Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On the Side of Love

Hands joined together as hearts beat as one, emboldened by faith we dare to proclaim We are standing on the side of love.

Standing on the side of love. I don't know about you, but that's an idea, a calling, I can embrace. It's something I can believe in. For some UUs, it fills a void.

There are those of us who suffer from a chronic identity crisis. People accustomed to Abrahamic religions ask us, what is it that Unitarian Universalists believe, naturally assuming that it's our belief that defines us. And some of us are struck dumb by the question. We don’t always know what to say, because UUs believe so many things, so many different things. We are "priests of paradox, apostles of ambiguity, nattering nabobs of nuance". I wish I could take credit for that wording, but I have to gratefully and humbly acknowledge the Rev. Fred Small for it -- as well as many other thoughts scattered like buckshot throughout this sermon.

Folks like me are tempted to say "For UUs, asking what WE believe is the wrong question. Our faith isn't based on belief." Try that for an answer and it's likely you'll be met with a blank, uncomprehending stare. Or worse, if they ask "Well, if that's the wrong question, what's the right question?"  Hmmmm!

So ... we have the 7 principles, countless pamphlets and little wallet cards -- cheat sheets -- all to remind us what we kinda, sorta believe. We're exhorted to compose elevator speeches -- summations of Unitarian Universalism so concise they might be recited on an elevator in its fleeting passage between floors.

Hmmm. Well, let's see. We're Unitarians, so we believe in one God. Right?

Every Sunday we sing a doxology. A doxology is defined as "an expression of praise to God, especially a short hymn sung as part of a Christian worship service".
So I guess that makes us one-God-fearing Christians.
Yes? ??
I don't hear any amens!

Are WE Christians? Do WE believe in God?   Simple, straightforward questions.

Answer?  Pick a card. Any card. And guess what? They're all right. Because, as we all know, the word "we" is the joker in the pack. Each of us believes what our conscience tells us we must, not any authority, not scripture, but as a result of a responsible search for truth & meaning. 

If you believe in a God or gods, if you think of yourself as Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Pagan -- great. The only legitimate question is -- does what you believe make you a better person. Religious Humanist? Secular Humanist? Atheist? Agnostic? Terrific. Same question.

Let's say personally you don't embrace a belief system. Whether you do or don't I ask you to consider as UUs that the important question is not what you, any group of you, or WE believe. No, the question, I submit, is -- where do we stand?

And I'm sure you know what my answer to that question is. A great place to be standing is on the side of love. Of course when I say “standing” I don't mean a physical posture. Rosa Parks stood on the side of love by remaining seated. I, and other UUs -- in another time and another place -- stood on the side of love by sitting in at lunch counters. Does anyone remember lunch counters?

Standing on the side of love is a moral stance, not just assumed privately in our hearts, but publicly -- witnessed boldly in our families and schools and workplaces & communities, at the State House, in the halls of Congress. I’m talking about faith in action.
Not sanctimony. It's about intentionality, even as we understand that our practice will be imperfect, as each of us is imperfect. What's our mission? What's our aspiration? What is our commitment?

It's not by accident that the group committed to social justice that we here gather in is not called the social justice committee. It's called the justice ACTION ministry. Before that it was the social ACTION committee. Coming from other UU congregations, it was one of the first things I noticed and admired when I got here.
It's a call to action.

It's a call to stand on the side of love.

When Unitarian Lydia Maria Child defied the prohibition of her time against women speaking in public and demanded freedom for enslaved African-Americans and the vote for women, when she protested the Trail of Tears, the brutal removal of the Cherokee, she was standing on the side of love.

When UU minister James Reeb & Viola Liuzzo answered the call from Martin Luther King Jr. to travel to Selma and were murdered by racists, they were standing on the side of love. 500 UUs marched in Selma, including 140 UU clergy. Pretty good for a very small religious tradition.

This Congregation marches in the annual Martin Luther King Day parade to demonstrate our solidarity with the African-American community. We have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement. We posted a sign outside to let the world know about it. It made some of our neighbors uncomfortable and our streetside sign was desecrated and damaged because of it. If the idea that black lives matter makes some of our neighbors uncomfortable, then making them uncomfortable is what we must do. Look, we know and consistently affirm that all lives matter, but in order to live in a world that better recognizes that, we need to attend to where lives are treated as not mattering. That black lives matter is what needs affirming now.  We must stand on the side of love.

Yesterday UUs in North Carolina gathered in Raleigh for the Mass Moral March to challenge the North Carolina voter suppression law. Busloads of UUs from several Washington, D.C.-area congregations joined them. They gathered on the side of love.

As people of principle, we're called upon to recognize and call out meanspiritedness and bigotry, to stand on the side of love in confronting the racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia -- the indifference to poverty and suffering -- that have lately become the calling cards of some candidates for high office.

This Congregation has been designated a Welcoming Congregation by the UUA (the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations) which means we've been recognized for embracing our LGBTQ members and neighbors. We've marched in the annual Gay Pride parades for years …. and we'll do it again on March 20th. Join us.

Now that it's legal -- we marry. Nationally, we were on the cutting edge of the gay rights movement and marriage equality. By courageously standing on the side of love, we won that one!

We're vigorous supporters of People Engaged in Active Community Efforts, otherwise known as PEACE. We consistently turn out large numbers at the annual Nehemiah Action Assembly to witness for justice in Palm Beach County. The next assembly is on March 14th. Be there, on the side of love with us.

We stand on the side of our Muslim neighbors, the Pahokee laborers, young Dreamers, the homeless, the oppressed, because justice for all is what love looks like in public. Justice is what love looks like in public. (Cornel West)

 We support climate justice, the environment, economic justice, voting rights, and reproductive justice. We confront exclusion and violence based on identity, be it sexual orientation, gender presentation, immigration status, race, class, religion, age, nationality, physical ability, or any other excuse for discrimination. Do we do it because we're big and powerful and we can? Yeah, that would be easy wouldn't it?

No, standing on the side of love doesn’t require size, deep pockets, or the ability to dictate to others -- not that kind of power. It requires courage. Courage is our power. And love.

Love makes us strong. Standing on the side of love affirms the full humanity of all people. It honors the inherent worth and dignity, the spark of the divine in each and every person.

Are we not a people of conscience? Are we not a people who stand for something more than our own comfort? Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. So it is written. (Talmud)

Thomas Edison was said to have remarked: "A diamond is nothing more than a lump of coal that stuck to it." Are we willing to stick to it?

Rabbi Abraham Heschel taught us that a religious person is one whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love....
Martin Luther King Jr. added, “I've decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

So when someone asks what Unitarian Universalists believe, or why we insist that black lives do matter, why we speak up about the widening inequality of wealth & power, the appalling U.S. incarceration rate, climate change, immigration -- or why we're determined to drag ourselves down here each and every Sunday morning … let’s tell ‘em: ..We are standing on the side of love .. as if it was tattooed on our bodies … & burned in our hearts ... as testament … to the blood, tears, dreams, and inspirations ... of those who went before us .. who stood boldly ... on the side of love.

A bright new day is dawning when love will not divide. Reflections of grace in every embrace, Fulfilling the vision divine.  May it be so.

On the Side of Love, a sermon delivered by Larry Stauber at 1stUUPB on Feb 14, 2016.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Future is Now


You know the old saw about the volunteer fire department, “Never lost a foundation!” When our actions are in danger of being too little & too late, we could lose our home. 1stUUPB in a figurative sense is “on fire.” The Buildings & Grounds Committee headed by Sylvia Ansay and Ben Juhl, has mounted an in-house survey of our two buildings, their exterior and interior, and our outdoor campus. The survey results point to the need for a long-term rehabilitation plan that will require substantial funding. Like squirrels who husband acorns for the winter, we parishioners need to squirrel away dollars to secure our future. The time to do it is NOW.

February is Stewardship Month at 1stUUPB. This is not simply “fun and games” time. This is when we each need to seriously evaluate how much our church means to us. We operate on the basis of “volunteerism.” There is no church-linked IRS that compels us to pony up our annual dues. We are left to give based on conscience, i.e. what we know we can reasonably afford, how much we value our church, and our understanding of what is required to keep the doors open and the lights on.

If people are looking for a number by which to measure their pledge, something around $1600, give or take, is probably about as good as any other. Giving less than $1600 means someone else needs to make up the difference; giving more than $1600 means you are pulling more than your weight -- thank you! We need as many “extra-weight pullers” as we can get because there is more at stake than merely “getting by.” Since the future is now -- each of us should give all we can afford. We should secure the future health and well being of our spiritual home if we truly love it. Be sure to sign up for our free February 21st luncheon and small group discussions, and plan to fill out your pledge card that same Sunday.

Andrew Kahn
President 1stUUPB

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

From the Bully Pulpit, January 2016

Stewards of Our Spiritual Garden

Translating the Hebrew text correctly in Genesis, God did not give man dominion over the earth. The term dominion is based on a Latin word, dominio, meaning domination, i.e. dominating nature, bending it to man’s will, the way the Roman Empire dominated the nations and peoples of the world.

To the contrary, the Biblical Hebrew word for God’s charge in the Garden of Eden was originally “Ra-cha,” which signifies stewardship, not dominion. Stewardship of the garden, God’s bounteous gift to humankind, affirms the need to care for and nurture the greenery of the earth and all living things. Racha means to preserve that which one is given, to use it carefully, and intelligently, so that this precious gift continues to provide bounteous sustenance over generations. What a difference a word can make!

Let us consider our own spiritual garden, the First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Palm Beaches. Are we willing to cultivate our garden -- to nurture it, to sustain it, so that it continues providing current and future generations with a beautiful and safe spiritual home? My father used to tell the story he called “Acres of Diamonds,” based on a speech made by the president of Temple University in Philadelphia, the year dad graduated. The moral of this tale is to remember that our own back yard can produce the wealth and comfort we need (i.e. “acres of diamonds”) as long as we do not allow it to wither away by neglect, disinterest, or the failure to invest our collective efforts in preserving it. We should not envy our neighbors garden, but respect and cherish our own. If we act as stewards, our blessings can multiply from the contributions we freely provide. What a difference commitment can make!

On Sunday, February 21, you will be asked to act as a responsible steward of our spiritual garden, our church. You will have an opportunity to give generously to preserve what we love and care about, 1st UUPB. On that day, be a congregant who demonstrates the meaning and importance of RACHA. What a difference you can make!

Andrew Kahn, president, 1stUUPB Board of Trustees

Monday, February 1, 2016

Until It's Disproved

When Rev. CJ asked me if I could be here today, he told me that the subject of the sermon was Truth, and asked if I could relate it to climate change. Well, yes!

Then he sent me this quote as the basis of the sermon:

John Lennon said: “I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?”

Dreams and nightmares may inspire or frighten us. They may make us lose sleep. They may make us more fearful, or make us feel a sense of euphoria, but we do not expect to subject our dreams and nightmares to the rigor of peer review, or to the scientific method of the physical sciences or to statistical analysis that proves the significance of an event within prescribed confidence intervals.

Until it is disproved:  I choose, like Margaret Meade, to believe that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  I also believe that in order for that small group of citizens to change the world, they must have a shared belief in many of the same fairies, myths and dragons. By that I mean that their fairies (or joyous aspirations), their myths (or stories that define them); and their dragons (or fears), combine to create a worldview that defines their common shared personal truth. Religions, interest groups, and political parties are made of people who have aligned their personal truths. Their common truth, their shared dream, or their worldview, exists only in their minds until they act on it, to bring it into being.

I grew up in Houston, Texas and attended the Unitarian Fellowship of Houston on Wirt Road. Our religious education classes were held in a Quonset hut that was a Montessori School during the week, called “School of the Woods.” My Sunday classes were taught by cultural Jews. I just heard yesterday of the term “Jewnitarians.” I had never heard of that, but those were my teachers. Every Sunday, I was taught by cultural Jews for whom the Holocaust was still a very personal and very real memory; and who fiercely rejected creedalism in any form. They taught using the Socratic method. They never told us what to think. Rather, they asked us what we thought, and with slow and careful questions requiring our responses, taught us how to find and express our personal truths. This really frustrated me as a kid. I didn’t understand why these adults expected kids to have answers to THE BIG QUESTIONS, or why we had to express OUR personal theologies. Some days, during the civil rights movement they would just bring in a newspaper article and have us read it. Then we would discuss it in the slow questioning Socratic method. Sometimes we would be split into teams and argue different sides of the issue. My Catholic friends just had to memorize stuff. I could memorize their stuff just by helping them study for Sunday school. Why couldn’t my Sunday school teachers just tell me what to think?

I now understand that my teachers knew what it was to live in a society that had a common truth, a common dream or world view: an Ayrian dream that proved fatal for their loved ones and for their families. It was the goal of my teachers in that Quonset hut, because that is where they found themselves,  to raise a generation of Unitarian thinkers who would know how to form and articulate their own truth, and to recognize when the realities of the world are being distorted by the dreams of others. They prepared us to move into the world as people of conscience; prepared to carry forward their dream of peace and to recognize threats to that peace. They prepared us to recognize when truth was distorted by an unjust dream held by a powerful group of people, and to respond.


These people have a dream of denial: A dream that denies climate science; A dream that denies structural racial injustice; and a dream that declares that America is #1 in any comparison.   

Measurements of greenhouse gases and sea levels, taken with instruments of science, and recorded by scientists in our government agencies (NOAA, NASA, the EPA, the US Geological Survey, US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of Defense) are spoken of in political discourse as dreams that are to believed or disbelieved, as though there were no consequences for action or inaction.

The instrumentation and expertise assembled in our government agencies to advise elected officials, who have no expertise; and purchased with our tax dollars to protect our safety are dismissed as OUR widely held dream of fools; in spite of the proof that exists.

I believe in gravity. I believe in the self-correcting mechanism of the scientific method and peer review. I believe in a Gallilean Solar System. I believe that if I cut myself I bleed. I believe that if I count two objects then there ARE two objects, due to a one to one correspondence between the objects and the integers assigned to them. I believe that sea level satellite data is observed fact captured by instrumentation engineered and calibrated for accuracy, and confirmed by data collected by instrumentation capturing tidal data on buoys in the ocean. I believe the time lapse photography of calving glaciers; the saltwater I see with my own eyes bubbling up through storm drains in Delray Beach and South Miami Beach and that Judy Kraft puts up with in Briny Breezes; the time lapse photography of the rapidly melting Greenland ice sheet and the Antarctic ice sheet; and the atmospheric sampling and measurement of greenhouse gases are all real. And they are my nightmares, and I must respond.

There is no widely held dream of denial that can “trump” peer-reviewed science and the rising costs of sea level rise infrastructure maintenance. But the widely held dream of denial can kill people if it prevents action.

Dreams of denial of climate change and dreams of denial of structural racial injustice cost lives.

What does it look like when there is structural racism inherent in climate injustice?  It looks like Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

What does it look like when there is structural racial injustice inherent in environmental injustice? It looks like Flint, Michigan.

What does it look like when there is structural racial injustice in Southeast Florida inherent in climate injustice in Southeast Florida? It looks like a room full of white people identified as “stakeholders” meeting during work hours on weekdays to provide input into adaptation planning when the African Americans and Haitians (whose neighborhoods have standing water for 3 days after heavy rains due to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion) have to work.

I am fortunate enough to be able to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me in my faith tradition as a Unitarian Universalist. I have dreams that are fueled by Statements of Conscience and Actions of Immediate Witness; crafted through the democratic Social Witness process of the Unitarian Universalist Association. I have dreams that are fueled by statements crafted by ministries affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association that are based on our Statements of Conscience and Actions of Immediate Witness. So, I share the dream that the group of citizens that has signed up with Commit2Respond, an unprecedented cooperative effort of 8 UU ministries, can change the world. Because until it is disproved, I believe that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.

My nightmare is already real in the world. Their dream of denial is creating my very real nightmare. The nightmare that injustice causes the least among us to suffer the most from climate change, while wealthy patriarchal Americans laugh about it in denial in political discourse on television, and I see it over and over as it is Facebooked, Tweeted, and used to distract from serious productive discussion.

My dream is that by working in relationship and partnership, and by always seeking out community-based solutions that challenge the status quo, we will change the world.

In my congregation, at UUFBR, our Green Sanctuary Team and our Healing Justice Group are partnering with two minority communities to train residents to be effective climate communicators in English, in Creole or in Spanish. We are preparing a Tri-lingual Adaptation Toolkit that will be online; a PowerPoint that explains it; and a brochure with magnet (so it can go on the refrigerator) with phone numbers and links that are important to residents where there is frequent standing water, the risk of a boil water order, or floodwater. A few residents in each of the two communities will be trained to explain the public health risks in their communities from climate change and sea level rise to their neighbors in a neighborhood canvass.

The climate communicators trained in this project will be empowered to educate their neighbors, and to report at a community meeting so they are held up as community public health experts on health risks related to climate change impacts. Ties within the minority communities: between the English speaking African-American residents and the Creole-speaking and Hispanic-speaking immigrants, who are their new neighbors, will be strengthened so they can increase their ability to work together in the event of a hurricane or another hazard. This will increase their climate resilience.

Climate vulnerability is not just geo-spatial, with maps that show inundation. Social scientists have found that vulnerability is created at the intersection of race, class and gender. The community we are partnering with in the historic Pearl City of Boca Raton was platted for “Negroes only” when Flagler brought laborers to work on building the railroad. They built houses and schools, but were not allowed to go west of I-95. Many of the elders of that community are uncomfortable coming to our Fellowship that is west of I-95. We go there. As the members of the community moved away, many rented their homes to others, so now the community has Creole and Spanish speaking residents. Neighbors do not speak the same language, which increases vulnerability because of the difficulty of communicating in the event of a hurricane or other disaster. We are hoping to find the people in the community who can be the bi-lingual or tri-lingual bridges among neighbors to decrease this vulnerability.

When we did the HighWaterLine project associated with our Florida Earth Festival last year, our Green Sanctuary Team did oral histories in south Delray Beach. They have saltwater intrusion pushing the freshwater up through the porous limestone. When we did our oral histories we found out that on several streets there is standing water for several days after a few inches of rain. Standing water is a health hazard.

We will make mistakes, and we will learn. In the process of learning, we will strengthen cooperation in our congregation between our Green Sanctuary Team and our Healing Justice group to combat the structural racism inherent in climate injustice. We will strengthen the bridges between our Fellowship and the African-American and Haitian communities in our midst. Our project is funded by an EPA Environmental Justice Small Project Grant. This is the first grant cycle from the EPA made available to faith-based groups to partner with vulnerable communities to educate about the public health impacts of climate change. In this sense, we are participating in the pioneering efforts to conceptualize a new climate change outreach framework.

My dream is that when my daughter is a grandmother (if she chooses to have children), she and all the people of this world will have air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat; and that neither she nor her children will remain silent when TRUTH IS BEING DISTORTED BY A DANGEROUS AND UNJUST DREAM SHARED BY A GROUP OF POWERFUL PEOPLE, AND SHE WILL RESPOND. And because of all of our efforts to build bridges and to work with people of different races and cultures, that my daughter and her children will be living in the beloved community we hold as our collective dream.

So, Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?”
Anyone who will stand with me in the fight for climate justice.
Anyone who will Commit2Respond.

Until It's Disproved, a sermon delivered by UUFBR's Jan Booher at 1stUUPB on Jan 31, 2016.