Monday, December 31, 2007

Unexpectedly at home on New Year's Eve

I had planned to be at Seabeck, at Winter Eliot, on New Year's Eve, celebrating with 140 friends, but instead I'm home, after wrenching my back on Friday lugging suitcases up to my room (no elevators at Seabeck). I had foolishly assumed that the muscle spasms I get a few times each year were behind me, since I've been working out faithfully five days a week, and I didn't take any of the paraphernalia I usually haul along, "just in case".

So after a Saturday in pain which no amount of ibuprofen or naproxyn could allay and a night in which I slept almost not at all, I decided to call it quits and come home where the heating pad and meds were awaiting me. It meant finding another ride home for my passenger, but she was cooperative and we managed that, so after breakfast, I packed the car and left Winter Eliot.

It took three hours, what with ferry lines and icy roads, but by noon I was home and able to pop a Skelaxin and lie down with the heating pad. Whew!

Today I have had a good night's sleep plus a couple of naps and am feeling much better. I think I am well enough to join some friends for a celebration at their home, but I will have to forego the bubbly, since the meds already make me a bit dim. Of course, I could decide not to take a pill before I go. We'll see how I'm feeling.

Right now, the pain and spasming seem to be gone, but until I've gone several hours without the back support truss and microwaved buckwheat insert, I can't be sure I'm cured.

Whatever happens, I'm glad to be home experiencing it, not trying to have a good time through the pain at Seabeck, much as I like being there.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Countdown till the end of the year

I'm watching the clock right now, awaiting the magic moment of 1:25 p.m., when I will leave the house and head over to pick up my passenger for our trip to the Winter Eliot Institute at Seabeck Conference Center. We have to detour via the eastern mainland because the Port Townsend ferry is passenger-only these days, so we've built in a little extra driving and waiting time. We hope to catch the 2 p.m. Clinton ferry and then the 3 p.m or so Edmonds to Kingston ferry.

As always, I'm ready way too early and twiddling my thumbs in the interim.

My dad used to say that he'd rather be thirty minutes early than thirty seconds late, and I guess I've inherited that philosophy, as I am almost always early and almost never late. And when I am late, I'm anxious about it, as though it actually mattered a hill of beans whether I am five minutes late anywhere. It usually only matters to me.

Eliot always starts on the 28th of December and ends on January 1, celebrating the end of the old year and the beginning of the new in fine style. This gathering of Unitarian Universalists has been going on every New Year's for many years; some of my friends who attend have been attending for decades.

This year's speaker is my friend and colleague the Rev. Amanda Aikman, a skilled playwright, preacher, and humorist, and I am looking forward to seeing her again and spending four days in her company. I don't get to see her very often, even though she only lives across the water from me. Our paths don't cross much because of our differing ministries. So this will be fun.

While I'm at Eliot, I'll have my laptop so I can keep up with my blog connections and email. But generally, I hope it will be four nice long days of leisure and rest. No cats to feed, no newspapers or TV, just me and 200 friends and Hood Canal and the Olympics. Ahhhh.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

I fear for women in power.

I saw the news about Benazir Bhutto online this morning when I sat down to check email and my first thought was "I'm not surprised". Whether it is assassination by suicide bomber or assassination of character by swiftboaters, women in power are in danger.

I remember years ago reading an interview in Glamour or some such (yes, in my earlier days I read the fashion and how-to-get-a man mags), an interview with a woman who had been Bhutto's roommate/friend at Radcliffe. I thought at the time, "how cool would that be, to have a Pakistani woman for a roommate and then to watch her ascend to power in her native land! To see her education and intellect and charisma pay off in this exciting way!"

Today I'm wondering how that former roommate/friend must be feeling now, how she must have been feeling in the past years as her friend was exiled and then returned to Pakistan to challenge the military establishment, knowing full well that her life was in constant danger.

I worry about Hillary Clinton. She too is challenging many ingrained attitudes and expectations about how women are supposed to act. She is so hated by many, even some who are feminists, because she isn't doing things the way she's supposed to, whatever that means.

Women in power are in danger, real physical danger sometimes, other times real emotional and economic danger. Women are vulnerable to attack through physical violence, through innuendo and suspicion and rumor, through character defamation.

There must be a radical shift in world view for women to be safe, whether that is in the Oval Office, the Prime Minister's role, the home, the classroom, the congregation, the public streets and shops. When women challenge the current world view, they are branded as bitches, witches, and whores, and their lives and wellbeing are endangered.

Women are, in the current world view, supposed to be compliant, sexy, submissive, thin, pregnant, nurturing, motherly, sweet, servile, modest, what have I forgotten? And if we're not, we're in danger.

Actually, we're in danger regardless. I remember viewing a movie, The Color of Fear, in seminary, a movie that was supposed to wake us up to the physical violence inherent in racism. Eight men, White and Asian and Latino and Black, were filmed in a seminar where they talked about their experiences with racism. I listened to horrific stories about their lives, watched one white man have an epiphany about his own racism, and learned a lot about the fear of one another that they experienced.

But at the end of the film, I was still thinking "I'm afraid of all of them. Because I'm a woman, and even the wimpiest of them could hurt me physically." I'm not saying that sexism is worse than racism but they are equally dangerous. I fear for Barack Obama as well, because he too is challenging stereotypes and hatred of the same kind.

I'm not afraid for myself most of the time, but I'm aware that I am constantly on guard, constantly aware, constantly making sure of my surroundings, my companions, my safety. It is so ingrained in me to be alert to danger from men that I carry this into my everyday life. And I love men, generally! But until I know them, and know that they are safe, I am on guard.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pondering things in my heart

I took the FS and FB to SeaTac yesterday afternoon, our last hours together for who knows how long, and though I am aware that I won't see them again for a long time, I was ready for some solitude again. The weather going down was blustery and spitting snow, though the roads weren't slushy, and I managed to be back to catch the 4:30 p.m. ferry home.

But the hours since I dropped them off have been full of ponderings in my heart. I have kept many memories of the time since his birth in 1972 and am now holding them up to the light of 2007, to see how our experiences together have changed and grown.

One thing I'm aware of is that, though I miss the days when it was just him and me against the world (a slight exaggeration, but we had some lean, unhappy times), the "mother and child reunion" (thank you, Paul Simon, for that phrase) is always changing. And that's a good thing.

I understand the impulse that keeps mothers resisting the entrance of another woman into the life of their sons. I understand the irresistible urge that prods mothers into continuing to treat their adult sons as though they had never left childhood. I think I was pretty successful at not succumbing to nagging him about health issues, though I did side with the FB when she expressed a concern.

But it all served to teach me that I no longer have a mother/son relationship with him in the same ways. He will always be my beloved child, but the generative step has been taken. He has moved beyond that relationship, whether I have or not, and it is now my task to move beyond it as well.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

Yesterday's "Do You Want to Hold the Baby" pageant (by Joyce Poley, marvelous composer of Unitarian Universalist dramatic and musical literature) was a huge hit. Our DRE, Lorie, had spent hours with other staff members and volunteers putting it together and the result was a tableau of the Nativity story expanded beyond the bare bones of the story to portray it in the light of radical hospitality and the miracle that is every baby's birth. My part was small and I didn't have to do much preparing, so I could let myself flow with the story and songs, thrilling to the generosity of spirit and the joy of a new and important life beginning.

We had had a quiet day, hanging around the house, because there wasn't much time to get out and do something before I had to be at church, so we were ready for a little entertainment and inspiration and we got it in spades. Because not only was the pageant inspirational, it was also hilarious.

Imagine two adult men dressed as cows. Yes, cows, udderly true. Several cats, all sizes and shapes. A donkey's head on a tall, husky man. Teenage Joseph and middle-aged Mary. A little brown baby. Three Wise Ones (one preteen girl, her mother, and a man). Two sheep, a three-year-old boy and his mother, who exited briefly with him under her arm about the time my line was "Do you want to hold the baby?" "Yes, please, won't you?" was her murmured plea, as he squawled his way out the door. A dove, whose costume was only a white feather boa (over clothes, of course!).

One woman said to me afterwards,"you know, I had my doubts about this whole thing, but I have to say I wouldn't have missed it for the world!" Our several visitors were enchanted.

But the glory of the night made it hard to unwind last night and, coupled with more caffeine later than usual and cats who would not settle down, I had a hard time going to sleep, so this morning, very short on sleep and feeling groggy, I took the FS and FB up to the Keystone ferry dock to let them go to Port T. on their own. I came home, took a nap, and now am feeling more chipper.

They'll call me in the middle of the afternoon when they're ready to come home and I'll run up and get them. That will also give me plenty of time to make our Christmas dinner, which I'll enjoy, and have it ready for them a bit earlier than if we'd all gone.

Tomorrow they go home. There's a part of me that hates to see them go but our lives have become so different that I will also welcome a return to my own ways of doing things. We've had some good conversations, broaching subjects that sometimes don't come up until a crisis occurs. I want him to know where the documents are, the will, the insurance. I want the reassurance that he will step in for me, someday, when I can't do it myself. And, judging from his responses to the conversations, he will do so respectfully and sensitively. That makes me feel good. It's being a good Christmas.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Eve Eve

We're two days into the visit of the Favorite Son and Favorite Bride. It's been interesting learning how to be together in this new relationship of married adult son, daughter-in-law, and mother-friend-mother-in-law. It's a configuration I have not experienced before and I confess I was a bit tense during the first hours we spent together on Friday.

I waited for them at SeaTac's Concourse C/D spillway, where passengers from flights using those gates pour in a steady stream to enter the main terminal. And when I saw the two of them coming down the ramp, I couldn't hold back a little squeal and eager hand-wave, even though I could see FS grinning a little self-consciously at my uncool behavior. But he is a good guy and if anyone was looking at us weirdly, it didn't matter a bit as we three hugged and moved out of others' way.

It was only midafternoon and we intended to go to the Pike Place Market so that Jayde could check out a shop she wanted to visit, so that was our first stop and then on to Saba, an Ethiopian place on 12th to enjoy a little enjera and lentils, greens, lamb, and beef. By the time we were finished with supper, it was almost 7 and traffic had abated so much that we had a smooth ride north to the ferry terminal at Mukilteo.

It takes awhile to find conversational ease, for me, in exploring a new relationship. I felt uncharacteristically quiet at first, with the lightweight news shared and the heavier topics unbroached, yet hanging there, ready for consideration. When to bring up the new topics that his marriage and my aging suggest? How to do it?

Eventually, once we were home and the cats had done their preliminary circling of the new laps and legs, I brought out one set of topics---the few jewelry pieces that have sentimental or monetary value and the stories behind them. I find that, now that he is married to a woman I love and whose children I have taken into my heart, I have entered the stage of "what do I want my son to have for his memories and possessions from me?"

"This brooch is, I think, silver or maybe pewter and belonged to my Tante Caro. She gave it to my mother, who gave it to me. It is Swedish and at least 100 years old. I would like you, FB, to have it someday and perhaps pass it along to your daughter, my new granddaughter (would that be FGD?), if you think she would value it."

Murmurs of appreciation from both FS and FB. (It is a beautiful brooch, heavy and intricately designed, but very out of fashion and too heavy to pin on anything lightweight.)

"This is my wedding ring from your dad's and my marriage of 13 years. I don't know what it might mean to you, FS, but I'm grateful for the good years we had together and especially for you, who were the most important and most valued outcome of those years. Do with it whatever feels right."

FS takes the ring, slips it on and off his little finger, looks inside at the inscription, sets it down. I pick it up and look inside at the inscription, remembering it as having had a serious mistake in the etching. There is no mistake glaring back at me, only a slight scratch. My memory is faulty, perhaps the result of my long agonizing over this marriage. Today, December 23, would have been our 41st wedding anniversary.

"This box holds the Navajo turquoise jewelry that I got at a garage sale before you were born, for $35. I have no idea what it's really worth but it will be yours."

We sit in silence at the table. I want to talk with him about my life, about how my life will go in the future and ask him to be good to me. I don't say any of these things yet. Perhaps I will before the visit is over.

Yesterday we spent the day touring the island, as our trip to Port Townsend had to be postponed because of high winds on the Strait. We hope to go tomorrow, but today we are resting, going to church for the children's pageant in the afternoon, and enjoying ertasopa (Norwegian split pea soup), our traditional Christmas Eve meal for supper. Only it is Christmas Eve Eve and tomorrow will be our Christmas feast, since they have to leave on Christmas Day, too early for a big dinner.

Yesterday was a good day. My tension has ebbed considerably. We are again at ease and when I mentioned the "spiritual autobiography" I was writing, FS said he'd like to read what I've got so far. So I printed it out for him and both of them have now read it. I've only gotten to the place where his father and I have parted ways and I don't know how to write this piece. So it will take me awhile to find the words that will describe the breakup of our marriage without casting too many aspersions at either of us and yet be honest and true.

It is early morning and they are still sleeping. We will go to Neil's Clover Patch for crab benedict in a little while and we will see what this day brings, in the way of conversation.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Quintessential Holiday Reading for Unitarian Universalists...

is certainly NOT by me but is by my colleague, the Rev. Dennis Hamilton of Horizon UU Church in Carrollton, Texas. It was published in the December edition of Quest, the monthly publication of the Church of the Larger Fellowship and you can link to it here .

Delve into everything else Quest has to offer. It is one of the best publications the UUA puts out.

PS. Off to pick up the FS and his bride at SeaTac! Yay!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Preparation for an arrival

No, or rather yes, it's Advent, that season of the liturgical year when in Christian churches all over the world preparations are made for the arrival of the Son, the baby of Bethlehem, but no, that's not the arrival I'm preparing for.

I am preparing for the arrival of the Favorite Son and his bride who will be arriving on Friday via Alaska Airlines, not a donkey, and there will be a room in this inn for them when they get here, although I will have to move Maxie out of his deluxe accommodations to make that happen. (Maxie is routinely shut up in the guest room at 10 p.m. every night so that the adults can get some respite. I am not sure what it will be like to have him on the loose all night. Poor Loosy and Lily!)

Anyhow, I went to the grocery store this morning to lay in supplies-------heavens! I'd forgotten how much it costs to feed more than one person for several days! After laying out buckets of cash for supplies, I came home, took a look at what I absolutely had to do to get ready for them, and lay down for a nap.

Now I'm delaying the inevitable a little while longer, cooking a little supper, planning to watch a DVD after that, and vowing to do it all tomorrow, for sure. Luckily the FS has never been a stickler for pristine cleanliness, though I'm not sure about his bride. If I feed them well, though, I suspect I will get away with whatever degree of preparation I manage.

It will be wonderful to have them here. They visited me in Seattle three years ago but they've never been to visit me on Whidbey. Our plans for the weekend include stopping by the Pike Place Market in Seattle on our way home from the airport, a trip across the water to Port Townsend, and a little exploration of Whidbey. I want to take them up to Deception Pass, on the north end, because it is so beautiful.

I have a picture taped up on my wall of the FS and me, taken years ago when we were both much younger, for our church directory. He is long-haired and bespectacled, wearing a tattered jean jacket, a tie, and a black t-shirt with a slightly offensive slogan, his baseball cap on backwards, a maniacal grin on his face. I am long-haired myself, in a red dress, much thinner, beaming innocently, unaware of how this picture will turn out. As it was, we chose it for our directory picture because it was so much a depiction of who we were in those days. He must have been about 19 at the time and I was probably only 50 or so.

He was the ringleader of the youth group at our church and at the time, the church was in the middle of an all-church social action project which involved everyone in helping with a local agency for families in transition. The youth group was in charge of a drive to amass paper products for the agency.

One Sunday we were complacently listening to the announcements at the beginning of the service, when the rear doors swung open and through them marched a phalanx of black-clad young men, the FS at the point position. They reached the front of the church, swung around, legs planted wide, hands on hips. The FS, in his black leather trench coat, opened one side of his coat to reveal many paper products fastened inside.

"We need you to bring paper towels, disposable diapers, kleenex," he opened the other side of his coat; "also toilet paper, computer paper, all kinds of paper products for Family Tree". He closed his coat, put hands on hips, glared menacingly. "And ya better do it. Cuz if you don't.........I'm gonna date all your daughters!"

The paper drive was a great success.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Tragedy in Florida UU congregation touches us all

My friend and colleague the Rev. Millie Rochester is the associate minister at the Clearwater UU Congregation in Florida, where five members of her group are dead tonight after a murder/suicide that took the lives of two women partners and two children and the ex-husband of one of the women, a man who took his own life after killing the women and children.

I can't imagine what that must demand of Millie and her congregants. Please keep them in your hearts and prayers. Members of the UU Trauma Response team are in Florida with the congregation. The senior minister of the congregation, Abhi Janamanchi, is on sabbatical but will doubtless return to assist with care for the community.

Millie was the DRE at the Salem, Oregon, church for many years before studying for the ministry and ordination. She is well known in this district for her competence and cheerful nature.

How can these things be happening? There are no answers to that question that satisfy me these days.

An interesting challenge

The newsletter deadline is coming up and one of my monthly duties is to write a column "from the Minister". Here is my column for January, whose topic emerged from last night's Conversation on Source #4, "Wisdom of Jewish and Christian teachings".
Recently, as we considered the Fourth Source of Unitarian Universalism (the wisdom of Jewish and Christian teachings), the topic of language came up. I had asked those attending the conversation about that Source to think of one religious word that they liked and another religious word that they didn’t like----and why.

Among the words that folks liked were “spirituality”, “soul”, “grace”, “tolerance”, largely because they were words that felt big, inclusive, open to everyone. The words folks were uncomfortable with included “faith”, “church”, “cross”, and “salvation”, because they were words that felt limiting, excluding of some. Some evoked images that were foreboding.

A lively discussion grew out of this exercise and it became clear that those of us who had been UUs for a long time had less trouble with some words than others who were fairly new to the congregation. But there were other factors as well; a couple of people knew of someone who had chosen not to seek out a UU congregation because it felt “churchy”, i.e., Christian.

This has been a conversation in Unitarian Universalist circles for as long as I can remember---over thirty years of membership in a UU congregation! As new people join us and begin to experience the pluralism that is the essence of our universalist theology, there is a growing desire to open the circle as far as possible with our language. Naturally, there is also a resistance to changing old and comfortable language. Both sides have reasons and feelings to bolster their convictions.

So what can we do to live with this paradox, this tension between the historical language and the present reality? We don’t want people to be turned off by who we are, but we also want to be true to our roots.

My thirty-plus years of Unitarian Universalist membership also make me very aware that we can’t make rules about words. We can only listen to one another’s concerns and thoughts and try to understand how people’s experience has shaped their thinking. We can only be sensitive to one another’s positions.

At the conversation that evening, it was also clear that it hurts to hear that the historic word “church”, which comes from our Christian roots, is painful for others who do not share Christian roots or feel uncomfortable with present-day Christianity. And it occurs to me that there is a need for understanding and a democratic spirit on both sides of this coin.

As we get closer to completion of our new building, I think it would make sense to consider naming it something big, not to avoid using the word “church” but to point us toward the larger mission of Unitarian Universalism, which is an invitation to the Whidbey community to experience what it means to have differing beliefs but a common concern for one another, for the larger community around us and for our planet Earth. Is there a way to do that? It would be exciting to explore that idea, I believe.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Controversy about GA 2008 in Ft. Lauderdale

I've been following a heated conversation on the UUMA ministers' chat about the pros and cons of having General Assembly 08 in Fort Lauderdale, where attendees will be required to show an official ID (more than a GA badge) in order to enter the conference center. Concerns center on the justice issues involved, the potential for our youth to be excluded unfairly at times, and generally the atmosphere that such heightened security involves.

A message came out today from UU leadership about this issue and its concerns, and I've reprinted it below. I've got problems with the scenario myself but am mostly watching it develop because there's no way I am going to be able to attend GA in Ft. Lauderdale, whether I think it's just dandy to be attending a UU event in a locale where suspicion and threat of punishment abound or not.

If you're going to GA, you ought to be aware of the controversy. Some are calling for GA to be cancelled if it can't be scheduled in a friendlier location or, at the very least, for there to be strong opposition shown to the security policies of the Port of Ft. Lauderdale.

Here's the email that went out to the UU-News list:

General Assembly Planning Committee Chair Beth McGregor, President
William G. Sinkford, and Moderator Gini Courter have sent a memorandum
to the UUA Board of Trustees and the General Assembly Planning Committee
regarding security issues at the Fort Lauderdale site of the 2008
General Assembly. The memorandum notes, "Our concerns include the
possibility of an unfriendly environment for youth, particularly youth
of color, and the problems inherent in using a site that is not open to
those not eligible for government-issued identification." The complete
memorandum can be found online at .

After studying reports on the Fort Lauderdale conference site and
following meetings held by UUA staff with convention center and law
enforcement officials in Fort Lauderdale, McGregor, Sinkford, and
Courter have concluded that "the conditions in Fort Lauderdale provide
us with an opportunity to shine a light on the issues that concern us
and to use the situation as a teaching moment: What is it that we, as
religious people, are called to say at this time and in this place? What
privilege do we enjoy that is denied to others?" They have recommended
to the Board of Trustees that the Board not take any steps to change the
location of the 2008 General Assembly.

Further information, including the security protocols at Fort Lauderdale
and a report from an onsite visit, can be found at (see related content links).

So whaddya think?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In tribute to Beverly Anderson

My friend Bev died last Thursday and her memorial service is today. It is an honor to conduct her memorial service. Here are my closing words for her service this afternoon.

After hearing so many stories about Bev’s life, I regret that my friendship with her didn’t start sooner! As it was, we began to get acquainted when she was diagnosed about a year ago with the cancer which would kill her.

I was doing my volunteer chaplaincy work at Whidbey General, peeking in rooms to see if anyone wanted to talk or pray or laugh, and one of the nurses caught me in the hallway, pointed toward a room, and said, “the lady in that room has just had some pretty bad news. You might want to go see her.”

I went in the room and there was Bev, perched on the side of her bed, looking out the window at the wintry skies. In chaplaincy work, there’s no time for chit-chat, and I got right to the point. “Bad news?” I asked, and we started to talk.

Eventually we realized we had met before, during one of the sessions my congregation had sponsored about gay and lesbian issues, and our connection began to grow.

During the next year, I visited frequently at her home, met her family and friends, and came to love her for her spirit, her sense of humor, her love of life. And as she fought the cancer, clung to life tenaciously, finally letting go, she never lost her trademark humor or spirit.

In fact, on the last day before she died, Wednesday of last week, I visited her at Bailey Boushay, finding her feverish and barely awake. I took her hand, realizing it was probably my last chance to do so, and said, “Bev, it’s Kit, I’m sorry I haven’t been able to get here sooner,” and she, in a voice barely audible, said, “well, it’s about time…”

Twenty four hours later, she was gone, but not without giving me one last sassy remark, letting me hold her hand one last time, stroking her hair one last time.

Bev’s ashes will be distributed by her family. But her life continues in our memories. We loved her, we continue to love her, we may continue to be guided by her. Our grief, our emotion, our life with her does not end today. Remember this and be gentle with one another. We will relive our pain many times and this is natural. It is our nature as human beings to carry with us the experience of love, in all its joy and sorrow, and to learn from its teachings.

May we learn from Bev’s life and death. May we live on in the spirit in which she lived, with courage, fortitude, and love. Let us enter now into a time of silent reflection and prayer, remembering Bev’s life.


Let me close with this poem by May Sarton, which to me is a fitting conclusion to a celebration of Bev Anderson’s life.

“Now Voyager” by May Sarton

Now voyager, lay here your dazzled head,
Come back to earth from air, be nourished,
Not with that light on light, but with this bread.

Here close to earth be cherished, mortal heart,
Hold your way deep as roots push rocks apart
To bring the spurt of green up from the dark.

Where music thundered, let the mind be still,
Where the will triumphed, let there be no will,
What light revealed, now let the dark fulfill.

Here close to earth the deeper pulse is stirred,
Here where no wings rush and no sudden bird,
But only heartbeat upon beat is heart.

Here let the fiery burden be all spilled,
The passionate voice at last be calmed and stilled
And the long yearning of the blood fulfilled.

Now voyager, come home, come home to rest,
Here on the long-lost country of earth’s breast,
Lay down the fiery vision and be blest, be blest.

Be Blest, Bev, as you have blessed so many.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Source #4, Wisdom from the Jewish and Christian Traditions

We’ve examined, to this point, three of the sources of Unitarian Universalism. Let’s turn in our hymnals to the page where all of the Sources are listed and read together the list we’ve considered so far.

The Living Tradition we share draws from many sources:
Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life;
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;
Wisdom from the world’s religions, which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life.

Today we come to our Fourth Source, probably our most basic source and, for some a challenge to understand and to acknowledge. Let’s read it together:
Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves.

The challenge I refer to is not this simple statement which focuses on ancient teachings of hospitality and inclusiveness, but the challenge of examining and taking to heart the wisdom of religions which have struggled to survive modern culture with integrity and grace.

Judaism and Christianity, as well as their Abrahamic cousin, Islam, have been beset by the fervor of fundamentalist thought and have diverged widely from the original teachings of their major prophets. Because of this muddying of authentic teachings, it has been hard for Unitarian Universalists to see clearly the depth of meaning in these two foundational religious traditions.

I hope that my thoughts today can take us to those depths, can help us see the profound impact that monotheistic Judaism and Christianity have had on our Unitarian Universalist sensibilities.

Let me read you an ancient text, Micah 6:verses 6-8, a passage in the Jewish scripture which is so well-known and well-loved that it appears in our hymnal as a selected reading.

In the passage, a Hebrew seeker for truth is asking a question:
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before God with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will God be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression? The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

And the Hebrew prophet Micah answers the seeker: “God has told you, o mortal, what is good… and what is required of you (is) but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Now, to me, a young girl in the 50’s, struggling to figure out what I believed---the fantastic stories of Jesus’s miracles or the Ten Commandments, or the small town norms prohibiting nice Baptist girls from dancing and movies---these words came as a huge relief when I discovered them. Even a teenager beset by boy troubles and zits could understand them: be fair, be kind, be humble.

The law and the prophets in a nutshell. A guide for living a moral and ethical life. I’m reminded these many years later of Unitarian Universalist minister Robert Fulghum’s small essay, “All I ever needed to know I learned in kindergarten”.

I didn’t know at the time any of the historical or literary significance of these prophetic words in the book of Micah. I didn’t know the Seeker had recited a prioritized list of the possible ways for the Jews to honor their God with sacrifice. I didn’t know that this was a reference to a famous judicial verdict based on a covenant between the Jews and their God. I hadn’t been listening hard enough in Sunday School up to that point to absorb the knowledge that this is a perfect summary of what prophets from many world religions have said is true religion: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly.

All I knew was that it was music to my ears. It answered a good many of my questions in language that was very clear to me. It said nothng about dancing or movies, but that was okay---at the time, nobody was asking me to dance or to go to a movie. However, people were inviting me to be unfair, unkind, arrogant and egotistic.

This passage became kind of a blueprint for my life. It was the internal plumbline that I came to depend upon as I made decisions. Later I added that famous quotation from the teacher Jesus in the Christian scriptures, when Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love our God with all our hearts and souls and minds and that the second greatest is to love our neighbor as ourselves.

This seemed to me to be a restating of Micah’s truth: that our relationships with God as we understand the concept of God, our relationships with our neighbor, and our relationships with our selves must be of the highest and most loving quality.

These two Bible passages, one from the Jewish scriptures and one from the Christian canon, seemed to me to be the essence of living right. And I eventually decided, over the years, that these two teachings summed up all of the Ten Commandments, all of the intent of Jewish law, all of the original wisdom of Christian doctrine.

I didn’t see a need for anything else, not hashing and rehashing the finer points of Christian creeds or the literal interpretation of ancient purity laws which seemed unrealistic in the 20th century. It seemed to me that theology, a word which literally means “knowledge of the Divine”, theology had to be based on life in the real world and had to be accessible to all, regardless of education, reading level, brain power, nationality or age.

So when I found that Unitarian Universalism seemed to think the same thing, I was hooked! For a religion to focus on justice, kindness, humility, and love seemed to cut through the doctrinal hype and get to the heart of human living.
I was looking for a faith that made sense, that took the ancient teachings, validated them where it was reasonable to do so, and let go of the rest. So much of the ancient doctrine in religions was based on cultural norms that simply didn’t work in the 20th century and I wanted a faith that worked fulltime, in my life.

Since that time, my education has included a detailed look at both Jewish and Christian scripture. In seminary, everyone studies the Bible. Whether we are Christian or Jewish or Buddhist or UU or whatever, we live in a Judeo-Christianized society and it is essential for a minister to understand the Bible, whether it is our favorite sacred text or not! So many literary and cultural references originate in the Bible that we neglect its words to our own detriment.

As I have studied the Bible and have looked at its wisdom through the lens of my Unitarian Universalist faith, I have sorted out the importance of its stories, its laws and directives, and the credibility of its prophets by holding them under the lights of justice, kindness, humility, and love, examining my own attitudes and behavior in the same ways.

And what I’ve come to believe is that beneath the trappings of modern Judaism and Christianity there beats a heart of goodness and mercy. We often don’t see it in our world which is so convinced that fundamentalist Judaism or Christianity are true examples of these religions.

When presidential candidates tout the doctrines of their faith rather than the bedrock on which those doctrines are loosely stacked, the world sees only the doctrines, the picayune trivia which distinguish denominations and sects from one another. The world does not see the character of the candidate, only the candidate’s desire to suck up to a certain political base. And, of course, that says something right there about the character of the candidate.

Are there other teachings from Judaism and Christianity that we UUs have incorporated into our faith tradition? I think so. I think there are moral examples in both religions that we have absorbed and taken to heart. They are portrayed more in stories than in adages and proverbs.

The history of Judaism is the history of a people who have consistently spoken truth to power, whether we see that in the Hanukkah story of the Maccabees or in the tales of the prophets who spoke the words of justice and righteousness to a wayward nation. The Jews have lived out the story of the quest for religious and cultural freedom.

Oppressed and persecuted, the Jews continued to come back, to persist, to overcome adversity and thrive. This has not made them popular with everyone because victims are supposed to continue to be victims, at least according to conventional, but unspoken, so-called wisdom.

But the lesson of faithfulness to a cause, to a principle, to a concept of right behavior and right relationship---this is something we have taken to heart in Unitarian Universalism, even though we do not live it out as successfully as we might.

The story of Hanukkah is a good example of this faithfulness. Let me offer the essence of that story as told by my colleague the Rev. Debra Haffner. She writes: (and I have adapted her words slightly to make them more accessible in the spoken word)

In (the year)167 (before the common era), a Greek leader named Antiochus attempted to institute a Greek state religion. He ordered the takeover of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, had a statue of Zeus built on its altar, and called for ritual sacrifice there and in other Jewish temples throughout the countryside.

(In protest) Mattathias (a Jewish leader) killed the first Jew who came forward to offer a sacrifice (plus) a state official, and Mattathias and his five sons were forced to escape to the hills. Together, they organized first a small band of rebels to resist Antiochus, which grew to a 6000 person army that retook Jerusalem and the Temple.

Three years from the day that the statue of Zeus was erected, Judas Maccabeus and his followers rededicated and purified the Temple in an 8 day celebration. Chanukah has been celebrated more or less continuously for 2,170 years.

Chanukah is the first recorded battle for religious freedom and against efforts to have a minority religion assimilated into a larger whole, reason enough for us to celebrate it in today's world where religious fundamentalists claim that theirs is the only truth.

“But the legend of Chanukah also speaks to me (as a UU). According to a very short passage in the Talmud, the Maccabees came into the temple and after purifying it, went to relight the eternal flame. They only had enough oil for one day. Pressing new oil from the olive trees would take another week. Miraculously the oil lasted for the entire eight days. The Rabbis who wrote the Talmud transformed the telling of the history from a heroic military battle into a story of God’s miracle and grace to the Jewish people. They moved it from a story based on the facts to a story based on the universal need for faith and hope and redemption.”

In addition to the story of Hanukkah, we remember the courage of Moses who spoke the truth of oppression and injustice to the Egyptian Pharaoh, forcing the Pharaoh to let the Hebrew people escape slavery.

We remember the story of Job, who lost everything and railed at God for the injustice of God’s treatment. Job and God had a major argument, according to the story, and in the end, Job was restored to good health and long life, despite his terrible losses. God got in a few choice words but God did make amends.

And the Psalms are full of angry and agonized fist-shakings at God. Why are you doing this to me, the psalmist asks. The Psalms really give it to God. And we do too, questioning the goodness of a God who tolerates the cruelty of the world.

In addition, we find the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year which begins a period of ten days of self-examination and repentance and culminating in Yom Kippur, a time of atonement and reconciliation, to be valuable reminders of how important are our relationships with the Divine (however we conceive that), with each other, and with ourselves.

We may not celebrate these holidays as do our Jewish friends and neighbors, but this wisdom---of self-examination, acknowledgement of mistakes made and forgiveness given and received---is implicit in our seven Principles.

And what is it about Christianity that we find inherent in our UU faith? We often are so repelled by the behavior of some who call themselves Christian that we fail to see the goodness in this religion which is our closest spiritual ancestor.

At our conversation evening this coming Saturday, I want to spend time talking about our concerns about Christianity, about the sense of betrayal some of us have as we see our childhood religious heritage turned into something that feels wrong, feels unwise, even foolish and foolhardy, and sometimes cruel.

Leaving aside the supernatural aspects of Christianity, which are problematic in themselves, we are deeply troubled by the message of many more conservative Christian denominations.

We see the teachings of Jesus set aside, ignored; his behavior of inclusiveness overlooked in favor of branding an outsider as sinful.

So we feel angry and resentful. We may remember unkindness and prejudice directed at us or at our friends and family by so-called Christian leaders who were cruel and exclusionary, unable to offer compassion because of adherence to strict doctrinal laws.

We may know of the hypocrisy of perverted adults who misused us or our family and friends for their own pleasure. We may feel scorn for those who refuse to acknowledge scientific understandings as reasonable. We may wonder at those who are not reflective or introspective about religious teachings and prefer an unchanging dogma.

All these attitudes can really get in our way when it comes to appreciating the contributions of the teachings of Jesus, because we conflate those legitimate teachings with the hybrid conglomeration of ancient purity laws, exclusivity, sanctimonious piety, and political conservatism that characterizes many Christian denominations today.

There is more than one kind of Christianity out there. There is politically conservative Christianity, there is mainline middle-of-the-road Christianity which takes few positions, there is liberal Christianity, like many of the denominations which support such social causes as marriage equality and other justice issues, there is Unitarian Universalist Christianity, which studies and lives out the teachings of Jesus as seen through a 21st century lens. There may be others too!

But the Christianity that has fed our Unitarian Universalist faith is the religion that, taking a lesson from Judaism, offers radical hospitality to the stranger, to the outsider, to the one who is different, whose behavior is not mainstream.

Our Christian roots go deep into the soil under Jesus’ feet, as he spoke of the Kingdom of Heaven being within each of us, as he chided the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, as he spoke of peacemaking and humility. Our Christian roots get nourishment from the parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of the prodigal son, Jesus’ kindness to the children he met on his travels, the courage he and other prophets displayed as they faced death as punishment for their idealism, for speaking truth to power.

And we see, in the legends of resurrection, the certainty of love that does not die; in the stories of a miraculous birth, the miracle that is every child’s birth. In the love and loyalty of his parents, the love and commitment of parents everywhere.

Legend has it that Jesus lived a perfect life. We are inclined to believe that Jesus led a perfectly normal human life, but lived it with greater integrity and vision than his peers.

We have much to revere and celebrate in our Jewish and Christian rootsource. We may look askance at the distortion and violation of Jesus’ teachings by some groups, but we ourselves have a great deal to live up to because of our those roots.

Our seven principles reflect the respect for human life, compassion and justice, liberty and community which are the bedrock of essential Jewish and Christian faith. We are wise when we acknowledge and revere these teachings and live them out in our daily lives.

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

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, pondering the gifts of the ancient religious teachings of Judaism and Christianity. May we see past the superficialities that trouble us and behold the heart of faiths that sprang from a deep desire to honor the Divine and to care for our fellow human beings and the earth. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Ms. Kitty as Performer

There's been something in the air this fall, I think, something that induced me to sign up to be a cast member in the upcoming Vagina Monologues performance (Feb. 9/10) AND to say yes to the enthusiasm of a member who wants me to be the lead vocalist for a house concert offered as a UUCWI auction item by a trio---herself on mandolin, another friend on guitar, and me.

As you might be able to infer from the title of the blog, Ms. Kitty has a strong desire to be a performer. And I've had my stellar moments in the spotlight: with friends, in 8th grade, won first place in the Weston-Athena talent show singing "Gotta put shoes on Willie"; shone at summer camp leading campers in "Sippin' Cider Through a Straw"; spent four years in the Linfield College a cappella choir; appeared as Mary in the play "A Family Portrait" as a staffer at the American Baptist Assembly in Green Lake WI; led small children in a variety of junior choir experiences; knew all the words to all the folk songs of Peter, Paul and Mary and their ilk in the 60's and 70's and sang in informal jams for years; met great boyfriends (after the divorce) through those jams and actually started to sing at open mics and informal church services because of them; sang in sleazy bars with my pal Pat in Colorado; sang at friends' weddings; performed as Ms Piggy in a pledge campaign skit at my former CO congregation; harmonized with pals at parties; made up lyrics to sing to the lunch room kids to hurry them outside onto the playground as a lunchroom monitor during my school counselor career; and, as a minister, developed a sermon-opening gambit of asking the congregation to sing some old song with me (Whispering Hope, Last night I had the strangest dream, etc.), a song relating to the sermon.

So you see, I've had my moments in the sun. But always there has lurked in me a desire to really perform for an audience, not sneaking in as a harmonizer, or leading a hymn, or tormenting junior high kids with my parodies, or acting silly in a skit. I've loved doing the goofy things, yes, but I've never taken myself very seriously when it comes to singing or acting. I don't want to be a professional singer or actor, but I would like to know more about the craft of both arts.

So when the VM opportunity arose, I jumped at it. And then Debbie asked me to do the house concert, singing old Hoagy Carmichael stuff, and it feels like I've stepped into the artist's circle, completely unexpectedly. We won't be putting on this concert very soon; it will take a lot of preparation and I may get some advice about styling a song, breathing, the kind of stuff non-serious singers never think about. But it's given life a new and interesting twist, and that's always a thrill.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

How would you answer this challenge?

Our North Sound ministers' cluster met today in Port Townsend for a few hours. Three of us went across on the passenger ferry that is substituting for the car ferry until it can be repaired or replaced. Instead of the huge Klickitat lumbering across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we zipped across in the sleek, fast Snohomish, in a third of the time the trip normally takes.

We always do a brief check-in, about five minutes per person of "how's it going" kind of stuff, both professionally and personally, and once we finished that, one colleague introduced the program he had planned.

At the top of a piece of paper, he had written: THEODICY: a vindication of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil...The goal of theodicy is to show that there are convincing reasons why a just, compassionate and omnipotent being would permit pointless and debilitating suffering to flourish.

And then he set up a scenario, after reading us a story to illustrate the terrible paradox that theodicy represents. What if, he asked, you were charged with telling a group of homeless people what the meaning of Christmas is? They know you're a minister and they expect a ministerial point of view. What would you say to them, considering their circumstances and the contrast between their circumstances and yours?

These are the kinds of challenges we regularly discuss at cluster meetings and this particular colleague revels in them. He is a scientist first, a minister second, and a musician always, and he loves to hand us heavy questions to tussle with. We had a good time with this one.

Here are the notes I wrote for myself:

All human actions or events have both good and bad outcomes. We can't know what these outcomes will be. We don't know that suffering is pointless and debilitating because we don't know or can't know ultimate outcomes. I have faith in "growing wisdom" rather than in my limited concept of God's justice or goodness.

"God" is not a just, compassionate and omnipotent being. God is a process. Creation and destruction are two sides of the same coin. Things must often fall apart in order to come together in a better way.

Life is a cycle of ups and downs which often feel random. At Christmas, the visibility of these cycles becomes vivid. We see the downward moments in sharp detail and we strive to accentuate, provide, and attempt to maximize the upward moments.

We have varying degrees of success at this and we feel angry and frustrated if we can't produce an upward movement for ourselves or others who particularly need it (like a homeless person). We feel jubilant if we are experiencing an upward moment or if we are able to produce an upward movement for others, particularly those who need it badly.

I don't know for sure what this all means. I do know that I have a paradoxical concept of God, whom I see as both process and personal confidant. I know God can't be both. But to me God is both the creative energy in the universe and the one I go to with my concerns. Maybe someday I'll understand intellectually what my intuition tells me is so.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Was anyone else appalled?

I opened up the Seattle P.I. this morning and was browsing through the chilling tales of flood rescue, landslides, IEDs, and the like, when I turned the page and WHAMMO! a full two-page spread advert from DeWars whiskey celebrating the day Prohibition was repealed, with red, white, and blue coloring, huge headlines, pictures from the 20's of revelers holding a flappergirl aloft with a bottle in her hand, suggesting rituals appropriate for celebrating Repeal Day, the end of Prohibition, Dec. 5, 1933.

Now I'm not a complete prude about alcohol and I think Prohibition was a foolish mistake, but this ad repels me and I have to wonder about the mentality that thinks "We're All Winners" because the law was repealed. Hmmm. Freedom is definitely better than non-freedom, but I have to wonder how that slogan plays with people for whom alcohol is a death sentence. They know, if they've been sober for awhile, that they had the freedom to be drunks, dead drunks, in fact, and that was actually not so freeing. They were trapped, not freed, by whiskey.

I know I sound like Carrie Nation here and I'm sorry about that. It's probably the leftover influence of my glory days after winning the poster contest for the WCTU back in the Athena years. The only thing I could draw worth a darn was the head of a horse, so my poster had a gigantic horsehead on it (before the Godfather made it yucky) with the words, "use a little horse sense, horses don't drink alcohol". It went over big in Athena, at least with the WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union) mamas, of whom my mama was one.

I have a love-hate relationship with alcohol. It's fun to have a margarita or gin and tonic or other drink with friends, refreshing to have a beer or glass of wine with dinner. One drink does me; I have a very soft head. I am a cheap date in that regard. But having seen first-hand the ravages of too much alcohol on relationships, children, ethics, and health, I am inclined to advocate strict moderation, not over-the-top drinking behavior, which is what this ad implies is the way to go.

Just don't call me Carrie.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dodged a bullet this time...

Whidbey Island did, that is. Last Hanukkah Eve, the island was hammered by a huge Pacific storm which downed trees, knocked out power, and made ferry crossings miserable or non-existent. This Hanukkah Eve, the Oregon and Washington coastlines shuddered under the onslaught of high winds (over 100 mph in some areas), frog-strangling rain (5 inches in Seattle in a day), and floods and mudslides which have shut down our major interstate (I-5) for an undetermined length of time. The devastation on the mainland is immense but here on the island, we are in good shape.

Tomorrow I'm going into Seattle to visit my hospice-bound friend and will have a chance to see some of the mess. I am so grateful that the price we pay this year for living on the island isn't quite as steep. Last year, cleaning up and repairing the damage around the island, including my basement, took months. Of course, we could still get hit again, but it seems that the transition time as the seasons get ready to change is when these kinds of storms often hit.

I remember, living in Denver, how we would frequently get huge snowfalls a week or so before Halloween or right during spring break, the "adolescent" times of the weather cycle when air flows are shifting and temperatures going up or down.

It seems to me that changes often bring on storms, whether they are real physical storms or metaphorical/emotional storms.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Four of the folks who attended yesterday's New UU class joined the congregation today! We were thrilled, to say the least. We were pretty sure they would join eventually, but to have them all want to join today was a wonderful reward for our efforts yesterday.

This fall has felt very productive in the visitor/new member department. Our groundbreaking ceremony on Sept. 9 was the beginning of quite an influx of visitors, especially visitors who have kept coming back. As any membership committee member can tell you, the tricky part is getting visitors to return. We've had pretty good luck with this, this fall.

Who are you calling...

I took the "the temperment type" quiz on
I am...


According to Galen's ancient theory of temperaments, people with phlegmatic temperaments seek peace and resolution in their everyday lives. Sympathetic, kind and adaptable to different situations, they often act as mediators in conflicts...

What's your temperment?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Teaching the New UU Class...

always jazzes me up. This morning, I spent four hours with a group of five folks who are interested in membership at UUCWI. The membership chair and I collaborated on this orientation session and after it was over, about 1 p.m., we turned to each other and said, "Wow, that was a great session!"

This is the first time I've taught this class at UUCWI. In the past, a lay person taught it, as there wasn't enough minister-time available. But this particular layperson has gone on to study for the ministry at Seattle U and doesn't have time to take on the project this year. I love to teach, so I gladly agreed to prepare and teach the class.

We'd settled on a one-morning session, hoping to cover all the basics and give some time for questions. I've looked at what other congregations offer (3 two-hour Saturday sessions or 4 week night sessions or some combination of weeknights and weekends) and decided to pare it down to what I feel a prospective member absolutely must know, giving plenty of time for questions.

We started out with a chalice lighting and the words of John (old "give them not hell but hope") Murray from the 18th century and a little bit about the significance of the flaming chalice, then watched the latest UUA DVD, "Voices of UUism". Each person then took time to tell a brief version of their spiritual journey, what their religious heritage was, if any, how they had found UUism, and what they were looking for. I love hearing people's stories, what their questions and concerns are, and I love responding to those questions and concerns. And I like for them to hear my story, how I found UUism (I married into it), where it has taken me, my call to ministry, and where I am today.

I gave a brief timeline of UU history, highlighting the big stuff, like Michael Servetus, early American Unitarian and Universalist figures, our social justice record, and the changes since the merger in 1961. And we read together the seven principles, discussed them briefly, read together the six sources, and discussed them briefly.

We also touched on the history and structure of our congregation and what the privileges, opportunities, and expectations of membership are. We outlined the process for joining and the ceremonies that accompany that act. We also described some of our important extra ceremonies, like child dedication, and gave plenty of time for questions.

Our attendees were full of questions and we spent a productive few minutes talking about the heavy words: church, worship, God, and the like. Is it okay to re-define or metaphorize these words so that they feel better? If the dictionary defines them one way, is it legitimate to veer away from that definition? Not easy questions to deal with.

I am initially challenged by these kinds of questions, but I always feel glad that the person felt safe enough to raise them. I'm never sure if I've answered them adequately but I've done my best.

I'm hopeful that all of the folks present today (and one absent partner) will join the congregation. All of them are already contributing their time and energy to the new building or the activities of the congregation and I hope we will have them around for a long time.