Sunday, December 6, 2015

Big Strange Family

Brian Andreas is an artist who creates what he calls "Story People” – oddly shaped colorful humanoids who have something to say about nearly everything.  One of the Story People says:  “'I don’t think of working for world peace'”, he said.  'I think of it as just trying to get along in a really big strange family.'”

One of the reasons people like Andreas’ story people is that they break down what seem to be insurmountable tasks into manageable challenges.  World Peace, especially these days, seems an impossible goal.  My personal experience -- and maybe yours, too -- of maintaining something as simple as spending three days with your family at Thanksgiving is also fraught with landmines. Come to think of it, so is congregational life.

But our Sixth Principle affirms and promotes “The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.”   So as Unitarian Universalists we are called to keep working toward this goal, even though it often feels like being asked to believe in miracles.

Miracles are the reason for this season. Two of our sources – Judaism and Christianity – celebrate miracles during December.  And the earth-centered traditions emphasize the movement from darkness to light, a movement that in ancient times seemed miraculous.  These miracle stories didn’t happen on the global stage.  They happened in small kinship groups:  Family groups that may seem a little strange to other family or kinship groups. 

The Jewish sage, Martin Buber, wrote a parable about the modern world and the place of kinship. He said:

At the beginning of the modern world, at the time of the American and French revolutions, three ideals were said to walk hand in hand; liberty, equality, and what was then called ‘fraternity.’  Today we might call the last, more inclusively, the spirit of kinship.
In the course of revolutionary upheaval, however, the ideals separated.  Liberty went West, to America first of all.  But it changed its character along the way.  It became confused with mere freedom from restraint, freedom to exploit the land the exploit others.  Equality did not extend to Native Americans, African slaves. And women. 
Meanwhile, Equality went East.  Through more revolutions in Russia and China, however, it too changed character, and not for the better.  It because the equality of the gulag, of millions of people all waving the same “little Red Book.” 
The third element went into hiding.  Kinship, the sense that we are all sisters and brothers together, children of one great Mystery, was the linking ideal, the religious principle.  Yet modern intellectuals and revolutionaries scorned religion, so this idea took to hiding among communities of the powerless, where a sense of connectedness and kinship stronger than Western individualism, deeper than Eastern collectivism, survived.
The ideals behind the modern experiment cannot be fulfilled without the reemergence, in nonexclusive forms, of the religious spirit of kinship.  Early in the twentieth century, many people thought that religion would simply wither away.  This religious spirit has reappeared, however, in every powerful attempt to reunite the separated:  in efforts like those of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the West, to reunite to our vaunted liberties some equality, at least of opportunity; in Poland’s Solidarity movement, which began the effort to restore to socialist equality some degree of spiritual liberty.

The ideals behind the modern experiment cannot be fulfilled without the reemergence, in nonexclusive forms, of the religious spirit of kinship.  Nowhere is this notion of kinship – of connectedness -- more immediate to me than in the stories we hear in our religious communities, especially in the Jewish community.  And today, at sundown, marks the beginning of the Jewish celebration of Hannukah – a celebration of kinship and miracles.

Hannukah is a great example of that old real estate adage:  “location, location, location”.  As religious holidays go, it’s not very important.  But it’s location in time -- the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev  --  coincides with late November-late December.  That means it’s bumping up against Christmas.  Which brings us to another old adage – this time from the theater:  timing is everything.

So here we have a holiday from one of our Unitarian Universalist sources that has grown in cultural awareness all out of proportion to its place in Jewish history.  But here it is.  And fortunately the theme of Hannukah -- which means ‘dedication’ -- contributes to the general theme of light coming from darkness found in the celebration of Diwali, and Christmas and the winter solstice.  Kwanzaa, as long as we’re naming December holidays, celebrates family, community, and culture. December is all about stories of light and kinship.  Stories about hope and community.  Just remember that stories don’t necessarily need to have happened in order to be true. 

Here’s the story of Hanukkah:  In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus.  Then a year later the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods.  As you might imagine, this decree added insult to the injury of being overrun by foreign aggressors.  But even in this relatively small family of Jews there was dissent; some of the Jews wanted to yield to or embrace – I don’t know which -- Hellenism.  But you know families.  There’s always a faction who wants to keep the peace at any cost, so some yielded to the emperor’s pressure.

But others didn’t.  Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem. A Greek officer ordered Mattathias, a high priest, to bow down to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig -- both practices forbidden to Jews. But Mattathias refused.  Another villager -- one more amenable to Hellenistic customs --  stepped forward and offered to cooperate on Mattathias' behalf.  This so outraged Mattathias that he drew his sword and killed the villager, then turned on the Greek officer and killed him too. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked the remaining soldiers, killing all of them.  I would ask what part of Thou Shalt Not Kill this high priest didn’t understand, but that’s not part of the story.  I think we’ve all had times -- even in the best of families -- where enough is enough.  And at those times we do things we might not have done had we not been provoked beyond all reason.

Mattathias and his family went into hiding in the mountains, where other Jews wishing to fight against the Greeks joined them.  Under the leadership of Mattathias’ son, Judas, they eventually succeeded in retaking their land from the Greeks. These rebels became known as the Maccabees, which in Hebrew means ‘hammer’.  They went on to establish the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled Judea for 103 years, but that, too is another story.

Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem.  What they found was their sacred place filled with the leavings of pig sacrifices and Greek idols.  It sounded like what you might find after a really rowdy New Years Eve party.  The first order of business was to clean up the mess in order to restore the temple’s purity.  The purification took eight days.  So eight days worth of oil were needed to complete the ritual.  According to Rabbinic tradition, the victorious Maccabees could only find a small jug of oil that had remained uncontaminated because it was sealed.  This small jug of oil contained only enough oil to sustain the Menorah for one day.   They lit the menorah anyway and miraculously the oil lasted for eight full days.  Remember, stories don’t need to have happened in order to be true.

This miracle -- the miracle of the Hanukkah oil -- is celebrated every year when Jews light a special menorah known as a hanukkiyah, a candelabrum with eight candleholders in a row.  For eight consecutive days, a candle is lit, and the hanukkiiyah is placed in a window, where passersby are reminded of this miracle. Lighting of the hanukkiyah is one of three almost universally practiced traditions of Hanukkah.

The second one is a game of spinning the dreidel, a four-sided top with one Hebrew letter written on each side.   The letters stand for the saying, Nes gadol haya sham, meaning A Great Miracle Occurred There.  (In Israel, instead of the fourth letter shin, there is a peh, which means the saying is Nes gadol haya po--A Great Miracle Occurred Here.)   Any number of people can take part in this game, and it’s way easier than mah jongg!  In it’s simplest form, each player begins with an equal number of game pieces (usually 10–15). The game pieces can be any object, such as gold-wrapped chocolate coins called gelt, pennies, or raisins.

At the beginning of each round, every participant puts one game piece into the center "pot". Every player puts one in the pot after every turn. Each player spins the dreidel once during their turn. Depending on which player side is facing up when it stops spinning, they give or take game pieces from the pot:
a) If the N (nes) is facing up, the player does nothing.
b) If G (gadol) is facing up, the player gets everything in the pot.
c) If H (haya) is facing up, the player gets half of the pieces in the pot. (If there are an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes the half the pot rounded up to the nearest whole number)
d) If S (sham) is facing up, the player adds a game piece to the pot
If the player is out of pieces, they are either "out" or may ask another player for a "loan".

The third Hanukkah tradition is eating fried foods -- remember this holiday is all about oil!  Latkes -- pancakes made from potatoes and onions and served with applesauce -- are a favorite.  This is a great way to re-purpose the left over mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving.  Another traditional food is sufganiyot -- jelly-filled donuts.  I don’t know if there are latkes awaiting in Ministers Hall after the service today, but you’ll find a version of sufganiyot at the Dunkin Donuts nearest you.

Because Hanukkah has become so intertwined with Christmas, there is more awareness of the Jewish traditions.  This recognition reinforces the pride of belonging to the kinship group -- the Big Strange Family -- that is Judaism.  It is a wonderful thing to be proud of your kinship group; I find myself having to reign myself in when talking about the loving, caring community that is Unitarian Universalism.  The challenge is to foster that pride in your particular affinity group -- your own community -- without denigrating someone else’s affinity group.
December is a month in which different holidays are marked and celebrated by our human family and some of the celebrations may look a little strange.  But holidays -- holy days in the Old English -- are nothing if not relational.  And that is why they are so bittersweet.    Our efforts to ‘get along’ in our families -- both our biological and our affinity groups -- are not always successful.  Many of us are distanced -- geographically and emotionally -- from our kin.  This lack of connection results by an overindulgence in STUFF as a substitute for an underindulgence in relationships.

The task of the religious community is to reverse that impulse:  to overindulge in establishing and maintaining relationships.  You are doing that now, as you open yourselves into relationship with the local Islamic Mosque.  The task of the religious community is to balance the concepts of liberty and equality.  We do this by practicing the non-exclusive form of the religious spirit of kinship that is Unitarian Universalism.   If we can learn to accept the diversity, which is sometimes thought of as strangeness, of our own family members, perhaps we can then begin to build bridges to other kinship groups.  And perhaps in time we truly will realize the goal of a world community -- a big, strange family -- at peace.  May it be so.  Shalom and Happy Hanukkah.

Big Strange Family, a sermon delivered by the Rev. Janet Onnie at 1stUUPB, Dec 6, 2015.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We Give Thanks

Buddhist Cynthia Ozick asks, How often do you pause to appreciate what you have in life?”  She says, “When I was young, I took things for granted. After all, we were young and we didn’t know what life could be like on the other side.  One thing we took for granted was education. In my country, it’s compulsory for all kids to go to school, so it was a given. We never thought about how lucky we were to be educated.  Then slowly as I grew up, I began to appreciate things around me more. As I saw more and more of the world out there, I realized all the things I’d been given are not rights, but privileges. I realized that being literate is a not a right, but a gift. I realized there is a lot of war and violence in the world. I realized there are people out there who don’t have their five senses, and to have mine is a gift.  I realized the world is so beautiful, and we’re lucky to live in such an amazing world.  Sometimes it’s easy to feel bad because you’re going through a tough time in life. However, remember that no matter how bad your situation may seem, there are tens of thousands of things to be grateful for in life.

While preparing the sermon for this morning I paused.  I wondered how I would work giving thanks into a message that is shadowed by violence, bad government, the homeless families I met on Thursday, the people at the food bank who continue to scratch a life together, refugees, murdered black Americans, and all the “isms” in the world especially the ism du jour which is the systematic hatred of Muslims. I researched more and found the words of Cynthia Ozick and it struck me, it is because of all that is happening around us that is distanced from many of us that we should give thanks.

We should give thanks that we are able to gather this morning.  Our congregation in Burundi was ransacked, shot at, and their Unitarian minister was kidnapped and imprisoned.  The Unitarians there are seen as a threat to the opposition in power.  The minister will likely be killed and never see his wife and son again. They are in Maine seeking asylum.

We should give thanks that we are not walking in the heat, starving, carrying our possessions and children, or perhaps leaving those we love behind, both dead and alive.  We should give thanks because we will return to a home after this service, we will be offered a meal after this service, we will be accepted no matter the color of our skin in this community.  We indeed do give thanks.

I don’t think we can stop there.  I believe being grateful goes beyond giving thanks for what we have in this moment.  Being grateful and giving thanks is a way of life -- and man is it hard to live this way.  I was at a dinner party Friday night and experienced this sort of giving thanks and gratefulness.  I, and others, plunked down and immediately started discussing what was wrong in our world and local politics.  Our hostess sauntered over to our group and reminded us that there are other sides of the stories we were telling and began to share those stories with us.  It changed the direction our train of despair was heading.  In a flash I was able to feel grateful and able to give thanks.

Later, I thought in order for us to survive and not succumb to despair we needed to intentionally live and think in ways that will save us. I also thought hey, we are Unitarian Universalists, it’s what we do.  Anyone or any group creating change first needs to identify the problems, right?  It’s inevitable, but you can’t live there.  That is, you can’t leave your spirit in those places.  If you make what’s wrong a way of living, you will become the miserable, lethargic, sarcastic being that people are probably already calling you.  Surely you want to prove them wrong!  Your spirit and attitude become stuck and eventually catatonic.  That doesn’t mean we become na├»ve, uninformed, or live in denial.  It means we need to recognize that we live in a world that will break us if we do not intentionally practice giving thanks.  We can visit those dark places but we should not build our houses there.

Gratitude means thankfulness, counting your blessings, noticing simple pleasures, and acknowledging everything that you receive. It means learning to live your life as if everything were a miracle, and being aware on a continuous basis of how much you’ve been given. Gratitude shifts your focus from what your life lacks to the abundance that is already present. In addition, behavioral and psychological research has shown the surprising life improvements that can stem from the practice of gratitude. Giving thanks makes people happier and more resilient, it strengthens relationships, it improves health, and it reduces stress.

Two psychologists, Michael McCollough of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and Robert Emmons of the University of California at Davis, wrote an article about an experiment they conducted on gratitude and its impact on well-being. The study split several hundred people into three different groups and all of the participants were asked to keep daily diaries. The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day without being told specifically to write about either good or bad things; the second group was told to record their unpleasant experiences; and the last group was instructed to make a daily list of things for which they were grateful. The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy. In addition, those in the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, were more likely to help others, exercised more regularly, and made greater progress toward achieving personal goals.

One of the things such studies show is that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25%. That's significant, among other things, because just as there’s a certain weight that feels natural to your body and which your body strives to maintain, your basic level of happiness is set at a predetermined point. If something bad happens to you during the day, your happiness can drop momentarily, but then it returns to its natural set-point. Likewise, if something positive happens to you, your level of happiness rises, and then it returns once again to your “happiness set-point”. A practice of gratitude raises your “happiness set-point” so you can remain at a higher level of happiness regardless of outside circumstances.  In addition, Dr. Emmons’ research shows that those who practice gratitude tend to be more creative, bounce back more quickly from adversity, have a stronger immune system, and have stronger social relationships than those who don’t practice gratitude. He further points out that “To say we feel grateful is not to say that everything in our lives is necessarily great. It just means we are aware of our blessings.”

We tend to take for granted the good that is already present in our lives. There’s a gratitude exercise that instructs that you should imagine losing some of the things that you take for granted, such as your home, your ability to see or hear, loved ones or anything that currently gives you comfort. Read a newspaper if you’re struggling to imagine losing something.  Then imagine getting each of these things back, one by one, and consider how grateful you would be for each and every one.

We need to find joy in the small things instead of holding out for big triumphs before allowing ourselves to feel gratitude and joy.  Another way to use giving thanks to appreciate life more fully is to use gratitude to help you put things in their proper perspective. When things don’t go your way, remember that every difficulty carries within it the seeds of an equal or greater benefit. In the face of adversity ask yourself: “What’s good about this?”, “What can I learn from this?”, and “How can I benefit from this?”  Not unlike the hostess of the dinner party I mentioned.

Pastor Eddie Lawrence shares with us two big reasons that we need to give thanks.  The first is because we can’t be peaceful if we are not being thankful. Peace and ingratitude cannot sleep in the same bed together, nor do they fellowship in the same person. There is something about the nature of ingratitude that keeps us from being filled with the peace. He writes, “We are told that peace is to rule in our hearts. The word 'rule' in this verse means to serve as an umpire. We cannot release peace to ourselves and others when we are living out of bounds. And the land of ingratitude is definitely outside the boundaries. There are no benefits that come with ingratitude.”

Ask yourself, Do you enjoy hanging out with someone who is always demonstrating how ungrateful they are? They are always negative? Always pointing out what is wrong with everyone else but never see it in their own lives? I would venture to say that none of us here would deliberately choose such a person for our friend. Neither does peace.  If you think about it, when we are being ungrateful, it is a sure sign that we are not at peace with our place in the world.

The second reason is that you can’t be in unity if you are not giving thanks.  As I just mentioned, we find it difficult walking in unity with people who are ungrateful. How can thankful people and unthankful people really walk in unity?  Pastor Lawrence tells us that we have two choices:  “We will live with one of two orientations in our lives: We will be focusing on goodness and blessings, or, we will be constantly complaining about what has not yet happened, or what others are not doing, or what the government is not doing, and on and on it goes. And most people who live this way, seldom see their own irresponsibility or need to change.”

Being unthankful leads us into foolishness and darkness. If we are not a thankful people, we are a foolish people. If we are not a thankful people, we are not choosing light but darkness.
Ingratitude indicates that some darkness has taken root in our hearts and leading us into foolish thinking and living.  There are so many gifts in life, which we perhaps can recognize if we take some time. Let us give our thanks in ways that are true and right for us. May we remember to look for reasons both great and small for giving thanks, and may doing so increase our happiness. Perhaps this is what it means to say, Happy Thanksgiving.

May it be so.

We Give Thanks, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB on Nov 22, 2015.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Welcome. Bring a Friend Sunday

You may be a Unitarian Universalist if…
…you think socks are too formal for a summer service.
…even your goldfish gets to vote on family TV viewing choices.
…you consider Charlie Brown & Dilbert to be spiritual leaders.
…you know at least 5 ways to say Happy holidays!
…your Christmas tree has 7 symbols on its top.
…unleavened bread is part of your Easter Brunch.
…you find yourself lighting a chalice before brushing your teeth.
…if when you watch Jaws you root for the shark. ("Hey, sharks have to eat too!")
…belly-dancing has ever been part of a Sunday service.
…on Halloween you explain to everyone the Pagan significance of their costumes.
…you consider Groucho, Harpo & Chico to be the "Holy Trinity."
…the "X-Files" is a regular source of your church's sermons.
…you consider Millard Fillmore one of the greatest U.S. Presidents. (He was a Unitarian).
…you think "Whatever" is a valid theological point

In the book Our Chosen Faith UU layperson Betty Mills describes Unitarian Universalists.  She says, Who are these UU's, standing around the coffee table on Sunday mornings, discussing last night's movie and next Fall's election; reviewing the morning's sermon, designing tomorrow's educations, storming over next century's oceans? [They are] Joyful celebrants of the gift of life, mixing nonsense with the quest of the ages, turning secular need into concerned action, serving wine on the lawn and petitions in the foyer!

You might imagine that I get asked what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.  I know you do as well. Often, I have used others' words, like the ones that come to me in email or on Facebook, to describe it. Other times, I have used songs, like Iris DeMent's marvelous reminder to "let the mystery be." But most of the time, I, like you, have had to struggle to come up with my own words to describe this faith, and I can assure you it hasn't always been easy.  Unitarian Universalism is a different kind of religion, and how we talk about it will thus reflect these differences. This morning I hope to share with you some ideas that have emerged for me, ideas which have helped me to better share my religion with others.

We’ve asked you to bring friends to join us in our morning service. While these "Bring-a-Friend Sundays" are quite common in UU churches, they can still cause dread in the hearts of many. Despite the fact that over and over again we hear people tell us, "I sure wish I'd learned about UUism sooner," many of us are reluctant to tell people about our church. Yet churches grow most (and best) when people bring their friends. But how to talk to our friends about UUism can be daunting. Hence this sermon, which I hope will help.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, you, or someone like you started coming to church. Perhaps you had been away from church for a long time. Perhaps you found yourself hungry for some unnamed something that was missing in your life. Perhaps your child began asking questions you couldn't answer without the answer sticking in your throat.  Perhaps you went back to the church of your childhood but found that you no longer belonged there. Searching for a place to belong, you made your way to a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Perhaps this one, perhaps another. Entering into this place, or one like it, perhaps you found yourself feeling peculiarly comfortable, energized by the ideas, warmed by the hearts of the people around you, encouraged by the commitment you saw to values not unlike your own. Perhaps you even felt like you had "come home" and began coming regularly and getting involved.

Now our story heads toward its critical moment. One day, at your office, or at a dinner party, or at coffee with friends, it slips out that after all these years, you are going back to church. One of your friends or co-workers asks you, "I don't know much about Unitarian Universalism. What is it you believe?" The fateful question has come. You may stumble, blush, stammer out a few words about what you don't believe. Make a joke or two about it. Then you may give up. Your friends give you a look that makes you feel two feet tall. And you come back to this church you find so meaningful, hoping someone like me will help you come up with a better answer that you can give the next time.

Does that story sound familiar? If it doesn't yet, I imagine that you will find yourself in such a position at some time. Unitarian Universalism is a difficult religion to explain if you approach it from the same perspective as traditional religions.

I, too, have struggled with language to describe the deeply felt convictions I hold in my heart.

 I, too, have been known to tell others first what I don't believe, instead of focusing on the positive aspects of my religion.
I, too, have felt that awkwardness when faced with someone proclaiming firm convictions of the conservative or fundamentalist variety, who cannot understand my faith that is filled with ambiguity and diversity.

I imagine that an evolving faith, as ours is and I trust always will be, brings with it the possibility of faltering words, changing viewpoints, open-ended questions and answers. The challenge before us is to creatively find a means to capture our religious values and beliefs in words and symbols that others (and we) can understand.  One way you can begin thinking about this is related to belief.

Most people, including many of us, I expect, equate religion with belief. That's not unusual. Many religious traditions are based on belief:
belief in a particular kind of deity;
belief in a ritual, such as baptism, as a means for salvation;
belief in a book or books as the only word of God;
belief in a creed that specifies exactly what you must assert as true in order to belong or be saved…

Beliefs are important, and all of us have beliefs that we hold dear and that help us live our lives. But belief is not the collective identity of what our religion is about.

The root of the word religion comes from the same root that gives us the word "ligament." What's a ligament? It's the part of our body that ties our muscles to our bones. So what's a religion? It's that which ties us together. Religion is not a word that equates necessarily with belief. Rather it means something more like "that which binds us together."  For some religious people, beliefs are what bind them together.

But for Unitarian Universalists, what binds us together is not belief but rather our perspective, or our attitude toward life. Where others see their religion as based on a particular set of beliefs, our religion begins with a set of affirmations about life, about the universe, about humankind. Our principles and sources state these affirmations quite beautifully. Unitarian Universalism begins with the deep seated conviction that human life is valuable.

We do not set people apart into groups of saved and unsaved, but rather affirm the dignity and worth of all people.  With this perspective, we are compelled to treat others with compassion and to work for justice for all people. With this world view we cannot easily dismiss the "other" as less than human, and are thus challenged to live with others in peace and as much harmony as we can muster.  And our principles remind us that we see the world as interconnected. The earth, the stars, the universe are not separate from us, they are us. As seekers of truth, we have let the wisdom of scientists and philosophers teach us the deep reality of existence that we, and all living creatures, even inanimate life, are made of the same stuff. We are indeed the stuff of stars, and our religion honors that interconnectedness.  This perspective, from which our religion finds its source, is simple yet also complex. Let me take a few moments to dig a bit deeper, and offer you three responses you might give to your friends, after you say, "I'm a Unitarian Universalist."

The first question your friend might ask you is, "What Bible or religious text do you believe in?" This question has to do with the source of our religious faith. We list six of these sources alongside the principles, because they are enormously helpful in reminding ourselves of the depth and breadth of our religious tradition. These sources include scripture, but they also include our own experience and the experience of others as a guide to truth. One hymn-writer over a century ago perhaps said it best when he wrote: Revelation is not sealed; answering now to our endeavor, truth and right are still revealed. (SLT #190)

"Truth and right are still revealed." In other words, while what others have written and said over generations is important and may be valid to our current understanding, there is always more to learn. And what we are learning may take the form of revelation in the most spiritual meaning of that term.

When your friend asks you about Unitarian Universalism, perhaps you might say this. For us, when it comes to religion, the book is open. As an evolving species on an evolving earth, we are committed, as religious people, to continue learning, to continue seeking, and to accept new revelation that is bound to come. We find revelation in books, in people, even in photographs, for the holy can touch our spirits in ways we may never have dreamed.
The next question we are asked may sound something like this: "I understand UUs can believe anything they want. Is that true?" That question, believe it or not, has to do with heresy. I love telling people that I am proud to be a heretic, though it has been known to take a few by surprise. Heresy, in many people's minds, conjures pictures of those who would not accept orthodoxy and tradition. Well, we certainly fit historically into that category. Our spiritual ancestors were those who questioned, who challenged, who listened first to the inner voice within calling them to what they saw to be the truth.

That image of heresy is important, and I challenge you to learn more about the many heretics who make up our religious history. Today, however, I want you to think of heresy in this way. The word "heresy" derives from a Greek word that means "able to choose." "Able to choose" is a very important aspect of our faith. If we operate out of the assumption that revelation is not sealed, then we have the possibility and the responsibility to choose our religious beliefs as they are revealed to us. Yes, people say of us that we can believe anything we want, but that's not true.

Unitarian Universalists believe what we have to believe, what our senses, our learning, our earth, our communities and our wise people teach us we must believe. We could choose to believe the earth is flat, but that would be against what we have learned to be true. So we choose instead to believe what we know to be true: that the earth is round and that we are a part of its life.

So when your companion over coffee asks you that difficult question, another response could be: We espouse a religion that honors our responsibility and capabilities to choose. Because we know that others, too, must do their own choosing, we value diversity and try to embody a loving acceptance of life's differences. We take responsibility for our religious choices and change them if new knowledge or understanding deem it appropriate. We are heretics, yes, but heretics who believe that the holy is found not in conformity, but in the wide diversity that makes life and our living it so wonderful and rich.

Your friend is not quite satisfied, and asks further: "If your church affirms that revelation can come from many sources, and that you must responsibly choose what you will believe, what holds you together? Do you have a basic belief that undergirds your religious life?" That's a very important question, but one that has, I believe, a simple answer.  Unitarian Universalism is built on a foundation that can be stated like this: We believe and live as if life, indeed all existence, matters. As living creatures, we have been blessed with the greatest gift of all. We did not ask for it, we do not deserve it, yet it is ours to make something with. Life matters not because people alone matter, it matters for itself alone. And because it matters, we find ourselves living life in a way that enables us to make the most of this great gift.
We do that by learning, by choosing, and by giving thanks.
We do it by recognizing that our lives, while valuable, are no more or less valuable than the life of any other person.
We do it by honoring the life of our mother earth, not just human life.
We do it by truly living in this world.

While we may have varying opinions about the possibility of life beyond death, our faith teaches us that it is in this life that we can make a difference.  The price tag for that great gift of life is death. Forrester Church, one of our most thoughtful Unitarian Universalist ministers, reminds us that religion is our response to the dual reality of being born and having to die. Throughout our lives we will struggle to understand the meaning of both. But if we live as if life matters we can face death with the certainty that while we lived we did the best we could. And then we can "let the mystery be" about what comes next. 

Unitarian Universalism is a faith that for many of us uplifts and sustains us through the fullness of our lives. It is my hope that you will find acceptance in this place; that you will feel encouraged to listen to what your heart is teaching you; that you will feel challenged to accept the choices you must make along your journey through life; and that you will feel blessed by the gift of life, and live your life alongside others as if they and you, and the whole of creation matter.  Let us give thanks and praise for the faith which has sustained our ancestors and which sustains us today. May we reach out to each other in fellowship and love, even as we let the mystery be what it will be. And may this circle of kinship open to include all those who seek to celebrate the spirit of life, and live as if it really matters. Because it does.

May it be so.

Welcome. Bring a Friend Sunday, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, Nov 15, 2015.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Process of Becoming

Part of the process of becoming a Unitarian Universalist minister is that you need to complete an internship in a congregation supervised by a minister.  I completed a two year internship in a congregation in Massachusetts.  I am still in relationship with many of the congregants.  The first time I met with my supervising minister was the day after I preached my first sermon for that congregation. He handed me the copy of the sermon I gave him with lots of notes in red ink.  He ripped it apart, told me he hated it, and that it had no worth.  He then told me that he had all the power in our relationship because he would be writing my evaluations. I was so disappointed and left his office feeling like I had failed and questioning whether or not I wanted to continue my ministerial formation process. I sat in my car in the church parking lot crying.  I was humiliated but even worse I thought that to be a minister I was to become like my supervising minister. I believed that that was what ministers needed to be and I knew I couldn’t become such a minister.

I did continue with the internship.  My ministry flourished and I was in deep and meaningful relationships with the congregation and staff.  My resilience coupled with the epiphany that I didn’t need to become that type of minister.  I needed to find my own voice and develop my own ministry.  Once I realized that, my process of becoming led me to unearth things I never knew about myself such as my craving for transparency and authenticity.  I frequently tell you that I am an open book. That hasn’t always been the case.  Because of my difficult early childhood I denied and hid parts of myself in shame.  Once I entered the ministry I knew I could not be in authentic relationship with a congregation without claiming my past and deciding how it had shaped me in my process of becoming.

May Sarton wrote:  Now I become myself. It's taken time, many years and places. I have been dissolved and shaken, Worn other people's faces. . . .

Which of us has not worn, or tried to wear, other people's faces?  To fit some mold because we admire it, or our parents urged it on us; because we just don't think much of ourselves as we are, or want to make ourselves more acceptable in the world; perhaps to take on work and people that don’t really suit us.  There are many reasons, and we may not realize we're distorting our real selves until we've been at it awhile.  But eventually we begin to feel the pain of wearing shoes that do not fit.  We hurt.  Becoming more fully ourselves includes the space we make in our lives for friends and for family, for spouse and for children.  It includes the life of our minds and our hearts, our hobbies and our inner lives, and the causes to which we give ourselves. 

And so, whether we’re just starting out in life, or living in retirement, we do well to listen to the calling of our hearts, to our vocation. When I speak of vocation, I'm speaking of the whole of our lives.  I’m speaking of the choices we make about all these things, from childhood to the last days of our lives, as we are dissolved and shaken and, in the end, become more fully ourselves.  I’m speaking about the lifelong process of becoming the whole becoming who we are called to be..  Writer Gregg Levoy recalls the story of Jonah. He tells us that Jonah was running from his calling to become – a call that rocks the boat. And so it is.  It’s uncomfortable.  Very often, like Jonah, we run from it, sometimes again and again.  But if it’s an authentic calling, it keeps coming back.  It won’t leave us alone.  We turn this way, or that, trying to still the rocking of the boat.  But it won’t go away.  In Levoy’s words, “Being unwilling to bear the hurly-burly of faithfulness to our call, we court disaster -- Latin for "against one's stars" – and we end up agitated anyway.  Although we have the choice not to follow a call, if we do not do so, the Sufi poet Kabir said, our lives will be infected with a kind of "weird failure."  We'll feel alienated from ourselves . . . and fitful with boredom, the common cold of the soul. . . .”   The calls we will not name or follow coalesce into entities that will attempt to tunnel their way into consciousness using any rough tool at hand to remind us of their imperatives, and they will do so through the logic of pain.  As an old Roman saying goes: The fates will lead those who will.  Those who won't they drag.

Understanding ourselves is not easy. Recalling a time when he was in residence at the Quaker community of Pendle Hill, Parker Palmer decided after a decade of conscious vocational search, to convene what Quakers call a "clearness committee" to help him decide whether to accept an invitation to become the president of a small college.  Tell us what attracts you most about it, he was asked.  But all his answers seemed to focus on what he did not like – fund-raising, the politics, giving up his summer vacations, even wearing a suit.  When someone repeated the question, he heard himself saying that, well, he guessed he'd like seeing his picture in the paper with the word "president" under it.  Awkward pause.  Then someone said, "Parker, can you think of an easier way to get your picture in the paper?"  He didn't take the job.

It isn’t easy, because our rational selves can go only so far in understanding hopes and fears and desires that mostly lie deep in the subconscious.  To listen to our hearts, we have to go below the level of the intellect, and beyond the issues of money and status which dominate the culture we live in.   We have to recognize that the “good life" we long for is not just about our standard of living, but our standard of life.  It's about finding wholeness.  It's about becoming who we really are, as we match our deepest longings with "the world's deep hunger." It's in this matching that we find meaning and satisfaction, and what has traditionally been called "vocation," that is, a life that calls to us.

Vocation, Palmer reminds us, is not an act of the will. It's about listening – listening to ourselves.  It's a spiritual journey.  The great religions teach that the spiritual journey is one of growing in awareness.  But it's more than simply living in the moment.  It's about opening all our senses to what's happening both within us and around us in that moment, and to our reactions to it.  It draws alike on intellect and feeling, head and heart.   

Sometimes, when we begin to look within, the chaos that bubbles up can be frightening, as with memories of painful childhood experiences, or abusive ones.  And so we may also benefit from experienced guidance on the journey – mentors, therapists, pastors, doctors; or sometimes just the presence of other seekers in a group we trust -- small groups in safe settings within this Congregation, like Small Group Ministry, the Men’s Group, and others. Or just one-on-one conversations with trusted friends or others who have been through what we are going through.   For me, a holistic approach to religion must embrace both the journey inward of self-awareness, and the journey outward into the world of justice-making and human service.

Without the journey outward, the journey inward by itself can become narcissistic.  Without the journey inward, the outer journey by itself may lead us into burnout, and worse, we may find we are following only the call of ego or guilt, serving our own need more than the world's.   Interwoven, these two journeys can make our lives whole.  The great test comes as years later we look back on our lives.  Have we found the place where the deepest longing of our souls has met the world's greatest hunger?  Have we found not just a living, but a life? 

In the great body of Hasidic wisdom, there's a much-told story about Rabbi Zusya.  Toward the end of his long life, he is said to have declared that "In the coming world, they will not ask me: 'Why were you not Moses?'  They will ask me: 'Why were you not Zusya?'"  How will we answer when our time comes?

Each of us is in the process of becoming – of becoming a person, a more complete or whole person, an authentic person; each of us is in the process of creating a life by what we do and say every day, by what we think and feel moment to moment, by the ways in which we respond to the unexpected, unanticipated and sometimes painful or challenging events of our lives – the way we respond to disappointments or disagreements.  Our ancestors invented various religions as a response to a basic human need in us, the need to make sense out of the experience of being a separate individual, knowing that our individual life is limited and feeling a need to find a sense of meaning, purpose and direction in this life.

You will find that this Congregation is a great source of comfort in finding meaning and purpose.  To me, Unitarian Universalism, in its basic sense, is the lifelong process of making connections with other people, and re-connecting with an ever-changing, aging, failing-and-succeeding self, and a sense of connecting with the natural world of which we are a part.  You join a congregation in order to support it and to feel supported in your own life journey.  Let us continually engage the process of becoming so that we and those we share the journey with clearly see our true selves.  Let us be ever reminded that together we are one.

May it be so.

The Process of Becoming, a sermon delivered by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, Nov 8, 2015.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

UU Principles and the UN at 70

A preacher friend once gave me advice about preparing a sermon.  He said that a sermon should consist of three parts:  First, tell them what you’re going to tell them.  Second, tell them.  And third, tell them what you told them.

So, first, what am I going to tell you?  I’m going to address some widespread myths about the United Nations and then I’m going to talk about how many of the UN’s objectives and activities are consistent with several of our Unitarian Universalist principles.

Why am I doing this now?  Why today?  Yesterday was the UN’s 70th birthday -- the 70th anniversary of the date in 1945 on which a sufficient number of nations had ratified the UN Charter to bring the UN into existence.  Many churches, schools, and organizations around the country are this week focusing on the UN system from their pulpits and in their meetings and classrooms.  So today is a 70th birthday party.  It is worth noting that the UN has existed almost three times the 26 year existence of its predecessor, the League of Nations.

Second, now that I’ve told you what I’m going to tell you, I’m going to tell you.

First, some myths.

Myth 1:  The United Nations acts as a single entity.  We are often told that “The UN did this … or the UN did that.”  Not true. That is too simple. The UN does not act as a single unit.

In assessing the United Nations, it is important to look at the institution as a system -- a system composed of six principal organs and dozens of subordinate organizations. While the media focuses its attention on two organs -- the Security Council and the General Assembly -- dozens of other agencies and organizations make up the UN system:  the International Court of Justice, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon who was just in the Middle East to address the violence connected with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the World Health Organization which has dealt with the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the UN Children’s Fund, the UN Commissioner for Refugees who is dealing with the massive migrations in northern Africa and Eastern Europe, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Universal Postal Union, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and many others. 

In fact, it is the activities of these other bodies that constitute the largest share of UN expenditures, that employ the greatest number of UN professionals, and that perform most of the work of the UN system.  So the UN does not act as a single entity.

Myth 2:  The UN agencies and organizations have their own independent power and act on their own.  Not true.  There are 193 member nation-states in the United Nations -- virtually every nation-state in the world.  Today’s UN is almost four times larger than the 51 states that were original members in 1945.  The various UN bodies are made up of or are controlled by the 193 member states.  UN bodies don’t act unilaterally -- they act at the will of the member states.  They do not have independent powers.  In most cases they can only recommend, not require.  They operate on the basis of one state-one vote. UN bodies are only as strong or as weak as their member states allow them to be.  If you think that getting agreement in a committee of UUs is difficult, think about getting 50 or 100 or 193 countries to agree on something.

Myth 3:  The UN makes international law that binds the United States and other states.  Not true.  Most international law is made by states in the form of treaties.  And in virtually all cases, states are not bound by treaties to which they are not a party.  Various organs of the UN often propose treaties -- like the Law of the Sea Treaty which was the result of several international conferences over many years -- but unless a state ratifies that treaty (which the US has not) it is not bound by the treaty.

Myth 4:  The UN makes decisions about the use of military force that override our Constitution and commit the United States to enforcement actions.  Not true.

The General Assembly and other UN bodies can only make “recommendations” for voluntary compliance.  The UN Security Council is the only UN body that can make binding “decisions” on enforcement actions. Member states are required by the Charter to “accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.”  But the United States is one of the five members of the 15 member Security Council that has a veto -- it can be a 14-1 vote in favor of taking action, but if the United States is the “no vote” no action can be taken.  We have a “veto” over enforcement actions by the UN Security Council.  So there is no violation of US “sovereignty” by the UN.
Myth 5:  The UN spends an exorbitant amount of money, largely from the United States. Not true.

Total UN system expenditures are running about $30 billion per year.  That is less than 40% of Florida’s current budget of $78 billion.

Of that $30 billion about $23 billion (or 77%) goes to economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian activities of the UN system.

The US contribution to all UN operations accounts for slightly over 20% of UN expenses or about $22/yr/US citizen for an annual total cost to the US of about $6-7 billion.

In many cases these are operations that, if the UN didn’t undertake them, the US might consider it to be in our national interest to do it ourselves.  Since the US contribution is only 20-25% of the cost, it means that other countries are contributing 75-80% of the cost that we would likely pay 100% of if it were not for the UN.

For us here in the United States, we need to recognize that the UN system does a lot of things that the US would otherwise want to do or would feel obligated to do.  By getting other nations to contribute, it is less costly for us. 

So much for a few myths.

Now I want to suggest that the purposes and activities of the UN system are compatible with the Unitarian Universalist principles. 

You have an insert in your service program this morning -- with the UU principles on one side and some excerpts from the UN Charter on the other.

I would highlight four of these principles that I find very compatible with and supportive of the purposes and activities of the United Nations system -- principles 1, 2, 6, and 7

1 - the inherent worth and dignity of every person

2 - justice, equity, and compassion in human relations

6 - the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all

7- respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part

On the other side of your insert is the Charter of the United Nations. The Charter of the United Nations is the Constitution of the UN system.

The Preamble to the UN Charter reads:  “We the Peoples of the United Nations Determined

- to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war

- to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women…

- to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

And for these ends

- to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors

- to employ international machinery for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples

Article 1 of the Charter states the four Purposes of the United Nations:

1. to maintain international peace and security

2. to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples…

3. to achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion [remember this was 1945 -- 70 years ago -- years before we here in the United States had taken steps to implement equality of race, sex, or religion],

4. to be a center for harmonizing the actions of nations in the achievement of these common ends.

If we were to take a quick survey of UN system activities that are compatible with UU principles we would include:

- The World Food Program, one the most successful of UN programs, annually feeds 104 million people in 80 countries.  The International Fund for Agricultural Development has provided micro-credit that has benefited over 230 million people in nearly 100 developing countries.

- the UN High Commissioner on Refugees since 1949 has helped over 30 million asylum-seekers and refugees -- we are seeing this currently as millions are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

- UNICEF, the UN Children’s Fund, works to protect the rights of children and to enhance their living standards -- many religious and civic organizations here in the United States solicit contributions to UNICEF

- the UN Development Fund for Women has supported programs and projects that have improved the quality of life for women in over 100 countries.

- the UN Population Fund has helped drastically reduce infant and maternal mortality in over 100 countries.

- the World Health Organization has led the global battle against HIV-AIDS and Ebola;  smallpox was eliminated from the planet in 1990 and WHO is on track to wipe out polio across the globe.  It has achieved an 80% immunization rate against polio, tetanus, measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, and tuberculosis.

- and dealing with that UU principle “interdependent web of all existence”:  The UN Environmental Program and the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change are researching and making recommendations on climate change.  It is hoped that a major UN-sponsored conference in Paris in December will result in a global commitment to combat climate change.

And then there are the peacekeeping activities of the UN -- which  constitute less than 25% of the expenditures of the UN system.  Pursuing its primary objective of maintaining international peace and security, the UN has fielded 69 peacekeeping operations since 1948.  It has also been key in the negotiation of 172 peaceful settlements ending regional conflicts.

There are currently 17 active UN peacekeeping missions with over 98,000 police, military, and political individuals contributed by 123 member states.  Eight of these missions are in Africa, six in the Middle East and South Asia, and Haiti in the Western Hemisphere and Cyprus and Kosovo in Europe.  The top 15 contributors of personnel for these missions are Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Nepal, Jordan, Ghana, Senegal, Egypt, Tanzania, South Africa, China, and Uruguay.  Note that they are primarily Third World and relatively neutral countries -- China is the only great power among them.  The cost of these operations is borne by all member states based on a formula that asks more of the prosperous nations and the Security Council powers, recognizing that the Security Council has the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.  Thus, the 5 permanent members pay 52.07% of the cost of peacekeeping missions -- the addition of Japan, Germany, and Italy ups that to about 75% for these 8 countries.

These 17 active missions are budgeted for about $7.83 billion in the current year.  This is less than one half of one per cent of world military expenditures.  This is slightly less than the current annual $8.2 billion budget of the NY-NJ Port Authority.  It is meager compared to the current US defense budget of $632.8 billion -- or the $2 billion a week that we spent on Iraq and Afghanistan during the height of those operations.

Those are just a few of the activities of the various agencies and organizations of the UN system that are in line with UU principles.

Larry has posted on our Facebook page information on the long history of UU support for both the League of Nations and the United Nations.  Since 1962 there has been a UU UN Office at the Church Center across First Avenue from the UN.  Stop in the next time you’re in New York.

I would encourage your understanding and support for the UN system and again I urge you to recognize that the UN system does a lot of things that are beneficial to the United States and supportive of US foreign policy and interests.  These are activities that the US would otherwise want to do or would feel obligated to do -- by getting other nations to contribute, it is less costly for us. 

As Unitarian and US Ambassador to the UN Adlai Stevenson said, “If the UN didn’t exist, we would have to create it.”

So, third part of a sermon:  what have I told you?

I have told you why we are marking UN Day today.
I have rebutted some myths about the UN system.
I have cited some of the similarities between our Unitarian Universalist principles and UN purposes and activities.

So, Happy 70th Birthday, United Nations – and I’m done.

UU Principles and the UN at 70, a sermon delivered by Dr. Allen Maxwell at 1stUUPB on Oct 25, 2015.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who's the Boss?

I blame John Boehner.

My sermon was neatly finished on Tuesday, and then on Friday John Boehner decided to resign from Congress in October without consulting me or considering how that would affect what I’d prepared for this morning.  I eventually let it go, realizing that Boehner doesn’t need to consult me about major decisions he makes. But I needed to change the sermon based on who he did consult to make this major decision. When Pope Francis arrived in Washington this week Boehner, who was staged quite close to him, was overcome emotionally, emotion that couldn’t be contained.  He announced the next day that while he said his morning prayers he instantly decided to resign.

Some believe Boehner’s resignation followed intense pressure from his party for being too liberal and not moving in the right direction quickly enough to defund Planned Parenthood, which would lead us to a government shutdown. Boehner’s resignation shut all of that down. I agree that Boehner had had it, but I also observed Boehner’s epiphany during and after the Pope’s visit.  Had Boehner consulted his God, realizing he was a barrier to all that God’s messenger on earth, the Pope, had sermonized about? Had Boehner been ultimately reminded of his God’s laws preventing him from continuing with political business as usual and harming the masses?

Yes, that is my hypothesis, and I think we may see this hypothesis play out as Boehner has already urged Congress to vote for fairness to all Americans. A change of heart.  It’s interesting that within this hypothesis we see a man surrender himself to the will of his God versus his free will and that of his party and any agenda.

Questions for us are what do we do with all of this, how do we understand choosing religious law over secular law? Or secular law over religious law?  This is a real issue for us as our world becomes closer and closer together. How do we celebrate diversity in our country, the welcoming of refugees of a different religious variety and understand why religious law might supersede the law of the land?  This is a here and now question.  It’s not a matter of when it happens.  It has happened. As global citizens we are now required to answer these questions as people who live in our communities, native or refugee, require us to understand their truth and the dilemma it might bring.

The most public example is the story of County Clerk Kim Davis, who became the face of opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing same sex marriage. Davis refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, despite a federal court order, thus refusing to do what was expected of her as an elected county clerk based on her belief in the laws of her God superseding the law of the land. That won her five days in jail and death threats and other distressing treatment, as you might imagine. But she has decided to move from being Democrat to Republican this week, so I’m not giving her any more air time other than to note that she did what she did and endured persecution and prosecution to honor religious law over secular law.
Believe it or not, it’s hard to tell most days that the separation of church and state is foundational for our country and has lived within Unitarianism for generations.  We must remember, though, that many countries traditionally have closer links between state and religion. Religious law is ethical and moral codes taught by religious traditions. I offer the historical interpretation of secular law offered by Oliver Wendell Holmes. He writes that “law is a magic mirror."  He continues, “this abstraction called the law, wherein, as in a magic mirror, we see reflected, not only our lives, but the lives of all men that have been.”  I take Holmes metaphor to mean that law is a cultural artifact, a moral deposit of society. That is, he angles the mirror to reflect law in American history not the history of American law. We then understand that the interaction of law and society changes. So we uncover the gray area about who the boss actually is -- which law do we honor?  Both are influenced by culture and tradition.

In our reading this morning we learned of the gray area that secular and religious law live within.  Even the greatest minds in the highest courts struggle with these questions.  As McEwan pointed out, it’s not black and white. Secular law is not the law of morality taught by tradition, but a law that applies secular principles, and he tells us what is lawful is not always right. Again, what is lawful is not always right. I challenge all of us to hold that statement. Whether we agree with the separation of church and state and champion secular law or know deep in our bones the wishes and power of our personal God and follow our God’s law, we will not always be right.

The question we must ask ourselves is not, “Should secular law trump religious law or religious law trump secular law?” The question is, “Are our laws life-giving?” Do our laws have the ability to impart life and vitality? As Unitarian Universalists this is what we work for. This is the place we should occupy. It is what we believe, who we are, and our work is to move toward life sustaining and life giving beliefs and practices. We work to reverse the symptoms of a hurting world. Not unlike a patient with a debilitating disease. The patient works to restore health and their work through healing is life giving.

This is the way to travel out of the gray area that we’ve been talking about. That is, do we follow a legal code or our customs?  You see our work is to determine whether any law, religious or secular, is life sustaining and life giving. What makes a religious or secular law life giving? Law is life giving if it is a demonstration of justice and mercy. Religious laws that condemn, call for violence, tear apart communities and devalue are not life giving. Secular laws that place a greater divide between the haves and have nots, prevent anyone from living a full life, promote war among individuals, communities or countries are not life giving.

Our answer to the question of who’s the boss?, which is mightier? is that law, religious or secular that brings justice for all, compassion, and truth. I have no problem advising that we should denounce any law that asks us to do the opposite. What is law is not always right. As Unitarian Universalists we have the responsibility and the opportunity to make it right. We work to protect religious liberty as freedom from discrimination against religious belief and worship, and denounce religious liberty as exemption from non-discriminatory laws that burden religiously motivated conduct. Freedom of religion is one thing. but using such freedom to justify hate and violence must never be allowed. A theocracy we can live without. But what about secular laws that promote hate, violence, and discrimination? Think of current immigration laws, criminal law that promotes inequality and division, laws that protect wage inequality.

Service is our law.  We affirm that covenant, written in 1864 by Unitarian Minister James Blake each Sunday.  Seeing ourselves as bound in covenant is an old practice among us. In 1630, John Winthrop, soon to become the first governor of Massachusetts, spoke to a soggy, stalwart band of fellow Puritans, our ancestors, sailing with high and pious hopes aboard the Arabella toward a new life in New England:

(i)Now the only way to avoid . . . shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.... We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality. We must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.(i)

It was an extraordinary declaration of interdependence. Despite their stone-cold reputation, their caricatured intolerance, these were people who promised to bear each other’s burdens as their own, to subvert their separate, private interests, their “superfluities,” for the public good of all. Humbly, gently, patiently, they would serve a vision larger than any single eye could see; they would hold a larger hope. Those who heard John Winthrop speak would surely have grasped the metaphor of danger: they would have been afraid not only of foundering, literally, on New England’s rocky shore, but of failing in their errand to establish this commonwealth, their “city on a hill.” The only way to avoid shipwreck, spiritual or otherwise, was to “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” -- to make and keep a sacred covenant together.
Unlike many traditions where a specific scripture is the law, service to the common good is our highest calling. Knowing that our fates are intertwined and that when injustice is done to anyone, anywhere, injustice is done to all of us, everywhere, we work steadily towards righting the many injustices in the world. “We are what we do in the world.”  We are lost without contributing to the world. The great injustice is not that people break laws or claim loyalty laws that tear down or destroy. The great injustice is that each person is not empowered to contribute to the lives of others. What makes us human is not that we are able to kill our enemies and to take whatever we can ravage from a destitute world. What makes us human is that we can shout danger and encouragement to one another; we can share surplus necessities and find better ways of doing things; and we can dance with one another, giving and receiving, following and leading. We are what we do for and with one another. Through service, may we find and empower wholeness.  May we always reach for and hold up the magic mirror.

May it be so.

Sermon by the Rev. CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, Sep 27, 2015.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Possible Peace

There’s a lot
not to understand,
news reports that make us
wince, wring our hands,
and wonder,
what can be done

There’s too much
striving, climbing, scrambling
to get to the top of the wall
to declare it MINE
in the name of whatever
knocking down the weak
kicking difference in the face
ignoring the cry, the injustice,
the suffering soul
of another’s humanity.

Peace — who can speak of its possibility
with a million forces mounting
always, always against us?

We must remember.
We must take heart.

Walls built in hatred have come down.
Tyrants too have to die.
Enlightenment manages to emerge, somehow.

Even still, the images rend us
Teachers taking bullets for their students
Journalists on their knees for medieval-like execution.

We endlessly ask,
How could they?
What’s to be done?

Our peace is disturbed.
We pound our fists.
shout at the television.
Our anger and frustration
Slowly brewing into bitterness
And helplessness.

It is true.
We can’t eradicate evil
any more than we can stop
the flowering of new life.

We can only trust that the poverty we see,
the cries for injustice that we hear
the reason the full-hearted speak,
will change us.

We don’t have to search other continents
or journey into foreign war zones
or distant lands full of the oppressed.

There are neighbors,
Invisible ones we don’t usually see
living on streets we often pass by,
in those sections of town
where people are different.

We can open our eyes
change our response
see someone’s child instead of a criminal
up to no good.

We can see people
who know a thing or two about community
instead of foreigners who don’t belong.

We can hear music in words and accents
we don’t understand,
glory in the differences,
take joy in the capacity to understand,
and offer a helping hand
a voice calling for change

one small step
one opened mind
one softened heart
at a time.

A poem by Amy Douglas and read by Amy Douglas at 1stUUPB during the Sunday peace service, Sep 20, 2015.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Peace, Positive and Negative

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace. -- from the Hebrew prophetic tradition, Jeremiah 6: verse 14

What is peace? Most people visualize peace as a tranquil world where everyone gets along. Our children just shared their ideas with you. To be desirable, that kind of peace must be based on fairness and justice with everyone having what they need. This is almost impossible to imagine in today’s world. This morning, I’d like to suggest a different meaning of peace, which seems more relevant and achievable. I was reading a sermon by Susan Maginn, which gave me a new way of looking at what peace means in our time. Today I’d like to share her concept with you which echoes what you heard MLK state in the opening words -- that peace is more about justice than order. He defines a positive and a negative peace.

Let’s explore the difference between the two. What many consider the idea of peace is really negative peace -- the absence of tension while a positive peace is the presence of justice. Let me repeat. A negative peace is the absence of tension while a positive peace is the presence of justice.

Negative peace is the comfortable status quo. Don’t rock the boat. It is tempting to interpret this as a desirable peace. We can look the other way and pretend that all is well. As a country and a world we can no longer afford this negative peace -- a peace of denial, a peace of submission, a peace of silence, a peace of resignation, a peace of hopelessness, a peace of oppression.  

Positive peace on the other hand, is loud, messy and uncomfortable, but necessary to move forward. Lately, we have heard the refrain “No justice, No peace.” on the streets of the United States. When I first heard it, I thought it meant that the people chanting it were really saying if you don’t give us what we want, there will be trouble. Now I see it in a different light. Without justice there can be no true peace. “No justice, No peace.” We need that tension between the power and the people to make positive peace. Tension is an essential ingredient when it comes to peace and justice. When that tension is not there, when the tension is not allowed or not tolerated, or when the tension is not desirable, then there can easily be an abuse of power. Without that tension, we humans can easily grow into nothing but corrupt power structures on one side, and on the other, silent suffering. We need a positive peace which is the presence of justice. We need a way to hold the tension that exists between the power structure and the people so we can find our way toward justice

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.

There is hope that peace is being born from the racial tension right now in our own country. Peace is being born through the street memorials, the protests, die-ins, marches, and traffic blockades. Peace is being born through the black community which is confronting the status quo saying: “Enough!” Enough of mistaking order for peace. Enough of saying peace, peace, when there is no peace.

This tension is real and we must wrestle through it, led by visionary activists around the country. The tension may sound like progress to some and civil disobedience to others. Many wish all the tension would just go away. But if we are to know true peace, we need to work through the tension, uncomfortable as that may be.

Desmond Tutu says. “If we are neutral on situations of injustice then we have chosen the side of the oppressor.” In other words, we have chosen negative peace. So let us not be neutral. Let us actively wrestle with racism and other injustices. Let us wrestle until we are living on the right side of history, wrestle until we overcome, until we make injustice and division into beloved community. Let us be hungry for peace and worthy of the blessing.  May it be so.

Peace, Positive and Negative, a sermon delivered by Judy Bonner at 1stUUPB on Sep 21, 2015.

Monday, September 14, 2015

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Education is the most powerful tool for changing the world. I know that all of us as Unitarian Universalists want to change the world. We want to make it a better place than when we first arrived; we want to right the injustices we see daily; and we want to leave a legacy that will far outlast the span of our earthly beings. There is no better way to do this than through our children. Investing in our children’s development from the earliest stage is the single most important contribution we can make to the world, but then again, I did major in child development, so perhaps that is the only acceptable answer for someone like me.

There is a quote from Dr. Haim Ginott that I love that says, “Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression.” This statement is so simple yet could not be any more true.

Most parents have had that “uh-oh” moment when they hear their child repeat a derogatory phrase or curse word, and of course it always happens in front of a crowd or their dear, sweet great-grandmother. While it makes for a great story later on, it also reminds us all of something. Children are incredibly intuitive and perceptive to the world around them, and one of the most important things we as adults can do is model the kind of person we would like for them to be. We never know if one simple gesture could impact that child for the rest of their life, which can at times feel daunting to parents and educators. No, your child will not end up in therapy because you made them clean their room, but perhaps they will become a better human being if they see you stop and help someone in need. Much to the chagrin of us as adults, children often close their ears to advice or greet it with an eye roll. The thing is, though, they open their eyes to example.

If we all stop and think about it, every person in this room can name at least one person who positively affected their lives. ... I wonder who that person is for you. Some of us are blessed with many people who come to mind, but it only takes the one to change you forever. Personally, I am lucky enough to have had many teachers and adults in my life growing up who made me into the person I am today. There are several that pop into mind when I think about the meaningful relationships I had in my childhood. There is my kindergarten teacher, who inspired me to become a teacher myself; there is the elderly gentleman from the church I grew up in who I used to sit with each Sunday at coffee hour telling jokes and sharing stories.

The most important relationship I’ve ever had, even to this day, is the bond I shared with my grandfather. He lived just a few miles from my house, and I would ride my bike over to visit him as often as possible. Weekends were usually spent with me spending the night; we would stay up late at night watching movies or reading books, and he would cook my grandmother and me a big breakfast in the morning.

My grandfather, Bill, was one of the most charismatic people you could ever meet. He was a true southern gentleman and charmed everyone he came into contact with, which is probably what made him such a successful businessman. Everywhere we went we saw someone he knew. He knew the names of all the cashiers at Publix, every staff member of his doctor’s office, all of his neighbors; as a child it felt like he surely must know everyone in town.

He passed on many important things to me, such as treating people with dignity and respect, the art of striking up a conversation with the person behind you in line at the store, and how to work hard and diligently to achieve your goals. Of course, one of the best things he passed on was his southern idioms. Everything from ‘Bless your little heart’, to ‘What in tarnation’, ‘Lord have mercy’, ‘Heavens to Betsy’, ‘Gimme some sugar’, and of course ‘chewin’ the fat’ and ‘chompin’ at the bit’…OK, I’ll stop, but I could go on and on! He wasn’t a Unitarian Universalist, but he sure behaved like one!

The most important lessons I remember learning from my grandfather revolved around helping other people. He always told me that if I could do anything at all to help another person, then I should. No questions asked, don’t overthink it, just do what you can. He would tell me about how, as an elementary school student during the Great Depression, no one really had much of anything. His family, however, had more than some of his friends. So, he would bring his friends to his house for lunch (as most of you probably know, this was during the days when kids went home from school for lunch and then returned…all by themselves! No parental supervision!). They would all share a lunch his mother would make -- lard sandwiches. Two pieces of bread with lard in between. That sounds awful to us, but to my grandfather and his friends, it was a blessing.

Above all else, my grandfather showed me how to have a kind soul by sharing with me experiences I won’t ever forget. He would always provide help or resources to those who needed it. My grandfather was the president of the West Palm Beach Rotary club, and he would take me with him to deliver turkeys at Thanksgiving, hams at Christmas, and school supplies before the start of school. We would visit families in neighborhoods that were beyond anything I had ever seen before, and I would play with the children while he chatted with the adults. I remember the first time I went with him on such a delivery, and as we got back into our air-conditioned car, I told him how guilty I felt for having the things that I did. He told me, Darlin’, don’t worry or feel guilty, just turn that feeling into action; strive to do as much as you possibly can whenever you can. You don’t need to feel guilty for your blessings; simply share them with others. He also told me something that I always kept in mind when I was teaching -- every day you have the opportunity to change someone’s life. It was not meant to overwhelm, but to inspire.

Imagine if we all woke up every day and sought to change another person’s life. How would our actions differ? Could we perhaps be less annoyed when, after a long day, the children ahead of us in line at the grocery store are screaming at the top of their lungs while their overwrought mother tries to regain control, or when we are cut off in traffic, or when the coffee shop gets our order wrong? Most of us seek to infect the world with kindness, but this often gets lost in translation when we become caught up in the technicalities of day to day life.

So, the question is, how do we make this world into the place we want it to be? I believe the answer starts with our children. I know some of you may be thinking about how you don’t have children of your own, or about how your children are grown adults. This is where I urge you to think of the children who we see here on Sundays. We all have a responsibility as members of this Congregation to nurture and support the children in it. Life learning is about respecting the everyday experiences that enable children to understand and interact with the world and their cultures. How do we do that?

Well, adults teach children three important things: the first is by example, the second is by example, and the third is by example.

What we learn becomes a part of who we are. So, what are we going to teach our children? Reaching the children is an important part of growing a church. Many of us here today recall memories of the church we grew up in. Why not make those memories for the children we serve today positive ones? As Unitarian Universalists we believe that faith is a journey we take together. Religious education takes a lifetime. It happens both within and outside of the Congregation’s walls. We support one another as individuals, families, and communities in an ongoing search for truth and meaning. We strive to guide one another -- all ages among us -- in religious questioning, personal change, and discovering ways to better live in faith. Through continually learning and growing together we encourage and support another, and our children, to know and express our moral agency.

From anti-racism to environmental justice to personal spiritual growth, UU religious education taps the wisdom of diverse sources. One of those diverse sources is the members of this Congregation. Just imagine all the stories each one of you have to tell. I often have people tell me that they feel they are inadequate to teach a children’s lesson, whether it be that they have never spent much time with children or that they are new to the faith or that they simply don’t know what it is that they would say. My response is this -- say whatever comes to mind. Teach whatever you feel is relevant to the day’s lesson. Share stories of your own and invite feedback as much as possible. After all, you never know what one little interaction could turn in to. Perhaps you can be that person in a child’s life who will transform them forever. Plus, children are the best in that they don’t have a judgmental bone in their body. It is one of the things that first attracted me to working with children. You can walk in as you are, and they do not care about the clothes you are wearing or whether you’ve lost those ten pounds. They see you as you are, for the soul within and not the physical embodiment. Every child has a story that needs to be heard. Maybe you are the one meant to hear it. In the words of Socrates, education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. May it be so.

Sermon delivered by Beth Mathews, director of 1stUUPB Child and Youth programs, at 1stUUPB, Sep 13, 2015.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Black Lives Matter

My favorite entertainer is British comedian Alan Carr.  Alan has an evening chat show on BBC called Chatty Man and as he enters the stage at the top of the show he says, “What a week it has been!” and then makes light of headlines.

I say to you this morning, “What a week it has been.” In early summer thousands of Unitarian Universalists from around the country attended a conference in Portland, Oregon. The conference takes place in an American city every summer and is called General Assembly. At this particular General Assembly all Unitarian Universalists received a call to Action of Immediate Witness.

I quote:
  • The 2015 General Assembly calls congregations to action, in order to become closer to a just world community . . urges congregations to engage in intentional learning spaces to organize for racial justice with recognition of the interconnected nature of racism coupled with systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and language . . .; encourages congregations and all Unitarian Universalists to work towards police reform and prison abolition, which seeks to replace the current prison system with a system that is more just and equitable; and . . . recognizes that the fight for civil rights and equality is as real today as it was decades ago, and urges congregations to take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices many black people are exposed to.

What a week it has been.  Having sat with that call to witness, I made the decision to relay the call to action to our Congregation in a sermon entitled Black Lives Matter, just as our sign advertises. I had prepared a homecoming sermon entitled Gather the Spirit, but scrapped it because we have more urgent matters at hand.

We advertise the sermon title each week on our sign by the street and when Black Lives Matter was placed I wondered if we would be victim to vandals as many other Unitarian Universalist congregations had been across the country, their Black Lives Matter signs defaced, torn down, and mangled. The concern was smaller than the message that we needed to share so the title went up. 

We were doing just fine until this past Friday morning when our office administrator, Barbara, discovered our sign vandalized. Vandals broke into the sign damaging the locks and other mechanisms and placed a sign that read WHITE over the word BLACK making the sign read White Lives Matter. The police were called and were concerned and offered us much support. Then came the Palm Beach Post, Newscenter 5, and CBS which became a whirlwind of telling our story.  It is most troubling that the vandals placed the word WHITE over the word BLACK. Usually signs are changed to read ALL Lives Matter. Using the word WHITE was blatant racism. 

The whirlwind of press was important to us because we are the liberal voice in South Florida and we are Unitarian Universalists, which gives us the responsibility to speak up and out and to tell the story of oppression. We were handed that legacy by those who came before us. I mention that legacy because I needed to call on my Unitarian and Universalist ancestors this week to guide me, to hold me, and remind me to be brave.

In times like these I ask myself, What would Theodore Parker do?  Parker was an outspoken 19th-century Unitarian minister followed by many and ostracized by his Boston colleagues.  More remarkable is his brave position as an abolitionist who sheltered slaves seeking freedom in the North.  Under the rug under his desk where he wrote his sermons was a door leading to a space where slaves would hide when their southern masters came looking for them.  Parker eventually needed to keep a weapon on his desk as he received so many threats for standing for justice. Parker did the right thing knowing it wasn’t popular, it would be difficult, and his well-being was at risk.  He stayed true to his call to ministry and to justice.

And so despite the hate emails and phone calls, warnings from the police, and being labeled cop killer and racist, I decided to stay true to my call to ministry and honor my promise to this Congregation to lead us through difficult times and to let our community know we are a justice-seeking people.

Many of you probably wonder why do we have to say BLACK LIVES MATTER? Why can’t we say ALL LIVES MATTER ... because they do. Black lives matter doesn’t mean that we think that black lives are more important than other lives.  It’s not to be viewed as a threat to the lives of others. It is a rallying call of black people to no longer be devalued or dismissed as they have been for centuries in our country.  All lives matter co-opts powerful language and diminishes the voices of color that have gone unheard for so long.

I wondered why people were so threatened by the slogan?  What would cause someone to believe that black lives mattered more and that they were under attack?  Yes, its racism but that’s too easy of an answer. That's when I returned to a book I’ve been studying entitled The Compassionate Mind by Dr. Paul Gilbert.  Dr. Gilbert explains that compassion is seen as a weakness in societies that encourage us to compete with each other. Striving to get ahead, self-criticism, fear and hostility toward others seem to come naturally to us. The book reveals the evolutionary and social reasons why our brains react so readily to threats.

Our brain gives more priority to dealing with threats than pleasurable things. We are hard wired to a system of self protection. Threat can be activated for us if a goal or something else we want is perceived to be blocked. We begin to fear being hurt or destroyed, fear of having no control over our life, meaning, or purposes, and the fear of being unwanted, marginalized, ignored, excluded or isolated. Such fears live within us. Remember that your threat and self-protection system was designed to protect you. That primitive design, which has served many species for millions of years, is powerful. But we live in a modern world and we need “new minds” to contain them. Societies have evolved, but our hard-wired systems have yet to catch up and prepare us for the modern world. We may even feel under attack but have forgotten the reasons why we respond with self-protection and fear of being marginalized, producing a hostile response. And so to understand why people feel threatened when we say black lives matter it is because they are experiencing a primitive response and primitive responses help you buy into oppression. A new mind, adapted to the world of today is called for.

Let us move on to Black Lives Matter as a movement or campaign. The phrase “Black Lives Matter” was created following the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer in 2013. It gained national attention after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. Black Lives Matter has also called attention to the death of Eric Garner in New York in 2014 and the killing of Tamir Rice in 2014.  Black Lives Matter has gained the most attention for protests against police brutality and concerns about the justice system and other issues that affect communities of color. The work of the movement, or campaign, was a match for our Unitarian Universalist values at its inception.  Since then it has lost some credibility, being accused of promoting anti-law enforcement messages.

Those claims were not real. Not until the Minnesota State Fair protest this summer where a leader of the Black Lives Matter campaign was videotaped chanting, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” which then became the chant of the group of activists. Activists claimed it was an inside joke between them and the police. The perceived reality was that the activists were advocating violence against law enforcement. I’m neither judge nor jury, but if I am to be honest the incident raised an eyebrow for me. Could I lead a congregation to align itself with a movement that is perceived to have evolved into advocating for violence?

I sat with that question and decided that the Black Lives Matter campaign has become the scapegoat and is unfairly being characterized as cop killers when it is against police brutality, not law enforcement. Again, against police brutality not against law enforcement. That’s an important distinction. However, the Minnesota State Fair incident happened as the Huffington Post explains, “the Black Lives Matter campaign or movement has no formal leadership structure and is subject to the buffoonery of free speech.“  Author Torri Stuckey had this response to the pigs-in-a-blanket incident: “A large part of me wanted to scream "IMPOSTERS!" But who am I that I may denounce a group's authenticity? I'm not at liberty to speak to their struggle. I am no more entitled to the Black Lives Matter movement than any other person who feels connected to its intrinsic value.” The issues are so much deeper than just the institution of law enforcement.

Racism is deeply embedded in our criminal laws and law making, which precipitate bias in our judicial system. Yes, activists are angry and their anger cannot be dismissed as illegitimate; for doing so would be a direct denial of the black experience in our country. Does Black Lives Matter have a public relations problem? Absolutely, but not one that should water down their message. The movement has a problem with police brutality. They should make it clear through their speech and behavior just as they expect from law enforcement. The movement is imperfect.

Now… to acknowledge, as I think we must, that there is a serious racial discrimination problem in American policing, as well as in other aspects of the American judicial system, is NOT -- and please hear this loud and clear friends –- this is NOT to single out the brave men and women who serve our society in law enforcement as somehow being uniquely racist or wrong … they are not. There surely are countless law enforcement officers –- the overwhelming majority certainly -- who regularly apply the law fairly, justly and equally to all.  And I, as all of you, have been profoundly shocked and saddened by the recent cold-blooded murders of several police officers over recent days, as they were working to protect the communities they bravely serve.  I join hearts with those who say “BLUE LIVES MATTER”, for they most certainly do.

How do we begin to purposefully address this pressing social and cultural problem that has become so obvious with all the recent deaths?  We answer the call to action. Unitarian Universalists strive for justice, equity and compassion in human relations; have a goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all and allowing injustice to go unchallenged violates our principles. We continue to support Black-led racial justice organizations. We answer that call to action to become closer to a just world community. We commit to engage and organize for racial justice with recognition of the interconnected nature of racism coupled with systems of oppression that impact people based on class, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and language. We recognize that the fight for civil rights and equality is as real today as it was decades ago and take initiative in collaboration with local and national organizations fighting for racial justice against the harsh racist practices to which many black people are exposed.  

No matter who you are, black lives matter, and a system of fair, transformative, and restorative justice that is accountable to communities is something to which each of us has a right. Unitarian Universalists and our greater society have the power to make this happen. We are Unitarian Universalists for whom every person is a person of interest. Regardless of race, color or background, everyone has inherent worth and dignity we must cherish and protect.  The very center and soul of our faith revolves around the affirmation of the irreducible worth and beauty of every human being, no matter how different from us they might at first seem. 

What a week it has been.  I leave you with the words of Audette Fulbright Fulson:

  • Do not think we are finished — oh no we will never be finished, never just done until the light of justice is lit behind every eye. Do not think we will be silent— no there will not be silence until the world has sung the names of the dead with full throats, and still we will sing on.  Do not think fear is the end of us — oh you are broken in mind and heart if you even imagine that our fear is the end of this story. We are braver than you have ever conceived and you will not be the end of us. We have come to take back the world, the world that is the inheritance of better children, better lovers, better days. There will be love again, but justice is our demand now. You will not take us down.  We are endless, firelit, and determined.
May it be so.

Text of a sermon entitled Black Lives Matter, delivered by the Rev CJ McGregor at 1stUUPB, Sep 6, 2015.