Monday, September 18, 2017

CB Hanif's Closing Words, Sep 3, 2107

Quoting Dick Gregory

CB Hanif's Opening Words, Sep 3, 2017

With G-d’s Name, the Merciful Benefactor, the Merciful Redeemer.

Well, if ever a minister was preaching to the choir, that would be me, back here in the Home of the Original Good Guys – and Gals :-)

But even a bunch of do-gooders can use a call to listen, to our higher angels.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is how the Golden Rule is stated in Matt. 7:12.

It is an ethical principle found in all enlightened ethical systems and religions.

My entire title for today was rather long, and understandably didn’t fit the program: To “Reflections on a Golden Rule,” please add: “and the death of white supremacy.” I’ll be speaking to the latter as well.

I’m going to address today’s topic with a series of cultural reflections, some of which will be familiar, but all of which I hope you will appreciate.

Rather than offer a strictly religious talk, I’m incorporating a popular culture twist to emphasize, as I always do, that not all Muslims are stuck in their own cultural box.

To me Al-Islam is as cosmopolitan as humanity, and I hope to demonstrate that a bit.

For starters, some of you make recognize these words. You’ll appreciate that I won’t try to sing them:

Steppenwolf – Monster
By Jerry Edmonton and John Kay.

Once the religious, the hunted and weary
Chasing the promise of freedom and hope
Came to this country to build a new vision
Far from the reaches of Kingdom and pope

Like good Christians some would burn the witches
Later some got slaves to gather riches

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands, to court the wild
But she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

And once the ties with the crown had been broken
Westward in saddle and wagon it went
And till the railroad linked ocean to ocean
Many the lives which had come to an end

While we bullied, stole and bought a homeland
We began the slaughter of the red man

But still from near and far to seek America
They came by thousands to court the wild
But she just patiently smiled and bore a child
To be their spirit and guiding light

The Blue and Grey they stomped it
They kicked it just like a dog
And when the war was over
They stuffed it just like a hog

And though the past has its share of injustice
Kind was the spirit in many a way
But its protectors and friends have been sleeping
Now it's a monster and will not obey

The spirit was freedom and justice
And its keepers seemed generous and kind
Its leaders were supposed to serve the country
But now they won't pay it no mind
Cause the people grew fat and got lazy
Now their vote is a meaningless joke
They babble about law and order
But it's all just an echo of what they've been told

Yeah, there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into the noose
And it just sits there watchin'

The cities have turned into jungles
And corruption is stranglin' the land
The police force is watching the people
And the people just can't understand
We don't know how to mind our own business
'Cause the whole world's got to be just like us
Now we are fighting a war over there
No matter who's the winner we can't pay the cost

'Cause there's a monster on the loose
It's got our heads into the noose
And it just sits there watchin'

America, where are you now
Don't you care about your sons and daughters
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster

America, where are you now
Don't you care about your sons and daughters
Don't you know we need you now
We can't fight alone against the monster


(See it at YouTube

Reflections on a Golden Rule – and the Death of White Supremacy

As many of you know, I am blessed to come from the Muslim tradition of El Hajji Malik Shabazz -- still better known as Malcolm X -- and Muhammad Ali; as well as their teacher, who we still call the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, and his son who was eulogized as “America’s Imam” -- Wallace Deen Muhammad, the best follower I know of the Prophet Mohammed of Arabia, upon whom be Peace.

These are all outside-the-box personalities. By the time they were done, there was little left in us of any racial inferiority complex, and we needed Imam Mohammed and the Quran to balance out our superiority complex.

Our story, however, has all too often told by those motivated by fear.

When it has been recognized that there is no need to fear, the response has been to ignore, as in, “Nothing to see here. Move along, move along.”

Which brings me to reflect on my journey as a UU.

I’m happy to say it was not fear that prompted my first invitation to speak here -- at the request of Bob Ashmore, I think.

In fact, in those days most of my speaking engagements came in my role as news ombudsman for The Palm Beach Post.

I’ve done this many times since, at the request of Richard Lake and others, and Larry Stauber at least one time before this.

I think it also was Bob who years ago asked me to lead a Spring semester Teaching Thursdays class, on Islam. It was even better when he had me choose the specific focus.

I had long had in mind a series for non-Muslims on Chapter 12 of the Quran, named for Yusuf, or Joseph.

The idea appealed to me because the story of Joseph is familiar to Christians, Jews and others, and the Quranic narrative is exquisite,

So for nine weeks, I brought in all my own translations, ordered some additional copies, and we formed a reading circle, covering the beautiful story -- and any questions folks had in general. I invited fellow imams as guests. The response was great.

To show how UU clueless I was then, I asked our then UU minister, Pallas Stanford, to present on Joseph from a Christian perspective in one class -- because I had assumed UUs to be a Christian denomination.

No worries; Pallas did a wonderful job showing Donny Osmond’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and we enjoyed that too.

That was one of many programs our small New Africa of the Palm Beaches group hosted here.

One that brought particular joy was the panel of Muslim women of all ages, including my dear better half, Aneesha.

I still have photos somewhere of the UUs’ glowing smiles, and of Pallas and our Imam Jaabir Muhammad during the reception across the way.

But even when we hosted interfaith programs elsewhere – such as a community center in Riviera Beach, or Methodist church in West Palm Beach -- our UU supporters such as Ghassan and Mary Rubeiz and Bob and others have been there.

I remember Janet Fryman standing nearby following one program at the church when a woman came up to say we Muslims should stop worshipping Muhammad, and didn’t I know that all the “good” verses in the Quran had been abrogated by “bad” verses. Why am I still surprised when people try to tell me about my religion?

And although I am a  longtime member of the Muslim Community of Palm Beach County, I have no doubt that when we open a mosque closer to where we live, as we inevitably will, there will be UUs and myriad other friends present.

There goes that Golden Rule again, and there also is no question that I am a better Muslim for the many words of wisdom and love and wonderful spirit I have enjoyed here.

I recall after one Sunday sermon here, a UU friend complained privately to another and me that a self-professed atheist should have been allowed to speak.

But where else if not here, I asked, adding that I agreed with almost everything the speaker had said, except I too am obviously a deist.

I say all that to say that I have been welcomed in ways that remind me of another statement whose origin I don’t recall anymore:

That if those of us who were raised as Christians had been treated by most Christians the way Jesus -- peace be on him -- taught, we wouldn’t have felt a need look elsewhere, and thus revert to the faith of countless of our forebears who were snatched from Africa.

The same lack of dissonance that applies here, I share with the Focolare Movement, of which I also consider myself a member.

As many of you know, this is the Catholic lay movement of 2.5 million members in more than 180 countries, long led by the woman we still call the Blessed Lady Chiara Lubich.

You may have heard me refer to them as genuine Christians, as one Muslim brother once put it, due to their exemplary way of putting the Gospels into practice.

Some of you know local members such as Mercedes Mont, who is a regular at our annual Interfaith Picnic, and who has attended at least one program we organized here.

Other Focolare members were regulars at our annual Muslim Convention, as well as the mosques in our association, long before I had heard of their movement.

That is in large part because Lady Chiara and Imam Mohammed shared the same concept we do here, of focusing on universal principles -- not changing people’s cultures.

So to say that the Focolare also help make me a better Muslim is an understatement. Like many of my dear ones here, they are people who live the Golden Rule.

When they invited my wife and me and others to Italy for the occasional international meeting of Muslim friends of the Focolare, we were treated in spirit like royalty -- as they always do.

Last Saturday, my wife and I were together with Florida and Atlanta Focolare members at St. Mark Catholic Church down in Boynton Beach, for a daylong sharing of the ideal that universal fraternity -- G-d’s plan for humanity -- is not a dream.

A popular expression at our gatherings is “Jesus in the midst” -- which I understand as saying, from a Christian perspective, that “the Spirit of G-d” is present.

So I love it when we recognize there is “big Jesus in the midst.”

Now, if you do not yet hear in these reflections on the Golden Rule the death of white supremacy, perhaps I can help in another way

One reason I asked our outstanding Music Coordinator, Peilin, if she could incorporate Cat Stevens’ music today, is that I really, really wanted to hear her interpretations of it.

But another reason I want to highlight his music is to underscore how we too often put ourselves in a box.

Many of you know not only the beauty of his music -- witness the choir and all that snappy percussion on “Peace Train” -- but also his lyrics.

Many of you also know that in the wake of the trials that all too often befall a popular music star, Stevens adopted Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam and stopped playing his music.

It seems some “learned” folks had told him that music is unacceptable, if not forbidden, in Islam.

Now I’m no great Islamic scholar, but I am a student of someone who was: Imam W.D. Mohammed.

Our next Imams Leadership Meeting, in Orlando on Saturday, will include my colleagues  -- whom some of you have befriended at our picnics -- who indeed are Arabic scholars.

We span the nation. Another top scholar in Arabic, my good friend Imam Faheem Shuaibe, in Oakland, not only sees every movie worth seeing, but also breaks down their subliminal messages, from an Islamic perspective.

You can find him online at

My own Quranic Arabic is far from fluent. Yet I pray in it, read the Quran every morning, and for decades have been reading the entire Quran during our fasting month of Ramadan.

But while music is not part of formal Muslim worship services, to those who say music is haram, or forbidden, I say: Show me that in the book.

No, music is not haram. Haram music is haram. And anyone knows it when they hear it.

The good news is Yusuf Islam is back performing his classic Cat Stevens lyrics such as “Peace Train,” and “Where Do the Children Play,” and I couldn’t be happier  for him.

But these things shouldn’t get that complicated.

The Quran says it well: “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith.”

We here are evidence that one need not be Muslim to live that principle.

Of course, politics is part of popular culture too. So I hope you’ll indulge me as I go rogue a moment.

I’m a proud Democrat. So I naturally I’m not pleased with the outcome of the 2016 elections. OK, there’s another understatement.

Those of you who voted for the current occupant of the White House -- nah, I’m sure that’s no one in here -- let me change that:

Tell this to your friends, who voted for the C-O-W, the current occupant of the White House: Go home, look in the mirror, and tell yourself that you are surprised by the current state of the nation, because you didn’t know you were voting for a self-professed serial assaulter of women and exemplar of bigoted behavior.

Just don’t be surprised if the mirror hollers back: “You lie!”

And of course, I’m sure there are some good people on all sides.

To speak about labor, on this Labor Day weekend, it is worth noting that those votes for the COW not only ignored, but also dissed, the years of hard labor of the 95 percent of African-American women who voted for what would have been the first woman president.

It is worth noting too, on this Labor Day weekend, that those votes also dissed the sacrifices of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and countless others in and outside of the movement he led, in getting a president to finally say, “And we shall overcome!”

Same for those who thought they could afford to vote for the candidate who never was going to win, and now will be remembered as Bernie Nader.

One unquestionably serious leader, Frederick Douglass, was correct when he said that “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

I hesitate to invoke the term, “Speak truth to power,” because it has become almost cliché.

But that’s what the overwhelming number of white kids and others did in Charlottesville and Boston, in the face of the attempted rise of white supremacy.

(Which goes to show that not all unreconstructed southerners are from the South.)

It’s also worth remembering that it was mostly whites who lost their lives fighting to end slavery in the United States.

And closer to home, it was an overwhelmingly white crowd that showed up for the organizational meeting of the Palm Beach County chapter of Black Lives Matter, hosted here last month.

If Douglass was correct -- and of course he still is -- then it is clear that much of the lack of progress today is a result of the fact that not enough people are demanding it.

One place where that starts, is voting. If the so-called “Obama Coalition” had done so, we wouldn’t be talking about the current COW.

OK, getting off my political soapbox:

White supremacy didn’t just emerge after Charlottesville, or the current occupant of the White House.

Many of us have been acutely aware of its slow, agonizing death -- and the fact that its demise is picking up steam. The signs are clear. The current occupant of the White House is just one of the latest.

White supremacy is a symbol for those attitudes that stereotype people as “The Other” -- Mexican rapist; Muslim terrorist, the black drug dealer -- and then say: “We are willing to go not to our graves, but to yours, to keep you in your box where, by the way, we can exploit you, and other people around the planet, and pretend it’s not happening.”

But not only is it easy to put others in a box. It’s also easy to get ourselves in one, for example by choosing to believe in and follow that which is contrary to our own humanity, not to mention the humanity of others, rather than using our G-d given intellect.

Spiritually navigating this death of white supremacy means holding fast to what we know is good for all. Such as Universal Principles.

We have to be clear that we’re going for the gold, as in the Golden Rule.

No, I don’t mean, “Do unto others before they do unto you.” Not that one.

And we surely don’t mean, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.” That’s the current system. It ain’t working. Time out.

I’m talking about the goodness, the kindness, the mercy and love, to which our Creator has been calling us, throughout eternity, in every which way, including countless messages that are divinely inspired: whether the Psalms of David, the Buddhist and Hindu scriptures, in the Taurat, the Injil, and Quran.

White supremacy is back? No, it never went away.

They want their country back? Sorry. The majority of us ain’t going back.

Right?  Many of you surely sang that song: “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round.”

This journey through religious and spiritual messages is a reminder to myself first, and to all of you, that the creation is one, humanity is one.

Or Unitarian. And Universal.

Muslims say in the Arabic, “Allah u Akbar,” which is often translated “God is Great.”
I prefer the interpretation we received from Imam Mohammed: “God is Greater -- than anything we can imagine.”

But Muslims have another expression -- “Allah u Ahad” -- a simple expression that the Creator is One.

Or as our Focolare remind us from the scriptures: “May they all be one.”

And yes we are all different, and unique. Imam Muhammad reminded us that our diversity is to give wheels to the unity.

So, when will we see that unity fully manifested?

How long?

Not long.

But the reality of this universe requires changing the perspective too many of us have, that it all about what I want, when I want it.

As Muslims, we take instruction from the life example of the Prophet Mohammed, the prayers and peace be with him always.

His success didn’t happen overnight.

Neither did the success of his companions after him.
Neither did the corruption that followed them all -- just like every other major spiritual figure.

But consider: If this is still the dawning of the age of Aquarius, and if an age lasts a thousand years, or 50,000 years, as some scholars say, then I say we are barely past sunrise.

The sun doesn’t just jump up to high noon. It’s movement is almost imperceptible.

Yes morning has broken.

But we have to stop thinking that this is all about us. That it’s all supposed to happen in our lifetime.

Just ask the people in Texas.

In a beautiful revelation to the Prophet Mohammed (and we Muslims like to say prayers and peace on them whenever we mention G-d’s prophets) which is memorialized in the Quran, G-d tells him:

Whether we show you in your lifetime what we have promised the people, or we bring it about after we bring you home, know that the promise of G-d is true.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker is credited with that metaphor about historical progress, which was popularized by Dr. King and cited by former President Barack Obama.

In a book on freemasonry copyrighted in 1871, an unidentified author specifically said it this way:

We cannot understand the moral Universe. The arc is a long one, and our eyes reach but a little way; we cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; but we can divine it by conscience, and we surely know that it bends toward justice. Justice will not fail, though wickedness appears strong, and has on its side the armies and thrones of power, the riches and the glory of the world, and though poor men crouch down in despair. Justice will not fail and perish out from the world of men, nor will what is really wrong and contrary to God’s real law of justice continually endure.

Which brings us to the present moment, and what to do with it.

And for the sake of common ground, I again submit that a key is always the Golden Rule.

I admit I have to remind myself of that. Often.

As a Muslim I am thankful that Al-Islam, which translates best as “The Peace,” is pregnant with practices that provide excellent reminders.

We don’t have time to go in depth today about them all, such as charity, and fasting in Ramadan.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sheer bliss of being among the several million members of humanity who have completed their Hajj, or pilgrimage, to the ancient city Mecca.

As some of you know, that’s when I met my dear wife.

Even more fundamental is the simple act of prayer, to which Muslims are called five times a day.

It is Islam’s most identifiable practice, which means to me that one who gets off the floor, after indicating that they bow only to our Creator, and then proceeds to murder innocents, is a worse hypocrite than the one who commits racist murder while wearing a cross around his neck.

The signs and messages are there for those with ears to listen and eyes to see.

Sly and the Family may have said nailed it when they sang, “Sunday school don’t make you cool forever.”

James Brown echoed the Almighty when he sang, “I don’t care, about your past. I just want, our love to last.”

That’s the goal, to which the universe is calling us.

Let’s go.

Sermon by CB Hanif: Reflections on a Golden Rule – and the Death of White Supremacy, delivered at 1stUUPB September 3, 2017.

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 knees
for 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 rain
are 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 place in 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