I received the above message in early March while meditating with Sri Bhagavan and Sri Amma during a live webcast through Oneness India. It very much speaks to what I am working through right now. There are injustices I have the opportunity to speak to on a personal level. I took this message as a push to keep going in the direction of finding my voice and using it, both for myself and others.
Actually one of those opportunities came tonight. I went to the board meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship where I am a member. I had never attended a board meeting before, but there were two issues on the agenda tonight that I felt very passionate about. I wanted, no I needed, to SPEAK OUT about them.
One issue surrounded a wonderful youth program that was being called into question. The other regarded homeless people sleeping on the Fellowship’s property and how to keep them out.
As I was eating dinner tonight, I barely tasted my food. (I felt bad about that because AumJah, my fiancé, had prepared a really lavish and delicious salad and made sure it was ready early so that we could eat together as a family before I left for the meeting.) As I ate, I stared off into space worrying about if I would get a chance to speak, if I would have the courage and focus to articulate my points, and how the board members would respond. My nervous mind ran through images of me breaking into tears, not having the courage to say anything, getting mad and spewing everything and storming out, being ridiculed and talked down to. I struggled with how the board would vote on the issues I was concerned about, and what that would mean for me. Would I stop attending all together despite my involvement in the community? The thoughts chased each other around and around.
At the meeting, I waited while the board members slogged through routine business. When the agenda item about the youth organization came to the floor, I was really impressed with the amount of research the president had done on both sides of the issue and the way he presented that information to the board. I added my voice to the religious education director’s in support of the program. After a lengthy discussion, the board voted to approve our congregation’s continued involvement. Yay! Victory!
The meeting lumbered on. We reached the issue of homeless people on the property – well, one man who has been sleeping there recently. The president had decided to put up “No Trespassing” signs around the property, which would allow the police to patrol the area more often and ask people to leave.
Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with Unitarian Universalism, we don’t have a lot of dogma. We have seven principles that we use as a basis to come together, and from there individuals are able to pursue their own personal religious, spiritual, and ethical beliefs as they see fit. The very first principle is “the inherent worth and dignity of every person.” We focused a lot on that principle at the service a few weeks ago celebrating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama. All the while I was thinking, what about the inherent worth and dignity of homeless people? As we sang “how many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man…” the total irony struck me hard. AumJah pointed out the big sign in the back of the sanctuary stating that we are a “Welcoming Congregation,” meaning that we welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. He looked at it and asked me, “If I was gay and homeless, would I be welcome?”
It finally came time that I could speak out about the issue of how we as a congregation treat people who are homeless. I spoke eloquently and passionately. The board members listened politely. Then they agreed with the president about putting up those signs (which they already had in their possession).
So now I do have to figure out the future of my involvement with this congregation. Obviously the issue of homelessness is something that I’m passionate about. I strongly disagree with the attitudes and actions that were put forth tonight. Now what? I don’t know. It is something I will contemplate over the next few days and weeks.
I do know something else. I know that I do not regret my decision to speak out tonight on both issues. It was a huge step. A year ago I may not have done it. A year ago I might have ranted up and down at home, I may have written a letter, but I probably wouldn’t have put myself out there like I did tonight. A lot has changed in that year. I have shown myself how much courage I possess. I have shown myself how important it is to acknowledge my truth to myself. I have shown myself that by speaking my truth I set myself free.
I have courage. I speak out.
I invite you to do the same.