Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Thank You Message to my Congregation


June 30, 2019

Dear PUUF friends,

I am writing this on Sunday to tell you again how much I have enjoyed our time together.  It’s been almost seven years since I joined PUUF and 6 and a half years that I have been serving as your minister.  It has been a wonderful time for me and, I hope, for you individually and for PUUF as a community.

We have done some good things together, I think, and I want to share with you what I consider to be my legacy.  It’s not a last will and testament, of course, because you will take things from here and will make decisions about what to keep and what to let go of.  But I hope you will consider my suggestions and make decisions that will serve the entire congregation, from committed nontheists to spiritual, pagan, and Christian members, long timers to newbies and visitors.

Together we’ve created satellite groups in Tillamook County, Astoria, South County, and the Peninsula.  These have been social groups that increase the amount of time PUUFers can spend with each other and they will, I hope, continue as social groups with a point person who stays in touch with our new Vice President as liaison to committees.  As new folks come into the congregation, perhaps she and the PP’s (point persons) can make sure they are invited to group gatherings and added to the  group roster for reminder notes and updates.  These reminders and updates can also be published by the Monday eMail, if our webperson is informed in advance.

Together we’ve created teams and work-arounds to make the PAC more effective for Sunday services.  The PAC isn’t perfect and probably never will be, but we have made it a welcoming space as best we could and have grown because we have sufficient space to meet on Sunday morning for services.  We’re cramped in the Green Room, but social hours still seem to be pretty successful, thanks to the hospitality mentors and those who provide wonderful refreshments!

Together we’ve produced several excellent fundraising events as part of our commitment to the Partners for the PAC:  Skamokawa Swamp Opera, Darrell Grant and the New MJ group, the Shifty Sailors, and two Pete Seeger Tribute Concerts.  PUUF will need to produce one more before the calendar year is over—just saying.

Together we’ve gotten more and more involved in the social justice arena of UUism:  we are now a major partner in the PRIDE festivities in Astoria/Clatsop County, increasing our participation from just walking in the parade to having a booth, to having a special PRIDE service and, this year, co-hosting the annual PRIDE barbecue and potluck, plus a special Pizza in the Park event just this past weekend.  We’ve sponsored and supported the Perez family, as they struggled with their husband and father’s detainment, a situation which I will continue to monitor.   With a newly organized Social Justice committee, I hope you will continue this pattern of outreach in the name of Unitarian Universalism and PUUF’s goodhearted community.

MY SUGGESTIONS:

I hope you will continue to use a “Gathering Affirmation” at the beginning of Sunday services.  It doesn’t have to be the same one I’ve introduced, but the good thing about this small gathering ritual is that it immediately tells visitors something important about PUUF:  that Love is our guiding principle, that we show our love through service, that we make a promise to each other that we will be together in peace, that we will be loving in our search for truth, and that we are committed to each other’s wellbeing.  You can find other possible affirmations in the back of the hymnal, if you’re ready to find a new one.  But it’s important that newcomers know right up front  who we are and what we stand for.

I hope you will continue to find work-arounds for deficiencies in the PAC.  Though you may eventually decide to look elsewhere, rest assured that the ownership of the PAC, when it is sold by the college, will be a local, community-minded group or person who is committed to keeping the PAC as a community resource and will not evict any current Partners.  This is a requirement that the PAC board makes clear to every interested buyer.  This decision should be finalized by October 2019.  There are currently four interested community members or groups who are considering bidding for the purchase.

I hope you will consider creating teams for Sunday greeting and any other regular duties, similar to the Sexton team, the Hospitality Mentors, the potluck Set-up group, etc.  That way, you wouldn’t need to pass the volunteer clipboard around every Sunday, which can be a distraction during the opening parts of the service.

I hope you will continue to be welcoming to visitors and to newer members; this is often the “make or break” moment for new folks who come through the door.  If they don’t feel welcome, they may not come back.

MY PROMISE:

Until you have found your new minister, I will continue to be available for emergencies such as deaths or other crises.  I will always love you and am grateful for your love in return.  We’ve done good things together and we will continue to do good things for the North Coast community, as individuals and as a UU congregation.  I wish you the best in the future!

Much love,
Kit


Tuesday, June 18, 2019

63 years worth!

Here's my work history from the beginning, with brief details.  No wonder I'm tired.

Age 14-17:  pea bum in the fields of NE Oregon, .85 per hour, 12 hour days, driving a truck in pea and wheat fields.
Age 17-21:  Linfield College, BA in Modern Languages, primarily Spanish.
1964-65:  public assistance worker, Klickitat/Skamania Counties, State of WA
1965-66:  program worker, Denver Christian Center (aka Baptist missionary in the inner city, working with Preschool--Teenage kids)
1967-1968:  attended Colorado Women's College to qualify for teaching credentials
1968-1976:  Spanish teacher, Jefferson County Schools, CO, while working on a Counseling degree at the U of Colorado, Denver.
1976-1995:  Guidance Counselor, Jefferson Co Schools, CO
1995-1999:  Student, Iliff School of Theology, graduation and ordination in May 1999.
1999-2003:  Minister, Wy'east Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Portland OR
2003-2007:  part-time Minister, Vashon Island Unitarian Fellowship while also serving UUCWI part-time.  (They called me the ferry godminister.)
2003-2012:  part-time Minister, UU Congregation of Whidbey Island, retiring in June 2012 to move to Oregon's North Coast
2013-present:  part-time accidental Minister, Pacific UU Fellowship, retiring June 2019 after 20 years of ministry.


Monday, June 10, 2019



BEING A MORE EFFECTIVE ALLY TO OUR Q COMMUNITY FRIENDS
Rev. Kit Ketcham, PUUF, June 9, 2019

My understanding of what it might mean to a person who was transitioning from their birth gender to their true gender began in the mid-90’s, on a UU church retreat in Colorado.  My friend Stephanie and I knew that our mutual friend Harold was a wonderful musician who played the flute and sang tenor in the choir.  It was Sunday morning at the YMCA camp in Estes Park, CO, a beautiful fall day, and Steph and I were eating breakfast with Harold at one of the rugged wooden tables in the rustic cafeteria.  

We noticed that Harold looked a little different that morning, friendly as always, a cute middle-aged guy with a little bald spot, and a ready smile.  And eye shadow and liner.  And foundation and blush.  And mascara.  We felt a little shy about asking about his new look, but we did ask, and Harold entrusted us with his story of transition.  He was coming out a little bit at a time in places where he felt comfortable, and our church was a safe place for him, he felt, as he moved from being Harold to Carol.

This was a huge journey for him—and for all of us at Jefferson Unitarian Church.  We loved this guy for his sweet nature, his many skills, his friendly ways, and we would not have done anything to hurt him.  But we did.  We hurt him repeatedly, mostly accidentally, but we were transitioning too—in our understanding of who the real person was.  It was really hard to shift from loving Harold to recognizing that Carol was the same person and that she needed us not to let our discomfort with her changes override our love for her.

Carol was the first trans woman most of us knew.  Several of Carol’s friends from the Gender Identity Center in Denver began to visit and our education as a loving community began to unfold, but it had its bumps and misunderstandings.

One of the hardest things for us straight folks was the pronoun problem.  It was so easy to blurt out “he” instead of “she” and even though Carol reassured us that she knew it was accidental and not an intended insult, you could see from the look on her face that it stung every single time.

Carol had a wife and a child at home; her son was one of my students at the middle school I worked at.  This was a family who loved each other but also were in transition.  Carol and her wife eventually decided to divorce but remain friends and parents to their son.  The divorce and the gender transition were hard on their son, as well, and this complicated the transition.

If you have trans friends, you already know some of this.  You may have watched as loving couples struggled with a transition.  Spouses and children have a different set of challenges, but they must be addressed.  They are private and deeply personal.

I ran across an article that I’d like to offer a few points from.  It’s about how to be most helpful when you want to be supportive to a trans person.  I tried to pick out the ones that I found most relevant to my learning to be a good supporter, though Christina and Tessa may want to add their thoughts later.

1.   For me, getting the pronouns right was critical.  There’s a lot of discussion about the preferred pronouns these days and it can be tricky to sort out, but when I learned how painful it was for my friend Carol to continue to be called by male pronouns, that was a wakeup call for me.  I learned--If you goof up, apologize and move on.  Don’t make a big deal out of it.
2.  Don’t pry.  This is a deeply intimate and personal experience.  And don’t assume that someone has changed their sexual orientation along with a gender transition.  You don’t need to know.  Gender and sexual orientation are not the same thing.
3.  Don’t “out” someone.  You need the person’s permission to say anything about their transition.
4.  Not everyone is either male or female; many folks are both or neither.
5.  Listen if a transperson chooses to talk to you about their identity.  Be open and not judgmental, in both words and body language.
6.  Transwomen experience sexism and misogyny daily, on top of transphobia, and it is often dangerous to be out as trans.  Be respectful and offer help as requested.
7.  Recognize that as “cis” persons (meaning normatively gendered, aka straight male or female) we have privilege that our friends may not have.  Don’t take unfair advantage of it.
8.  Educate yourself about all the letters of the Q alphabet, from “a” for asexual, “I” for intersex, “p” for pansexual and beyond.  It’s much more extensive than we have ever realized.  And do your own research into what transition means, rather than asking rude questions.  You can find a lot of information online.  Just be sure it’s not fake news!

These are only a few of the ways we cis folks can be helpful.  Our transfriends don’t need us to run their lives and they don’t need to be a spokesperson for the trans community.  They just want to be a regular person with the same needs and loves that we all have.  And respect---they want and need and deserve respect, deep deep respect.

In closing, I’d like to thank the Q choir for singing with us and for us this morning, the Q center for co-sponsoring our after-church potluck across the street, and to Christina and Tessa and David for assisting me this morning in the pulpit.

CLOSING HYMN   “WE ARE A GENTLE ANGRY PEOPLE 

BENEDICTION:  As David extinguishes our chalice, let’s pause for the 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 acceptance of the inherent worth and dignity of every being is the foundational principle of our religious tradition.  May we remember it as we go through our lives, treating each other with love and understanding and deep respect.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

CLOSING CIRCLE



Sunday, May 12, 2019

Goodbye and thanks for all the .........




SO LONG, AND THANKS FOR ALL THE…
Rev. Kit Ketcham, PUUF, 5/12/2019

Well, we’re still six weeks out from the actual end-point of my ministry with you, but I thought Mother’s Day might be a good day to look at what my role with you has been and how it developed, what I think we’ve accomplished together, and some ideas for the future. Don’t I sound like a Mom sending her child off to college?

This transitional period in our life together as members and minister of PUUF has given me much food for thought and it seems useful at this point to examine just how I came into your life as a minister to this congregation and how some of the issues we are dealing with now arose out of that somewhat weird situation.

We didn’t have a normal “search and call” process at all. We missed out on most of the benefits of the search process. I moved here, I was handy, I was not ready to be fully retired, and I offered to help. I had also been friends with people in the congregation for years. And that set us up for some of the changes that come up over the years.

As I got involved, I could see that PUUF’s leadership was struggling to get everything done. There were some wonderful things happening, like the Christmas family, Guest at Your table, and other activities led by layleaders who had been with the Fellowship for a long time. They were doing a great job and I felt no need to get involved in those things because of their leadership. There were many other needs to address. So I turned to other things.

As time went on, I took on more and more responsibilities but I still wanted to be at least partly retired, so I didn’t take on things layleaders were already doing. This led to a lack of awareness on my part of the need to continue these things later on.

We began to grow. We went from about 20 diehard members in what you might call a “mom and pop” congregation to more of a pastor-led congregation, meaning that the pastor was doing more than the layleaders could manage. And it happened very rapidly.

I took on the annual pledge drive, and we kicked it off with a nice dinner, working with a small ad hoc committee. I restarted the Tillamook county group with June Baumler and started the koffee klatches on the peninsula and in South County and we created the Astoria Happy Hour. I agreed to preach once a month, do pastoral care (we had two folks at that time in the end stages of their lives—Michael Link and Ruth Jensen), and I instituted a UU 101 class as a requirement for membership.

We outgrew the space we had at the little green church on the south slope, which was starting to fall apart without adequate maintenance efforts, and after many months of a facilities search, we found the PAC to be the best fit. We voted in the fall of 2016 to move into this space. We had had the sad experience of being rejected by one nice facility because of our theological differences and we were glad to have a place to settle, having been through a struggle to make the decision to move from our earlier much beloved space.

All this change, in space, in programming, in membership, in leadership, has been challenging. The PAC has required adjustments on our part to an inadequate social space, so we’ve rented outside space for potlucks and other gatherings. We share the building, so we don’t have access to it all the time. We have to set up and take down for services every week. And the kitchen is totally inadequate for anyone’s needs, according to our hospitality team, who knows full well what it’s like!

But it has had its benefits as well. We have adequate space for our services and we have become much better known in the larger community for being a Partner for the PAC, along with other organizations which use the space. We are easier for visitors to find. And we are much appreciated by the Partners for our financial contributions to the treasury of the PAC, especially our Pete Seeger concerts!

Ellen and I are on the board of the PAC, representing PUUF’s interests--at the same time, we strive to maintain this building as a community space, open to all. The fundraising events we have organized as a requirement of our contract with the Partners have been very successful, bringing in thousands of dollars to help with PAC expenses and maintenance. But I will return to the PAC issue a little later in my remarks.

Change is hard. It brings loss and we have had many losses in our time together: deaths of beloved members and friends, making the tough decision to move from the little green church (which wasn’t perfect) into the PAC (which also isn’t perfect), people joining and then fading away, leaders being elected and then leaving, the on-going tension between those who prefer non-spiritual services and those who need to hear about the divine, including the idea of God, new members replacing longtime members in leadership, to name a few.

I counted up and I think we have had 5 or 6 different presidents of the congregation since I came in 2012: that’s only 6 and a half years. Cameron, Allison Wilski, Cameron again, Michael Rowe, Tara Geraci, and now Jimmy---most spending only one year or less in office.

It was hard for new presidents to keep track of the various projects that had been started because of the turnover and because of the growth. It was hard for me too, and I didn’t always realize the significance of the projects to the congregation, so I did not offer much support. It’s been a tough few years, even with all the good stuff going on.

As a former counselor to adolescents, I am well aware of the effects of loss on human beings; typical reactions are anger, wanting to make things return to the “old ways”, feeling left out, needing to talk about the loss but not knowing who to talk to, feeling critical and resentful; I see all these behaviors cropping up when adults (or kids) have changes thrust upon them.

It’s human nature. And most of us rise to the occasion as best we can, coping with the changes, making work-arounds, sucking it up, and maybe sticking with the new situation or maybe finding ways to avoid some of it.

But it can cause us to feel sad, irritable, resentful, even depressed. It’s been hard for you and for me too, and I’ve found myself over-performing, just trying to deal with the increased challenges of our situation. I know you have as well.

And now we’re facing the challenge of finding a new minister---I’m leaving, at least temporarily (though I will never stop loving you), and you are going to see a new face in the pulpit and in the PUUF community. It will be different when you hire a new minister, for both of us.

I know I’ll be experiencing the “empty nest” syndrome as I stay at home on Sunday mornings rather than come to unlock the building and greet early arrivals. I’ll have to think about how to restructure those hours on a Sunday that I’ve devoted to PUUF life. It will be a challenge and I’ll have to figure out who to give my set of PAC keys to!

As an aside, I find myself growing into a new way of looking at my religious calling, moving from the responsibility of ministry and its 24/7 on-call nature into the freedom of not being the banner carrier for UUism all the time, the freedom of being my own spiritual and religious self without worrying about what people think a minister should do.

I’ve been a UU since 1972 so it’s become a habit with me to live by our principles. I will have the freedom to watch you, as a Fellowship, encourage each other and the larger community to love and live our principles. You will become the banner-carrier for UUism in the larger community; you, with the new minister when they come, will carry the message of our faith forward into the world. I will too, but as a role model, not as a preacher.

Something you may be wondering---what if, after June 30, some tragedy occurs in the congregation, a death for instance, and the new minister has not yet arrived to conduct a memorial service or offer pastoral care? If necessary and appropriate I will help you with that crisis. After the new minister has been chosen by the board, I will work with that person to make sure your emergency needs are met. You will not be abandoned in a time of need.

Now let’s look at an issue which has been bothering a lot of people, I think---what if we decide to find a new space and move out of the PAC? Though I hope you won’t do that until your new minister is settled and can help with the process, in our contract with the PAC, it is specified that if PUUF (or any partner) decides to find a new home, PUUF is required to give 30 days notice before moving out. We are not tied to this building permanently. And it will be a decision by the board and membership, just as it was when we decided to move to the PAC three years ago.

We have a lot to be thankful for in our relationship with the PAC. This opportunity felt right when we were feeling rejected by a congregation which was uncomfortable with our more-liberal theology. The Partners for the PAC were thrilled that we wanted to be part of their community and we have been a good Partner.

However, PUUF will always need to consider what is best for our membership and community, so our board and other leadership, including the new minister, when they come, will continue to monitor how the needs of the Fellowship and the needs of the PAC overlap or conflict.

There has been concern, I know, about whether the PAC was going to be sold to a buyer who would kick us out and make us find a new space willy-nilly. At one time a few years ago, that looked like a possibility. The situation has changed and the PAC board is facing the likelihood that a local buyer or group of buyers, committed to keeping this building as a community resource for the arts, will purchase it and rent it back to the Partners, so that nobody needs to move unless they want to.

Right now, there are four potential scenarios: two different individuals connected to the arts in our area have been considering making the purchase (you would recognize their names if I mentioned them, but I’m sworn to secrecy, which is why this has been so hard to communicate about), a third is a consortium of buyers who would collaborate on the purchase of the building, and the fourth is that the Partners themselves would undertake a capital campaign and buy the building, with the help of grants and big donors and an experienced fundraising volunteer who is on the PAC board. The college would carry the loan for the Partners with reasonable terms.

I hope that these bits of information you may have lacked because of the need to restrict information about the potential sale of the PAC will help you think more clearly about the future of PUUF and its relationship with the PAC and also the responsibility we accepted when we agreed to become a Partner.

If we decide to leave, it means a facilities search for an appropriate new home. If we decide to stay, it means figuring out the best approach to the limitations we have experienced here. These are issues I hope you will approach wisely and openly.

Going forward and looking at the new world you’ll be entering with a new minister, I have some thoughts about how to manage this particular change in PUUFlife.

One of the pieces of wisdom offered to newly hired UU ministers is to NOT make big changes in congregational life right away, but to get to know the congregation and its elected leadership, its quiet, behind-the-scenes leaders, and the programming already in place. LOVE THEM, LOVE THEM, LOVE THEM is the first rule of a new ministry.

I know Sarah said in her message recently that a congregation that relies too much on discussion Sundays doesn’t thrive and grow; I see her point but I also see how valuable summer discussion Sundays have been for PUUF. It made summer programming possible without a great outlay of fees for visiting speakers. Many people love discussion Sundays but quite a few take the summer off and don’t attend at all. It would be interesting to find out how many people avoid discussion Sundays and why.

That gap in attendance does create a sense of disconnect between discussion lovers and discussion non-lovers. I hope you’ll work with your new minister to develop summer Sunday programming that appeals to all and to visitors as well.

Tod has done a great job the past three summers leading the discussion programming. A new minister will expect to be part of the planning for next summer and may have new ideas to make summer Sundays appealing to a larger group, including visitors and non-discussion folks.

One thing I’ve experienced with you is your ability to be honest about your discomfort with leadership; I’ve experienced critique that was valuable to me and I am sure other leaders have as well. One important thing about criticism is that it’s a two-way street; harsh criticism invites defensiveness and defensiveness tends to shut down communication. Dead end. Not helpful.

Being careful with words and body language on both sides makes critique more useful; it makes the critique easier to understand and to consider its usefulness.
I had a terrible experience at my first congregation. In my third year of ministry, I suddenly got a message from the board president that he’d received a letter from a group of 11 people who had been communicating with each other, and not with me, about all the things I was doing wrong as their minister.

I had no idea and it was devastating to think that people I had cared for in their time of need, who had been jolly to me on the outside, were actually working against me behind my back. I was a rookie in the job and made mistakes, yes, but there are better ways of making one’s disapproval known. I would have been willing to listen and consider changes, if they had talked to me directly, as individuals or as a group. But they didn’t know how to do that and I only knew how to be defensive and explain why I had or had not done certain things.

Don’t let that happen here when I’m gone, either with your new minister or with your leadership. It’s easier than you think to communicate transparently and honestly, even with people you’re not crazy about. I know that some of that communication has already happened, and I’m glad about it. It’s hurtful to be criticized, so it’s important to do it courteously and be open to a conversation about the topics raised.

We have six weeks or so left in our official time together. After June 30, I won’t be attending discussions or social times like coffee klatches and happy hours. But I will probably see you here and there and when I do, we will talk about things going on in our lives, but we won’t talk about church. I need to make a clean break, taking back my private, secular life; you will be able to talk with me about the joys in your life, how your grandkids or children are doing, that sort of thing.

But we need to be careful about how much I fall back into “minister” relationship at those times. I need to let go of that professional relationship with you and with the congregation, at least for awhile, until the new minister and I can create a covenant between us about my role with PUUF.

You have been so good to me and I have enjoyed my time with you so much that it will be hard to let go, for both of us. I will miss you dearly, but, like that Mom and her college student kid, I know that it is the best for both of us. You need the space to take the next step in your church life and I need the space to let you do it.

And now, I’d like to close by finishing the title of this sermon: “Goodbye and thanks for all the: love, fun, laughter, growth, sense of accomplishment, potlucks, and many more blessings from you that I can name.”

How would you finish the title? I’d like to know. “Goodbye and thanks for all the:

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 beliefs and principles shape our behavior in the world. May we be loving and gentle and forgiving with each other and the folks we meet each day, strengthening the bonds of Fellowship with each interaction and healing the wounds we may inflict unintentionally. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Monday, April 22, 2019


Rev. Kit Ketcham's April 21 sermon
"EASTER THROUGH A UU LENS" 
can be found on her blog: mskittyssaloonandroadshow.blogspot.com







          As Veja and I worked together on this Easter service, we noted the many ways human beings celebrate this time of year.  We recognize the Vernal Equinox, the changes in weather patterns, the shoots of plants popping up in gardens and fields, the new lambs, calves, and foals.  Rebirth, even resurrection, seems possible in the fervor of spring’s changing and sometimes tumultuous conditions.

        How do we respond to the gleeful springtime promise which also brings the uncertainties of weather and frequent natural disaster?  Looking at this religious season through a Unitarian Universalist lens tackles the problems of believability and our quest for trustworthy answers.

        Phyllis McGinley, an Oregon-born poet whose heyday was the 40’s and 50’s, wrote something I’d like to share with you as we begin.  It’s entitled “Lament for a Wavering Viewpoint”, and it’s one of my favorites.         

I want to be a Tory and with the Tories stand,
Elect and bound for glory with a proud, congenial band.
Or in the leftist hallways, I gladly would abide,
But from my youth, I always could see the Other Side.
How comfortable to rest with the safe and armored folk,
Congenitally blest with opinions stout as oak!
Assured that every question one single answer hath.
They keep a good digestion and they whistle in their bath.
But all my views are plastic, with neither form nor pride.
They stretch, like new elastic, around the Other Side.
And I grow lean and haggard with searching out the taint
Of Hero in the blackguard or of Villain in the saint.
Ah, snug lie those that slumber beneath conviction’s roof.
Their floors are sturdy lumber, their windows weatherproof.
But I sleep cold forever, and cold sleep all my kind,
For I was born to shiver in the draft of an open mind.
Born nakedly to shiver in the draft of an open mind.

         My conservative Baptist minister dad used to say to me, “Honey, don’t be so openminded that your brains fall out.”  He’d say this on the many occasions when I’d defend some---to him---indefensible act or position, such as my summer crushes on the cute boys who came to Athena for pea harvest.  Or that living with one’s future mate before marriage might be a good idea.  Or that the war in Vietnam was crazy.
         I never brought up my religious opinions, because I was pretty sure I’d get the same response, and yet it seemed to me that there something worse than being so openminded that my brains fell out.  It seemed to me that being so closed-minded that my brains dried up was worse.  But saying so  seemed tantamount to accusing him of dried-up brains, and that didn’t feel so good either.
         As a child, I depended on my parents and other trusted adults to tell me the truth, whether that truth was about religious matters or grammar or history or how to conjugate a Spanish verb.  They knew more than I did, and I trusted their knowledge.  I trusted them to be right.
         As I grew older, I gradually began to realize that my parents and other adults were telling me the truth only as they saw it.  Though I knew that they had my wellbeing in mind, I also began to see that they had received their version of the truth from still other persons.  Filtering this received truth through their own experience, they had passed it along to me.  How many people were there in this line of truth-telling?  Where did the original people get their truth?
         Well, you know how adolescent minds work---always questioning, wondering, considering alternatives.  Despite all the good advice available for free from parents, teachers, police, doctors---adolescents prefer to work out their own truth. 
         “Yeah but, Mom, I’d rather do it myself” became my refrain as I sorted through the sources of wisdom that I knew about and looked for others that made more sense.  Which of course gave my dad a chance to use his other favorite stock phrase:  “A yeah but is a half-brother to a halibut”.
         I loved the romance and tragedy of the ancient Christian Easter story:  Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet and his acceptance of this act; the commandeering of a donkey for a triumphal ride into Jerusalem; the overturning of the greedy vendors’ stalls in the temple; the clever answer to the trick question “is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar?”; the chilling words spoken at the Passover Seder with his disciples—“this do in remembrance of me”; the betrayal by a kiss from Judas the disciple; the arrest in the garden and the subsequent series of denials from Peter the disciple; a kangaroo court, a condemnation, a beating, a savage public execution in front of Mary Jesus’ mother, and all his friends.
         This all felt completely believable to me.  As thrillers go, it ranks right up there with some of our best modern stuff.  It displayed human nobility and human frailty in extremely clear detail.  Shakespeare had nothing on the Gospel writers when it came to drama and tragic endings.
         But that famous story as told in the Gospels of the Christian scriptures ends with a twist---a twist which turns a human tale into a ghost story.  Jesus’ body disappears from the tomb in which it is placed.  Angels appear to the women who are searching for his body to cleanse and wrap it.  Jesus the living person appears to his friends in several places, vanishes again, and then reappears to offer them advice about evangelizing the world, building an institutional church, and living his teachings.
         This part of the story bothered me.  A lot.  I didn’t know what to think about it.  All the ghost stories of my youth notwithstanding, I didn’t believe people could rise from the dead.  Surely there was another explanation.
         In studying the Bible as literature in college, I discovered that there were actually several different versions of this story in the Gospels.  Either it happened several different ways or it didn’t happen at all or somebody made it up or at least embellished it.  Or maybe people dreamed it.  In any case, the entire Christian tradition in all its many variants seemed to be built on a supernatural foundation.  Never mind the perfectly sensible and inspiring events of Jesus’ life.
         My sources of authority---how I knew what I knew---began to shift dramatically as I dealt with the ramifications of a possibly-fictional Easter.
         I met non-theistic friends who told me that Easter was proof that the concept of God is absurd.  What loving parent would send a beloved child to be killed as a sacrifice?  This God didn’t make sense.
         Nor did the Hebrew scriptures seem any less fantastic in their authority.  Laws which mandated that wool and cotton not be combined in fabric?  Which recommended death for a myriad of seemingly minor offenses?  Which dictated laws of diet that collided with modern science?
         “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free…”  one of Jesus’ most famous sayings.  We want to find truth, to believe the truth, to be able to trust the truth we hear.  We want to find reliable sources of authority, but we are hard-pressed to find those reliable resources. 
         In the daily news, we hear conflicting reports about international events, domestic issues, political situations.  Even the best medical research offers us thousands of studies proving both sides of any given subject:  butter is good, butter is bad; organic is good, organic is bad, estrogen works, estrogen harms, fiber is good, fiber is overrated.
        If we followed all the studies available, we’d go nuts.  So we sort things out according to our own experience.  Uncle Bill had a heart attack and ate lots of red meat and dairy products; therefore, too much fatty stuff is probably not so good.  We grow our vegetables organically and have few pests or diseases and all we have to wash off is the dirt; therefore organic is probably good.
        The jury is still out on many issues, but we’re wary----if the market says it’s good, they’re probably saying so out of economic self-interest.  Therefore it might not be so wonderful.
        Religion is a little tougher subject to sort out.  Many of us were raised to revere certain texts and authority figures as sacrosanct, infallible, or at least metaphorically true, if not factual.  The Hebrew Bible, the Christian scriptures, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita, Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths---these are all sacred bodies of knowledge, revered by humans world-wide, accepted by many humans world-wide as absolutely true.
        Now, we have come to Unitarian Universalism at least partly because we have a problem with accepting a sacred written text or body of knowledge as absolutely true.  We have come to Unitarian Universalism because we believe that our actions toward each other and toward the earth and universe are more important than certain beliefs about God or the creation of the earth or the lives of the Buddha or Jesus or Muhammed.
        Yet we still need authoritative sources of knowledge.  What will they be?  How will we decide?
        As a religious humanist, I am convinced that human experience and wisdom can be an authoritative source of my knowledge.  My own experience and wisdom are authoritative for me, but may not be authoritative for others.  I am willing to accept the experience and wisdom of credible others, but I insist on filtering it through my own experience and wisdom.
        I accept certain texts as authoritative---the Declaration of Independence is, for me, an authoritative text, as is the Bill of Rights.  Imperfect as they may be, they establish principles of democracy that I believe to be right.  The Constitution---well, with the challenges it’s getting these days and the current membership of the US Supreme Court---well, who knows?
        As a Unitarian Universalist, I find great wisdom and credibility within many sacred texts.  I do not consider them historical documents and would not use them as the basis for a history lesson.  Yet these poetic literary works offer me a great deal of universal wisdom:  to treat others as I would be treated; to act with justice and mercy toward others; to be generous with the poor and downtrodden; to love freely and unconditionally; to express compassion and to work for freedom.
        Our UU principles are based upon the universal wisdom of many religious and secular thinkers.
        So what do we use as our sources of authority?  How do we sort out truth from fiction, hype from reality, ethical direction from self-serving manipulation?
        Living in a multicultural world, we are always called upon to interpret and evaluate the sources of authority that bombard us.  We are forced to rely upon media reports of national and international events that seem hysterical, inaccurate, and often evasive.  We hear rumors and stories from friends and family about other friends and family.    And don’t even get me started on Facebook!
        We cringe at the proclamations of truth that we hear from certain groups:  creation scientists, big corporations, cults and many political organizations, fundamentalist religions and hate groups.  We step carefully through our lives trying to live by our ethical and moral principles but always knowing we don’t have enough accurate information to know for sure.
        And so we often become like Phyllis McGinley in her poem---chilled by the draft from our open minds, hoping that our brains won’t fall out but hoping just as much that our brains won’t dry up from too little openness.
        How do I know what I know?  I find it helpful to look at the things that I think I know “for sure” and tease out from them the reasons that I know them with such certainty.  And I find that almost invariably there are common roots to my sense of certainty.
        For example, I believe deeply that Easter is a season to celebrate, that it is meaningful, that its meaning has profound consequences for my life, and that I neglect that meaning to my detriment.
        Sixty years ago, my conviction was based on my Christian upbringing.  I believed that it was the day that Jesus rose from the dead.  My parents and teachers had told me that this was the truth, and I believed them.  I found the story inspiring and the great love and sacrifice it portrayed thrilled me to the core.
        But one day, Kit the teenager was sitting on a windy bluff early one gray Easter morning with other youth as a single ray of sunlight pierced the clouds, singing an old hymn about light and space and thunderclouds and storm and then the words “it breathes in the air, it shines in the light, it streams from the hills, it descends to the plain and sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.”
        My understanding of the truth of the Easter season changed at that moment, from a concentration on the death and resurrection of Jesus to the ever-present, all-embracing sense of wonder at the infinite divine which I saw at that instant portrayed in the natural world before me.  It was bigger than Jesus, bigger than I was, bigger than all the doctrine I’d ever heard.  With its boundary-less, inclusive power, the Living Universe subsumed the Christian message.  And I would never again be satisfied by a doctrine or a creed as my source of authority.
        Today I find the truth of the Easter season even more embracing as I understand the true source of its meaning and power, the Living Universe that enfolds and connects us all.
        Our celebrations in the spring of the year, of the Vernal Equinox, of Passover, of Easter, all come to us out of the same source of universal truth:  LIFE, the life which infuses us with strength and inspiration and is revealed most fully in nature as we explore its mystery and power.
        Because we are human, we have developed specific ceremonies to celebrate our sense of mystery, of gratitude, of awe at the gift of life.  We celebrate the renewal of the earth in spring, we celebrate deliverance from evil, we celebrate the rebirth of love.
        But all our celebrations, all our joy and passion flow from a common source---our recognition that life is sacred, in all its pain and all its triumph, that living things all die and yet continue to live, whether in the fertile soil, within our hearts, within works of creativity which outlive us, and in our families and culture.
         Yes, we do use our reason to determine truth; yes, we do rely on human tradition for continuity and connection.  We trust our intuition, we respect our artists’ work, we use our common sense and our knowledge of wise words from many texts, and we pay attention to the prophets we hear, to discern what truth they may offer us, even when we disagree.  And we trust most of the laws of our land.
         But I believe that for virtually all of us, LIFE is our final authority.  If it is life-giving, we can trust it.  Even when it hurts, if it enhances life in its greatest form, we can believe in it.  We sometimes get sidetracked by the needs of daily living---money, possessions, luxuries, are these not life?  No.  They are only what we accumulate in our day to day living.  They are not life itself.
        Life itself is in the threads that connect us, in the relationships we have: with one another, with ourselves, and with the Living Universe, or God as we may understand God.  Life is indestructible, and it can be nurtured into a greater profusion of joy and passion by our careful attention.
         Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
CLOSING HYMN
BENEDICTION: Our worship service has ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, considering our own sense of life and its gifts.  May we rededicate ourselves in love to Life, for ourselves, for each other, and for the Living Universe of which we are a part.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.
CLOSING CIRCLE