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What’s a Unitarian Universalist?

Khleber150x150Here on the Sun Coast, people ask me all the time, “Are you retired?” “No,” I say. “You mean you still work?” “Yes,” I say. “At what?” they ask. “Minister,” I say, and so they ask, “What kind?” 

Uh-oh. "I’m a UU," I say, "a Unitarian Universalist." “I never heard of that. What’s that mean?”

That’s when it gets a little tricky because it’s easier to say what it doesn’t mean. For instance, it doesn’t mean I’m a Muslim or a Jew, a Hindu or a Buddhist, though my church teaches classes about those traditions. It doesn’t mean I’m a Christian, either. While you can find some UUs who are Christian, I happen not to be one of them.

“You’re not giving me much to go on here,” they usually say.

"Well," I continue, "many UUs I know aspire to keep an open mind and so don’t wish to be limited to practicing religion in only one way or another. They want to engage life with all their senses and to maintain an attitude of gratitude for the gifts that come their way. They look for truth in many places: in a variety of religious and spiritual traditions, in their own experiences of the world, in lots of sacred texts and in many not-so-sacred ones as well." 

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Yes, Please Visit

Khleber150x150Joe Sullivan didn’t have the easiest of childhoods. While still very young, he suffered the neglect of his mother and the physical abuse of his father. By the time he turned ten, Joe’s family disintegrated into chaos and began moving from place to place – to more than ten addresses in three years. Because of his mental disabilities, Joe was easily led by other boys, and because he lived mostly on the streets, he fell into petty theft and other small property crimes.

Running with two older boys, Joe broke into an empty house where one of the others stole some jewelry, and then left. Later that day, the woman who lived there came home and was attacked by an assailant she never saw clearly.

The attack was brutal, violent, and shocking. Police apprehended the two older boys who pinned the guilt on thirteen-year-old Joe. Joe turned himself in and admitted participating in the burglary, but adamantly denied knowing anything about the rape. Relying on the self-serving testimony of the two older kids, prosecutors indicted Joe as an adult and, at thirteen, Joe was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.

Housed among adult inmates, Joe was repeatedly abused and sexually assaulted, and several times attempted suicide. When he developed multiple sclerosis, doctors suggested that his prison trauma probably triggered the disease.
Confined to a wheelchair, horribly mistreated, and condemned to die in prison at the age of thirteen, the childlike, emotionally disabled Joe faced a dreary future in a bleak Florida prison.

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When All’s Right with Our Brothers and Sisters

Khleber150x150I’d never been to a mosque here in Florida, so when the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton (ISSB) advertised an International Food & Crafts Festival a couple of weeks ago, I decided to head up and see what it was all about.

On the drive there, my spouse and I wondered aloud about the anxieties American Muslims must feel in the current political climate. As we turned onto the street that would take us to the mosque, we spied early signs of trouble: the flashing lights of police cars in the distance signaling that something had gone terribly wrong. We got closer and could see officers standing in the roadway and said to each other, “But it’s so early on a lovely Sarasota Saturday morning, what could have gone wrong already?”

As we waited in the resultant traffic jam, inching closer to the entrance of the Islamic Society, it became apparent that there was nothing at all wrong. The flashing lights and the police presence meant that something was, in fact, very right: there were so many people trying to visit the festival that police officers were in the street directing traffic to help the hordes of visitors who had to park across the busy street cross safely onto ISSB’s grounds.

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