the story. September 27, 2011Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
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Here is the wonderful piece done by Adam Lefkoe and Michael Driver at WHAS. It is now available on YouTube.
This one is sooooo much better than the shortened piece that CNN used. It tells a rich story and isn’t going for sensationalism.
turning an ocean liner. September 25, 2011Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
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Why it Still Matters, by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on September 25, 2011.
This past Friday morning, I was at Highland Baptist Church for a Faith Leaders for Fairness forum co-sponsored by Louisville Fairness and by HRC, the Human Rights Campaign.
HRC is an advocate for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equal rights in this country, and they were here in Kentucky with their “On the road to equality” cross-country bus tour.
It was nice to connect with other ministerial colleagues who support GLBTQ rights. And it was nice to see so many First U folks there – possibly more than from any other congregation.
I was there to co-lead a workshop in the second half of the morning. That workshop was about moving from ally to advocate, and my co-leader was the Rev. Derek Penwell, of Douglass Blvd. Christian Church.
But before our workshop, there was a panel discussion with the lofty title of “Assessing the Louisville Faith Community’s Opportunities, Challenges and Self-Interest with Regard to LGBT Inclusion and Advocacy.” I thought it sounded pretty meaty, and I was looking forward to learning something. And I suppose I did, but not what I was expecting…
There were 4 panelists. All were men. 3 were white men, all of whom were past or at least pushing 50. There was one African American pastor. One Rabbi from Reform Judaism. 2 of the men self-identified as gay, while the other two didn’t say anything – a right usually reserved for the heterosexual. No women. All four representing Biblically based faiths.
One of the panelists talked about the struggle he had with his congregation – how he came from a church that could make strong, quick movements and he was now leading what felt like an ocean liner. And he talked about how hard it can be to turn an ocean liner.
My heart went out to him, and I thought about something I read recently in Anne Braden’s memoir “The wall between.” She talks about her experience with Civil Rights in the 1950s and beyond, and how when she and her husband Carl purchased a house for an African American family, they were chastised even by their progressive peers as moving too fast, of not taking it slow. And yet, she observes, it is doubtful that the Civil Rights era would have occurred had not a few people risked taking giant leaps forward rather than being content to simply take one slow step at a time.
Sometimes, in order to turn the ocean liner, you have to go slow and be patient. And other times, it helps to have someone leap in and help push the ocean liner a long a bit faster.
US activist, writer, and founder of the Catholic Workers movement, Dorothy Day wrote this:
People say, what is the sense of our small effort. They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do.
A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples. And we can’t always predict what those ripples will be. I know, that back in June, when this congregation passed a resolution asking me to stop signing marriage licenses until civil marriage is a civil right in Kentucky, I know we weren’t thinking that in the fall there would be an opportunity for me to represent this church as an interfaith voice at a workshop about how to move from ally to advocate. And yet, the reason that I, a heterosexual female minister of a non biblically-constrained tradition. had been invited into the conversation with HRC was a direct ripple of that June action.
What other ripples are out there, perhaps gaining force? Why does what we did in June still matter today, at the end of September?
In order to answer these questions, we first should learn, or refresh our memory as to what happened in June. It was our annual meeting, and at the very end, when we have a section for new business, a resolution was brought before the congregation. The resolution read: “We, the members of First Unitarian Church, request that the minister of First Unitarian Church shall decline to sign Kentucky marriage licenses until such time as Kentucky ceases to discriminate against same sex couples with respect to civil marriage.”
Perhaps unlike many of you, I was prepared for this resolution. The people who brought it forth had talked with me about it, gotten my input and my thoughts. I had had time to do some reflection and discernment. And I had committed that, should the congregation pass the resolution, I would comply.
I appreciated the conversation that I had with the advocates for this resolution. Unlike many of my Unitarian Universalist colleagues, I had not already taken this stance on my own. In fact, for a while I was against such actions, thinking it was not fair to deny one group a right in order that it may be granted to others. But in truth, I hadn’t thought a whole lot about it – other things demanded my time and energy and thought. Until that Sunday afternoon in June. Because suddenly, I found myself at the microphone, explaining why this was so important. I startled myself with my passion. Suddenly, I got it. I grokked it, I understood at the deepest core of my being: participating in an unjust institution when one has the choice not to is, in effect, perpetuating the unjust institution.
Let me say that again: participating in an unjust institution when one has the choice not to is, in effect, perpetuating the unjust institution.
The institution of marriage has changed vast amounts over the centuries. We know this. Civil marriage grants hundreds of rights to couples simply because they happened to be lucky enough to have been born with a preference for a mate of the opposite sex. This is not just. And most of you probably do think that civil marriage is a civil right, that we will get there soon – within the next 25 years at the most. Probably sooner now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed. So what does refusing to sign a marriage license do, other than deny heterosexual couples the right to the benefits of civil marriage?
Signing a marriage license is the only time that the state recognizes clergy as acting on its behalf. It is the only time the church and the state are still egregiously entangled. But I have a choice as to which couples for whom I officiate at their wedding. I cannot be compelled against my will to officiate at any wedding, same sex or not. It is my choice. My faith tradition and my conscience agree that I can officiate at weddings for heterosexual couples and for same-sex couples.
But for heterosexual couples, I have an additional choice. After the wedding is over, I can choose to fill out a piece of paper and send it into the state, thereby guaranteeing these couples all those extra rights and tax breaks that other, same-sex couples cannot have. I choose whether to sign the license or not. I can choose to participate in the civil aspect of marriage by signing their license, or I can choose not to. I can choose participate in an unjust institution, or I can choose not to. You, the congregation, asked me to make a choice, and to stop perpetuating an unjust institution. And I did.
The ripples started immediately. The board notified the congregation, and immediately the press picked up on it. Following in the footsteps of Douglass Blvd Christian Church, who had done something similar back in April, the press speculated if this was something that might pick up steam. Many of our own members wondered what the effects would be.
There was a bit of negative push-back from the public, mostly from people who don’t have much familiarity with Unitarian Universalism. Then the story was picked up by media outside Louisville. I think they might have been thinking how interesting it is that this was going on in Kentucky, of all places. And I started getting these emails saying Thank You. Some of them, so emotional. Thank you for being an advocate. Thank you for pursuing justice. Thank you for standing with me, for reminding me that I am not alone.
I have heard that some people, both outside and inside the BGLTQ community, don’t see what the point is, and think that, at its best, this was a benign action, at its worst, a futile effort. That it doesn’t really matter that we took this stance. But it does matter. It matters to the people who sent me those notes. It matters to me, because my conscience is now clear. And the ripples go so much further that that.
Religious institutions have inflicted a lot of harm on BGLTQ people. Whether this particular institution did or not is of almost no consequence – BGLTQ folks are often afraid to come to church because they are afraid they will get told how terrible they are. Taking the stand we took says that this congregation is not like that – we are not just advocates, we are out and PROUD advocates for GLBTQ rights.
It matters because GLBTQ youth are bullied at a higher rate than heterosexual, gender conforming youth, and their suicide rates are heartbreakingly high. Our stance says to our youth, and to GLBTQ youth elsewhere, that we believe that you should have the right to get married and we will push this ocean liner along so that it will happen in YOUR lifetime, not in your children’s lifetime.
It matters because we live in a hetero-normal society – meaning that heterosexual people don’t have to claim their sexual orientation because heterosexuality is assumed to be the norm. Our stance says that gay and lesbian couples are normal, too. This one, in particular, hits home for me because, recently, when I was doing a wedding for a lesbian couple, I heard myself say “Normally, we would…” And I stopped, caught myself. I don’t think they realized what I had said, but I realized. And it hurt ME. Society tells us that gay and lesbian weddings are not normal. But they are. And so it matters that we say that they are normal and so, all weddings should be treated equally. And so we will TREAT all weddings equally.
It matters because no one used to talk about being gay, or lesbian, or bisexual. And taking a stance on gay marriage gets people talking. It even gets them speculating about Bert and Ernie’s relationship. It brings it into the mainstream conversation.
It matters because Rev. Penwell and Douglass Blvd know that they are not alone. And it matters because he and I are beginning to talk about forming a coalition with other clergy advocates in town and perhaps beyond – a conversation that never would have happened. This matters because it was a clergy coalition that led the march to marriage equality in Washington, DC.
It matters because when marriage equality comes to Kentucky, religious leaders will HAVE to be involved.
And it matters because we don’t know what other ripples we might have sent out. It has not even been six months, and we have already seen some. What else might be lurking under the surface? It matters.
Now, some of you might be sitting there, thinking this is just another pep talk. Another sermon about GLBTQ issues and aren’t we already a welcoming congregation, and don’t we have a great banner out front that says “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right” and didn’t we already pass this resolution – why do we have to talk about what I already know. And that’s fine if you are asking yourself that. We know that everyone processes at different speeds, and that it takes multiple times hearing something in order for it to sink in, that we are at different places along the advocacy spectrum. That there are new folks here.
So let me ask you: Now what? What is the next action this congregation might take to make this beloved community more safe and welcoming for GLBTQ folks? How can we be a more vocal advocate for marriage equity in Kentucky and in the United States? What is the next step we can take to continue to bring the issue of BGLTQ rights into the mainstream conversation – to make it so that no presidential hopeful would EVER allow a gay soldier to be booed? It still matters. Yes, the ocean liner is turning in the direction of rights, but sometimes it needs a push, despite the voices that caution “Go slow.” Sometimes, an important cause needs someone willing to risk a giant leap, and then reach back to pull the rest up front.
As Dorothy Day reminds us, no one has the right to feel hopeless – there is too much work to do. What is the next brick we will lay? What is the next step we will take?
ministry and roller derby. September 23, 2011Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
A hearty welcome to all of you who have come here, looking for more information about me, the Rev. Dawn Cooley, also known as “Liv Fearless”.
Maybe you saw the wonderful piece our local news folks did, or read about it on facebook, or saw it on CNN.com. To be honest, I am humbled by how many of you have seen it and been inspired, or have reached out to connect with me. Thank you, and yes, I am crying again. I do that quite a lot, as my congregation will tell you.
I thought it would be a good idea to give you more information about my church and my team. So here you go! Also, if you are interested in the sermon I wrote for that service, you can get to it at: http://revdawn.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/answering-yes-to-life/
I skate as “Liv Fearless” for the Derby City Roller Girls. My bootcamp started in March 2010, so I am pretty new at this but I have taken to it like a fish to water. I love it. I love my teammates, I love the physicality of it, I love it. Its not all roses, of course – hanging out with a bunch of strong women creates conflict and tension, but we all are in it together and that sure goes a long way. We are in our training season right now, so I don’t have a game schedule to share with you yet, but I can tell you we are working hard to pull together some fun activities for those of you who might be in town.
I am a Unitarian Universalist minister and I serve First Unitarian Church in Louisville, KY. My congregation has been in Louisville since 1830 – it was one of the first churches in the town! We are a liberal religious congregation made of people from all walks of life. We welcome everyone, without regard to theological preference, sexual or gender orientation, race, age, culture, ability level, education level, socio-economic class….EVERYONE! I love that our fellowship/coffee hour after the service will have a president of a university talking with someone who currently lives in a shelter, a Wiccan chatting it up with an Athiest, a 5th grader getting coffee for one of our octogenarians.
We are a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association. If you’re interested in the exciting, free faith tradition known as Unitarian Universalism, visit our Association’s web site at www.uua.org.
And if you are interested in learning more about me, well, you found my blog so have fun checking it out! And feel free to contact me if you have more questions.
ten years later… September 17, 2011Posted by Rev. Dawn in Uncategorized.
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Ten Years Later, by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, September 11, 2011.
Responsive Reading #584
A Network of Mutuality, by Dr. Martin Luther King
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted.
Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that.
We must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.
The foundation of such a method is love.
Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war.
One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.
We shall hew out of a mountain of despair, a stone of hope.
Ten Years Later
Like Rosemary’s poem, whenever we talk about what happened on this day ten years ago, the conversation always seems to start with stories of where we were when we heard the news. I was in upstate Minnesota, spending time with my 2 month old daughter and my in-laws. My mother-in-law’s sister, from New York, was there with us. We turned on the TV after the first plane had struck, and were glued to it for hours.
I watched the second plane hit the tower, the confusion “Did that really just happen?” I remember the news anchor commenting that we all must be asking ourselves what might be wrong with our air traffic control system. I thought to myself “What on earth are you talking about?” knowing that something much more sinister was at work.
My mother-in-laws sister was frantic – all her children and grandchildren lived in NY, and her three sons worked in the area of the towers. When they fell, the despair in the room was so great.
I was lucky. Her kids all made it out of the city without harm. Though I grew up in the Washington, DC area and had many friends who had worked at the Pentagon, no one in my family was hurt or killed, none of my immediate friends.
And yet something inside me broke. The terror in the small room at the resort, being separated from my own primary support system, the flood of postnatal hormones in my body. These all combined, and I broke. I spent weeks attached to my child, not putting her down, crying constantly, wondering what kind of world I had brought her into.
I turned inward, curled up as if in fetal position. Afraid.
As Rosemary writes in her poem, for me and for so many of us, “winter came early, and stayed a long time.”
It is hard for many of us to go back to where we were on 9/11, to think about the events of that day. The media has kept it in our faces all week, increasing our anxiety. I am, truly, exhausted by it. Emotionally and spiritually fatigued. I tried to go next door to see the photo exhibit at the library entitled “Here is New York, the September 11 Photographs” and I just couldn’t do it. Combine the grief and deep sorrow that we feel for the events 10 years ago with the news of a credible threat to NY and DC for today and you have a cultural cocktail of anxiety, exhaustion, and fear.
This fear that started ten years ago was and is tangible. We felt vulnerable. Exposed. Impotent. The naïve myth of our safety had been shattered.
So many of us had been brought up to believe that we were safe here. That terror was something that happened other places, like Ireland, or Israel. Not here. Or at least, very rarely here and only when perpetrated by obviously insane loner types. I never worried about getting on a bus and getting blown up when I was growing up. How many of us conceived of suicide bombers at our suburban malls? A bubble of safety. And the bubble burst. These were things that happen OTHER places, not here. Until, of course, suddenly they did. And then, anything might happen.
And so, as a culture, we went into fight or flight mode. This is what fear does to us. We became, in so many ways, like a trapped animal. We lashed out in fear.
My friends, fear is dangerous. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s was very wise in his first inaugural speech in 1933: “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts…”
Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror. Except, mightn’t one argue that our terror after 9/11 wasn’t nameless? Wasn’t unreasoning? Was totally justified? I think that one might have made that argument initially, but when we started reporting the death of innocent men, women and children in Afghanistan as “collateral damage” and then used 9/11 as part of the justification for our war with Iraq, I think that one can safely assert that our leadership harnessed our unreasoning fear and gave it a name, even a false one.
We were afraid, and we lashed out. The voices that called for peace were unheeded. Russian communists were replaced by Middle-Eastern Terrorists in the movies. Racial profiling, war, Freedom fries. We hunkered down, put on a show of how brave we were to cover up how afraid we really were.
Fear, this crippling fear is what to be most afraid of. It denies the possibility of higher brain function. It shrivels our hearts, makes it impossible to live a whole life. Indeed, I believe it is this crippling fear that caused us to become the evil we so deplore, to meet hatred with more hatred, violence with more violence. To allow our leadershup to take advantage of the state we were in. As of today, more than 10,000 civilians in Afghanistan have been killed as a result of our retaliation, and more than 100,000 (and by some counts closer to ¾ of a million) Iraqi civilians. And what have these deaths bought us? Safety? Revenge? Cheap oil? No. Just more fear.
If it is fear that causes us to become the evil that we deplore, how do we not succumb to it? I think that this is one of the most powerful and understated questions that arise from 9/11. And as we know from being under threat today, it is a question whose answer is as urgent as it was ten years ago. If it is fear that causes us to become the evil that we deplore, how do we not succumb to it?
Some say that information is the antidote to fear. But if you are crippled by fear, in this place of near panic, information does not sink in. Rational, reasonable thought does not do it and it is easy, comforting, to believe someone who speaks with authority, who seems to know what to do. Other say deep breathing exercises, or visualization. Trust in a higher power. And these are well and good, provided one can get out of the animal brain for just a moment. But what is it that can get us out of the animal brain?
The answer is so simple, and yet so, so difficult. If crippling fear causes our hearts to shrivel, what is it that causes our hearts to expand? The answer is love. The kind of love that allows us to respect and appreciate that we are connected to everyone, everything on this planet. The kind of love that enables us to recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Love that demands peace and justice, not revenge. Love that calls us to take responsibility for our actions.
At first glance, this may seem totally illogical. To love seems to make us vulnerable. And it sure doesn’t seem safe to make ourselves even more vulnerable when we already feel so exposed, and yet this is what is most needed. This is quite a paradox.
We know this is true because it has been passed down to us through the ages by the voices of those who we have recognized as having special insight, special wisdom. Buddha tells us that “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” Jesus calls us to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Dr. Martin Luther King, in our reading, reminds us that “Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that.”
I trust these voices of wisdom. I know that it was love that eventually enabled me to climb out of the pit of despair, the fetal position of fear in which I felt trapped. The love that I was granted by my family, and the love that I had for my child, which I practiced expanding to all children.
It is not easy. It takes practice. I am still filled with confusion, and with fear on a regular basis. But I trust that if I practice love, then I can be part of the solution, instead of part of the problem. At the very least, I know that I am increasing the amount of love in the world.
Does this sermon sound familiar? It was just three short weeks ago that I preached on compassion. There is a method to my repetition. All around us, we see and hear examples of hate, of dehumanization, of turning some group of people into OTHER whether it is by nature of their religion, politics, nationality.
And when we do this, when we dehumanize an entire group of people, we do violence to our OWN humanity. The truth is, turning someone into OTHER is often so much easier than loving them. But where does it get us? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. identified this cycle of violence, and how difficult it is to get out of it:
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Ten years ago, we started to respond with love and care to the victims, to each other. But then we dehumanized those who had attacked us, and it allowed us to attack them. Allowed us to dehumanize the human cost of civilian lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq – so many innocents lost out of our quest for vengeance.
Except we know that it wasn’t just a quest for vengeance, don’t we? We know now that our governmental policies in Afghanistan helped create the situation from which the Taliban and Al Qaeda emerged. We know now that the Bush administration had prepared to go into Afghanistan and Iraq even before 9/11 happened. We know that the situation is complicated, and has many, many layers.
So part of responding to 9/11 out of love would have been to take responsibility for our part in it. To repent our own complicity. To seek forgiveness, and to make reparations to all those our governmental policies had harmed, both at home and abroad. To have demanded our government not respond with shock and awe.
And so here is the paradox. Imagine how the world would have responded to our vulnerability, to our humility, versus how it did respond to our bravado. All that good will, all that “solace…that came from places expected and unexpected” would have continued, been magnified, if we had shown ourselves as vulnerable, if we had led with love.
But we didn’t. Instead, we responded out of fear.
Next time, for there will be a next time if we continue to try to run the world to our own exclusive benefit, let us learn from this. The best tribute that we can make to those who lost their lives to violence and hate is to increase the amount of love in the world. To find strength in our vulnerability, to work for peace and justice, and to recognize all children as our children.
Ten years ago, and today, we found ourselves “Changed, but not destroyed” Rosemary wrote. “We seek more reasons to live, to love our way through to whatever comes next.”
May we embrace the paradox and allow love for ourselves, for each other, and for all that inhabit the interdependent web to burn away the fear that cripples our hearts. For it is the only thing that can. May we make it so.