Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Great Day in Olympia, the story

I think what delighted me first was the small flock of protesters with their signs about God's wrath and their bullhorn inviting us to repent and avoid the fiery pit. My delight was severalfold: they were courteous, even in their rhetoric; they stood in sharp contrast against the lovefest on the steps with their signs about repentance and hell; and they were the first group of picketers we've had in three years, I think. I don't remember any in other years. We've hit the bigtime, if we actually inspired a protest! And, God knows, we could have used a touch of the fiery pit--------the statehouse steps face away from the sun, so we were in the shadow all during the rally and it was cold and windy, though fairly clear.

I had picked up a youth from my Whidbey congregation to accompany me. He is part of our tiny Coming of Age group and wanted to attend, as part of his social action education. We got on the 7:30 ferry and headed south on I-5 to Olympia, arriving about 9:30 a.m., just in time to attend the advocacy training offered by Equal Rights Washington, our partner group in planning the rally.

One of the Olympia-area UU congregations (All Souls) had provided breakfasty goodies for the training and we chatted with them afterwards, thanking them for the food and their commitment. They've provided this amenity every year and they are a tiny group--only about 30 members. Wow!

After the training, the youth (Y, henceforth) and I headed over toward the capitol steps to find our other Whidbey participant, stopping to check out the protesters, who were at that time on the steps being noisy. We'd been advised not to interact with them or fight with them about the issue, which some folks couldn't resist anyhow, though nothing got overheated, apparently.

I think Y was absorbing all the activity and storing it away for thinking about later. This young man is very bright, very eager to share his thoughts, and it was a huge pleasure to spend the day with him. We talked nonstop all the way down and back, laughing a lot at our interchanges. No need to drag information out of this guy, he was bubbling over.

I saw dozens of UU supporters from all over Puget Sound, many clergy in robes and stoles over heavy coats, banners from a variety of faith traditions, and lots of bglt folks, including the Seattle Men's and Women's choruses, several advocacy groups besides ERW, and others who just showed up to lend support.

The atmosphere was lively, festive, celebratory, and just plain fun. The chorus sang a few songs, inviting people to join in, state legislators were introduced and our "out" legislators spoke briefly about how their faith is important to them as public servants, and then it was time for us clergy speakers.

I was the third to speak, of the three clergy, and when I was introduced, a huge cheer went up from the UUs! That tickled me, took away my butterflies and gave me the sense of connection that I always need when I speak. I used the message that I posted here earlier, asking them to sing "Tell Me Why". I was pleased at the response to the song and to my words. There were moments when they interrupted me with cheers and applause (always a lovely moment for a preacher!) and at the end, when I asked them to reach out to one another, if they could bear to take their hands out of their pockets, they laughed, hugged each other, and shouted with me "We stand together here for Love and Justice!" three times, each time louder. It was very gratifying to feel that connection and passion enveloping the gathering.

Afterwards, we hustled off to meet with our legislators; we could only manage to meet one in person, Sen. Haugen from Island County, but our visit with her was productive; she is a supporter of our cause, though not yet completely on board with marriage equality. We think she will eventually come around. One of our representatives, Barbara Bailey, was unavailable as she was in committee, and the other, Chris Strow, had been told there were no Island County constituents at the rally (gotta investigate this one, as it was problematic) so had left his office. We did meet with his legislative assistant and gave her our packet of info.

Y and I headed home after eating our sack lunches in the cafeteria, managing to get on the 5 p.m. ferry. There was no press coverage that I could find this morning; I think probably that Seattle Gay News has covered it and I will provide a link when I get one.

It was a great day!

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Great Day in Olympia

It was a great day in Olympia, at the Equality Day 07 advocacy day and rally. I am too tired to write more right now, but tomorrow I'll report on the events of the day. Eventually I may even have some video of it to share.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What is a faith community?

One of the most important theological questions that religious folk must answer is "what is a faith community?" Most orthodox religious folk would consider this a no-brainer: a faith community is a gathering of the adherents to the faith tradition and it exists to serve God and humankind.

Unitarian Universalists, of course, would tweak that definition, perhaps quite a lot. Some see a UU congregation as a lecture forum; some see it as a social gathering, as an educational gathering, as a tool for social justice.

Ministers and laypersons often see the faith community through different lenses. Ministers, by virtue of their education and experience, see the faith community as all of these things but also as an opportunity to create what MLK Jr. called "the Beloved Community", a gathering of souls intent on furthering the work of love and justice in the world, caring for one another, with rituals and experiences that deepen their sense of connection, a place where they are inspired to offer their best selves to the larger community.

Laypersons don't necessarily see it that way. They don't always see the faith community as a living organism but as a place or an agency. They don't see the value of familiarity and interconnection as sharply as the minister does. This can lead to disagreements about what the church/congregation should look like, what Sundays ought to offer, what the minister's priorities should be, or even if there should be a minister.

This tends to be more problematic in a congregation which has not had much experience with a minister. It takes awhile to reassure the congregation that the minister offers something that even the most dedicated group of volunteers can't always manage--a vision of the Beloved Community and a process for getting there.

So there are often sparks as the congregation grows and outgrows the old layled model. There are fears that the minister will take over, that too much minister means that there is too little autonomy for lay leaders, that seeing the same face in the pulpit more than once in awhile is a turnoff.

I sympathize with this fear but I also work to allay it because I have learned that most lay persons will discover that having more ministerial presence is a good thing, that it means that the minister's sermons can be more personal, better addressed to the congregation's specific needs, strengthening the relationship between congregants and between the minister and congregation, that visitors who are considering membership appreciate the opportunity to check out the minister even more than the chance to hear an outside speaker.

There is a covenant between minister and congregation that is important and needs care. The minister must be a loving presence, dedicated to serving the needs of the congregation but also dedicated to helping the congregation move towards its vision while living out its mission. The congregation must be clear about its mission and vision, dedicated to walking its talk, and considering seriously the message of the minister, offering different views respectfully, and treating the minister with justice and compassion.

This is a quickie version of my theology of the faith community. What's yours?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Equality Day 07

I've written out what I will say at the Equality Day rally on Monday. We are asked to keep our remarks to 3-4 minutes and that's a bit of a challenge, but I figure two pages, double-spaced, 14 point type in Helvetica is 4 minutes, which is what I have come up with.

I offer those words here for your consideration.

EQUALITY DAY 07, FEB. 26, 2007
Rev. Kit Ketcham
Remember when we went to summer camp that year and sat around a campfire with our fellow campers and sang songs and maybe stared longingly across the circle at a person we were madly in love with that summer? Sing with me, if you remember this old camp song and feel free to harmonize. (Sing first two verses of “Tell Me Why”)
Love is a drive, a yearning, an ability that is so deeply imbedded in each of us that we are compelled to follow its leading. It is a basic human need, to love and to be loved. Our first experience with love is from the parents and others who care for us when we are small, and out of that experience grows the ability to trust, to nurture, to commit to the love which is our birthright and the responsibility of each human being.
If we are not loving, we are not living up to our potential. We are not fulfilling perhaps THE major purpose of our lives-----to love.
As a Unitarian Universalist, I also believe that we human beings have a drive and a deep yearning for justice and we have the responsibility to bring it into our own lives and the lives of others.
We are here today in behalf of Love and Justice. We acknowledge the role of Love in our lives and we are committed to acting in behalf of Justice.
When we come together today, to learn how to fulfill our responsibilities as citizens and to advocate in behalf of citizens who are not getting a fair shake, we are performing a profoundly religious act.
We are saying to the world that we believe in love and justice. We believe that people who love should not be punished for that love. We believe that the world needs more love, not less. We believe that the world is improved by more commitment to loving partnerships, not less.
And we believe in justice as a moral and religious imperative. We are saying to the world that it isn’t right that our friend Jim lost his home when his partner died, that our colleague Ginger couldn’t give her partner the memorial service she would have wanted, that our neighbor MIke couldn’t visit his dying partner in the hospital.
Those who oppose justice for those who love are afraid, afraid of what it means if they question long-held prejudices, afraid of the disapproval of other fearful people, afraid of being generous with their love.
But love can drive out fear. When we love, we take on all the joys and sorrows of love. We commit ourselves to living out the responsibilities of love. And one of those responsibilities is to seek justice in the name of love.
And so I ask you to reach out to those around you, touch a shoulder, take a hand, and join me in telling the world what we are here for, that we stand together here today for Love and for Justice.
Say it with me: We stand together here for Love and Justice. Again, loudly, We stand together here for Love and Justice. And loudest of all, so that all of Washington can hear us, We stand together here for Love and Justice.
Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Will preach for food...

Preaching is pretty much the bread and butter of a ministerial vocation. It's what most people think of as our main task in ministry. I've even been asked what I do when I'm not in the pulpit---it was a kid who asked, so I didn't bridle as I might have. But sermons are a major piece of my work and I love to preach.

So I've been thinking about how I approach sermon-writing, in the past day or two, and I realize that I've gotten a little stale during the time I've been serving two congregations; I've often re-used sermons from my earlier pastorate, updating them to suit a different congregation and to reflect any changed thinking on my part. And because my schedule has had me preaching on Vashon the first Sunday of the month and on Whidbey the second Sunday, I've usually written a sermon that could be used both places, to use my time efficiently.

As I look ahead to a future in which I'm serving only one congregation, writing sermons for only one group of folks, I'm aware that this will make a difference in how I approach sermon writing. I think, I hope, it will bring a freshness to my writing and delivery.

Because I'm aware that I've gotten a little too hurried in my delivery, that I need to give a little more time for major points to sink in. I've learned that people want to know more about my own struggles, and though it's important not to use the pulpit as a therapeutic device, I think it's valuable to share my "experience, strength, and hope", as they say in 12-step programs.

And I definitely know that, as I write for just one congregation, I can be more challenging in my approach, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable!

My approach to preaching is much like my approach to teaching, my earlier career. I know I've got to get people's attention and keep it; stories, interactive moments, the unexpected, all these devices keep listeners connected and involved. It's a challenge to my creativity to establish and maintain this connection, and I relish it.

In March, I'm going to be preaching at Whidbey three Sundays in a row, and this will give me a chance to offer a series of three sermons on Faithfulness. I've been thinking about what Faithfulness means in a congregational setting and will use that theme to speak about our covenants with self, others, and the universe. This will be a wonderful opportunity to refresh my style and approach.

I've come to these awarenesses about preaching partly on my own, partly through useful feedback from listeners. And while it's always scary to be critiqued, it is essential for a minister to listen to that critique, examine it, and use it--not to try to please the critiquer but to improve this most visible of all ministry tasks.

I think of myself as a good preacher already, but I would like to be even better, to know that my thoughts were reaching people in the most effective ways possible. It is a worthy goal.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Update on Holston Valley situation

Dear Readers,
The Rev. Christine Riley has let me know that calls and emails from all over the country are rolling in to offer support and encouragement for Holston Valley UUC. Holston Valley UUC is in a very conservative rural area and your response to their plight is helping to cheer and inspire them. Thank you for your generosity and kindness to these folks whom most of us will never know in person.

This, it seems to me, is the meaning and heart of religious community---that we the faithful reach out to those we see struggling. That we are generous, not just when it's convenient and easy, as Lizard Eater has remarked, but when we don't know the people we are helping, when we're feeling poor or troubled ourselves, or have no strong identification with the situation.

I am grateful to all of you for your willingness to give a helping hand to my colleague and her church.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More information about the Holston Valley UU Church tragedy

Dear Readers,
Here is more information about the Holston Valley UU Church situation, in an excerpt from another note from the Rev. Christine Riley. Some of you have sent cash donations; thank you so much! Others might find it possible to meet some of the other needs Christine mentions.

She writes:
Basically we lost everything in the RE Classrooms and our kitchenette area.

Some books and some most of the curriculums were in the DRE's office in the main church building and are fine. SO...luckily, her brand new computer was not in the RE Building...(which this congregation fondly called "THE REZ"--RE Zone).

We lost ALL classroom furniture. We lost All classroom art supplies (markers,pens, papers, glues, construction paper..etc, etc). ...while this sounds trivial it will amt. to thousands to replace and is needed soon.

Some area (think 90 min to one hour or more away) DRE's are talking about what they have that is extra, not needed, and will be in touch later this week.

Our Buddhist Sangha Group met there too, for years and years. They lost their entire library...and all their Buddhist, Yoga, meditation tapes. They are heart broken about the loss of their library texts and videos.

We are in the beginning stages of doing a loss inventory for each room....and hope to have it by the week's end. It is just really hard to recall each single item....what was in drawers,cupboards, etc. I have asked the DRE and teachers to begin listing things...mentally walk through the rooms, then wait a day and re-visit their lists to see if there are other things that come to mind.

We lost a big screen TV that we used for youth and adult RE, a DVD player, at least two VHS players...and today someone remembered that there was another TV stored in a closet there, too. At this point I know of two CD-stereo type units that were lost.

We were able to have ONE cabinet pulled out at the beginning of the fire response...with some of our brand new Spirit Plays and their individual baskets and manipulatives....sadly most were totally destroyed...saved a few things only.

The cabinet itself was a beautiful piece of carpentry done by some men in the congregation, was solid wood and on rollers. It is now in a garage at a member's home and we will see if it can be saved...when we priced buying one this fall the cost for it alone was over $1000....so we are hoping that it can be restored.

I am thinking that $, art supplies, books...all would be wonderfully appreciated.
-------------------------

Let's see if we can help out in this sad situation. Let the HVUU folks know you heard about it from a UU blog!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Photos of the Holston Valley UU church RE building



Tragedy in a UU congregation

Dear readers,
My colleague Christine Riley, who is the interim minister at a church in Tennessee, is in deep water with her congregation. A fire destroyed their entire RE building with almost all its furnishings and supplies. I'm pasting in parts of her letter to me for your information and if I can figure out how to paste in a photo, that too.

If any of you are able to help, it would be greatly appreciated. Christine is a Pacific Northwesterner doing interim ministry and we in the PNWD will be reaching out as well.

Christine writes:
Hi Kit:

Thank you for taking time to be in touch.
The fire here on Friday totally-totally destroyed our Religious Education Center.
All three classrooms and their contents ... the structure itself...the kitchenette...
all are a total loss...
...

We are already aware that ...EVEN THOUGH...we have "replacement coverage" for both the building itself and the contents that any settlement will take time...and will
fall FAR short of what is going to be needed for replacement. It's amazing what is allowed to be "deducted" from "replacement value"....

The Thomas Jefferson District advised us to start a "FIRE FUND" here ...so that
we can receive and separate any donations that might come. We have done so.
We get mail ONLY through our PO BOX here...as the church is in a rural area that serves three cities and numerous area smaller towns..there is no on-site mail delivery.

That PO BOX info is:
Holston Valley UU Church
PO BOX 8383
Gray, TN 37615

At this point we are holding RE classes in rooms which we JUST built this fall on
the lower level of the new building expansion...this church IS ALREADY in the last
year of a Cap. Drive!... the rooms were just wall-boarded in and we got heat to them
about a week ago...no paint, no floors, no furniture...no classroom supplies except what folks are bringing form home at this point.

I am attaching a few pics so you can see how things look here...except for the
3 inches of snow and ice that fell over the weekend ...which is now melting into
the open structure...

Your prayers, your thoughts for healing ... are most welcome, Kit...during
this time of grief and loss here.

Lay leaders and I will begin looking forward this week as a BOD Task Force is established. This congregation has already been through so much pain and challenge over the past few years...this just was not what we needed when they are now ...finally...at a point of optimism and are Pre-Candidating.
But ...it is what it is...and we are dealing with it thus far in gentle fellowship.

Thank you for reaching out, Kit.
Christine



--
Rev.Christine Riley
Interim Minister
Holston Valley Unitarian Universalist Church
Gray, TN
crirish@comcast.net

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Question #2: What Must I Do to Be Saved?

Tomorrow I am preaching the second sermon in a series of five sermons on big theological questions. "What must I do to be saved?" I ask.

"Salvation" is a red flag word for many Unitarian Universalists because they associate it only with the evangelical Christian use of the word, with proselytizing, with fear and shame, and with the kind of emotionality that UUs traditionally shun. They forget that many important, useful words, even to UUs, emerge from the same root: salve, salvage, save, for example. The root of the word is used to denote health, wholeness, safety and preservation.

Few UUs would protest the need for wholeness, for health, for safety, for preservation of resources. But the idea of salvation has been associated with being forgiven of sins so that one can go to heaven, and that's where UUs balk.

I believe we all have characteristics and behaviors that we know are not healthful or whole, that decrease our safety and diminish our resources. Our human task is to acknowledge them and consider how to deal with them.

Many have said to me, "I have nothing to be saved FROM, so I don't need salvation as a theological concept." When they think about the moments in their lives that have offered transformation, however, they often see that salvation (of a different sort than the stereotype) has indeed been part of their lives.

Perhaps we need to think of "salvation" as opportunity for transformation-----not so we'll go to heaven (Universalists believe in universal "going to heaven" anyhow) but so that our lives are more joyous and free, with less fear and shame and more love and respect.

Most world religions offer some interpretation of soteriology (the 50 cent word which means salvation) and most of those are framed in terms of how we treat each other and ourselves and what the rewards might be. Some offer heaven as a carrot; others offer increased meaning and joy in life.

We are all looking for increased meaning and joy in life. That's why we're here, hoping to find answers in our experiences that will lead us into deeper relationship with ourselves, each other, and the power beyond human power.

The sermon can be found on the UUCWI website at http://www.whidbey.com/uucwi/ministry.html

Noticed by the UU World

Heavens! Imagine my surprise upon opening up my new UU World mag, which arrived today, and find Ms. Kitty's cited in Jane Greer's column "On the Web", p. 12. The quote she pulls wasn't one of my finer ones, to judge by some of the comments I got on that post, but I'm just tickled to be noticed. I love the UU World magazine and read it cover to cover over a period of several days. Chris Walton, my old friend from the Mountain Desert District who bailed out of the Rockies to go to Boston, is a fine editor and the UU World reflects his skill and commitment.

Thanks, Chris and Jane.

Susanna will be okay

Thanks to all who offered prayers and kind thoughts in Susanna's behalf. I just talked with my sister Jean in Moses Lake and she tells me that Susanna will be home today, with a pacemaker implanted to regulate her too-slow heart beat. That's such good news!

Jean has been doing grandma duty with Abigail and Keith and the two dogs and she is about worn out, having worried lots and slept little, aggravated by boisterous dogs and anxious kids. So she needs our thoughts and prayers too. We have become very close in the past few years; once I gave her a pillow with a slogan: you'll always be my best friend; you know too much! And, though we squabbled a lot growing up and are very different as adults, she is my closest friend.

I know she would come to be with me in a crisis and I would go to be with her in a flash, if she needed me.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Your prayers, please

Please keep my niece Susanna in your hearts. She is only 33 and has today been diagnosed with a heart arrythmia requiring a pacemaker. She and her husband are in the process of adopting little Keith and they have a precocious young daughter Abigail to raise as well. This little family needs all the prayers they can get.

Thank you all.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

We Gotta Put Shoes on Willie

This post is because in recent days I have gotten several hits on the blog from people looking for the words to this song. Can you believe our parents let us pantomime this song in a small-town talent show? Pretty nervy!

We gotta put shoes on Willie,
We gotta get 'em on somehow,
From the size of his beard and the things I've heared,
Willie is a big boy now.

He's a courtin' his cousin Tillie,
And whenever he milks the cow,
He's a hummin' a song and a milkin' too long,
And a gruntin' like a lovesick sow.

Last night I seen him behind the shed,
Sparkin' like a lightnin' rod,
And if he's gonter wed,
the durn fool critter's got to be shod,
So go get our relations, cuz Willie may begin a row,
It took his uncles and aunts to put him into pants,
And we gotta get the shoes on now somehow,
We gotta get the shoes on now.

Where oh where is the mail order catalog,
Grampa was lookin' at it last,
Grampa, Grampa, gimme that catalog,
Here, I'm abringin' it fast.

Now doncha tear the pages with the shoes on,
Say, Ma, what size'll we get?
Well, ya might try a pair a twenty-twos on,
Our Willie's a growin' yet.

Now how about the color?
Well, black's kinda mighty nice.
Brown is snappier in town.
No, black is better, but we'll make a compromise,
One shoe black and the other one brown.

We gotta put shoes on Willie,
We gotta get 'em on somehow.
It took his uncles and aunts to put him into pants,
And we gotta get the shoes on now, somehow,
We gotta get the shoes on now!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What a thrill!

No, it has little to do with Valentine's Day; it's a larger thrill.

I am a member of the board of the Religious Coalition for Equality, an interfaith clergy organization advocating for marriage equality and equal rights for sexual minorities. We had our Feb. board meeting today in Seattle, to finalize the details of our big rally on the Statehouse steps on Feb. 26, and I have been asked to be one of the speakers at the rally!

This is a huge honor and responsibility. There will be people there from all over the state; we have attracted nearly 2000 in the past, for a day of advocacy training, the rally, and meetings with legislators.

I have secretly wanted to be a speaker every year but never was brave enough to put forth my name. In the past, they've had Jewish, Christian, and Muslim (Sufi) speakers. This year the program committee decided to ask a Unitarian Universalist because of our particular slant and involvement in marriage equality advocacy.

So I am thrilled and all the way home on the freeway and ferry I was thinking about how I will use my three minutes of opportunity to address this crucial issue.

It's only 12 days away, so I need to do some thinking. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Love and the Single Woman

Most Valentine's Days in my life have been Valentine-less. Before my mother died in 1994, she always sent me a Valentine, but almost no boyfriend was ever so inclined, except when reminded, and it'd be a little weird to get one from my son.

And you know what? I don't really mind. This is not a gripe session. It's more an opportunity to think about what it means to be my age (64 3/4), single, living alone, professionally and satisfyingly employed, enough friends to feel content, and no strong desire to be mated.

Oh, I joke around about wanting a boyfriend (though anyone who applied would certainly not be considered a "boy"), but when push comes to shove, I'm not sure I really do. Would I want to give up my independence? Would I want to have company all the time? Could I make the sacrifices necessary to sustain an intimate relationship?

I look at the successful couples I know and admire and I just can't see myself managing what they manage---the day to day compromises and negotiations, the need to accommodate a partner's needs and wishes, the obligation to give up a part of my life to a partner's life. I just don't know if I could do it, after 27 years of living single.

It may be that I have just gotten out of practice, that if I were in a relationship of trust and affection, I could do it with little difficulty. It worries me to think that I may have been wounded enough by my past experience with marriage that I can't get past that and be successful in another partnership.

Whatever the reason, I am, at this time, Valentine-less and still valid. I love and am loved and that is enough. At least right now.

Emehrrgency, Emehrrgency, Everrrybody to get frrrom Strrreet...

Remember Alan Arkin speaking this phrase in "The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming"? One of the funniest movies I think I've ever seen, it gave me a good line to spout whenever things got a little too serious.

However, it did not come to mind last night when I attended the first session of the Emergency Preparedness seminar offered by Whidbey Island volunteers schooled in the issues of disaster response.

In a serious but light-hearted presentation, we heard about the challenges we would face in a variety of disaster scenarios and how we might address them. We learned about filling a grab and go bag with essentials in case of an earthquake or fire; getting water from the house water heater; "if it's yellow, let it mellow"; that Island County has chosen a site where it will dig a mass grave in the event of a pandemic; how and what can be shared with neighbors; dealing with pets (cats are a problem); purifying dirty water; storing a 10 day or more supply of food, water, and other necessities where animals won't break into it; precautions in the event of radiation exposure. The list was endless.

None of it was presented with a Doom and Gloom overlay, but it was clear that being informed and prepared was a smart thing to do. We all went through the lengthy and frequent power outages of early winter and doubtless this experience was why some 40-50 people showed up at this first session.

What stood out for me was the importance of being connected to others in the community, to help and to be helped. A neighborhood can act as a buddy system for its residents, making sure that each household has adequate resources and a contact point in time of need.

It was a sobering but enjoyable evening. I was pleased that several UUCWIers were also in attendance. And I was pleased as well that UUCWI is fostering neighborhood groupings itself, as well as looking at how we might serve others as neighbor. I came home pondering the opportunities that crisis can offer.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Playing

In the past few days, I have actually had chances to play! I sometimes wonder about myself. I enjoy my work so much that I occasionally will go for many days before I take time to goof off and have some non-church-related fun.

I used to justify this by intoning Robert Frost's lines from "Two Tramps in Mud-Time":

"But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For heaven and the future´s sakes."

I love this stanza of his poem and truly, my avocation and my vocation are mostly united. Ministry for me is so much fun that sometimes I am amazed that they pay me to do this work.

But that means that I don't look for opportunities to play very often. I always seem to be working on something, whether it's at the gym, around the house, doing email, even thinking. I rarely read fiction except when I'm in bed. I am never far from my work. Even my trips out of town are usually work related.

I'm well aware that there is a certain Type A mentality in me and I have to make myself turn away from the job and do something entirely different.

This week has offered a couple of opportunities for fun. On Thursday night, I hosted a small group of musicians and we played old fiddle tunes, waltzes and folk songs for a couple of hours. I often just listen, but this time I dragged out my electronic keyboard and practiced a bunch of stuff I knew and was able to play along. I'm no Elton John, but I've played piano for years and learned how to use a fake book a long time ago.

We used to jam at Swallow Hill Music Association in Denver, at the Denver Friends of Folk Music, and in small groups, and it was there that I learned all the fiddle tunes in my repertoire. I never did learn how to play the fiddle, but I could use my keyboard know-how to play along. And it was hugely satisfying to play along with Judy, Steve, and JoAnn on their assorted instruments on Thursday night.

Then last night was the big UUCWI church auction, an annual fundraiser. And it was church-related, but it was also a lot of fun in its own right AND I bid on and bought several items which will offer occasions for fun.

I bought the following items: two beautiful, handthrown pottery serving bowls, which I will probably use for a gift; a lesson in making photographic bookmarks; a night of playing 25 cent poker; a family picnic at Goss Lake; a mystery dinner at Lavender Wind Farm; and, most exciting, a trip to the Walla Walla wine country in September. The events are spread out across the next several months, guaranteeing that I will be forced to have fun on a regular schedule during the coming year.

You might wonder if it's possible for a minister to have fun at church-related events. I know that the common wisdom among clergy is that a minister is always "on" when with the flock, and I agree with that and am careful when I'm with congregants (not that I do anything appalling when I'm not with them), but in a small community, it's necessary and appropriate to mingle socially with members of my congregation, avoiding church business if possible, and just enjoying each other.

A couple of UUCWI musicians occasionally come to the Thursday jams and there we are just fellow singers and players; the relationship is not minister and parishioner but musician and musician.

If it weren't possible to stretch these boundaries a bit, it would be very lonely to live in a small community. But it does require care. I don't want to embarrass my congregation nor make it difficult for them to see me as their minister, not just their buddy. It's a fine line to walk. I hope I do it appropriately.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Prophetic Atheism

The latest UU Carnival has as its topic a quote from James Luther Adams: “A good deal of so-called atheism is itself, from my point of view, theologically significant. It is the working of God in history, and judgement upon the pious. An authentic prophet can be a radical critic of spurious piety, of sham spirituality.”

When I entered the UU ministry, I had already done a lot of thinking about atheism, agnosticism, and theism. There had been a long period of time when I wasn't too certain about what/who/how God could be; in fact, there are times now when I am not too certain.

It was my experience in AlAnon, needing to find a Higher Power in order to work the 12 step program, that pushed me to define my thoughts about God. And it was helpful to me to listen to the several nontheists I knew. I found that their perspective pushed me further, to examine my own assumptions, my prejudices, my uncertainties. But in order to work through the first few steps of AlAnon, I had to find a Higher Power.

My "old white guy on a throne" didn't work for me any more. In casting about for a power that was greater than my power, I settled on Gravity, one thing I knew for sure that was greater than my power. Gravity morphed into Natural Law as Higher Power and it was there that I found myself in agreement with my atheist friends.

I wrote the following short piece later as a result of my changing thinking, in an effort to broaden and not make captive my thinking about God.

What do I believe about God?
I am an atheist, if you ask me about the old white guy in the sky. I am a believer, if you ask me about nature or spirit or love. I am an agnostic, if you ask for proofs of God. I am a believer, if you ask for my experience of God.
To me, God is all----nature, spirit, love, cosmos, creation. God is in all----in me, in you, in my belongings, in my animals and the plants I tend, in all beings, animate and inanimate. God is in my relationships----with myself, with other beings, with the universe. God is beyond all----infinite, endless, limitless.
How can I know God? How can I not know God? God is all around me, God is within me, God is beyond me. God is in all my experience, yet beyond my experience.
God is mystery, yet I know God when I tend my garden, when I care for my pets, when I nurture my relationships.
God is invisible, yet I view God in the starry sky, in a mountain meadow, in a mighty storm.
God is infinite, yet I experience God in the limitless ocean, in an endless prairie of grass, in the wind which cools the hot day.
God is not human, yet I pray for God’s guidance; God is impersonal, yet I seek God’s blessing; God is detached, yet I feel God’s presence.
God is genderless, yet I sense God’s understanding of my womanhood.
God is changeless, yet I am aware of the continuous growth of creation.
What do you believe about God?

Addendum

The author of the article mentioned in the earlier post responded immediately to my plaint in such a thoughtful way that I have reprinted his note here:

"Thanks for your note. "Rave and reflection" is a nicer way of putting it
than "Rave and a complaint"!
"I guessed that the humorous approach to the Universal Life ordination
might rub some people the wrong way, though as one who grew up in the
Unitarian church, I guess I thought it would be the Baptists I'd hear
from first!
"But forgive me for being glib. I respect your profession and the
selfless hard work that goes into it, and I'm sure the easy confusion
between "Unitarian Universalist" and "Universal Life" must grate after a
while.
"Mr. Childs struck me overall as a very thoughtful individual with a
slightly impish sense of humor, which I wanted to reflect. His book,
"Stone Palaces," published by The Mountaineers, might give you more
insights into his character than I could in a 7-inch sidebar.
"I'm glad you found the article's information useful!
"Best regards,
"Brian Cantwell"

Thank you, Brian Cantwell, for your kind response to my gripe!

Hmmmph! Universal Life minister indeed!

This morning's Seattle Times Weekend supplement had a nice article about Washington's beautiful Methow Valley in northcentral Washington, all about a gorgeous place to stay and the many wintertime activities available there.

But it was marred for me by a sidebar whose headline was "He can book your meeting, bless your vows". This blurb featured a guy who is the sales manager of the lodge mentioned and he is an "ordained minister", courtesy of the Universal Life Church, aka mail order company.

I was a bit peeved and wrote a note to the author of the article expressing my irritation that the "ordination" of The Right Reverend Rabbi Mahavishnu, as this fellow names himself, should be mentioned as if it were a legitimate credential.

I would like to believe that neither the author nor the "minister" intended to disparage the years of work I put in to earn my ordination nor the call I experienced which preceded my decision to study for the ministry. But I suspect that, at least in the case of the "minister", he intended just that, to poke fun at something he thinks is silly.

Perhaps in today's cultural milieu, where many clergy and religious folk are often ridiculous and espouse incredibly un-saintly views and behaviors, "to be foolish is human, to spoof, divine".

I'm very likely too sensitive to this issue. I once was asked by the mother of a bride if I was a "real" minister, was Unitarian Universalist the same as Universal Life? I reassured her that, indeed, I had gotten my degree and credentials after a long process of study and training, not by typing in a credit card number on a web site.

I do know that some Pagan leaders, in order to perform ceremonies for their faith groups, need to use the Universal Life credential to legally sign marriage licenses. This is a legitimate use of such a credential, as few seminaries welcome Pagan seminarians.

But in other cases, the Universal Life Church ordination seems to me to be a cheapening of the concept of a Call to ministry and the humbling journey of discernment and formation.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Loving and Leaving

This past weekend on Vashon, I was very aware of my feelings about ending my contract with these dear people. And as Valentine's Day approaches---and as I preached about love on Sunday morning---what it means to love and to have love in one's life was much on my mind.

I realized recently that, in making the decision to leave Vashon, I've experienced the professional equivalent of that old romantic song, "to say yes to one and leave the other behind; it ain't often easy, it ain't often kind, did you ever have to make up your mind?"

As the years have gone by since I began to serve both these small congregations (since fall 2003), though I have always loved the Vashon congregation and have felt close to individual members and pleased with their successes, I eventually realized that my feelings and actions toward the Whidbey congregation represented a deeper sense of connection.

And then I knew that I needed to make a decision: would I continue to serve both groups, risking serving one better and more passionately than the other, or would I end my relationship with one group so that I could serve the other with greater dedication, risking the lessening of my financial security?

It has felt eerily like dating two lovely men, but seeing the relationship with one as sweet and the relationship with the other as deepening. At some point, it's necessary to decide what one wants out of the relationship---sweetness or deeper intimacy.

And so I have chosen the Whidbey congregation as the group I will spend the next years of my professional (and personal) life with. My decision means I will figure out how to keep body and soul together without the income from a second congregation; it means I will ask the Whidbey folks to change their relationship with me from "consultant" to "settled". And it means I can throw my whole heart and soul into my relationship with them.

Ministry to a congregation is a love commitment requiring one's whole self, being careful to retain one's perspective and to take care of oneself but committing to the spiritual nurture and wellbeing of that beloved community.

There's always risk in an intimate relationship, whether it is a marriage or a friendship or a ministry. Will it last? Will either of us be disappointed? Will we manage our difficulties and continue to grow together? Will our partnership result in beneficial contributions to each other and the larger community? We take on these risks together and covenant to live with them, facing them, dealing with them, overcoming them with trust and with great love. I look forward to it.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

And the results are in!

I was so tickled this morning to check the vote totals and see that favorite bloggers Chalice Chick and Linguist Friend had scored big in the vote department! Congratulations to both of you and thanks for setting such a high standard for writing and imagination.

To echo PeaceBang, megawinner, this has been a lot of fun and even though I occasionally noticed myself obsessing about checking the totals, I only thought of it as fun, not as a test of worthiness. I was purely astounded to be nominated, let alone inch my way up into 4th, 5th, and 9th places in the categories of Best Minister blog, Best New blog, and Best Writing.

So thanks for all the fish, er, votes, and happy blogging.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Books and cats--Ms Kitty's cure

Well, I didn't get over to the beach, but I did stop by a friend's house and gave her cat Ophelia some pastoral care. Ophie had her tail in a twist because her owners are taking care of A Dog; Oph and I are buds and she likes to crawl into my lap and tell me all her troubles. She is an ancient old girl with a voice like a squeaky gate but it is a pleasure to listen to her complaints.

So that helped. Plus I went to the Langley bookstore (Moonraker--great name, huh?) and picked up a Sister Fidelma mystery I hadn't yet read (Peter Tremayne is the author), as well as a couple of other murderous tales.

The landlord has reduced my rent temporarily while the repairs are being made and that's one reason I felt flush enough to splurge on a few books with little redeeming social value. Of course, Sister Fidelma is an education in early Irish law and a long-ago boyfriend and I once attended a Halloween party as Sister Fidelma and her sweetie Brother Eadulf. I looked great in a cowled robe and red wig!

And then I came home and found a useful comment from Judy and a sweetly comforting comment from LinguistFriend. I feel like I've been visited by angels.

I'm still a bit blah, but I've been soothed into not minding so much. Off to Vashon tomorrow for a couple of days. The sermon for Sunday is an oldie, "Our Love is Here to Stay", about relationships and how the stages of love relationships can be similar to those of connecting with a faith community. The fact that I'm doing a re-run is a symptom of the blahs, but I do feel some creative rumblings beginning, so I expect to be picking up speed here soon.

Groundhog Day Blahs

It's a gorgeous day out there, I've been to the gym and worked out, we had a productive, if long, board meeting last night, I've gotten a few votes in the blog awards competition, I'm not scheduled to leave for Vashon till tomorrow-----------I should be feeling pretty UP. And at least I'm not feeling down. But "blah" just doesn't cut it for me. And it doesn't usually produce a blog post, either.

But today it's going to.

I don't feel very interested in anything right now. And I'm not sure why. There's nothing serious enough in my life to actually worry about; there's nothing thrilling enough in my life to enthuse about; if anything, I feel tired of the same old, same old.

I was thinking about sermons this morning; I would like very much to increase my preaching schedule for the next church year. I think it would stimulate me to start caring more about what's happening in the world, rather than observing it all and sighing wearily.

What am I sighing wearily about these days? The presidential campaign which has already shifted into "what can we get this guy/gal saying on national TV that will get our viewers' attention?". The propensity of sane people to deny responsibility for stupid actions, whether they are national figures or local yokels. The endless arguments about climate change, some of which fly in the face of common sense, as in "quintupling the population of the planet has nothing to do with the extra greenhouse gases in the atmosphere".

And then there's Seattle's ongoing effort to deal with their traffic headaches in expensive and controversial ways. The ongoing east/west battle in the state of Washington, with the east side of the mountains being stubbornly conservative (not necessarily in a bad way) and the west side being stubbornly righteous about their liberal behavior (not necessarily in a bad way).

To say nothing of Exxon Mobil's immense profits in 2006, at the expense of the environment and the consumer. Or Congress' partisan conflicts over ideologies. Or Bush's babblings about how we can win in Iraq despite the growing wisdom to the contrary.

I guess I may have gone into "blah" mode to protect my sanity. Everything I've mentioned is worthy of a rant, but I just can't work one up. Molly Ivins always did it for me, but she's ahead of us all now, doing whatever the deceased do, wherever they do it. Or not. At least she's finished the book now; she knows the ending, whereas we do not.

So what is even slightly interesting to me right now? My island friends' stories about squirrels in the house. Training the cat not to yowl at the door to come in or go out (hah!). Checking the blog awards hourly. Wondering how much rent credit my landlord will give me because the basement is still in disrepair. (note: $600!)

And underneath it all is the beginning of an itch----to do a restart on my personal creativity and passion for this work. I think I have been so drained by winter's neediness that I need a resurrection. Maybe I'll go for a walk on the beach.