Be Loud With Your Courage

UPSTANDERS | Not In Our Town |  Speech given on 1.28.2018 | Billings, Montana
By Penny Ronning

Billings community, friends, people from different walks of life and professions all gathered together:

I speak to you today as a female, a community leader, and a Christian.

It requires courage to take a stand in our own communities, among our friends and family members that believe differently, among the people whose rejection could hurt the most.

What the parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School have been through and the courage within their actions every day since both breaks my heart and causes me to find my own courage to speak up on issues where I face possible rejection from community, family and friends. BUT we must speak up. We must.

How can we ever be the “good guys” or fight for human rights in other countries when the slaughter of children in a school classroom or the slaughter of members of the LGBTQ community dancing to music or the slaughter of members of a Sikh temple is considered bearable in our country?

What we choose to tolerate we will never change.*

When we choose to tolerate hate messaging or the lack of legally recognized equality for ALL, we allow the idea of superiority to build. When we choose to tolerate the degradation of others, we allow the presence of modern day slavery to build. When we choose to tolerate the messaging of “boys will be boys” when a young girl is raped, we allow the idea that men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will kill them to build.**

As a Christian, if I do not rise up against hate, I deny Christ.

As a Christian, if I stay silent in the midst of hate, I deny Christ.

As a Christian, if I turn a blind eye to the degradation of those different from me, I deny Christ.

What you stand for right now is what you would have stood for at any other point in history. And if you are silent now you would have been silent in history.

I once heard a wise young man say, “You cannot control how others perceive you. You can only control your presentation.” We Christians fail in many ways in our presentation of Christ. To me, our greatest seems to be how we take His death on the cross as an individual act for “me” and “me” alone. We hold our hands up in praise and shout “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that WHOSOEVER believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And then we turn around and take His Son for our own grace, for our own redemption, for our own mercy. We are very good at taking Christ as God gave Him to us, but we are not so good at reciprocating that gift to others. We hold that “whosoever” in a tight grip of judgment as if it is our decision to determine who is worthy of inclusion.

And, I believe, we hold great responsibility in how the world perceives the LGBTQ population. The Christian church – and I’m talking both corporately and individually – has presented such great condemnation and rejection on this population we have virtually said to parents, “You are right in rejecting your own child.” We have virtually said to the world, “You are right in not hiring this person. You are right in not allowing this person housing. You are right in your condemnation of this person.”

In this, to me, we have failed in our presentation of Christ.

As Christians, I wish we would ask ourselves every day: If I never quoted one scripture or spoke the name of Jesus, would people see the love of Christ through me?

As Americans, I wish we would ask ourselves every day: Do I believe all people are created equal?

Today, in the United States of America 300,000 children are trafficked for sex each year.

Today, in the United States of America among the most vulnerable population to be trafficked are our homeless youth, and today, in the United States of America LGBTQ youth make up 40% of our homeless youth. Today, in the United States of America, women and girls of color are trafficked and murdered at astonishing rates and shockingly the crimes against them go unpunished in great numbers.

Today, we gather in a church that embraces Christ’s message of love, acceptance, and equality for ALL.

Today, we gather in a church whose message embraces the idea that there is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.

May we rise in our love and support for this church and their message.

Today, we gather in the strength of those who stood up years ago and said, Not in Our Town.

May we rise again in our love and support for those most vulnerable to hate and degradation.

Today, may we remember that in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of frustration, in the midst of all that is unfair, we must never forget the strength and beauty and power of all that is right, all that is just, and all who stand, speak and die for such things, for they are the ones who shine. They are the ones whose light can never be extinguished. Because of them, injustice is made just; sorrows have their limit; and that which must be changed, is.

Today, in the midst of sorrow, in the midst of frustration, in the midst of all that is unfair, be brave with your love; be strong with your morals; and be loud with your courage.

Quote Credit
*Mike Murdock
**Margaret Atwood



In a place where the bison trod

And the wolf howls,

The grizzly dens with her cubs.


In a place where the water falls

And the springs run hot,

Minerals paint the earth.


In a place where the geyser’s gush breaks the sky

And terraces build limestone layers,

Thermals pool in brilliant blue.


In a place where flowers color mountain sides

And birds soar and sing,

Butterflies and bees pollinate under the summer sun.


In a place where the Canadian Lynx roams

And the red fox hunts,

Otters splash in a free flowing river.


In a place where the moose stand tall,

And the elk bugle and rut,

Mountain lions reign at the top.


In a place of volcanoes and valleys

And far reaching lakes,

My heart energizes its peace and rejuvenates its rest.


In a place where beauty never ends

And wild is valued,

A name exists as true as ever.






Transcript of Meryl Streep’s Powerful Golden Globes Speech

January 8, 2017

As delivered by Meryl Streep upon acceptance of being awarded the prestigious Cecil B. DeMille Award:

Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend. And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year, so I have to read.

Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said: You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we, and what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island; Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids in Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in London — no, in Ireland I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a girl in small-town Virginia.

Ryan Gosling, like all of the nicest people, is Canadian, and Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, and is here playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. And if we kick them all out you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this, so: An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us, and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that. Breathtaking, compassionate work.

But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose. O.K., go on with it.

O.K., this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in the Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, because we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing: Once, when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something — you know we were gonna work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.

As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art.


Circle of Life


Tears. Sadness. Hope. Joy. Death. Life. Yesterday.

When my uncle, Robert Vern, was a young boy he accidentally stepped on the teeth of a rake that was hidden in tall grass. The handle of the rake rose up and hit him in the head causing traumatic brain injury that left my uncle brain damaged and battling epilepsy for the rest of his life. My uncle lived with my family for many years. When he was diagnosed with cancer he fought bravely, but lost the battle at age 68. At 6’4″, he was a lot of body to physically protect and care for and the loving staff at Horizon House (hospice) did so with such great gentleness and professionalism. I spent many hours with my uncle in his room and at the dining table at Horizon House during the last few weeks of his life…and I was there with his body during the middle of the night just after he passed.

Yesterday, when I turned the corner onto Neptune Blvd. to attend the open house for Chrysalis Cove, formerly known as Horizon House (hospice), tears welled up in my eyes and my throat constricted with emotion. The last time I had been to this house, Oct. 14, 2006 1:45 am, was to gather my uncle’s belongings and oversee the moving of his body.

As Sheri Boelter, Executive Director of Tumbleweed Runaway Program, spoke to the crowd at the opening of this home now a safe haven for homeless youth, a big, beautiful yellow and black butterfly flew in a circular formation from one end of the front of the house to the other. As I watched this butterfly I thought of my uncle and how my grandparents and parents could have thought the challenges that came with his brain damage were just too much to deal with and could have either institutionalized him or turned their backs on him and left him to either fend for himself or others to care for, but they chose to love him through the hard times and to keep him part of their family unit. My mom always chose to embrace him with a loving home and family.

Tears. Sadness. Hope. Joy. Death. Life. Yesterday.

As I embraced a young girl — the first to move into this home — I thought of my uncle and I thought of her future and smiled as I handed her a snow cone.




Good Morning

Video Courtesy; William J. Clinton Presidential Library

I remember, on that day, watching and listening to every word she spoke as if they were tangible pieces of hope, freedom, and release of burdens I could give to my loved ones of color, my loved ones whose faith system was different than mine (Christian), my loved ones whose heart loved the same as mine, but because they loved a member of the same sex they were shunned, ridiculed, and made to feel less than, dirty, and repulsive. I remember holding her words — words that empowered ME with courage, hope, and a freedom to rise up and say Good Morning to those I love, to those with which I disagree, to those whose journey is different than mine, to those I can help, to those for which I am grateful, to those whose scars feel generations old, to those whose hearts are weary, to those whose hearts are full of hope…

Good Morning.


Inaugural Poem

Maya Angelou
20 January 1993

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

The Summer I Fell in Love with Bees

I sometimes wonder how my life’s journey would have been different if, in my youth, I had been given a camera in a science class and told to go take pictures of patterns in nature. As someone who learns more quickly and easily by watching and listening, I think I would have fallen deeply in love with science versus feeling frustrated and eventually dreading and fearing it.

Nature is full of the most beautiful audio and visual patterns.

In 2013, through the lens of my old point-and-shoot camera, I began seeing the patterns that my [first] garden was forming and through the lens of my camera, I began seeing bees differently than I ever had before.

From their dance to their work to their sleep, they are extraordinary to observe both in their own form and in the forms they create through their movement.

2013, the summer I fell in love with bees.



Robby’s Story and Praying for Leigh

Yesterday, Leigh Newton Pechillo, who traveled with Up with People Cast B 1993, awoke to her two young children singing to her. She posted the video and more yesterday about how her children celebrated her on the day they know is named for her — Mother’s Day. Later yesterday, Leigh suffered a major heart attack and is in ICU. I didn’t travel in Leigh’s cast, but our casts share the same reunion years and we have become friends through the years. Her cast is AMAZING and they have a bond that has been a blessing to witness as a fellow alumni and as a member of the Up with People International Alumni Association Board of Governors when one of their cast mates was honored with the J. Blanton Belk Outstanding Alumni Award in 2008. At last year’s reunion, Leigh was surprised when she was honored with the James E. MacLennan Everyday Hero Award! To those that know Leigh, it is a fitting honor and could easily be awarded her every. single. day. because she is a hero every day.

When the tragic events occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Leigh immediately took action to help the families and town that suffered such tragic losses and she has stayed active with her support. When other parents, friends, and strangers have experienced a heartbreaking loss or a wound of some kind in their life, Leigh is always one of the first to take action to help. Leigh and her husband Tom know first hand the fear a parent experiences when their child is hurting or seriously ill. Leigh created a beautiful video that shares her son’s story.

What I have learned from watching Leigh through the years is to stay focused, stay positive, and keep telling your story. Leigh and her family are champions for the American Heart Association and for Leigh, I want to share Robby’s Story with you. Your prayers for her recovery are so very welcomed and, since right now, Leigh’s physical voice is quiet, I’m asking for all of you willing to be her voice to please share Robby’s Story also. Leigh’s love for her children is beyond measure and her determination to help Robby and others challenged with a heart disease or defect knows no bounds. She truly is an every day hero. Thank you for sharing Robby’s Story and thank you for praying for Leigh and her family.

Love Bees!

IMG_2700 (4)

One of the most unexpected joys to come from my garden was the magical performance given each day by the bees! They danced from bloom to bloom turning their work into a theater in which I had the best seat in the house. I grew to love bees instead of fear them and each day I set out with my camera to discover as many as I could.

Bees — one of our greatest resources for the food we eat.

They are extraordinary.

Love bees!

Joy, the Little Dog that Conquered Fear

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February 9, 2009. Joy. Joy was one of 189 dogs seized from a breeder in Montana on December 30, 2008. For about 9 months, most of the dogs were housed in horse barns as the legal case made its way through the court. As with many of the dogs, fear was an issue that held Joy back from fully engaging in the opportunities presented to her . . . until one thing happened.

I earned her trust.

From December 30, 2008 – February 8, 2009, Joy dd not leave the 8 x 10 barn stall she shared with 2 other dogs — Love and Happy. But on February 9th (the picture is of this very moment), Joy moved toward the open door for the first time and watched me walk, play, and engage outside the stall with Love and Happy. When she was ready, I knew she would come to where I was standing a short distance from where she is in this picture.

And she did!

As the months went on Joy continued to conquer fear and prove to be one of my greatest life teachers of all time.

On August 14, 2009, Joy was taken from me and I’ve never seen her since. I think about her every day and have pleaded with those who took her from me to know where she is, but, to date, I do not.

The woman who took Joy died last month.

Through the torture of silence and never-ending tears, Joy lives in my heart.

When Someone that Caused You Extreme Pain Dies

Girl in the moonlight alone

Yesterday, I learned that someone who caused indescribable pain in my life for almost 5 years died last month. Her actions were brutal, intentional, and, to my knowledge, she never displayed an ounce of remorse, nor did she ever attempt to change the course of her actions, which she had the power to do. If anyone ever tells you that being a Christian is easy, then they have never experienced the crux of the cross. That experience does not occur in a church or within a group of fellow believers. That experience occurs within the darkness of our own individual souls. It occurs when we, alone, fight to inflict judgment and Jesus combats that with the filter of His shed blood. We are left to fight not seeing the actions of another who caused us or others pain, but seeing only the blood Jesus shed at the cross. We are left to fight with the knowledge that Jesus did not shed His blood for me and me alone, but for the ones who cause us pain as well. We are left to fight to the resolve: Do we believe in the power of His shed blood or do we not? It is always alone, in the darkness of our own souls, that we must answer that question.

For me, the shed blood of Jesus is a beacon of light that breaks the darkness; removes the burden of judgment; and instills grace and mercy. The pain inflicted by others is not lessened and still has its consequences to bear because they alone control their actions, but, at times like now – learning of the death of someone who caused horrendous pain in my life – I am grateful I am relieved of the burden of judgment and can work through the process of her death with grace and mercy.