Thursday, September 28, 2006

Platte Canyon shootings bring back terrible memories.

Watching the terrible story of the latest school atrocity unfold, I was transported back in time to my former home in Golden, Colorado, and a phone call I was eagerly awaiting one morning, from a woman giving me the good news that I was the successful candidate for the small Portland congregation I'd applied to serve. It was April, 1999, and I was about to graduate from seminary and begin ministry.

I had the radio turned on to the local classical music station when a bulletin interrupted the music: "There has been a shooting at Columbine High School, police are on the way, students are being evacuated, the shooters are still in the building, gunfire has been heard repeatedly."

Columbine High School was about 20 minutes south of my home. I had friends on the faculty there, men and women I knew through the Education Association of Jefferson County Schools and my church. I knew students there. I knew ministry students who served congregations in that neighborhood. I knew the minister of the Columbine UU Congregation.

The phone rang. It was Margaret Beard of the UUA, telling me that I had been selected to serve the new congregation Wy'east UU in Portland as an extension minister, starting in August. Margaret gave me her news in one ear while in the other ear I could hear the radio blaring its dreadful news. I asked her to hang on while I turned on the television and gave her a play by play of the helicopter views of students rushing from the building, police trying to decide what to do, parents arriving in a panic.

Our conversation ended and she said she'd be in prayer for all of us who were affected by this horrifying event. As soon as I could get away from the house, I went to the Columbine church and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening with my colleague Joel Miller and other ministers who gathered there to lend support to Joel and his congregation. We learned that during the melee, many students and a teacher had died, others were badly injured and traumatized. None of Joel's youth had been hurt or killed but some youth from the Mormon church across the street had been trapped in classrooms.

Colorado was stunned senseless by this event. The next day I drove to my seminary to sit as if drugged by grief with friend Esther Cho who had lost one student and feared for the survival of another. What could we do? What could we do? We prayed, we offered memorial services, and we were angry, especially when a huge public memorial service featured Franklin Graham, son of Billy but without Billy Graham's sense of appropriateness, who offered a reflection blaming the godlessness of society and prayed for the dead "in Jesus' name", though non-Christian students had died and been injured.

All this came back to me today as I watched the students of Platte Canyon High School, just up the road from Columbine, where the nightmare had occurred once again.

NeoVita---not the right solution for Ms. K.

Just got back from a walk in the woods overlooking the Strait and was marveling at how good my feet feel since I quit wearing my much-vaunted NeoVita orthotics, which I bought a year ago for big bucks to cure a pesky case of plantar fasciitis. I should have sought out a podiatrist, but I wandered into a NeoVita store in Seattle on the strength of their radio commercials, which seemed to promise instant results.

Oddly, several weeks worth of wearing the orthotics did nothing for the PF. What did help was doing some simple stretching exercises before putting weight on my feet. Within days of my starting the exercises, the PF was much diminished and soon gone. But I kept wearing the orthotics thinking that the PF would surely come back and haunt me if I didn't. And anyway, I had all this money invested!

I gave away all the shoes that didn't work with the orthotics, I bought orthopedicky flats and walking shoes, and resigned myself to never wearing pretty shoes again.

But I was still limping around, experiencing pain on the side of my foot and in my hip, and gradually the idea began to grow that maybe the orthotics were aggravating the situation. The orthotics had never become comfortable; they always felt like I was walking on a golf ball. And long walks had become out of the question because of the pain. I'd figured I was just getting oldish and creakyish.

My sister had also been wearing orthotics (she'd actually gone to a podiatrist) and last weekend at the wedding she told me that she'd quit wearing them, that she thought the orthotics were more of a problem than a help. And her pain was gone.

That was all it took. I removed the orthotics (4 pairs of them!) from the shoes they were in, put back the original insoles, and voila! every day since has been better than the day before.

Suggestion to anyone considering orthotics: Go to a podiatrist, not a store. Find out about exercises for PF; you can google it and find info. If your feet hurt after using orthotics for awhile, the orthotics might be the problem. Shout at the NeoVita commercials on the radio; it will do you good!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Information about Sunday worship at GA

I did a little fussing about the change to an afternoon worship service at the Portland GA and received this from Beth McGregor, vice chair of the committee and receiving feedback in the absence of the chair Linda Friedman . I hope they reconsider, but it may be a done deal. I've lodged my objections. If you would like to send your own feedback to Beth, she is at

"There are a number of changes in the Portland GA schedule that people may be
interested in.

First, we're creating space in the schedule on each day for a highly
interactive process called Open Space Technology, designed to gather input to help
steer our Association in the future.

To make room for this process, we are cutting back on the hours of plenary,
reducing the number of reports, and we will have 12 regular workshop time
blocks, with a reduction from last year in the number of workshops led by
Independent Affiliates, Associate organizations, and staff.

To allow people time to travel home for work on Monday, we are ending the GA
at 6 PM Sunday, with Closing Worship from 4-6.

Sunday's schedule reflects the most changes. Here's the way the grid looks:
7-7:30 AM: Morning Spiritual Practices
8-8:25 AM: Hymn Sing (led by GA choir members)
8:30-11 AM: Plenary 7 (including SOC, AIW's)
11:30-12:45: Program slot 12
1:00-1:30 PM: GA Choir Concert
1:30-3:30 PM: Plenary 8 (including votes emerging from the Open Space
process and the Moderator's Report)
4-6 PM: Closing Worship, with sermon by the Rev. Josh Pawalek and music by
the choir of First UU Church Portland. This worship service will welcome
public attendance. The exhibit hall will also be open to the public on Sunday.

These changes were worked out by collaboration of the Planning Committee,
Moderator, President, and Youth and UUA Board reps. It's an experiment--we'll
see how it works, but we're excited about the possibilities."

Beth McGregor
GA Planning Committee

Monday, September 25, 2006

A beautiful day at Ebey's Landing

I hopped in the car and tooled over to Curves this morning for my MWF workout, found the parking lot jammed, turned around and came home thinking "how can I quit Curves and yet get enough exercise?" I don't feel guilty any more about Curves, thanks to my cathartic ranting a couple of months ago, but I am irritated by the boring routine, the vapid ladies who frequent the place, the inadequate space and the need to drive four miles to get there. When I go, I hope for a nearly-empty place, an attendant who doesn't need to talk to me, and a quick in and out. It's rarely like that and I'm about to call it quits.

But what to do to get exercise? I am going to check out the gym that's about a mile away, to see if they have any program that I can afford. But today was beautiful and I hied myself to Ebey's Landing, a National Historic Preserve north of Coupeville, to walk a two-mile stretch of beach, looking for agates, talking to other walkers, and enjoying the salty breeze which kept the temperature mild.

If I could do this every day, I'd probably get plenty of exercise, but I can't seem to make myself make the effort every day, even though it's beautiful. And it rains way too often in the winter to be practical.

But today it was just perfect. Tonight I feel relaxed and virtuous. I think I'll go have a little ice cream.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Only one hitch in the hitching

Only one hitch in the otherwise flawless hitching of my niece and her sweetie-------one of the groomsmen keeled over during the ceremony, much to his own embarrassment and the consternation of his wife. It was quickly clear that he was not ill, just suffering the effects of low blood sugar, dehydration, and heavy tuxedo, and the wedding proceeded after we pulled him out of the chrysanthemums he'd fallen into and set him on a chair.

It was a good party, the wedding guests were well-behaved, my brother and his ex were tear-free, amazingly, and we all had a good time.

Ode to Junior High Kids

It's been 10 years now since I retired from being a junior high/middle school guidance counselor and, though the first few fall seasons after retirement found me sighing with relief whenever I saw a school bus, I've gotten past that "thank God I'm not doing that anymore" stage and have moved into a nostalgia phase.

LinguistFriend admires those who work with early adolescents and I would never say it's not hard, but it's remarkably satisfying, once one has learned not to take personally anything a 13 year old says. I probably wasn't the world's greatest at what I did, but I did have fun.

Here's what I liked about it:
1. These kids are funny. They don't necessarily mean to be, but they are funny.
2. They are also sure that no adults like them. So it's a huge surprise to them to be liked by an adult, especially one in authority who is not their mother.
3. They are so very human. In an early adolescent, we see all the pluses and minuses of humankind---amplified by hormones and the confusions of teenagehood.
4. They feel their feelings. Joy is tremendous and voiced exuberantly. Sorrow is overwhelming and voiced with anguish.
5. They are still a bit malleable and interested in what adults think.
6. They want to admire the adults in their lives and, paradoxically, argue with everything adults say.
7. An adult who deliberately does something goofy may be ridiculed but is also secretly adored and the kid complains about the goofiness even as s/he secretly hopes for more.
8. They love and hate their parents at the same time. My son always walked 20 feet ahead of me or behind me at the mall until he turned 16. And if I was buying underwear for him, he disappeared.
9. They are curious but want to appear as though they already know everything worth knowing. In some ways, many adults, including myself, have never moved out of this stage.
10. Parents are so grateful that someone likes their kid and sees worthiness in a lump of clay which has suddenly morphed into an unrecognizable being, a being that snarls at previously-respected parents and sleeps until noon or later all weekend.
11. Best of all, it was fabulous preparation for becoming a parish minister. There are a lot of similarities between early adolescents and normal adults in a UU congregation and it's one of the reasons I love my work.

I believe I am a better minister because of 25 years spent with junior high kids. I am much less surprised by the petty squabbles and attitudes of my congregants because I know they are perfectly normal. I worry much less than others about the consequences of those squabbles because I have some skills at helping people work them out. And I have lots of practice at seeing past the blemishes and scowls on the surface to the heart of the human miracle before me, who just wants to belong, just wants to be liked, just wants to have his/her thoughts heard and validated.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Family Wedding

I'm not often asked to do weddings for my relatives. They are mostly served by their own religious communities and don't need my services. I'm not even doing my son's wedding next summer; according to him, his fiancee's parents, who are good people but pretty conservative, might expect me to show up in high priestess garb with a bone in my hair (or was it my nose?). I'm not sure who will perform that ceremony, but I am going to be strictly the mother of the groom---------which is fine with me.

Tomorrow, however, I am joining in holy wedlock my niece Tennyson (brother Buz's daughter) and her beloved Joe. T and Joe are well-matched, goodhearted young people who met online in a gaming venue, became friends and then found their relationship growing. T was brought up in a mainline denomination but began to branch out in college, looked at neo-paganism, Celtic spirituality, and even UUism. They don't attend church but consider themselves spiritual, if not religious.

The ceremony is pretty standard UU ritual, very simple, not very long, and they have personalized it a bit with their own vows. It will be quite sweet and if my brother and his ex can quaver out the words "we do" before bursting into tears, it will go off without a hitch. The venue is outdoors near a fire station, which could create a bit of a stir, but we'll play it by ear, I guess (NPI).

I did my brother's wedding to his new wife a few years ago, in my Portland living room, and cut the ties to my ex-husband quite decisively six years ago by marrying him to his new wife.

I like doing weddings. I used to feel a bit like a hired hand, especially when I was new at it and hadn't yet figured out how to build a relationship between myself and the couple. And of course there's always the discrepancy between how much the wedding costs (thousands and thousands of dollars, often) and how much the minister is paid! It's interesting to me as well that the "wedding planner" guides published in the spring rarely mention the officiant as an important member of the wedding party.

Be that as it may, I am looking forward to seeing family members tomorrow and to performing this sacred act for my dear niece. It will be an honor to serve my family in this way.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

A conundrum of ministry in a small community

One of the challenges of ministry in a small community is friendship--------where does the minister find friends? how does the minister maintain a certain professional distance from congregants without sacrificing a social life? is it really taboo to make friends with congregants?

I knew I'd face this when I moved to this island community. One of my strengths is being able to relate eye-to-eye with those I serve. It served me well as a junior high school counselor, because my kids didn't feel talked down to or patronized. They saw me as an adult, but an approachable one. I had good boundaries, I think, but I rarely set myself "above" my students, except to uphold school rules as necessary.

Now I'm a minister, trying to be authentic and my true self, but also aware that too much self-disclosure can easily work against me. Last night I had dinner with a couple in the congregation and we talked about this dilemma a bit. It's hard to explain the need for "professional friendship" to someone whom I respect and like a great deal, people I would readily glom onto as close friends, if it didn't feel a little dangerous.

It's not because they are dangerous, it's more because I am aware that my credibility as a minister can be damaged if I'm known too well or too intimately by those I serve. Yet the desire to reveal myself is strong when I encounter congregants with whom I feel compatible.

This morning I was reviewing the evening mentally and checking to see if anything I had said or done might have damaged my credibility with them---------even my inarticulate explanations of "professional friendship". I doubt that my one glass of wine would cause too-loose lips and I don't think I crossed any line, but I am acutely aware of the fragility of professional authority. I'm also aware that to tout professional authority in such a situation does damage to my desire to be approachable and eye-to-eye with those I serve.

I've examined my thoughts on this through the lens of "do I just need people to like/love me?" and I am aware that this desire is present in me. Over the years (especially as a jr. hi counselor), I've tamed this desire pretty thoroughly. I don't NEED people to like or love me in the old unhealthy ways, but, boy, it sure makes things easier when they do! If I can be liked and loved without sacrificing integrity, I'm a happier person.

So I'll continue my efforts to make friends in the island community where I can truly let down my hair and be real. As an extrovert not afraid to do things alone, I find it relatively easy to reach out to people I don't know. Of course, then there's always the moment when "you're a minister?" creates the old "English teacher" syndrome where the person I've just met is searching the past few moments to see if they've said anything that a minister would disapprove of!

Ah well, one conundrum at a time today!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Latitude of Lassitude

After four busy, productive days serving the other of my two churches, I am home again on Cottontail Acres and relishing the opportunity to just BE, rather than DO. I was supposed to go into Seattle today for an RCE meeting and decided that, though I love to see those colleagues and spend time discussing our efforts to secure marriage rights for sexual minorities, they could do without me today, because I couldn't do without myself.

It's a cool, rainy morning; the leaves are beginning to drift down from the trees and the joy of a full day to be alone and leisurely has resulted in a lassitudinous latitude in my being. I am weary today and deliciously so. I don't need to sleep; I need to move slowly, walk in a rainy forest, pet the cats, cook soup, read a book for enjoyment, think, write, rest.

I hear geese in the distance, announcing their presence. Last night I heard the coyotes. These days I can't imagine why I ever wanted to work fulltime OR live in Seattle. I can't imagine ever living in a large city again, with its noisy bustle. I am so thankful that I don't have to work fulltime; I don't have to live in the city. I can see, everyday, the water of the Strait reaching west to the sea, bringing a peaceful, healing warmth to envelop my heart.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Conversation and gender continued

Yesterday's post about 60 something men and their conversational shortcomings engendered (no pun intended) a lot of wonderful conversation from several contributors. It was enlightening, to say the least, to read a male take on the tendency of men to need to sell themselves, to establish credentials with their hearers, and to rely on their hormones to give them the cues they need to develop relationships.

It was useful to hear this from presumably-credible males who did not seem to be making excuses or being defensive about their gender's attributes. A rich discussion which I hope will continue!

That said, while the post was percolating out there in the blogosphere, I was having coffee with a group of 60 something men and women from my congregation; this is a newly-begun, regular "koffee klatch" kind of thing and yesterday was our first meeting. It was the best conversation I have had for months! Nobody dominated; when one man went on a little too long, somebody else redirected, and the content of the conversation ranged from church matters to world peace.

At one point, I burst in and said "this is fabulous! This is one of the best conversations I've had in ages and I appreciate so much the ability of the people here to converse!" I went on to give a short synopsis of the "conversation" which inspired my previous post and the discussion veered into the same area-------what's the deal with conversation? Does it have anything to do with gender and innate characteristics? social expectations? personality? and what responsibilities do conversants have to one another?

After two hours of great conversation with a mixed group, I came home to find the responses to my post piling up, some of them confirming what the coffee group had said, some challenging it. But all rich and diverse and exciting!

If there's more to be said on this by my readers, I welcome it!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Men of my generation

What is it about men of my generation? I'm talking about those who grew up in the 40's and 50's, struggled through the 60's in a variety of ways, had wives and families by the 70's, divorced eventually, and started looking for new female partners.

I've been single since 1980, had a few good relationships and several less-good ones, and try to stay open to the possibility that out there somewhere there may be a man of my generation who can carry on a conversation without trying to control it, who is interested in me as a human being rather than a role, a captive ear, a potential caretaker, a possible golddigger, a sex kitten (don't laugh--I've had my moments!).

But nearly every fellow I've met socially in the past several years has seemed to be caught in a 50's/60's trap of society's expectations: that men control conversations, that women are to listen and nod approvingly, and that women are lucky to have a man in their lives and need to accept their role as listener, cheerleader, caretaker, and be happy about it.

Most recently I've met a couple of fellows through online resources and, within a week of each other, they each self-destructed in my eyes in the same way: talking on and on about themselves and their interests and passions, never seeming to notice my look of resignation and my efforts to redirect the monologue.

In one case, I reached across the table we were at and said, "please stop. We're not having a conversation here." And this otherwise-intelligent man looked at me confusedly and said, "we're not? what are we having?" My reply: "a monologue, and I'm not interested in any of it. Can we please talk about things I can also talk about?"

He was gracious, if that's the right word, and asked me to talk for awhile, which I did, about my own history and interests, and yet it wasn't conversation, just another monologue, this time about myself.

I recognize that I have to bear some responsibility for this state of affairs. I'm not much for small talk and these days non-small talk seems to focus on the terrible state of the world, which isn't very much fun to talk about either. And I don't have an arsenal (yet) of handy-dandy conversational topics where I feel on equal ground. Clearly I've got to come up with one if I want to continue my openness to a partner.

The minister bit also complicates things. I'm very interested in talking about church, about religion, about ideas, but in these arenas, the role of minister comes back and bites me, because I am often imbued by my friend with ministerial authority even though this is just a date, not a pastoral moment!

I want a man who invites discourse, real back-and-forth conversation about ideas, where we each ask the other's opinion and we listen to it and respond to the ideas expressed. I have these kinds of conversations with my women friends all the time; why can't I have them with men?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thoughts on 9/11

I've avoided, as best I can, the mawkish anniversary "celebrations" of September 11, 2001. I skipped those parts in the newspapers this morning, turned off the news when the reportings began, felt glad to evade the presidential visage spouting platitudes about freedom haters and staying the course. I am of decidedly mixed feelings about this event, however, grieving the loss of so many lives and the attendant wakeup call to America yet wondering why we wallow in this grief in this particular way.

The anniversary every year, with its "we will not forget" rhetoric, seems to me a parody of how we really ought to be observing this moment in time. Yes, it was dreadful to be attacked. Yes, it was horrible to lose so many lives. Yes, many heroes were born that day. Yes, American life was changed forever. Yes, we had to respond to this attack.

And yet........... many other nations and peoples have had equally devastating events occur, from bombings to natural disasters, to wars, to genocide. Some nations and peoples have ONLY ever lived in this way-----under siege constantly from all directions. But somehow, American grief about 9/11 seems out of proportion to the number of lives lost, horror of attack, lost sense of safety. It seems to me deliberately drummed up for the purpose of giving us an excuse to respond vengefully.

Some nations and peoples have NEVER been safe. Some nations and peoples have lost and lost and lost and lost. Their grief represents much greater losses than ours, yet ours supersedes theirs, ours is more important, ours is greater, ours is more holy, ours is more worthy of revenge.

And that's what gets me: the revenge part. All this moaning and speechifying and eulogizing and commemorating can be true grief, or it can be an excuse for revenge. And that's all that has happened because of 9/11--------revenge.

I am sickened by revenge, whether it is in playground battles, in congregations where a member who doesn't like a decision reneges on his pledge, in families where children become pawns to satisfy vengefulness of a parent. And I am especially sickened by it when nations have to get even, at the expense of the innocent.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

The week that was

I've been keeping track of what's going on with PeaceBang and Lizard Eater and ChaliceChick and BerrysMom and some of my other favorite bloggers but the inspiration to write just hasn't struck me this week. There's been too much going on, including writing my homily (or maybe I should say "homilito", because it's pretty short) for Homecoming Sunday------tomorrow.

Well, the homilito is done and done fairly well, I think. It'll pop up on the church website in a few days, so it will not appear here. But Artist's Way recommends that a writer just write, daily, regardless of how important or creative the writing feels, so here goes. If you want to skip the next four paragraphs, which are monkeymindish and just getting things out of the way, feel free to do so. Start again at the asterisk*.

The week has been chockfull of non-church but ministry-related events. Tuesday I drove up to Coupeville, 17 miles north, to meet with the volunteer coordinator at Whidbey General Hospital who is going to put me to work as a volunteer chaplain a couple of days a month. I spent a couple of hours touring the hospital with her, talking about safety and privacy (HIPAA is the big difference these days), getting a TB test, finding out about the perks (a free meal on occasion---and WGH has good food!), and thinking about when I would start, probably later this month.

We're starting a chapter of the Religious Coalition for Equality here on the island and Tuesday night we had our first meeting, with a handful of other religious folk who are interested in working on equality issues for sexual minorities. Wednesday I spent much of the day in Seattle, doing assorted errands and meeting with the Vashon president, and, at home, preparing to host the first annual (?) RCE steering committee/board retreat at my house here on the island, which meant dusting and vacuuming!

Thursday was the all-day retreat, very productive, with Harry Knox of HRC and Freedom to Marry facilitating our group of eight clergy and laity who have been together working on this issue for two and a half years. Quite the coup to have Harry here in my humble abode, but he is very down to earth and capable and we gained a lot of insight about direction and mission for the next year.

Friday was a UUCWI board meeting in the morning and a DRE conference in the afternoon, both productive but effectively keeping me from having a long block of time to work on the homily.

*I hate waiting till the last minute to write my sermon and Friday is way too late, in my book. I like to make notes about it for days in advance, carting around my little notebook and jotting ideas while sitting in the ferry line or at a restaurant. Then, on Wednesday of the week before, I put all my notes together and start writing spontaneously, letting things just emerge. I always try to start with a grabber----a story, a song, a question----to help people move from their left brain into their right brain.

For this one, I made up a song which we will sing together tomorrow and (I hope) laugh as we do: "O give me a home where the coyotes roam, where the deer and the cottontails play, where often is heard the sweet trill of a bird and the eagles in treetops do sway. Home, home in the trees, where UUs feel just fine on their knees, where we're closer to God and it does not feel odd to be worshiping here by the sea."

That was as far as I had gotten by Wednesday night and I was feeling a bit stressed as the week began to end and I hadn't gotten any farther than a hokey parody. But happily, by Friday evening, all the other stuff was done and I had an uninterrupted block of time to write. By 9 o'clock, it was at a point where I could stop and let it percolate overnight. Today I'll go back to it, read it aloud, make corrections and adjustments, reprint it and start really polishing. Fortunately, a homilito is less demanding in some ways----about half as long as a regular sermon-----but that ups the bar, in another way, because it has to make its point in fewer words.

But it took a lot out of me, and when the phone rang at 10 o'clock, I let the machine answer, checking it later to make sure there was no emergency I needed to know about. I just don't feel like talking on the phone late at night, at least when I've been so intensely involved in writing. Luckily the person whom I think it was is understanding about my need for solitude sometimes and won't feel rejected.

In any case, I feel like I'm back in the sermon-writing swing of things; this week of busy busy busyness is behind me and next week will be less hectic. I go to Vashon next weekend and am looking forward to seeing those lovely folks, most of whom I haven't seen since June.

Today there's a brunch at 10 a.m. at a parishioner's home and at 1, it's back to WGH to drop off the TB test reading and meet with our North End small group at the hospital cafeteria.

And tomorrow we'll be home, home in the trees, with a salmon bake to follow. There are times when ministry is much more fun than work!