Sunday, February 12, 2017

Standing on the Side of Love: a sermon

STANDING ON THE SIDE OF LOVE
Rev. Kit Ketcham, PUUF, Feb. 12, 2017

            LOVE!   When I was a kid in Sunday School, I learned that the Greeks had four different names and definitions for love:  Eros---you know, the one that makes your heart go pitty-pat when you look at someone appealing; Philia, the brotherly sisterly attachments we have with family members; Platonic, the affection you feel for  friends for whom you DON’T get that pitty-pat feeling but for whom you care a lot; and Agape, the love that is compassionate, selfless, and directed at humanity broadly.
            Checking out St. Google just to refresh my memory, I discovered that the Greeks actually have a few more categories that are kinda intriguing:  Ludus (loodus), the flirtatious and teasing kind of love that you express through laughter and gentle affection; Pragma, the longlasting love between couples which develops over a long period of time, coming from understanding, compromise, and tolerance; Philautia, (philosha) love of self, expressed in two ways---selfishly and narcissistically, only seeking pleasure, fame, and wealth, or the love of self expressed in self-respect and self-acceptance which is how we learn that we can love others; and Storge (storgay), the love between parent and child which helps us learn to forgive, accept, and sacrifice in another’s behalf.
            It’s helpful to be reminded, as we head into this conversation about Love, that there are nuances to Loving, that a human being is capable of many kinds of love.
            As I think about my own life and my history of loving and being loved, I recognize in myself most of these nuances of Love.  We’ve already mentioned the “pittypat” love for that certain person, and, like you, perhaps, I learned that Eros is dangerous, as well as romantic---or maybe that’s why Eros is so much fun.
            There’s Philia---my sister Jean has always been my best friend, even though when we were little kids we just annoyed each other, but as adults, we’ve formed an attachment that seems unbreakable, even with religious and political differences.
            And Ludus, that playful, teasing love---it’s so much fun to laugh and goof around with friends, with the understanding that this kind of caring is lighthearted and kind, not overbearing or mean.
Storge, that Love between child and parent---like many of you, I was lucky that way and learned the joy of that bondedness, but I also have seen the pain caused by a lack of that bond.  When my son was born, I realized that I had never ever loved in that way; to realize then that my parents loved me that completely was a foundation that helped me grow and even separate from them religiously.  I never feared that I would lose their love.
Then there’s Philautia, which allows a healthy self-love to grow out of that bond and though we might lapse into occasional mild narcissism in our lives, it does not usually turn into an obsession with wealth, entitlement, and fame, as we have seen in our recent national news.
I’m reminded of that Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, “How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways… 
Here at the Fellowship, we observe and we experience many nuances of the ways of Love, don’t we?   We see the romantic relationships within the congregation, the long-term partnerships and deep connections within families, the playful, teasing sociable affection between individuals, the sibling-like friendships which undergird our community life, the respect and acceptance that is offered and received mutually  in our times together, and our concern and compassion for the sorrows of humanity which direct our social justice efforts as a Fellowship.
I want to speak today about what it means to Love as a community committed to making the world a place of justice and equality.  Cornel West, scholar and prophet in today’s world, has said this: “Never forget that Justice is what Love looks like in public.”
Our faith tradition, UUism, has a long-standing advocacy masterplan known as “Standing on the Side of Love”.  You may have seen the banner in UUA publications or read about its outreach in the UU World magazine.
SSL started as a recognition of the love between same-sex partners and became known for its advocacy for Marriage Equality, back in 2004. 
As that campaign moved ahead, immigration issues in our southern border states came to the forefront and the program expanded, as it became obvious that Love meant something more than helping people get married, important as that was.
Love, from an immigration standpoint, was clearly a matter of justice as well.  Families trying to support themselves, making risky runs across the border, were acting out of a desperate and dangerous need to stay together, to stay alive, to shape a life for themselves and their kids in a safer place.
What we could supply was advocacy for justice for immigrants caught in a web not of their own choosing.  And immigration, at that time, was pretty much confined to Mexican nationals in the US without the necessary documentation.  “No human being is illegal” became our slogan, as border officials and law enforcement cracked down on those without the proper papers, detaining people and splitting up families.
And now, in the past several months, our entire country is caught up in a struggle between compassion and oppression, justice and injustice, equality and marginalization.
We thought we had made progress over the past several years---and we had---but that progress is now threatened by a new federal administration and the danger of losing much of the ground gained is real---unless we act to preserve that higher ground.
In my remarks at the beginning of the Astoria Women’s March last month, I offered these thoughts.  Some of you will have heard or read them, but I would like to repeat them today for those who have not, to remind us of our power as American citizens inspired by our faith community.

Our emphasis today is on the positive, what we want to achieve despite the challenges of our current national situation.  But the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes , “we were made for these times” resonated with me and got me to thinking about just HOW we were made for these times.
We have indeed been training for these times all our lives, from the moment we discovered the power of the word NO, at age 2.   As we grew older and faced challenges we did not choose, we said NO over and over again.  As teenagers, we used NO to separate from our parents, well-meaning as they may have been.
            We have said NO to countless useless wars and our NOs have resounded down the halls of academia during VietNam, in the streets during the Gulf and Afghanistan and Iraq wars.  And some of us are old enough to have said NO to Hitler and his Nazis.
            We have said NO to offshore drilling, fracking, desecration of sacred land, and misuse of our waters and our beautiful natural lands.
            We have said NO to mistreatment of women, children, and men.  NO to sexual violence.  NO to hurtful drugs and cigarettes.  We have said NO to unjust laws.  We said NO to HIV/AIDS and homophobia and transphobia.  We have said NO over and over again to gun and domestic violence.
            Often our NOs seemed to fall on deaf ears, but every NO we said in an effort to maintain human rights, dignity and justice for all, and to stop offenses against the land fell upon those ears that could hear, opened pathways of YES as more came to join us in our cause.
            And the more times we said NO, the more YESES we heard from other people who felt the same way and came to join us.
            The Power of NO is a slow-moving power, whether we’re two years old, rebellious teenagers aching to be independent, or protestors in the streets.  It takes time for NO to become visible, to take shape in our national consciousness.
            And here we are, saying NO once again, because we have learned that NO has power, that NO brings change, that NO may take longer than we wish to bear fruit, but it does bear fruit.
            We have chipped away with our NOs steadily and determinedly at the world’s and our nation’s problems, even though sometimes the way was dark and many delays occurred.  In the process, we have turned many a NO into YES. 
            For every time we stand up and voice our concerns and our hopes, we turn NO into YES.  We watch the foundations of oppression begin to crumble and fall, as Ns turn into YES,  as the light dawns in human consciousness.
We can do this.  We were made for these times, we have honed our voices and our skills and our resolve.  And the world and our nation are watching.   YES!  Let me hear you say it:   YES!  YES!  YES!

As 1400 women, men, and kids took to Astoria’s streets January 21, a spirit was rising, a spirit that has infused millions of us with the strength to resist oppression for fellow humans worldwide and here in our own community, for ourselves and our friends, family, and neighbors.
A couple of weeks ago, UU ministers received a letter written jointly by the Rev. Peter Morales, president of the UUA and the Honorable Thomas Andrews of the UUSC, asking us to discuss with our congregations what stand we might take, as UUs and friends of UUs, to let the world know how we intend to respond to hateful words and actions by our governments and by individuals who would take away our civil rights.
In your O/S this morning you received a copy of the Declaration of Conscience which Rev. Morales and Mr. Andrews are asking us to consider.
I’d like us to read it aloud together, so that we can taste the words we are considering supporting.  After reading it aloud, I want us to have a short discussion time to clarify what it means to us and to answer questions about signing such a document.

                    DECLARATION OF CONSCIENCE

At this extraordinary time in our nation's history, we are called to affirm our profound commitment to the fundamental principles of justice, equity and compassion, to truth and core values of American society.

In the face of looming threats to immigrants, Muslims, people of color, and the LGBTQ community and the rise of hate speech, harassment and hate crimes, we affirm our belief in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
In opposition to any steps to undermine the right of every citizen to vote or to turn back advances in access to health care and reproductive rights, we affirm our commitment to justice and compassion in human relations.

And against actions to weaken or eliminate initiatives to address the threat of climate change - actions that would threaten not only our country but the entire planet - we affirm our unyielding commitment to protect the interdependent web of all existence.

We will oppose any and all unjust government actions to deport, register, discriminate, or despoil.

As people of conscience, we declare our commitment to translate our values into action as we stand on the side of love with the most vulnerable among us.

We welcome and invite all to join in this commitment for justice. The time is now.
(Discussion)

At our potluck this morning, I will have a copy of the Declaration of Conscience available for those who wish to sign it.  There is no requirement to do so.  You will be able to sign it later if you are not ready today.  You need not sign it at all, if you are not comfortable doing so.
The signed Declaration of Conscience will be part of our history as a Fellowship.  We can look back on it in the future to remind ourselves of today’s challenges and how we responded.  We will not be sending signatures to “headquarters”.  However, you are invited to share this declaration of conscience with others who may wish to know about it.  You may copy it and share it, post it on social media, mail it to friends.  It is a personal commitment for signers, not a requirement for anyone.
As we come to the end of our service this morning, I want to share some valuable thoughts from author Ariana Huffington, writing about the marathon of resistance we are engaged in. 
She warns of the dangers of perennial outrage; we’ve only been at this for a few weeks and already it’s tough---we have to have ways to keep outrage from exhausting and depleting our creative energy.  We need to find the eye of the hurricane, as she puts it.
To act from a place of inner strength, she refers to the scholar and philosopher Archimedes, who said “give me a place to stand and I shall move the world.”  It’s the centered place from which Judge James Robart issued his historic order to reverse the executive ban on refugees.  And it’s the place from which Viktor Frankl, who lost all his family in the Holocaust and spent years in the camps himself could write: 

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedomsto choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…(in the camps) every day, every hour,(one was) offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom.”

Let’s not get stuck in the outrage storm.  We have the power to step out of the storm, think carefully about how best to channel our energy, and then take action.  Find your niche, the place you can stand for a long time and let’s get started “standing on the side of love”.
Our closing hymn is #1014, “Standing on the Side of Love”.  Our choir will sing the verses and we’ll come in on the chorus.

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 the principles of our chosen faith are very clear about our commitment to love and justice for all.  May we not get caught in the outrage storm but may we find our centered place from which we can draw strength to outlast the threats to freedom and our beautiful planet.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

CLOSING CIRCLE




Saturday, January 21, 2017

WE WERE MADE FOR THESE TIMES:  the slow power of NO
Rev. Kit Ketcham, January 21, 2017
Women’s March, Astoria OR
            Our emphasis today is on the positive, what we want to achieve despite the challenges of our current national situation.  But the words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes , “we were made for these times” resonated with me and got me to thinking about just HOW we were made for these times.
We have indeed been training for these times all our lives, from the moment we discovered the power of the word NO, at age 2.   As we grew older and faced challenges we did not choose, we said NO over and over again.  As teenagers, we used NO to separate from our parents, well-meaning as they may have been.
            We have said NO to countless useless wars and our NOs have resounded down the halls of academia during VietNam, in the streets during the Gulf and Afghanistan and Iraq wars.  And some of us are old enough to have said NO to Hitler and his Nazis.
            We have said NO to offshore drilling, fracking, desecration of sacred land, and misuse of our waters and our beautiful natural lands.
            We have said NO to mistreatment of women, children, and men.  NO to sexual violence.  NO to illegal drugs and cigarettes.  We have said NO to unjust laws.  We said NO to HIV/AIDS and homophobia and transphobia.  We have said NO over and over again to gun and sexual violence.
            Sometimes our NOs seemed to fall on deaf ears, but every NO we said in an effort to maintain human rights, dignity and justice for all, and to stop offenses against the land fell upon those ears that could hear, opened pathways of YES as more came to join us in our cause.
            And the more times we said NO, the more YESES we heard from other people who felt the same way and came to join us.
            The Power of NO is a slow-moving power, whether we’re two years old, rebellious teenagers aching to be independent, or protestors in the streets.  It takes time for NO to become visible, to take shape in our national consciousness.
            And here we are, saying NO once again, because we have learned that NO has power, that NO brings change, that NO may take longer than we wish to bear fruit, but it does bear fruit.
            We have chipped away with our NOs steadily and determinedly at the world’s and our nation’s problems, even though sometimes the way was dark and many delays occurred.  In the process, we have turned many NOs into YESes. 
            For every time we stand up and voice our concerns and our hopes, we turn NO into YES.  We watch the foundations of oppression begin to crumble and fall, as NOs turn into YESes as the light dawns in human consciousness.
We can do this.  We were made for these times, we have honed our voices and our skills and our resolve.  And the world and our nation are watching.   YES!  Let me hear you say it:   YES!  YES!  YES!


            

Sunday, January 08, 2017

The New Normal?


  
            As we’ve aged, whether we are single twenty- or thirty-somethings,  middle-aged parents or single folks, Baby Boomers, or truly elderly and feeling it, we experience changes in our lives that turn out to be permanent rather than temporary.
            It may be a chronic illness or an improvement in health due to changed behaviors; it may be the end or start of a love relationship; it may be a move from a beloved home to unfamiliar surroundings.
            Many times these are temporary, but when they become permanent, we begin to realize that “normal” isn’t what it used to be.  The “new normal” is often something we need to come to terms with because it is life-changing and not always pleasant.
            I’ve had my ideas of “normal” changed a few times in my life,  just as you have, no doubt.  My vision went from mildly nearsighted to cluttered by cataracts, to damaged by retinal detachments---and that is my “new normal” vision.  My heart went from a slight murmur to the diagnosis of a birth defect which needed repair, and then on to conditions that required a pacemaker and medications that have now become another “new normal” for me.
            We learn to cope with the “new normal”, recognizing that our ability to adapt is on the line here.  Losses in health or in relationships or in living conditions are major events in our life journeys and can strike at the very foundations of our sense of well-being.
            Our nation’s health and relationships and living conditions are currently on the line these days, as we contemplate how we will cope with a Yuuge change in our national leadership. But more on that later!
            This morning I want to review for us our journey as members and friends of the Pacific UU Fellowship, because we have done a lot of changing in the past two years and it’s a good time to reflect on our “new normal”.
            Two years ago, January of 2015, we had about 30 pledging members, members who had taken the UU 101 course, had signed the membership book, and had made a financial pledge to the congregation.  This year we have 49 pledging members and are expecting to welcome a few more in the coming months.  We are growing strongly as opposed to many mainline religious traditions.
            Two years ago we were renting space in the small, lovely little green Congregational church on the South Slope and feeling frustrated by our situation---crowded during social hour and other events with little room to grow.
            We were facing several challenges besides the fact that we were outgrowing our rented space.  We also hated to leave a sanctuary that was so familiar with its beautiful views and a mostly-positive relationship with our hosts, the Congregationalists.
            But there were concerns about maintenance of the structure and an awareness that our hosts were financially unable to fix the structural damage, particularly after the incident during a March storm last year that damaged the beautiful window overlooking Saddle Mountain and Youngs Bay.  We weren’t sure we could afford to help out financially.
            A facilities committee had been formed earlier to sort through the possible solutions to our situation and we began to think whether to find new space or to stay put.  But that blue-tarp-covered window in the sanctuary after the storm was a real dose of reality as we realized that the damage was likely irreparable under those current circumstances.
            The facilities committee took on the responsibility of researching possible new homes, listing the pros and cons of each, as well as the pros and cons of staying; the committee visited different possible locations, talking with potential landlords, and also staying in communication with our hosts, the Congregationalists.
            After many months of work and meetings and endless emails back and forth----by the way, Michael counted up 900+ emails about the search for space during 2016—we got ready to make a recommendation to the Fellowship.
            We had had some challenges---many churches in our area are quite conservative and they did not seem like a good match with our liberal theology and values, so we decided not to consider them.  We were actually told “No” by one mainline congregation, uneasy about theological differences.
            In the end, it boiled down to becoming a Partner of the Performing Arts Center or staying put at the little green church.  The vote last summer was decisive to move to the PAC, and we did so in September,  five months ago.
            Our transition team got to work, planning and packing and lugging and moving in.  We learned what keys went to what doors.  We stored our stuff.  We bought things:  a pulpit, a few tables, the kids’ furniture from the UCC church and we made the all-important coffee decisions. 
            People donated things:  a rocking chair for RE, this great rug from Christine, which the kids adore,  tablecloths, a cabinet for the hymnals, storage bins, and many odds and ends.  And then it was time to have our first service here, Sept. 18.
            There have been experiments and goof-ups and more than one deafening screech from the sound system, during the past months of learning how to use this space.  Protocols for social hour and set-up/take-down had to be put in place.  Volunteers had lots of opportunity to be involved and create those protocols. 
Becky and Larry Thormahlen devised the backdrop of drapes and banner---which, by the way, is a major place we need some help, so that they can share that set-up with others and not have to do it themselves every single week.
            We learned we had to be very careful with our chalice flame and got a dispensation from the Astoria fire chief so that we didn’t have to go totally LED!  (Now if we can just help people get the hang of turning on the little bitty switches on the joys and concerns candles!)  There were so many new rules and adjustments to be made.  Other Partners’ schedules had to be observed and worked around.
            Every week it seemed like there was some new challenge to figure out!  At one point, I observed to someone that it reminded me of the first apartment of my own---when I’d moved out of my parents’ home and faced that shaky moment when I realized just how complicated it was to be an adult and run my own life! 
            On top of all of this, our national political scene has been both exciting and scarily chaotic.  We have been challenged repeatedly by potential upheavals and reversals of hard-won human rights and basic respect for human dignity.
            However as we face the year 2017, with its uncertainties, there are strengths within this Fellowship, its membership, and its values that we will build upon, continuing to use our seven principles and the ideals that they represent to resist efforts to turn back the clock to an older more repressive time.
            We have new members with leadership abilities and high eagerness.  We are set firmly upon a solid foundation laid by longterm members and leaders.  We have volunteers, both longtimers and newer folks, who are establishing new processes for hospitality, for Sunday services, social justice, religious education, greeting and membership, all designed for this new home and ready to meet the Yuuuge challenges which may face our nation.
            We have volunteers stepping up to the place with ideas and energy.  We have new activities---circle suppers and post-service discussion times.  Our board is made up of longtimers and newer folks—a promising combination for stability and creativity.
            As we continue to experiment with how to use our new home effectively, we’ll be trying some new elements in the Sunday service occasionally and in other parts of our life together.
            Changes in our size bring changes in our relationships with one another, so some of our new activities will help us stay connected and more aware of what each of us bring to the life of the Fellowship.  We will want to monitor how things are going and bring concerns or suggestions to our leadership.
            Because we have been gaining new members regularly, there may come times when we look around and say to ourselves “I no longer know every person here!”  We’ll want to find ways to help ourselves and each other feel at home here.
            We often think of “growth” as measured primarily in numbers or size.  I mean, how did our parents measure our growth?  By marks on the door jamb, with a book on our heads, right?  By our weight on the pediatrician’s scale, by the sizes of shoes we outgrew!
            In a religious community, there’s more than one kind of growth to consider, however.  Numbers, yes, because we report our numbers to the Unitarian Universalist Association and pay a fee to that organization in return for their support.  Size, yes, because it feels so great to see this sanctuary start to fill up on Sunday mornings!
            But we here at PUUF are also creating growth in our infrastructure, meaning the ways we keep things running smoothly---in our finances, in our processes for creating community, in our leaders’ competence, and in our interactions with the community---both the community of the PAC and of the Columbia/Pacific geographical area.
            We are in the early stages of creating a Finance committee to oversee our accounts and give more assistance to our treasurer.  We are creating a Religious Education advisory group to assist our RE staff.  We have created a hospitality process to make our social hour smooth-running and enjoyable. And we have a membership committee to assist me in welcoming new visitors and members.
            Another important growth area is maturity of understanding.  Our Sunday Services committee strives to create Sunday services that feature speakers  and ideas that bring new information into our awareness.  Speakers from local social service agencies increase our understanding of the social justice needs of our area.  And speakers from other religious traditions and those who challenge us to think philosophically (like Seth Tichenor next Sunday!) help us learn to understand others’ world views.
            One more area of growth for a religious community is in spiritual understanding, opening ourselves to a deeper awareness of what it means to be a human being, in this world, a human being who knows they will die.
            Part of that awareness is recognizing our deepest values---for ourselves and for each other---and finding within ourselves the awe aroused by the world and its creatures and the commitment to offer ourselves and our resources to the world’s protection and improvement.
            Our social justice activities and projects can help us find that sense of connection which invites awe and wonder into our lives.  Spirituality is both inward and outward---inward when we are touched by love or wonderment and savor it quietly.  Outward when we invest our insights and sense of wonder into making lives better with our own actions.
            As we face the prospect of a presidential administration which seems bent on destruction of justice, respect, and compassion, we must work together and within our larger community to resist injustice and teach our values of inherent worth and dignity to others.
            I invite you to open your hymnals now to the page at the very front of the book which lists our Unitarian Universalist principles.  These are the foundation of our faith.  They are the values which inform our religious life and give us direction as we respond to attacks on justice, equity, truth, and all that we are committed to as UUs.
            Let’s read them together.  (read)
            As we move forward, into this difficult time, let us support those leaders who share our values, resist and challenge those who would trample others in their race for riches, and may we find the courage to speak our minds for love and justice in this chaotic time.  Let us do all we can to maintain what we have gained from progressive action and band together for strength.
Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
Our closing hymn is #311, Let it Be a Dance.
            As Michael extinguishes the chalice, I’d like to read you something by Carter Heywood for our benediction.  
Christmas Beatitudes 2016
By Carter Heyward
Blessed are those who are kind, especially when it’s hard
Blessed are those angry for justice in situations of unfairness and oppression,
Blessed are the compassionate in times of hatred,
Blessed are those who speak honestly when pummeled by lies — and who seek truth when confronted by fake news,
Blessed are those who keep their courage in the face of belligerent bullies,
Blessed are women who stand up to abusive men — and men who stand with, not on, women,
Blessed are the queer who do not walk straight and narrow paths,
Blessed are black lives — and white lives who know that black lives matter,
Blessed are the earth and animals among those indifferent to their well-being,
Blessed are non-violent resisters whose enemies hope you will pick up guns,
Blessed are you when people shake their heads because you refuse to accept authoritarian rulers as “normal,”
Blessed are you peacemakers who refuse cheap grace,
You are daughters and sons of the Sacred,
brothers and sisters of Jesus, (and Mohammed and the Buddha and all women and men)
friends of the Spirit,
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Salaam. Shalom. Peace.
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