Monday, July 24, 2017

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

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

Wild Geese
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
  love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
                        --Mary Oliver 

I am not sure at what point in life I discovered nature’s capacity to astound, awe, comfort and console, but when I go back to the little river town I grew up in along the Ohio River in Indiana, it feels like our house and neighborhood are on the verge of being overtaken again by the wilderness. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Ben Juhl's July 9 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ben Juhl