Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Encounter with Martin Luther King Jr.

This was the story for all ages I shared this past Sunday, Nov. 27 in a service called Gratitude and Giving Back.

This summer my family and I traveled to Atlanta and while we were there we went to the King Center.  The King Center includes the Ebenezer Baptist Church and the childhood home of Martin and his siblings.

The house is a 2-story house in a neighbor that was all African-American. It included families that were middle-class like the King family and families that were working class.  It is the home that Martin Luther King’s grandparents lived in and raised their children.  Martin, his sister and brother were all born in this home.  Martin’s grandmother lived with them.

As you tour the home you realize that Martin Luther King Jr. was not some superhuman person. He, just like each of us he had gifts and failings.  He and his brother used to terrorize their sister and they destroyed all her dolls.  Martin would hide out when it was his turn to the do the dishes – he didn’t think boys should have to do the dishes.

Yet what also struck me was the daily practices in the King family.  At a time when children were to be “seen and not heard,” in the King family you were to come to the dinner table with 2 things.  One was you were to have memorized a Bible verse that you could recite at the table.  The second is that each child was expected to have read the news and know something about current events.  Over dinner, the family would talk about current events and the children were expected to be part of the conversation.

Martin Luther King Jr. had much to be grateful for -  a loving family, a roof over his head and food on the table.  He had a family that expected him and his brother and sister to be full participants in family meals.  At each meal they gave thanks for their blessings, and then each member of that family, not just Martin, lived in service to the world.  Out of their blessings, they gave of themselves in service – striving to make things better for others.

Going through the house, hearing stories about Martin Luther King Jr.’s family gave me a deeper sense of appreciation of this man who gave so much to all of us.  He, failings and all, is an example of a life lived in service to others, sustained by a deep faith and the love of family.  He had a deep sense of gratitude for life and out of that, he devoted his life to serving others.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2011

Here are my closing words to last Sunday's Transgender Day of Remembrance service at the College of William and Mary.

It would be easy now to be overwhelmed and helpless; so many lives and so many young lives taken far too soon, taken because of misunderstanding and hate. Lives taken because they were different, viewed as outside the mainstream, challenging binary notions of gender and challenging heterosexist assumptions. Not all who were killed necessarily identified themselves as transgender, some were killed because assumptions were made based on appearance.

Yet this is not the time to be helpless or hopeless. It does not honor these lives that were lost for us to get lost in our own hopelessness. In the words of Dorothy Day, “No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do.”

Yes too much work to do. Work to break down stereotypes and rigid assumptions about gender. We need to work toward a time when everyone is free to be who they are, to express their gender identity without fear of violence, losing their jobs or being treated less than. Each of us can do this work by first living our own lives with as much authenticity as possible. Each of us can do this work by challenging rigid notions of gender and expression.

Each of us can work for the day when we will gather together for one final Transgender Day of Remembrance Service and there will be no new names to read. The day when we will gather one final time to say “We remember, we never forgot;” a day to celebrate a time when no one need live in fear of violence, a day when we can all be just who we are.

May it be so.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

99% Rally at William and Mary

Today I spoke at a 99% Rally at the College of William and Mary.

Here is what I said.

Good afternoon I am Margaret Sequeira and I am grateful that I was asked to speak here today.  While I hold many roles and relationships within Williamsburg and the College, I want to be clear that I speak today only for myself and not for any organization or group. I begin there because so much of the Occupy movement has been about individuals coming together in community to speak up.  If you read the mainstream press about the Occupy movement it is driving them crazy that there is no single leader, there is no spokesperson – no one who speaks for the whole.

This is not comfortable for us – we who long for clear leadership and clear lines of authority are confused by this.

Yet I stand before you not just a person by herself, I stand before you intimately and intrinsically intertwined in a complex web of relationships.  I think the Occupy movement calls each of us to live into the paradox that we are both individuals, with individual needs and abilities and that we are not just individuals – that our lives are tied up with others.

I am a Unitarian Universalist and in my faith tradition we are bound in covenant by 7 principles (don’t worry I am not going into all 7 – just 2).  The first is to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of the individual and the 7th is to affirm the interdependent web of creation of which we are all a part. This captures well this paradox – the paradox of being an individual and that we are part of complex web of relationship and creation.  One of my favorite signs from the Occupy Movement is one that read “My wellbeing is tied up with yours.”

The Occupy Movement has been critiqued for not being focused enough, clear enough with concrete demands and policy changes.  It is critiqued because it is out of step with our usual political organizing with leaders and talking points.  It is trying to capture a diversity – that yes it is about the economy and how the greed of a very few controls both our economy and our government and it is also about racism, sexism, and heterosexism.  It is about how if one is not wealthy, not white, not male, not straight, not able bodied, not able to pull oneself up by one’s boot straps – then one deserves whatever less than status one may find oneself in.

You see the Occupy movement is so threatening because it seeks to tell the truth to expose one big lie – the lie is that here in America anyone can be anything they chose to be – with enough hard work, if you play by the rules, if you do what is expected than you can succeed – you might even be president one day.  We love our stories of quote unquote self-made individuals who pulled themselves up and made an immensely successful life for themselves.  This myth of America – that anyone can be anything is very powerful and for that story/that myth to be challenged in anyway is a profound threat to way we see ourselves as a nation.

Yet many know for a fact that this story of America is a false one.  That too often people are too dark skinned, have too much of an accent, are too poor, are the wrong gender, are too queer – and no there will not be success there.  Part of the lie is that those who are successful do it on their own – they don’t need a handout or help for anyone.  “They are self-made.”  Yet none of us is self-made.  Human beings are communal beings – we thrive only in the midst of our relationships.  And if you listen closely enough to our quote unquote self made people – there are numerous people who helped them along the way, gave them a chance, opened a door.

The Occupy movement is speaking the truth loudly – the truth that a very few control most of the wealth and income, that playing by rules does not mean that one will thrive, that one can do it on ones own, that the 1% earned their wealth on their own and not through inheritance, government programs that have benefited certain people and not others, economic policies and programs are set up for the benefit of the few and not the many.  Speaking the truth is a risky business – one only need look to many of our religious and spiritual leaders to see that rarely do people want to hear the truth – Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Jesus, Oscar Romero to name a very few.  Speaking the truth means to risk violence, to risk outcast, to risk death.  Speaking the truth, whether it is our own personal truth or speaking a social truth is to be daring.  Occupy invites each of us to speak our own truth, to speak truth to power.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” was spoken by Lilla Watson an Indigenous Australian or Murri visual artist, activist and academic working in the field of Women’s issues and Aboriginal epistemology.  Occupy is not asking anyone to help them..they are speaking the truth that our individual liberation, our well-being is bound up together.  We are not just individuals who thrive or fail on our own … we are connected individuals whose wellbeing, whose liberation is woven together.

May this movement encourage us all to re-engage as public citizens.  Citizens that speak our own truth and risk speaking truth to power and thus transforming our country to be a more just, more thriving place for all.