Thursday, May 31, 2007

The point less mentioned

I can't stand it; I have to jump in on the great BB debate.

I don't have an opinion about the racist implications of the phrase or the story which is told about it, except that I think Mummert's point is a good one and has been largely missed. Of course, I can't count the number of times someone has said to me, after a sermon, "wow, I really got to thinking when you said thus and so". Of course, I didn't actually say "thus and so", but they heard it. I guess that's what happened here.

What I do want to comment on is something I painfully learned as a rookie minister/aspirant, back when I was in my early years. I needed to learn that it is unprofessional to criticize a colleague publicly; I saw other ministers doing it, sometimes not very kindly, and though it wasn't my style, I learned that it was okay to do it, especially if one minister had perceived power or prestige over another one. I saw one well-known and previously-respected-by-me minister lacerate a student in a cluster meeting with a few words.

We all felt free to criticize the colleagues we didn't like or whose opinions we didn't share; the older ministers did it in my presence and I did it with groups of fellow students and sometimes with an older minister. We set aside the common sense rule of "is it kind? is it true? is it necessary?" in favor of "can you believe what s/he just said/did?" and the dubious pleasures of gossiping and pulling rank.

I see that going on here and I'm uncomfortable with it. I think we should be modeling better collegiality for our aspirants, not pulling rank or telling them they're overly sensitive or too PC.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Identity Theft Redux

My trusty laptop has been on the fritz since Sunday, so I've been unable to respond adequately to comments, but here I am now at the Freeland Library computer and able to post and check email so I know what's happening out there. It is so weird to be without my computer! I am realizing that I am totally addicted to it!

Anyhow, to return to the idea presented in Identity Theft part 1:

My concern about female identity and the ability to suppress menstruation arises from my personal experience. And at the risk of oversharing, I will say more. I had my first period at age 11; I was prepared for it by my mother, it wasn't horrible, I was very pleased to have joined the ranks of womanhood. But I didn't have a second period or a third or a fourth, at least not at any kind of interval that could be called normal.

I'd have perhaps one menstrual period a year, and while this was hugely economical and convenient, it also made me seriously question whether or not I was actually female. I had breasts, I looked like a girl, but I didn't menstruate. It didn't help that my normally-helpful mother compared me to my Aunt Anna, who never had periods and couldn't have children, saying maybe I was like Aunt Anna, who presumably "strained something" and couldn't have kids.

We didn't go to the doctor in those days about such things, and I would have been mortified to have been examined. The doctor was my friend's father and I didn't want any attention paid to "my problem" at all. I did some reading, learned that menses were often irregular at first, and wrote it off to adolescence.

But I became a young adult and I still didn't have more than one period or so per year. I assumed I was not truly female, would not have children, might not marry, nor do the things that other young women do because they are female. This was all in the 50's and early 60's.

I was definitely attracted to males, but I did not feel ready to be sexually active until I was almost 24. Losing my virginity to a man I cared for a lot felt appropriate, but when he used a condom I was faced with the reality of the possibility of pregnancy, though I assumed I could not get pregnant. However, I wasn't willing to take a chance! So when I met the man I would marry, I got birth control pills, and, voila! my periods started.

When we married and began to discuss pregnancy, I assumed I would have a hard time getting pregnant, so we explored fertility treatments. It turned out that we didn't need much help and our son was conceived not long after we started trying.

What all this means is probably pretty clear, in terms of why I feel the way I do about the suppression of menses. Not being a menstruating female for my entire adolescence and beyond really affected my female identity. I felt androgynous and out of place in female society. I felt weird when I related to males because I wasn't sure I was really female and felt I was being dishonest. To confuse the issue more, I was molested in my early teens by Aunt Anna's husband (not raped, but fondled) and this added to my sense of disconnect with my femaleness.

Thanks to all of you who weighed in on the topic. It has been a great conversation!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The God Question

The most interesting of the Holy Wars these days is the one between hardcore Atheists and hardcore Christians: two fundamentalist religions (yes, atheism is a religion, in my book) battling it out over a set of beliefs that leave out the middle ground of true rationality.

I discovered an opinion here that I am inclined to agree with.

See what you think.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Whinology, Inc. recommends...

that, if you think you've got a reason to whine, you view this YouTube video over at Boy in the Bands and consider forming a choir in your neighborhood.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Surgery went well

Sue's surgery went well, no complications, and she is recovering successfully. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts.

Help for writing sermons

Our PNWD supply preaching directory has just come out, which gives me an opportunity to showcase something helpful that was offered on the ministers' chatline by my colleague and friend Roger Kuhrt, in Tacoma.

Roger has offered many a "writing a sermon" class in his day and gave me permission to post his helpful outline of tips on my blog. Thanks, Roger, and I'll see you later today at our ministers' cluster meeting in Port Townsend.

Writing A Sermon
by Rev. Roger O. Kuhrt

Create an outline and follow it. As with anything creative, allow yourself not to be bogged down and rigid about your outline, but it's a good idea to have one. Try this:

· •Choose Topic.

· •Learn about who audience will be.

· • Write mission statement or goal for the sermon.

· •Gather notes and research material.

· •Decide if your speech will be fully written out or will simply be an outline of bullet points on note cards.

Whether or not your speech will be full text or bullet points, you'll need to:

· •Create an outline form: "Introduction, Body of Sermon, Ending."

· •Under each of those headings, put notes from your research, stories, quotes, etc., that are applicable to each heading.

· • "Flesh out" the introduction and ending a bit (you won't literally write every word you're going to say, just the 'talking points').

· •Fill in the "Body of Sermon" section of the outline. Make as many subheadings as you think are appropriate.

· •Look back over the entire outline and see if the introduction "flows" to the ending.

· •Look back over the entire outline and make sure it fits with your mission statement and that it is appropriate to the audience. (Did you veer away from your mission statement? Is it over the audience's head? Is it too basic?)

· •Make adjustments as needed.

If you'll be delivering a complete written text:

· •Go back to each outline section and fill each one in. Don't worry about transitions from one segment to the other yet. You'll write those in the next step.

· •Write transitions from one segment to the next, and make sure they flow together.

Writing words down that make sense

In order to write down words that make sense, you're going to have to write a bunch of words that don't make sense. Sounds ridiculous? My point is that you just START WRITING. At first, you'll write a bunch of sentences that don't sound right to you. They may be off track, or grammatically wrong. But keep going back to your writing, and keep rewriting until it sounds understandable

A test to see if it makes sense
· One way to find out if it's understandable is to put yourself in the place of the audience. When you read it, would it make sense if you had no knowledge about this subject? Or, even you did have knowledge about the subject, is it understandable to people other than the writer?

· Very often, writers assume that the audience can follow their 'train of thought.' I do it too. But an attempt to put yourself in the audience's shoes will help keep this problem to a minimum.

· Consider your transitions from one point to the next: Do they make sense?

· When you start each section, go from the general to the specific. Especially use this in the introduction. As you write, make the sermon sound like you were talking. Don't try to write fancy language. Don't use words you'd never use. Of course, you have to think about your audience, so spruce up your vocabulary a little by avoiding words that might be offensive, etc. But "listen" to your writing as you write it, and ask yourself "does it sound like me?"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Prayers for a friend

Please keep my friend and mentor Sue A. in your heart and prayers as she undergoes surgery tomorrow for a hip replacement. It's not a fun surgery but she is sick of the hobbling around and constant pain. Her surgery is at about 8 a.m. Thursday the 24th, in Portland OR.

Identity Theft

No, nobody's been digging through my trash to find out how to steal me blind (I don't think). What I'm thinking about today is the latest way to steal a human identity trait: the new menses-suppression drug.

Now, it does sound like a blessing, at first blush. No more PMS, no more cramps, no more embarrassing moments wearing white skirts and britches. But at what cost? (And can you imagine an adult male wanting to buy a semen-suppression drug? I can't, though perhaps some of my readers can change my mind.)

Do I sound like an old fuddy duddy when I wonder what is being lost in female identity if women suppress their menstrual periods for convenience' sake? Not that periods are such a prize-------of course they're not. But they are a benchmark of female biology. As nocturnal emissions, semen, and so on are of male biology.

What would be the good, sound, indisputable reason for tinkering with one's evolved biological functioning in this way? We have plenty of birth control methods already available; this one seems superfluous and designed more to accommodate an already too-busy lifestyle. And it does one more thing to make being female look like a terrible inconvenience.

I'm not against examination of the female reproductive system to make women's lives more comfortable. But I do wonder about the effects on women's psyches if they do not have this regular reminder of their biology.

There are certainly instances of a woman's truly needing to suppress her menses temporarily, I don't argue that. But if women can evade this biological factor voluntarily and without real need, how will it affect her sense of being a woman?

It makes sense for a transgender FTM to suppress periods. It makes sense for an astronaut to suppress periods while in space. I'm sure there are other logical uses for the drug and maybe that's all that will happen.

But having seen the wholesale (ab)use of prescription drugs to make problems go away without being examined and real healing offered, I'm dubious.

There are many ways essential human identity is in danger: violence, racism, agism, ableism, heterosexism, and all the other isms which cause humans to doubt their inherent worth and dignity. Let's not encourage another one.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Blogger dinner alert

Berry's Mom has alerted me that the Friday night chosen for the Blogger dinner is the same night as the Starr King and Meadville/Lombard dinners, which means that some of our minister and candidate bloggers may not be able to attend. I also note from the GA schedule that a workshop on blogging will occur just before our dinner, ending at 5:45.

I'm not going to change the day of the dinner, though I'm sorry about those who will have the SKSM/ML conflict, but if you attend the blogging workshop, be aware that the dinner site is only a few minutes away from the convention center, via MAX. We'll start gathering at 6 at Alexis.

More information later.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Leaving the Island

That was the title of today's sermon, which got a wonderful response from my dear congregants. Maybe you'll resonate to it too.

No Man is An Island, by John Donne

No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were.
Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.


I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to me to be living on an island. While writing this sermon, I have been considering how “islands” relate to us as metaphors, as well as geography. When the words of John Donne came to my mind, as you might do sometimes when beginning to reflect about an insight, I’ve just sat with them for the last several days.

When Donne wrote these words, in Renaissance times, his lyrical expression of the interconnectedness of humankind must have come in sharp contrast to other thinkers who sought isolation, wishing to truly form islands out of the continent of humanity. And his words popped into my head as I thought about what I might say to us this afternoon, here on our own little “island” of the UUCWI . So let me set a scene for you.

Neil’s Clover Patch Cafe, in Bayview, is the kind of place someone might envision if they were reading a story about a rural community, or listening to Garrison Keillor talk about the ChatterBox Cafe in Lake Woebegon, or remembering a small town of one’s childhood.

Every morning, regularly, seven or eight grizzled characters in overalls, grimy boots, and tattered baseball caps gather in one corner of the Clover Patch for coffee and commentary on whatever is going on in the local scene.

I like the Clover Patch too and occasionally end up there for breakfast on a quiet morning. The guys in the corner nod and “mornin’” at me when I come in but we aren’t on real speaking terms, I not being a longtime local.

One morning I was sipping my coffee and overheard one fellow moan, “I gotta go, guys, I gotta go over to America this morning”. The commiserating comments of the other men made it clear that going to America meant going to the mainland, the place of big box stores, of traffic, of hustle and bustle, of political strife, and way too many people.

The conversation that I overheard made me think about why I had moved to Whidbey Island a year ago. I too had been seeking shelter from the shopping malls, the traffic, the noise, the cramped spaces of my small apartment, the crowded streets and neighborhoods, the distractions of the city.

It has been a year now that I have lived on Whidbey Island. Most of you know that I live in a pretty setting of 8 acres, with tall Doug fir and alder, blackberry bushes, and several fruit trees. And bunnies, lots of birds, a few deer and coyote, and more bunnies. I’m sure my blood pressure went down 20 notches when I left my eccentric Seattle landlady and got more elbow room and more solitude.

It was a good move, but after living here for several months, I began to notice something interesting. I found that I felt resentful about leaving the island, sitting in a long ferry line, paying money to get on the boat, driving in Seattle traffic all to continue my work with the Religious Coalition for Equality, and generally wanting to stay at home most of the time.

It surprised me. For an extrovert, I sure was enjoying my solitude. I was happy to have company, happy to visit other islanders, happy to work with this congregation, but I really didn’t want to leave the island. I had not expected this response.

Sure, it was almost 50 miles one way to Seattle First Baptist church for RCE steering committee meetings, and I didn’t really want to give it up because I love doing that work, but I started thinking about how nice it would be to stay home and not go to Seattle a couple of times a month to attend RCE meetings and events. I was content on my island and just wanted to stay here. And that worried me.

What does it mean to live on an island? Whidbey is quite a progressive place, at least here on the south end. Freeland, our town-of-sorts, since it’s not incorporated, was established by a bunch of socialist freethinkers as a utopian community in the early 1900s. It’s a nice place to live and I’m delighted to be serving this congregation.

Now, this homily is not about Whidbey Island, but about the islands we may cling to in our lives, the ways we may isolate ourselves protectively from the demands of the “mainland”. For during my mulling over of my own desire to isolate myself from the real world of “America”, I noticed some things that make me wonder.

One of the things I noticed is that Unitarian Universalism can be an island, beautiful and safe and removed from the not-so-safe world.

An example: I am a member of the interfaith lectionary study group on Whidbey, comprised of J and M, our Lutheran pastors, D of the United Methodists, N, of the Episcopalians, Fr. R of the Catholics, and G, the House of Prayer pastor.

Most of their traditions are struggling with the issues of welcoming of sexual minorities; for two of them, it’s not even a conversation yet. And I sit there smugly, safe on my island of UUism, and rejoice inwardly that my tradition has knocked down this barrier in most ways. That feels good, to be safe on my religious island.

I think we may all enjoy that safe island, that place that makes us feel special, more intelligent, more evolved than other religious traditions. We like feeling like we alone know the joy and pleasure that comes from being so advanced, so knowledgeable, so self---------righteous?

Are there other islands that we cling to? I’m reminded of the reality show Survivor, when everyone strove mightily to avoid being kicked off the island!

What are we missing when we stay on the island? Literally, when I am clinging to Whidbey Island, I’m missing Fred Meyer, Trader Joe’s, Nordstrom’s, traffic---no, I’m not really missing that. But I do miss the variety of resources that are available on the mainland, though not enough to seek them out very often!

. What are we missing when we stay on the metaphorical island? And what are some of those metaphorical islands? It seems to me that we all inhabit several.

There’s, of course, the island of liberal religion, in our case, Unitarian Universalism. There’s the island of progressive politics or political party. There’s the island of social causes, such as peace issues or civil rights. There’s the island of class and privilege, the island of higher education, of profession. And there are the islands of race, of age, of abledness, of gender.

To leave any of these metaphorical islands, we need to cross a shoreline littered with fears, prejudices, and misunderstandings. Most of the time, it’s easier to stay on our islands, cut off from understanding the folks on another shore.

The death of the Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell this past week has induced a flurry of commentary in the media about his legacy, his good causes and his nefarious causes, sprinkled with a hefty dose of wild opinions offered by the man during his heyday.

One commenter, on a blog I read occasionally, made the observation that Jerry Falwell did indeed alter the political and religious scene in the United States, causing Americans to sit up and take notice of the many people in the U.S. who had strong reservations about the cultural direction of our nation, on both the left and the right.

He not only galvanized conservative religious folk into the Moral Majority but also galvanized the progressive religious traditions into being more outspoken, more visible, more committed to the social justice causes of progressive faith. Yes, he polarized the American religious scene, but he made us all leave the island long enough to recognize that there was danger in complacency and staying on our islands.

As I was writing this, I happened to mention on my blog (Ms. Kitty’s Saloon and Road Show) that I had started thinking about UUism as an island, and one of my readers, whom I know as “Linguist Friend” and a professor of physiological linguistics at Bowling Green State University, sent me a quote that I found touched the heart of what I was thinking.

It’s by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and was written in 1966 but has impact for us today:

"No religion is an island. We are all involved with one another. Spiritual betrayal on the part of one of us affects the faith of all of us. Views adopted in one community have an impact on other communities. Today religious isolationism is a myth. For all the profound differences in perspective and substance, Judaism is sooner or later affected by the intellectual, moral, and spiritual events within the Christian society, and vice versa.
“We fail to realize that while different exponents of faith in the world of religion continue to be wary of the ecumenical movement, there is another ecumenical movement, world-wide in extent and influence: nihilism. We must choose between interfaith and inter-nihilism. Cynicism is not parochial. Should religions insist upon the illusion of complete isolation?
“Should we refuse to be on speaking terms with one another and hope for each other's failure? Or should we pray for each other's health, and help one another in preserving one's respective legacy, in preserving a common legacy?"

Heschel’s words address our world situation today, as well as in 1966. We see the frenzied activity of fundamentalist religions, we see ourselves combating their rhetoric with our own, rarely crossing the divide to see who the other side is, rarely leaving our liberal islands to discover what the other side may teach us.

One of the things I like so much about belonging to the lectionary group is that for an hour or so every week, I leave my little island of UUism and sit in a metaphorical boat with pastors of other faiths, some radically different from mine.

For that hour, I read the Bible, pray, and converse about religious matters in a setting where I am in the minority, where I am one voice among several.

I commiserate with my Methodist colleague about the struggle in his denomination to undo the tangles of social justice disputes in his tradition. I worry with my Episcopalian colleague about the ruptures in the Anglican communion over similar issues. I support the work of my Lutheran colleagues who confront different challenges in their local churches. I listen with interest to my Catholic colleague, who has a much different take on issues than others because of the Roman hierarchy. And I enjoy the comments of my colleague who pastors the House of Prayer and appreciate his insights into scripture from a more conservative point of view.

At the end of our time together, I feel expanded, better prepared to understand the religio-cultural soup in which we Americans swim. I care for these colleagues and am inspired by the knowledge that each of us is doing our part to offer spiritual experience and guidance to those in our congregations.

I don’t agree with them on many theological points. They don’t agree with each other! I do agree with their commitment to serve the people in the ways which they have learned best express their own relationship with the Divine.

When Pastor D invited me to join the lectionary group, I was excited, but dubious. Would a former Baptist preacher’s kid who had gone over to the other side of the religious continuum fit in? Would I have anything valuable to share? Would I be heard if I offered some outrageous opinion that contradicted everything they stood for? Would anyone quit if I joined?

After one occasion in which I made a comment about a Bible passage and nobody said a word, I almost dropped out, thinking that I was surely in the wrong place. I wanted to go back to my own island of UUism, where I didn’t feel I was treading on toes when I said something. I wanted to represent a UU point of view and a woman’s point of view, but I feared I wasn’t up to the task.

But my desire, my need, to be part of a clergy group here overcame my fears and instead I made a little speech to them the next time we met, saying how much I appreciated their inviting me to be part of the group, even though they knew my theology was different from theirs.

I think it was J who quipped, at that point, “heck, we’re just glad when anyone wants to be part of this crew!” and the tension in me dissipated immediately as we all laughed.

In what ways do we leave the metaphorical islands we live on? How have you kept yourself from isolating on your metaphorical islands? The challenges are great!

It’s challenging to understand the political stance of a different political party. It’s difficult to understand the differing opinions on social justice causes. It’s hard to leave behind one’s island of class and privilege, even when we know we must. It’s hard to shed the sense of entitlement that education and profession offer. And we struggle to come to terms with the islands of race, age, ability, gender.

Leaving the island, however, brings us into connection with resources and opportunities we can only imagine. Just as leaving Whidbey on the ferry means we can shop at Trader Joe’s for a change, instead of Payless, leaving the island of Democratic politics to look for ethical Republicans and Libertarians expands our sense of hope for the future.

Leaving the island of class and privilege to seek ways of being in relationship with a larger group of good human beings enriches our lives with new friendships.

Leaving the islands of race, age, ability, and gender to seek friends of many kinds increases our compassion and our understanding of the lives of people whose culture and daily activities are so different from ours.

I think there are benefits we can hardly imagine. I think there are opportunities to transform and be transformed, when we leave the island.

Leaving the island, going to “America” in a metaphorical sense may be what we as human beings need to do to transform this conflicted world into a world at peace. Let’s see if we can do it, individually, and as a congregation, as we reach out to all those other inhabitants of this island we call earth.
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, remembering that though our islands may be safe and comfortable, they can also isolate us. May we have the courage to leave them behind on occasion and may we seek to help others leave the islands that limit their possibilities. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Update on "the situation"

A day or so ago I mentioned a sticky situation in which an acquaintance had emailed a bunch of folks to complain about a way in which he was feeling mistreated. To be a little more forthcoming about the situation, I will say that it was an employment kerfuffle between a recently retired person and a non-profit board of directors and interim CEO.

This morning I took part in a conference call with the full board, interim CEO and other staff members and was reassured by the calm and transparent approach to the situation. I was further reassured that my contributions and perceptions of the situation were right on and that they were appreciated.

It is always disappointing to know that someone whom I like, warts and all, has behaved improperly and must be restrained. Yet the openness and non-censorial attitude of the board, staff, and interim are encouraging and I am confident that I did the appropriate thing in responding as I did.

It sometimes takes awhile, a little more distance, and corroboration from another credible person to help me feel less conflicted. I still care for this person yet understand him better as well.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

An Interweave Colloquy

It's been an interesting and informative day. The local Interweave chapter, based at the Edmonds UU Church, sponsored a day of exploration of various religious approaches to the issues of sexual minorities; we had a Jewish rabbi, a Christian (UCC) minister, a Muslim (Sufi) woman, and a UU minister (me). We had hoped to have a Buddhist leader, but somehow wires got crossed and he didn't make it.

But 27 people showed up at EUUC to listen to us clergy expound on our particular tradition's approach to BGLITQ issues. I learned a lot, and I thought I already knew a lot!

I told the story of how I became interested and involved in the struggles of my BGLITQ friends. Here is part of what I said today:


I tore open the letter eagerly. F. had been one of my closest friends in college and we had almost lost touch in the intervening years. Now here was an answer to my recent, tentative reaching out to the new address printed in our alumni bulletin.
I scanned the page. Gee, not a cartoon, not a joke, not a trace of her characteristic humor.
Wait---she’d been in an accident. She’d almost died. Paramedics had patched her up and hours of surgery had saved her life. What? It was an attempted suicide? My friend?
Trying to digest all this news, I arrived at the final lines of her letter.
“I’ve known something about myself for a long time, Kit, and I just can’t be dishonest about it any more. I hope you’ll understand, because we’ve been friends for a long time. But I’ve got to be honest or I can’t live. And I don’t really want to die. I just want to be who I really am and I’m starting with the people who know me well. I’m a lesbian. I’m attracted to women, not men. Trying to hide that fact led me into a disastrous marriage, and now this attempted suicide as I’ve tried to deny my own identity. I hope we can still be friends. Please let me know what you think. Love, F.”
I was unprepared for the rush of thoughts and feelings I experienced at being entrusted with my friend’s news. I had never known a gay person who was out of the closet. I had wondered about a few acquaintances in college, but the word homosexual was not really in my vocabulary.
I felt extremely ignorant--and a little scared. I had invited F. to come visit me while my husband was out of town and I didn’t want to renege on my invitation, but ..... I was scared.
Now you may have noticed, I’m an extrovert--almost off the scale--eager to meet people, quick to offer a friendly gesture, undaunted by strangers.
Yet till my friend talked with me about what it was like for her to be a lesbian, and until I was able to ask her questions and understand some of her struggle, I was just as scared as anybody else. I joked around and I avoided people I thought might be “that way”. When I realized that F. was still the funny, laughing, loving person she had always been, that she was no threat to my safety, and that she needed my friendship more than ever, the world shifted on its axis and my view has never been the same.
Some time after F. came out to me, I attended an inservice for school counselors, intended to help us work with our gay and lesbian students. I sat down in the lecture hall, looked toward the podium, and did a doubletake. There was the mother of three of my students, sitting behind a small sign which identified her as the president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She too did a doubletake as she saw me sitting in the audience, and when we talked afterwards, she told me that two of her sons, young men I had known in their junior high years, were gay.
And I’ll never forget a beautiful young woman named B., whose compulsion to be honest forced her out of the closet as a 7th grader. In 9th grade, after she had endured two years of rumor and suspicion in silence, she came to me looking for a place where she could talk openly about her whole self, where she did not have to pretend.
And then there were R. and M. and B. and T., whose despair erupted into multiple suicide attempts and hospitalizations before they were able to understand their isolation and loneliness and take steps to come out into the sunshine of honesty. These were also my students, several years ago, and at that time, I did not know how to help them.
Since then, I’ve come to understand what a sacred privilege it is to be entrusted with the knowledge of a person’s sexual orientation and to receive that knowledge with respect and compassion. No other response will do for me. No other response will do for our society.

Friday, May 18, 2007

So many issues, so little clarity!

I like having things in my life pretty clear. Needless to say, that's not particularly easy to arrange. One of my bugaboos is having to voice an opinion off the cuff about some issue that is important to someone else but not to me. I know I don't have to have an opinion about it, but out of respect for the person who has asked me for it, I often feel like I have to offer something.

Recently an acquaintance cc-ed me on an email of complaint and inquiry about a situation he was involved in which he felt was unfair. He invited all his recipients to weigh in on the topic he'd broached, and I, against my own wishes and yet knowing that (because of my own struggles with the issue) I had something to say, I wrote him a response. He didn't agree with my response and let me know it (politely); I re-responded to clarify my points; he re-re-responded with a polite end to the conversation in which he reiterated his disagreement. Okay, no harm done except possibly to my ego.

And the question that always comes up for me is--no, wait, there's more than one: why do I do this to myself? and when is it appropriate to weigh in, in the way he had invited?

I felt sure of my position yet unsure of my right to voice it. When he disagreed, I continued to feel sure of my position but more unsure that I had been appropriate in voicing it. When he re-disagreed (are you following me?), we gave up on the conversation.

One reason for my weighing in was that I began to receive emails from other recipients; these emails seemed to be taking sides in a situation that none of us knew first-hand, which felt dangerous and divisive to me, considering an institution's governance was being questioned. Triangulation is not a pretty thing to watch developing.

So, long story short, I said my piece, both to him and to the other recipients. Now, dead silence from everyone! I have no idea whether I did a good thing, a bad thing, or a useless thing! I guess time will tell.

NOTE: This situation does NOT involve a church or local organization; it is a situation in my private life.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Blogger Dinner at GA---update

The following folks have signed up for the Blogger Dinner at General Assembly in Portland, June 22:
Linguist Friend, Chalice Chick, La Reina Cobre, PeaceBang, Jess, Obijuan, Kim and Joyce, Sara Robinson and daughter, Earthbound Spirit, Chance, UU Enforcer, Philocrites, UUpdater and partner, RevSean and partner, UU Soul, Postmodern Preacher, Rev. Ricky, Ogre and partner, Ron and Company, Every 7th Day and son. And me, plus possibly a guest.

If there are others who haven't yet let me know, please do so. I am going to make a reservation in the next few days and need to give a tentative number to the restaurant.

Speaking of restaurants, I've narrowed it down to two, both of which have large enough spaces, vegan/vegetarian options, and are within a block or two of the MAX line in downtown.

If you have a preference, please let me know. The two are Kell's Irish and Alexis .

PeaceBang has given me some good tips about details, including the use of CASH ONLY and NOBODY LEAVES TILL THE BILL IS SETTLED!

UPDATE! I have made an executive decision to go to Alexis for our dinner. I found out that Kell's is not available that evening and I was realizing that Kell's did not have as many good options for vegetarians and vegans. So I've made a reservation for 30 (that's about how many have signed up) for that evening and will update it as necessary at GA.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Updates on Clergywomen's Group

We had four women attend the first clergywomen's support group, and four who want to attend but were unavailable that day. Each of us had a chance to tell about our journey into ministry, our sense of call, and what we are doing presently in ministry. Of the four of us, I was the only one in active parish ministry, though others had experienced parish ministry on their own or with a spouse.

We agreed that this group is something we want to continue and set a June date for our next meeting.

I am looking forward to our growing into a group of friends, as well as a support system for each other. It was interesting to hear each person's story and to find points of contact within each story.

For example, I realized that one woman was the spouse of a local Quaker man who had asked me if I knew a former colleague of his, a man I'd gone to Linfield College with, in the 60's. I knew the man well, we'd been in the a cappella choir together, and I knew his life had changed dramatically since college days. It was great to talk with her and learn how much she and her husband liked my old friend.

Two other women and I know folks in common from former Colorado days. As one woman said, there are fewer than six degrees of separation here!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

As a Universalist, I believe

that the Rev. Dr. Jerry Falwell is in heaven now, or wherever it is that the power commonly known as God welcomes human souls which have left their human bodies and teaches us the things we couldn't learn in our earthly life.

I'd like to think that a kind Father or nurturing Mother figure has little Jerry on his/her knee and is gently showing him how his life could have been more loving, more compassionate, less greedy, less judgmental.

But I don't have an afterlife figured out that definitively. The farthest I'm willing to go is to believe (and I could be wrong, but I won't know till I get there) that we will rise to a new level of understanding when we die. I rather imagine that I will learn that I have been both right and wrong about a few things and my understanding will be purified and expanded. Don't ask me what happens next, because I haven't gotten that far.

If I'm right about this one, I hope that one understanding I (and Mr. Falwell) receive(s) is that all of creation is good and has its reason for being. Because there are things and people I dislike as passionately as Mr. Falwell and I need to be taught that all creatures have their place in the choir. Thank you, Bill Staines, for your song, but I'm having a hard time with the porcupines in my life and I want to do better.

Clergywomen's Support Group

I've got the house cleaned (well, the bathroom, anyhow), the goodies purchased (strawberries and cookies), the coffee/tea ready to drip/boil, and I am awaiting the arrival later this morning of a group of women in ministry here on the island.

In seminary, there were lots of women students and I felt well-supported by my friendships there. But out in the real world of ministry, it can be a little lonely. And being a woman in a traditionally male vocation can be very isolating, even though there are many women in UU ministry. It's not so out there in the interfaith world.

When I went to my first parish, I was lucky enough to have a couple of women colleagues in the area, both UU, but it wasn't enough, so I started looking for other women colleagues outside UUism. We eventually formed a small group which met monthly at a restaurant for lunch and talked about our lives as clergy, shared what was going on in our work and denominations around a variety of issues, and generally enjoyed each other's company.

In that group, we were Sue and I, both UU, Pat, an Episcopal deacon, Wendy, a United Methodist pastor, and Margaret, an American Baptist in community service. When I left Portland, I missed their company a lot.

When I lived in Seattle, the desire to form another such group didn't materialize very strongly, but when I moved to the island and realized I was far from other district colleagues, surrounded by male parish clergy (lovely, but not exactly soul mates), I decided I wanted to find women colleagues and form a group.

When I started asking around, I discovered quite a few women in ministry, though most are not in parish ministry. Some are not ordained, though trained; some are ordained in a non-traditional way; others are community ministers, teaching, training, organizing.

So now I have a list of about eight women who minister in a wide variety of ways, and they are coming to my house in a little while! I'm very excited!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Daily Blogroll

One of my pleasures in life these days is checking UUpdates regularly and seeing who has said what on their UU blog. And there are several I read every day; I've linked to them on the left. I'd invite you to check out these new---and some longtime---friends.

There are a few I've discovered who are not part of the UU blogosphere but whose postings resonate with me for one reason or another. Check out the pictures of Myrtle Mae on Miss (as opposed to Ms.)Kitty's Educated and Poor, for example, or learn about the intricacies of architecture from Mile High Pixie, Miss K's sister, or visit Rockhoppers Daily Grind, my favorite coffee house on Whidbey. Going Jesus has the cutest baby I've seen for awhile plus some pretty hilarious links to Jesus kitsch.

And my friend Margaret Marcuson has a blog dedicated to Ed Friedman's family systems theory as it applies to churches; I'm a big fan. Margaret and I used to belong to a clergywomen's group together when I lived in Portland. She's really on top of church dynamics!

I also check out interesting posts by others who show up on UUpdates but not necessarily every day.

Ain't this fun?

More on Spiritual Experience

One of the things I'm most queried about, as a minister, is spirituality--how is it different from religion, is it important, and what is it anyhow? I had never wondered about this very much myself, content to let the experiences happen and not try to define them. But when parishioners wanted to talk about spirituality and spiritual experience, I realized I needed to be more thoughtful.

I have normally defined religion as a public expression of my relationship with the universe; it happens in community, it is strengthened by my relationships with others, and it gives me an external outlet for my efforts to make the world a better place.

Spirituality, for me, is a private expression of my relationship with the universe; it is my internal awareness of the beauty of each of life's moments. It is available to me always, if I am mindful. Most of my spiritual experiences I don't share; most of them I savor privately and ponder privately. Sometimes I'll share one as a story in a public way, as a sermon illustration. But most are private.

It's hard to share spiritual experience in words, to make it as profound to a listener as to the experiencer. Sometimes we find that others have had the same experience and it gives us a link to one another that is more intimate than religion can usually offer.

I was with a young couple a few days ago, preparing for their wedding, and the young man observed that he and his fiancee were different in some ways and that spirituality was one of them. He wondered about spiritual experience and how to increase it in one's life.

I looked at him and his fiancee sitting on my couch in the morning sunshine, he with his arm around her, my cat on her lap, and it was a revelatory moment for me. I tried to put it into words.

"Here we are, the three of us, talking about how to make the ceremony of your marriage meaningful and beautiful, not just for yourselves but also for your friends and family. That in itself is a spiritual act.

"You are sitting in the sunshine, basking in its warmth, savoring the relationship between you and your fiancee. That in itself is a spiritual moment.

"She is next to you, enjoying your arm around her, petting an animal on her lap as it purrs and expresses its enjoyment of her care. That too is a spiritual experience.

"Every moment of our lives has the potential to be a spiritual experience, whether it's a joyous or sorrowful or so-called ordinary moment. It is our mindfulness, our awareness, that gives it meaning and importance. We can call spiritual experience into our lives just by noticing it."

Last night I attended a house concert offered by a small trio whose members are all connected through the church. It was a wonderful spiritual experience for many of us, I suspect, to see these musicians' intensity, their virtuosity, and to feel the waves of music which broke over us as they played.

It could have been just a performance, an excellent one, but for me it was more, because I know these musicians, I know their lives, their hopes, their sorrows. And I saw how the music filled them and us, how their gift of the music was sacred, holy. I let the music and the musicians fill me with joy and it was, indeed, a spiritual experience.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Let me just say it was a great day.

The Up and Coming mini-VisionQuest experience was a real high for me and our DRE and we are pretty sure it was a good experience for our two youth as well.

Some stream-of-consciousness noticings at the labyrinth: an eagle overhead, robins bouncing through the paths, small daisies in the grass, a gentle breeze off the strait, swallows darting, a redwinged blackbird, the Olympic mountains in the distance.

At the beach: the graceful forms of driftwood and rocks polished by waves, the detritus of the sea---kelp, broken shells, feathers---seabirds, the measured cadence of heron wings above the water, gentle waves breaking with the incoming tide.

Important realizations: the sacredness of the teaching role, being in relationship with young people, modeling what it means to be open to newness, the tenderness of young lives, how important it is to nurture them like young plants.

Every moment is a spiritual moment, but it is necessary to look at each moment through a spiritual lens, to see it. What is the beauty of this particular moment? what does it mean? what could it mean? what is its significance, what does it show about the sacredness of life? Nothing is truly inconsequential.

Up and Coming...

is the moniker our DRE and I have given our mini-course in "Coming of Age". We have two twelve year olds in our RE program, the oldest kids in our mini-RE program. We decided we needed to do something special for these two lovely pre-teens but didn't have the resources to provide a full COA program for them, so we concocted Up and Coming as a way to give them some preparation for UU youth-hood.

We've spent time with them around UU heritage and history, social action, leadership, spiritual practice, and all will culminate in their presenting their Credos to the congregation in June.

Today is their mini-Vision Quest experience. We are planning to take them to Lavender Wind Farm, up north outside of Coupeville and owned by a member of the congregation, where there is a Hopi-style labyrinth. We will walk the labyrinth in silence, then take them to the beach, where we will install each kid in a spot far enough from others that they can experience some solitude (as we keep an eye on them from afar). During the hour or so alone, they will be writing or drawing in their journals on the Credo questions we have given them.

Fortunately, my terrible cold is better and the weather will be clear and warmish, so I am looking forward to a great day. I'll report later on how it has gone.

Friday, May 11, 2007

A great Mother's Day story

My daughter-in-law-to-be sent me this story recently and I thought it was a hoot, so I'm posting it. She doesn't know who wrote it, nor do I, but I have a terrible cold today and it helps to laugh.

A Great Mother's Day Story

We had this great 10-year old cat named Jack who
recently died. Jack was a great cat; the kids would
carry him around and sit on him, and nothing ever
bothered him. He used to hang out and nap all day
long on a mat in our bathroom. We have three kids
and at the time of this story they were 4, 3 and 1.

Our middle child is Eli. Eli loves
Chapstick. LOVES it. He kept asking to use my
Chapstick and would then lose it. So one day I
showed him where in the bathroom I kept my Chapstick
and how he could use it whenever he wanted to, but
he needed to put it right back in the drawer when he
was done.

Last year on Mother's Day we were having
the typical rush trying to get ready for church with
everyone crying and carrying on. My two boys were
fighting over the toy in the cereal box. I was
trying to nurse my little one at the same time I was
putting on my make-up. Everything was a mess and
everyone had long forgotten that this was a
wonderful day to honor me and the amazing job that
is motherhood.

So we finally had our oldest child
and the baby loaded in the car and I was looking for
Eli. I had searched everywhere when I finally round
the corner to go into the bathroom. And there was
Eli. Applying my Chapstick VERY carefully

Eli looked right into my
eyes and said "chapped." Now if you have a cat, you
know that he was right -- their little butts do look
pretty chapped. And, frankly, Jack didn't seem to
mind. The only question to really ask at that point
was whether it was the first time Eli had done that
to the cat's behind, or the hundredth?

And that is
my favorite Mother's Day moment ever because it
reminds me that no matter how hard we try to
civilize these glorious little creatures, there will
always be that day when you realize they've been
using your Chapstick on the cat's butt.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Thinking about Mother's Day and Julia Ward Howe

In May of 1990, my son was about to graduate from Wheat Ridge high school in the suburban Denver area. It had been a long haul getting him through school, as he was an indifferent student and had some learning quirks that complicated his approach to the books.

I was more than ready for him to begin a new phase of his life, increasing his independence to the point where he would move out, perhaps attend college, and come into his own.

But I was not prepared to have him come home one afternoon from school to tell me that he had signed up with the military recruiters at his high school for the Early Entrance program into military service. He would take the ASVAB, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, in a few days, which would determine which military vocation he might enter. And then, after graduation, he would be assigned to a military unit, attend boot camp, and become a soldier.

He was starry-eyed. He saw this as a chance to learn a trade, to leave traditional education behind, to earn some money, and to leave home. His dad and I gulped, rationalized that there seemed to be no solid reason to object, since he was already 18, and our country was in peacetime.

After he took the ASVAB test, he was even more enthused, for its results showed that he had high aptitude in intelligence work and he chose this area of specialization when he visited the recruiter to schedule his physical exam a few days later.

On the morning of the physical, he was up and about earlier than I had ever seen him---without my help. He drove his battered Plymouth Duster to Buckley Field where he was to have the physical exam. I was a bit numb all day, waiting for him to come home, unready for my only child to be removed from my care so precipitously. I wasn’t sure how I felt, but I did believe that he had to make these decisions for himself.

We had not talked much about the military in those days. Viet Nam was behind us; for him it was only a subject skimmed over in history class. There were no major conflicts in the offing, that we knew about, and the military seemed like a reasonable next step for a young man who had been unhappy in school and needed independence.

My son came home later that day with mixed news. They really wanted him to be a soldier, but surgery in his early years to correct a slight malformation of both Achilles tendons had meant that plastic inserts had been placed in his ankles to substitute for bone and cartilage that had not grown properly. The surgeon had told us that as he grew, the inserts would be superfluous and could be removed. The military recruiter said he could not be a soldier with any foreign object in his body.

Our son wanted to know if we would help him get the inserts removed, by the doctor who had implanted them when he was nine years old. His dad and I agreed, and the removal procedure went smoothly. He returned to the military recruiter in July to complete his registration for boot camp and military school, but after all he had done to comply with their requirements, he was denied entrance to military service.

And on Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the run-up to the Gulf War began.

Julia Ward Howe's "Mother's Day Proclamation" took on new significance for me in 1990.

Sunday, May 06, 2007


and Graceful, too. Today the Vashon congregation decided that they would figure out a way to offer something Unitarian Universalist to the Vashon community every Sunday, starting in September. I had said pretty firmly in my sermon that I felt they were not serving the community as well as they might, with the UU message, and I expected to hear all kinds of arguments about why they couldn't do it, during the after-service conversation we always hold after coffee hour. Instead, the proposal was made that they figure out what they would need to do in order to offer something every Sunday, they tossed it around for a little while figuring out who would be willing to work on a Forum-type offering on the other Sundays (they currently meet 1st, 3rd, and 5th Sundays), and voila! starting in September, they will offer worship on the regular Sundays and a Forum on the other Sundays.

I had suggested that they do plenty of planning, thinking, preparing the community, and it turned out my suggestion was way too conservative for them! I'm very pleased. Amazing...and Graceful.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Maybe she needed to do it.

Ms. Theologian invites me to post again about my friend's inexplicable (to me) decision to end our longtime, long distance friendship, which foundered when I moved so far away and made so many changes in my life that I could not keep up my end. (Actually, I don't remember that she kept hers up either, but that's not my point.)

I am much more at peace about it today, partly because I'm a little more distanced, a little more understanding, and a little more philosophical. And chopping thistles probably didn't hurt either.

Sometimes therapists will ask their clients "does this situation seem to you like any other situation you've been in?" and when I asked myself that question, I answered "yes, it does". Others have done similar things to me, not often, but just often enough that I need to take note and examine my own behavior, which, I admit, can be less than sensitive to another's needs. I have also watched others do this "shutting the door" act to another person and have wondered at the reasoning behind it.

My brother whom I love dearly has done this to my sister who is my best friend, in the past, for reasons which were incomprehensible to me and to her. He has mellowed somewhat, but there's tension between them because of it. He never wanted to explain fully; it seemed like the adult equivalent of "if you don't know, I ain't agonna tell you" thing done by junior high kids. Consequently, she was and is still in the dark.

I used to try to bring them together but eventually gave up on that as a bad idea. I have had to reconcile it in my mind as "he just needed to do it", for whatever reason, and I have no way to change that.

I have done what I can. I am now more alert to how my behavior and role sometimes are problematic for friends and I am more alert to how the role of ministry has changed my identity and my actions in the world. I have found a middle ground between taking all the blame and taking none of it and it is a reasonable, if not comfortable, place to be. It has quit keeping me awake in the night. And the early morning rain of a few days ago....well, it's nice out today.

Friday, May 04, 2007

In other news...

In a little while I'll hit the road for Vashon Island and my weekend there. This will be my next-to-last weekend with them and I need to say some important things in my sermon entitled "Visions for Vashon".

In four years, I've experienced their strengths and their weaknesses and need to pass along my recommendations for using their strengths and pushing past their weaknesses.

They are dear, lovely people, so I won't be too hard on them, but they do need to take some big steps to get out the UU message. Like many UU congregations, they are content to let people discover them and I want to ask them to take a look at how they might be letting themselves down by only meeting twice a month and being loathe to get very connected with off-island UU goings-on.

I went out and chopped thistles yesterday in an effort to get my thoughts distracted from my friend's harsh treatment of me. This morning, I am distracted by the pain in my hindparts from all that bending and chopping! Oh well, whatever works.

If you haven't discovered Jubilata in the Desert, read what she has to say on the topic of ministry and friendships. She has a slightly different experience than I do, because she's been in ministry so much longer, but her words ring oh, so true.

If you are in a congregation in transition (i.e., moving from one minister to the next), you will be enlightened by her post. Even if you're not, you will be enlightened.

New additions to the dinner roster:

Rev. Ricky and Ogre plus wife have signed on. We have 23 people planning to come to the blogger dinner at GA----so far. Philocrites' mention sent hordes of people to Ms. Kitty's and swelled the ranks of diners. Anything over 50 hits is a big day for me, so don't get too envious!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

New Additions to the GA Blogger Dinner

are Philocrites, UUpdater, Rev. Sean (and pard?), UU Soul and PostmodernPreacher. Hallelujah, brethren and sistren! When the roll is called up yonder, you'll be there, right?

GA Blogger dinner reservations rolling in!

Thanks to my old MDD pal Chris at Philocrites, the reservations for the GA blogger dinner are rolling in. So far I have the following names: Linguist Friend, Chalice Chick, La Reina Cobre, PeaceBang, Jess, Obijuan, Kim (and pard?), Sara Robinson (and daughter?), Earthbound Spirit, Chance, and UU Enforcer. And myself, natch.

Wowee! See what you have in store, folks? Don't you want to sign up too? You can sign up here as well as through Philocrites' link to the first announcement of the dinner.

Looks like it will be a great time in my home town of Portland.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Too early!

It's way too early in the morning to be up and around (6 a.m., but I have been up for an hour already), but here I sit at the computer with Loosy the Love Cat on my lap purring away as if it were 9 a.m. and the day just starting.

I noticed that ChaliceChick was awake at 1 a.m. when I checked out my favorites a few minutes ago, watching Keith Olbermann. And Juffie snuck in a post last night when I wasn't looking, as had Miss Kitty way down in Georgia. Thanks, ladies, for my early morning blog fix!

Early mornings are actually a pleasure for me, but they have their inconveniences as well. For example, it was too early for the South Whidbey Record to appear in the paper box, so I will have to tromp down again in a little while to get my local news.

I woke up feeling sad about my friend and hoping to find a message from her that expressed her desire to stay connected. But it hasn't come and I half-expect that it won't, that she didn't like my asking her why she'd never told me that she was angry so that I could do something about it or at least offer an explanation of my actions. Instead, she just slammed the metaphorical door in my face.

It's not just saying goodbye to the friendship that bothers me; it's the way it has happened, the helplessness of not being able to save it, the knowledge that she has talked about me with other friends and remarked in her note that they all say I've treated them the same way. WHAT? To the best of my knowledge, I haven't treated anyone badly. But I have changed, my priorities had to change when I moved away and began a new life, and, as Faded said yesterday in a comment, people are uncomfortable with changes.

Of course, it could happen that I'll get a message from her today and everything will turn out well. But right now I'm in early morning rain.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

One of the dilemmas of ministry for me

has been how to handle the changes that occurred as I began to see myself as a minister, as I moved from being a layperson, a layleader, to being a minister, a person with a different kind of relationship with the congregation, a different kind of authority.

I recently had a communique from a longtime friend in my home church who feels I dropped her and other friends there when I moved many miles away to take my first pastorate. It has been several years since I moved; it's both a shock to me and yet not a shock. I'd had no inkling from her or from other friends there that they felt this way, but I also know that I have changed a lot since I became a minister and I know that those changes are part of this rupture in our friendship.

Our friendship began when I was a layleader in the congregation, many years ago. When I started seminary, I became less active in lay roles and was often absent because of preaching gigs elsewhere, as well as a year-long parish internship and chaplaincy internship.

The "formation" process for a minister means learning to think of oneself differently; consequently, one's actions change as one's formation progresses. I spent less time with lay friends and more with clergy/student friends as my identity shifted.

When I moved away, I intended to stay in touch with old friends but found the demands of ministry more than I had expected and let things many miles away slide from my consciousness. Unfortunately, that took a toll on those friendships.

I'm hoping my friend will understand but I have little confidence that she will. It is one of the realities of ministry, that one enters a new life at the time of leaving the lay world for the world of ministry. The growth that occurs tends to separate people. Marriages often break up in seminary because of that growth; longtime friendships can't always stand the strain of the changes.

I've sent a response to her. I hope she hears what I'm saying and accepts my apology. I hope we can retain our friendship. But the changes in me are not going away, the demands on me as a minister are not going to disappear, and the way I think of myself is now set pretty firmly in the ministry role. It hurts to think of having hurt others because of this change in my life. It will always be a sadness for me.