Be Loud With Your Courage

UPSTANDERS Gathering| Not In Our Town | Billings, Montana

Public Address given January 28, 2018 at Grace United Methodist Church

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.

Thank you,

Penny Ronning

Quote Credit
*Mike Murdock
**Margaret Atwood


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.


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.

Dear Arizona

Dear Arizona

I’m a straight, Christian, American woman and I stand in solidarity with my fellow Americans who are gay. We all fall in love with another human being the same way — with our hearts.

The idea that any lawmaker in the United States of America could even desire in their heart and think in their mind of introducing a bill that would create a legal “less than” mentality back into our country is very disturbing…

BUT, for that lawmaker to then recruit other lawmakers to actually sponsor and help craft a bill with language so a legal “less than” mentality is masked within a web of “religious freedom” language . . . well, that is frightening.

BUT, for those lawmakers to THEN actually get this bill passed in one house of congress in their state, as it did in Kansas and now both houses of congress in Arizona . . . . well, that downright scares the shit out of me and it should every American.

In Arizona this bill appears to be moving closer to the Governor’s office. The intent behind these bills is shameful and against everything our great constitution stands for. The language in these bills opens the door to vast consequences – who will they come after next and what are the next steps – patches on our clothing?

As an American, I believe these are the type of laws that weaken our country. As a Christian, I believe these are the type of laws that weaken Christianity and present God in a false light.

Discussion on vetoing this bill based on a projected detrimental financial impact that will occur to the state only adds to its shamefulness.

Veto the bill based on its immoral intent  — period.

Shame on you, Arizona lawmakers.

Gray Matter

Gray Matter poster

GRAY MATTER. I’m guessing most of the world believes, like I did, that the horrors of the Holocaust were stopped when the war against Hitler and the Nazis was won. Or, at the very least, national governments did not celebrate, award, revere, and allow Nazi war criminals to continue their work.


Austria allowed, promoted, and awarded FOR YEARS the work of Dr. Heinrich Gross.

GRAY MATTER follows filmmaker Joe Berlinger’s attendance at the 2002 burial of the brains of more than 700 children murdered by Dr. Heinrich Gross and his colleagues under the order of Adolf Hitler, which as history reveals, appears to be the beginning acts of the Holocaust.

Why were these children murdered? Because 3 doctors deemed them not worthy of life simply because they had some form of handicap.

After the child had been murdered, the brain was removed, preserved for scientific study, and the body was returned to the family…maybe.

If that’s not horrific enough what Dr. Heinrich Gross and the Austrian government did FOR YEARS after is equally as horrific.

The Austrian government allowed Dr. Heinrich Gross and other “experts” to continue to experiment on the brains of these children FOR YEARS in secret – all the way to 1998. Not only did the Austrian government allow this “research” to continue, but they awarded Dr. Heinrich Gross repeatedly and elevated him to a position of great esteem. They just never told anyone the truth about what was really happening AND the Austrian government legally fought against the survivors of the horrific Spieglegrund hospital where the murders and other atrocities took place.

After years of repression of their stories and the truth, the families of many of the murdered children won the right to have the brains of their loved ones buried in 2002. Sadly, as of 2004, survivors of Spieglgrund still had not been awarded any justice by the Austrian government.

Perhaps someday governments and those in positions of power and authority will actually understand, as the filmmaker shows, that the truth cannot be buried.

GRAY MATTER, a film by Joe Berlinger.


G-DOG. What happens when a young, white Jesuit priest walks into the most violent Latino, Asian, and African-American gang neighborhoods in East LA? If that priest is Father Greg Boyle, a 70% success rate for having gang members swap violence for community.

And what’s his radical method?

Boundless, restorative love.

This documentary follows Father Greg or G-Dog as the homies call him, through a year in the life of Homeboy Industries, the largest, most successful gang intervention and rehab program in the U.S. In 1986, Father Greg was assigned to the poorest, most violent parish in East LA, Boyle Heights. With his belief that nothing stops a bullet like a job and his intense focus on jobs not jail for the kids he saw planning their funerals instead of their futures, he began building Homeboy Industries — a café, silkscreen shop, yoga studio, retail shop, catering service, tattoo removal, job training, anger management training, parent training, etc, business – in downtown LA. In the year the film memorializes, Father Greg and the homies face a tough economic decision about Homeboy Industries, but they face it together and with boundless, restorative love.

Father Greg saw a need in his community and he worked to meet that need. As a result, Homeboy Industries serves as an inspiration for helping to kids at risk in Toronto, Manchester, Hamburg, Rio de Janeiro, and many more communities.

It’s easy to see why a Jesuit priest would be so loved in one of the poorest communities in LA when you embrace the truth delivered in his commencement speech at Occidental College:

“So, I’m in a car with a homie named Manuel and we’re driving to give a talk and he gets a text and he looks at it and he kinda chuckles and I said, ‘What is it?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, it’s dumb. It’s from Snoopy back at the office.’

I said, ‘What’s it say?’

‘Oh, hey dog, it’s me Snoops. Yeah, they got my ass locked up at county jail. They’re charging me with being the ugliest vato in America. You have to come down right now. Show ‘em they got the wrong guy.’

I nearly swerved into oncoming traffic and then I realized that Manuel and Snoopy are enemies. They used to shoot bullets at one another. Now they shoot text messages. And there is a word for that and the word is kinship.

There is no longer us and them. It’s only us.

The measure of your compassion lies not in your service of those on the margins, but in your willingness to see yourself in kinship with them.

Oxi [Occidental College] is not the place you come to; it’s the place you go from. And you go from here to create a community of kinship so that God might recognize it. And good for you. And congratulations.” ~ Father Greg Boyle

G-Dog a brilliant film by Freida Lee Mock.

OPERATION: Homefront

OPERATION: Homefront

ORGANIZATION: Up with Billings!, a Billings Kiwanis satellite group

SUBJECT: Holiday Gift Boxes for Homeless Children in Billings

DATE: NOW – December 14, 2013

BOX COLLECTION SITE: Rock Creek Coffee Roasters 124 N. 28th St. Billings, MT


Did you know that on any given night, as many as 100 homeless youth in Billings are sleeping outside underneath bridges, in ‘camps’ near the river or inside a cave along the Rims? Billings School District 2 identified 503 homeless youth enrolled during the 2012 – 2013 school year. Tumbleweed’s Street Outreach Program identified an additional 150 homeless youth who were not enrolled in school.

Fashioned after Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child, OPERATION: Homefront is a local holiday gift project sponsored by Up with Billings!, a Billings Kiwanis satellite group.

Up with Billings!’ mission is to collect 500 individual shoeboxes with gifts for students identified by School District 2 and Tumbleweed Runaway Program as homeless or at risk.

The shoeboxes will be distributed the week of December 16, 2013 by School District 2 and Tumbleweed.

Please join OPERATION: Homefront and learn what a difference a shoebox can make!




Use an empty shoebox (standard size, please) or a small plastic container. Please wrap the box and lid separately with holiday paper.


Determine whether your gift will be for a boy or a girl or a teen male or female and the child’s age category as listed below. Create a label designating the appropriate gender and age category and tape the label to the top of the wrapped lid of your box.


Primary Girl or Boy

K – 3rd Grade

Intermediate Girl or Boy

4th – 6th Grade

Early Teen Girl or Boy

7th – 8th Grade

High School Female or Male

9th – 12th Grade


Fill the box with a variety of gifts that will bring delight to a child or teen. Please include at least one item a child can immediately embrace such as a stuffed toy, doll, ball, or toy truck. Including a handwritten greeting is encouraged.


Place a rubber band or removable ribbon around each wrapped, closed shoebox and drop it off at Rock Creek Coffee Roasters by December 14, 2013. (Rock Creek Coffee Roaster is located at 124 N. 28th St. Billings, MT 59101)



School supplies: Pens, pencils, pencil sharpeners, notebooks, ink pads and rubber stamps, solar calculators, coloring and picture books, reading books, etc.

Toys: Small cars, balls, dolls, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas, yo-yos, jump ropes, small Etch A-Sketch, toys that light up or make noise (with extra batteries), Slinky, etc.

Hygiene Items: Toothbrush, toothpaste, mild bar soap (in a plastic bag), comb, brush, wash cloth, etc.

Other: T-shirts, socks, gloves/mittens, winter hats/scarves, ball caps, sunglasses, hair clips, toy jewelry, watches, flashlights (with extra batteries), etc. Clothing items for winter weather are encouraged.


Age appropriate items for school, recreation, clothing, and hygiene products. Clothing items for winter weather are encouraged.

For All Boxes Do Not Include: Used or damaged items, war-related items such as toy guns, knives or military figures; chocolate or food; out of date candy;  medications or vitamins; breakable items such as snow globes or glass containers; aerosol cans.