors and administrators who give shelter and recognize blessing need the public’s protection when they are under siege by queer-phobic backlash.
Oh, yes, and one last thing. In a year of backlash all over the nation. In a year of reactionary reaction all around, our Unitarian Universalist values, and this transformed congregation, will say, until we are blue in the face, and until every human who needs to hear it does, we will say:
And that was this morning’s amen.
Here is the other hymn we sang this morning:
And here is a beautiful blessing created by one of our sibling congregations: