Friday, June 30, 2006

My Monday/Wednesday/Friday Qualm

This is a followup to yesterday's Qualm of the Day (QOTD).

My MWF qualm raises its ugly head every time I get in the car and go to my Curves workout. Should an elder stateswoman who is pro-choice be going to Curves? I even checked for the opinion of Randy Cohen, famed ethicist who gets money for his opinions via some syndicated columnists' agency. Mr. Cohen said that if we valued our political opinions more than we valued our appearance, we shouldn't go to Curves because of the founders' (Gary and Diane Heavin) contributions to the pro-life cause.

Wait a minute, I said, wait a minute, MISTER Cohen. What if I'm not doing this for my appearance but for my health? My cholesterol, my blood sugar, my physical strength, my aching back, my sore feet? I am past the Sex Kitten stage in life and on into my Sophia era. What's more, I am desperate for enough exercise. The local coed gym is too fancy and high priced for me; I'd rather work out with other Sophias, anyhow. And walking every day just doesn't do it for me; I'm not that great at walking in the Pacific Northwest's rain.

Mr. Cohen didn't bother to respond, so I'm on my own, once again: Ms. Kitty, resident ethicist. Rats! If you don't like the bigshot ethicist's answer, if it doesn't fit your situation, is it really okay to devise your own? Well, I guess that's what we Unitarian Universalists have been doing for a long time anyhow---------using reason and experience to figure out better answers than the orthodox answers.

I have at least one congregant who has a bumper sticker on her car which says something like "Pro-Choice? Don't Go to Curves". Yikes, I think, what would I say to this dear woman if she saw my car in the Curves parking lot? How would I explain without just sounding like I'm rationalizing?

This is on my mind every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 7:30 a.m. as I sign in at the Curves desk and take my place on the hamster wheel, excuse me, the circuit track. I chew on it all the way over and all the way back. Now, my congregant may not see my car there, but I think I need to be ready with an answer if the subject ever comes up.

I've thought of wearing a tee shirt or getting a bumpersticker with a slogan I picked up somewhere: "Abortion: Safe. Legal. Rare." But I haven't done it. I've thought of writing to the Heavins and telling them what I think about their politics. But I haven't done it. I've quit Curves on occasion, but re-enrolled when I just couldn't get enough exercise on my own. And I'm not much for confrontation; I'd rather look for the commonalities I have with someone who disagrees with me.

What would that look like? Actually, I think most people, whether pro-choice or pro-life, think abortion is not a good birth control method. I don't know anyone who would love to get an abortion. Women make this choice out of desperation, not to have a good time. As a counselor with adolescents years ago, I knew many girls who got abortions, either on their own or with their parents' permission; I transported girls to clinics for pregnancy checks and counseled them about their choices. I never encouraged nor discouraged abortion; I knew that an abortion, even a safe, legal one, had ramifications that would affect many lives, not just that of the pregnant woman.

Resident ethicist Ms. Kitty's decision: Health is the issue here. My health. Women's health, physical, mental, spiritual. Babies' health. We have to make informed choices about health and sometimes those choices are very hard and controversial indeed. I trust myself and other women and men to make the best decisions we can about our health, whether it's about disease or life supports or smoking or any other health issue. And only we can make those decisions; others cannot make them for us.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Qualm of the Day

I was thinking earlier about the many qualms that most of us encounter daily. They involve what we eat, what we say, who we hang around with, our secret and not-so-secret sins, what we recycle, where we live, how we spend our time and money, whether we volunteer our efforts anywhere, you get my drift. (I'm sure I've left out a few.)

I like to think that I myself, the nonpareil (the noun, not the adjective) Ms. Kitty, have NO ethical issues that are unresolved. By now I certainly should have all my ethical decisions well in hand, no ethical stone unturned, no ethical birds in the bush or hand. I am, after all, an elder stateswoman. We have few ethical decisions left to make, right? You know, Living Wills, Dead Wills (I guess that's the will they read after you're gone), who we sleep with, or not, who we want to take care of us "when we're 64".

But I find that there are a number of qualms that beset me still and that I struggle with daily, things I never expected to face.

One big one is Food and Being Thin. How much should I, a 64 year old woman, still be worrying about being thin? In my opinion, behind the "being healthy" issue that is the purported reason for eating very little and being thin lurks the old "feminine body image" dragon of sexiness. If being thin and eating little is such a healthy thing to do, how come virtually all post-menopausal women are thick around the middle? Our bodies work that way; very few women escape this condition of poochiness around the middle. What if Nature intended for us to get a little poochy, to lose our waistlines, to carry a little belly fat? What if this was a way Nature intended to shift us from being Sex Kitten to being Sophia the Wise?

Why might poochy bellies on post-menopausal women be a good thing? Just a few possibilities that spring to mind: to provide protective insulation to our internal organs as our circulation slows down and we get cold sooner; to provide weight for our bones to support so that they don't atrophy as quickly as we age (you know, weight-bearing exercise); to take us out of the sexiness gene pool so that younger women can have the babies; and, of course, to make it reasonable for us to wear comfortable clothes. Surely the ubiquitous quality of this characteristic says something about its usefulness! It even happens to post-menopausal women in primitive societies, who have presumably let go of the need to be sexy and are looked to for their wisdom instead.

But nooooooooo, daily I read in the paper and see on the news all the drawbacks of belly fat. And I've tried, I really have tried to erase my poochiness. I exercise, I eat properly, I am not a couch potato. I have dieted successfully in the dim past; since I quit with the hormonal additives, I have gained back every ounce I've lost on a diet. No diet has kept me thin longterm since I was in my 50's. The only thing I think would work would be to cut my food intake in half and double my exercise. And for what? What kind of fun would life be if I was hungry and tired all the time?

So my ethical decision about Food and Being Thin is this: I am going to eat what I like but not overdo it and I will take responsibility for whatever health issues this creates. And I am going to quit worrying about being thin. I think I am meant to have a poochy belly and a big grin, and I will take responsibility for whatever this brings into my life.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Power of Friendship

I mentioned in an earlier post that my childhood friend, Marilyn Day Leibenguth, had died recently of a catastrophic brain bleed. Her husband and the love of her life, Walt, had invoked her Living Will and had let her die peacefully and without too much intervention, once it was established that she had no chance at any future quality of life, if surgery kept her alive. Five days after the "event", Marilyn died quietly, her husband by her side.

I was lucky enough to be able to visit her before she died, through a series of rather remarkable coincidences. I am in daily email contact with a group of five women friends from my high school days, all of us graduates of McEwen High School in Athena, Oregon. Our graduating class was about 18 members, and now four of those members are dead. We began to keep in touch several years ago after two members died in fairly rapid succession, Audrea Montee Kyle and Donna Youncs Myers, may they rest in peace.

And I got an email early one morning from Bonnie, mentioning that Judy had called to tell her that Sue had said that Marilyn had had an aneurysm and was in a Seattle hospital. I was stunned. Marilyn was my best friend from fifth grade through junior year in high school, though we had lost touch except for Christmas cards, over the years. As the day wore on, I sorted out in my mind that I could possibly find her in whatever Seattle hospital she was in and maybe get to say goodbye. So I called Bonnie, who gave me Judy's cell phone; Judy put me on the phone with Sue, who was visiting, and I got enough information to locate Marilyn and visit her before she died.

The funny thing is that I wasn't that close to these other women in high school, despite our proximity living in a town of about 800 souls. My dad was the Baptist minister and most of them attended the Christian church ("Daddy, aren't Baptists Christians?" "Yes, honey, but not the same way that the Christian church people are."). But we knew each other. We knew each others' parents and siblings, we rode each others' horses in the fields, we drove pea and wheat trucks together in harvest, we cheered wildly at the same pep rallies and events.

But we ran around in somewhat different crowds. They all could go to the movies and the dances in town. We Baptist kids could not. They had a little more freedom than I did and we rarely did much together. Until now. Now we have sleepovers and gettogethers in Portland, in Athena, wherever and whenever we can get together. They are coming to visit me this fall; we are getting together this summer as well, at Athena's Caledonian Days, which always becomes an "everyone who is still vertical" reunion for McEwen grads.

I think this is nothing short of miraculous. Together we have talked about our lives in that safe little town, we have helped each other deal with death, illness, job conflict, children with problems, and life generally. Each woman contributes her own special flavor to our conversations. Judy manages to note everything that is going on and keeps track; Bonnie tells us about grape harvest in Oregon; Mary Alice keeps us up to date on eastern Oregon doings, as she is the only one who lives near Athena now; Diann writes from California about her life with hunky Ted, the boy we all liked and she married; Donna keeps us in stitches with stories about her irrepressible dogs and the trials of remodeling her new house.

They are all still married to their first husbands. I, the goody-two-shoes of our youth, got divorced after 13 years and am still single. So much for the "good girl" theory of life that my upbringing imposed upon me!

Anyhow, let this post be a tribute to friendship, to small towns, and to the persistence of women who knew that our lives together were blessed and that this history and association must be preserved.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The scary thing about blogging

Here's the scary thing about blogging, for me: I've just invited a whole bunch of friends and relations to actually read the thing! What if they do? What if they hate what I've written or take it personally or some other such negative response? What if they tell me they hate it? And what if they hate it and DON"T tell me? And what if they like it or agree with something or want to add their own observations? Can I cope with success and/or failure?

But also, what if they don't read it? I tell you, the possibilities of humiliating and offending someone are endless------and that someone could be ME!

So now I've taken the plunge, this person who tries to avoid making mistakes or stupid statements at all costs. I've probably said something infernally offensive to someone out there and will doubtless hear about it. Will my ego shrivel? Will I get mad? Am I adult enough to be challenged and respond gracefully? Time will tell. After all, the very act of writing a blog implies a strong ego and the ability to respond to challenge with grace and maturity. Writing a blog also implies that the writer has something cogent to say------do I? (If not, what am I doing in the ministry?)

Well, we're about to find out, aren't we?

And now for the position

If you have not yet read the post below, please do that before you read this piece, so that you understand the place I'm coming from.

After almost 40 years of observing this religious movement, this faith community that I am so in love with, I am convinced that it is evolving into a new way of "doing religion".

In the past several years, we have seen religious humanism make room (grudgingly, yes, to some extent) for folks hungry for a spiritual journey beyond social justice work. Some of these folks were Christian, some were pagan, some were Jewish, some were undefined, just hungry. As we all struggled together, we found that we had much in common. The humanists weren't all anti-theists-------they had a different vision of the Power beyond human power. They called it natural law and they believed in love and life as strongly as anyone else. The Christians and Pagans and Jews were just as committed to social justice as the humanists and nontheists; they felt called by God/Goddess to care for others and the earth. All the hungry people wanted meaning in their lives, meaning beyond the day to day struggles of work and survival.

This has been a cataclysmic struggle and there have been casualties on both sides. Many have left the struggle, wounded by the acrimonious debate. Others have watched in sympathy as the war within our faith has flared up repeatedly. Others have invoked the "wounded" card, stating that UUism has to be their way because they have been so wounded by the "other way", which could be nontheism or theism.

It's clear to me that we are finding the Middle Way, as the Buddha directed. And for me, the Middle Way is this: we are a faith community grounded in love and justice. We love each other and allow each other to express ourselves in our own ways, with love. We do not insist that others speak our language and we do the best we can to understand and translate the unfamiliar language of others.

And the upshot is that we have a living, growing religious faith. Our guiding principle is Love and under the protective shelter of Love, all may gather. We may use different words to express our convictions, but all are welcome, all are loved, all are equally important. We do not require that our members and friends all speak the same language; we do require that they seek to live with love and justice for all. We do not require that our members and friends all believe the same thing; we do require that they all respect and honor one another's convictions.

And what this means is that the formerly bullied (whether nontheist, theist, BGLT, people of color, whatever the group that has been marginalized) MAY NOT seek to dominate, to seek a kind of revenge by exerting power over those who may have excluded them in the past. This is hard, because people who are angry and hurt almost inevitably want revenge. But if we are truly living with love and justice, we will find a better way to respond to each other.

Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

How I see Unitarian Universalism after 40 years of being UU

I think I may have a different view of Unitarian Universalism than many other people. My sense is that many people see UUism as a hodgepodge of beliefs, practices, and quasi-religious rituals that has little coherence or relevance; many other people see UUism as a radically liberal Christian faith which now welcomes non-Christians as well. Still others see UUism as a nontheistic, social justice movement.

I think UUism has been all of these things in the past, but that it has evolved (or is evolving) into something different. The "salad bar" image of view #1 (hodgepodge) is fairly negative, because it implies that we are flailing about uselessly, pretending to be religious. View #2 (radical liberal Christian) is accurate for some congregations but not for all and it too implies something negative----that Christianity is our rootstock and we will tolerate non-Christians but not change for them. View #3 (the humanistic outlook) implies that humanity is all that matters and that referring to a Power beyond human power is unnecessary.

Let me define who I am, to establish some credibility for taking the position I'm about to take:

I am Christian bred and born, a Baptist preacher's kid who has spent nearly all of my life in church work. I am a theist with a mystical understanding of God and I use mystical language to refer to the Power beyond human power (PBHP) because "God" as a word is too small. For me, the Divine requires poetry, not prose. I found UUism in the 60's, when it was primarily a humanistic movement. I felt comfortable at that time because I was rethinking my Christianity and content to let the issue ride for the time being. I felt pulled in and energized by the civil rights struggles and my opposition to the war in Vietnam.

I have been an active member of a UU congregation for nearly 40 years and have had many conversations with people about why they chose to become UU. I am an observer of human behavior and I noticed that some of these folks came for view #1 and some came for view #3. Then many started coming for View #2, acknowledging their deep commitment to a Christian theology and hoping that UUism would acknowledge its own deep Christian roots. I watched the "theist vs. atheist" controversy heat up and boil over. I watched folks on both sides of this issue be hurt and excluded on the basis of their deeply held convictions.

I am not particularly a student of Hegel, but it was clear to me that we had something of a Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis motif going on. Having been a teacher and counselor of early adolescents for 25 years, I saw something of that generational rebellion occuring as well in UUism. Non-theistic humanism was the dominant view, with theistic views taking a back seat. Then the UU Christian movement began to flourish as Christians and other theists insisted that their views be taken seriously.

Monday, June 26, 2006

What is Ms. Kitty's?

I've had a lot of nicknames in my life and Ms. Kitty is one of my favorites. I used to write a monthly column for my local Mensa newsletter and "Ms. Kitty's" was the title of the column. I let my IQ expire a few years ago when Mensa became just too much of a head trip for me, so I haven't used that particular nickname in awhile. The original Miz Kitty, of course, is the redoubtable Amanda Blake from Gunsmoke, a heroine whose ability to keep the equally redoubtable Mister Dillon in line always had me in awe.

I figure that at a Saloon, one's lips are apt to be somewhat looser and, as they say, "in vino veritas". Not that I will be drinking heavily during these expositions, but I do aim for looser lips than usual, in expressing my thoughts.

And Road Show? Well, that's my secret love--to be able to sing and perform for an audience, something I have loved to do since I was a kid and won a talent show with my best friends, Marla and Marilyn. The three of us, in sixth grade, had intended to pantomime (aka "lipsync") a funny song (We Gotta Put Shoes on Willie), but we broke the record just before curtain time and ended up singing it instead of pantomiming. And we won! I mention this because my dear friend Marilyn Day Leibenguth just died of a brain aneurysm four days ago and I have been remembering all the good times we had as kids growing up in Athena, Oregon.

These days, the Road Show takes the form of a Unitarian Universalist pulpit, where I can sing and perform to my heart's content, offering, I hope, a message of hope and love and justice to those who listen.

Creating something new----what a rush!

One of my favorite theologians, Henry Nelson Wieman, speaks of the Creative Force as his idea of the Divine, of "God". And though there will likely be nothing divine about my blog, just creating it, giving myself a forum for my thoughts and a chance for feedback from others, is quite a rush.

On this blog, I'm joining the growing cadre, horde, cavalcade of men and women using the internet to put their ideas "out there". As I've read other blogs and have commented on others' posts, I've become increasingly aware of the fact that I have my own ideas-----and they aren't the same as everybody else's. So, putting my money where my mouth is, or rather, putting my thoughts where my screen is, was the logical next step.

I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister, in the biz for more than a few years, if you count growing up as an American Baptist preacher's kid, serving as an American Baptist Home Missionary for awhile, moving on into teaching and counseling and general church lady activities, and eventually morphing all these skills and experiences into Unitarian Universalist ministry. I've served several congregations, all in the western US, and am currently busier than I ever expected to be with two small congregations, interfaith work with other local clergy interested in marriage equality, and a wealth of family and friends.