Service at First Church on January 19, 2003 by Rev. David HutchinsonOPENING PRAYER
These are the days when our hearts are chilled by
the dark shadows of hatred and fear.
The winds blow strong and
cold snows bury the anxieties of the masses,
while the powerful prepare for war and reparation.
The gentle ways are still present in the world.
They are present in the constant requests for peace, justice and equality.
The gentle ways can still be heard,
even in the din of man-made commotion.
Let us listen today
and we will hear once again
the timeless truth
that love is the way.
Violence has its limits and
hatred has its end,
but love is retained to the benefit of us all.
Even in the dead of winter and in the darkest of days
its radiance will endure and warm the hearts of all humankind.
This is our hope.
And this is our prayer. AMEN
The Souls of Black Folk
The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people, - a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people…We the darker ones come even now not altogether empty-handed: there are today no truer exponents of the pure human spirit of the Declaration of Independence than the American Negroes, and, all in all, we black men seem the sole oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness.
Merely a concrete test of the underlying principles of the great republic is the Negro Problem, and the spiritual striving of the freemen's sons is the travail of souls whose burden is almost beyond the measure of their strength, but who bear it in the name of an historic race, in the name of this land of their fathers' fathers, and in the name of human opportunity.
The eulogy had never appeared in print until the Spring of 2001 when UUWorld Magazine carried it in this issue. (show copy of magazine) In researching the story they were surprised to find there was no record of it in the archives at UUA headquarters in Boston. They contacted the King Center in Atlanta, who thought they possessed a draft of the speech, but nothing turned up. The inventory at the Center did mention a sound recording of the eulogy, saying it was "in private hands" in the Carl Benkert collection. The UUA staff detectives ran a people-finder program on the internet, but again nothing turned up. So they did a tedious state-by-state search of phone book listings in all 50 states and found 4 Carl Benkerts. The first Carl they called turned out to have been a young catholic in 1965 who attended the peace march in Selma. Benkert had a tape recorder and the rest is as they say "recorded history". When the UUA phoned him, Benkert replied, "I've been waiting 36 years for someone to call!!"
So the UUWorld transcribed the recording and I would like to read a short excerpt this morning.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Eulogy for Rev. James Reeb 1965
When we move from who killed James Reeb to what killed James Reeb, the blame is wide and the responsibility grows. James was murdered by the indifference of every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained glass windows. He was murdered by the irrelevancy of a church that will stand amid social evil and serve as a taillight rather than a headlight, an echo rather than a voice. He was murdered by the timidity of a federal government that can spend millions of dollars a day to keep troops in South Vietnam, yet cannot protect its own citizens seeking constitutional rights. Yes, he was even killed by the cowardice of every Negro who tacitly accepts the evil system of segregation, who stands on the sidelines in the midst of a mighty struggle for justice… His death says to us that we must work passionately, unrelentingly, to make the American Dream a reality, so James Reeb did not die in vain. One day the South will know from these dedicated children of God courageously protesting segregation, they were in reality standing up for the best in the American Dream, standing up with the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thereby carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. When this glorious story is written, the name of James Reeb will stand a shining example of manhood at its best.
We face a world crisis which leaves us standing amid the surging murmur of life's restless seas. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities, its valleys of salvation or doom in the dark, confused world. The kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.
There's an old joke in the South that talks about two boll weevils that grew up in South Carolina. One went to Hollywood and became a famous actor (made a few cameo appearances on the 'Beverly Hillbilly Show'). The other stayed behind in the hometown cotton fields and never really amounted to too much. The second one naturally became known as the lesser of two weevils.
When it comes to politics these days, this is what we are usually left to deal with; the lesser and not the greater. But a shining example of when politics and religion met in one person, in this greater way, is why we are celebrating a national holiday this week-end.
James Reeb was a young Unitarian Universalist minister who along with about 500 other Unitarian Universalists and nearly one fifth of all UU ministers at the time, went to Selma and Montgomery to participate in the civil rights campaign of 1965. Martin Luther King Jr. had sent an urgent telegram to UUA headquarters in Boston asking religious leaders and concerned citizens to join him in Selma after their peace march to Montgomery had been violently ended by state troopers and a sheriff's posse on the far end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma. The news reel footage of this event became a vivid image for a troubled nation to consider in the days ahead.
When James Reeb was killed four days later walking down a sidewalk in Selma with two other Unitarian ministers, public reaction turned Reeb into a national martyr. Reeb's death, along with the recent deaths of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Mississippi combined to create the political groundswell President Johnson needed to introduce new voting rights legislation.
This was one more step towards the Dream that MLK spoke about in his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech in Washington DC two years earlier.
I have a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: -- we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
The true American Dream is not two cars in the garage and a satellite TV system. It is as defined by the American Creed; freedom of speech, freedom of religion ,the guarantee of basic civil liberties to all, and economic justice which allows the pursuit of happiness and opportunity. It has been almost 40 years since MLK's landmark speech, and while its reality is partly realized, it's still on the way.
The dream has been dreamed, but it's still on the way!!
Just before his death, King was turning his attention to problems that all Americans, black and white, faced; widespread poverty within a rich nation, and the war in Vietnam. With the timing of yesterday's peace march in Washington on this Martin Luther King Jr. weed-end, I see these same issues facing us in today's context. The Bush administration will soon release its federal budget figures for the year which are estimated to be a 270 billion dollar deficit. (This does not include the military costs of a war with Iraq which would add an additional 200 billion!!) The budget cuts being proposed would disproportionately affect those who need assistance the most. Cuts in education, health care and social services are too high of a price to pay, especially if those cuts are going to be used to pay for a war. While Donald Rumsfield says our country has the resources to fight more than one war at a time if necessary, looking at the numbers of this year's budget, I'm not so sure.
And if the war itself is morally suspect, then I have my reservations.
I am so grateful to every American citizen who made their way to our nation's capital this week-end to exercise their right to dissent.
To dissent not out of anger or disrespect,
but to reaffirm the great American Creed that this nation was founded upon,
to restate the American Dream to ourselves one more time,
The dream has been dreamed, but it's still on the way
The dream has been dreamed, but it's still on the way