Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St Croix

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Sermons from UU services

On February 1, 2015, we were honored to have visiting Reverend Jane and Reverend Robinson join us and be apart of celebrating Black History Month in the Virgin Islands. More details on their experience to come…..

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Selected by Reverend Robinson, this song was a great reference as to what his sermon was about. Notice the author…

“Getting to the Promised Land” Delivered by Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

Namaste’- The Divine in me recognizes and greets the divine in you! Our text this morning comes primarily from the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. I quote from his speech, I Have a Dream…his last before his death four days later at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, TN. On April 4, 1968. He said, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountain top and I don’t mind. Like anybody, I’d like to live a longggg life. But longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up the mountain and I’ve looked over and I’ve seeeeeen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen. the glory of the coming of the Lord. ” That was Dr. King’s final sermon and words to the public. So we are here today to examine our commitment to Rev. King’s legacy and whether or not we have honored it and to reflect on the journey to the Promised Land – a place of mythical proportion but still real in our hearts and minds. It was the bravery of a woman, Rosa Parks, on Dec. 1, 1955 that forever changed his life and catapulted him onto the national and international arena, for he first came to our attention with the Montgomery Bus Boycott as a result of her refusal to give up her seat. Others joined in a boycott that lasted for a year and ended with black folks in Montgomery, Alabama saying, Yes We Can. Eventually bus segregation was ruled unconstitutional, hence, a major civil rights accomplishment. Dr. King as we know is known for his articulate sermons and impassioned speeches in which he spoke out against injustices, such as racism. In the spring of 1968 he began to also denounce materialism and ultimately militarism. You need to know that the last few years of his life he had fallen out of favor with many because he dared speak out against the war in Vietnam and the economic disparities in our country. …Dr. King stated, “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.” He had already earned his reputation as a great civil rights leader. And yet some dared to try to stifle the dream and dreamer by ostrasizing him. During his lifetime he espoused a social gospel – a liberation theology that emphasized justice for the poor and oppressed that would ultimately engender the Beloved Community, the Kingdom of God on earth. Dr. King challenged our nation’s moral authority and memory. He challenged America to make good on its promises of justice and freedom for all people. King’s legacy created a new narrative – one that was interfaith as well as culturally and racially diverse, a narrative that we are still attempting to make good on in this country. Every Sunday here at Third Unitarian Church you affirm and invite people of different faiths, different cultures, races, economic status and different sexual orientations to join you in worship. So you are carrying on Dr. King’s legacy through the Unitarian Universalist tradition of inclusion. But today, I came to talk about getting to the Promised Land. The Promised Land is a term used in the Hebrew Bible to describe the land promised by God, to the Israelites. It entailed a territory from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates river.1 In more contemporary times the term Promised Land has been frequently referenced. My ancestors talked about a city paved with streets of gold, where they would just walk around Heaven all day. They would sing a song,”everybody talking ‘bout heaven ain’t goin there.” They would turn and look at Masa’s Big House when they sang those Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promised-Land 1 words. Johnny Cash sang, I am Bound for the Promised Land. Chuck Berry in 1965 and Elvis Presley in 1973 both made songs titled, Promised Land. Our Unitarian Universalist hymnal contains a hymn titled, We’ll Build a Land. “We’ll build a land where we bind up the broken…Where the captives go free…where the oil of gladness dissolves all mourning.” Ohhhhhhh, we’ll build a Promised Land that can be.” Oprah Winfrey calls her multimillion dollar 42 acre residence in Santa Barbara, California, the Promised Land. There is a Promise Land State Park in Pike County, PA. Clearly the Promised Land is a place of equity, justice, beauty and peace – And while it probably looks different for each individual. One thing that is consistent is like the lottery, you have to play to win. You see, we have to at least set our feet on a path that we believe will take us there if we are serious about the Promised Land. Scotty from Star Trek can’t just beam us there. Rev. Dr. Marilyn Sewell, a UU minister asserts, “Salvation is not about getting to the promised land – it’s about how well we journey.”2 And I would add, “how well we journey together.” Because I don’t think it would be any fun to be in the promised land by ones self. So getting to the promised land requires a community effort of, discipline, vision, and courage. I believe it requires courage which is not merely the absence of fear but the courage of conviction, the courage to hold a steady course, the courage to ask for help and the courage to risk failure. Courage means that you will sometimes end up in the valley of despair. I recall a time of despair for Dr. King. Like many of us he struggled at times with his vision, his leadership, his faith and commitment. In a prayer titled, Kings Prayer, Dr. King is not portrayed as the great fearless leader that we all knew and loved. Instead, he was like so many of us when we become discouraged and afraid. He wrote, “I had reached the saturation point, I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are Marilyn Sewell. January 6, 2008. sermon 2 looking to me for leadership, and I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left…I can’t face it alone.” “At this moment,” he wrote, “I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never before experienced him. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying, “Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.” “Almost at once” he wrote, “my fears began to pass from me. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me inner calm.” Life is about moments of grace like these when we appear to have reached the end of our resources that we have to reach deep inside and outside for the journey at hand. That is why community is so important. That is why our faith development is so important. How different would this story have been had King reached and found nothing in his moment of despair. What do you call on to get you through life’s adversities and ultimately to the Promised Land? For King it was Christian redemption delivered by a God of love and compassion who held him when he could not go on. For us as Unitarian Universalists embracing diverse beliefs, I challenge each of you to name the various ways that your theology and ideology holds you during times of great distress in your life that will get you to your Promised Land. Some of you may remember King’s visit to Chicago described in a Chicago Tribune article. It said, “As King marched, someone hurled a stone. It struck King on the head. Stunned, he fell to one knee. He stayed on the ground for several seconds. As he rose, aides and bodyguards surrounded him to protect him from the rocks, bottles and firecrackers that rained down on the demonstrators. King was one of 30 people who were injured; the disturbance resulted in 40 arrests. He later explained why he put himself at risk: “ I have to do this – to expose myself – to bring this hate into the open.” He had done that before, but Chicago was different. “I have seen many demonstrations in the south, but I have never seen anything so hostile and so hateful as I’ve seen here today.” Dr. King said there would be some difficult days ahead. He embodied a spirit of generosity, an open and optimistic view of life and creation. He conveyed a profound respect for those with different views. He met violence with gentleness, forgiveness and understanding because he understood grace and redemption. And yet we know he was a flawed human being and no saint. But he reminded us that, Right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” In closing I could quote any number of Dr. King’s prolific words and speeches. Instead, I choose to quote a lesser known statement made to the United States Congress on May 20, 1959. Dr. King said to them: “Make a career of humanity, commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.” 3 legacy. He reminded us in his eloquent words and his example of who we are capable of being in our finest/highest and best selves. Some of the things you can do to honor Dr. King’s legacy is to: • Donate a day of service • Read and meditate on the writings and teachings of Dr. King • Rededicate yourself to nonviolence in your personal relationships and in the greater world • Work to eliminate racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-semetism, and poverty Getting to the promised land requires that we set our feet on the path of justice and equality. That we be visionaries willing to be in relationship with one another and be intentional about naming our theologies and ideologies and, to tap our inner resources and spiritual practices that get us through adversity. Congressional Record. May 20, 1959. 3 Amen and Blessed Be! Benediction/Closing Words “Salvation, says Dr. King, is being on the right road, not having reached a destination.” May we discern the right road for ourselves and lift up the good within us and around us and be a light unto the world so that the legacy of Dr. King and all the great leaders continues for ever more! Blessed Be!

By Susan Kraeger

UU Fellowship of St Croix at the Jewish Community Center

October 12th, 2014

Two weeks ago today I returned from a week-long trip to Ghana.   While there, the co-founder and president of World Class and I formally commissioned a beautiful new twelve seat public latrine in the village of Sapeiman with great pomp and ceremony and covered by the press and TV; with the completion of that project we formally gathered with the chief and elders of Chintu – a village of 600 people not far from there and agreed that our next sanitation project would be for them; we also spent time in meeting with our two-person staff and three member board and ironed out responsibilities for the coming year.  Most excitingly we explored a new toilet technology that employs less than a cup of water to flush and digests the waste into useable compost.   Each time I visit Ghana I spend at least one day visiting our existing projects – both wells and latrines.  It is always a gift to see women and girls using the wells, but the latrines are fairly well maintained multiple stalled outhouses and I visit because its what I’ve signed on to do. Originally this service was scheduled to be about families.  For those of you who are anticipating a sermon about such relationships, I do not wish to spend this morning talking about human waste and its disposal, but I have to admit I am VERY excited about this new toilet technology.   In point of fact, as with much of the work I have been involved with in Ghana, relationships have played a most important role in realizing everything I ever set out to accomplish there.

And so this morning I am going to share with you the story of a family or two and how it came to pass that our next sanitation project will use the innovative Microflush-Biofil toilet in our next installation. In the spring of 2007, as the executive director of WomensTrust – a microlending program in Ghana – I received an e-mail from a Hannah Davis – NOT the super model dating Derek Jeter – for those of you who follow such things – but an idealistic 19 year old freshman at NYU.  Hannah had been to Ghana the year before where she had volunteered to work in an orphanage and do independent study on education for semester credit for high school.  Her trip was funded in part by the Jamestown, Rhode Island Rotary Club of which her grandfather Steve Mecca was a member. Upon her return, Hannah reported to the club that she wanted to go back to Ghana and start a literacy program.  The club agreed to fund her, and the Ghana Literacy Project was born.  Hannah approached me in part to share linkages in the large village of Pokuase where our loan program was concentrated, and to explore the possibility of using the umbrella of our 501 c (3) while she got her fundraising feet on the ground.  I met with both Hannah and her grandfather, and was delighted with her entrepreneurial spirit.  WomensTrust embraced her ideas and the Ghana Literacy Project became a reality.  That summer Hannah’s first program – Girls Exploration and Empowerment Club or GEEC as it was known – began to taking bright, at risk girls from Ghanaian public middle schools and provide them with supplementary classes in computers, and skill building in science and literature.   She hired a young unemployed local resident– Sammie Gyabah – with a degree in education from the University of Ghana to teach some of the classes and worked closely with him to develop a scholarship program which still exists today. Within three years, Hannah expanded the literacy program’s mission to allow the organization the ability to explore projects with longer-lasting and economically sustainable potential.  The Ghana Literacy Program became the Ghana Sustainable Aid Project.   Its goal is to work in partnership with Ghanaians to identify critical development issues.  She began by soliciting input from her staff.  When Hannah asked Sammie Gyabah what he thought is village of Pokuase needed most Sammie’s response was clear and immediate: Easy access to clean sanitation facilities. Globally it is currently estimated that over 1 billion women in the world lack access to safe sanitation and 526 million of them practice open defecation.   Access to sanitation is lowest in sub-Saharan Africa with 70 percent of the population affected, followed closely by Oceania and South Asia.  Studies show that a tremendous amount of fear, indignity and violence accompany responding to the call of nature “using the bush.”  Lack of decent sanitation also affects productivity and livelihoods.   It is estimated that women and girls in Ghana alone without toilet facilities spend 425 million hours each year finding a place to relieve themselves in the open.  Often girls leave school in the middle of classes and never bother to return.  The threat of diarrhea, typhoid and cholera are ever present.  The health implications are staggering: 2,000 children die every day the world over due to contaminated water and poor sanitation. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern very quickly that sanitation is a huge problem in the developing world.  However, it took a nuclear physicist in the form of Hannah’s grandfather Steve Mecca to devise a unique solution. Steve has been a “science” professor at Providence College in Rhode Island for 43 years.  Since 2009, he has also been a visiting professor at the University of Ghana.  A nuclear physicist by training, he has been profoundly impressed with his granddaughter Hannah’s international development work.   In recent years Steve has turned his energy to complex problem solving and economics.  Appalled by the sanitation situation in Ghana, Professor Mecca worked with a Ghanaian engineer to develop a biofill digester that turns waste to usable compost.  Back in Providence he developed a toilet valve that could be flushed with less than a cup of water – the amount a person uses to wash their hands.  He then he married the two technologies to create the microflush-biofill toilet. Briefly, each individual stall houses a sink and a toilet.  The units harvest rainwater which is used for the sink in each stall.  After hand washing the gray water is transported to the toilet via piping which flushes using about 2/3 of a cup of water.  The waste is then filtered before entering a small leeching field or digester where it remains for two years.  After the two years, the ecosystem reaches its capacity at which time the waste is then removed and can be used as fertilizer.  This cycle then repeats for another two years.  Each installation I visited this trip is remarkably (and mercifully) odor free and completely without flies. In May 2011, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognized the potential for the Microflush-Biofil system by awarding Professor Mecca and Hannah’s Ghana Sustainable Aid Project $100,000 through its Grand Challenges Explorations initiative.

Sanitation is a huge issue not just for the populations it affects, but for the agencies and foundations who are seeking solutions.  In 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Water, Sanitation & Hygiene program initiated the Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to bring sustainable sanitation solutions to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to safe, affordable sanitation.nThe basic water-flush design of the toilet and its connection to a sewage or septic system has actually been around since the late 18th century; and from a functional standpoint not a lot about this concept has changed. But for much of the world, especially where fresh water and sanitation are major issues, our outdated toilet technology is utterly impractical. We need toilets that work in parts of the world without sewage systems and running water. The quest for a better toilet — one that can actually generate nutrients and clean water — draws attention to what is arguably the most important theme in science’s ongoing quest to make waste a thing of the past: “waste” that can be reused isn’t really waste to begin with. Sammie Gyabah still continues to work for the Ghana Sustainable Aid Project and with their help has developed a version of the toilet to make it more affordable to Ghana’s rural poor by using more easily accessible local materials.   This past April, the Swedish conglomerate who owns the popular local Ghanaian satellite channel in conjunction with its corporate responsibility partner Reach for Change sponsored a nationwide competition Game Changers – Ghana.  The aim  of the competition was to find that one special social entrepreneur who would make a significant impact in Ghana supporting the education of underprivileged children in their communities.  Of the 2,000 entries received, five individuals were chosen to participate and Sammie and his toilet was one of them.  Focusing on the high absenteeism caused by the lack of clean and easily accessed sanitation, Sammie’s company – SamAlex Sanitation Solutions as part of its commitment to corporate responsibility is working to bring clean and odor free toilets to schools, train children to wash their hands, and to act as ambassadors promoting clean sanitation at home and in their communities.  It was a very exciting competition watched by thousands of Ghanaians. On August 25, 2014 Sammie Gyabah was chosen by the viewers as Ghana’s Game Changer 2014.  His prize consisted in part of a grant for $15,000, extraordinary recognition, and a place in an international incubator program to help him develop his idea into a sustainable initiative. I have known Sammie for nearly a decade.  I know his family well.  I hired his Aunt Gertrude as director of development for WomensTrust – a position she still holds, his mother was a loan client, and Sammie was often employed by WomensTrust as a translator, and then as a program coordinator.  I cannot begin to express what a gift it is to be working with him in this new capacity. In closing, I just wanted to share that the United Nations co-sponsored a resolution with the World Toilet Organization naming November 19 as World Toilet Day – this year it falls on a Wednesday if you want to make a note.

“Animals and Me”

By Edmund Davys

UU Fellowship of St Croix at the Jewish Community Center

October 26th, 2014

Good Morning! I posted a picture of myself on FaceBook this week, because it is my favorite picture of myself from my childhood.  I am about 3 or 4 years old, and I’m sitting in the saddle of a beautiful horse named Lady.  My Dad is standing beside me, and look of joy on my face says worlds about who I am.  The horse, Lady, was well named.  When my Dad would get in the saddle she was  a live wire, ready to jump fences, go full tilt cross country – the total performance thoroughbred!  When I was placed on her back, or any child for that matter, she would walk quietly and smoothly, being careful where she placed her hooves.  Animals are beautifully intuitive.  A gifted one can change your life.  I love all animals, but dogs are the ones that charm me most completely. My earliest recollection about dogs is being on my hands and knees about age 3 or 4, with a collar of some kind around my neck, pretending to be my sister Gail’s pet puppy.  I am not certain if this was her idea or mine – but I suspect it was me – trying to get inside a dog’s perspective. As a boy I begged my parents for a dog – my Dad wasn’t particularly interested, and Mom had only one thought on the subject – “but honey, he would pee on my rugs.”  But I kept pleading, and years later, to shut me up, my Dad took me to a dog show in London when I was 8 or 9, which only served to intensify my pleading and now I wanted a German Shepherd, not  just any old dog.  Finally, when I was 12, and we were living in Brussels Belgium, we went out and got a beautiful  Belgian Shepherd puppy who I named Prince.  Actually, Prince D’Orange le troisieme – don’t ask me why.  But Prince came home with kennel cough, lived for about 2 months in our basement, and promptly died.  To this day, 55 years later, I can remember vividly the last time he looked at me – it totally broke my heart.  Puppy infections are highly contagious so it was recommended that we wait at least 6 months before getting another dog – so to make a long story short – it never happened. The first thing I did when I got out of college was go to the pound and get a dog.  I have always had a dog since! The first pound dog was a collie mix, and because my first wife was born in Ireland, that dog’s name was Charles Stuart Parnell.  Parnell was a sweet boy – and not long after he was joined by a little kitty cat.  The cat was a little scared the night we brought her home – pretty much hid from everyone – but the following morning we got up – and the kitty was not to be found.  We searched everywhere.  I was beginning to suspect that Parnell might have done something disturbing –  so I took a closer look at his belly – and sure enough it was larger than normal – but on close inspection – the kitty was happy as could be – sleeping away – their fur was the same color – so she just disappeared in Parnell’s coat.  They were fast friends from then on. There have been many, all characters, all memorable in their own ways… but there are two that changed me in profound ways. Alex, was a beautiful, incredibly bright, sweet, funny golden retriever – and my soul mate for all of her 12,1/2 years.  I am ashamed to say I got Alex at a pet store in Manhattan – I did check out the pound – but there wasn’t anyone there who spoke to me – so I went back to this pet store and they had 6 or 7 puppies in a fenced in area, and they were all crowding toward me – and Alex literally climbed onto the backs and heads of the other dogs to get to me – he had a paw in the faces of two puppies under him – he came right up to me with tail wagging licking my face.  He was wonderfully assertive – so I named him Alexander the Great!  Which I then had to change to Alexandra because the world conqueror turned out to be a lady. I remember the exact moment she figured out house training.  We had put down papers by the front door, spent a lot of time with her outside, praising her every time she peed – and one day I was sitting on the living room floor and I saw her start to sniff the rug, and her little butt started to squat – and I said “Alex! No.” And before I could get to my feet, she straightened up, looked at me, and her eyes lit up – “I get it!” and she ran down the hallway and peed on the paper – and came trotting back tail wagging just so proud of herself!  In 12,1/2 years she never once had an accident – and there were times when she was accidentally left for 10 or 12 hours. I trained her to whisper commands – and I remember once we had a party at our apartment and there were about 50 people crammed into our small railroad style apartment.  Music was playing, loud conversations all around, actors – and Alex was lying in the opposite corner of the living room from me watching it all.  A friend commented to me how good she was being – and I said watch this.  I lowered my head, didn’t look at her, and whispered “Alex” – she looked at me through the crowd, serpented her way through all the legs and noise, sat at my feet and put her face in my lap.  How did she do that?  She just gets me.  When she died my vet said he’d never seen a relationship between a man and a dog that was closer.  When I went to sleep at night, she would curl up on the floor next to my bed, and when I was ready to go to sleep, I would take a deep breath, then she would take a deep breath, and then we’d both fall asleep.  For months after she died I didn’t sleep well – and for years after, I couldn’t get another dog.  I was just heartbroken. On the plane to St. Croix, finally escaping the chaos of New York and the world of professional theatre, they were playing the movie Marley and Me – a wonderful story about a seriously rambunctious yellow lab – and I resolved that as soon as I was settled I would get a Cruzan puppy and name him Marley.  Shortly after I moved into my little cottage on the South Shore I got a call from a friend informing me that she had my puppy.  I went over and found a 5-week old classic Cruzan bush pup, who looked more like a little deer than a dog, incredibly sweet, who just needed love and food and yes, some medical attention.  When I got home I saw this little black Pomeranian mix that my neighbor had tied to a tree – because they also had a 120 lb lab who was hurting her when they played.  I can’t tolerate seeing dogs tied up – for any reason, and although I have always been a big dog guy, I adopted little Miss B, and she and Marley have become inseparable.  When Marley came home is was about 15 lbs – he is now a 65 lb classic Cruzan bush puppy, and his diabolical blind as a bat buddy, Miss B, remains about 10 lbs soaking wet.  But they are devoted equals.  I feed them from the same bowl – and without any prompting from me, Marley lies down and watches Miss B eat her fill – (about ¼ of the bowl of food) – and then he devours the rest. I drive out west 4 or 5 days a week to swim a couple of miles, starting and returning to Rainbow beach – so Rhythms has become my home away from home.  About a year ago, Lexi, the sweet South Carolinian bar tender at Rhythms, said “come out back there’s something I want to show you.”  I walked around the restaurant to find Lexi, crouched down, quietly talking to skinny black terrified Chow mix, coaxing her to eat some food from a bowl Lexi had put out.  The Chow had a puppy, they were both terrified, but hunger, and curiosity, and Lexi’s patience and love won out – and after a few weeks ‘Mama dog’, as she was now known, and her pup were gaining weight, and were now allowing Lexi to stroke them – and the process of Mama’s socialization had begun.  I started bringing milk bones with me every time I came out to swim, and after a few months, Mama was clearly in love with Lexi, and she finally adopted me too.  She adopted Lexi’s husband Brian and Scotty, who is Brian’s partner in West End Water Sports.  One day a crazy guy purposefully ran over Mama’s puppy and killed him.  This redoubled our commitment to her. Mama is without any doubt the smartest, most beautiful dog I have ever known.  Her coat is always gorgeous, and clean.  She smells good, her breath smells good.  I honestly don’t know how she does it.  The entire area around Rhythms, the bush, Rainbow beach, and the shoreline for about a ½ mile in either direction is Mama’s playground – her territory. Without any training, she knows that when the restaurant is busy, she stays outside, near the front door, or near the back (where she can stay close to Lexi).  Although this is clearly her territory, she lets all dogs in without any problem, and she has become much more friendly with people she doesn’t know.  But one morning a tall, drugged out looking guy started hanging around out front… Lexi heard a deep ferocious bark she had never heard before – and Mama did not stop chasing him until he was out of sight down the road.   Another day a large German Shepherd decided to challenge her.  He came right up to her, baring his teeth, growling and snarling – spoiling for a fight.  Mama just sat down and looked at him – as if to say “what is your problem?”  He finally got so confused he just walked away.  Mama dog seems to have Zen training.  Friendly dogs she will play with on the beach. Think about this.  This is a dog who grew up starving, fighting for food, for survival.  But she never – never  begs for food.  She won’t even lie near a table that has fresh food on it.  She somehow understands that begging is inappropriate – or unattractive.  When the restaurant is quiet, she will come in, visit Lexi, visit me, visit Scotty and Brian.  She will eat food if offered, but never approaches a table with food on it. She decided at some point that she was going to supervise Scotty and Brian when they put their jet skiis away.  So when they are pulling the jet skiis with their ATVs you will find Mama trotting along in front of them.  She shows them where they go, and sits and watches to make sure they back the jet skis into their containers correctly.  And when she is working, she will not be distracted. She is still partially wild – loves to hunt – particularly mongoose.  She climbs trees while hunting mongoose!  I didn’t believe either – until I saw it.  Scotty lived until recently in a beach house just north of Rhythms, and she was enticed to stay indoors overnight a few times – but most often she’s happiest out front – keeping an eye out.  Her relationships with the four of us are completely individualized.  Lexi is Mama’s mama.  Scotty is her adored #1 guy.  Brian is her buddy, she loves to rough house with him, and I’m her sugar daddy.  She constantly surprises and delights us. Dogs aren’t supposed to be able to see 2-dimensional pictures.  But recently Mama went up to a painting of a dog on the side of the restaurant, and tried to smell it.  Nose to nose.  Clearly recognizing it as a dog???  Lexi took her for a walk one day and Mama stopped dead in her tracks… wouldn’t move.  Lexi went over to look, and she was fixated on a $10 dollar bill.  How did she know that crumpled piece of paper was valuable??  We love this dog!  She makes our lives more fun!  More valuable!  There are days when I’m feeling a little low because of stress at work – or other issues – but driving out to see Mama always makes things better.  But if Mama had been found by someone and taken to our Shelter, she would have been put down, because she had heart worm – and she was a stray. The St. Croix Animal Welfare Center has been handling the abandoned animal crisis on St. Croix for 42 years.  They have done a wonderful job.  I often describe them as heroic.  And I mean it.  But it is their policy, as it is the intelligent policy of all open door shelters, that if an animal comes in with heartworm, or ringworm, or any need for medical treatment, if there is no one to pay for it, they are put to sleep rather than sent back into the wild to starve or die other forms of painful death.  Our euthanasia rate in 2013 was 81%.  This is not a criticism of the Animal Shelter.  They are currently taking in animals at a per capita rate 5 times that of the average shelter on the mainland.  They are doing what they need to do.  But they need help. A group of animal lovers formed Healing Paws Sanctuary for the precise purpose of offering 2-3 times the space to keep animals, to treat those with treatable diseases, to rehabilitate those that are suffering from shyness or excessive fear, and to find a way to get them adopted – often by flying them back to the mainland.  The initial goal of Healing Paws is to reduce the euthanasia rate at the Shelter to about half.  I joined the board of Healing Paws about a year ago, we are renovating a Great House and raising money to build octagon structures to house our animals.  As we began to work on developing a working relationship with the Shelter, it became quickly clear that the Shelter needed help too. As Healing Paws can’t solve the euthanasia issue at the Shelter if the Shelter closes its doors – I joined the Shelter board.  Healing Paws and the AWC have since signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging mutual support .  That partnership, and the fresh energy brought in with Healing Paws I believe will bring long lasting, much needed help to the abandoned animals on our island. Both organizations need money –  and both need volunteers – lots of them!  Healing Paws needs donations of lawn and hedge trimming equipment.  We need office equipment, beds and furniture for our resident groundskeepers.  We need a gas stove! If you love animals, ½ as much as I do, both organizations welcome your help, with muscle, special skills, money or that most valuable commodity – time. I’m going to end this with a story. Shane and Belker Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home. As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience. The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker ‘s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s Death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ”I know why.” Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live. He said,”People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The Six-year-old continued, ”Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.” Remember, if a dog was the teacher you would learn things like: When loved ones come home, always run to greet them. Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride. Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy. Take naps. Stretch before rising. Run, romp, and play daily. Thrive on attention and let people touch you. Avoid biting when a simple growl will do. On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass. On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree. When you’re happy, dance around and wag your entire body. Delight in the simple joy of a long walk. Be loyal. Never pretend to be something you’re not. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.     ENJOY EVERY MOMENT OF EVERY DAY!


Revs Quiyamah Brahman and Kenn Hirto

“The Sacred Call: Personal Answers to Ultimate Questions” Sermon by Gail Nealon May 26, 2013 Ansel Adams once said: “In wisdom gathered over the years, I have found every experience to be a form of exploration.” We found these words painted on our bedroom wall, in English, in Machu Picchu, Peru. That gave me goosebumps…For me, this set the stage for our experience of that amazing place…. The topic for my talk this morning was inspired, at least in part, by the book by Phil Cousineau entitled:  The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seekers Guide to Making Travel Sacred. I wasn’t sure I was going to understand what it was all about, but I found that some of it spoke to me. At the time, we were in the process of planning our long anticipated trip to Machu Picchu. This place was at the top of my Bucket List, and I was fascinated to learn more about it. I had heard about the fact that it is considered to be one of the 7 most sacred sites in the world. I wanted to know why and what it would mean for me? After reading books like “Turn Right at Machu Picchu” and “The Last of the Incas”, I decided to turn my attention to something decided different from battles for power and gold. A friend recommended this book to me, as it is a compilation of many travelers’ experiences and the exploration of what makes something sacred to us. The word sacred is not something you hear very often in a UU Fellowship. The dictionary definition is: something, or someplace, that is regarded with reverence. In this case, I use the word sacred to apply to anything that is especially important, or significant to me, or, to you. For someone else, a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame may be a sacred journey? The sacred is something we must look for. It can be found in the most unusual, and the most obvious places. In the words of Alexander Eliot: “Personal answers to ultimate questions are what we all are seeking.” I am not sure he is correct? Some of you might challenge the accuracy of that statement, but I decided to follow his line of thinking. This is what gives our lives meaning. The call to the sacred journey that your heart longs for will not come by expectation alone. You must practice stillness and solitude. What goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your attention, and only you can attend to it. We must somehow keep working at it and not lose too much time and courage clarifying our relationships and attitudes about other people and what they expect and think of us. Have you stopped listening to yourself? Something within will call you back… a voice, your destiny perhaps? The voyage which draws us may be without, or, more significantly, it may be within.  Our Covenant Group has been exploring what is meaningful to us and how that changes at different times in our lives. If life is threatened by serious illness, physical breakdowns, or advancing age, or perhaps both, the goal becomes understanding  the role and significance of our lives. The journey then must be within. We may find that we need to write our own Myths, as Bill Moyers discussed in his interviews with Joseph Campbell.  It is the understanding of what we will leave behind: our legacies that tie it all together. What does the term “Soul Food” mean to you? It is the stuff that feeds our souls..the ingredients are different for each of us, but the results are the same..fulfillment, satisfaction, a knowledge that you have made a significant difference by being here, a life “well lived”. For some of us this may mean a life surrounded by nature, for some it is being in the middle of family and friends, or in the center of the action, for some it is teaching, for others it is helping those less able, for others solitude is the thing, for some it is roaming and discovering the mysteries of the world.. For most of us, however, it may be a balanced mix of all the above choices. Exploring the magic of music, the arts, science and literature all bring us closer to those mysteries. Exploring our talents and the gifts we have to share are all things that give us deep feelings of satisfaction. But, for me, it took a trip to Machu Picchu to make me realize that the most important journey is the one we make to home…the center of our lives. But, before we go there, let us stop for a moment: I must give Machu Picchu its due: The words mysterious, and mystical only just begin to describe the thrill of the experience of finally being there in person…The dramatic scenery takes your breath away, the site of the ruins is awe inspiring, the clouds are swirling around the peaks, and the peaks disappear and reappear, it looks as if they are floating, and you sense that you are too. The feeling of the place is full of energy, you can feel it surging through you, the heat is radiating off the rocks, you feel so light that you sense that you are floating over the ancient stone steps, as if you are being lifted up and could soar like the condors. You have no sense of being tired while you are there. The music of the pan pipes is haunting and it keeps playing in our ears, the people are charming and proud of their heritage, the wild flowers are beautiful, especially the orchids, and the colors are deep and rich. To make things even more special Jim and I had wonderful traveling companions, Susan and Tom Kraeger, who shared this amazing experience with us, and that made it even richer. This place is considered to be one of the world’s most sacred sites. What does that mean? It means something different to every person who was there, from all over the world, and all those millions that have visited this site in the past. It is a truly personal experience. The proof to me of a truly spiritual place is the fact that I still felt as if I was not present, but was still floating  somewhere in the Andes long after leaving there. It was a difficult reentry, I had trouble concentrating  on the details and responsibilities of my life the first two weeks after returning home. But, in spite of the amazing time we had there, I began to long for home after about eight days,… I needed to be here. As we reentered St Croix after two weeks, I realized that for me, this place is the most sacred place of all.  We are lucky enough to call this beautiful island home. It is not perfect, as we all know, but neither is any other place. This is where love resides, were our friends are found, where we find meaningful work, much needed rest and respite from the pressures of the outside world, opportunities for service abound here and here we find sustenance for our souls. This is where the UU Fellowship is. Is this the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Perhaps this is the “gold” the Spanish conquerors should have been looking for? Sometimes we must travel great distances, either mentally, or physically,  and come full circle before we realize that what we have been seeking has been right here in front of us all along! That does not mean that we do not need breaks from the pressures of our jobs and day to day tasks, that is always important. Time to rebalance and recreate ourselves is vital. Change is a good thing… There are many journeys to be taken, no beginnings and no endings, just lessons to be learned, perspective to be gained. Enjoy the process of enlightenment and enrichment…you may find it between the covers of a good book. If we are intentional about what we hope to gain from our journeys we may be transformed by them. Perhaps we will discover that the only thing that is really important in this life is what we do for others? For many of us UU’s “service” is the call that makes life worth living.  For me this has been true. I am not an artist, or a musician, or a gardener, therefore, it is hard for me to fill my days in being creative. So, when I was asked to serve the UU Fellowship, as a board member 8 years ago, I was very busy: I was working three jobs, and my schedule was crazy. But, I began to realize that it was my turn, that I was being called to service and it was time to step up to the plate. Frankly, I was not confident that I would be up to the task. It took a Buddhist Ceremony and an hour of chanting for the message to sink into my cluttered brain, but, I experienced a flash of enlightenment. I decided consciously that now the time had come and I had to make the choice to stop doing some other things, that were less meaningful, to make room in my life for this new commitment. Once I got started, what I discovered was that I would grow and learn. One important thing that I learned was that I did have the gifts to meet the needs of the task at hand. I simply had to learn to trust myself, and to know that where ever necessary I would be given the help to do the task. I did make mistakes, we all do, after all we are human. And I needed a lot of help! And I got it. None of us can do these jobs of leading the Fellowship alone and we are not expected to do that! Teamwork is the solution… It does really take all of us to working together, sharing our individual gifts and talents to make this work. Everyone one of you has something that is needed by this Fellowship. Many of you already given much of yourselves and the obvious proof is that this lay-led Fellowship has been here for 26 plus years, with no staff to help them. The message that I really want to leave you with today is that this is valuable work. The success of this Fellowship is important to all of us. And the reward is that it is deeply satisfying to be of service to those you care about and a cause that you believe in. We all have lives that are busy, and other people are depending on us.   But, there is always time to do something that is important and worthwhile. The only real factor is our willingness to serve our Fellowship. I have spent the last 7 years on our Board, first as the V.P., and then as your President and I want to thank you all for the rich opportunities that this time has presented to me, to learn and get to know all of you better. This truly feels like a family to me. This is a sacred place for me and this was a sacred calling. I gave it my all, and I will not stop giving… I will continue to serve in many ways… But, it is time for different leadership, new talents and new vision.  I will miss the fulfillment of this job, but, I will find new ways to serve. And so will you. Think about saying yes, and find the deep satisfaction that it will bring to you. Trust that you can do it and you will. I am sure that it will be a richly rewarding experience for you, as it has been for me. Thank you all for your support and help! From the gifts of your precious children, your beautiful music, to the delicious  food and the lovely flowers we enjoy so much. For running our Sunday School, managing our Birthday Cards and the help in setting up and taking down for services. Everyone of you is an important piece of this puzzle. I have had terrific board members and committees and last, but definitely not least, I would like to thank Reverend Qiyamah, who has made all of our jobs easier. We are deeply grateful for her presence among us and the quality of sacredness that she adds to our services and to our lives. Thank you for being an important part of our journeys! I would like to end with a quotation that says it all for me: These are the words of Forrest Church, a UU Minister and  author. “Do what you care. Want what you have. Be who you are. Share your gifts. Love fearlessly.”   ______________________________________________________

Let’s Talk About Evil

Rev. Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of St. Croix – April 28, 2013

St. Croix, VI

Introduction This morning I want to trouble your minds with a topic that Unitarian Universalists find disconcerting, perplexing and anxiety provoking . The subject is evil and I begin with a personal story. A social worker that I met years ago was working with me and my children through some difficult issues. And she shared with me that she had left her 19 year old niece alone for the first time for a  weekend trip. So while she was off enjoying herself with a much needed holiday that fatal weekend a stranger climbed into a window and changed her life forever. He murdered her beloved niece. We can only imagine in our deepest nightmare how devastated she must have been, the guilt and remorse and the agonizing loss she experienced. When I met her years later as she recounted the story it was clear that she had begun to come to grips with the loss, but not before fighting alcoholism when she temporarily drank to medicate the pain. It is tragedies like this that shake us to our very core. That cause us to examine what we think we know and believe. And perhaps “evil,” more than any other phenomenon shatters our calm and sense of safety and renders us frightened and fragile and vulnerable – posing more questions than answers. Like, what would make the Romans throw the Christians to the lions? How could the German nation turn on its Jewish citizens? What would make neighbors in Rwanda and Bosnia commit acts of atrosity? How did slavery become an established institution in the Virgin Islands? What spawned the race riots in Chicago and Detroit and other major cities? Why would the Boston Bombers commit such acts of terrorism. Perhaps Dr Philip Zimbardo’s book,The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil, might shed some light. His findings based on research in 1962 indicated that decent, ordinary human beings, like you and me, will punish innocent strangers with shocks, agony and even death at the urgings of someone in authority. They demonstrated some humans tendency towards “blind obedience to authority” and the extent to which individuals will disconnect from their usual ethics if given “permission” by authority under the spell of “situational power.” Evil, contends Zimbardo, is so pervasive because motives and needs that ordinarily serve us well, can lead us astray when they are aroused, amplified, or manipulated by toxic situational forces that potentially are harmful if not recognized and adjusted for. You see, these come as a small turn away, a slight detour on life’s journey, a blur in our moral compass that may not at first be discernible. Thus, one generation becomes less civil, and less compassionate and the next so on and so forth, until we find we are off track and alienated and disconnected and “they” become “other” and then anything is possible to justify. Water boarding is not torture. Invasion of others land is justifiable. War is the answer to conflict! pause “I was only following orders”, stated Adolph Eichmann in defense of the  atrocities he carried out in Germany. Zimbardo contends that the problem is that Eichmann, and many like him were neither perverted or sadistic, but merely terribly and terrifyingly normal. Of the 400 Al-Queda members that forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman studied he concluded, “These are the best and brightest of their society.” The three prominent characteristics of Palestinian bombers revealed: 1) intense patriotic fervor, 2) a willingness to submit to training and indoctrination and 3) the willingness to die for their beliefs. Reverend Jim Jones on November 28, 1978 in Guyana persuaded more than 900 of his followers to commit mass suicide. Many killed their own children. Let’s talk about evil! Psychologist Mahrzarin Banaji asserts the following, “What social psychology has given to us is an understanding of human nature and the discovery that forces larger than ourselves determine our mental life and our actions – chief among these forces is the power of the social situation.” Note that genocide, torture and terrorism have become prevalent tactics in our increasingly disconnected global village. At the same time that we have a greater potential to do “evil” via the use of technology and sophisticated weaponry, our ethical foundation seems to be crumbling under the weight of the moral implications and the magnitude of our potential to wreak havoc and destruction. Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, President of Starr King School for the Ministry, contends that the “breaking of the soul is sin and a betrayal of God.” Our UU Seven Principles emphasize the good in “every person” as well as respect for “all existence and the interdependent web of life.” This emphasis on good in both God and humankind is noted in the pithy remark by Starr King, an early UU minister and pioneer.  King asserted that the difference between the Universalists and the Unitarians was rooted in our two very different interpretations of Calvinism.  “The Universalists believe that God is too good to damn them, whereas the Unitarians believe that they are too good to be damned by God.” Lois Fahs Timmins, the daughter of well-known Unitarian religious educator, Sophia Lyon Fahs, shares her personal experience when we try to downplay and dismiss “evil”. She says,[1] We spent 95 percent of our time studying good people doing good things, and skipped very lightly over the bad parts of humans . . . I was taught not to be judgmental, not to observe or report on the bad behavior of others. Consequently, because of my education, I grew up ignorant about bad human behavior, incompetent to observe it accurately, unskilled in how to respond to it, and ashamed of talking about evil. Let’s talk about evil! In 1917, Universalist, Clarence Skinner proclaimed in the Declaration of Social Principles, that evil is the result of “unjust social and economic conditions.”   Notice, Skinner named evil as a structural phenomenon rather than merely focusing on individual behavior. This is a very important distinction because how we name a phenomenon determines how we approach its resolution and the resources we bring to bear. Like many contemporary Christians Skinner focused on the “sin” and not the “sinner”, that is, the focus is on the conditions that spawned the institution of slavery in this country; the genocide of Native Americans and theft of their land. The conditions that would cause a brilliant Statesman like Thomas Jefferson to succumb to the “social and economic conditions of slavery” though he appeared to embrace Unitarian concepts in other aspects of his thinking. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm Let’s talk about evil! Paul Rasor and Dietrich Bonhoeffer share similar views that the failure to develop a robust theology of evil tends to weaken the prophetic voices of religious community to resist evil. Bonhoeffer reminds us what is at stake when our prophetic voices are silenced. He contends, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” And while we have spoken out and acted as a movement and denomination against evil, Rev. Dianne Arakawa, the first Asian American female UU ordained clergy reminds us of some occasions when we failed to act and speak – the failures of our anti-racism work in the book, Soul Work:[2] “Like most of you, I can recount the tragedies of the past that still plague our Association: from the settler Indian wars of the seventeenth century in Massachusetts, the Puritan policies related to slavery, the mixed Unitarian response to abolition, the unjust labor practices at the turn of the century, and the racist statements of our denominational presidents in the first half of the last century. . . the slowness to engage in the Civil Rights movement on the part of some of our congregations, the derailing of the Black Empowerment movement in the sixties, and the lack of support for congregations and clergy of color from Rev. Ethelred Brown’s time to our present . . .” Is it possible that we are at a disadvantage and handicapped in our language and thus unable to articulate a compelling theology of evil because most UUs do not embrace the concept of Original Sin? If you recall, the concept of original sin simply states that humans are born in a state of sin. However, Matthew Fox’s concept of original blessing is a more compatible concept for UUs. Original Blessing, that is, the belief that while we are all capable of committing sins, we are born into blessing – not sin. Rev. Kim Beach notes that UUs, “get worried when we talk about evil (because) we feel we’re dipping into dualism, and we’ve been taught again and again that dualism is bad and monism is good. But if there’s evil, there is a certain amount of dualism going on in the world, “states Beach.  Evil, Beach believes is self-perpetuating and self-justifying. Reverend Gordon McKeeman believes that “evil comes into the world when our good comes into conflict with others’ good. Twentieth century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr contends, “Evil is always the assertion of some self-interest without regard to the whole, whether the whole be conceived as the immediate community or the total community of humanity, or the total order of the world. The good is, on the other hand, always the harmony of the whole on various levels.” My colleague, the Reverend Rosemary Bray McNatt, serving a congregation in New York, witnessed first hand the evil of 9/11 as a chaplain working in the midst of the rubble of the World Trade Center.  McNatt believes that “people are born good and people make choices and that along with our inherent goodness there is also an inherent capacity for evil.” Reverend Rebecca Parker cautions us about labeling people who commit evil acts as evil people. She encourages us against the tendency practiced and engaged in by many faith traditions “to numb or anesthetize our awareness of evil, . . . instead face it . . . fully and engage in troubling and deep questioning” about the nature of evil. This is what we are attempting to do this morning. So, to summarize, I have drawn on my colleague, Rev. Cynthia Prescott, who has helpfully identified some of the most commonly held beliefs about evil. I have tweaked and added to the list:

  1. Evil is Pathological, that is, people commit acts of evil who suffer from early trauma that has influenced them to act in dysfunctional, anti-social, individualistic and violent ways
  2. Evil is environmentally hereditary, that is, people raised in a dehumanized culture and environment may gravitate toward the evil that has been committed against them and modeled around them. Something essentially human is missing in their make-up.
  3. Evil is a choice, because we have free will we can choose not to exercise our shadow self, our more primitive self that tends to be about survival – looking out for number one with poor standards and boundaries that often lacks appropriate values and behavior.
  4. Evil exists just as good does and it is created by human beings. Humans diabolically act out of their organic pathology, their negative and hostile environment, thus making choices that further alienate individuals from their human existence.
  5. Evil exists as a result of humans disconnecting from God; from nature; from all that is sacred and holy in Creation. The disconnect diminishes the human impulse that links individuals to the family of humanity and thus to their humanity.

These are some of the explanations that can help us to better understand the concept of evil as we grapple with it. Yet the question remains – What is the role of religious community in the face of evil? Some believe it is not to create policy or legislation, but to raise fundamental human questions out of which evolve humane and just policies and legislation. It is to ask ourselves and others to explore, model and build a vision of humanity that can guide us toward the goal of Beloved Community. Conclusion May we each be called to challenge evil in whatever form it confronts us and however we define it. May we grow our hearts to heal the brokenness that moves us away from one another that causes alienation in our very souls and in society. May this community be a place of healing and justice seekers. Amen and Blessed Be! Closing Words “If only it were so simple? If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart? Alexander Solzhenitsyn May our hearts remain strong in the face of brokenness and our eyes remain open to both light and shadow, Let the free reach for truth be our prayer, for we are the voice, the eyes, and the hands of God and Creation.   Bibliography Frost, Edward. Who Knows What Evil? Atlanta: UU Congregation of Atlanta. January 1, 1999. ____________. Deliver Us From Evil. Atlanta: UU Congregation of Atlanta. November 7, 2002. Morn, Mary Katherine. Sermon on Evil. First UU Church of Nashville. February 3, 2002. Prescott, Cynthia P. Question Box Sunday. March 16, 2008 Robinson, Edmund. Is Evil a Problem: A Sermon on Theodicy. UU Meeting House. March 25, 2013. Ross, Warren R. Confronting Evil: Has Terrorism Shaken Our Religious Principles? Boston: UU World. January/February 2002 1.1.02.

[1] Warren R. Ross. Confronting Evil: Has Terrorism Shaken Our Religious Principles? Boston: UU World. January/February 2002.
[2] Marjory Bowens-Wheatley and Nancy Palmer Jones. Soul Work: Anti-racist Theologies in Dialogue. Boston: Skinner Press, 2002.

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