Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Sumer is igoin owt...

Lest you think I've lost my personal spellchecker, the title of the post is a corruption of an old English folk tune, "Sumer is icumen in", and I'll bet you can figure that out pretty handily.

But it's quite cool here this morning. The sky is clear and the full moon hangs just above the horizon. At 5:09, when the hungry cats meowed at my bedroom door, it was dark outside. The early dawn isn't quite so early any more and soon I'll need a flashlight again, to make my way down the drive to the newspaper box. Only a few bunnies scattered as I scuffed down the drive; they tend to wait to come out until the light is stronger. I'm guessing they're wary of coyotes and other night feeders.

Yesterday morning, I woke up early in my Seaside hotel room, way too early, as a matter of fact, to find any breakfast place open. So I packed up, loaded the car, and hit the beach. There was an extremely low tide and the water seemed miles away. But the moon was setting in a bank of clouds and its reflected light illuminated the water and the pale sand. It was hard to be irritated by the early hour, with seagulls wheeling and stalking the waterline, the damp sand soft beneath my feet, and the cool air riffling my hair.

Too soon the need for sustenance sent me down the street to a cafe which opened at 6 a.m. I waited till the doors opened, enjoyed breakfast, and by 7 a.m. I was on my way home.

On another day, I would have stayed longer, driving down the coast toward Tillamook and Cape Lookout, two of my favorite spots on the coast. But I had a special reason to go home: I was performing a wedding on Monday night for a couple who has already had their share of life's challenges thrown at them. They had a small window of time in which they could be married. His Scottish divorce had just been finalized after six years of struggle and her next round of chemotherapy was about to begin. She wanted to feel well on her wedding day.

So last night, I felt honored to be part of the celebration of this couple's marriage. We toasted the bride and groom as an eagle soared overhead. It's good to be home.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sunday night on the Oregon Coast

It's been a whirlwind of a weekend so far and it's not over yet. Friday morning I drove down to Portland, stopping occasionally on the way to do a bit of shopping, have some lunch, and so on and checked into the Marriott City Center in time to clean up a bit, put my feet up, and prepare for a wedding rehearsal at 5:30. The young couple I'd been working with is charming; the groom is the son of longtime friends from Pacific UU Fellowship in Astoria and the bride a little dynamo who had planned every detail of this very beautiful wedding---even some of my part!

After a successful rehearsal, we enjoyed a sumptuous rehearsal dinner at a nearby restaurant, from which I decamped about 10 p.m. as I was getting orange and wrinkly (pumpkinhood was upon me---I am an early riser, which means I am an early wilter).

The next day, the wedding was at 2, followed by photos at the International Rose Garden, followed by reception and dinner at Kells. Again I decamped somewhat early in order to prepare for an early drive to Astoria OR to preach at PUUF. "Holy Fool" went over big for the congregation and the check was generous. They even took me out to lunch! Yum, gyros at the Farmers' Market.

As soon as it was decent to say goodbye, I went straight to my hotel in Seaside to check in, change clothes, and go to find the ocean. The Seaside ocean is not MY ocean, so south I went to Cannon Beach, a town where I spent many weeks in the summers of my childhood, with my parents at the Cannon Beach Bible Conference grounds. Just north of Cannon Beach (there's actually a cannon there which washed up on the shore and is where the beach got its name) is Ecola State Park, my favorite place in the world.

The drive up to Ecola is winding and narrow, tight corners, no shoulder, dappled light making visibility tenuous. But once you get to the top, the trees step back from the cliffs and all you can see is ocean. It fills every nook and cranny of my being, to stand on that cliffside and look at the ocean, the swells, the breakers, the foam against the rocks, the scalloped beach below.

I once almost died---or thought I might---on Crescent Beach below Ecola Head, scared of being caught by the tide and scrambling pell-mell up a sandy cliff face till I got stuck halfway up. My dad climbed up to rescue me, a six year old who thought of nothing but escaping the encroaching tide but found myself clinging desperately to hummocks of grass and loose rock. When he got us both up to the safety of the path, he was dangerously winded and faint and we discovered soon after that he had a serious heart condition.

But his heart was only for me at that moment and when I go to Ecola, I stand in reverence and awe that human love, the love of parent for child in this instance, is so strong that it disregards danger, bowls over common sense, and stands fast in the face of threat to the beloved, regardless of the consequences. My dad's love sustains me yet, though he has been gone for almost forty years.

For awhile, I tortured myself with the notion that I had caused the heart condition that eventually resulted in his early death. But when my son was born, I discovered that I would have done exactly the same thing, no matter what the cost to myself, and I let go of that guilt. There are plenty of real things I can feel guilty about if I wish, but this is not one of them. Instead I will always have the memory of my dad's willingness to do anything he had to do to save my life and I am dumbstruck by the enormity of that knowledge.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

We bleed, oh, how we bleed.

I'm feeling somber this morning after receiving the news that a woman seminarian in this district committed suicide this week, leaving behind a stunned home congregation, a young child, and a host of friends and colleagues who now must make sense of her act. Depression was a factor, as it usually is, but it doesn't answer all the questions her friends and family have. One of my congregants is also a seminarian and friend; my heart aches for him and for the other seminarians who knew her, as well as for her pastor and her family.

Her death underscores a recent article mentioned on several blogs lately about the deteriorating health of the clergy. Much as I love being a minister, I know that it is a dangerous, high-risk profession. Ministry was a factor in my dad's death in 1970; the stresses of being all things to all people and dealing with the innumerable critics who don't seem to understand that a minister bleeds too---the stresses are too much sometimes, and the heart and mind succumb to the anguish that comes from not being able to meet all the needs, not being able to satisfy all the people, not being able to have a family life like others do.

In my dad, the stress manifested itself in heart damage and other disabilities, sapping his strength and his ability to cope until the combined effects of ill health and the demands of ministry caused his body to give out. When I went into the ministry, I was acutely aware of what had happened to him and have taken what precautions seemed important. Yet I worry about my health, my expanding midsection, the twinges of age, and my genetic makeup. I've outlived my father, and my mother lived until she was 84, but there is never any guarantee that there will be a tomorrow, regardless of all the precautions, exercise, diet, and sane living.

A conflict in a congregation is the death knell for many ministers, literally. I think of the toll taken on my equilibrium when I was in the middle of a conflict in a former congregation. Sure, it was mainly growing pains, but I became the lightning rod and it was awful for quite awhile. And the amazing thing for me was that none of my critics seemed to care that they were causing me huge pain for very little reason. Some of them probably still think that they "saved" the church by causing me to leave.

Luckily, I had a great support system personally and professionally and there were lots of congregants who weren't mad at me and could see the damage being done. I survived, the congregation has made a comeback, and the diehard critics eventually left the church. And a number of the critics did see what harm they had done and asked for my forgiveness.

But it all hurt. My blood pressure was up, my comfort food intake was at an alltime high, and the normal pleasures of life were set aside until I could wade through the conflict and get to the other side. I hope I have rebounded from that time in my life, thanks to the nurture and care of the congregations I next served. But I wonder what kind of permanent damage to my health may have occurred.

If you are in a congregation where there is a minister and a conflict, no matter which side you're on, please think about what you are putting your minister through when you are criticizing that person for his/her flaws, lack of certain skills, sermons, administrative ability, etc. Though we may look tough, we bleed, oh, how we bleed.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Okay, I'm finished with it

I have just finished the Harry Potter book and have to admit that it got steadily better after I wrote gripingly about it last night.

What Flower is Ms. Kitty?

Not a shrinking violet, that's for sure.

I am a

What Flower
Are You?

"You stand up for what you believe in, even if it gets in the way of what other people think. You are proud of yourself and your accomplishments and you enjoy letting people know that."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pottering around

I wish I could say that I'm enjoying this HP book. I don't hate it, but I'm slogging through it like I do through a text I'm supposed to read and report on. It's kind of like---well, everyone else is reading it, so I should, because they'll expect me to say something about it, preferably something profound. Believe me, profound is not what I'm coming up with.

I'm irritated with Harry for being seventeen and full of guilt over stuff he can't help. Ron has been a jerk and has taken off, leaving Harry and Hermione to fend for themselves, but it's just as well because he was obnoxious as all get out, which was totally unnecessary even though he did get injured and was worried about his family.

I'm tired of all the spells and the weird things that each spell is supposed to do. I can't keep the spells straight anyhow and now Harry's wand is broken, and sheeesh, I can't keep up with it. So I've set it aside for now and will go back to it tomorrow.

I keep looking for the glimpses of theology that others are finding and though I see a few, they're not particularly earthshaking. Yes, evil is abroad in the land and feeble humans are trying to foil it. Yes, Harry's doubts about Dumbledore are interesting in their parallels to human doubts about the Divine. Yes, Hermione is a staunchly brave and faithful companion who is stuck cooking mushrooms but can fit everything in the world into her beaded bag. Yes, the idea that death will be defeated in the end is curiously akin to the appellation "Death Eater".

But it is taking too long to get there! My backside gets so tired of sitting in a chair and reading! I can read for about an hour and then I HAVE to get up and move around, go check my email, UUpdates, anything to get the feeling back into my legs after the cats have weighed me down for an hour.

It's sunset here on Whidbey Island, the first clear dry day in a week, and it is lovely. When I walked down to the paper box this morning, the bunnies scattered left and right. They had hardly braved the rain for a few days. Driving up to Coupeville to do my volunteer chaplain schtick at the hospital, I gloried in the blue sky and the green trees, the view to the west a glint on the water of the Strait. When I got my oil changed at the local OilMart, the guy who rang me up slipped me a free coupon book instead of charging me the $5. It's been a nice day.

More Harry tomorrow, I guess. I've got to get through it eventually.

Monday, July 23, 2007

I can see clearly now...

I have worn glasses since I was six years old and switched to contact lenses in 1962, not long before I graduated from college. Over the 45 years I've worn contacts, I've had relatively few problems with them, other than a couple of prescription changes due to changes in my vision. I've been very happy with contacts and I know I'm lucky that way. Not everyone can wear contact lenses comfortably.

But when my vision began to change in midlife, to the point where my arms weren't long enough to get written matter out where I could see it clearly, I started to accumulate reading glasses in a variety of shapes and magnifications. I probably have twenty pairs of reading glasses located strategically around the house, in the car, at the computer, in my purse, so that I don't have to worry about losing a pair. There's always another one close at hand.

I have to shop around for sunglasses with a reading lens so that I can sit on the deck and read in the sunshine or read the dashboard info in my car. I always have several pairs of reader sunglasses on hand, because I'm careless and they scratch easily, so I go through a couple of pairs a summer.

But there have been miraculous advances in the field of optometry in recent years and I am, this minute, sitting at the computer WITHOUT READING GLASSES and seeing the screen perfectly. I am wearing bifocal contact lenses! These lenses have a tiny bifocal correction inside them! I no longer need reading glasses!

Free at last, free at last, Great Dr. Cox almighty I am free at last!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sexual assault and its effects

One of the things I learned from my work in counseling and ministry has been the devastating effect of sexual assault on children. The recent hoo-rah about Rev. Debra's run-in with Bill O'Reilly got me thinking about the adults I know who were sexually molested as children and the effect of that experience on their adult lives. The thought that initially popped into my mind was "I wonder if Bill O'Reilly was the victim of sexual assault as a child". Now, there's no logical reason for me to have that thought, but his responses to Debra were so odd and his public personal relationship history is so iffy that I immediately felt a bit suspicious. You know, the old "He doth protest too much" response.

Bill's clearly got a few hangups and I don't know what the facts of his history are nor do I much care. However, I do know, from personal and professional experience, that a child who has been sexually assaulted, prematurely sexualized, has a lot to overcome, as s/he matures. Many of those children do just fine; they may get some psychological help or they may have adequate support and good parenting to help them overcome the damage to their self-esteem and sense of identity.

But those children who are not so lucky may carry with them throughout their lives a submerged sense of shame and guilt that affects their intimate adult relationships, may cause them to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, may cause them to act out in anti-social ways, may cause them to attempt suicide, may keep them so paralyzed by anxiety that they are unable to form strong adult partnerships, or may cause them to act out sexually in potentially damaging ways.

Over the years, I've encountered many, many people who were sexually violated as children, both males and females. Some began to deal with the assault as teenagers, some as adults, many shoved it into their subconscious and have never dealt with it therapeutically. Some even considered the encounter a good thing, a loving thing, unwilling to recognize that an adult who uses a child sexually is abusing the child.

I've seen a variety of responses in adults who were prematurely sexualized as children, whether by an adult who fondled or raped them or by an adult who seduced them as early adolescents into a sexual relationship which was unequal in its power. The most common responses I've seen in those adults are anxiety about relationships, difficulty in committing to an intimate relationship, anger toward authority, self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, or gambling, sex addiction, depression, and suicidal ideation. And I've seen them become promiscuous sexually in an effort to overcome their fear of sexual relationships.

There is a myth out there that a teenage boy who is seduced by an older person, male or female, is clearly ahead of his peers, that he has been initiated into the adult world of sexuality and is the envy of his friends. My experience with friends and clients is that the opposite is true, even though the adult he is now acts proud of his early experience. If I were to create an imaginary person, a composite of the several men I know who were seduced by males or females at a too-early age, that person would be divorced with a history of short-term relationships, infidelity, and commitment-phobia. He would be an alcoholic or have other addictive behaviors. He might joke about his early initiation and consider it a feather in his cap. He might be extremely homophobic or fearful of same-sex affection or he may overcompensate in such an area, to mask his anxiety about it. He may be extremely disorganized and unable to overcome his anger, not able to understand where it comes from.

Sexual assault of children, whether young kids or adolescents, is a terrible thing. Children can survive it well with help and good parental support. However, the kind of fear promoted by Bill O and his ilk creates additional fear and shame in victims, makes it less likely that they will get support and help, and increases the damage that the child will have to deal with as an adult.

I think at least some of the homophobia out there is caused by adult males who were assaulted by male pedophiles and have internalized that fear and loathing of the experience to the point where they "hate fags", to use the terminology on the posters of the Fred Phelps crew. Many men have a hard time admitting they were sexually molested; the men who are bringing suit against the Catholic church have had to overcome their fear and shame in order to do it and even now are ridiculed and suspected of deceit. Some of them may be false claimants, but most are apparently not.

And whether or not the priests who were guilty were pedophiles (many clearly were pedophiles) or gay men (and many were), all of these molesters were in a position of power over the children and teens they molested. That inequality of power and suspicion of the motives of the injured victim are the devastating conditions that all victims must cope with.

Rainy Summer Days

It's been cloudy and rainy here in the PNW for several days now and I'm loving it. After spending 34 years in Denver's relentless sunshine, broken only briefly by heavy snows and wild hail-filled thunderstorms, I moved back to Oregon and Washington in search of regular clouds and rain. There's something about cloudy, wet skies that is soothing and calming for me; I told Colorado friends, as I was preparing to move, that I was going home to get re-hydrated. And that's what has happened. My soul, as well as my body, has been replenished by the rain and cooler temperatures.

I've never understood folks who want the weather to be different from what it is supposed to be, as it is shaped by the geography of the land, the hemisphere, the latitude and longitude, the waters nearby, the many factors that influence weather. Excluding, of course, the human-caused variations in weather.

Of course we appreciate the "blue holes" of unexpectedly clear weather during the rainy season of November through April. And we appreciate the "grey holes" of rainy weather during our clear, warm season. That's the way it's supposed to be, out here in the land of the Douglas fir and volcanic peaks. And you learn to appreciate it, if you're smart, not fight it.

Long ago, Governor Tom McCall of Oregon invited people to come visit but to go home again, not to stay. Slogans abounded: "Oregonians don't tan, they rust". We held Slug Festivals, to point out the sheer repulsiveness of the local banana slug. "Bumbershoot" is the name of a music festival in Seattle. And everyone carries around a bumbershoot in the back of their car, but we never use them. We make a big deal out of our rainy weather.

People move to the PNW and start complaining about the rain. Very tiresome, if you ask me. It's supposed to rain here. Go away if you don't like it. But the influx of people has only grown. And the sheer numbers of those who have moved in have caused our local highways and infrastructure to buckle under the strain of all those people.

Let me tell you, folks, the infrastructure is inadequate because we didn't expect you to stay! We thought you'd get tired of the rain and move away to some sunnier clime. But now that you're here, please quit griping about something you can't change and get busy helping to shore up the highways and viaducts that are falling apart from all the traffic. And if you can't do that, get out of our way.

Friday, July 20, 2007

You Rock, Debra!

The Rev. Debra Haffner over at Sexuality and Religion appeared on Fox's Bill O'Reilly show last night and, in my opinion, wowed em! She was trying to reassure poor old Bill that "uterus" and "penis" and "vulva" are appropriate words for kindergartners to know, so that they understand that when mamas have babies in their tummies (the explanation most little kids get when mama is pregnant), the poor fetus isn't having chewed up food dumped on their minuscule heads, as well as the proper words for their sex organs. You can read a NewsHound post about the interview here .

I've watched the YouTube footage and laughed a good deal of the way through it, because Bill O'Reilly is almost incoherent in his outrage about how these terrible words will ruin a child's innocence and explode them into sexualized behavior. He talks over Debra, interrupts, almost foams at the mouth in his zeal to shout her down and make her look like a sex fiend who wants to destroy our youth with inappropriate language. Meanwhile, she smiles and laughs and has a great time being nice to him! She even has him admitting that they agree on a number of things. In fact, the only thing Bill could really disagree with was the use of these dreadful words in telling small children about sex in a way that is age appropriate. Oh, and the idea that trained teachers are competent to tell children about sex in the public schools.

My son, now age 35, had a good deal of sex education as he grew up---from his dad and me, from his public school, and from our Unitarian Universalist church. From his dad and me, he got the day to day stuff: names of body parts, the reproductive basics as he got old enough to ask the questions, etc. From public school he got the mechanics and the body parts stuff, though I'm not sure he got much birth control information. And in church, he got the most comprehensive education of all, covering the responsibilities of relationships, the use of birth control, frank and accepting talk about homosexuality, and non-sensational pictures of body parts in action.

You know what? In contrast to many of his peers, he has (at least to the best of my knowledge) never gotten a girl pregnant, has not had an STD, has behaved responsibly in his intimate relationships, and has a matter-of-fact attitude toward sexuality which I believe comes from an adequate and comprehensive sex education as he was growing up. From the moment he started asking questions, we tried to answer him directly and honestly and we let him participate in public school sex ed class and signed him up for the About Your Sexuality class at church, when it became available. He knew how to distinguish "good touch" from "bad touch" at an early age, did not have an inappropriate advance from anyone (again, to the best of my knowledge) and shows no signs of the kinds of fear and ignorance about sex that many of his peers show.

Kids I've known who did not have such a thorough and matter-of-fact education have not fared so well. So my experience tells me that a good sex education is far preferable to raising kids in the environment that O'Reilly favors. And if Bill himself is any kind of an example of what his preference turns out, in terms of non-hysterical, practical attitudes, Bill didn't have a very good sex education himself. Poor guy!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

What is a "Random Fact"?

Dang! What is a random fact, anyhow? Is it something that nobody knows about you yet? Or is it a thought that's popped into your head apropros of nothing in particular? Is it necessary to amplify it and explain where it comes from or what its meaning is in your life? Ms. Theologian over at Surviving the Workday has tagged me for a meme of "eight random facts". Dang! Since Mama G over at Mom to the Left has asked for something similar from me, and since way back when in earlier days of this blog I did something slightly akin to both of them, I'm taking the liberty of conflating and re-defining this meme for myself. Sorry, Ms. T and Ms. G, but that's a random fact in itself, that I tend to re-mix what people ask of me and come up with my own take.

Therefore, this response to both Ms. T and Ms. G is going to take on the flavor of something that Chalice Chick and I discussed briefly via email earlier this week: what have been the defining moments of my life?

Just to comply with the rules Ms. T has passed along, here are the Rules of the aforementioned "8 random facts" meme:

The rules:
1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So, anyhow, what have been the defining moments of my life? And I can't resist adding a smidge of commentary, as you might expect!

1) Playing "Mandrake the Magician" with my new shiny cape at about age 5, and trying to get my sister's balloon down from a tree by magical means. My realization: that I am not magic and that there may be no magic in the universe. Interestingly, I felt accepting of this idea, not betrayed, since I'd never believed there was a Santa Claus anyhow. I think this event began a journey of being an observer of how the universe really works, rather than a believer in the supernatural.

2) Finding a little hideout on the back fence of our yard in Portland where I could read a book unobserved (age 7), or on the roof of the chicken house in Athena where my sister was unlikely to climb (age 10), or on horseback in the fields of Athena in the early morning (age 12), or in the cab of a truck with a book or notebook waiting for my turn to load peas or wheat into the truck. My realization: that I needed and loved solitude, even though I also needed and loved people, and that I loved to read and write poetry.

3) Spending the summer at Green Lake, WI, after college graduation, at the American Baptist Assembly grounds, and hearing incredible, liberal Christian speakers and discovering the book "Heavenly Discourse" by CES Wood. My realization: the world of religious belief, even Christianity, was far bigger than I had ever dreamed.

4) Getting jobs in welfare work and as a Baptist home missionary in the years right after college, where I served people who were desperately poor and had very different lives than I. My realization: people respond to warmth and friendship gladly when they feel accepted as equals and that I am naturally skilled at doing this, that it touches something deep in me to connect with people this way, a realization that helped me later thrive in 25 years of working as a teacher and counselor in junior high and middle schools.

5) Being asked, at my dad's little church in Goldendale WA, after speaking to his congregation about my work as a home missionary, "How many souls have you saved for Christ?". My realization: I'm not that kind of Christian any more, and I don't think I ever was one.

6) Marrying a Unitarian Universalist man. My realization: this is the religion (if not the man) I have been preparing to find. Additional realizations: sharing a fondness for words, a love for a child and other family members, a love of forests and rivers, plus a marriage license do not make a marriage. You cannot make a solid marriage if deeply held values are at odds. But I might have missed out on UUism if I hadn't married the man. And I wouldn't have the adult child who is so loved.

7) Hearing Robert Latham say to me from the pulpit, "you missed your calling, Kit, you ought to be a minister". My realization: OF COURSE! This is what I have been preparing for all my life, I just didn't realize it till now. So at age 53, I started seminary.

8) Being runner-up in several church search processes. My realization: that I am happiest when I am not overworked and underloved and have time to spend alone and doing the extra-ministerial things I love to do (volunteering as a chaplain, as an organizer of social action efforts, etc.) and that part-time ministry in a small congregation is the best fit for me.

So there, Ms. T and Ms. G! I have done what I can to answer your call. And I dare the following folks to take up the challenge and do with it as they will: 8 random facts or 8 defining moments. You choose.

Chalice Chick
Hafidha Sofia
Linguist Friend
Earthbound Spirit
Educated and Poor

Monday, July 16, 2007


My blogeague Miss Kitty, over at Educated and Poor, is a real Cat Lady. Cats adopt her (and she them) without hesitation or fear. Read her latest here.

Her many tales about her animals reminded me of a stray cat in my life and I thought I'd publish that story here. I wrote it up long ago and it has been published in the Portland Oregonian and the Denver Rocky Mountain News, in years past.


The November night found me brooding, turning worries over in my mind. Lots of them: shaky finances, moody teenager, the ancient furnace, the prospect of an icy drive to work the next day. I felt burdened by obligations, including the one I was watching for at the window.

Where does he go in this weather? I cast a dubious eye at the scene outside: khaki-colored leaves driven by a sharp wind that had snow at its back, gray twilight lowering rapidly under heavy skies.

The old picnic table under the kitchen window was blown nearly clean of the seed hulls spilled from bird feeders, placed well out of the cats' reach. Water in an old plastic bowl was freezing fast. A dish of cat food congealed nearby.

My backyard feeding station would soon be out of business for the night. Would Macho arrive before the water and cat food froze? No way to tell. He came around whenever the spirit moved him.

I shook my head, trying to detach my thoughts from the feral tomcat who visits my yard daily, looking for a meal. He'd arrived about three years ago, yellow eyes defiant, black fur tattered, testosterone exuding from every pore, his attitude toward other cats aggressive, his attitude toward humans wary and fearful.

My two spinster cats, Skoshi and Wanda, would flee in panic when he'd swagger into the yard, spritzing shrubs and fences with his trademark. Our youngest, The Baby, hormones long gone, would watch benignly from his roost on a windowsill, protected by 15 pounds of cat fur and pitying acceptance from Macho.

My first instinct had been to get a live trap and take the intruder to the pound, but when my efforts netted only my own cats and Shadow, the mooch from next door, I gave up. Cornering Macho in the garage one day and seeing his terror convinced me to let him remain a wild animal, for better or for worse. At least I could give him food and water.

Wind and something else rattled the glass. The Baby was scratching to come in. I opened the window for him and turned my attention to preparing supper.

Later, cleaning up the kitchen, I glanced out the window into the black night. Yellow eyes gazed back.

"Macho! You look awful. Where have you been?"

When he's been eating well and not fighting, his coat is sleek, his eyes bright and alert, though cautious. Tonight he sat hunched up on the old table, face puffy and swollen, an ear chewed bloody. One eye was half-open, one cheek cracked and crusty-looking from an abscess.

Macho stared at me silently. The cat food, after an hour in the freezing air, was a solid block and the water bowl was a skating rink for squirrels. Clearly I was expected to do something.

Stepping slowly to the window, I slid back the glass panel, fully expecting him to bolt in fright as I reached for the bowls.

To my surprise, though his battered body tensed, he seemed to have no energy to flee, and he supervised my filling of the bowls through half-shut eyes. I wanted to reach out a hand to touch his ratty coat, but respect for his shabby dignity stopped me.

I closed the window and stood back. Macho crept to the food and began to gulp it down, stoking the inner fires that must have been flickering from injury and cold. He faced the window, watching me warily through the glass, watching me watching him.

Something in my throat began to hurt. My eyes felt hot and tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn't believe it. I loved a beat-up old cat that was scared to death of me, who would scratch and bite me if I tried to pet him. I loved an animal who terrorized the neighborhood cats, who had doubtless fathered countless unwanted kittens, who preferred the uncertainties of homelessness to a warm house where he would surrender much of his independence. I wondered about his fear, about his past, about his future.

And I wondered about my own.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down

Only it wasn't beer I had for breakfast, it was Dungeness Crab Benedict over at Neil's Clover Patch Cafe' in Bayview, a short distance away. Poor Kris---he never had it so good.

There's something decadent, when you're a minister, about not having to rush around on Sunday. Normally, we're timing everything so that we can get to the church to get things set up for worship, to reserve a few moments for quiet centering, setting aside a cushion of minutes for chatting with congregants, welcoming the folks at the door without looking as though we just rushed in at the last minute. On those mornings when we're not preaching or otherwise involved in worship, there's a sense of R & R about the day.

Neil's serves crab benedict every Sunday morning and one of my little luxuries in life is going over before the rush of tourists hits about 10 a.m. and savoring my newspaper and my meal along with the other locals who congregate for coffee and conversation. I don't usually go to Neil's on a day when I'm preaching, now that I'm living on the island. I save that pleasure for a day when I have no other responsibilities but to take care of myself.

This morning, it gave me an extra thrill to have the server say to me, as she brought the coffee, "you want your regular crab benedict this morning?" "yep," I answered, "with scrambled, not poached." "Right!" she said with a grin and hustled off.

I'm reminded of the old Cheers theme song which had the line "where everyone knows your name". It feels good to be recognized as a regular somewhere. It feels good to make connections, find acceptance, experience a sense of belonging. Over the past year and a half, as I've started putting down little roots into the island, I'm finding these connections outside of my congregation, as well as within it.

There's the storekeeper in Langley whom I see at a regular folk jam at the library who sings harmony with me on the old songs. There's the dog Molly at another shop who now recognizes my scent and no longer barks at me. There's the fact that I have bought enough books at Moonraker to qualify for discounts and have the owner recognize me when I come in. There's the bagger at the grocery store who asks about my cats. There's seeing friends at the beauty shop, at the bagelry, at ACE hardware. Making connections with those who form the real infrastructure of the island community helps me feel like I truly belong here, that I am not just a mainlander goofing off.

And I wonder---is it like this for people who come to our congregations to visit? Do we make them feel like tourists or like potential "belongers"? Some people really are just visitors; they're from out of town and won't likely return often. Others are looking for a place to belong.

My home congregation, Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, Colorado, has produced a wonderful resource for UU congregations entitled "Welcoming the Newcomer". It's a DVD workshop with three main segments: "Repelling Fewer Visitors", "From Newcomer to New Member" and "Closing the Revolving Door". It also includes a wonderful sermon by my colleague the Rev. Gail Geisenhainer. The DVD is free from JUC and I highly recommend it to any congregation looking for membership help. We are going to have workshops here this fall to which we will invite every member of the congregation, as hospitality is the job of every congregant.

Today I'm meeting a friend in Langley to see the Choochokam Arts Festival and then will walk onto the ferry to meet a young couple in Mukilteo for their final wedding consultation before their wedding in a few days. Such a lovely way to spend a Sunday---crab benedict, art, and young love. Does anyone else in the world have it so good? Poor Kris.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Getting to Know Me...

Getting to know all about me, when I am with me, getting to know what to say, etc.

It struck me this morning that though I am 65 years old, I am still curious about myself, who I am, what my values are, how they affect my relationships and my life generally. But "who am I and what is my purpose?" are questions we humans ask ourselves from day one. That's one of the reasons I enjoy little quizzes like "Harry Potter character" and "what book am I?" and "Cadaver Worth" and "Blog Rating" and "What Oldtime Movie Star am I?".

The quizzes themselves seem unlikely to reveal new information, but when they show us ourselves through a new and maybe quirky lens, we get a new look at who we are. The Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory may be the most involved and best-grounded of the pop quizzes which we've talked about lately, but it too offers insight into "who am I and what is my purpose?".

Can a human being be too introspective? Navel-gazing has gotten a bad rap because of some of the extremes humans go to, but self-examination and self-critique are essential elements in developing a life of right relationships and productive work.

It's been interesting to me, for example, that my answers to the "what book am I" quiz resulted in a phrase like this: "While most people haven't heard of you, you're a really good and interesting person. Rather clever and witty, you crack a lot of jokes about the world around you. You do have a serious side, however, where your interest covers the homeless
and the inequalities of society. You're good at bringing people together, but they keep asking you what your name means."

When I read it, I thought, this guy's been reading my blog or sitting in on some of the jam sessions I go to on Thursday nights. Because that's my life, both on the blog and off. (Strangely, it hinged on the answer to the "tea " question, because when I answered it one way, a different book came up, one which didn't resonate. When I thought about my answer to the tea question, I realized I didn't answer it correctly, went back and changed it, and voila! a book which did resonate.) And people have always asked me about my name: "Why do you call yourself Kit when your real name is such and such?"

And Hermione? She's my favorite HP character of all, even better than Maggie Smith. Being a half-Muggle myself (in UU parlance, that might be a variety of things: Christian UU, blue-collar UU, bright but not academic UU, religiously-bilingual UU), I admire Hermione's integrity and loyalty to her friends and her ability to be a peer with boys her own age, even when they don't understand her.

I'm not sure what to say about Carole Lombard, except that WOW! It never had occurred to me I might have something in common with an oldtime movie star. And the Cadaver quiz's revelation that my flabby body would be worth $4765 if I were dead was startling only in its assertion that my flab was worth more than someone else's toned torso. Not sure what that means.

No, self-examination via oddball quizzes is useful and even helpful, in our insatiable quest for self-knowledge! Or at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Okay, okay, I know quizzes are lame...

but they're fun too, and if Rev. Sean over at Ministrare can do it and remain dignified, I can too.

You scored as Hermione Granger, You're one intelligent witch, but you have a hard time believing it and require constant reassurance. You are a very supportive friend who would do anything and everything to help her friends out.

Hermione Granger


Albus Dumbledore


Harry Potter


Remus Lupin


Sirius Black


Draco Malfoy


Ron Weasley


Ginny Weasley


Severus Snape


Lord Voldemort


Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
created with QuizFarm.com

Friday, July 13, 2007

What book is Ms. Kitty?

You're Loosely Based!

by Storey Clayton

While most people haven't heard of you, you're a really good and
interesting person. Rather clever and witty, you crack a lot of jokes about the world
around you. You do have a serious side, however, where your interest covers the homeless
and the inequalities of society. You're good at bringing people together, but they keep
asking you what your name means.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I worry about gay and lesbian teens on Whidbey Island

Yesterday was about as hot as it gets here on Whidbey (85, or so, I think) and I wasn't looking forward to going to the second meeting of an adhoc group to get a chapter of PFLAG started up again here. But I overcame my heat-induced lethargy, pushed myself out the door and went up to Greenbank to spend a couple of hours with some other folks who are worried about the lack of resources on Whidbey for families and individuals struggling with sexual identity issues.

And I'm very glad I did. First of all, it was a lot cooler at Greenbank than it was in my living room and the meeting raised my hopes. Several straight parents and allies and several gay or questioning couples attended, shared a potluck meal and a lot of thoughts about how to reach out to same sex couples with children, youth and young adults, and parents with concerns about their gay children.

I have been active as a straight ally to the BGLTIQ community since a college friend came out to me in the early 70's. She was willing to answer all my questions honestly and I learned enough about this inherent and clearly natural trait that it resolved my hesitations about homosexuality as a normal way of being. Later, I learned that all animal species exhibit same sex attraction behavior. Gosh, if cows do it, how can it be a sin? And why would the Creator create a person to be attracted to his/her same sex and then outlaw the expression of that attraction? (In case you are thinking that God created pedophiles, I beg to differ. Pedophiles are made, not born, IMHO; human beings who abuse children create pedophiles.)

During my years as a junior high and middle school counselor, I worked with many early teens who exhibited angry or depressed behavior, making suicide attempts, sometimes becoming school phobic or otherwise troubled, dealing with harassment and bullying because of their mannerisms or appearance. In several such instances, I learned later that the teen had come out as gay or lesbian.

We didn't talk much about sexual orientation or gender identity in those days. But my approach to counseling changed when I took part in a seminar sponsored by PFLAG, designed to help school counselors deal with their closeted (or not) teen students. I learned to recognize the anguish about identity and authenticity which could not be expressed safely and I learned to be respectful but direct in counseling my students. I have a special fondness for those young people who were willing to share their true nature with me; what a privilege it has been to be entrusted with that knowledge.

And I hurt for kids who don't have a safe place, a safe adult to share themselves with. I hope we are able to provide that safe place, that safe, non-predatory adult, for our Whidbey youth, as they learn about themselves and their sexuality. If you are a youth who is looking for a safe place or friend on Whidbey, contact me at uurevkit@comcast.net.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ah, Solitude!

The past several weeks have been so full of visits, GA, and visitors that I have had blessed little solitude. I have only blogged once in the past week and that, you'll recall, was about being with people and in idleness. I'm not complaining, far from it, because I've enjoyed all the time spent since June 15, which was when I went to Reno for my son's wedding. But hot on the heels of that came General Assembly for several days, a Fourth of July visit to Moses Lake for most of six days, and coming home at the end of that time with my sister and her husband in tow. Company, company, company-----either hosting it or being it.

My Myers-Briggs type is ENFJ and sometimes, like now, I question the E. I do love being with people; I get energy from being with them, and yet there's a threshhold in there somewhere that I cross and find myself frantic for some extended time alone, doing things MY way, not somebody else's. It's probably one reason I've never remarried. I'm almost never lonely, even when I've been alone for quite awhile. My own company isn't exactly scintillating, but it's not bad and I can always go find someone to spend time with.

My sister and her husband have just gone down the long driveway toward home and I am alone with the cats, the trees, the birds, and the laundry, and I am content.

More later, perhaps.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Akin to enforced bed rest...

is time spent in a place which has few commercial or cultural experiences to offer. Such is the nature of a visit to my family out in Moses Lake, Washington.

The city of Moses Lake itself is a thriving community out in the Columbia River Basin, in the channeled scablands, distributed along the shores of a seep lake which divides the city into several parts. Because of its sunny climate, easy access to larger Washington cities, its low cost of living, and its weird beauty, Moses Lake has attracted an assortment of industrial efforts such as Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Japan Airlines training center, and, nearby in Othello, a Microsoft plant. All this has caused Moses Lake to grow fairly solidly and become more prosperous than it might have, given the paucity of "big city" amenities like nice department stores (other than WalMart), fine restaurants, and the like.

There's not much to do in Moses Lake but hang out with the family. It's too hot (106 earlier today) to go for walks along the lakeshore, too pleasant to stay indoors in the air conditioning, chat with the relatives, watch the fireworks and pig out on barbecue in the family backyard, nod off over a book, watch the kids during swimming lessons, go to a movie.

I am not thinking of church, of sermons, of anything that smacks of "work". I am relieved temporarily of all the tasks of my normal life and am only eating, sleeping, and reading. Oh, and writing this blog entry. It feels like a purge, of sorts, to let go of almost all the things that tie me to my professional life, of almost all the things that fill up my private life, and immerse myself in my family members and their doings.

It's a necessary and useful time in my life. Even though it may sound dull, it is not. My family members are interesting and though we are on very different wavelengths about a few things, we have so much in common that our time together is rich, if not wildly exciting.

Last night I sat with Joel the Neff and Christina, his lovely and talented wife, and talked about blogging and kids and family matters, as the fireworks exploded overhead and the children ran around the yard. And somehow, it felt like I had come back to the center of my life, where I am related by blood to those around me, with common experiences and memories and hopes. There's nothing quite like that anywhere else in my life. I have to go to Moses Lake to find it as richly as this.

I'm hoping that one day the Favorite Son and his lovely wife and my new grandkids will decide to relocate in the Northwest and that they will join us all in Moses Lake for a visit, so the cousins can intermingle, the adults can swap memories, and the lack of stimulation can put us all in a place of utter rest.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Taking a break

July is my month for taking a break from church stuff. Except for emergencies, I do my best to avoid talking about church matters to any of my folks here on the island. It can't completely be avoided, of course, as we see each other at the grocery store, at local restaurants, and at weekend festivals, which are numerous here in the summer.

As a parttimer, I don't really get vacation; I have to give it to myself. And for the past four years, I have declared July to be my month "off". Folks are very good about observing this and it helps that the Whidbey congregation goes on hiatus during July. Next year it might be trickier, as once we're in our new building, I imagine we will strive for year-round services.

It helps to go away for part of the month, so tomorrow I'll catch an early ferry and take highway 2 up over the Cascades and through Wenatchee to Moses Lake to spend the Fourth with my sister and her family. I'm taking that route to avoid Seattle rush hour traffic tomorrow morning and to see some scenery I haven't enjoyed for a long time.

So I don't know when I'll be back on the blog. I'll be able to check email and traffic on the blog, but I may not feel much like writing anything. I'm looking forward to seeing Joel the Neff and his lovely and talented wife Christina, both of whom comment at Ms. Kitty's periodically. And time spent with my sister is always a pleasure. She and her husband will come back to Whidbey with me on Sunday, after I preach at the UU Fellowship in Wenatchee.

I hope your Fourth of July is terrific; I expect mine will be. Maybe I'll have pictures!

Here's what I wonder about:

Is there any credible model on earth of a non-racist society, institution, culture, etc.? Or all we all (i.e., those who are working to become non-racist) struggling to create something new, something never before seen?

It seems to me that the "other-phobia" which underlies racism (as well as other oppressions) comes from the knowledge of difference; it is the fear of not having enough to survive if "others" take it from us, the fear of "others'" different appearance? The will to survive keeps us alive and keeps us alert to threat of deprivation and extinction. It also puts us on the defensive and offensive, to protect our lives, our families, our possessions. This appears to be an inborn human trait, regardless of culture or other marker. But this drive to survive does create fear in us, fear which often goes to the extreme of oppression, not acceptance.

How do we survive adequately without taking from others or fearing others to the point where we mistreat them? And if this is an inborn human trait, is it reasonable to approach it from a different direction, rather than from the accusatory model?

A commenter on an earlier post challenged my use of the word "homophobia" as a word of prejudice toward those with different values. But if you break down the word into its parts (correct me if I'm wrong, LinguistFriend), it is a combination of "homo", meaning same or like, and "phobia", meaning unrealistic fear. It was coined as a word to mean antipathy toward homosexuals. Much fear and contempt toward homosexuals arises from the ancient Jewish purity laws, which were enacted, according to my seminary professors, to preserve the cultural purity and religious distinction of the Hebrew people from the polytheistic non-Hebrews in whose lands they lived.

This coincides with my thoughts about fear being an outgrowth of the drive to survive. Fear was used in the purity laws, as well as I can tell, to enforce the separation of the Hebrew people from the non-Hebrews around them. The fact that modern day religious doctrines use these ancient laws to justify antipathy toward homosexuals takes it out of the realm of reasonable fear and into the realm of unrealistic fear.

I don't want to veer off into a discussion of purity laws and homosexuality. My point is that our human drive to survive has fostered fear of The Other. And we struggle to keep our fear realistic, needing to protect our lives and our safety but not at the expense of mistreating others. How do we do this? Is there some illustration out there somewhere that we can look to for a model or are we all trying to do this without any outside help and managing to step on each other's toes every step of the way?

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Welcoming the Stranger

In a comment at the Chalice Blog, I reminisced about a visitor we had a couple of summers ago. I used that incident in a sermon later and thought I would publish it here. We have many challenges when it comes to being inclusive and I was pleased with my congregation for their welcoming reception of the stranger stranger.

RADICAL HOSPITALITY: Welcoming the Stranger
by Rev. Kit Ketcham
October, 2005

It was just a normal Sunday, with the normal familiar smiles and
greetings as people passed by me before joining others in the sanctuary.
There had been the normal “hi, so nice to see you today!
and.....how’s your mom?
and........what do you hear from so and so?
and.......welcome to our UU congregation! would you like a
and...........yes, I think there is a plan to go out for a meal after the
service; I hope you can come.
and........how are you feeling these days?”

UU congregations are always on the lookout for visitors and this
congregation was no different. We want to be able to say hello, offer a
friendly smile----and a nametag!------and demonstrate the best welcome we
can offer to someone new, someone who was perhaps hurting, perhaps
lonely, perhaps unfamiliar with UUism, or----perhaps a longtime UU looking
for a new church home. It’s our normal Sunday routine.

On this particular Sunday, however, members of our small
congregation took one look at the visitor coming through the door and did
a double take. No, it wasn’t President Bush, coming to see how we liked
his environmental policies or disaster response; it wasn’t some glamorous
movie star or bedraggled reality show survivor; it wasn’t the mayor of the
small town or any other well known local personage.

This visitor’s appearance was startling in itself, and I could feel my
own apprehensions rise up. Why would anyone choose to look the way
this person did? I quickly began to think about how best to approach this
individual; how would others in the congregation respond to him?

And then, I saw one of our greeters step forward toward our visitor
and the two ordinary looking people who had come in with him. I saw a
friendly smile on the greeter’s face and then a handshake; I watched as
the greeter helped them prepare nametags and gave them orders of
service; and when the three visitors came to where I was standing, outside
the sanctuary door, I had been given a clear model for how we were
going to welcome our unusual visitor.

“Cat”, as we came to know him that day, is a Native American who
has adopted the unusual practice of changing his appearance to resemble
that of his totem animal, a tiger. Cat is tattooed with tiger-like markings; he
uses special contact lenses to give his eyes a catlike shape and color; his
nails are shaped into claws; his face has been surgically altered to a more
feline shape and his teeth are sharp and fang-like.

Cat is not your typical visitor. Wherever he goes in the community,
people stop and stare and perhaps walk the other way. Now, I don’t
know all the reasons Cat looks the way he does. There are lots of
questions in my mind about how he has chosen this path.

But on that day, my task and that of the rest of us attending that
service was to welcome Cat and his friends, to make a place for them
among us, to offer them the simple hospitality of our sacred space, of our
worship time, to invite them to have a cup of coffee and a cookie after the
service, to go with our group to the Chinese place for a meal after church.
This was not necessarily our first gut reaction, as you might expect!

We humans are almost automatically suspicious of anyone who doesn’t
look or seem like us.
And hospitality can be tough when we are faced with offering
acceptance and welcome to someone very different, someone who may
appear a little frightening or unusual.

We are protective--of our children and ourselves, we are concerned
about how we may look to others, we are leery of being conned or taken
advantage of, and we may worry about the effect of a stranger on our
children or on our quiet lives..

What is hospitality? We often associate it with “the hospitality
industry”, meaning hotels and travel agencies and restaurants and tourist
attractions. We may think of it as greeting guests in our home, inviting
friends to join us for a gathering,

My dictionary says that to be hospitable means to welcome guests
or strangers with warmth and generosity. So then, what is radical
hospitality? Again, my dictionary says that radical means “carried to the
farthest limit or extreme.” So to provide radical hospitality seems to mean
that we welcome the least welcomed, the one who is most different from

Over the past months, we have seen our country challenged by the
need to be radically hospitable in many ways. We have seen millions of
strangers who need radical hospitality; some of them have received it,
some have not.

We have cringed as we watched hordes of people on rooftops
crying out for help; we have heard horror stories about how many were
rejected or told to wait and we have heard heart-warming stories about
how many were rescued, taken in, cared for by people who were radically
different in culture and in circumstances.

What does it feel like to be a person in need of hospitality, radical or
otherwise? We have probably each experienced this need in mild ways. I
remember a moment many years ago, traveling with my significant other,
and being told late at night after 16 hours of driving that we needed to find
somewhere else to sleep, because we were not married and would not
be welcome in that home.

What does it feel like to be hundreds of miles from home, without
familiar belongings, perhaps separated from children or parents or pets,
having to set up housekeeping far, far from one’s homeland with little or
no hope of going home again soon? To be dependent upon another’s
willingness to offer radical hospitality?

One of the most poignant passages in the Hebrew scriptures is the
verses in Psalm 137, where the psalmist writes, after the destruction of
Jerusalem: ” By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we
remembered Zion. On the willows there, we hung up our harps, for there
our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth,
saying, “sing us one of the songs of Zion” and we answered, “how can we
sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

In one of his famous parables, the teacher Jesus tells of a king who
is rewarding his faithful servants for their loyalty.
The king tells his servants, “I was hungry and you gave me food; I
was thirsty and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger and you
welcomed me; I was sick and you took care of me. I was naked and you
gave me clothing. I was in prison and you visited me.”

But the servants are confused and ask when this all happened,
because they don’t remember such events. And the king says in reply
these memorable words: “inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the
least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me.” meaning
that every effort they made to make another person comfortable and at
home was as important as if they had done it for the king.

In our current society, the struggle about who deserves hospitality
and who does not is intense and far-reaching. Many Unitarian Universalist
congregations have recognized their own need to increase the level of
hospitality they extend and have undertaken the work of becoming a
Welcoming Congregation, a task our congregation is currently engaged
in, because gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender men and women are
among those to whom hospitality is often denied.

Ironically, one of the chief bulwarks of homophobic religious
denominations is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Hebrew

This story is about two angels in human form who visited a man
named Lot, a citizen of Sodom, to warn him that the city was about to be
destroyed by God. An angry mob of men saw the two angels arrive at
Lot’s home and descended upon the house, demanding that Lot surrender
the two men to them, that they might “know” them, a word which
occasionally, in Hebrew, refers to sexual intercourse, though infrequently.

This story has been misconstrued to say that the sin of the city of
Sodom (from which the word sodomy comes) was homosexual behavior.
However, according to many Bible scholars, the real sin in this instance (in
addition to the sexual violence implied) was the mob’s destructive
behavior toward two strangers who were receiving hospitality from Lot
and his family. It is important to note that hospitality has always been an
important religious principle in most world religions.

A small book entitled “Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love”
written by a Benedictine monk, Father Daniel Homan and his associate,
Lonni Collins Pratt, has been on my reading list recently. I acquired it not
long after we met Cat and started to think about what a miracle it had been
to receive him and his friends on that Sunday last spring here at the UU
Congregation of Whidbey Island.

In this book, the authors discuss a triad of relationships that need to
be in balance, if we are to offer our best selves to the world. These three
relationships are 1st, “solitude or cloister”---our relationship with ourselves;
2nd, “community”--our relationship with our closest friends and family; and
3rd, “hospitality”---our relationship with the world beyond our community.

Let’s consider these three sets of relationships. FIrst, we need
enough time alone, in silence and stillness. When we are alone in silence,
it’s hard to ignore ourselves. We are separated from most of our normal
sources of approval and enrichment, such as work and socializing.
When we are alone in silence, we are not serving and nurturing
others; we have the opportunity to look straight into our own hearts and
minds, to face who we are as individuals.

But it can be scary to be alone------we are likely to want to turn on
the radio, get in the car, go find people. If we can stick it out beyond our
initial desire to end the solitude, we can find that solitude is our friend and
we may learn to welcome it as nourishing and as an opportunity to see
ourselves in a clearer light.

When we are ready to be with people again, we rejoin our
community, refreshed by our time alone and with a deeper well of
reserves to offer to those we love.

The second kind of relationship is with our companions in life, our
dearest ones, who give us the support we need to go on in life. They
provide the tenderness of friendship and are a source of stability, wisdom,
and awareness. Some of our companions we choose----our friends, our
mates. But we are also born with a built-in community, one we don’t
choose-----our families of origin, and we all have members of our families
that we might not choose!

But all these other people, these chosen and not-chosen loved
ones, are lessons in the making. In our relationships with our community,
we learn more about ourselves, we have more opportunities to grow and
change than we can find in solitude.

Third, we also need others, people who are not close to us, for the
simpler, less complicated yet often more challenging relationships they

Though we may offer hospitality---warmth and generosity---to
ourselves on occasion and to our friends and family when we are
together, it is the moments spent with those we don’t know well who offer
us our greatest opportunity to be hospitable, to offer radical hospitality--
warmth and generosity and welcome to people who may scare us, make
us uncomfortable, challenge our complacency and give us opportunities
to grow.

There is another piece I’d like to offer here------what does it mean to
receive another’s hospitality? This can be harder than it seems. We often
like to see ourselves as the giver of hospitality and may feel self-conscious
if others offer it. When we receive hospitality, we are in an unfamiliar
place. The one who offers it to us may be very different from us, in beliefs,
in appearance, in abilities, in culture. We may feel very rejecting of some
of the values of the one who is offering hospitality.

An example: we are the recipients of Trinity Lutheran Church’s
radical hospitality, for we UUs are very different from them, even though
we share religious roots. They have invited us to use their sacred space
and we pay rent so that we can share the costs of this space with the
Lutherans, the Seventh Day Adventists and other community groups. This
sanctuary reflects their presence and some of the symbols and items
which are important and holy to them, even as we have our own symbols
and items displayed.

Among us, there are some whose past experience with some of
these symbols and items has been unhappy. This is one of those
occasions when we are challenged to grow in ways that may seem
uncomfortable and unwelcome. When we wish to experience hospitality
extended in its fullness, we take stock of our discomfort and use it to grow
into a new understanding and appreciation of the goodness of our hosts.
It can be very hard, but it can also be very rewarding.

This discomfort, by the way, is one of the classic issues for UU
churches which rent space from Christian churches.

Radical hospitality is a two-way street: we extend our welcoming
warmth to all who come into our lives, offering our generous spirit and
hoping it will be received with warmth and friendship; we receive that
welcoming warmth from others with gratitude for their generosity and a
commitment to understanding and appreciating those who extend it.
Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended,
but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us
go in peace, remembering that our response to others reflects our values
and our beliefs. May we offer radical hospitality to all who need it, and
may we gratefully accept the hospitality offered to us by others. Amen,
Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

NOTE: More information about our interesting visitor can be found at this link We got to know him a little bit that day, though he did not return to another service; I was pleased with my congregants' response, though they later expressed some uneasiness about his effect on the children who saw him. It was a challenge!