Sunday, April 29, 2007

Going Jesus

One last thing before I turn off the computer: I discovered Going Jesus a few days ago. Check out the sidebar on the left after you've giggled about the cute baby. You'll love the "angels we have heard are high" theme and all the rest.

What is home?

It was interesting, yesterday, to drive down the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge and experience the deep sense of being at home, really at home there. So many memories of the Gorge: traveling on windy days when the whitecaps on the river were high and the car buffeted about by gusts; buying huge salmon from Indian fishermen, out of the backs of jalopies whose trunks were full of ice and fish; crossing the river from Rufus to Maryhill on a small barge-like ferry open to the elements; seeing the immense sturgeon in the ponds at Bonneville; sitting in my tiny home in Stevenson, looking at a flickering campfire across the river and high on the wooded slope above Cascade Locks; seeing the Indian fishermen on their scaffolding above Celilo Falls and remembering what it looked like before the dams went in.

I have been thinking about where I want to live someday. Wherever it is, I want to feel completely at home there. And yesterday I realized that the Gorge is a place where I feel at home. But much of that is connected to memory and the Gorge is not like it once was, though it is still beautiful.

Where else do I feel at home? What helps me feel at home? What is so loved that it creates that feeling in me? And would I be happy if I moved there, wherever "there" is?

"Home" represents a place of safety and peace. I have it here in my little Whidbey house. I have felt it elsewhere as well. I have always been able to make "a home", wherever I went, but "Home"? "Ultimate Home?" I may always wonder where that is.

HEADS UP! BLOGGER EVENT COMING UP!

Since the UU General Assembly is going to be in Portland, Oregon, this summer (June 20-24), my old stomping grounds, I have volunteered to organize the UU Blogger Dinner at a local restaurant. I've got some ideas about where to go. It will likely be at a restaurant along the MAX (light rail line), so that it's easy to get to, and will have options for vegetarians and vegans.

It will likely be on Friday evening and I hope lots of you will come. Watch this space for more information and spread the word! If you have thoughts to share, please send them to me here. I'll do what I can to accommodate suggestions, but I may still be in mother-of-the-groom shock, so I can't guarantee anything extraordinary.

A guest list would be helpful, so if you can RSVP here, please do. More info will be forthcoming at GA as well. PeaceBang will be coaching and helping in the effort.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Catching up

Just back from my brief sleepover sojourn with longtime girlfriends, celebrating our years together since high school graduation in 1959. This is the first year I've been able to attend since I moved north; the chosen weekend inevitably collided with my weekend on Vashon. This year it was earlier.

There were nine of us there, stuffing ourselves, tipping a few, catching up on the gossip from our old home town and sharing our lives. There are always worries to share about old friends, the latest about the former boyfriends and husbands, news about children and grandchildren, observations about who was a jerk, who has shaped up, who continues to be jerkish, etc.

I used to feel kind of outsiderish, but that has changed over the years. This was a wonderful experience of feeling like I belong to this group, no longer the brainiac preacher's kid who just watched while others had fun. That's because of changes in me, I think, and a degree of relaxation into a new way of being.

Most of us are on the same "social concerns" wavelength, but occasionally one woman lets fly a truly awful statement or opinion, racist or homophobic, and it's interesting to see how this is received and dealt with. She has learned to temper her remarks, I think, because she nearly always gets jumped on--gently, for the most part--by one or another person.

We all remember her truly difficult growing up years and hope that someday her bitterness subsides, that she will find more peace of mind and won't have to take out her anger on innocent people. In the meantime, we continue to love her for her wonderful qualities and try to train her out of her not-so-wonderful ones.

On the way home, I stopped by in Seattle for a celebration gathering of the RCE board and staff. It was a nice meal and I had a chance to renew acquaintance with a fellow I had dated very briefly in 1965. His wife is an RCE staffer and had asked me once if I remembered dating him long ago.

I honestly didn't remember anything but a few smooches on an early morning walk in a mountain meadow on the last day of a backpack trip with a cadre of pre-delinquent kids, sponsored by a church group. He and I were counselors for the group and on that final morning, we were so happy to be going home! It had not been an easy experience. The smooches were fueled by that elation, not any particular chemistry. He seems to remember that we actually dated later; I really don't.

It felt kind of fun, however, at my advanced stage of life, to be remembered as a fun date, as a smoochable person. Would that I might experience such a moment again before I die!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Events of Note

In the middle of watching Helen Mirren in "The Queen" last night (what a good movie!), the phone rang. It was my son calling from Reno with a decided lilt in his voice. This is the young man who is getting married in June and is up to his ears in school, work, and wedding prep--and a lot of stress.

It turns out that the lilt in his voice comes from the recent realization that he loves the study of history with a passion, so much so that he is going to shift his major from computer information science to history. He's going to become a teacher!

He has loved history ever since he got involved in the Renaissance re-enactment group Empire of Chivalry and Steel, back in the 90's, and I've always secretly felt he would be a wonderful teacher. He has such presence in front of groups and a style of presentation that is humorous (without being overdone) and engaging, not pedantic.

We were counting up all the teachers on both sides of our family and we ran out of fingers before we got past the grandparents. I am really happy for him; I know what it's like to realize what you want to do with your life and to see a path ahead that looks like a lot of joy and satisfaction, even though it may be demanding.

I have friends whose children have been straight A students all their lives, heading through school without a hitch, on into a well-paying career, and I don't envy them a bit.

My son has been a challenge and a joy all of his life, making his way through school in a less than linear fashion, achieving more in the way of enduring friendships than good grades (at least till now), and proving time and again that it isn't grades and academic prowess that are the mark of success. It's the character formed in the process of growing and learning. He has achieved that and more. I'm very happy for him and so amazed that I have the good fortune to be his mother.

In other news: tomorrow I will leave early for Portland and thence east to White Salmon, WA, in the Columbia River Gorge, where we are having our annual sleepover for the McEwen ladies. There will be eight or so of us. It's been several years since I've gotten to go to the White Salmon gathering; this year it's on a weekend I don't have to preach. I'll be back Saturday afternoon late, because I do have to teach the youth class on Sunday afternoon, a slightly less demanding job than preaching. I'm looking forward to visiting the Pendleton outlet store in Washougal before I get to the sleepover site. Pendleton products on the cheap! Yay!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Madonnas of Leningrad

The book club I have belonged to for about a year met last night to discuss the Debra Dean novel "Madonnas of Leningrad", a moving story about Marina, an elderly Russian woman who survived the siege of Leningrad and helped to remove and protect the art treasures of The Hermitage.

In the novel, Marina is struggling to conceal the encroaching symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, none too successfully, and the book is an experience in the effects of dementia, as the narrative wanders from past to present, melding characters and events in the story so that the reader can feel what it must be like to lose touch with the present, yet remember the past so vividly.

The book is a wonderful read, the kind that stays with me and affects my thinking for quite awhile. Last night I had dreams that seemed connected to the story and, on my trek down the driveway this morning to get the papers, I was attuned to all the sensations that early morning offers, to the present day's moments and their pleasures.

But I couldn't help wondering whether I would ever experience what Marina experienced as she lost her short-term memory and became more and more out of touch with present-day reality. It is one of my greatest fears, to lose my mind to dementia.

I don't think it's in my family heritage, except maybe for Tante Caro, my great-aunt who was batty enough to be hospitalized in her later years, though in the 50's we didn't call it Alzheimer's and chances are she didn't really need the State Hospital.

Having always been the smart kid in my family, the honor student, the valedictorian, the Mensa member, I am vigilant about my brain's capabilities and am always taking their temperature, wanting to gauge where they are in the spectrum of inevitable decline. So far, so good.

But I'm no longer interested in scholarly reading and writing, at least not much. I'd rather examine human interactions on a personal stage, not on a chart. I'd rather talk about sacred relationships than about theological intricacies. I'd rather make new friends than read new treatises.

I like to think that this is growth, not decline, that these interests are more valuable in the long run than a familiarity with the latest technology or scientific discovery. And I do keep my wits sharpened, with puzzles and music and reading voraciously and all the things they tell you are good brain exercise.

But the day may come (many years from now, I trust) when my son has to take away the car keys, has to persuade me to live somewhere else, to give up my independence in favor of safety and health. I may need to be parented by him someday. I hope I can be gracious about it, look at it all as a new adventure, enjoy the moment, and not give him as hard a time as he gave me when he was two years old.

It occurred to me, at the end of "Madonnas", that we are unwittingly training our children how to be with us when we are winding down our lives. The bumper sticker "Treat your children well; they'll choose your nursing home" is funny but holds a good deal of truth.

In "Madonnas", Marina and her husband Dmitri have never told their children about their lives in Russia during WWII, preferring to leave that terrible life behind when they come to America. Consequently, Elena and Andrei have no idea what Marina is experiencing, as she moves back and forth between present and past reality. They are hamstrung and can't understand and that is as great a tragedy as Marina's disease.

Now excuse me, while I get ready to go to the gym after I do my first crossword of the day and eat my brain food breakfast.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Earth Day Redux

We had a great Earth Day service at UUCWI yesterday. It was an intergenerational service and the children offered a good deal of the service, with some adult support. Lots of music and singing, a youth as layleader, another youth as pianist, a few choir members to help bolster singing, and our dear, harried DRE managing the whole works. And I was to present the homily.

A homily in an intergen service is a challenge but also a chance for me to trot out my teacher persona, because it's necessary to engage both kids and adults and keep everyone attentive to the topic. I like to throw out questions for everyone to answer, kids and adults alike, and that was an effective strategy yesterday. I also brought a box full of some of the ways I am trying to live more simply and gently on the earth.

As I had packed the box of stuff, I made a list of the ways I'm trying to change my habits to live more gently. Here's what I'm doing. I'd be interested in what you're doing.

--I'm changing incandescent light bulbs to fluorescent.
--I'm growing some of my own food.
--I've turned down the thermostat to 64.
--I'm driving less.
--I don't heat unused rooms.
--I use a clothesline part of the time, especially for sheets.
--I recycle everything possible.
--I carpool when I can.
--I go to thrift shops.
--I keep my car cared for and the tires filled properly.
--I pay some bills online.
--I buy green power.
--I eat vegetarian more often.
--I use a canvas bag for groceries.
--I recycle plastic bags.
--I buy locally produced food when available.
--I shut off the computer at night.
--I plugged my TV into a power strip and turn it off in the day.
--I turn off lights when not in use.
--I buy recycled paper products.
--I avoid heavy packaging.

In short, I am trying to live more lightly and more simply. The congregation offered some of its own ideas as well. It felt like we are doing something to heal the environment. It felt good.

To Think or not to Think

Hmmm, that is the question. When you've been designated a "thinking blog", you are kind of on the spot. Does every post have to inspire great thoughts in others? Does every post have to represent my great thoughts? Such a dilemma!

I have not thought of Ms. Kitty's as being particularly philosophical or inspiring. When LinguistFriend, in a comment, remarked that the blog seemed to need its own category, I did a run-through of the other ministers' blogs I read and realized that Ms.Kitty's is different from theirs.

Each minister who writes a blog has her/his own style, but largely that style is prophetic and preacherly. I can do that and have on occasion, but I'm a teacher at heart. I want to teach people about ministry.

What that means is that I write from the heart of a minister. I write about the questions I think people have about ministry. I document my own efforts at being a minister, the quailings, failings, and flailings (woowee, there's a sermon title, though a banjo player might add "frailings"!). I try to be optimistic, even as I'm feeling sad or indignant.

I think there would be less angst in congregations about ministers if people knew what a minister's life is really like. I hope I can fill that need a bit.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Blogs that make me think

MamaG at Mom to the Left has honored me by nominating Ms. Kitty's as a blog that makes her think and invites me to nominate five blogs that make me think. So I am going to try to use my limited linking skills and do so. Give me a few tries to get it right, okay?

First of all, a disclaimer: others have already nominated some of those whom I have in my bookmarks. And I notice that all of these blogs are written by women. Not that men's writings don't make me think, but somehow, these appeal to me in particular ways.

In mostly alphabetical order, I nominate:

Earthbound Spirit

Educated and Poor

Jubilata in the Desert

Mile High Pixie

Sexuality and Religion

The Thinking Blog is where it all started, if you're interested in participating.

Comments: I discovered Earthbound Spirit recently through a comment made on my blog. Educated and Poor comes from a college teacher in Georgia whose pets (one hen, Myrtle Mae, and several cats) figure heavily in her blog. Mile High Pixie is her sister, an architect in Denver. Jubilata comes from the high desert of New Mexico and is written by Judith Walker Riggs, one of my favorite preachers and colleagues, even though I don't know her except through her blog. Sexuality and Religion covers issues related to sexual ethics and social issues.

I would have nominated Linguist Friend over at ChaliceChick, except that CC was already nominated and I wasn't sure how to separate him out. But his posts and comments always challenge my thinking.

Now let me check and see if this worked.

This is one of those memish things, and those I nominated are invited to go to the Thinking Blog, follow the procedure, and nominate their own favorite thinkers. You can get a nifty banner for your blog if you want to.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Loosy the Love Cat..

is ensconced on my lap as I write, looking adoringly up with her big blue eyes and purring madly. She has learned to read my face to predict when I am going to get up from the chair. She also tenses when my thighs move slightly, in case she needs to make a quick leap to the floor.

Poor Loos, she has to make a lot of quick leaps when she is on my lap because I am a fidgeter and don't sit still for long. But she seems philosophical about the whole deal and always returns as soon as I sit down again.

I think her secret agenda is to keep Lily OFF my lap. Lily has grown a lot since she was a kitten, and her favorite trick at that time was to climb up my front and curl up on the modest shelf which is my bosom. She still does that, but now she weighs some 15 pounds or so and is not so much curled up as slopping over the edges and dangling toward Loosy's nose, which is an unwelcome sight for the Loos.

Lily's trick now requires that I place an arm strategically so that she can loll into it, shift her backbone against my arm and let her feet and legs project kittenishly into the air. She is not a dignified cat under any circumstances, and this pose is so endearingly unselfconscious that I am inclined to encourage the trick.

I am lolling about myself this afternoon, having had time today to get a few things done around the house---getting some planting tubs moved to the deck, tidying up the back patio, pressing some new linen slacks that just arrived in the mail, and picking up some trash along the road and driveway.

Tomorrow's homilito is ready to go-------it's an Earth Day themed intergenerational service, so the homilito is aimed at the kids more than at the adults. I think our adults will be patient and receptive. This is such a lovely congregation!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

But what about...

the mother's health? What if her life is in danger? I am not crazy about abortion, but I feel it should be safe, legal, and rare. And that it should be an issue for the mother and her partner and her doctor only, not the government.

Of course abortion is a tragedy, for both fetus and parents. It is a matter of huge sorrow and loss, no matter what the reason. Women who have aborted carry that sorrow all their lives. Making the decision is agonizing and always a matter of second-guessing the future.

It seems to me that both pro-life and pro-choice advocates have the same hope in mind-----that all children will be treasured and cared for and that pregnant women are joyfully pregnant, not pregnant because of incest, rape, fear or ignorance.

To achieve this outcome, it seems to me that we must educate both sexes adequately about birth control, whether the preference is for natural methods such as rhythm or medical methods such as contraception. We must end incest and rape. We must teach both sexes to respect their bodies and their sexuality, to say "no" when the time is not right, to not take advantage of a person sexually, to delay sexual activity until they are mature enough to handle the consequences.

Ignorance and fear are a major part of the problem. Let's see what we can do to change that, rather than screaming at each other about the politics.

Abou ben Adhem...

was the title I had to act out for Charades this past week at the ministers' retreat, and since no one but me on my team had ever heard of this legendary poem by James Leigh Hunt, I ended up eking it out syllable by syllable, an agonizing task producing much hilarity among the opposing team members, most of whom had never heard of it either until that night. But good old Kinky Boots (my team's name) finally got it within the two-minute time limit. I was proud.

Laurel Hallman of First Dallas was our presenter and I enjoyed her "Living by Heart" workshop presentation, though it was a tad pedantic and I got sleepy toward the end, but Laurel herself is a terrific person and I was glad to get to know her. We have people in common in Dallas; my former brother-in-law Ev Gilmore, who died about 18 months ago, and his wife Mary were/are longtime members of First Dallas and she officiated at his memorial service. So we swapped memories of Ev, who was the principal tubaist for the Dallas Symphony for many years.

My best story was the time when at a family gathering, Ev on tuba and friend Rob on banjo performed the duet from "Deliverance", with Rob speeding up the banjo part at the appropriate times and Ev keeping up on tuba. It was the funniest thing I ever saw; if we'd had a video camera, we could have sent it in to America's Funniest home videos and won a bundle.

Her best story was how at the memorial service, the chancel at First Dallas was filled with tubaists, all of whom had come to play and pay respects to Ev, who was such a leader in the musical community. She had to sit in a pew, the chancel was so full. I loved hearing the story; I couldn't attend the memorial service and it filled a hole in my heart to make this connection.

It's good to be home from the retreat and start getting enough sleep again. My back pain was mysteriously gone on Monday morning, though I was prepared to battle it all week. The homily was well-received yesterday morning but I think what people enjoyed most was singing "Ubi Caritas" at the end of a retreat full of reconnections and worship.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Going on Retreat

In a little while I'll leave for our spring ministers' retreat down near Dash Point on Puget Sound. I'm very much feeling the need for some R & R after preaching every Sunday for two months with no break. I'm not even going to church this afternoon, even though I would love to see my "flock". There is a guest speaker and it would be nice to hear him, but I'm pretty scorched by overwork right now, and, no matter how lay folks say "just think of it as a social occasion", it ain't possible. If you're with congregants, you're "on". And I don't have it to be "on" right now.

I woke up with muscle spasms in my back this morning, probably the result of too many hours at the computer working on the infernal homily for the retreat worship service, and just toughed it out driving 55 miles to Mt. Vernon to speak.

The adrenaline of preaching always tames the angry beast for awhile, and I drove back with little discomfort. Now, though, it's kicking up a little bit again, and I need to be able to move around.

There's going to be a long ferry line getting off the island, I imagine, since it's been a beautiful day (sorry about that, you Northeasterners with your Nor'easter), but I have a couple of new murder mysteries (Stephen White and Jonathan Kellerman, so I'll be fine in the line. And I have my trusty heatpack to keep the kinks out of my back.

There's an ordination in Portland, so the Oregon folks will be driving up late and the retreat will get underway about 9 or so. I have plenty of time to get there.

Back Wednesday!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What do I believe about God?

Tomorrow's sermon at Skagit UUF is the 4th in the series on theological questions and is entitled "Who or What is in Charge?" Rather than publish the whole sermon, which, with readings, would be incredibly long, I am publishing the closing words. I would love to hear how others would answer the question.

CLOSING WORDS
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?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Amazingly simple home remedies that WORK!

Okay, okay, so you've probably heard this before, but it was the best laugh I've had all day.


AMAZINGLY SIMPLE HOME REMEDIES

1. If you are choking on an ice cube simply pour a cup of boiling water down your throat. Presto! The blockage will instantly remove itself.

2. Avoid cutting yourself slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold while you chop.

3. Avoid arguments with the Mrs. about lifting the toilet seat by using the sink.

4. For high blood pressure sufferers: simply cut yourself and bleed for a few minutes, thus reducing the pressure in your veins. Remember to use a timer.

5. A mouse trap, placed on top of your alarm clock, will prevent you from rolling over and going back to sleep after you hit the snooze button.

6. If you have a bad cough, take a large dose of laxatives, then you will be afraid to cough.

7. You only need two tools in life - WD-40 and Duct Tape. If it doesn't move and should, use the WD-40. If it shouldn't move and does, use the duct tape.

8. Remember: Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

Daily Thought: SOME PEOPLE ARE LIKE SLINKIES. NOT REALLY GOOD FOR ANYTHING BUT THEY BRING A SMILE TO YOUR FACE WHEN PUSHED DOWN THE STAIRS

Surfing the blogosphere

Have you ever used the feature at the top of a blogspot page which moves you somewhat randomly across the blogosphere from blog to blog? It's kind of fun because of the variety of themes encountered.

In my latest cyberjourney, I landed on many sites in foreign languages, one gay soft porn site, several business-related blogs, a few techie blogs, and assorted sci-fi sites. It's fascinating to see what's out there!

Sometimes I'll run across something that really bothers me a lot. Usually a porn-ish site startles me with its pictures, but I'm not really offended. What does bother me is when a blogger asserts that some public person has performed some heinous act which offends so badly and is so unethical that he or she deserves to be excoriated, run out of town, and generally horsewhipped for this act. The descriptors of the act are vivid and dramatic but lack much substance in proof. I tend to marvel at the apparent paranoia which seems to fuel such an outburst.

The victim in such a diatribe is often a public figure who has done something the blogger disagrees with because of his or her religious principles or because of some perceived insult. There is a degree of passion that defies reason and makes me wonder why this person needs to express herself or himself in such a way.

I am all for freedom of expression but when such hate is expressed, I worry for the wellbeing of the hater, more than the hatee. And when the hater is an avowedly religious person, I wonder if she or he has paid much attention to the teachings of the prophet, whatever religion he or she espouses.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Preparing worship for colleagues

Today I got an email invitation from Keith Kron, a friend and colleague here in the PNWD who coordinates worship presenters for our UUMA retreats. We have a retreat coming up April 15-18 and he needed someone to present worship on Wednesday morning of the retreat.

I said yes because in our chapter it is our professional duty to say yes when asked to do something for the chapter (unless it's impossible). But I did so while quaking slightly in my boots.

It's not easy to present worship for the colleagues. It's different from presenting worship for congregants; there's a sense of needing to say something different from what you might say to a congregation of laity. The faces looking back at you from the chairs have all got the same kind of expertise and they're probably better at it than you are! or so it feels.

I've presented worship in the past but I called on a raft of others to help me and presented a modified Taize service, with lots of singing and chanting and reading and silence. Piece of cake.

This time I need to find a way to say something fresh to my colleagues, something they might not have thought of, something that may be unique to my experience but has commonalities for them.

The line "No man is an island" popped into my head and I realized that's what I have to say that is unique-----since moving to the island, I've learned a lot about what it means to live on an island, to be separate from the mainland, and to resist returning to the mainland, preferring to be isolated from the mainland. I think we UUs do that to some extent, finding our religion to be a safe little island, resisting having much to do with other religious folk, preferring to be isolated and different.

I think that's where I'm going to go. I'll use John Donne's ancient words as a springboard and find some songs that fit. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Hallelujah! The Domestic Partnership Bill passes in Washington State!

News flash! The Domestic Partnership bill, giving new legal protections to same-sex couples, passed, this afternoon, in the Washington State legislature. This isn't marriage equality, yet, but it's one step in a long journey that began, in Washington, 30 years ago when the first gay person (the late Cal Anderson) in the legislature began to press for civil rights for sexual minorities.

Talking about God...

is tough for a lot of Unitarian Universalists. So in my sermon on Sunday for the Skagit UU Fellowship, I'll be interspersing several humorous and poetic readings about God, to make it easier for folks to hear what I'm saying. This is the fourth sermon in a series on theological questions; the question is "Who or What is in charge?", the question of cosmology.

The readings include "Symposium" by Joe Rush, "A New Microsoft Product Bulletin" (internet), "Adam's Lament" by Nicholas Biel, "Why God Never Got Tenure" (internet), "Inventing Sin" by George Ella Lyon, and "On the Origin of Pets" (internet). My "homilitos" have such themes as "Struggling with the God concept", "When God doesn't measure up", and "Why Humans fail; when humans need more". All readings will be given by members of the Skagit Fellowship.

Our hymns will be #23 "Bring Many Names" and #199 "Precious Lord".

The service will conclude with "What do I believe about God?", which is my personal statement.

Over the years I've listened to many people talk about the God they don't believe in but not much about what they might believe. This has caused me to think hard about what I do believe. And that has been a useful process.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dubai? Lithuania? Singapore?

I like checking the Sitemeter on the blog periodically to get a sense of who's visiting. There are little bits of information that can be gleaned by clicking the various categories and it's fun to think about Miss Kitty in Georgia, for example, or Mile High Pixie in Denver having read the latest. Or to see Linguist Friend's town pop up on the list or Joel the Neff out there in the wilds of Eastern Washington. I can only guess at most of who is reading the blog, but I like to try.

Today I found that readers from Dubai, Lithuania, and Singapore had visited Ms. Kitty's! I've had visitors from all over the globe and it makes me feel like I myself am doing some cyber traveling.

Looking at the "referrals" data, I'm always intrigued by how people land at Ms. Kitty's. Lots of people google "Neovita", which I wrote about months ago, not in a particularly benevolent way, and that column probably got more comments than any other one! I even got a very nice comment from a Neovita manager in Tacoma, offering some recompense for my unfortunate experience with Neovita orthotics.

But Dubai? Lithuania? Singapore? I'd love to know who those folks are and how they managed to find Ms. Kitty's. If you are one of those folks, would you be willing to write a comment about it?

In fact, I'd love to hear from anyone who is willing to chime in about who they are and how they got here.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Renascence: Transformation out of Tragedy

If you are planning to attend the UUCWI Easter service this afternoon, don't read this. Otherwise, forge on.

RENASCENCE: Transformation out of Tragedy
Rev. Kit Ketcham, Easter 07

Sing with me if you remember this old Sunday School song:

Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong,
They are weak, but he is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me,
The Bible tells me so.


We don’t teach that song in our UU Sunday Schools like they did in the Sunday Schools of our childhood, because it just doesn’t seem to fit with our Unitarian Universalist ways of looking at the world. And yet this little ditty, with its simple words and message, portrays a Jesus who is very much in tune with our belief that Jesus was human, that he had the human capacity to love and to protect children, to welcome them into his arms, respecting and cherishing them, and being strong in their behalf.

As I started working on this Easter sermon, I ran over in my mind all the various things I think of when I think about Easter: bunnies, eggs, vernal equinox, Passover, death, resurrection, flowers, springtime, Jesus.

And I realized that what I really wanted to speak about today is Jesus. Jesus the human being. Jesus the loving presence, whose teachings have inspired a mixed response in today’s religious world, with some interpreting his words in ways that hurt others and some seeing to the heart of love and commitment that was, in my view, the true message of Jesus the man.

Because when I was a little kid, I truly could feel that Jesus would love me if he were alive. I frankly could never fathom the idea that he was alive in actuality; it felt like a story to me and stories can do anything. I could feel his strength------he had courage and fortitude and the will to complete his purpose in life, no matter what. I liked that about the man.

He seemed like many of the adult men I knew in my dad’s church: Bob Mayberry, the post office guy, whose kindness and protectiveness covered all the children in his Sunday School classes; Kohler Betts, the taciturn rancher who was my father’s friend and gave us some of the venison every time he went hunting; Henry Barrett, who loaned me my first horse plus the tack, feed, and pasture to take care of it. And my Dad who was the strongest, kindest, lovingest man I knew----like Jesus.

Jesus seemed to me a lot like the strong, kind, loving men of the FIrst Baptist Church of Athena, Oregon. He was no pushover, either, and neither were they. He knew what was right and he stood up for it. He clearly felt a relationship with the Divine, whom he called Abba, Father, Dad, and went to that father for advice, just like I might go to my Dad for advice.

Jesus still seems to me to portray the best in human masculinity: courageous, determined, wise, kind, honest, loving. Every year I would listen to the ancient story of Jesus’ life, his miracles, his interactions with his disciples, his determination to help people see what he meant by his proclamation that the Kingdom of God is within us and among us, and, most of all, his incredible courage at sticking to his message even though he knew he was going to be caught and killed.

My childish mind couldn’t quite grasp the notion that the Kingdom of God was inside of me, but I was willing to trust Jesus, because I was pretty sure he didn’t lie. I couldn’t see how he could be perfect, because what is perfection, anyhow, but I knew what I saw in his life and I was content.

As I grew older and realized that many, many human beings have died for immense causes, that Jesus was not the only man to die in the quest for freedom for others, I began to re-interpret what I had learned about Jesus the man, the son of God and the son of humans, and apply it to myself and to others around me.

Questions arose in my mind: what does it mean when someone is willing to die for a cause? what does it mean when someone is willing to die for another person? what does it mean when someone is killed for someone else’s sake? what does it mean when someone is sent to kill others? what does it mean to send someone to be in harm’s way and possibly killed?

These questions, of course, can be and are being asked in our time. What cause am I willing to die for? Who would I be willing to die for? Is it right to kill to prevent harm to someone else? Is it right to send someone to kill or possibly be killed? What does this all mean about being human? And what cause could possibly be important enough for people to kill and and die for?

These are the questions I began to ask myself as I considered the story of Jesus’ life and death.

One of the great theological questions of human life is “what does my death mean?” This often suggests to some that we should be thinking about what happens after death. I’m guessing that most UUs don’t think much about what happens after death; it’s one of those things we can’t know for sure. What we do know is what happens before we die, what our lives mean in terms of our relationships and our commitments.

What did Jesus’s life mean to us modern-day Unitarian Universalists? Our spiritual ancestor, Thomas Jefferson, once took a copy of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, cut out the parts that he thought truly represented the teachings of Jesus and created a small testament that we now call the Jefferson Bible.

In his edited version of the Gospels, Jefferson puts forth a picture of the man Jesus who taught that the world’s values were all upside down, in relation to the kingdom of God.

What did the man Jesus teach? It’s a fairly short list:
• Be just; justice comes from virtue, which comes from the heart.
• Treat people the way we want them to treat us.
• Always work for peaceful resolutions, offering compassion instead of violence.
• Know that the things that are truly valuable have no material value.
• Do not judge others.
• Do not bear grudges.
• Be modest and unpretentious.
• Give out of true generosity, not because we expect to be repaid.

As I look at this list, I am struck by how it undergirds and aligns with our UU principles and purposes. And yet we UUs are often leery of Jesus, feeling perhaps that he has been misquoted, misrepresented, misunderstood and therefore is to be mistrusted.

If Jesus’ values are similar to UU values, we ought not write Jesus out of our religious life. We need to consider what the teachings of Jesus mean to us today and how they bring meaning to this Easter season.

In the story of Jesus’ resurrection as portrayed in the gospels, Jesus reappears to his followers in the flesh, about three days after the crucifixion. There are several different descriptions of this event in the gospels, which lead many skeptics to dismiss the whole thing.

A physical resurrection from the dead is so unlikely to most rational minds that most of us don’t give it a second thought. We write off the idea of a bodily resurrection and thereby may write off the spiritual resurrection that is a true event in human living.

In her poem “Renascence”, Edna St. Vincent Millay lyrically describes her own spiritual resurrection beginning with her sense of oneness with the earth, her awareness of the great pain in the world and her part in it. She wants to die, the pain is so great, and finds herself in a dream state melding with the earth, with a sense of dying and being buried in the earth. Lying there below the ground, she feels her pain roll away and experiences great relief.

And then the rain begins to fall and as she listens to it, she begins to regret her dreaming death, begins to remember how joyous life can be, and cries out that God might give her new birth, that God might let the rain wash away the confining earth of her grave.

As the rain sluices off the confining earth, she hears the breeze, smells the fragrance of the earth and flowers, and feels her soul reborn. She arises from her tomb transformed in spirit.

Many of us, though not poets, may have had a similar spiritual awakening to life. If we look at the Easter story through the lens of a skeptic, we will not see the true story, a story of transformation and rebirth, not to physical life but to spiritual life.

Many of us, rational, skeptical, a little cynical perhaps, are inclined to see little if any value in a spiritual life. We are so matter of fact, so shielded, so defended against vulnerability, that we cannot let ourselves be transformed. We work so hard to be perfect, to anticipate every problem, to respond to it logically and purposefully, to be self-sufficient, not needy, not pitiable. We’re uncomfortable letting others see our vulnerabilities, afraid even to admit them to ourselves.

And when trouble comes, we often feel shy about letting others know, about asking for help. We may feel despairing, depressed, discouraged, and yet not want to share those feelings with others, lest others judge us weak and defenseless.

What a sad place to be! How painful it is to feel so defended, so insulated; even as we experience and hate it, we may resist letting our defenses relax, fearing too much vulnerability, too much revealing of the tender spirit. And yet we may know that we are missing something.

This can be the moment of hope and transformation. Out of the depths of despair at Jesus’ death, out of the grief at losing the beloved companion and teacher, out of the misery of persecution and ridicule began to grow a tiny seed. And his friends who understood that the seed would grow experienced hope and rebirth as they gave that seed room to flourish in their lives.

I remember a teacher I once worked with in a Colorado junior high school. He was so tough on the kids that they all cringed when they saw his name as their algebra teacher. He was quick with cutting remarks, critical when a child missed class because of illness or family concerns, and resentful of the idea that any child should get sympathy because of domestic violence or divorce or other family crisis.

One day he did not come to school in the morning. Inexplicably he was out for two weeks; the principal knew why but wasn’t telling the staff. Eventually he returned and he was a changed man. His wife had finally gotten fed up with his attitude and had filed for divorce and moved out. He was devastated. He had never considered how hard he might be to live with. The difference in him because of this sudden end to his marriage was stunning. For him, transformation had emerged from tragedy as he struggled to change old ways of being.

Crisis and failure lay us low periodically, as individuals, as groups, as societies. We are often despairing about the world’s problems: war, poverty, destruction of nature, corporate greed, social blindness to justice, political dishonesty. Yet these very dire, very real problems contain also the seeds of transformation and rebirth.

Under the threat of Roman punishment and death, Jesus urged his Jewish friends and neighbors to evolve in their thinking, away from the rigidity of laws which did not show compassion and mercy, away from the rote repetition of words and rituals which had become meaningless, away from the threat of death and punishment and into a new day of faithful living.

Jesus called his friends and neighbors into lives of justice, kindness, compassion, mercy, understanding, humility, and generosity. He promised them that living this kind of life would bring women and men into the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, where material things have little worth.

And his teachings promise this same thing to us, that if we will live in these ways, we will find peace and joy. We will learn that our greatest treasure is not gold or property, but a sense of connection with all things, with each other, with our own souls, and with the universe in which we move and live and have our being.

So on this Easter Sunday afternoon, I invite us to listen again to the last few lines of Renascence, finding its meaning for our own lives.

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION:

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, open to the transformation that surrendering to our deepest values can bring. May we embrace the lessons of the teachers who have gone before us, recognizing in these mentors the universality of their wisdom. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Standing Vigil with the Women in Black

Last night, I stood vigil with the Women in Black for 90 minutes along highway 525, the main north/south route on the island. Dressed all in black, in silent witness for peace, fifty women of all ages stood in a long line facing the highway as cars whizzed by.

Many cars slowed down to get a good look. Many flashed peace signs or waved or honked in support. A few flashed something else or yelled obscenities. Here on the south end of the island, the atmosphere is progressive and there is a lot of speaking out about the war in Iraq. On the north end, there is a Navy air base and the attitude is much more conservative.

Several women from my congregation were present, one in a wheelchair. I felt proud to be part of the gathering.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I want to preach about Jesus...

and I'm going to, this Sunday. In the past, on Easter, I've circled around the topic, using all the symbology of spring to develop my sermon. One year I focused on the psychological aspects which might explain the resurrection and that was kind of interesting.

But I was brought up an American Baptist in a preacher's household, and Jesus was the whole point of Easter. The story of Jesus, right up through the Passion and the crucifixion, was an exciting narrative of wisdom, parables, and dangerous confrontations with authority. It was thrilling as all get out, but at the very end, it turned into a ghost story which somehow muddled the message of the earlier years of his life.

Unitarian Universalists are ambivalent about Jesus and that's why I want to preach about his life and his message, at this Eastertide. I think we have been repelled by "pop" Christianity (religion that focuses on fears, exclusion, and prosperity) and have forgotten that Jesus's teachings are actually justice, kindness, compassion, mercy, understanding, humility, and generosity.

I want to invite people back into an understanding of the man Jesus and a recognition of the similarities between the teachings of Jesus and our values as Unitarian Universalists.

Our UU heritage is deeply Christian and yet we are not really a Christian faith. We are too pluralistic in our makeup to be truly Christian. We do religion differently from other faith traditions. And yet our foundational values come from Jesus and from other prophets who espoused the same values, some ancient, some modern.

For us, salvation is found in joyous daily living, not in heaven. So we are not moved by promises of a celestial home nor by threats of a fiery pit. We are moved by what we can do here on earth to make our lives and the lives of others more joyful.

I'm not sure how the sermon is going to turn out; the title comes from Millay's poetic work "Renascence" and I want to use parts of the poem as a reading. But we'll see. It's interesting that I'm not yet finished with the sermon. Here it is Friday afternoon and I'm still thinking about it. I like to be done by now and have Saturday to refine it. We'll see how it all turns out.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Confessions of a Jack Unitarian

My son, who was raised UU but has not attended much in adulthood, calls himself a Jack Unitarian, playing off the nickname for a Mormon who has left the fold but still feels Mormon. We talked last night about some of what he's doing these days and he told me he had written something on his blog about a situation he'd handled lately. When I went to his blog, I loved what he wrote and thought I'd share it with you. I didn't get his permission, so if he objects, I'll be taking it down. Read fast!

I'm proud of him. He's going to school, working, being a house husband, and getting ready to be married to his sweetie. And I think he'll always be a caring guy---at least in part because he was raised UU.

Here it is:

2007-04-04 - 12:54 a.m.

So...

Just to get everyone up to speed, I recently took a new position at Target.

I'm one of the dorks in the store in an imitation police outfit that stands by the door to stop shoplifters and tell little old ladies with bladder issues where the bathrooms are.

For the most part, it's pretty interesting. I get to know all the good gossip, I don't have to sell shlock any longer, and I got a pay raise. Even the parts where I'm getting jigsaws thrown at me from fleeing perpetrators...is entertaining.

Then today happened.

Nothing bad per-se, but something that made me think.

We had a lady, in her late 20's, come in with her two young kids. After she went to the bathroom, she walked by one of the empty registers and grabbed some of the shopping bags. She then proceeded to grab items and stuff them into the shopping bags. She wandered around the store for a while, grabbing more stuff. Then she walked right out the door.

We had seen her grab the bags, and so our undercover guy started following her around, while another one followed her with the security cameras. We saw her walking to the door, I went outside and waited. As soon as I got the high-sign over the radio from the undercover guy, I stepped around the corner by the door, and stood in front of her cart. Her eyes grew wide and she started babbling excuses that she had just "forgotten" to pay.

We took her to the security office, and started going through her bags. Due to the amount she had taken (over $250) it was considered a felony. I got her kids some icees and sat with them in another room while the police were called and they interviewed and finally arrested her. Her husband was called and he came and got the kids.

Those are the facts.

The stuff she was trying to steal? Clothes hangers, cups, area rugs, silverware, Tupperware, etc. All kinds of stuff someone would need for a new apartment. No electronics, or easily sell-able stuff. Not even a few toys for the kids, or a few pieces of jewelry.

The husband?
A short guy with a mean face, and I got a serious unpleasant vibe from him.

The thought that keeps going through my mind is:
Did I stop a battered wife who had enough money for a new apartment, but couldn't afford to furnish it? And now is the husband is going to take it out on her?

I saved Target 250 dollars, but I may have screwed up someone's life forever.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Thinking about Jesus

I've been pondering my Easter sermon, veering from bunnies and eggs to equinox and resurrection, and I've realized that I want most of all to speak about Jesus. Not Jesus the miracle worker, not Jesus the savior, not Jesus the risen Christ.

I want to speak about Jesus the man, the human being who lived the life he lived, made the friends he made, uttered the wisdom that he found, and died for his cause.

Jesus was human, I believe, not God, at least not any more God than I am, than you are. Except that he found his own divinity inside himself and tried to tell others to look within for their salvation.

Some questions have been going through my mind as I think about relating Jesus's experiences to those of any human.

What does it mean when someone is willing to die for a cause?
What does it mean when someone is willing to die for someone else?
What does it mean when someone is killed for someone else's sake?
What does it mean to be sent to be in harm's way and possibly killed for others?
What does it mean to send someone to be in harm's way and possibly killed?


I wonder about the women and men who volunteer for this kind of duty: the police officers and fire fighters, the soldiers, the mothers and fathers, the prophets, and all those who do the sending out of the rescuers, the fighters. Is it altruistic or self-serving? And how does this act of dying or killing change the world?

Just some thoughts as I begin to write "Renascence: Transformation out of Tragedy"

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

UUA Spiritual Life page

I was tickled to discover yesterday that one of my blog posts has been published as the first (I think) installment on the new UUA web page "Spiritual Life", which you can access at this address: http://www.uua.org/spirituallife/21915.shtml

For longtime readers (well, since last June anyhow), it will be familiar. For others, I hope you like it.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Laughing at Ourselves

The Vashon folks seemed to enjoy this sermon yesterday. Hope you do too.

LAUGHING AT OURSELVES
Rev. Kit Ketcham, April 1, 2007

Say, didja hear this one? A Unitarian Universalist family moved into a new neighborhood. Their little girl finds a new playmate living next door and they are happily getting to know each other. One day, the playmate says, “We’re Episcopalians, what are you?” The Unitarian Universalist child thinks hard for a moment, puzzling over this question, and finally says, “I’m not sure, but I think we’re League of Women Voters.”

Or how about these one-liners?
You may be a Unitarian Universalist if..
you are unsure about the gender of God. Or you think the trinity is “reduce, reuse, and recycle”, or you consider them the “ten suggestions” instead of the “ten commandments”,

Or since the word Unitarian means “one” and Universalist means “everything”, Unitarian Universalist means “one of everything”.

And the famous scene from that hotbed of theological inquiry, The Simpsons show, where two neighbor boys are showing Bart Simpson, the modern Dennis the Menace, their new video game. Now Rod and Todd, the neighbor boys, go to a fundamentalist megachurch and their video game is entitled “Billy Graham’s Bible Verse Blaster”. In it, you shoot heathens with Bibles to turn them into Christians. So Bart finally has to ask, “what happens if you don’t hit them straight on?” and Todd answers, “well, when you only wing-em, they turn into Unitarians.”

We UUs have given the world a lot to laugh about over the centuries since we began to be a serious religious path. And that’s a good thing. To be the Holy Fool is a noble task.

What is humor? What makes something funny? And what does it have to do with religious faith? It’s been said that the relationship between humor and faith springs from the fact that both deal with incongruity and paradox. We laugh when something surprises us by its oddness or its juxtaposition with its opposite.

Remember the dumb junior high jokes from the 70’s? What’s red and goes put-put? An outboard apple. What did the purple banana say? I’ve been graped.

Comedy often is anchored in tragedy. We laugh to keep from crying. And sometimes we cry to keep from laughing. Laughter and tears are closely connected. You may have noticed that at Doc’s memorial service, for example, we did more laughing than crying, and that was because Doc’s life was so unusual. Even his death became an occasion of laughter and joy. Which was how he wanted it.

And what is the value of laughter?

Remember Norman Cousins, the fellow who healed himself of a terminal illness by watching Three Stooges and I Love Lucy videos? Cousins called laughter “inner jogging” and credited his daily laughter workout as a lifesaving therapy.

Dr. Madan Kataria in India invented “Laughter Yoga”. He writes: “We all know that laughter makes us feel good. A regular 20 minute laughter session can have a profound impact on our health and wellbeing. Laughter is gentle exercise. It fill your lungs and body with oxygen, deep-clears your breathing passages and exercises your lungs. This is really important for people who don't get regular aerobic exercise.
“When we laugh our bodies release a cocktail of hormones and chemicals that have startling positive effects on our system. Stress is reduced, blood pressure drops, depression is lifted, your immune system is boosted... Western science is just starting to discover the great effects of laughter.”

We laugh at the absurdities of life. We laugh to help ourselves accept the inevitable. We laugh with others and feel ourselves connected to them. We laugh to put our human bumbling into perspective. We laugh to let go of unwanted memories. We laugh to release emotion. We laugh to fight anger, fear, and depression. We laugh to ease an unhappy heart.

And we laugh to poke holes in egotism, both our own egotism and that of others. We laugh at our politicians’ antics and foolery; we laugh at the ridiculous things public figures do. And we gingerly and sometimes painfully laugh at ourselves, at our own egos, at our own ridiculous behavior.

Laughing at ourselves is probably one of the most important and yet painful things we can do. As Unitarian Universalists, we endure a lot of laughter at our expense.

Garrison Keillor, of the NPR show Prairie Home Companion, has raised Unitarian jokes to an art form. It has become almost a cottage industry for him and others. He even encourages listeners to send him Unitarian jokes. Sometimes this bothers me, because I think his humor at our expense is occasionally a little unkind. But I think he has done us a great service, probably without realizing it, by elevating us to the position of America’s Holy Fool.

Remember the little boy who cried out, at the parade, “the emperor has no clothes!” and was ridiculed and shushed by those who were afraid to tell the truth? That little kid was a UU at heart.

Remember the Unitarian educator who said “children need accurate sex education” and was ridiculed and scorned by the public? You don’t? That was Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott, whose radical ideas in 19th century Massachusetts drew laughter and financial ruin. Today, our UU curriculum “Our Whole Lives” has been called the premiere sex education program of our time.

Unitarians and Universalists and Unitarian Universalists have been benevolent radicals, on the far edge of religious thought, for centuries. We have carried the flag for progressive causes for a long time: for religious freedom, for reproductive freedom, for abolition of slavery, for humane treatment of the insane and of prisoners, for public education for all, for abolishment of torture, for withdrawal from inhumane wars, for civil rights, for marriage equality, to name a few. We have been ahead of the social action curve for a long long time.

And virtually every cause we have supported has been ridiculed, fought, and finally accepted. I’m reminded of the t-shirt I used for last June’s T-shirt theology service. It portrayed a Gandhi quote: “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

The Fool is a real historical character, both in secular and sacred life. The court jester was the one person who was allowed to say anything he wanted to the King. He was safe and his character figures in many a folk tale and even in Shakespearean drama.

Jesus was not the first Holy Fool----Hebrew prophets and other sages beat him to it---but he certainly did speak new truth to power. And that’s what the Holy Fool does, speaks truth to power.

What does our Unitarian Universalist humor say about us? Behind the quick punchlines, behind the ridiculous scenarios, what is the real message?

Here’s one: People had heard on the news that a great flood was coming, so the Catholics said their rosaries, the Buddhists used their beads, the Protestants joined in prayer, and the Unitarian Universalists formed a class to learn how to live underwater.

And then there’s this one: Garrison Keillor did a skit in which the Rapture had come. For those of you who don’t speak conservative Christian, the Rapture is the moment in time when Jesus is supposed to return to earth and take the faithful up to heaven. It’s a big deal in many evangelical churches.

In the PHC skit, Keillor is helping a child find her parents, who have disappeared. He suspects that the Rapture has come and her Baptist parents are gone to heaven, leaving her behind. But just to make sure, he calls around. Hmmm, George W. Bush is still at his desk, the Pope is conducting mass, Billy Graham is home.

Then he dials another number and gets a recording. “Thank you for calling the Unitarian Universalist Association. Nobody is here to take your call so please leave a message and we will return your call as soon as possible. Oh my Gosh, all my clothes just fell off and I’m going up into the air-------------Dial tone.”

When Keillor turns on the radio, he hears “Meanwhile, in Boston, hundreds of men and women who were protesting the war in Iraq suddenly disappeared, according to eyewitnesses, leaving their clothing lying in the street, all of which was made from natural materials by native people and had political slogans written on it, as well as Native American jewelry.....”

On another station, Rush Limbaugh is speaking in tongues and Keillor moans, “why would the Unitarians be raptured? they don’t want salvation, they want closure.” Interesting that Keillor is still earthbound in the skit and that the Baptist parents eventually turned up.

Funny as this is, there may be sweet truth in it. The Holy Fool, the ridiculous character, the one everyone makes fun of, may be rewarded at last.

You can’t have a fragile ego if you are a Unitarian Universalist. It’s a bruising world of humor out there. Some have said that Garrison Keillor is a closet UU---I don’t think so. That ego of his might get in the way!

Some humor is definitely unkind. Some humor is limited by its content and language to expression only by insiders. We think of the furor kicked up when Euro-Americans use the “n” word or racial stereotypes to describe an African American. You can’t use certain forms of humor unless you’re a member of the group.

When this kind of thing happens, some deride the need for “political correctness police”, but political correctness emerged from an effort to be kinder. It’s not okay to laugh at others’ expense. We teach our children that unkind teasing is wrong. And usually we remember to be kind too.

It used to be a sin to laugh. In the year 390 the theologian John of Chrysostom preached a sermon against laughter and playfulness. He wrote: “this world is not a theatre in which we can laugh...and we are not assembled together in order to burst into peals of laughter, but to weep for our sins...It is not God who gives us the chance to play, but the devil.”

Our Puritan ancestors shared these sentiments as do some of their modern descendents. And the attitude is not confined to Christian traditions but can be found in early Buddhist writings which used the kinds of laughter voiced by humans to separate them into classes according to their enlightenment. Those of us who laugh boisterously at times would be considered vulgar and uncouth.

The American humorist James Thurber once wrote: “If a thing can’t endure laughter, it is not a good thing. Laughter is never out of date or out of place. Too often the intense person loses the ability to laugh and accuses those who see humor in pompous circumstances of being sacrilegious. Far from it! Parody, satire, and wit represent strong emotions, for we usually parody and satirize only those things which mean something to us and when we use these forms with love and affection, we are paying homage.”

And the Greek philosopher Aristotle said “the gods too are fond of a joke”. The Bible tells us that “a merry heart doeth good like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth up the bones.” St. Teresa, the Christian mystic, said, “there is no spirituality without the laughter which the sense of humor brings.” And, here in western America’s native cultures, we are familiar with Coyote and Raven, the tricksters of native folk tales.

What is our responsibility as the Holy Fool of American religion? What does this role free us to do? It frees us to laugh at the follies of the powerful. It frees us to stick our necks out for others, to risk being uncool, to look ridiculous in our intensity and earnestness. It frees us to laugh at all the UU jokes, make up a few of our own, and relish the laughter of others, because we know we are inviting people to open their minds and hearts and join us in this holy foolishness of leading others.

What would our prayer, as UUs be, assuming we decided to pray? How about this?

To Whom It May Concern,

God, Ground of All Being, Source of All Light, Divine Daddy, Whatever,

help us to relax about insignificant details, beginning tomorrow at 7:41:23 am, pdt

help us to consider people's feelings, even if most of them ARE hypersensitive.

help us to take responsibility for our own actions, even though they're usually NOT our fault.

help us to not try to RUN everything. But, if You need some help, please feel free to ASK us!

help us to be more laid back, and help us to do it EXACTLY right.

give us patience, and I mean right NOW!

help us to do only what we can, and trust you for the rest. And would you mind putting that in writing?

keep us open to others' ideas, WRONG though they may be.

In the name of everything,

Amen!

The Holy Fool reminds the world that there are limitations to creation and evolution. It points out the ostrich and the platypus and the quirky system devised by nature to make sure that the human species reproduces itself. The Holy Fool tears down the walls we erect to protect us from the real world and pokes holes in our egos. The Holy Fool points out our irony deficiency and subverts the established norms.

It’s great to be a Unitarian Universalist, able to laugh at ourselves, giggle about our faith, guffaw about the world, and chuckle even about death. Our good humor allows us to be good in the face of all that tries to divert us from goodness, giving us humility as well as wisdom.

My colleague the Rev. Michael McGee has written, “For life is absurd as well as profound. Life is filled with love as well as hate, wisdom as well as stupidity, courage as well as fear. And our religious path at times looks as orderly as a labyrinth and at other times like a drunk staggering to the outhouse.

“To be a fool is not foolish but refreshing, to chuckle through lectures and sermons is not a sin but the epitome of sanity, and to laugh until we cry is not shameful but sanctifying.”

Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION
Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, with a joke on our lips and joy in our hearts, remembering that humility and wisdom are the byproducts of laughter. May we live our role as America’s Holy Fool with courage and conviction and use humor to heal and not to hurt. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.