Monday, July 24, 2017

Text of sermon delivered by Amy Stauber, July 23, 2017

I feel like I am filling some big shoes up here.  We have had so many wonderful service leaders this summer.  Thank you, everyone who has taken on this responsibility for our Congregation.  And thank you for allowing me to offer this service today.  I am grateful to be here before you this morning to offer hope, consolation, depth, and humanity.  These are the potentially life-saving or perhaps more accurately said, soul-saving gifts of great poems.  I want to start off by reading one such poem that has served those two purposes in my life. 

Wild Geese You do not have to be good.                                                  You do not have to walk on your kneesfor a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.                                                     Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.Meanwhile the world goes on.Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rainare moving across the landscapes,over the prairies and the deep trees,                                      the mountains and the rivers.Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,are heading home again.Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,the world offers itself to your imagination,                          calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your placein the family of things.                        --Mary Oliver 
I am not sure at what point in life I discovered nature’s capacity to astound, awe, comfort and console, but when I go back to the little river town I grew up in along the Ohio River in Indiana, it feels like our house and neighborhood are on the verge of being overtaken again by the wilderness. 

I was still in elementary school when I started taking really long walks. The longer the walk, the closer I could get to country roads and wildness.  In those days nature felt like the only thing big enough to hold all of the grandeur going on in my head, the hopeless idealism of youth and the excitement and thrill of discovery that comes so easily when the world is new to the senses. 

Mary Oliver’s more grown-up approach to nature in her poetry, her ability to find awe and reverence and truth through observation, the fact that she knows “how to be idle and blessed” while feeding a grasshopper, reminds me that nature has been and will continue to be a container for the great swells of my humanity. 

One of my lifelong best-friends introduced me to Mary Oliver through the poem “Wild Geese.”  I still have the well-worn photocopy she gave me when we were in college.  During my first few years as a middle school teacher, the poem resided on my bedside table and I read it like a prayer in an effort to cope with a career that did not suit me and a marriage that was doomed to fail.  I hovered over the words: “You do not have to be good./ You do not have to walk on your knees/ for a hundred miles through the desert repenting/ You only have to let the soft animal of your body/ love what it loves.”  Those lines were such a relief to a falling away Catholic who felt like she was missing the mark constantly.  Mary Oliver helped me be a little kinder to myself for not having it all figured out.

“Wild Geese” helped me remember that the world was calling to me “harsh and exciting” like a flock of geese flying overhead.  I need only connect to the raw energy of wild landscapes to find consolation from the tangles of my very human existence. 

Mary Oliver’s poems remind us all that when life doesn’t make sense, when life doesn’t turn out like it’s supposed to turn out, when we are so tangled up and can’t see or hear the answers we need, we can seek out the wild places.  We can remember that underneath our sophisticated humanness we are still just like the animals we share the world with seeking shelter, food, warmth, and companionship.  It’s that simple.  And there’s compassion in that, for ourselves and for each other.  It’s about being enough.  We are enough just because we exist.

Returning from a Mary Oliver poem, or the walk that her poem might inspire us to take, we might find nothing in our lives altered.  The problems are still there.  The world still is what it is.  The difference is an internal shift.  We connect to something a little more primal, instinctive, less in our head.  We have our feet more solidly on the ground.  It might be possible to be a little easier on ourselves and everyone else who seems to be letting us down or antagonizing us. 

Sometimes we need a break from the fires of our commitments, our passions, our careers, whatever it might be that has us spinning our wheels.   Some cold, cold waters thrown on the burning coals of our goals, and conundrums, that’s what a poem, a Mary Oliver poem, or the walk inspired by a Mary Oliver poem can do.  Replete with natural imagery, yet devoid of sentimentality or romanticism, Mary Oliver’s poetry is an invitation to connect with the world around us that exists in spite of human endeavor and is in fact indifferent to it.  She evokes the humbling power of landscapes and other creatures of the earth to put our humanity in perspective, to realize that nature, though we may collectively have the power to alter and maybe even destroy it, is still a more powerful force than we will ever be. 

The Poetry of Mary Oliver:  An Invitation to “Your One Wild and Precious Life”, a sermon delivered at 1stUUPB by Amy Stauber, July 23, 2017.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ben Juhl's July 9 Sermon

On 9 July, 2017 I gave a lay-led sermon/talk on “Drugs Legalize?” at the 1st Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palm Beaches.  Many agreed with the subject and 5 people of my age group later told me they had lost a loved one to drugs or had someone who was having addiction problems. I decided to offer a shorter version for all to consider about the opioid and other drug addiction problems. Please write, email etc your state and federal legislators with your opinion. Or yell at me if you think it will help. Here is the shortened sermon:

Many of us have enjoyed a drink or a smoke at one time or another without much thought of the legality. How many know a friend or relative that shortened or ended their lives by excessive use of some products both legal and illegal?
An article by John Tierney of the New York Times in the 1990's is still current; Mr. Morales of Bolivia held up a small green coca leaf as he talked about international drug policies. He denounced the U.S. for criminalization of coca as he stated it has been demonstrated that the coca leaf does no harm to human health, Andean people have been using it for centuries for tea, gum etcetera and it was the Americans making it into white powder that cause problems as do many other things concentrated and in a high enough dose. It was the U.S.'s problem not the product they had been using for centuries. Saudi Arabia can prohibit alcoholic beverages all they wish but they have not asked the U.S. to eradicate and the barley fields in Tennessee and in the rest of the world.  We however ask the worlds growers to eradicate coca leaf and heroin poppies thinking it will get rid of our problems.
How to tackle a problem that has long been intertwined with our lives? Many items materials or ingredients have been used in ceremonies or celebrations that are now illegal, much  of the time it was priests/shamans etc. that were allowed to use these, however I’m sure there was leakage of the ceremonial stash to the local populace. Most everyone wants something to ease the pains and hurts of everyday living (physical and mental). Actions which affect only oneself are hard to criminalize, i.e. I drink so what’s it to you, or yea I smoked a joint, so what? All the laws, penalties and prohibitions which have been enacted have come to naught.
The Volstead Act prohibiting the sale of alcohol nationwide was a disaster. View the PBS series “Prohibition“ by Ken Burns or the book “The Last Call” by Daniel Okrent for a fast education. It was repealed in 1933 as the government needed money and a tax on beer would come in quickly, that or try to raise taxes on the wealthy. States passed the repeal in less than a year. Mother Culture (society’s consensus of opinion) had spoken. However organized crime became better established and is still with us. Alcohol consumption has varied over the years, a big celebration was tempered by the depression and delayed by WWII.
The 1950's thru 1980's were good times for the industry. Remember lounge lizard and the three martin lunch? Heavy drinking fell out of favor in the 1990's. DUI became a problem, death rates soared due to more and faster cars. More people driving both drunk and sober. More laws were passed against DUI and the safety of autos was greatly improved.
Anyone remember the advent of seat belts? Some thought Joe Stalin had taken over and any fool knows that you will survive if thrown clear. Now most people use shoulder harnesses and follow the law with little complaint. Mother Culture had spoken, but not as loud as about for the repeal of prohibition.
Some interesting items: Deaths from alcohol poisoning halved by 1935.The first DUI was in London in 1897, New York passed the first DUI law in 1910, in 1936 the first balloon for testing for breath alcohol was used. New York City bars had closing times again not wide open as during prohibition. Licenses were required for manufacturing and sales gave revenue to city, state and federal governments.

Consumption of narcotics had been around for centuries, mostly for medical purposes, outlandish claims of stopping the craving for alcohol and making childbirth a pleasure were some of them. In 1875 the city of San Francisco made it a misdemeanor to own or patronize an opium den. Some Chinese immigrants brought the habit with them. How come? Suggest you Google opium wars and note the British wanted to import opium to China. In 1914 the Harrison Narcotics Act passed, this was first federal act to restrict the access of opioids and cocaine!
In 1930 the Federal Narcotics Commissioner Harry Anslinger claimed that marijuana caused lunacy and murder, mainly by black people, and everyone else too. His campaign against marijuana may have been enhanced by his association with nylon rope manufactures, it was not as good as hemp rope at that time. This has never been proven. However his tactics were similar to the Dries before prohibition and the present NRA i.e. see you at the voting booth.

In the 1950's and 60's LSD and psilocybin were being investigated for treatment of mental problems, however they became symbols of youth rebellion and social upheaval, funding was stopped.

In 1971 President Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” increasing federal enforcement and penalties.
1973-1977 Eleven states decriminalized marijuana possession, it remains a class one drug for federal purposes.
1981 President Reagan made drugs a priority, arrest and incarceration soared. Remember “Just Say No” -- good idea but it didn’t catch on.

Our government zigged and zagged but hasn’t moved towards liberalization because (in my opinion which it and $50 will nearly always buy a cup of coffee) opponents say I’ll see you at the poles next election.

Cigarettes continue high on the list of causing lung cancer. Lung cancer was little known until after WWI when cigarette smoking started to become popular. In WWII and Korean troopships were welcomed by the Red Cross giving out small packets of cigarettes. About half of all adults smoked (including me). It was proven that tobacco companies made sure the nicotine was high and stable -- remember the televised hearings? Anyway advertising of tobacco products was curtailed, now smokers are in the minority. Thank goodness it was not made illegal, organized crime would love that. Again Mother Culture has spoken about what’s permissible.

Punishment for use and possession has overcrowded prisons. Cancer and PTSD sufferers who might be helped are restricted and many become criminals to get relief... In the meantime usage of all type of illegal drugs continues unregulated: armed enforcement and legal statutes have done little to stop sale or distribution. Yes there is a debate if marijuana effects the pain, or you are just too high to notice. No one seems to fund and scientific studies on this and other aspects of addiction and treatment. The U.N.s’ report on coca leaf was blocked by the USA.

Here in Florida voters passed a medical marijuana amendment, legislators dither over regulations, quantity and retail locations etc... In a special legislative session some rules have been established. 25 distributors have been authorized and maybe progress will be made. I have heard that law enforcement say that there is no field test for narcotic levels. I’m sure modern science and engineering can come up with devices that will stand up in court for this in less time than it took to invent the breathalyzer, if it’s funded

Drugs enter from all over, gangs, drug lords and dictators enjoy immunity from prosecution in many areas as money talks. Hand ringing and rhetoric about stopping the source does little. Illicit distribution of legal and illegal opioids continues with few prosecutions.

This in my opinion how to solve the problem (the value of it has been noted) and in no way reflects the congregation's opinions.
1  .      Legalize, tax, grade and label all recreational drugs (alcoholic beverages are labeled by content i.e. percentage in beer or wine and proof in spirts). These drugs must be labeled by content, purity and origin, Taxes should be similar to those on tobacco or alcohol, high enough to discourage consumption but not high enough to encourage illegal production. (The ATF, FDA and DEA are already set up and might possibly be merged for more effect and less cost, (DEA alone is over 2 Billion).
   .       Penalties for sales to minors should include the seller and the seller’s suppliers. Producers should also be liable if product was not diverted/stolen or altered in manners beyond their control.
   .      Designate a percentage of the revenue raised for scientific addiction treatment, research and anti-addiction advertising by advertising agencies who know how to sell things and Ideas: the remainder could go into the general fund. It’s estimated that about 10% of the population (think cigarettes and booze) uses narcotics, half handle it with few problems, in the other half it becomes harmful to themselves or others and requires treatment.

So I offer my opinion and reasons I hold these views for consideration, you may agree or disagree. I urge you to make your views known to all your elected officials. If they do not know your views they cannot act upon them. Just Google the title of the office or go the League of Women Voters website as they maintain a current listing for contact information. That’s among the ways they listen to Mother Culture's thoughts.

An old acronym covers this situation. Years ago when on the Missile Test Range even mild swear words weren’t tolerated on communications nets, when you or a station really messed up TYHOYA was broadcast, maybe using your name or your stations call sign, public shaming!. It stood for “take your head out of your arse”. In regard to drug policy I say to society and all elected officials TYHOYA!

Ben Juhl                                                                                                                                                                      

Sunday, April 9, 2017


I had a difficult time writing the sermon this week.  My intent was to provide a look at where we have been as minister and Congregation for the past few years.  I found myself staring  at the blank page and frustrated with being unfocused because I hadn’t expected this topic to bring me to the places it did.  I walked away several times and then it hit me. What I really should be talking about is personal ministries.  You see your letters, cards, and emails always, usually, are about your experiences in this community.  I turned to the Unitarian Minister Erik Wikstrom for inspiration. He writes, “Imagine [this congregation] not as [an entity] led by a few overly taxed volunteers but one where leadership is a broadly shared ministry that members of the community undertake for the deep joy of it.” For many here this is the case, but I ask each and all of you this morning, “What is your ministry?”

I believe each of us has one, at least one. Yet I’m wondering if some of you might be shaking your heads, musing to yourselves,” “Isn’t it enough that we honor our pledges, that we volunteer our time, that some of us take on positions of leadership in this Congregation? Now we’re supposed to be ministers!  Let’s back up. Let’s back up into what I mean when I talk about shared ministry, about the ministry we’ve shared together and the ministry you will share with your next chump -- I mean minister.

We can blame our specifically Christian forebears, especially our Protestant forebears, for this notion of shared ministry. And we can blame something called congregational polity for the focus on shared ministry within our Unitarian Universalist practice. And we can blame that quip of “deeds not creeds” for our emphasis on putting our faith to work in what we do over the matter of what we believe. Shared ministry emerges from a notion called “the priesthood of all believers.” It’s grounded in the early Christian understanding that experience of the divine was mediated solely through the figure of Jesus, whom devout Christians understand to be God in the flesh, the son of God, if you will. The early Christian church had no priests. It was informal and egalitarian, with each believer expected to use her or his individual gifts to build up the Christian community, which was pretty wobbly in those days of the Roman Empire. This understanding receives especially strong emphasis in the First Letter of Peter. Believers are implored to “Come to him, to that living stone….and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.”

Of course a quick trip through the history of the church tells us that the non-hierarchical approach to building “a spiritual house” was honored in the breach. When Martin Luther took up his hammer and nailed his 95 theses—or points of frustration—on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in October of 1517, he had had it with an established church that had reached a point where access to the holy was not only mediated by an exclusive cadre of priests, but mediated for a profit. The Reformation had begun with one angry monk.  And we Unitarians — not even known as Unitarians yet, but already simmering with the ingredients of what has been called the “radical Reformation” — went even further. Thirty-six years almost to the day after Luther had committed his act of defiance, the Spaniard Michael Servetus, was burned at the stake on orders from Luther’s colleague, John Calvin, for questioning the authority of the Trinity. Was Michael Servetus ordained? No, Servetus was just one of those living stones, but with a different set of beliefs than what had hardened into the hierarchy of the Christian church. Servetus helped put the “radical” into Reformation.

We who are Unitarians and Universalists and now a blend of both have long been notorious for our radicalism. We’ve been dubbed heretics as if it were an insult, when a heretic is simply one who exercises choice. To be creatures of choice is core to our practice of faith and doubt.

So we move into the notion of congregational polity, its own special form of choice. Our Unitarian Universalist congregations, exercise this choice, this heresy, with each congregation calling its professional ministers, ordaining us, and serving in a mode of  independence.  A few years ago, a commission of our Association spent several years pondering the notion of congregational polity and came up with a report that spoke to the interdependence that defines us. It was a report written by committee — how else would we UUs take on a non-hierarchical topic? — but I found myself reading it with pleasure. Within the topic of congregational polity, there’s a provocative discussion of religious leadership, which moves into a discussion of shared ministry. I found this passage jumping off the page:

“One key aspect of Unitarian Universalism is our belief that ministry of the congregation does not belong exclusively to ordained clergy, but to everyone.”
The text continues with some commentary that comes to us from an earlier committee’s report on ministry in which commissioner Neil Shadle explained:

"Ministry is the vocation of every person of faith, [and] Unitarian Universalism, as a democratic faith, affirms the “priesthood of all believers;” we are all lay ministers, whether or not we choose to be professional religious leaders."

Here we are, coming full circle back to that notion of the “priesthood of all believers.”
But the circle had already expanded, thanks to that great giant of a 20th century theologian, James Luther Adams. Adams taught over the many years of his career at Boston University, Meadville Lombard Theological School, Harvard Divinity School, and my alma mater  Andover-Newton Theological School. He occupied fully the slice of history that was his, commenting, writing, engaging students, and taking on the brokers of power and privilege through the questions that rocked his time. It’s not surprising that he stretched the “priesthood of all believers” into the priesthood and prophethood of all believers. Prophets, we might remember, were those annoying flower children of the Old Testament — Jonah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos. Troublemakers all, they called the populace of their day to take seriously stuff like loving your neighbor as yourself and honoring the divine by so doing.

Adams himself had a prophetic gene or two. Why else would he have written so forcefully about what we’re called to do as prophets, a ministry that makes most of us entirely uncomfortable? “The prophetic liberal church,” he claimed, “is not a church in which the prophetic function is assigned merely to a few.” Adams said,  “The prophetic liberal church is the church in which persons think and work together to interpret the signs of the times in the light of their faith, to make explicit through discussion the epochal thinking that the times demand. The prophetic liberal church is the church in which all members share the common responsibility to attempt to foresee the consequences of human behavior (both individual and institutional), with the intention of making history in place of merely being pushed around by it.” And the cherry on top of his sundae? “Only through the prophetism of all believers can we together foresee doom and mend our common ways.”

If we take seriously the priesthood and prophethood of all believers, if we take seriously shared ministry, I’m guessing that the first act of faith is to hyperventilate. Once we catch our breath, we can take stock, probably sing a hymn or two, pray desperately, “Why me?”, and trust that the coffee and sweets will be really great today.
On the other hand, shared ministry can be doing our part as a spiritual practice; it can be spiritually transformative even. Such is the case made by Erik in his article. Making soup and sandwiches for this community or sometimes for folks who have hardly anything else to eat is as spiritual as meditating at sunrise. Serving on a committee or leading a Small Group Ministry gathering or teaching in our religious education program or posting a banner that proclaims “Black Lives Matter” is as spiritual as the deepest reflection. And sharing your gifts of time, talent, and treasure ensures that no one here need suffer from burnout.  You’re not fully ‘here, now’ unless you’re actively involved and pulling your share. Shared ministry lets each of us ‘be here now.  As we are called to care about and work to end injustices in the world, to care for our planet, to enact love and beauty — we are called to practice for these actions in the wider world by ministering here in our community. Many of you have or are finding your ministry within and through the shared ministry that sustains our congregational life. Some of you may still be wondering, pondering, and even resisting the notion that “works” go hand in hand with faith, that “spiritual” goes hand in hand with “practice.”

I believe all of us are here in this Sanctuary for a purpose. It’s about faith, but faith isn’t enough. At least that’s what the author of the New Testament book known as The Letter of James proclaimed: “What gain is there if a person claims to have faith but doesn’t have works?” James didn’t know enough to let it drop with that. He kept going. “If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Can you imagine having James on your committee? Well, we have a James-like figure at the helm of our Board of Trustees.

Rev. Mark Howenstein tells us,  “The new paradigm is one of shared ministry, in which all members and friends are responsible together for the healthy operation of the congregation. In shared ministry, all are called to contribute their time, treasure and talent, in ways that are distinctive and appropriate to their circumstances, their bounty and their skills.”

Time, treasure, and talent! That’s a lot, perhaps overwhelming for some of us. When I get overwhelmed, I start thinking in steps, one step at a time. Let’s try that right now. What is your ministry? What are you doing right now that speaks to the faith and works of this Congregation, that feeds the hungry, that teaches our children, that shouts to the powers that be in our own time to change course, that keeps the kitchen clean and the facilities painted, that gives the lawn a haircut and helps the flowers grow and helps us all grow? 

There are four simple questions to consider:
1) What am I good at?
2) What do I like to do?
3) What needs to be done?
4) Is there stuff happening in my life right now that suggests I scream for help?

What am I good at? Sometimes what we’re good at is what we least like to do. I’m really good at cleaning a bathroom. I’m really good at turning a messy paper into a fairly coherent document. Do I like to do these things? No. So what am I good at that I like to do? Or even that I kind of like to do?

Okay, on to the next question: What needs to be done? Well, I believe both the joy and heartache and celebration and rites and tasks of new ministry need to be done. I believe there are tough corners to turn and new chapters to write. I could stop here, but there’s that fourth question, and it’s so subjective: Is there stuff happening in my life right now that suggests I scream for help? For me right now, probably not.  There have been times when I’ve had to scream for help in my life, and I know that some of you have had to do this too, even if you first scream silently.

So what is your ministry? Let those four questions swim in your mind for awhile. Let them play out in your heart for awhile. Then step back into your understanding of your own priesthood, your own prophethood. Step back into the circle of this religious community and ask once again, “What is my ministry?” How will I work my faith?  And your answer? May your answer be some kind of gratitude that you are, that you are here, and that we are here together on this Sunday morning. May your answer be some kind of celebration for the bounty of beauty created by living in paradise. May your answer be some kind of love and friendship and soul stretching of which we can all partake. May your answer be gratitude for the miracle of life in which we find ourselves, no matter which side of the bed you woke up on this morning, no matter how you might have felt as you brushed your teeth or scarfed down your coffee, no matter how you hoped or despaired as you walked out the door, risking once again religious community.

Your letters, cards, and emails expressed this shared ministry, the need for shared ministry.  May you continue to reach out to your minister and express not only what they did wrong this week but with messages that remind the minister that you too have a ministry. May we open our hearts and minds and hands, giving and receiving the gifts of who we are and who we can be in this faith that we share and this life that we live.

May it be so.

"Letters" a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, March 9, 2017

Friday, December 30, 2016

Message from Paul Ward, Dec 30, 2016

Greetings Members and Friends of 1stUUPB,

As we approach the end of the year and prepare for the new year, it is a time for reflection, letting go, and intention setting. In terms of our Congregation, the year just ending did not unfold as many of us expected, or even hoped for, but now is the time to let go of the past and begin thinking about the possibilities that lie ahead.

The Ministerial Selection Committee has begun its work and I am grateful for a highly capable team representing our Congregation on this journey. In my interactions with UU congregations around the country, I have found many congregations going through ministerial transitions. We are not so different and we are not a difficult Congregation. We are a diverse Congregation with wide ranging opinions, as the recent survey results showed, but we value our community. My intention is to come from a place of possibility and be the best I can be in support of this Congregation.

Thank you for your comments, feedback, emails, and telephone conversations. I am listening! I am in England for New Year, returning to Florida on January 9th in time for our next board meeting, but the channels of communication are still open.

Thank you to members of our Board of Trustees, members of our committees, our staff, and everyone who contributes to the smooth running of our Congregational activities.   

I wish you a new year filled with hope, happiness, peace, and prosperity.

With love and gratitude,

Paul G. Ward
President, Board of Trustees

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Bearers of Light

It is perfect timing for us to consider how we might be bearers of light.  We are in the darkest time of the year.  Both literally and metaphorically. Pagans will celebrate returning light with Winter Solstice celebrations, Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights celebrated in countries all over the world. Diwali, meaning array of lights, is a Hindu light festival. It symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness. During the 9 days prior to Christmas, Mexican families march from house to house with candles looking for a room at the inn. Kwanzaa begins on December 26th to honor African harvest traditions. It was created in 1966. Candles representing the seven principles of Kwanzaa are lit each night for a week. Family and friends come together to take pride in their unique culture and to celebrate their common heritage. And of course we have our own candlelight ceremony here in this Congregation on Christmas Eve. We must be bearers of light. We must be light in the lives of people around us as we navigate these desperate times.
When I was little we lived in a double house on the Canadian border.  Our family lived in the back of the house while my grandmother lived in the front. It was a house my grandfather bought for his sons when they married after the WWII. Rumor has it that my grandpa did pretty well bootlegging whiskey during Prohibition.
But that’s another sermon. My dad’s family was a close-knit Scottish/French Canadian clan. We were always together. Maybe it was because we lived in the same house, but we ate together many nights a week and always on Sunday. My dad’s family was loud and passionate, and they could yell at you one minute and hug you the next. One time our neighbor asked me why my family argued all the time, which was a great puzzle. We didn’t argue we were… well, colorful!
In March 1989, our color was surely drained when my father died suddenly. He was 48, and I had just turned 20.  I remember my dad’s smile, his wicked sense of humor, and his laughter; it could light up a room.  When he died, my mother went into mourning. As was the custom, the bereaved wore black as a sign of loss. I think it was a way to say to the world, “Be easy with me, I’m grieving.” My mom said she did it out of respect, but I suspect it truly represented her deep sorrow. She wore only black for a long while.  She hung on to her sorrow and her mourning clothes; it seemed as if she was stuck. She eventually began wearing her regular clothes again.
Now our close-knit family also included our neighbors Alphonsine and her clan. Alphonsine, a feminine and French name meaning noble and ready, was my mom’s best friend. Our houses were so close; you could stand at the kitchen sink and wash dishes at our house and talk across the driveway to Alphonsine as she stood in her kitchen washing dishes.  In the summer of 1989, Alphonsine decided it was time to help my mother move beyond her black mourning clothes. I don’t know how their conversation went at all. But I remember the day clearly, as if it were yesterday. My mom left the house wearing black and returned hours later in a cloud of lavender. I can see her walking toward me, a big smile on her face and lavender beads around her neck. But more than dressed in lavender, or the even the beads, my mother looked different because she had her light back, a light that had been dimmed by her tragic loss.
In a book by artist Jeanne Dobie called “Making Color Sing,” the author introduces the idea of mouse colors. That’s right, mouse colors…m-o-u-s-e. They are subtle pale colors. When they are brushed up against a darker color, they illuminate the painting. They are almost imperceptible when you look from a distance, but their impact on the painting is profound. Mouse colors create a setting where it is possible for the brilliant color to come into its fullest bloom. Mouse colors are like the bit players who support the stars.  I believe there are people in the world who are like mouse colors; they bring light to our dark places. They are most often subtle. If we are lucky, they come to us with presence and gentle influence at the exact time we need them. I think of them as light bearers.
Our friend Alphonsine, in the story about my mom, was a light bearer. She cared for my mother and their relationship by showing up when needed and finding the right path that led my mom back to the color of her life.
In 2006, one year after Hurricane Katrina decimated Louisiana, Rev. Marta Valentin offered a sermon to the UU congregations of New Orleans. Those congregations suffered immense challenges, but most congregations struggle with difficult times and change. I think her words are relevant to all of us. In her sermon she described the bearers of light who showed up with aid and support during a tragically dark time for the congregations. This is what she said: “To be a bearer of light is to hold in the highest esteem the building of relationships.  Bearers of light are not concerned with what they can take, but with what they can give to any situation, even one that might rile them. It can be a commitment one makes to lighten an experience that might seem heavy, to share an insight even when it might scare you to do so. It can be a commitment to remain calm, when all around you the world is spinning, to remain grounded when the urge is to take flight, to remain loving when the devil is knocking on your door, pushing you into the abyss that is misdirected anger.”
Who doesn’t need people like this often in their lives, people who love us and value our relationships and our community and are committed to hold the lantern when life seems so very dark? I think we all know that our body craves light. Any one who lives on the Canadian border in February knows that. Light stimulates our neurotransmitters; we produce more serotonin. It improves our mood, and lightens our life.  But I believe our spirit craves light too. We are hungry for illumination, enlightenment, the mystical experience, or…in Universalist language -- a gentle stirring of love in our hearts.  The presence of spiritual light offers us a sense of healing in difficult times. Our ability to see this light makes it possible to feel a sublime connection to one another. We blur our separation and our ability to see deeply into each other’s hearts opens us to true communion. When we do that, we become bearers of light for one another.
Now we all know there are times in our lives when we live in the light and our world is in technicolor. And other times we live in the dark, when the black hole of circumstance sucks us in. Like post-election season. Times where there is no light, and we see no color, even as we look out at our vibrant world. Perhaps we lose someone we loved, we end a relationship, or we simply experience life changes, and we can get drawn into a dark lonely place. At such times of struggle, it is difficult even to see our own light. We find ourselves living in the shadows. We can become frightened and sorrowful and angry.  As a young adult I thought the idea of mourning clothes was silly and outdated. When my own mother died, I wore a green suit with a lavender tie; it was her favorite color, after all. But in the months following her death, I felt so deeply and profoundly sad. I remember feeling as if I needed to wear black, because the wound I carried was invisible to others but wide open and gaping to me. I lived in the shadows; I went through my days taking care of my young family with little joy or brilliance.
I think we all have such shadows. They are sorrow and pain we don’t want to see; they are our lesser qualities -- our meanness, our stinginess, or our judgment of others. They are our inadequacies, the parts of ourselves that just don’t measure up to our self-expectations. Like a dormant virus, they sneak out, especially during hard times, political and otherwise.  And it wouldn’t be so bad if we just waited for the virus to pass, but I’m afraid all too often, we project our shadow onto others, ascribing motives to them that simply aren’t true and that have more to do with us than with them. These are the times we need light so we can honestly and openly see our hidden selves.
There is a Sufi teaching story about a character, the Mulla, named Nasrudin.  A man was walking home late one night when he saw the Mulla Nasrudin searching under a street light on hands and knees for something on the ground. “Mulla, what have you lost?” he asked. “The key to my house,” Nasrudin said. “I’ll help you look,” the man said. Soon, both men were down on their knees, looking for the key. After a number of minutes, the man asked, “Where exactly did you drop it?” Nasrudin waved his arm back toward the darkness. “Over there, in my house.” The first man jumped up. “Then why are you looking for it here?” “Because there is more light here than inside my house."
It’s pretty clear Nasrudin is looking for something very important, a key. And the key could easily symbolize an aspect of himself. Aren’t we all looking for that key? But in this case, the key is in the darkness of his house, so that is where he must look. This is also true of finding the shadow parts of our selves; it requires us to look in the darkness and uncover the key to our behavior.  Perhaps there is a way to bring light to those dark places, our shadows. Perhaps that’s where the light bearers come in.
To explain that, I’d like to borrow the concept of light from the Quakers. They believe that there is a light in each of us that is more than our intellect or conscience. The light within is like a flickering flame deep in our souls that when responded to and tended, grows to fill our entire lives with light. When the internal light is dim, and our shadows are long and dark, another person who sees us and sees the light can make all the difference in our lives.
That is the work of the light bearers. They mind the light. They pay close attention to all that connects us. They see beyond the shadows and hold a vision of us in the light. They see us as whole and perfect, exactly as we are, even when it’s hard for us to see that.
Now some people are gifted with that ability; I can actually think of a few people in this Congregation who have the gift, and believe me, we are lucky because communities need such people.  But most of us are more ordinary, and we need practice. Seeing the light and minding the light in others is in fact something we can learn. It takes willingness and commitment, because seeing the light in others is easy when they are pleasant and so much harder when they are not. It is really hard to feel connected or to see the light in other persons when they are disappointed in you or you them.  But that’s when they need it the most.  If only we could wear black mourning colors when we are lost, or perhaps red when we are enraged at life, or maybe green when we are too tender to touch. If we had an outward sign of our innermost circumstance, maybe then we could tell the world around us, “be easy with me, I’m hurting, and I’m scared.” But life isn’t like that; there are no uniforms.
So maybe the key is to invoke the spirit of love or if you like, the spirit of — God. When we see others in the light of love, we find their challenges are probably no different from our own. We see beyond their shadow to the deep light within, and holding them this way we ensure that we are touched by their lives, by their pure humanness. The distance between us lessens, and our concerns become each other’s.  And in that way we become bearers of light…we see and mind the light in one another…and by doing that our own light grows brighter, and together we bring understanding to the shadows between us. Perhaps we simply say Namaste–the light in me sees the light in you…

May it be so.

"Bearers of Light", a sermon delivered by the Rev CJ McGregor, at 1stUUPB, on Dec 4, 2016.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


Hurricane Matthew passed us by with limited impact but not before we readied our campus for the worst. Thanks to our Sexton Willie Nelson for ensuring our security and to Ben Juhl and Sylvia Ansay for guiding the preparation and clean up.

The board approved the appointment of Maria Cristina Gonzalez-Lopez as the new Religious Education Committee chair. Thank you to Maria for stepping up and to Richard Keelan for your leadership over the past few years. 

Rev. CJ has announced his decision to leave the Congregation. The board strongly supports CJ’s desire to complete his contract, which runs until the end of April 2017. I know many of you are disappointed that CJ has decided to leave us, but it is his decision and we must move forward.

We are planning to hold a series of cottage meetings next month to seek input from the Congregation on bringing in a new minister. We have a number of possibilities to consider:

We could call a settled minister although, because of the timing, that would not be possible until 2018.

Other options include an interim minister, a consulting or contract minister, or another developmental minister.

I was at the UU Ministers Association meeting on Thursday, presenting a leadership workshop, and met Kenn Hurto, our UUA regional executive. Kenn told me that the rules for developmental ministers have changed and would, in effect, be like a long-term interim minister. That would be for up to 5 years, but without the option to be called to settled ministry. Kenn is seeking more information about it.

The Transitions Team will lead the selection process. If you were invited to be a member of the Transitions Team last month, the goal has now changed, but the role is perhaps even more important than before. I hope you will agree to be part of the team.

I would like to clarify the situation with our intern, Claudia Jiminez. Even with CJ’s departure, Claudia can continue her internship with this Congregation for the next two years and I am very much hoping she will. Claudia and I are meeting to discuss possibilities.

I look forward to supporting this Congregation through the transition. Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about the transition. As always, I am ready to listen.

Paul G Ward
President, Board of Trustees 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Water is Life

I have a solid memory of being five years old and surveying our northern New York land with my father. He was trying to find the best place to dig a well. One thing, however -- I'm not sure if I'm imagining it -- but I think he might have been using a branch to find the groundwater, which is called dowsing. Coming from 18th century superstition, while using a branch as you would a metal detector on the beach you search for groundwater and supposedly the branch would shake if you indeed found water. I wanted this part of the memory to be true, but alas every study over the last century agrees that dowsing remains a superstition. I remember my father choosing a spot and breaking ground with a shovel. In fact, he and a few other men dug this well mostly using shovels. They extracted a few boulders out with machinery which when clustered became a playground for kids and a hiding spot when we stole a few moments to smoke cigarettes as teenagers. Those boulders remain in the same spot today.

At 5 years old I understood that the well and water was central to our livelihood. The well was vital not only to my family, but to two neighboring families. You see, the wells that had been used for a couple of generations had gone dry. Water had been a great concern for my family and our neighbors. The digging of the new well and access to water meant sustaining life for the people, land, and crops and animals on the land.

After my parents died, the land and property were sold. My brother and I received much grief from the other two families using the well. The thought of water scarcity made them do and say things I would have never expected. You see, the new owner of the well could have cut the other families out leaving them without water, without the resources they needed to live. Eventually we nailed down an agreement and all was settled. Perhaps one of the earliest water summits. Over 40 years later the well still supplies water and hasn't once gone dry.  I’d like to give credit to the supposed branch.
This success story is becoming more uncommon these days.  I recently watched a video titled A Four Year Old Bucket List. In that video we see a 4 year old Kenyan boy who has been granted the opportunity to do everything he has on his bucket list before he dies.  He goes to the ocean for the first time, he plays soccer on the national field, and he has his first kiss, among other things. The boy isn’t terminally ill. His reality is that most children where he lives die before they are 5 because they have no access to unpolluted and quality water and that water is already in short supply. The boy doesn’t complete his bucket list.
I've learned firsthand, through my ministry, and study that water is life and when that resource is absent or threatened, relationships fall apart, conflict arises, people are oppressed, threatened, hopelessly die, or are even killed.

We don't need to look far for the threat to life. We have our own battles to fight right here in Florida to ensure water is life giving.  I’m talking about the Everglades. The two biggest threats to the Everglades is water quality and water quantity. Development on the coast calls for an increased demand for water, but the problem is that the quantity of water isn't growing as demand grows. Man-made structures don't allow water to flow to the Everglades as it should. Often the water that reaches the Everglades is not quality. Runoff from expanding urban centers and unsustainable farming practices are polluting the water supply which is already limited. Not unlike the well of my childhood there is tension around the issues of quality and quantity. Stakeholders such as Native American tribes, park services, fish and wildlife services, the Audubon Society, water management, concerned citizens, religious groups, and others are all players in the Everglades issue and all have varying opinions, resources, ignorance, and ideas which create conflict over life-giving water. Will we see results before we have to make bucket lists for our loved ones and we see our environment continue to suffer and die? 

I’ve shared with you that after Hurricane Katrina I traveled to the 9th Ward of New Orleans a few times, which had been the most devastated part of the city. I realized after being on the ground for only a few hours that my project of gutting and rebuilding homes was secondary to landing in the middle of a human rights conflict. Residents desperate to return to their homes and communities were being blocked by local and federal officials. In order for a community to be restored, that community needs health facilities, food, and water. All human rights in my book. Just ask Canada. Residents wanted to return but resources were held up and denied. The water remained muddied both figuratively and literally. Some did return to find that the mayor had ordered the demolition of their home where generations have lived. No access to water, food, or shelter. Basic human needs stomped on. I forgot to mention this was a black neighborhood where people were challenged socio-economically. If you were asking yourself, "why would officials do that?”  I just gave you your answer.

Perhaps the most recent water and land conflict on our radar -- if it isn't perhaps it should be -- is the conflict in Standing Rock in North Dakota. Earlier this summer I began hearing about something happening near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. A few people from Standing Rock on horseback were trying to stop the construction of an oil pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline, that would cross the Missouri River just upstream of their community. Many were arrested. The next I heard, they had been joined by people from the other six Lakota Sioux tribes, then by the Cheyenne, traditional enemies of the Sioux, and then tribal people from across the country started getting in their cars and trucks and driving to the camp on the banks of the Missouri River.  Now, in September, there are flags of 300 indigenous nations flying at the Camp of the Sacred Stones, and there are several hundred to several thousand people (depending on the moment), of all races, at three different camps, all gathered in support of nonviolent resistance.

The people there say they are not “protesters,” they are water protectors, and they are doing this for all of us. Many faith and environmental communities have joined their voices in support, including Rev. Peter Morales, the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who called on Unitarian Universalists to support the Standing Rock Sioux. The fight by the Standing Rock Sioux to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline has emerged as one of the defining climate justice fights in the United States.  It has also become a central focal point of the ongoing worldwide struggle by indigenous peoples to have their treaty and land rights respected by other governments and corporations.  

Indigenous people are among the most vulnerable communities on the front lines of the climate crisis, and are leading the fight. Corporations have repeatedly used force to extract fossil fuels from their lands with approval from government attorneys and military forces. Major pipeline projects invariably cut across Native lands while bypassing white suburban communities. We must follow the lead of indigenous communities that have protected their land for countless generations, and work together in solidarity to ensure a thriving planet for future generations and all living things.
I tell you all of this to help you understand that the situation in Standing Rock is yet another event in a series of events of oppression. Native Americans have been here before. Columbus and colonists have cheated, raped, murdered, oppressed and were at the wheel of genocide from the very beginning. If you doubt genocide will be a consequence, you’ll need to explain to me why dogs with gnashing teeth are being allowed to tear at the flesh and spirits of protesters and why poisoning an indigenous people is considered with no feeling or conscience. The Sioux Tribe protecting their land in North Dakota aren't simply greedy. They understand that if a pipeline is built it will be sparking genocide. Water is precious and a pipeline would contaminate that life-giving resource, leaving a community to die. They become dispensable once again.

This people are also protecting the sacred. Their ancestors are buried within the land, which is treasured, revered, and has significant and sacred meaning. I know if the construction of a pipeline that would run through the cemetery where my parents and grandparents are buried I would be equally as outraged and afraid that that sacred land would be defiled. I can breathe easy. That won't happen. My ancestors and I are white.

The dogs growl, the pepper spray bites, the bulldozers tear up the soil. “Water is life!” they cry. “Water is life!”  The presence of suffering in this cry of outrage is profound. We are called by our faith to say, “No more, no more. You will not poison our water or continue ravaging planet earth: mocking its sacredness, destroying its ecosystems, reshaping and slowly killing it for profit.” As the Green Party insists, the North Dakota authorities should instead be pressing charges against the real vandalism taking place at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation: the desecration of sacred burial sites and the immoral use of vicious attack dogs, calling on our government to halt the Dakota Access Pipeline company that is endangering drinking water.

As I watched videos, read updates, and talk to my colleagues who had been to Standing Rock over the past weeks, I could feel my heart turning toward North Dakota, almost as if a part of me was already traveling there, longing to bear witness to something extraordinary, something never before seen on this continent or perhaps anywhere, the rising up of the tribal nations to protect water and land. As Rebecca Solnit wrote in The Guardian: “What’s happening at Standing Rock feels like a new civil rights movement that takes place at the confluence of environmental and human rights awareness.”  And the protectors have been clear that they need the support of everyone, that without many witnesses, they could be silenced, just as they have been intimidated and silenced before, for these last 150 years.  I watched a video of 13 year old Tokata Iron Eyes, talking about why she was there as a water protector.

I felt I needed to be in North Dakota.  But how could I go? It seems wild to just pick up and go to North Dakota. I have sermons to write, committee meetings to attend, and family and financial responsibilities. But I kept thinking of the UUs in 1965 who heard the call from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to come to Selma, and how many of them, certainly many of the ministers, had responsibilities that could have kept them home: sermons to give, committees to attend. And yet, and yet…they got in their cars, got on airplanes, got on trains to travel to Selma to support those who were struggling nonviolently for basic civil rights, against enormous odds and overwhelming police presence, threats, and brutality.  How is this different? In North Dakota there are people who have also been oppressed for generations, rising up courageously, facing their own fear for the sake of their culture and community and for the rest of us, and calling for people of conscience to join them. And native people from the Northwest and around the country have answered that call. How can I not?

I wondered if I had the audacity to do this.  It is part of my call and it will benefit this congregation too. I am going to Standing Rock. Stay tuned for the details.  As Unitarian Universalists we must challenge ourselves to imagine things differently, to be brave enough, creative enough, to birth a way of life that does not bring so much death in its wake. My friend and colleague the Rev. Kathleen Matigue writes, “We have to do this. We live still in the illusion that we have a choice, but we have no choice. It’s like believing that in the ten seconds between now and the moment your car crashes into the wall, it’s optional whether or not you turn the wheel. It’s not optional. We either turn the wheel or we crash. Turning that wheel means focusing intently on how we can live differently, how we can reduce, and reduce again, the enormous amounts of everything that we misuse—but especially life giving water.”

Not only will I follow my call to Standing Rock, I will offer ways that you can contribute from Florida. As one of our greatest leaders, Chief Sitting Bull of the Hunkpapa Lakota, once said, ‘Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.’ That appeal is as relevant today as it was more than a century ago.” The beauty of the earth, the necessity of the earth, call us. We have to answer.
May it be so.

Water is Life, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, Sep 18, 2016.