Sunday, October 28, 2007

Maxie's having a sleepover

while I head off for a three day retreat with the PNWD ministers. Max has made a lot of progress in the past week and, in fact, I was hopeful that I would have a snuggly picture of him and Lily snoozing within a whisker's length of each other this afternoon. But the tender scene didn't last long enough for me to capture it photographically, so you'll have to wait. Loosy is still quite unfriendly to Max, but Lily is warming up and barely bares her teeth when he encroaches on her territory. It's just a matter of time.

A couple of local friends are taking Max in while I'm gone, as I didn't feel he was ready to be alone with the L's for three days, being re-supplied with food only every 24 hours by the catsitter. When I dropped him off, he busily undertook to explore his new digs and had settled in quite nicely under my friends' rapt gaze. Their old kitty Miss Ophelia recently gave up the ghost, so they had extra cat litter and bowls and were happy to take him in for a few days.

I'm very much looking forward to this retreat. I need a break. In tallying up my hours recently, I realized that by the end of today, I will have worked over 90 hours, a far cry from the 60 I'm contracted for. It all had to be done, but I'm realizing that I have got to quit being so available! Maybe in November? In any case, I will be offline for the most part till Wednesday, though I may be able to check email periodically. See you when I get back!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What Poet are you? I'm delighted to be...

gURL.comI took the "If You Were a Poet..." quiz on
I am...
Emily Dickinson

Do you have a 19th century sensibility? Or are you an intellectual? Do you write a lot? Because it seems like you have a lot in common with classic American poet, Emily Dickinson. Read more...

Which poet are you?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Tired tonight after a long day

I left home this morning about 7:30 to make sure I was in the Keystone ferry line in plenty of time to catch the 8:45 ferry to Port Townsend. From there it would be an hour's drive to Seabeck, on Hood Canal, for the quarterly Seabeck Conference Center board meeting. My horoscope this morning said to avoid travel at all costs and I would have been grateful if fog had kept the ferry out of commission, but no such luck. Every day this week has been full and it would have been nice to have an excuse to stay close to home!

The board meeting itself was interesting and lunch was delicious, but I had to excuse myself a bit early, as the meeting was running overtime, so that I could get back to the ferry dock and catch the 3:45 boat home. I missed the boat by two cars and had to sit in the ferry line for almost two hours, so when I finally got on board at 5:15, I was pretty fried.

So I'm tired. Too tired to watch TV or a movie or read a book. Not too tired, apparently, to write a blog post, even if it's all about being tired.

Tomorrow will be the first day I've had in several days to catch up on household stuff. We're doing our Association Sunday this weekend and I'm pretty pleased with what the committee has come up with. All I have to do is the offering and the benediction. Others are doing the rest.

After church, I'll be heading out to the Ministers' Retreat in Federal Way, and I am looking forward to some rest. I counted up the hours I've spent this month working my 1/3 time job. I'm contracted for about 60 hours and so far I have put in 90! Yikes, gotta do something about that next month.

Others have written lately about the overload on ministers and the options available for help: mates, kids, friends. For a single minister, as a few have pointed out, there are not very many. If single Rev. Whosit doesn't do it, it won't get done. And that means everything: church work, laundry, meals, scheduling.

I'm lucky to be working parttime, I realize. I don't have all the professional demands on my time that a fulltime minister does. But I do have all the domestic demands and there's nobody but me to do them. Luckily, I've been operating singly for a long time and have a few systems in place that reduce the stress. But it's so easy to get overloaded in this work. Nobody but me can count the hours I spend and nobody but me can say no to the extra work. But it's hard to say no when someone needs to talk or needs a hospital or home visit.

We're all working way too hard and too long. That goes for PeaceBang, Jess and Obijuan, Chalice Chick, and all of us who want to do good work out there, no matter where we serve or who we serve. But I guess I'd rather work hard than be bored with too much time on my hands. Chances are we all would.

I'm babbling. Good night.

PS. Maxie has settled in enough that he is fearlessly harassing Lily and Loosy. They're still bugeyed, but no fur has flown---yet. I'm going to let some friends take care of him while I'm gone, rather than take a chance on leaving them all here in the house together for three days with only a neighbor kid coming by periodically.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Feeling Useful

Tuesday is my day to volunteer as a chaplain up at the hospital. Some days, my visits are unremarkable; conversations are brief or ho-hum, though I feel I'm offering something helpful when I stop by a patient's room. Yesterday was unusually satisfying.

In the cafeteria before I started my rounds, I found a seat in the crowded room with an elderly woman who was perusing a sheaf of papers while eating her lunch. I caught the word "grief support" at the top of one page and, in the course of our chatting, mentioned that I was volunteering there as a chaplain that day. She asked me if I had met her United Methodist pastor and from there the conversation quickly unfolded into the story of her husband's death very recently. He had died suddenly of a heart attack while she was away from home for a couple of days and her son found him dead on the floor of their home. "I've watched friends and relatives die long, slow deaths from illness," she said, "and I'm glad he died as he did. He would have hated being sick. But I miss him."

Upstairs on the ward, an elderly man awaiting the next test in a string of tests told me about his wife who is experiencing increasing dementia and the effort to find a place where the two of them could be together without his having to be her primary caretaker and what a relief it was to have found such a place nearby. He was more concerned about her than the illness that had landed him in the hospital. It was nothing compared to her struggles, according to him. Yet he has a life-threatening condition. "I miss who she used to be," he said, "because now all she does is sleep."

Peeking into the next room, I found a bright-eyed young woman in bed, big grin, big bandage on her right hand. Her parents were with her and she told me what had happened. It seems that there was this power sander in the wood shop classroom and she was working on a piece of wood and it slipped and she sanded her hand pretty much right down to the muscle and nerves. But they were all receptive and eager to talk, as it was a long time before she could have surgery to graft skin back onto her hand. We chatted for a few minutes, then I excused myself to visit the person in the next bed, same room.

Groaning, this youngish woman told me about the terrible pain she was experiencing and how she had been plagued by it for several days. It was kidney stones, she said, and all she could do was live through it. But what kind of pastor was I, she asked, as she was looking for a new church to attend. I told her I was a Unitarian Universalist and asked where she had been going to church; she mentioned a large community church over on the mainland. I volunteered to go look up the addresses of some local churches that might be easy for her to reach when she was well and started out of the room toward the pastoral care kiosk where we keep such lists.

But as I passed by the "sanded" girl, they stopped me and said, "are you the pastor of the church that's building a building on the highway? We're thinking about coming to visit." So we chatted a bit more about that when I returned with the church information for her neighbor.

Down the hall I encountered a familiar face but couldn't think where I'd met her. She was with an elderly woman who appeared to be quite feisty and inquisitive. The younger woman recognized me and introduced herself as having visited my congregation a couple of weeks earlier; she was the live-in companion for the elderly woman, who had just had a test that had taken the starch out of her and needed to be rehydrated. Overhearing our conversation, the elderly woman burst out, "I'm a Unitarian, a die-hard Humanist, and I'm darned glad to meet you! I wanted to come to church last Sunday but didn't feel up to it because of prepping for this darned test. But I'm coming the next time you're preaching, darn it!"

What a day! This little hospital has only about 25 beds and often there are reasons why I don't stop by and talk to every patient---a nurse is with the patient, or family members are carrying on conversations and I don't want to interrupt, or the patient is asleep. Because there's no pastoral care office or place to hang out and wait for opportunities to make contact, we usually just make a couple of passes down the halls and consider that enough.

But this day was unusually rich in that every room I visited contained someone with whom I felt I made a personal contact. That's such a rewarding way to spend time. I felt useful and inspired and connected by the hour or so I spent there.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Lily waits anxiously by the door

A couple more


I laughed so hard, tears ran down my leg.

A poster caption sent to me by my sister in this morning's email. I told her it was appropriate this morning as I sat on the floor of the guest room and watched Maxie try to screw up his courage to come take food out of my hand. When he couldn't do that, he decided he'd play for me, leaping on the scrap of furry fabric I'd left on the rug, jumping madly in and out of his bed box, chasing his tail, and skittering along the edge of the bedframe, inches away from me but not close enough to be petted.

I figure he's warming up to something. Hopefully it will be today and I'll be able to pick him up and hold him. He hasn't been willing to be held since Saturday, but he's getting more comfortable.

I've been able to observe him more closely and I'll take a camera into the room today sometime and see if I can catch him in the act so you can see how beautiful he is.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


by Rev. Kit Ketcham, Oct. 21, 2007

It’s a funny thing about words. As I’ve spent time thinking about and researching the Sources of Unitarian Universalism, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking more closely at the words that express the Source. What do they mean? What did they mean to those who expressed the Source in this way?

We’re all aware that words mean different things to different people, depending on their culture, their world view, their education, their personal nature.

Some of us only use words in a literal sense. Others use them metaphorically. Most of us use words in both ways. We recognize that words are powerful and that it’s important not to misuse them or to use them lightly.

So let’s all get on more or less the same page when it comes to some of the words that we’ll be using in our thinking about the Sources, particularly this source, because it is about words and how they relate to deeds.

First, though, let’s read together our Second Source, including the introductory statement. “The Living Tradition we share draws from many Sources: Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.”

The words used here are powerful, far-reaching in their implications.

The word Source usually is considered to mean “point of origin”, “wellspring---of a stream, for example”, “supplier of information”. When I talk about the Sources of Unitarian Universalism, I am talking about our origins, our deepest roots, our wellsprings, the place we get knowledge.

And a prophet? I think of a prophet as a person with uncommon knowledge and understanding who speaks words that have lasting significance or predict an event or recognize a danger in advance.

So what does it mean to be prophetic, as in Prophetic Women and Men? When you selected a quote to bring today, how did you decide? Did you think of a specific person first or did you think of the wisdom first and then find the person’s name?

No matter how you did it, the words or persons you chose have deep significance to you. Those persons, those words, those deeds, have shaped your life in some way. And by shaping your life, they have shaped your contributions to this community, they have made our congregation, our Unitarian Universalism what it is today.

One of my earliest connections to a prophetic human being, except for those Bible figures or others named in my history books, was when I discovered the essayist Charles Erskine Scott Wood, through his small book of playlets entitled “Heavenly Discourse”, which we will use as a readers’ theatre piece at our Conversation on the second Source, next Saturday night.

When I discovered him, I had just graduated from Linfield College, where I had gotten a religious education that outstripped my Sunday School learnings in my dad’s little Baptist church. And that summer, I went to Green Lake, Wisconsin, to serve on the Young Adult staff at the American Baptist Assembly grounds there.

It was my first time away from the Pacific Northwest alone. I rode out on the train, met a shuttle car in Fond du Lac, and joined other staff members there on the shores of Green Lake as a snack bar attendant. Not so good for my figure, as the chocolate dip cones were irresistible, but great for my horizons, as I met other college students and Baptist ministers from all over the United States and abroad.

These were not small town pastors like my dear father. They were not limited by a Bible College education but well schooled in an understanding of modern culture and how it related to religious faith. As I listened to preachers like Howard Moody and Harvey Cox, liberal Christian thinkers whose minds wrestled with the issues of poverty and civil rights, my mindset, my worldview shifted radically.

One day, browsing in the bookstore, I happened upon a small book. Opening it, I found God talking to Mark Twain and Billy Sunday and Jesus and Satan, expressing impatience with the foibles of humankind, puzzling over why Christians were behaving as they were, thanking heretics like Darwin and Rabelais for their clear thinking and their understanding of the questions of Creation, and, above all, yearning for humankind to “get it”, to understand that their petty, pious squabbles (this was right after WWI) were silly and damaging to themselves and to the earth and its peoples.

I was entranced. First of all, the conversations were hilarious and, as always, humor drew me in further and further. This was gentle humor, not unkind, and the depiction of Heaven as a place where both heretics and saints communed with each other and with the Divine opened a door in my mind, a door which has never closed.

When I asked Mavis to send out the email asking folks to dig up quotes of the earliest prophetic men and women you could find, I wasn’t sure what we’d come up with. But I knew it would paint a portrait of the thinkers and doers whom we consider pillars of our faith tradition.

One such thinker and doer was Origen of Alexandria. He introduced the controversial and dangerous heresy of universalism, the idea that since God is love, everyone, even Satan, will be saved in the end, by endless opportunities for repentance and reconciliation, through learning and growth, even after death.

Origen was born in about the year 185 of the common era and died in about 254, after having been condemned and tortured as a heretic by the early church. He was a theologian, philosopher, and devoted Christian who castrated himself so that he could tutor women without suspicion. Now there’s a heroic deed for you---a guy who believed that women should be educated in theology and philosophy and gave up his masculinity to do it.

The theologian Arius in the third century also lived and taught in Alexandria, Egypt. Here was another freethinker. The most controversial of his teachings dealt with the relationship between God and Jesus. Arius did not believe that Jesus was God. His Unitarian position---that God is One, not three in one--- conflicted with the trinitarian positions dominating the Roman Church and most other Christian traditions which followed.

Over the centuries since that time, we Unitarian Universalists have come to recognize many men and women whose words and deeds form much of the foundation of our faith.

Primary among those early prophets are those who felt so strongly that religious belief could not be coerced, that there were other ways to view God, and that people should be free to find their own interpretations of the Divine. This was risky and many died defying orthodoxy.

Among those was Michael Servetus, who, in the 16th century, wrote the book “On the Errors of the Trinity” and whose writings inspired Katherine Vogel of Krakow, Poland, who had the courage to hold firm, even though she was burned at the stake in 1539, a fate which also claimed Servetus, at the hands of John Calvin.

And then there was King John Sigismund of Transylvania, the only Unitarian king in history, who issued the first public decree of religious toleration in his kingdom during his reign in 1570.

How do these early lives, these early words and deeds relate to our lives as Unitarian Universalists today? How have they inspired women and men throughout the centuries to take their courage and their lives into their own hands, defying the conventional wisdom, belying the orthodoxy of belief, risking persecution and death, believing that integrity and freedom of belief were worth dying for.

Over the centuries since Origen, Arius, Sigismund, Servetus, and Vogel, the Unitarian and Universalist passion for integrity has moved beyond the field of religious freedom, important as that still is. As UUism moved from Europe to North America, the cause of religious freedom was mostly won and our forebears, our prophetic women and men, took on the challenges of a young democratic nation.

In this country, our congregations were established in the 19th century as an alternative to hard-bitten Calvinism, the faith of our Puritan forebears. Unitarians did not believe in original sin; Universalists did not believe in hell. We became oases of a gentler theology, one which advocated that human beings were essentially good, though capable of wrongdoing.

Men and women like Henry Whitney Bellows and Mary Ashton Rice Livermore raised millions of dollars in the 1860’s to provide medical care to ease the suffering of the wounded and dying on both sides during the Civil War. Their efforts formed the precursor to the American Red Cross.

In later years, Mary Livermore led the Massachusetts Suffrage Association and founded The Agitator, a paper devoted to suffrage and women’s rights.

Theodore Parker was the most popular preacher in Boston, in his day. He wrote his sermons with a pistol by his side, not to protect himself from dissidents but, should the need arise, to defend escaped slaves traveling on the underground railroad toward Canada.

Parker once wrote: “Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere; its temple, all space; its shrine, the good heart; its creed, all truth; its ritual, works of love; its profession of faith, divine living.”

The words and deeds of such activists as Parker, Bellows and Livermore point us, as UUs, to a path of courage and moral strength. It is not enough to preach words of good intentions and right opinions; without the deeds to back them up, words are empty shells.

More recently, in 1965, the Rev. James Reeb and two of his UU colleagues went to Selma, Alabama, to support the growing civil rights movement there. Leaving a restaurant one night, they were set upon by four white men wielding baseball bats. His colleagues, Orloff Miller and Clark Olsen, were beaten but survived.

James Reeb was murdered, and the words of one of his first sermons as the minister of a UU congregation came back to remind us all of what commitment to integrity means. He asked: “Is there nothing worth risking one’s life for? Are there no dreams or goals so important that we risk our own destruction to gain them?” James Reeb answered those questions with his life on a Selma sidewalk.

During that same civil rights battle in Selma, laywoman Viola Liuzzo of First Unitarian Church in Detroit gave a ride home to several black protesters. A car full of Ku Klux Klan members followed her for twenty miles, attempting to run her off the road. Eventually, they fired several shots into the car and Viola Liuzzo was killed by bullets to the head. Her last words were those of the song “We Shall Overcome”.

So the Sources of our faith include the words and deeds of many a brave and far-seeing individual. And the question becomes, today, how do we carry on their legacy of prophetic action? What are the battlefields today that require our prophetic words and deeds?

One of those battlefields is the ongoing issue of civil rights, not only for racial minorities but for sexual minorities. This very weekend, across the water at the Lynnwood Convention Center, a group of anti-gay religious people, called “Watchmen on the Wall” has been meeting.

This group has been guilty of extreme violence, even attempted murder, toward sexual minorities. At the same time as their hateful rhetoric is spoken, a peaceful demonstration has surrounded the Convention Center, with many, many supporters and allies of the sexual minority community present, in hopes of sending a message of peace and harmony to an organization that has struck out physically, emotionally, and politically at innocent victims.

And there is a rally going on right now, at the Edmonds UU Church, to counteract the hate and violence of the Watchmen group, and that sanctuary, I trust, is filled with prophetic women and men, setting an example for all of us, of courage, good cheer, and determination to secure full civil rights and tolerance for people who have too long been denied those rights and that acceptance.

A second battlefield is, of course, that of environmental justice. Recently, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore Jr. for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.

That the Peace Prize should be given to a scientific project, rather than to an obvious humanitarian effort, was a surprise to many, but the significance of this award is stupendous, in that it recognizes that if we do not heal the earth, we have no hope of healing the divisions in our larger world.

This past week, I attended a gathering of leaders at the Whidbey Institute entitled “A Resurgence of Hope”. Two wellknown leaders in the field of Environmental Justice, Brian Swimme and Mary Evelyn Tucker, spent the day with a large group, helping us to see the incredible strides that have been made in human understanding of our relationship with the earth and encouraging us to take steps in our own lives and in our institutions to speak out, to stand up, to act locally and globally to reverse the damage to our planet and to see our responsibility to each other and to the earth.

And, I might suggest, a third battlefield is right here on Whidbey Island. As our population increases and property becomes more and more expensive, low income residents are displaced and discouraged from full participation in the community.

Plans for growth often exclude plans for affordable housing, assisted living and community services, in favor of single family homes on huge lots with immense price tags. Will we come to a point where Whidbey Island is an enclave only of wealthy retirees? Will those who work here on the island have to commute from the mainland because they can’t afford to live here?

Where will our teachers, our clerks, our bank employees, our landscape experts, our clergy, our barbers and hair stylists, our friends and our neighbors and members of this congregation---where will they live, if the price goes too high?

Are we speaking out at town meetings, speaking up for those who may be excluded because of choices made by local governments?

Are we speaking up at county meetings, advocating for protection of the earth and providing community services to youth and low income folk?

Are we speaking up at rallies where civil rights are the topic?

As Unitarian Universalists, we have a rich history of women and men who were willing to stand up, speak out, and act upon their convictions. We are the next generation of those prophetic women and men. What will we do on the battlefields of our time here on the earth? Will future generations look at us and say, “those men and women set a standard of courage in action and we will follow their example.” What will our legacy be for our children and our grandchildren?

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 we have a long and noble heritage as Unitarian Universalists, that our prophets have been men and women of vision and compassion. May we follow in their footsteps, advocating for justice, freedom, and compassion in our communities and in our everyday lives. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Maxwelton's braes are full of spook farts.

Maxie has been moved upstairs out of the furnace room to the guest room, where I can visit him without having to squeeze past the hot water heater to the tiny corner under the stairs where he had taken refuge, in case Lily or Loosy came looking for him with murder on their minds. The murder is really only on his mind; he's still pretty nervous about these two gentle giants who outweigh him by many pounds.

Naturally, as soon as I put him down with food, water, and a litter box in the guest bedroom, he scuttled underneath the bed so he can keep a weather eye out for intruders and has resisted my efforts to coax him out, though he devours every morsel of food I've offered---after I leave. So his "braes" are mainly under-bed boxes, the extra leaves of the dinner table, and mounds of spook farts, which in my house have nothing to do with ghosts and everything to do with cat hair. (I know it has a faint politically incorrect sound to it, but it's truly an innocent expression which I learned from my ancestors.)

Anyhow, we are making progress here in the getting acquainted department. The L's still haunt the hallway outside his door when I'm in there talking to him under the bed, but they are somewhat less anxious. And he's sleeping in the box lined with an old sweater---until I come into the room. Then he's under the bed again, but I notice he's not as panicky about it as he was.

From the story the farmer's kids told me, I've deduced that his mama may have been a feral cat who dropped her kittens off in the farmyard and then vamoosed. The family took the kittens in and brought them to market the next week. So Maxie has only been part of a human household for a very short time. Lily the Lilylivered was a feral kitten herself, which may account for some of her jumpiness. Loosy the Lovecat has to resign herself once again to sharing me with a baby (Lily was her last rival), but she has her own ways of possessing me and will always be the senior cat, if not exactly the alpha.

I haven't gotten a picture yet. You don't want to see what the underside of the guest bed looks like, even with Maxie little face peeking out.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Falling in love at the Farmers' Market

I only went because I am all out of decent vegetables and there are only two more weekends of Farmers' Markets. It was cold and blustery and I almost didn't stay because I'd forgotten my green grocery bag in the car. But I went back to get it and then, because it was cold, stopped at the first booth because they had fresh corn and fresh beets, which I adore. And I was paying for them ($2 total for three ears of corn and a bunch of beautiful beets), when one of the children of the farmer said, "don't you want a kitten?"

And I protested, really I did, but when I looked at the little pansy face peeking out of one boy's jacket, a little white face with a big orange blotch on his forehead and immense blue-green eyes, I was lost. Lost, I tell you! I kept saying no out loud and wondering what Loosy and Lily would think and in the end, the little pansy face was peeking out of my jacket and I was doomed.

So now this little one is hiding in the furnace room where he has devoured a half can of Friskies, awaiting the moment when Lily and Loosy aren't looking and he can come upstairs and explore. They are pretty tense about the whole thing but nobody has done anything but hiss mildly and look bug-eyed.

This baby is so beautiful! He's medium-long-haired, white with orange patches. He needs a name and I'm leaning toward something beginning with an M and having two syllables. I started out with Maxie, but couldn't shake the similarity to certain hygiene products. His name will come to me----maybe you have a suggestion?

And I will probably have to increase my pet deposit with my landlord, if all goes well and I actually keep him. It will depend on how the L cats manage this intrusion. They're pretty mellow so I think it will go okay, but time will tell. I will post a picture when he comes out of hiding.

UPDATE: my sister suggested Maxwelton as a name, so that I have an excuse to call him Maxie that has nothing to do with feminine products. And since there is a local area of the island called Maxwelton, that will be his name and Maxie will be what I call him.

Friday, October 19, 2007

What a difference a day makes...

It's been a beautiful day today on the island, though I understand Seattle has been under siege again, with thunderstorms, hail, and windy conditions. It was bright sun here, at least part of the day, with a few sprinkles. But what a relief not to be without electricity!

I've been working on my sermon on the Second Source and will post it here on Sunday evening. But it's been a little tough going. My routine is normally to start the sermon on Wednesday, finish a major practice draft by Thursday night, let it rest on Friday, and polish it up on Saturday. It just didn't work that way this time.

It's not that the subject matter is so difficult, it's more that I wanted to give it a spin away from the usual suspects, the ones we always think of when we consider our prophetic women and men and I didn't manage that. The wording: Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love.

I think of all the non-Unitarian and Universalist characters in history who set an example for us, centuries ago. Not just Michael Servetus and King John Sigismund, but people like Madame Curie, Robert Ingersoll, Francis Rabelais, and Voltaire. Not to mention Mark Twain and Thomas Paine and others who stood polite society on its ear with their sturdy defiance of convention and the hidden oppression that everyone took for granted in polite society and in religion.

Eventually I decided that the followup Conversation on this Source would be where we'd spotlight these non-UUs and that the sermon needed to be more historical in nature, for the benefit of the visitors we've been getting who know nothing about UUism. I'm proud of our history and our usual suspects.

But the Conversation, I've decided, will feature a readers' theatre experience of one of the playlets in Charles Erskine Scott Wood's "Heavenly Discourse". I chose the chapter entitled Noah's Cruise, which features a number of characters, including Noah, Darwin, and William Jennings Bryan, all discussing the "truth" of Noah and the Ark with much hilarity. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two hours of fear...

ended a few minutes ago when the lights came back on in my house. At 1:45 today, a major windstorm kicked up, the trees were a-rockin' and a-rollin' and though I wasn't losing anything but a few branches, it was fairly nerve-wracking. At 3:45, the power went out and I was struck with the dread that came to visit last winter when the power was out for days.

I checked the batteries, got out the lantern and headlamp, figured out what a cold supper would look like, reassured the cats who were edgy and running around madly with the gusty wind, put on a couple more layers, and settled in for what might have been a long haul. I was reassuring myself that the power would certainly be back on in time for me to finish the sermon I've been dawdling on all week and get the newsletter info to the editor.

But there were no guarantees. I called the power company's emergency line a couple of times to see if there were any predictions about when it would be fixed, but they know better than to make too many promises.

And just as I finished my cold supper and went to add another layer, on came the lights, the fridge fired back up, the radiators started to do their thing again, and I was suffused by a wave of gratitude. The relief is immense. We've dodged the bullet again, at least for now!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Explain this to me, if you will.

This is weird. I firmly believe that rape and sexual violence are not the victim's fault. Males have got to learn to keep their sexual thoughts from affecting their professional and personal life and they must treat women with respect. Women want to be spoken to face to face, not face to chest. You know the drill. And I suspect you agree with this line of reasoning.

And yet, female fashion these days seems to feature cleavage to the max. I went to a seminar today and the woman presenting was wearing a neckline that revealed quite a lot more bosom than seemed necessary. She was nicely dressed--that wasn't an issue. But I couldn't look at her without being aware of her generous bustline. I wondered how it affected the male ministers in the room, as she talked about end of life and hospice issues. I was distracted and I'm not male---or even bi.

Styles for women, even young girls, are very low cut these days, apparently for the purpose of showing off the beauty of the female breast. That's nice. But at the same time we are telling males, don't look. Turn off your sexual thoughts. Pretend you don't notice.

I'm not advocating burkha or plainstyle clothing. Women have a right to look beautiful, to take care with their appearance, wear stylish clothing. But what's the message here? "I'm putting it out there but you're supposed to pretend you don't see it and you must not ever think that I want you to do anything about it."

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Rockies are going to the World Series!

You may be wondering, "where did that come from?" I lived in Colorado for 34 years before returning to my homeland in the Pacific Northwest in 1999 and when the Rockies team formed in 1993, I was one of their first fans. I was sorry that they named the home field after Bill Coors and his Kolorado Kool-aid, but I hadn't had a baseball team to cheer on since the Portland Beavers and the exquisite delight of going with my dad to baseball games when I was nine and didn't know to snicker at the team name. At nine years of age, preachers' kids aren't too up on their suggestive slang.

I couldn't afford to go to a lot of games but I did snap up the chance to use others' season tickets or complimentary seats. I even went so far as to take my ex-husband to a game where we sat in practically the front row, staring into the afternoon sun on a 90 degree day. But it was free and he loved the Rockies too, so if nobody else can go, what do you do if you're still friends with the guy? You invite him along. And we did have a good time. If nothing else, the action of the game kept him from talking all the time---mostly.

The Rockies' appeal dimmed a bit when I moved West again, but the Mariners never did replace them in my affections, and now that they have become the Good Luck Bears and their prowess has actually surfaced in the Mariners-crazy Seattle papers, I am thrilled that they are coming into their own. We don't know if this is a fluke or if they're actually that good, but I prefer to believe the latter and will be rooting for them to win the Series.

If they don't win and subside into oblivion again, well, that's the way the ball pops up. I'll still keep the home fries burning in my sports-aversive heart. And if you hear anything about how the Broncos are doing this year, let me know. The Seahawks are all we get out here. I'm definitely not a sports fan, but, well, you know, sometimes we imprint with odd preferences. I always did love horses and the Rocky Mountains are my second favorite set of hills.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A great weekend!

My sister and her husband came to spend this past weekend with me. It's always fun to spend time with them, whether we are gadding about on the island or loafing in Moses Lake. This weekend they arrived midafternoon on Friday and left this morning after breakfast and we were going and coming pretty much non-stop all weekend.

Friday night I cooked supper; we had a small pork roast with steamed rainbow chard, delicata squash, and for dessert, brownies with chocolate ice cream on top. Yummo, as Rachael Ray would say. J. (sis) made a rhubarb pie which we proceeded to eat for a late snack and breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings. (What? it qualifies---at least two food groups, three if you count the cream we poured on top.)

Saturday we made do with pie because we wanted to go to the Cranberry Fest over at House of Prayer, where my friend Glen is the pastor. The guys were out washing windshields of Fest-goers when we arrived about 9:30 a.m., hungry for cranberries. The ladies of HOP sold us bags of fresh organic cranberries out of the HOP cranberry bog plus a cranberry upside down cake and slices of almond cream cake, cranberry cheesecake, and peach queen cake, plus cranberry cider.

From the Cranberry Fest, we moseyed on to a couple of garage sales where I picked up a good rug for the basement family room for $10 and, the biggest prize of all, a box full of silverplate large goblets, chalice-like cups, and small goblets, also for $10. They were quite tarnished, but a little silver polish revealed real beauty underneath. The chalice shaped cups I will use for gifts, perhaps as prizes in the upcoming chili cookoff this winter.

We had lunch up at Whidbey General and then I stayed on for NEKK (North End Koffee Klatch) while J & P went up to Oak Harbor to find some materials for a project. We had 8 people at NEKK, and the conversation was far-ranging and excellent. I even got an invitation to go horseback riding with one of the women! I haven't been riding for years and I snapped up the chance.

That evening, J & P & I went over to my favorite Mexican restaurant for supper, then came home and watched "Snow Cake" with Alan Rickman (yummo! also), which was a good movie and quite poignant.

They left this morning, I scurried around and got ready for the afternoon Solidarity Sunday church service, did some laundry, and at 3, went over to set up for the service. My friend A was the speaker and she was great. We had lots of visitors who were quite enthusiastic and promised to return.

After the service, we had a special congregational meeting to vote on accepting the funding from the UUA's "first home" Veatch Fund and got updated on the progress of the building: foundation is poured, trenching is done for the ground source heat pump, electricity will go in tomorrow. Upcoming is the sanding and varnishing of the overhead, indoor trusses which will be a focal point of the great room, which will serve as our sanctuary. We're planning on a lot of sweat equity, and the trusses will be our first project.

Note to Kim: we have been planning to make this building as green as possible, with the funds we have. We'll have a ground source heat pump, SIPs, Hardiplank siding, eventually some solar when the technology is quicker to pay for itself. All the features of the building have been selected with greenness in mind.

So it's been a good few days. Tomorrow I am attending an all day seminar with Brian Swimme at the Whidbey Institute, focusing on Hope. I'm looking forward to it!

Steamed: the sequel

So I wrote an email to Stephan Papa, who has been organizing and promoting Association Sunday (hereafter known as AS, not those other words) to ask why the UUA decided to have AS on Solidarity Sunday. Now, I've known Stephan for many years. He was the minister of First Universalist Church in Denver for almost 20 years and always had an encouraging word for us UU students at Iliff School of Theology, just down the street from First Univ. So I was pretty sure he wasn't going to give me the runaround, in answering my question.

I got a very prompt reply from him, apologizing for the oversight, acknowledging the need to get further input while giving the reasons and process involved in setting this year's date. In addition, he asked for my thoughts about next year's date. I had cced the note I'd sent him and Bill to my friend Keith Kron at the OBGLTC, and Stephan replied to all, so that Keith was able to respond as well, which he did.

I didn't ask permission of either Stephan or Keith to quote them, so I won't, but I was pleased with the non-defensive tone of Stephan's response and with the exchange generally. I have the sense, if not the guarantee, that next year this imposition will not occur or, if it does, the conflicting dates will be acknowledged and alternatives promoted in a thoughtful way.

The whole exchange was made even more satisfactory by the measured tones of the conflict. There were differing points of view, an opportunity for hurt feelings on both sides, an opportunity for defensive, angry accusations back and forth, and these elements did not surface at all. If they existed in anyone's mind, that person bit back angry words and took the high road.

I've been accused, over the time I've been blogging as Ms.Kitty, of coming on as Wisewoman and offering my opinions about proper blogging behavior in places where they're not welcome. I'm probably guilty as charged, but guilty of what?

Guilty of preferring a civil tone in our debates? Isn't that what we hope for in the civic and religious sphere, rather than charges and countercharges between human beings?

Guilty of preferring direct communication rather than snide remarks and sarcasm which seek to hurt, rather than to find common ground? In what universe is it okay to insult people who disagree with you?

Guilty of preferring non-defensive responses to critique, rather than rants about how terrible the critiquer is to disagree with the critiqued?

I'm not a particularly wise Wisewoman. I goof up all the time. But I have enough life experience and common sense to know that civil discourse with our dissenters is far more effective than sarcastic accusations and defensive reactions. That simply is not how the world works; diplomacy and a willingness to listen are essential behaviors in a world that is already too full of rage.

I'm likely to be accused of being uncivil, snide, and defensive in this post. I've tried very hard to remove accusatory language and to focus on my own understanding of the universe. My efforts won't satisfy everyone. But when I realized that my own joy in writing Ms. Kitty's had taken a serious hit because of the email sent by another, I needed to act to regain that joy.

I'm no Martin Luther, but here I stand.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Okay, I'm back and I'm a little steamed.

Why is the UUA's big fundraising date, Association Sunday, Oct. 14, happening on what has for years been Solidarity Sunday, the Sunday closest to National Coming Out Day? Every year since I've been in the ministry, I've used this important date to focus on the civil rights issues of Bi/Gay/Lesbian/Transgender people----marriage equality, most recently, but attitudes, protections, homophobia in other years.

I asked my pal Keith Kron, who runs the office of BGLT concerns, why this would be, because it doesn't seem like a sensible thing to do, when BGLT rights are so important to UUs everywhere (or at least I thought they were!). Keith is inclined to think that the powers that be (PTB) didn't make the connection; they didn't ask him for his opinion before scheduling it. And I"m inclined to think that the PTB are unaware that there is anything important about this Sunday, so they felt free to superimpose Ass Sun on a day which many congregations have regularly used to celebrate advances in BGLT civil rights.

I'm bothered by this oversight. I mostly approve of the programs the UUA offers us. I'm grateful for the support from our district and from the national organization, but I feel as if they dropped the ball on this one.

When I got the Ass. Sun. stuff in the mail, I looked at the suggested date and immediately said to myself, "nope, not doing it that day, got Angela coming to speak about being a Pentecostal evangelist who was outed by an enemy and lost her family, her vocation, and her ordination all at one fell swoop. Not gonna do that to her. We're going to have the UUA's fundraiser on another date."

And so we are. We're going to have our big Tout for the UUA on the 28th. And I've written a letter to Bill Sinkford and Stephan Papa asking why the date was chosen and how come they didn't remember the importance of this national day of dignity for BGLT people. I'll let you know what they say.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sermon: An Attitude of You Know What...

Delivered on Oct. 7, 2007, at the UU Congregation of Whidbey Island.

Rev. Kit Ketcham, October 7, 2007

It had been a tough few months in my former congregation, several years ago. Because of serious financial concerns, the Board of Trustees had decided to form an ad hoc committee to look for less expensive space to rent, to hold worship, to carry on office activities, and to hold meetings, but it hadn’t been easy to find another space there in our area.

I hoped we could find a place where we could hold morning services; others in the congregation lobbied to continue meeting on Sunday afternoons, despite the dampening effect on our attendance and membership growth.

It just complicated matters when our host church, a United Methodist congregation with lots of space, an elderly membership, and a tight budget, offered to cut our rent to a more manageable level, so as not to lose us and our contribution to their financial security, and the question then became “do we move to another space or stay put?”

The congregation was deeply divided over the issue; a Unity congregation nearby seemed to be the favored locale by many, even though it had serious limitations. I was concerned about the similarity in name, the difficulty of sharing classroom space on Sundays, and the lack of handicap access to the offices.

I and others wanted to stay put. I felt we would lose the valuable momentum we’d achieved if we moved, for despite the obstacles, we had almost doubled our size in the three years I had served them.

After a congregational vote on the issue revealed that two thirds of the congregation agreed with me and wanted to stay in the Methodist building, I was relieved and expressed my relief audibly after the vote. Not smart!

My impulsive response enraged a number of people who had voted to move to the Unity building and not long after the vote, a small group of dissidents formed, meeting in living rooms, talking via email, expressing their displeasure and devising a plan of action.

Soon a letter was sent to the Board of Trustees, with a long list of all the things they thought I had done wrong over the past three years, with signatures of about twenty members, many of them people I had felt close to, had helped with major life crises, and whom I had considered friendly and supportive of my ministry. And the convener of the group, to my dismay, was a woman I had come to trust and depend on, in the congregation.

I was devastated, needless to say. I knew I had made mistakes but they were mistakes made out of ignorance and inexperience, not malice. Yet here were men and women I had devoted myself to, women and men who had never said anything negative to me before, angrily accusing me, as a group, of being an incompetent and insensitive minister.

The Board and I spent many hours considering our options. I sought out the help of our District Good Offices minister, talked to our District Executive, and the UUA’s director of Extension ministry, who had matched me with the congregation.
Eventually, I decided to tender my resignation, effective at the end of the coming church year, after the dissident group sent a message to the UUA asking how they could get rid of me.

I felt horrible. I knew I had not done anything illegal, immoral, or unethical, only stupid, and my conscience was clear. In my inexperience and lack of wisdom I had not been able to meet every need in the ways this small group thought I should. And my vision of ministry clashed with theirs.

I wanted them to grow, to find space where we could hold morning services, to reach out into the community, to have a greater social justice impact, and to become a Welcoming congregation where the ideals of Unitarian Universalism were clearly lived out. They thought I was pushy and overbearing, not intellectual enough, not concerned enough about certain issues, bringing too many changes, too quickly, to the congregation.

Now, I’ll admit, I have many faults. I am a bulldozer at times about issues I care about. I tend to forget that I’m always “on” when I’m with congregants. And I am known to get a bit defensive when criticized. And when the District Contact team came to help us sort out our troubles, they made sure I understood how I had contributed to the mess. And I couldn’t help but agree. They were right.

The Contact Team helped the congregation see that much of our conflict was attributable to growing pains and financial concerns, that messages to me about what they wanted from a minister were confusing and contradictory, that it was unfair of a small group to get together privately, with a private email list of dissidents, and gripe and plot to get rid of the minister, that in a true community, conflict needed to be open, kind, and democratically conducted.

Their report didn’t make everyone happy, of course, and several folks continued to agitate about their concerns, some left the church, and others quit attending regularly. The rest of the year looked as though it would be pretty bleak, and it was only November.

I was angry and sad and it was hard to find enough gratitude in my heart to write a decent Thanksgiving sermon, but the holiday was coming up and people needed to hear that we were going to be okay, that we were making progress, that I was going to be okay. Of course, I wasn’t sure I would be okay. I had visions of having to leave ministry, that I would not find another congregation to serve, that the conflict had ruined my chances of fulfilling my call to ministry.

On that Thanksgiving Sunday, I offered a sermon in which I acknowledged and apologized for the mistakes I’d made, told the congregation what I would do to make amends for those mistakes, and made copies of the sermon to send to every absent member of the congregation.

We also did a ritual at the end of the service, with polished stones to represent our hard times and the refining process of surviving hardship and candles to represent our hope for the future, to acknowledge the tough time we’d come through, to agree to do the healing work necessary, and to move on.

The day before Thanksgiving, I came home to find a message on my answering machine. It was from the woman who had led the group of dissidents. When I heard her voice, I cringed, afraid that a new assault was in the works, but instead I heard, “Kit, this is R.. I want to apologize. I’ve treated you very badly. Can we get together and talk? I want to make things right.”

It is hard for me to describe adequately the emotions and thoughts that arose in me because of the phone call. Even today, repeating her words gives me a lump in my throat and floods me with gratitude for her act of kindness and reconciliation.

When I think back to those difficult days, that long, agonizing season of pain, I remember her voice on the phone and experience again that immense gratitude. The sage Meister Eckhardt once wrote: “if the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”

And all the rest of my life, I will say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” For we did get together, we did talk over a cup of coffee, and we each apologized and made amends for the hurts we had given each other. I had hurt her and didn’t know it. She had, in turn, hurt me, out of her sense of injury.

This sermon was originally prepared to be delivered in August, and in the first couple of Sundays of that month, two esteemed preachers approached the idea of “home” from two different angles. Malcolm Ferrier discussed how we develop and establish a sense of belonging to the land, as we evolve a feeling of community. Chris Highland addressed the idea that “home” is not so much a place to be located as it is a place from which we reach out to others in our human community.

I hope to bring to us, today, a sense of what our responsibilities are to each other, as a community, as a place, a home, where we hope to belong, a home where we hope to grow in our own souls, and from which we hope to reach out to others and invite them into our community of love and justice.

On that original August Sunday, we were rained out and took refuge at Tom and Terri’s house nearby. Because of that, we only shared a few elements of the service, one of which was a fable you may have heard before. Let me reprise it briefly.

A monastery in the ancient woods had fallen into decline and the abbot was very discouraged. In meeting with his friend the local rabbi one day, he wept for his beloved community and shared his despair at the loss of faith in his fellow monks. The rabbi listened for awhile and then said to him, “You should know that we have long known in the Jewish community that the Messiah is one of you.”

The abbot was stunned and when he went back to the monastery he began to look at his fellow monks through a different lens. If the Messiah was one of them, he should be treated with reverence and respect, and so he began to treat his fellows with that reverence and respect. Gradually, the rabbi’s words began to be known among the residents of the monastery and attitudes shifted. Soon the whole monastery was alive with kindness, respect, reverence, and love, and novitiates came to join the community that formed within those walls. The monastery began to thrive once again and became a place of wisdom and grace and loving-kindness.

And for all of them living there together in those ancient times, the truth that their life together was based upon was the radical idea that the Messiah was one of them.

In this story, the value of reverence and gratitude toward our fellow human beings is illustrated in a remarkable way. “One of you, one of us, is the Messiah.” What a thing to hear, that one of you, one of us, is a person who will change the world, will bring the world a time of peace and healing.

Now, we Unitarian Universalists are a little skeptical about Messiahs. We’re not crazy about gurus or prophets or authority figures. But we do like to hear about new ideas, new technologies that will help our world deal with some of its most pressing problems, and we admire the person who has the courage to explore these things, to examine their potential as world-saving ideas and processes, and to bring them to our attention.

But Messiahs? Hmm, even though many of us really like Al Gore and Nelson Mandela and Michael Moore and a few other well-known folks, Messiah is not what we’d call any of them, at least not yet. But “messiah” can have a broader meaning, beyond the Jewish and Christian, more traditional concepts. Let me offer a couple of variations on the theme.

A messianic figure, as portrayed in some internet sources, is a person who is viewed as having a number of the characteristics of the Messiah in the eyes of a particular group. These usually include that the person is charismatic, influential, develops a power base, is appealing to a large group that views itself as oppressed in some way, and appears to offer a way to overthrow that oppression.

Examples of messianic figures include Joan of Arc, said to have visions to deliver France from English domination near the end of the Hundred Years' War, and, on the other side of the coin, Adolf Hitler, who claimed he would deliver post-World War One Germany from economic oppression caused by reparations and protect Germany from Communists.

I like to think of “messiah” in a different way. Isn’t that what we Unitarian Universalists do all the time anyhow? redefine words in a metaphorical way, so as to make better use of them? I do, anyhow. As a Baptist preacher’s kid turned UU, I have learned to be religiously bilingual, able to translate traditional Christian language into something that makes better sense to me without losing the essential meaning.

So to me, “messiah” has a metaphorical meaning, and when the rabbi says, “the Messiah is one of you”, I think immediately, ‘what does a messiah do? a messiah offers a path to better living, to peace of mind, to healing of the heart, to deep friendship in community, to courage and commitment, to greater love.” And then it hits me that any one of us, all of us, have this power---to do something meaningful to make the world a better place, a place of love and justice.

And because we all know that one small act of kindness is never wasted, because we know that many small acts of kindness create an atmosphere of appreciation and consideration, we are not surprised when the monastery, operating under the belief that one of those lonely monks is the messiah, we are not surprised when the residents of the monastery begin to change their attitudes toward one another, and the monastery begins to blossom and offer its peaceful atmosphere to those around it.

And the lives of those in that tiny community are changed, because of the possibility that one of them is a person who will bring peace and healing to the world.

A common greeting in yogic and Hindu practice is the word “Namaste”, said with a small bow to the one greeted. It means “the Divine spirit in me honors the Divine spirit in you” and is offered in respect and gratitude for the gifts another person brings to life.

The Beloved Community, which we strive to create here at UUCWI, depends on a spirit of Namaste, a spirit of appreciation and gratitude for the gifts each of us brings to the community.

Our sense of belonging in the beautiful new home we are building is enhanced by the sense of appreciation and gratitude we offer each other. Our own sense of safety in this place is deepened by the expressions of appreciation and gratitude we receive from each other.

Belonging to a community means that we trust each other and that we expect to be trusted. It means that we are kind and that we expect kindness. It means that when we disagree, we use trust and kindness to resolve it. When we are recipients of kindness, we say thank you. When we feel a need to give valuable critique, we are kind and offer appreciation and gratitude as well.

As human beings, we need to belong. At the same time, we are self-protective. We want things to be the way we want things, whether that’s a fondness for classical music or jazz in our worship services, a distaste for certain religious terms or a love of familiar religious language, an uneasiness with the idea of prayer or comfort with that ancient practice.

Sometimes we forget that we belong to a very diverse faith community and that what we like or dislike may feel just the opposite to a fellow worshipper. It’s useful, when we feel that discomfort, to reframe the moment into one in which we are willing to sacrifice our personal desires temporarily so that another can be served in that moment, trusting that others will do the same for us at another time and forgiving the occasional unintended slights we give and receive in human life.

Gratitude for the gifts each of us brings to our community, gratitude to the universe for its many blessings and challenges, gratitude to ourselves, even, for our openness to growth-----gratitude is the fuel that our life together as a community thrives on. Appreciation for the efforts of every person in a community strengthens that community and helps to heal the wounds inflicted by an indifferent world.

The world’s greatest philosophers and humblest citizens have called an attitude of gratitude one of life’s most important positive attributes. Melody Beattie writes: “gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Cicero wrote: “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Rabbi Harold Kushner states: “Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted---a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” And William Blake says, “Gratitude is heaven itself.”

In this year together as a congregation, we will face many challenges: the exciting process of building our own home in the woods, the hours spent hammering and painting and polishing together, the effort to reach out into the larger community with our resources, inviting others to join us in our work of love and justice, growing in spirit, in numbers, in strength of character.

All our challenges as a faith community, just as in life generally, give us opportunities to both complain or compliment, to gripe or to take action, to criticize or to appreciate. It’s been fairly well documented, scientifically, that an attitude of gratitude, a message of appreciation, a movement to be generous and helpful, all are conducive to greater joy, that when we focus on the negatives, the things that aren’t quite right by our standards, we deprive ourselves of the pleasure and satisfaction that come from extending gratitude and appreciation to others for their efforts.

My own commitment during this year to come, as we get tired and sore and perhaps occasionally scared and nervous over the many challenges ahead, my commitment is to double my efforts to appreciate you all, to treasure my time with you, to tell you often what I like and love about what you all do for this faith community. Because I believe that appreciation and gratitude are the glue that holds us together, that when we gripe and criticize unnecessarily, we weaken the bonds between us.

Will you join me in making this culture of appreciation a reality here in this community, our sacred home? 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 gratitude is the partner of joy, that appreciation is the antidote to criticism, and that a joyful community is a community of gratitude and appreciation. May we strive to make this sacred place, this home of ours, a place of joy and gratefulness. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Blog Tips for Everyone, not just ministers

I discovered the blog Miss Cellania through Joel the Neff over at On the Other Foot. Miss Cellania offers a daily barrage of jokes, YouTube delectations, cartoons, and sage observations. A recent post referred readers to Omega Mom's list of Blog Tips, which I am reproducing here, because I think they're useful. (And once again, I'm waiting till the appointed hour to go do a 1 p.m. wedding and then go on to preach at 4 p.m. Waiting is not one of my favorite things to do, but it does produce blog posts.)

I have little to add to these, but I will star the ones I think are most useful to me, for I blog in a very vanilla kind of way, without much in the way of widgets and other features.

1. Look, read, and learn.
*2. Be EXCELLENT to each other
3. Don’t let money change ya!
4. Always reply to your comments.
*5. Blog about what you know & love.
6. Don’t use filthy language-buy a dictionary.
*7. Blog about something educational.
*8. Be yourself; others will follow.
9. Don’t have too many blogs that will become a chore to maintain.
10. Keep it simple, user-friendly, interesting and organized!
11. Keep the blog simple and sweet!!!
*12. Share with others your thoughts and don’t be shy!
13. Never ask for link exchange. Blog hop to increase traffic.
14. Don’t clutter your blog with ads all over the place. IT’S IRRITATING.
15. Don’t comment for the sake of commenting. Some looked too fake and it’s a big turn off!
*16. Share something interesting and you will gain more readers.
*17. Show that we care to all bloggers, treat each other as friends.
18. Pictures say a million words. Keep them coming!
*19. Blogging should be fun or you’ll get tired of it pretty soon.
20. Don’t think people will come to your blog if you’re not willing to pay a visit to them.
21. Everyone loves to read short posting and, best, illustrated with a picture.
22. Try not to publish more than 5 posts in one blog a day. Even if it’s from feed reader, it’s quite hard to digest and catch up reading everything.
23. Blog: the other window to peek into people’s life, minus the trouble. Keep a certain level of privacy to yourself.
24. Never tell your readers that you are going on vacation. That’s basically telling them to not visit your blog for a week. Instead, write several posts, and take advantage of the timestamp feature.
*25. Try and write with people in mind that are somewhat similar to you. Allow your audience to identify with your blog and feel at home.
26. The key to a good article is a good introduction. A joke, a question or a picture does wonders.
27. If you are looking to earn an income blogging read and, you will be amazed at what you can learn.
*28. Write for yourself first. Remember that it takes time, effort, patience…and above all, daring.
29. Photos for your blog should always be shot in the RAW! No, not in the buff, but in RAW format. That leaves you a lot more room to play with your subject.
*30. Blog about what you’re interested in, and what you want to share. And it’s your blog, you make your rules.
31. Scared of the new digital camera? Go out, take lots of pictures, slowly learn the bells & whistles. Enjoy!
32. Until you’re ready for heavy-duty PhotoShopping on a pro basis, stick with .jpg’s. Easier to handle.
33. Resize your pix before downloading to the Internet; you won’t eat up your on-line storage space nearly as fast. Remember, too, that the resolution on most screens is 72 pixels/inch. I resize all my pictures to 6″ wide x 72 pixels/inch (and hype the contrast — the Internet flattens pix). If you have a picture good enough to steal, it won’t have definition good enough for a commercial use; let them get in touch with you for permission to use.
*34.  Build a community–either find other bloggers whose styles are similar to yours and comment on their blogs, or find other bloggers who are interesting to you (not necessarily the same thing).
35.  Submit posts to blog carnivals.  Or join a “blog theme of the day” group, such as Julie’s Hump Day Hmms.  Or tag another favorite blogger for a ROFL Award or Thinking Blogger Award or Perfect Post Award.
*36.  Post regularly.  You don’t have to post multiple times in a day, or even a week.  But be sure to post regularly or else your readers will go *poof*.
37.  If you do decide to go the Pay-Per-Post way, please, please, please (a) don’t let it take over your blog, (b) do write your own copy in your normal voice, and (c) don’t let it take over your blog.  Did I mention, “don’t let it take over your blog”?  I have dropped a couple of bloggers who went that path.
38.  If you add a group widget, or any kind of widget, first check to be sure it doesn’t break your blog theme.  Then check to be sure the damned thing loads nicely.  Clear your cache, delete all cookies, close your browser, then call up your blog.  If it takes more than a few seconds to load, and causes your computer to slow to a crawl while it’s loading, ditch the new widget.  Also check it in more than one browser; try IE, Firefox, Opera, Safari.
39. Don’t be afraid to change anything that’s not working for you, whether it’s your style, your layout, your widgets, or your content.
40. Avoid clutter. A fancy template with color is OK if you are doing text-only content, but don’t overdo it. If you have photos and videos, keep the template as clean as possible for readability.
*41. Make it easy for your audience. Fonts that are too big or too small, or funny colors, or a dark background make reading a chore. It’s the content that matters. (my note: the dark backgrounds are really hard to read and give me a headache!)
42. Don't use your blogging platform for a word proccessor. In that way lies madness. There's nothing like working hours on a masterpiece and then your browser locks up or your server goes down before you hit save. Write it offline first, then copy to your post editor.
43. Don’t talk down to your readers. Sure, some people are idiots, but idiots need love, too.
*44. Don't take snide comments personally. They reflect more on the commenter than on your writing. i.e., someone who says your writing makes their skin crawl is not a nice person and others doubtless see that too.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A little something on a Saturday afternoon

I have a wedding rehearsal at 5 p.m. this afternoon and, in looking around the web for interesting stuff, found this quiz. Somehow it appealed to my fighting spirit today. Again, it's slanted at a younger audience, but it was fun.

gURL.comI took the "women warriors" quiz on
my woman warrior is
joan of arc

Your ability to think long and hard about a situation (and your conviction to carry through) makes you a strong person, both inside and out. You generally try to see things from everyone's perspective and show them kindness they might not bestow on others. Read more...

Which woman warrior are you?

Friday, October 05, 2007

An Attitude of Gratitude...

is the title of this Sunday's sermon, which I'll post later. It had been scheduled for an outdoor service on Aug. 19, but we got rained out that day and had to go to a neighboring house. I chose not to preach the sermon, since we had a tiny crowd, several small children roaming about, and it just wouldn't have worked well. But it's gotten me thinking again about gratitude. More on that in a moment, since there's something related I've been thinking about as well.

It's interesting to be a minister, a clergywoman, with a blog. Because ministry is one of those callings which is all-encompassing as a vocation, I find myself writing posts with this awareness in the back of my mind. Oh, that doesn't mean that I am serious all the time or that I piously avoid certain words or jokes or attitudes. But I have been forcefully reminded many times that it is nearly impossible to shed the mantle of ministry and be something else for awhile.

I deliberately cultivate friends outside my congregation, I do not advertise my vocation, I do not discuss my congregational responsibilities with outsiders; I do not tell most people what I do with my life. Nobody at the gym knows, for example. My singing group members mostly don't know. Because the minute they find out that I am a parson person, their perceptions of me shift and their expectations of me change.

So, in the year and a few months that I have been writing Ms. Kitty's, I have come to see my readers as a kind of cyber-congregation. You all know that I am an ordained minister. And because I want to enhance your perception and understanding of ministry, I write like a minister (albeit a Western-style, casually dressed, interested in goofy quizzes minister). I want you to know how the mind of this minister works. I am careful about personal stories and apologize if I overstep boundaries. It's not always easy to tell what should be used as material and what shouldn't; I'm learning all the time.

Like any congregation, you manage to give me feedback. You expect me to behave myself and remind me when I don't. Sometimes the feedback feels kind of mean, but it's valuable nevertheless and I appreciate it, even as I smart, even when it takes me a long time to get to that point of appreciation!

Anyhow, back to gratitude. In the upcoming sermon, there's a story about a painful time in my life, when I was struggling to make sense of a conflict in the congregation I was serving, angry with a particular set of people who were trying to force me out with dishonest, unkind methods. My anger and resentment toward those people festered for a long time. It was painful just to visit the town where that congregation was located because I felt so angry about the treatment I'd received. And I posted, not long ago, about how hard it was to forgive someone who never apologized.

And then it hit me one day not long after that post: I actually owe that small group of people a debt of gratitude. It was because of their unkindness and poor treatment that I resigned-----and found a place to minister where I have been so well treated, so well received and appreciated, that I am happier and more content than I have ever been.

That realization, that I am actually grateful for that terrible experience because of what came out of it, has given me peace of mind that I never expected to find. And it has encouraged me to look for other reasons to be grateful to my enemies. Those reasons are not always easy to find; they take time. But I am reassured that if I am mindful, I will discover them.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Song Circle last night

Tuesday nights are Song Circle nights at Rockhopper's Folk Art Coffeehouse in Clinton, down the road, and it's always a lot of fun to sit around with a bunch of musicians and singers and harmonize. Dan and Rene, proprietors of Rockhopper's, have installed a mini-cam and the furniture is comfortable and wildly decorated by Rene's creative spirit. Two hours spent there singing with others in that informal, whimsical setting is quite an experience. You can get a taste of it by going here and scrolling down to the Oct. 2 entry with the video clip (actually almost two hours long----but you can get a glimpse in a few moments). I'm not on camera but you can hear my voice in the songs.

It was a welcome antidote to the grumpy mood I've been in for a couple of days after a tangle with another person which, unfortunately, I was unable to blame solely on her. Isn't that the pits, to be so "reasonable" that you have to take responsibility for your own s--t, that you can't just say "well, it's somebody else's fault" and walk away blamelessly. I was wrong to say something in the way I did and got a thorough dressing-down. I do think that what I said wasn't worth the diatribe I got, but that's the breaks.

I keep a journal and do a lot of stream of consciousness writing in it when I'm mad, so there are several pages dedicated to telling this person off without actually communicating it. I don't tend to dump on other people in the way I got dumped on, but that's my style, not necessarily someone else's. I also think that diatribes often say more about the other person than about me, so I try to let it roll off my back. But it's always hard to be the target of remarks that go beyond the requisite "this pissed me off, so quit it". I did learn a couple of interesting phrases in the process: "working my last gay nerve" was the most colorful but it doesn't seem very useful in my setting.

The grumpy mood is on its way out and that's good news. I hate being in that place, angry and feeling as if I have been treated vengefully for very little reason. It would feel good temporarily to blast back, but the negatives outweigh the positives, in terms of my own peace of mind. People have to be themselves and sometimes the authentic self doesn't make others happy. Again, that's the breaks.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

East Side, West Side

A new UU blog, Transient and Permanent, has an interesting perspective on the idea that there are two different kinds of Unitarian Universalism. The unknown author of the blog has posited the following:

"One (type) retains some of the classical Unitarian and Universalist theology and is more overtly Protestant-ish in worship style and language, and often architecture, art, and other aspects as well. The other is more experimental and protean, with no clear theology and less consistency in terms of worship."

As I understand the position presented, s/he sees New England churches as being more often in the first group, with a strong grip on the history and Christian liturgical elements of earlier Unitarian and Universalist congregations. Other churches, often newer and perhaps born of the Fellowship movement from the mid-20th century, differ strongly from those older, longer established churches, in that there is less awareness of the past, liturgy is more varied and worship style less dependent on a minister.

This is a very truncated synopsis of a longer piece that reminded me of something I've noticed about Unitarian Universalism, and that is the difference between East Coast UUism and West Coast UUism. (Don't ask me about the middle America states, because I have less experience to draw on there. I'd be interested in points of view about it, if you care to share.)

Many years ago, before I entered the ministry, I was a candidate for a District Executive position and flew to Boston for an interview. It was the first time I'd been to Boston and I was enraptured by the historic buildings and parks and places I'd only read about in my history books. (And Filene's basement, of course, though that wasn't in the history books.) I tromped all over the place, soaking up the ambiance and learning to use the subway.

My interview was with several high muckety mucks from the UUA plus the chair of the search committee, and I felt pretty well prepared for it. I had a lot of counseling and group experience; I was familiar with denominational politics and processes; I had good references and a lot of denominational leadership experience. I knew I was a good candidate for the job and eager to give it a shot. Whether I got the position or not, the trip to Boston was an exciting moment in my life.

The DE position was in a Western district. I was a Westerner, born and bred, never living anywhere else, and I guess I must have exuded something because one of the UUA folks tossed me this question: "So, Kit, what is it about Westerners? How come Unitarian Universalists in the West are so different?" I'm not sure how the chair of the search committee related to that question, but I was taken aback.

The questioner went on to remark on the maverick nature of Western UUs, the fretfulness of many Fellowship-type congregations west of the Mississippi, the many conflicts in Fellowship-type congregations, and the lack of many longterm settlements among ministers in the West. It was news to me, but I stuttered out something about the Frontier and pioneers and adventurers and freethinkers all being drawn to the new territory out West. I don't think I answered the question to her satisfaction but we went on and I tucked that bit of curious information away to be chewed on later.

I didn't get that job, which was okay because I was getting close to being able to go to seminary anyhow, and they gave it to an East Coast person, who lasted a few years and then left in a bit of a kerfuffle.

But when T & P revealed that s/he thinks there are two types of Unitarian Universalists, I was intrigued. I do get the significance of that UUA staffer's question now. I read blogs and other writings by East coast folks and do see that there are different ways of being UU. There is a more formal aspect, it seems to me, to Eastern UU congregations and their ways of doing things. Western UU congregations are all over the map.

When I read Beauty Tips for Ministers, for example, I'm aware that PeaceBang is advocating for a much more decorous way of dressing among clergy than would be typical of clergy out here. We rarely wear robes in the pulpit in this district; some do, if they are serving large congregations where that is the norm. Most of us don't. I don't wear a stole or robe unless it's a fairly formal occasion such as a child dedication, wedding, or memorial service. We do robe when we process in an ordination or installation, so we do know how to do it. We just don't often choose to.

Our daily attire is less formal too. I don't often wear jeans and sweatshirts to meetings with congregants, but my folks probably wouldn't mind. On home visits, I tend to wear khakis or cords with a t-shirt under a pretty long-sleeved shirt. I suspect Boston would not approve! But this isn't Boston, it's an island where doctors wear jeans to the office.

So what does anyone else think? I wonder what others' experiences are.