Sunday, September 10, 2017

Water water everywhere...

Rev. Kit Ketcham
PUUF, Sept. 10, 2017
            Two weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey came roaring into Houston, hell-bent for leather, as they say in Texas, and since then it’s been non-stop awful photos and stories of both heroism and tragedy, as well as jerksomeness.  And a lot of filthy, filthy water, not just roaring down the concrete streets but filling up houses and cars and making everything stink of sewage.  And now we have Irma and Jose in line to hit landfall or ocean on top of the fires raging across the West and crying out for water.
            When we think of water, the true source of life on our planet, we imagine crystalline liquid, or sea water, or huge expanses of river as seen outside our windows.  We don’t think of sludgy smelly wastewater.  Water is for health, for playtime, for gardens, for beautiful waterfalls, for power.  And yet sometimes water is not healthy, not clean, not pretty, but ugly and polluted.
            Today we’ve brought water from the events of our recent lives, to pool together in our common vessel.  Some of it represents beautiful times, some of it represents hard times. 
            As we have pooled our waters today, symbolizing the pooling of our lives as a community, let’s stop and think about the drama that has unfolded over the past two weeks:  the human kindness and the human selfishness, the heroism and the miserliness, the terror of destruction and the relief of rescue, the despair at losing so much and the miracle of assistance from others.
            Let us pledge ourselves every day to be on the side of kindness instead of callousness, on the side of compassion rather than condemnation, on the side of giving rather than grudgefulness. 
            One of my pet peeves during crises of this kind, when it is happening to “somebody else”, not us, and a friend or a relative or a neighbor happens to opine:  “I don’t feel a bit sorry for them---they asked for it by electing politicians who caved in to corporate interests and removed zoning regulations or eliminated protections of the environment in favor of making more money, whose self-interest outweighed the interests of the citizens of Texas.”
            I can see where they are coming from and I have some sympathy for that frustrated point of view.  But my training as a teacher, as a counselor, as a minister, as a human being who has received a great deal of compassion when I didn’t necessarily deserve it, as a person who has come to understand that as some quipster has put it “we are not here to see through each other, but to see each other through.”
            When we fail to understand or even try to understand why people don’t vote or behave the ways we think they should, when we would deny them basic services, or help with reclaiming their lives from disaster, when we begrudge them the mercy of a humane response, then our own humanity is at stake.
            We are not here to see through each other, but to see each other through.  I have been so heartened in my time in ministry by the enormous generosity of our congregants.  Your loving and giving hearts have made life much better for others, whether it was in giving money to a cause, or giving water even to someone who turned out not to be trustworthy, or bringing meals to a busy family slowed down by illness, or providing gifts to a single mom with few resources.
            This is what it means to be human, to be humane, to answer the call of love, to be true Americans.
            Our friend and my colleague the Rev. Amy Beltaine has written this, which I offer in closing:  Amy writes:
            Traditionally, congregations in (our) movement celebrate a ceremony of coming back together in September. We call it the "Water Communion" ceremony and we mingle the waters from our summers, and our individual lives, into one container during the worship service.
What is important to me about this ceremony is that it is a reminder that we are all connected in community. It takes all of us to make the sacred water. It takes us coming together with intention to create the community that will sustain us through the year.
Each one of us contributes our part. Each one of us needs to shine our own light. Each one needs to show up in our own way. When we do that, the way is made easier. When we do that, we can clean up a mess like the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, or global climate change, or racism.
Showing up to shine may mean donating dollars. Showing up to shine may mean creating symbolic rituals that inspire others and create community feeling. Showing up to shine may be pulling out a lifeboat and paddling to rescue an exhausted puppy. When we are looking for the helpers, sometimes we are the ones getting helped, and always, we are the helpers. We are the ones we are waiting for. We can rise and shine. We can give all our glory (to one another).


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Never Got Over Those Blue Eyes: an elegy

I'm listening to Wednesday morning folk with Merianne on KMUN this morning and singing along to some of my favorite songs....and reminiscing about what life was like with The Best Boyfriend Ever, back in the day when we'd go camping in the big red van, roaming Colorado and Utah canyonlands, and sitting around a campfire at night while he played his banjo and I sang the songs we knew, sometimes solo and sometimes harmonizing.

I remember those days so fondly.  Gil was a funny man, proficient on the banjo, an IBM guy who worked on multiple government classified projects before he retired, cute in his curly-headed lanky way.  We were quite the pair:  "Kit and Gil, up next" on the open mic roster at Swallow Hill in Denver.  I have a notebook full of the songs we knew, some I'd never heard before but came to love as I learned the words and harmonies:  "Summer Wages", "Amelia Earhart", Walt Michaels stuff.

We were together for three lovely years.  He wasn't much for saying "I love you" but I figured he did love me and was willing to let it lie.  He acted like he loved me and that was enough until one afternoon, sitting on a hillside at White Ranch, outside of Golden, he said, "we need to talk" and tearfully told me that he had been unfaithful with a woman friend in his AA group.

I had followed his lead in so many ways, attending AlAnon meetings to understand my own behavior with people who were alcoholics, learning to sing with a mic, depending on his companionship to brave the kind of camping we did, getting familiar with the "circle of fifths", basking in his admiration of my singing ability, getting to know his friends and his banjo-playing son, laughing at his jokes, admiring the way AA had helped him shape his life.

He asked me to forgive him,. I told him I did---too quickly, probably---and we went on from there.  But something was broken, and a few months later, he told me that he needed to sort out his life and he wanted to just be friends from then on.

Like many so-called "just friends", we had a hard time with that.  I couldn't believe he was really gone and he couldn't believe I couldn't let go.  We kept trying to be friends rather than lovers but it never really worked.

But our separation made it possible for me to answer the call to ministry that I felt so strongly a year after our breakup.  And four years later, he and his current lady attended my ordination and I got ready to move to Portland.

Gil visited me in Portland, sans lady friend, a couple of times and it became evident that he was not well.  He'd had some weird reactions to medicines, his vision had gotten wonky, and he couldn't manage the banjo any more.  Eventually, he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease, and his health went downhill from there.  I'd talk with him by phone occasionally till he couldn't manage a conversation any more.  I made friends with the lady friend who had stuck by him during his failing health; I talked with her more than I could talk with Gil.

And then he died.  But I never got over those blue eyes.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Reflection for PRIDE Sunday

Rev. Kit Ketcham
PUUF, June 11, 2017
Pride Service

            Talking about sexual orientation and gender identity was a huge NoNo when I was a school counselor in Colorado back in the 80’s and 90’s.  I was so naïve that it took a long time for me to realize that there was something really wrong about that.
            The change in me began when my college friend Fern came out to me after her suicide attempt.  It began to grow when I attended an in-service put on by PFLAG, an in-service designed for counselors in our district, where I saw that the president of the local chapter was the mother of two of my students.
           It took another leap forward when a gutsy 9th grade girl sat defiantly in my office, perhaps thinking I was going to scold her, and said “Yes, I am a lesbian and I’m in a relationship with another girl.  So?”
            Leap after leap kept me changing my understandings and my attitudes toward a group of people that had been unfamiliar to me, except in terms of stereotypes.
            There were Brooke and Robert and Nikki, talking about their suicide thoughts.  There was Marilyn, our school psychologist, who trusted me enough to come out to me, at a time when she could be fired for being Out.  There was Harold who became Carol and who asked female friends to help her become more feminine.  There was 9th grader Don, whose birth name was Donna, and who kept his birth gender a secret from his girlfriend.
            In seminary, there were numerous fellow divinity students who were gay or lesbian or trans  and had to stay in the closet because of church laws which forbade their ordination or even membership in the church body.
            Luckily, my own church, my denomination, Unitarian Universalism, has been open to so-called “sexual minorities” for several decades, and I found I had strong church support when I voiced my concerns about gays, lesbians, and trans folk who were being rejected by their  own religious traditions.
          So I collaborated with my minister at that time, the Rev. Robert Latham, to bring a group of singers from the Denver mixed chorus “Harmony” to present songs from David Maddox’s “Boys and Girls With Stories”. 
This was the summer of 1994, when HIV/AIDS was decimating men in the gay community and fear and sorrow ran rampant in both gays and straights.
          We put the word out in the local newspaper and when I looked out at the congregation the morning of the service with Harmony, I realized that my life had truly changed dramatically. 
“Gayness” was no longer an abstract concept.  In the congregation that morning were friends  who had dared to attend, despite the danger of outing themselves publicly by doing so, friends I had not known were gay.  I realized I could not ever ignore that pain again.
            Initially, it was students who needed to talk, colleagues who needed me to keep confidentiality, and then, when I thought hard about the fact that my dear friends Jan and Chris, who had been together for over 40 years did not have the human right to be married,  another change began to burn in my heart.
            I am thrilled to have been part of the sea change that occurred in June of 2015---two years ago---when the Supreme Court ruled that the marriages of same-sex couples must be recognized by the state. 
And I choked up when I heard the pastor of their Lutheran church utter these words to my friends Dave and Ervin:  “And now by the power invested in me by the State, I pronounce you husband and husband, partners for life”.
Now, when I marry two women or two men, I also say those thrilling words:  “and now by the power invested in me by the state of Oregon….” What a long time it has been, in coming.
My life has been changed radically by my growing understanding of the challenges of being gay or bi or trans or lesbian or questioning or intersex or non-binary or queer.  Because I stepped into that stream of awareness---awareness of the pain and the joy and the need for justice---my life has been transformed and I am happier and ever more grateful for those experiences.

HYMN #1053  “How Could Anyone Ever Tell You”

            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 the changes that give us the freedom to be our most authentic selves are good changes.  May we embrace those changes as welcome, allowing ourselves to grow, being gentle with those who do not yet understand, and helping those who are struggling to be free.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Backside of Beltane

Rev. Kit Ketcham, with Monica Van Steenberg
May 14, 2017, PUUF

            Thanks, Monica, for your help with this service and for speaking about your own experience of Beltane, on this Mother’s Day and in celebration of the human urge to enjoy life passionately and to give that life literally to our children and to those we love.
            I remember singing lustily the song from Camelot “It’s May, it’s May, the Lusty Month of May” and, though I wasn’t quite ready to throw caution to the winds sexually, I sure enjoyed the words “That darling month when everyone throws self-control away”.
            Without revealing too much personal information, I will confide that I had my wild days and nights.  Those memories are clear and pleasant to recall, and, in some cases, a little bit embarrassing.
            But I’ve aged.  I’m not there anymore.  I’m passionate about different things these days and wouldn’t bear another child under any circumstances! Cats and congregations are plenty enough responsibility for me these days.
            I’m on the “backside of Beltane”, I think.  Instead of looking eagerly for that next possible romance, I’m limping off to meet my friend Mike on the riverwalk, who is, in turn, kinda limping a bit toward me.  But he’s my friend and that’s more important to me these days than physical  passion.
            Not to say that the flame doesn’t burn, but it burns in a different way:  hugs instead of deep kisses, giving time and energy instead of making seductive moves, looking for kindred spirits of all genders, not a boyfriend.
            Of course, my widowed mother, 20 years after my dad’s death, was pursued quite persistently by an elderly swain at her assisted living facility, a man who was also observed flirting with yet another woman in a parlor corner.  I’m not saying it can’t happen, just that I don’t know how I’d respond!
            My body, my brain, my whole nature has shifted away from making whoopee to looking for love in a whole different way.  Nothing wrong with mad, passionate love at any time of year or of life but as we age and our bodies and minds respond differently to circumstances, we adjust to those changes.  Call it the new normal!
            Six years ago, I lost a bunch of weight getting ready for retirement, ready to have a love life once again.  But aging caught up with me and my health became a more important project than finding romance.  Comfort food became my default position, not Weight Watchers cuisine and I paid the price.
            Now I think about why I would lose weight again after multiple yo-yo experiences with clothing sizes!  And it has become more important to eat properly than to take off the pounds.  It’s a way of life that allows for a cinnamon maple scone at Coffee Girl or pizza at our Ft. George Happy Hour, when being social is more important than being skinny. 
With age comes the freedom to make different choices.
            One thing that freedom brought me was the opportunity to respond to a strong call to ministry.  Studying theology and church history at Iliff School of Theology in 1995 sent me passionately in a whole new direction.
            And gradually over the years,  my desires have changed.  As a newbie to the vocation of ministry, I learned how important it was to be careful with my relationships within my congregation.  Lots of clergy get into big trouble by dallying sexually with members of the flock.   From the beginning I was very careful to limit romance to friends outside the congregation.
            But of course, the best guys are often in UU congregations!  Darn!  Just another reason to make friends, not search for lovers.
            Do I regret being on the “backside” of Beltane?  Like many of us, , as I experience the early autumn of my physical life,  I have found my spiritual life enhanced by the solitude and freedom that my Beltane energy has morphed into.  I find that I’m not lonely, I get a lot of affection from you all and from family and friends, and I look forward to each day wondering what it will bring next.
            As in the seasons of the year, Lughnasahd arrives in life too, that harvest time when we can see the benefits of our past experience and savor the maturity that comes from living the life we are given.
            Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.


BENEDICTION:  Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, has ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that we are flesh and blood creatures, with all the desires and possibilities that life gives us.  May we enjoy those pleasures and challenges fully and joyfully, as we journey through our lives, accepting the changes that come with maturity and savoring the new life it brings.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.