These words were offered by our Outreach Director, James Croft, to close the Interfaith Service at PrideFest St. Louis 2019. Photo by Philip Dietch.
We Humanists don’t have scriptures, but we have poems. This poem, A Call to the Living, was written by Algernon Black, who was once leader of the Ethical Society in New York.
This is a call to the living,
To those who refuse to make peace with evil,
With the suffering and the waste of the world.
This is a call to the human,
Not the perfect,
To those who know their own prejudices,
Who have no intention
Of becoming prisoners of their own limitations.
This is a call to those who remember the dreams of their youth,
Who know what it means to share food and shelter,
The care of children and those who are troubled,
To reach beyond barriers of the past
Bringing people to communion.
This is a call
To the never ending spirit
Of the common person,
Our essential decency
Our integrity beyond all education and wealth,
Our unending capacity to suffer and endure,
To face death and destruction
And to rise again
And build from the ruins of life.
This is the greatest call of all
The call to a faith in people.
I don’t know about you, but my faith in people has been shaken recently. Seeing the vicious divisions within our own movement which have surfaced over the past few weeks, it certainly feels to me like we are becoming prisoners of our own limitations. This week, for the first time since I came out almost ten years ago, I considered skipping Pride. I feel disappointed in my own community, and angry, and it doesn’t make me feel very proud.
Yet I look out across this crows – and I see children dancing to the music up front, people clamoring to hear our words from outside the barriers, members of every part of our LGBTQIA+ community – I am reminded: I am still alive. I am still morally and spiritually alive, and I refuse to make peace with evil. And I think that is true of many of us here today. Is that you? Do you refuse to make peace with evil? I thought so.
We’re here at PrideFest – at this service so very early in the morning on a Pride weekend, on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall – because we understand that Pride is more than a party. Pride is more than a celebration. Pride is the assertion of our dignity in the face of a challenging world, a declaration that despite our suffering despite the prejudice, despite what the world has done to us we are still alive.
That means we have to keep on living. We must keep living into the challenges we face as a community. And I think our challenge today is to do precisely what Algernon Black’s poem calls us to do: we must remember the dreams of our movement’s youth. Because whatever the people were fighting for at Stonewall I guarantee it wasn’t the police marching in the Pride Parade and our trans community retiring from it. It wasn’t corporations who give money to PrideFest one day, and then to homophobic politicians the next. It wasn’t our community at each other’s throats because we are not listening to the most marginalized among us.
That’s not why Marsha P. Johnson, on the second day of the Stonewall riots, climb up a lamppost and dropped a handbag – filled with a brick! – onto a cop car’s windshield. That’s not why homeless street kids – kids who had nothing – risked everything in a running battle with police through the streets of New York, fighting to protect the only place that felt like home. That’s not why Harvey Milk was shot, in an office in San Francisco, for proclaiming a message of hope.
We must remember the dreams of our youth.
So my call to the LGBTQIA+ community of St. Louis is to rise again. To rise from the death and destruction of our time – young people becoming less accepting of LGBTQIA+ folks than previous generations; a surge in hate crimes across the nation; a political establishment taking away rights we fought so hard to win – and build from these ruins something new. That would be a Pride we could all be proud of.