Monday, November 14, 2016

Ripping the Lid Off of Pandora's Box

RIPPING THE LID OFF OF PANDORA’S BOX
Rev. Kit Ketcham, Nov. 13, 2016

            We’ve just heard Nancy recreate the story of Pandora’s Box, and I’m grateful to her for giving our fellowship this gift. 
            I’m going to ask Frank to read a more detailed version of this story before I begin. 
           
Has your curiosity ever got you into trouble? Have you ever been so desperate to know a secret that you took no notice of a warning? All through history there are stories of people being told not to open doors, caskets, cupboards, gates and all sorts of other things and, in so many of the stories, the people just did not listen. One person who did not listen was Pandora. Her story comes from Ancient Greece and her curiosity brought a whole heap of trouble!

In ancient Greece there were two brothers named Epimetheus and Prometheus. They upset the gods and annoyed the most powerful of all Gods, Zeus, in particular. This was not the first time humans had upset Zeus, and once before, as punishment, he had taken from humans the ability to make fire. This meant they could no longer cook their meat and could not keep themselves warm.

However, Prometheus was clever and he knew that, on the Isle of Lemnos, lived Hephaestos, the blacksmith. He had a fire burning to keep his forge hot. Prometheus travelled to Lemnos and stole fire from the blacksmith. Zeus was furious and decided that humans had to be punished once and for all for their lack of respect.

Zeus came up with a very cunning plan to punish the two brothers. With the help of Hephaestos, he created a woman from clay. The goddess Athene then breathed life into the clay, Aphrodite made her very beautiful and Hermes taught her how to be both charming and deceitful. Zeus called her Pandora and sent her as a gift to Epimetheus.

His brother Prometheus had warned him not to accept any gifts from the gods but Epimetheus was completely charmed by the woman and thought Pandora was so beautiful that she could never cause any harm, so he agreed to marry her.

Zeus, pleased that his trap was working, gave Pandora a wedding gift of a beautiful box. There was one very, very important condition however, that she must never open the box. Pandora was very curious about the contents of the box but she had promised that she would never open it.

All she could think about was; what could be in the box? She could not understand why someone would send her a box if she could not see what was in it. It seemed to make no sense at all to her and she could think of nothing else but of opening the box and unlocking its secrets. This was just what Zeus had planned.

Finally, Pandora could stand it no longer. When she knew Epimetheus was out of sight, she crept up to the box, took the huge key off the high shelf, fitted it carefully into the lock and turned it. But, at the last moment, she felt a pang of guilt, imagined how angry her husband would be and quickly locked the box again without opening the lid and put the key back where she had found it. Three more times she did this until, at last, she knew she had to look inside or she would go completely mad!

She took the key, slid it into the lock and turned it. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and slowly lifted the lid of the box. She opened her eyes and looked into the box, expecting to see fine silks, gowns or gold bracelets and necklaces or even piles of gold coins.

But there was no gleam of gold or treasure. There were no shining bracelets and not one beautiful dress! The look of excitement on her face quickly turned to one of disappointment and then horror. For Zeus had packed the box full of all the terrible evils he could think of. Out of the box poured disease and poverty. Out came misery, out came death, out came sadness - all shaped like tiny buzzing moths.

The creatures stung Pandora over and over again and she slammed the lid shut. Epimetheus ran into the room to see why she was crying in pain. Pandora could still hear a voice calling to her from the box, pleading with her to be let out. Epimetheus agreed that nothing inside the box could be worse than the horrors that had already been released, so they opened the lid once more.

All that remained in the box was Hope. It fluttered from the box like a beautiful dragonfly, touching the wounds created by the evil creatures, and healing them. Even though Pandora had released pain and suffering upon the world, she had also allowed Hope to follow them.

Thank you, Frank.  We’ve had a hard week, haven’t we?  Tuesday night and its aftermath have been difficult for us all, I expect.
For me, the past 2 years of drama and of building hopes about the possibility of continuing the progressive values of   President Obama  have been exhilarating and yet there came a time when I was ready for it to all be over.  I expected Hillary Clinton to be our next president.
But as I sat with others from the Fellowship at the Election night party at Silke’s, I felt a sense of growing dread, watching the early returns.  The tension in me became so high that I needed to leave the party and be alone to process what was beginning to be apparent---that hopes and dreams are not always enough.
I had a wakeful night, up and down several times, trying to write out my feelings and fears to release them to paper, to release them to the universe as prayer that goodness would prevail.
 I got about 2 or 3 hours of sleep and, of course, the cat woke me up about 4.  Her needs prevailed.
That morning, I dreaded getting the official news, as I knew in my gut what it would be.  Reading the news online, reading the words of colleagues and friends on email, and Facebook with its endless stream of news and cat videos----I got the picture interspersed with memes of grief, of dismay, and I put my own conflicted feelings into posts.
Reading the words of others who were wakeful in the night, I felt the enormity of what had happened to our nation and to my own hopes.  I shuddered at the dire predictions made by some pundits, the jibes at those who might have voted in ways that skewed the results,  my own anger at the revealed misogyny, distrust, sexual violence, racism, and the other ills that were revealed when the lid was ripped off Pandora’s box during the election campaign.
As an aside, do you know what Pandora’s name means?  It is a combination of two Greek words, Pan, which means “all” and Dora, which means  “giver”.  Pandora’s name means “Giver of All Gifts”.  I think that’s interesting.  And ironic, because what was loosed when the lid came off the box was horror after horror, not the gifts Pandora hoped for.
Anyway, my feelings Wednesday were a quite a lot like the feelings I might experience when “The Big One” comes, the Cascadia subduction earthquake and tsunami that has been predicted now for quite some time, and hasn’t yet arrived.
On that occasion, whether with warning or without,  I would find myself needing to take some immediate actions, if I were able to.  Those of you who are first responders or government employees or medical personnel know the drill pretty well.
I’m not as well versed as others, but my personal response, assuming I was conscious and able to act, would be to assess my situation, see what injuries I might have incurred, stop any bleeding as well as possible, determine the safety of myself and those around me---are we safe where we are or do we need to find a better location?
If possible, I’d move to safety, helping less mobile folks move too.  I’d take my go-bags with me and head for higher ground, assisting others as possible.  I’d group together with others for assistance and support.  I’d create a place to stay until help arrives.
I think we can modify these disaster-related actions to fit our current national scene, in disarray after a shocking turn of events, a life-changing turn of events, in our national comfort level, from relative complacency to coping with possible chaos. 
We want not only to be safe from the chaos but to protect others more vulnerable, from the chaos.  We want to mitigate the effects of damaging policies on our physical earth and in human lives.  We want to influence the development of policies toward a humane stance, rather than a vengeful stance.  We want to reduce fear and increase trust.
Remember the “stages of grief” put forth years ago by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross?  They’re a bit out of date because we’ve learned that people move fluidly between stages, rather than proceed neatly from one to another in a predictable way.  But they’re handy and a pretty good starting point when I’m experiencing events of loss, big or little.
Shock and denial.  Becoming angry and feeling betrayed.  Trying to figure out ways of changing  the loss.  Sadness, despair, depression.  Eventual tempering of the pain of the loss and entering some degree of acceptance and adjustment to it.
I have a tendency to hop around these stages!  I was in shock and denial until I got up Wednesday morning and had to face the reality of the election outcome.  Even then, I couldn’t quite get it into focus and it was raining hard at the time, so instead of going for my normal walk, I met a couple of friends at the coffee shop to kibitz and commiserate for an hour before coming home again, over-caffeinated and sharply aware that what I had planned for today’s sermon was going to need to change.
Pandora’s Box still seemed to be a good starting point.  Okay, I thought, where am I right now?  I was still shocked and desperately wishing I could deny the reality, but it was no longer possible---my friends Roger and Mike were evidence that it wasn’t a bad dream!
What I felt curious about  at that point was who might be our first responders in this situation, the ones who put their shock and denial aside and don’t spend time being angry just yet, but jump right into ways of managing the effects of the loss, not just for you and me and our friends and family but for the entire nation, for the earth.
I think about similar life-changing events in history and what their outcomes were, how those first responders---mostly just ordinary people like us---stuck with the work, not giving up after setbacks but pressing on until the vote was won or the equal housing act went into effect, until same sex marriage was legal.
Generations of Americans have been through similar traumas and have gone on to do whatever the situation demanded of them.  Our spiritual forebears did not give up; they slogged on:  Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King Jr, and now whole spiritual and secular communities—like us, the UUs---and progressive Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, Humanists, and others have come out on the side of humanity and against injustice.
I take heart today, despite my grief, that there are messages of hope amid the messages of doom. I'm grateful that there are those who can look beyond the shock of loss and find a path forward, that there are still bright spots emerging, new leaders coming forward, and that all is not lost after all. We have work to do, work that we would have had to do anyway---to protect the vulnerable, to care for the lost and hurting, and to keep our own selves fit and strong to continue what we have been doing all along.
Who are our allies in this resistance movement?
Here’s who I am looking to for help:  the American Civil Liberties Union has already issued a warning to Trump that they will fight him on any unconstitutional matters.  Human Rights Campaign; Basic Rights Oregon; Basic Rights Washington; Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, The Interfaith Alliance, Lower Columbia Diversity Project, the Rural Organizing Project, Southern Poverty Law Center, and many more.  And I’m planning to wear my Safety Pin whenever I’m out and about---to be a safe place for someone who needs it.
We are in the aftermath now of A Big One, the emotional and political equivalent of an earthquake and tsunami for many of our friends and neighbors---and ourselves.  
What are we to do?  We will do what we would if we had experienced a physical disaster:  we will check ourselves and our fellow survivors for injury, we will get back on our feet and start finding a path through the rubble, so that we can start rebuilding and helping each other survive.
In his message to us Unitarian Universalists, President Peter Morales wrote this (I’m paraphrasing):  “We are shocked and horrified, we are emotionally exhausted and deeply offended by this experience.  This is a time to take a deep breath and a long view.  Our role as religious progressives committed to democracy, compassion, and human dignity is to help bend our culture toward justice.  Our role is to help change attitudes, to lead by example.  Let us reflect and draw strength from one another.  Together we can recover.  Together we can shape the future.”
I’d like to end with a passage from a longtime favorite story of mine, something I go back to on occasion for reminders of another heroic journey.

FRODO: I can’t do this, Sam.
SAM: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy. How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened.
 But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
 Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.
FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?
SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.
--J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings
            Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
Hymn # 291, “Die Gedanken sind Frie
BENEDICTION:

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that grief must be expressed and healing may be a long time coming, but as we assess the damage we’ve experienced, may we see what is still standing, what has been revealed, and what are the new shoots of growth that were not destroyed by the disaster.  Though much has been lost, a certain amount has been gained and much is still standing.  May we find strength with one another and the courage to go on. May we reach out to those who are endangered by these times.   And may we remember that in the ancient fable, the final thing to emerge from Pandora’s Box was the beautiful dragonfly of Hope.    Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Andy's Garden Redux

When our guest speaker couldn't make it down to Astoria because of the weather, Plan B became a recycling of an oldie but goodie:  In Andy's Garden, printed here with minor updates in language.


IN ANDY’S GARDEN
Rev. Kit Ketcham, recycled Oct. 16, 2016

Bear with me for a moment, set aside any theological reservations you might have, and sing with me, if you know this old hymn, and if you don't, just let us sing it to you.

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses,
And he walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.

My best friend in high school once told me, when we were girls sitting in the front row of the First Baptist Church of Athena, Oregon, where my dad was the minister, that she used to think God's name was Andy, because of the old hymn we just sang. I have since heard of children who thought otherwise: Our father who art in heaven, Howard be thy name.

Most of us have updated our concepts of God by now but many of us still remember our old ideas and the old songs with a nostalgic smile. If you're a Unitarian Universalist, of course, it isn't too cool to cling to old words and songs and rituals which are politically incorrect and theologically out of date. When I became a UU, I gave up that old-time religion in favor of a more pluralistic, interfaith tradition.

But I've come to realize, after several years of study and ministry experience, that you may take the girl out of the Baptists, but you can't take the Baptist out of the girl. I'm a Unitarian Universalist to the core, but my core remains Baptist. I think it's in my DNA.

I come by my UUism honestly through the time-honored route of youthful rebellion. One of my ancestors was BlackJack Ketcham, a New Mexican gunfighter in the 1800s, and my granddad was a bootlegger in Missouri during Prohibition, so of course, my dad became a Baptist minister and thereby set the stage for me and my rebellion.

I was a good girl, growing up, and in 1965, went to Denver, Colorado, as an American Baptist Home Missionary. My mission field was the Denver Christian Center in the inner city. A couple of years later, I married a UU man and began to explore the wider horizons of a noncredal religious faith.

But sometimes when I was alone, I'd sit down at the piano and plunk out the old hymns--Great is thy Faithfulness, O God My Father, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, Out of the Ivory Palaces-- the hymns which didn't appear in the UU hymnbook but occupied a prominent place in the hymnal of the First Baptist Church.

I did this surreptitiously and with many a caveat; I didn't want anyone to think I wasn't a devout UU, but those old hymns spoke to me in ways that no other songs did. I couldn't figure it out.  Was it just nostalgia for a simpler faith? Did they speak a subconscious message? I had long ago moved beyond a theology of Jesus as bloody sacrifice, God as a white male, heaven as a place with golden streets.

In any case, it was interesting to have my poor mother accusing me of having lost my childhood faith by joining a UU church, on the one hand, and, on the other, to find such power (unidentified as it was) in the old songs.

I struggled with reconciliation for many years, reconciliation between me and my horrified family members, and reconciliation between my Baptist DNA and my UU beliefs.

And now, many years later, I'm making some headway. As I explore my own theology and its foundations more deeply, I have begun to understand the contribution that being a Baptist preachers kid has made to my spiritual life.

I'd like to try an experiment here. I recognize that we all come from differing backgrounds; we may have grown up Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, Jewish, you name it. Some of us grew up as Unitarian Universalists. Others may have no formal religious background. But we all have a spiritual history. For many, it was specific church doctrines; for others, values imparted by family or culture. No matter what, we all bring to our present religious experience the accumulation of years of values teaching.

So I ask you to delve into that experience and consider your responses to a few questions. I'll ask some of you to share your answers, if you're willing.

Question 1: think of a favorite old hymn or song, whose words no longer fit for you but which you still enjoy hearing or singing. Is there anyone who would be willing to share the name of the song?

Question 2: think of a present-day religious value that is a holdover from your early learnings.

Question 3: think of a religious value that you have added to that early value which makes you the unique person of faith you are today.

To return for a moment to the old hymn with which we began a few minutes ago: Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own. I no longer think of God as a white male on a throne, but this song still expresses for me the very close connection I feel to the Divine, to Higher Power, to the Ultimate in the Universe.

When I am in Andy's garden, whether on a high pass in the mountains or along a foggy Oregon beach, I am very aware of Divine Presence and my connection to the Universe, to God as I understand God. And the joy we share as we tarry there...is overwhelming.

The great challenge of our religious journey, I believe, may be to take what we know, our earliest values and religious instruction, and go deeper with it, beyond the literal, beyond the familiar, looking for ways to expand our understanding of what it means to be a human being in relationship with the Cosmos, with one another, with ourselves.

Most of us live and work in a community where people’s creeds and beliefs are different from our own. We are surrounded daily by people who are conservative Christian, Catholic, Jewish, or adamantly anti-religious. In our own congregations, we worship with folks whose theology is different from ours--pagans, Buddhists, humanists, theists, nontheists.

To be in religious dialogue with all, we must be able to articulate our faith in common terms, so that all feel welcome at the table of religious community.

Beneath the surface of most religious traditions, there is a depth of common human experience that transcends orthodox doctrine and dogma. When we explore those depths, both in our own religious past and in the traditions of others, we find common ground.

We learn to interpret legends as metaphors, not as literal fact, to find the deeper, more universal meanings beneath the fantastic stories and myths.

This is one of the challenges of Unitarian Universalism. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I preach to good people, folks who are theists, nontheists, Jews, Christians, pagans, humanists, Buddhists and combinations of all of the above.

I must present my thinking in terms which go deeper than the traditional language of Christianity, which is my native tongue.

To do this, I have learned to use my intuitive understandings of life, my mystical experiences, my dreams, my relationships with others, with the spirit I call God, and with myself, to glean what is common to the human experience and express it in terms which are understandable by others whose religious thinking is widely varied.

I remember as a Preacher's kid thinking to myself that there had to be a bottom line to religion, principles of behavior toward other people and toward God that would work no matter what. I remember feeling concerned that I was expected to base my behavior and beliefs on supernatural events which I sensed were hard to prove.

So I began to look for that bottom line. I didn't want my religious faith falling apart if somebody proved that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. I wanted it based on something that I understood and knew to be true.

I looked for permanent, not transient, values: Love. Forgiveness. Service to others. Acceptance of others, no matter how different from me they might seem. In the Bible, the words of the prophet Micah particularly resonated for me: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly. These were the values that seemed most important to me as a youngster, and they still do.

Take what you know and go deeper has become my guide to developing my theology, my personal creed, my own spirituality. It is important for three reasons:

1. When I take a familiar idea from the Bible stories I learned as a child and go deeper, I discover meaning that goes far beyond the literal story. One example of this is the idea of Jesus as my personal savior, which we hear quite a bit from more traditional Christians. I understand Jesus' death on the cross as an example of unconditional love, one man’s willingness to die for his friends and his beliefs. I do NOT see it as a sacrifice for my sins. I consider Jesus a human who was deified by history and the love of his followers. I am a heretic, a non-trinitarian. But Love is my personal savior. What Jesus represents to me is my salvation, my way of finding wholeness in a broken world.

Jesus' words in the Christian Scriptures, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to God but by me” say to me, Love is the way, the truth, the life; no one finds a relationship with life and living things without learning to love.

2. When I take what I know and go deeper, I find language with which I can talk with others of differing faiths. A non-theist may find the words God and Christian and salvation uncomfortable, even offensive. But most non-theists, however secular they may be, find the word and the concept of Love to be deeply meaningful. And Love does what Jesus and Gandhi and other heroes of faith came to do--it reclaims, redeems, reconciles all beings.

3. When I take what I know and go deeper, talking with those of other faiths about the inherent meanings of human experience, my understanding increases and deepens, joining me in religious community with women and men who are radically different. I am graced by this new community, and I have learned that it's not the story that is so important; its the meaning of the story.

This is, of course, not a bit easy. It's hard to listen and talk calmly about issues which are so important to us, especially when we feel we have the Truth. But we must learn to do it, both for the sake of community within our own congregations and a shared dream of peace in our larger world.

Martin Luther King Jr. did it when he, a Baptist minister himself, proclaimed love and justice with nonviolence to be the prophet Jesus' essential message from God. Mahatma Gandhi did it when he, a devout Hindu, used non-violent protest to reclaim his country's independence. Countless others have done it in the name of freedom, in the name of hope, in the name of justice.

This is the meaning of our UU principle “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. Whenever we look for meaning beneath the surface of orthodoxy, we are following in the large footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Jesus, LaoTse, the Buddha and other prophetic men and women. When we take what we know and go deeper, we grow.

You and I bring to our Unitarian Universalism all the meaning of our early lives. We bring our ability to be faithful. We bring our ability to love. We come wanting to know more about the Divine. We know that our children need instruction. We come trusting our own experiences and our own minds. We want to be accepted for ourselves. We believe that in community we will find spiritual sustenance.

We crave beauty and find it in many settings, in nature, in art of all kinds, in a human face, in deeds of love and kindness. We want to give nurture, to reach beyond ourselves into the larger community, to bring justice to a world in pain. And we want a safe place to experience grief and joy. All these are the roots we bring to our religious journey.

And we also have wings. As our hymn Spirit of Life says, roots hold me close, wings set me free. Wings symbolize for us our religious freedom, that search for personal truth and meaning that directs our path. Our wings enable us to put our new insights into action.

My wings have enabled me to fly from a belief in a white male God to the conviction that the interdependent web of the universe connects all beings; I have leapt from the slogan "Jesus loves me" to a recognition that unconditional Love speaks to the inherent worth and dignity of every person; I have rejected supernatural events as doctrine and have accepted a free and responsible search for meaning instead. I have taken what I know and have gone deeper.

But anything that keeps me from growing, from using my wings, is not a root, it's a tether. It is imperative that I look courageously at my faith, opening myself to new insight, eagerly joining others of differing faiths in dialogue which goes beyond doctrine, and learning the deep language which can bring us that shining goal which is another of our UU principles, that goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that our whole lives have brought us to this place in time and that our earliest learnings are valuable to us, if we can use them as starting points for our searchings. May we live out our faith in our daily lives, taking what we know and going deeper. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Sharing Holy Ground

SHARING HOLY GROUND
Rev. Kit Ketcham
Oct. 9, 2016, PUUF

            There is a story in the Hebrew Scriptures that has always given me a little shiver down my spine.   Maybe some of you remember it from your early religious upbringing.  Maybe some of you have totally discarded it as one of the Bible stories you no longer accept as factual.
            But a lot of stories are shiver-inducing without being factual---what about all those ghost stories we used to hear around campfires when we were kids?
            Anyhow, the story is about Moses, one of the early leaders of the Israelites and the one who eventually led them through the desert in search of the Promised Land.  But the story I’m going to tell you happened some time before Moses was faced with that feat of leadership.  In fact, this was his jumping off point for that challenge.
            Moses was just a guy tending  to his flock in the wilderness,  though he’d had an unusual start in life.  One day he saw, off in the distance, something peculiar.  It looked like a fire.  And, fire in the desert is not necessarily a welcome event.  So he went closer and saw something even more peculiar. 
A bush was on fire, blazing high into the sky.  There was no apparent cause for the fire, no lightning bolts from the blue seemed to have struck this bush.  And, as he watched, he saw that the bush was not burning up, not being consumed by the blaze.  There even appeared to be an angel within the flames and then a voice came out of the burning bush.
“Moses”, said the voice.  And Moses answered “Here I am.”  And the voice spoke to Moses saying “Come no closer.  Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
This story is the beginning of Moses’s subsequent journey to Egypt to free the Israelites from the Pharaoh’s bondage and begin their long journey to the Promised Land.  The rest of the story is important for other reasons---sheer dogged persistence for one thing and for the vision that Moses followed from that time on. 
But I am struck most keenly by the phrase “the place on which you are standing is holy ground”.  What is holy ground?  What makes a location sacred? 
There are sacred sites all over this world, many of them here in this country.  The Anasazi of New Mexico created kivas, underground meeting places for their sacred rituals.  The Druids created Stonehenge and other henges for their rites.    We learn a great deal about the religious values of ancient peoples by their monoliths and burial grounds.
The battle today over Standing Rock in the Dakotas is a battle for protection of sites significant to the Sioux and other native peoples.  Sacred ground, holy ground is worth fighting for.
I don’t know how much you already know about the history of this building, but when we became a partner in this enterprise called the PAC, we began to share ground that has been made sacred by many groups over more than a few centuries. 
The original users of this little knoll were likely Native peoples, the Clatsop and Chinook. Later, a nunnery,  the Convent of the Holy Names occupied this site.  In 1930, the current building was erected and Trinity Lutheran Church conducted their services here for many years. 
Now, in its function as a facility of Clatsop Community College, it has become an educational and performing arts center.  Within these walls, many different creative types---musicians, actors, singers, dancers, writers---have continued to offer their creations to the community. 
We the Pacific UU Fellowship are joining the ranks of other creative groups, adding yet another fertile layer to this holy ground.  Sharing holy ground means that we are learning to live with other groups serving the larger community with thoughtful and inspirational works of great worth.  
But holy ground isn’t necessarily religious ground.  I remember years ago, an experience in the office of the junior high school where I was a counselor.  I was just in the office to pick up my mail, when through the door came a teenage girl in tears. 
“Gabe, what’s wrong?” I asked.  And she said to me “my boyfriend committed suicide last night”, and came into my outstretched arms.  We were embracing on holy ground.
On a Grand Canyon river trip, I stood on the shoreline of the Colorado river and watched a piece of driftwood with a leaf perched on top slide by in the current, reminding me that life is a river and we are like that leaf.  At that epiphany, I was standing on holy ground.
Thursday night I sat in the Lovell Showroom with a couple hundred other folks and listened to Chris Breitmeyer, new president of CCC, talk about how important the arts are to a scientist and I realized that science, in its rigor and its effort to discover the truth about our world, offers us holy ground to stand on and marvel at the wonders of our universe.
            This building is holy ground, sanctified and blessed by those who created and supported it in the beginning and those who now create beauty within these walls:  some of those groups and individuals are the Astoria Music Festival, KMUN radio, the Little Ballet theater, the North Coast Big Band, the North Coast Chorale, the North Coast Symphonic Band, the North Oregon Coast Symphony, the Friday Musical Club, and individual artists like Dave Drury, Kim Angelis and Josef Gault.
            We, as a progressive religious institution, add another layer to the foundation they have laid, honoring the sacredness of life, of creativity, of dedication to the values that we live by as citizens of the world.
            These days, traditionally-sacred space is losing ground; mainline churches across the nation are dwindling, as our former hosts the Congregationalists have dwindled and the former members of this Lutheran sanctuary have merged with other Lutheran congregations in town.

But perhaps other spaces are becoming recognized as sacred by way of the connections and commitments made there.  This building’s value as sacred ground is renewed each time a music group rehearses, a drama about human concerns stirs its patrons and brings a cast together , a comedy draws laughter from the seats, a concert lifts listeners to a realm of wonder and beauty. 
And now our congregation, Pacific UU Fellowship, will bring another layer of sacredness to this space, with our hymns and stories, our children’s laughter, wise words from the podium, our rituals and ceremonies.
Sacred ground, holy ground is where connection happens---connection between beings, or with new insights, or with challenges met and transformed into learning.  Sacred ground, holy ground is anywhere we meet another being or a new idea or challenge and connect in a meaningful way.
One of the challenges we faced and moved through on our journey here was making the decision to find a larger space where we could grow and flourish spiritually.  It was an endeavor that required lots of conversation, lots of visits to possible locales, lots of planning and packing and toting and unpacking, lots of thinking about what makes a space a sacred space.
One of the things I got to thinking about, as we were in the moving process was how many times I personally have pulled up stakes and moved, from one home to another. 
I think of myself as a homebody, so I was appalled, when I listed all the places I’d lived in and moved in and out of, to find that I have had -----but wait, I want to know about you.  Do a quick mental rundown of the various places you’ve lived and a rough estimate.  How many places have you lived in your life so far? How many homes have you created? Just call out the number.  (cong resp) 
I learned that I had lived in 28 different places, 28 different places I had to make into a home, either for myself alone or for my family.  No wonder I’m a homebody now!
I looked around my home on Alder Street and realized that I have pared my home-creating belongings down to a few important things:  certain paintings and photos, my mother’s old hutch and photo album, a Pendleton blanket my son gave me, a leather chair my sister gave me, my Bose radio/CD player, some well-worn cooking utensils, my dad’s gavel from an early pastorate, a few beloved books and recordings.  Just about everything else is replaceable.
Every time we move, whether as individuals, or as families, or as a congregation, we face the task of taking our most important and meaningful items to a new place, to use as we create a new home.
The Israelites carried their Ark of the Covenant, containing their sacred writings and a commitment to the covenant they had made with their god, as they moved from place to place.  Everywhere they settled during their long journey became their home because they had their precious belonging---the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolized for them the presence of their God amongst them eternally.  
Discomfort over small and large inconveniences, finding ways to manage the discomfort, changing our patterns, making new arrangements, new friends and neighbors----these are all part of the moving process and can distract us from the gifts of the move---creating a new home, settling in,  the challenge of the new, the opportunity to reshape, to recreate a sense of comfort and safety in our new home.
To get past the uncomfortable parts about our new personal homes, we looked actively for a new coffee shop or the nearest drug store, we said hello to the new neighbors, maybe even hosted a gathering to force ourselves to unpack and start living rather than camping out in the new home, all in an effort to bring ourselves a sense of belonging in the new place we’d chosen.
It’s pretty much the same for us as a congregation, as we have moved from our former home to this place.  We’re in new and unfamiliar surroundings, but the possibilities are exciting and challenging.  We’ve brought our sacred objects, few as they are---our chalice and our candles, our hymnals, our banner, our books and materials, our nametags!----and we’ve added some new things---the rug for the kids, coffee from the Scorcher, a pulpit of our own,  draperies to hang on the set panels to create a backdrop that is meaningful to us.
Little by little we’re figuring it out, making a new home for our congregation.  And most important of all, we have brought ourselves, our sense of connection, our love for each other, our good ideas, our energy, our caring for our community.
This holy ground has the power to transform us into a stronger faith community, a Fellowship that reaches out to others and adds additional vitality and human resources to the creativity that is a hallmark of the Columbia Pacific region.
But we are not the only ones who stand on this holy ground.  We share it with the spirits of the Native peoples who lived here, who performed their holy rites here, who lived and died here.  We share with the artists who have created works of beauty here and have shared that beauty with those who came to hear and to feel it. 
We share this holy ground with audiences and cast members and choirs and symphony orchestras and individuals who have stood on this stage and put their whole being into a message of insight through words and sound.  We share this holy ground with all those volunteers who donate their time, their energy, and their money to keeping this holy ground alive for our community.
In the song our choir sang as gathering music, May Nothing Evil Cross this Door”, we heard expressed our hope for safety and a sense of home.  I particularly like the last verse:  “with laughter drown the raucous shout, and though these sheltering walls are thin, may they be strong to keep hate out and hold love in.”
As we welcome our new friends and neighbors through these doors, as we work to create a space in which we feel at home, as we reach out in friendship to the visitors who come to us looking for a place to belong, we sanctify this space.
As we set out our chalice and our candles, raise our banner, set out the hymnals, tell our stories, we bless this space and add to its value, for ourselves and for those who join us.
As we share our cookies and cheese, coffee, and potluck after the service, we perform one of the most ancient rites of all spiritual communities, sharing food.  When we gather in sympathy to say goodbye to a beloved person, when we gather in joy at the connection between lovers, whenever we celebrate or mourn, laugh or cry, we are creating holy ground no matter where we are.
We are creating holy ground every time we connect with one another in the human moments of every day.  It’s not a religious type of holy, much of the time, but it’s a very important and life-giving spirit of sacredness, the sacredness of all life.
One of the things we were aware of when we agreed to become a Partner of the PAC was that its existence in this community has been hard won, and has endured because of the dedication of its volunteers, its members, and those who attend events here.
I said earlier in these words that holy ground is worth fighting for.  Holy ground, sacred ground, whether sanctified by religious rites or blessed by the simple human acts of kindness and understanding, that ground is worth fighting for.
We are here today, in this room, to continue the fight for this holy ground, for this place where so much is possible, so much has transpired, so much has been won.  We join with our larger community and with our Partners here to support the arts and learning  opportunities that this place represents.    
And may it continue to be a blessed space, a place of connections, of creativity, of human worth and dignity, bringing us together here on holy ground.
Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
CLOSING HYMN   #1008 in the teal hymnal  “When Our Heart is in a Holy Place”
BENEDICTION:  As Frank extinguishes our chalice, let’s pause for our benediction. 
Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that we are creators and keepers of the holy ground that is our world.  May we care for each other and for the universe which is our home, as we go about our days.  And may we meet again soon on this holy ground.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.


CLOSING CIRCLE