Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Hard Decision

I am going to have to make a hard decision about Max. This morning, I found yet another puddle on my bed and I have every reason to believe that Max did it. I don't have proof positive, but he is at least indirectly involved, whether it's because he is causing so much stress for Loosy and Lily or because he is marking his territory and/or claiming the space where I spend important time.

To complicate matters, I am leaving later this morning for our ministers' retreat and the district's annual meeting in Tacoma and the cats will be cared for by a young man from the congregation. I will keep the bedroom door shut, which makes me sad, because I think it's good for the animals to be able to be on my bed. The peed-upon comforter has been deodorized and sequestered in another room while it dries and I will launder it when I get back.

Max is a charmer and ever so beautiful, but despite having been neutered almost two months ago, he is still way more lively than the older cats can take. This is natural, as he is still a kitten, but he chases them, jumps them, pushes them away from the food, and generally makes them (and me) anxious. I can tell that my ordinary measures for keeping the cats on the deck in the summertime are not going to work for Max. He will simply jump off the high deck to explore the yard and it will be tough to get him back. Which means he will become part of the food chain, which is not a happy thought.

So I am thinking that very likely I will take him to the local no-kill shelter when I get back from Tacoma at the end of the weekend. He needs a place where he's not in constant competition for attention from a human and where other pets are a little more resilient.

It hurts my heart to think of letting him go. But I can't deal with the anxiety in the household because of his behavior. This is not a firm decision yet, but even as I consider it, I feel some of the stress lessening (though the sorrow is increasing).

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Hillary, channel Xena, not Carry Nation!

I feel mostly sad for Hillary Clinton at this point in her campaign. She won't go down without a fight and she's clearly up to it, but to compete with Barack Obama, she is coming across as a scold, not as a champion of justice.

I read somewhere recently that the archetype Hillary should be channeling is Joan of Arc, heroic and daring. Of course, Joan was acting according to what God told her to do (IHHO) and we might not want Hillary to go with that theme.

I rather like the archetype of Xena, warrior princess. She's funny, she's strong, she's willing to knock a few obstreperous types around, she recognizes goodness when she sees it, she has women pals, she's smart, and people don't seem to get weirded out by what she says.

Hillary, at this point, is operating like Carry Nation, the battleaxe who, in the early days of the 20th century, scolded the country for its ills, especially alcohol. Carry Nation was not into hope; she was into punishment. And she punished every tavern owner she could, physically laying into their establishments and destroying property. She had a legitimate gripe---alcohol had damaged her first marriage. But vandalism was her method, and Hillary seems to be using psychic vandalism as her tool these days.

Yep, I think Xena, warrior princess, is a better bet, archetypally, than Carry Nation!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Simple pleasures

The relief of having the much-dreaded colonoscopy behind me (no pun intended) has been an exhilarating sensation. The test was Thursday morning and all day Friday, I felt absolutely euphoric. Not only had I survived the test, it was actually an easy procedure and revealed no problems at all, which had been part of my dread.

My dad died at age 62 of something unidentified which had caused him to lose a great deal of weight; the doctor suspected cancer but because of his failing heart, Dad was too weak to undergo the testing and died without a definitive answer for us, his children. So we don't know whether it was cancer, though we do know that heart disease was a major factor in his early death. Needless to say, we are all alert to the possibility that cancer is part of our medical heritage, as well as heart disease.

It was a relief to be able to tell the Favorite Son that his mother was in good health and that she had no obvious maladies to be dealt with, other than the quirkiness he's already used to. He and the FDIL have their own concerns, with kids, other family members, and their own health, to deal with and don't need more. How nice not to have to add to their load!

One funny thing that added to the relief was that last week, my blood pressure on my home monitor was almost 180 over 74, which was a sit-up-and-take-notice moment. It hasn't usually been that high. At the hospital, just before the colonoscopy, my blood pressure was 20 notches lower, and after the colonoscopy, it was 10 notches lower yet. Was I stressed, or what?

Anyhow, relief is only one of the weekend's simple pleasures-----yesterday morning, the Episcopalian ladies had their annual Rack sale of nice clothes for little money (those Episcopalians dress well!), and I found two nice dresses, total $10, a jacket ($4), a wool sweater (2.50) and a light jacket (2.50), and have updated my wardrobe for under $20. Yay!

In the afternoon, I enjoyed a couple of hours with the North End Koffee Klatch at the hospital cafeteria---cheap food and good coffee.

And in the evening, the Source Conversation on Humanism attracted six of us who hashed over our own level of humanism as a part of our religious faith and found we varied on a scale of 1-5 by almost 10 points (one person pegging self as a 10 on a scale of 1-5 and another at 1.5). It was a great evening.

And today I don't have to preach; I can just enjoy the service this afternoon, which is our annual "This I Believe" day, in which four members of the congregation reveal their own personal credo. I just got back from having one immense blueberry pancake and a sausage patty at a local diner, the cats are asleep on my lap, shoulder, and feet, and there's laundry in the washer.

Ahh, simple pleasures! Not the least of which is posting a new blog entry!

Friday, February 22, 2008

And if I were a donut, dydledeedledydledeedle...

(thanks to RevSean over at Ministrare, who knows a good quiz when he sees one!)

You Are a Glazed Donut

Okay, you know that you're plain - and you're cool with that.

You prefer not to let anything distract from your sweetness.

Your appeal is understated yet universal. Everyone digs you.

And in a pinch, you'll probably get eaten.

I can't resist a good quiz...

and Earthbound Spirit has a good one today. Here are my results, which are the same as hers. Having met her at last year's GA Blogger dinner, I'm complimented by the similarity.

Your Mind is Green

Of all the mind types, yours has the most balance.

You are able to see all sides to most problems and are a good problem solver.

You need time to work out your thoughts, but you don't get stuck in bad thinking patterns.

You tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future, philosophy, and relationships (both personal and intellectual).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wonder how the Colonoscopy Monologues would play in Peoria?

Two weeks ago, I was in the run-up to our local performance of the Vagina Monologues, in which my part was the monologue on "Hair". "You have to love hair if you are going to love the vagina" was my opening line. I had volunteered for the cast because I wanted to do something edgy and a little daring; I was pretty sure my congregation would be fine with it, though I wasn't totally sure. (They were; it was fine.) What I wanted was to push the limits of my general prudishness.

You probably wouldn't think that I am a prude, if you looked strictly at my blog or hear my jokes or my bookshelf or if you investigated my social-life history. And yet, there it is. Whether I act like one or not, I am embarrassed by too much information. I have to make myself not act prudish.

I have wondered about this quite a bit, especially in the past several years since I entered the ministry. Ministers are discouraged from looking very sexy or dressing provocatively or flirting inappropriately. I don't remember anyone specifically saying "don't wear that" or "don't do this", but the lesson came from somewhere---maybe the darker reaches of my brain.

I have been this way for a long time. I think it stems from having been felt up by a funny uncle in early adolescence, being rescued from that relationship by my parents, and then being intensely interested in boys and scared of them at the same time. So I made myself pretend that I was perfectly comfortable with sex talk, with porn, with all the titillating accoutrements of sexuality between adults.

(Don't read this part, Favorite Son, if you don't want to know this.)When I was single again after a divorce, I went way overboard on it for several years, until HIV/AIDS scared us all into a more healthful reaction to the Sexual Revolution. Fake it till you make it, say the 12 steppers. For me, it was more like "Fake it till it looks like you made it." Because except for a couple of very important relationships, I was always faking my comfort level.

When I went to seminary, I could talk about sex in a classroom, as a theoretical subject, but, boy, I wasn't having any. I could be supportive and activist about others' sex lives and got very involved in the BGLT civil rights movement, but that was others' sex lives, not mine.

In 2007, I had to have open heart surgery and acquired a long red scar down the center of my chest, which took me off the playing-around field for quite awhile. Aging now and the dearth of appropriate single males has kept me sidelined ever since.

The Vagina Monologues experience got me all hot and bothered, though. I'd come home from a performance thinking, "boy, betcha a lot of people got laid after that show!" And I'd go to bed with the cats, who really are no good at the kind of comfort I was hungry for!

I am always on the lookout, though, and hopeful. But I'm still a prude in many ways. And all this is by way of telling you the latest news: I had a colonoscopy today and everything was fine and pink and perfect, just the way one's colon is supposed to look. But I realized I had gone into prude mode again when I mentioned it the other day and I wanted to be more informative.

For anyone who is getting ready to have one, it really isn't bad at all. Even the clear liquids and the purge were easy, a little crampy but not bad. And the medical staff at the hospital were marvelous. They sedate you so completely that you don't feel a thing.

My friend brought me home from the procedure and I went to bed for a nap. Just now I got up and had two slices of sunflower seed toast slathered with sunflower seed butter and orange marmalade and a glass of milk. Delicious! And it's done.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sorry to have to turn comment moderation back on...

but it seemed like the best thing to do.

In other news, tomorrow will be a clear liquids day for me, as Thursday is one of "those" tests. I'm not looking forward to it, but it will soon be over and done with.

I think the hardest part of an examination of one's innards is the run-up to it, and for me that means the deprived feeling of having to limit my food to certain things. It's probably why I have little success with dieting. I HATE being hungry. I am inclined to feed my face any time I have the slightest hunger pang. Luckily, I don't nosh on stuff that's bad for me, most of the time anyhow.

In addition to the other irritating things of the past several days (including the test prep anxiety), I discovered Sunday that the big window in the living room had gotten a long, slender crack from top to bottom. I doctored it with duct tape, called a glass guy on Monday, and now have to live with strips of duct tape holding the window together until the glass can be ordered and installed. I have no idea how the crack got there; surely the cats could not have done it, as the window was well protected by the couch pillows which would have absorbed the dull thud of Maxie caroming off its surface. It's a mystery.

One thing that did go extremely well was the sermon on Sunday. People responded very positively and Malcolm and I had a good time preparing for it. Afterwards, a bunch of us went out to dinner at the Chinese place, which is always a good way to wind down.

And my chaplaincy time at the hospital was satisfying today. Being useful always diminishes my anxiety.

Oh, yes, and the comments that were deleted from the Humanism post? You can see them if you care to by googling the author and reading them there. You will see that they aren't terrible, just off my topic and onto his favorite rant. At Ms. Kitty's, that's a good way to get 86'ed. It's my saloon; I get to say what happens there.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Affirmations of Humanism, from Free Enquiry magazine

from “Free Inquiry” magazine, Paul Kurtz, editor

We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.

We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.

We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.

We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.

We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.

We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.

We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.

We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.

We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.

We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.

We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.

We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.

We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health care and to die with dignity.

We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.

We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.

We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.

We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.

We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.

We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.

We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.

We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.

Our Fifth Source: Humanism

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Feb. 2008
With Malcolm Ferrier as co-preacher

KK: One of the most vivid memories of my youth is the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was 21, still unemployed after college graduation, sitting in front of the TV at noon watching the popular soap opera of that day, General Hospital, with my dad, who was home from the church for lunch. We were in the midst of some medical emergency onscreen when the news that our President had been shot pre-empted every airwave.

We sat in shock as the dreadful news unfolded, awaiting the latest developments in fear and trembling. I’ll bet most of you have your own tales to tell about some historic moment in your world experience and how your life was different from that moment on.

We tend to remember the events that shape our lives; often the more radical the change, the more vivid the memory. I also remember the moment when I acknowledged the shift in my religious outlook and said to myself, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, “Wow, I don’t think I’m in Kansas anymore.”

It was because of a song I heard one day on the radio: “It ain’t necessarily so, it ain’t necessarily so, the things that you’re liable to read in the Bible, it ain’t necessarily so.”

WHAT??? I thought. Someone dares to say this in a Broadway song? What would my conservative family think if they heard it? And what would they say if they knew I agreed?

This was a huge moment of truth for me. I knew I didn’t believe all the stuff I’d learned in Sunday School; I didn’t approve of God’s handling of the Promised Land crisis, when he told the Hebrew children just to go and take it from the Canaanites; I had a lot of questions about water and wine and people being raised from the dead.

I hadn’t challenged my parents or my teachers on any of this. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t like the answers I got. But here was a popular song which crooned my own heresies in an authoritative and melodious way, resonating in my young heart.

My opinion-forming style is to listen, rather than argue, to use my internal morality gauge and reason to determine right from wrong, to think about consequences, and to allow others to form their own opinions in their own ways. I tend to look for ways we agree, rather than ways I disagree with someone.

So I quietly acknowledged to myself, in my twenties, that I was more of a humanist, in my heart, than I was a traditional believer. At that point in history, humanism didn’t have such a red-hot reputation. It was getting a lot of criticism from the orthodox religious world as a philosophy which contended that humans were the be-all and end-all of the universe, the most powerful and highest of creation’s huge output.

Malcolm, how about your early involvement with Humanism?

MF: When I was a teenager, I lived with a stern Baptist Family in Toronto. Their son Murray became my mentor, hero and friend. He flew and lived through forty missions over Europe in an RCAF mosquito fighter. He was a marvelous pilot. He then became a test pilot for DeHavilland, flying some of the first jet planes. He crashed into a mountain in bad weather while testing navigation equipment.

I wrote his folks a note, filling it with conventional condolences and how wonderful Christianity was with its assurances we’d all meet again in heaven some day. But I knew even then that I didn’t believe it, and sought more rational ground. I was becoming a closet Humanist.

KK: Let’s talk some more about Humanism and religion. Why don’t you go first?

MF: A definition of Humanism with which I’m comfortable: the commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of human interests. It rejects the validity of transcendental or supernatural justifications or rationale. One often hears the term “secular Humanism”, with the strong implication that H has no component of sacredness. I’d disagree: glorying in the wondrous joy of human feeling and expression is intensely sacred and religious.

I think many people would say humanism is a religion in that it is a set of guiding principles to direct life choices. Kit, I bet you have a bit more to say on those matters?

KK: Sure. I’d like to invite you all to turn in your hymnal to that front section where our principles and sources are printed and let’s read the opening lines of the Sources and then skip down to the section on humanism.

“The Living Tradition we share draws from many sources:
Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.”

Let’s unpack this a little bit. Earlier, we read a long list of affirmations of humanism as a philosophy. This is often called The Humanist Manifesto, and this is its third iteration.

Originally published in the 1930’s, the Manifesto boasted many renowned scientists, philosophers, and thinkers, including several Unitarian ministers, signing onto a document stating, in essence, that traditional religion had outlived its usefulness and that a new religious approach centered on scientific reasoning and devoted to meeting human needs, was necessary.

Over the years since then, the Manifesto has undergone some changes and re-statements, but it retains the underlying faith that human needs and abilities and the natural world are a sufficient and necessary foundation for a religious path that does not need supernatural events to bolster its claims.

Early humanism often was assumed to be atheistic and many humanists are atheists. But this often, not always, but often means that they have no belief in a supernatural deity which governs the universe in a personal way and have found their “power beyond human power” in the concept of Natural Law, mysterious, yet discoverable in the many manifestations of the earth and the unfolding universe.

My favorite of the 20 or so affirmations in our reading today is this one: “we believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.”

This, for me, is the human heart of religion, expressing human aspirations, acknowledgement of reality, hope for a brighter future for self and others, and the value of learning as a tool for overcoming fear, hate, and selfishness.

My definition of religion is that it is our public expression of our relationships with ourselves, with others, and with the universe. These are the ways I choose to relate to myself, to others, and to the universe. Malcolm, you’ll have some ideas, no doubt on all this?

MF: Well, that's us started in that we have pretty good brackets around humanism and declare it a legitimate religion or code of ethics. It's often helpful to look at historical roots, and important people in the earlier days. I should note right away though, that many people who we would now define us humanists were not so declared during their lifetimes. This is simply because the term did not then exist.

Let me start with my favorite humanist, a fairly modern one, Bertrand Russell, in many ways my number one intellectual hero. He lived until he was 98 and had a profound influence on three generations. During his lifetime at any time he had 40-odd books in circulation, and he achieved this remarkable productivity by writing 3000 words per day, virtually completely unedited. He would probably have used the term humanitarian rather than humanist, because of his total and deep commitment to social change, liberal anarchism and skeptical atheism.

My first exposure to his writing was when I was a teenager, just as I was shucking off the extremely tight strictures of living in a Baptist minister's household for four years. This was Russell’s book “Why I am not a Christian”. Russell had a passionate desire for certainty in knowledge. He was a pacifist, and in fact, was jailed for his views in 1918. Altogether, my hero, and I would recommend him to you, particularly its most popular book, history of Western philosophy. Kit, your turn again, I think.

KK: When humanism became part of the Unitarian Universalist Sources, which is our theme for this worship year, the wording of it was somewhat different from the wording of other sources.

Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.”

This language contains a warning, unlike other Sources which may offer challenges or affirmations. It warns us against idolatries of the mind and spirit. And what I get out of that language is that humanism is our anchor in the shifting winds of popular religion. Humanism reminds us that we humans are capable of idolatry, of worshiping idols, in other words, of excessive devotion to causes or ideas that do not lead to human growth and human progress as a species.

Humanism as a philosophy and as a source of UUism counsels us to consider our behavior and our attitudes through the lens of reason, to examine the claims of culture and tradition by holding them up to the light of critical thinking, to rely on our human minds and hearts to know right from wrong rather than accepting traditional thinking as dogmatic and inflexible rules. Humanism reassures us that we humans have an innate moral compass, even though many humans decline to use it.

We do not need a supernatural power to tell us what to do; we can rely on natural law to inform us of what is best for human survival and human flourishing. The universe around us is our best teacher and we can trust it.

Malcolm. I’d like to hear more from you on a couple of the clauses in the H Manifesto.

MF: I'll start with the very first one. "We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems." This is a good alternative definition of humanism and resonates with me, particularly because my inclinations, training and professional work were all in science. I have always been very uncomfortable with the "soft" sciences such as psychology, because in my view you can never prove anything, and there is immense uncertainty and variability in the subject matter, plus endless inconclusive arguments on virtually every topic.

I will not dare claim that science can explain behavior, and will simply note that the humanist commitment to applying science to as much as possible leads to clarification. That's why this first manifesto principle appeals to me, particularly in that much societal progress can be made by technological fixes.

My other favorite affirmation is the one on protecting and enhancing the earth and preserving it for our children and grandchildren. As I fear you all too tediously know, this has been an obsession of mine for close on a decade. And I'm so glad to see more and more people appreciating it and more and more people of every stripe trying to do something about it.

I confess to perverse pleasure in doing as much as I can to save energy of and altering my lifestyle, thereby quite appreciably to cutting down on personal travel and waste, and therefore pollution. It's no use waiting for Washington, or anybody else to mandate such changes in attitudes: it's up to each individual. The thought of our generation turning over a messed up earth for our grandchildren is to me and abhorrent concept.

KK: You’re on a bit of a roll – why not add a few more tasty bits?

MF: Here goes. Humanism implies free will, and that we have control over virtually everything we do. There is no fatalism about it, as we have the power, individually and collectively to push for changes in humanity and social structure in ways we deem desirable.

Humanism is the source of one of my favorite words: creativity. The human mind and will have boundless possibilities for enhancing the individual and the community.

About immortality. My views here mirror the standard humanistic perspective in that immortality means your memory lives on in the minds of others, particularly those in your family. Better yet, if you can write almost anything really, your words have a certain measure of immortality. (Kit,, do you realize and accept your immortality!?). It is to me a sobering thought that whatever you do has some prospect of lasting for some considerable time, so you better give your best thought to what you're doing.

Prayer is something that many humanists struggle with. Kit, do you talk to your cat? I certainly do, and it is a very fine conversationalist, in that it seldom replies. What may you ask, has this to do with prayer?

My view is that when you think or say something in every day life you are using your conscious mind. In the nighttime, your subconscious mind takes over works on your daytime thoughts and rearranges them and often solves problems. I bet many of you have gone to bed puzzling the answer to the crossword clue for 17 across, and woken in the morning with the answer to jumping out at you.

That to my mind is prayer: considering something in your conscious mind, and having your subconscious mind act upon it and often presents a solution. When a person "prays" she is simply summoning her subconscious mind. A bit daft, you might say? But it works for me.

(And then there’s) dealing with dying. This is of course an immensely difficult subject for everyone, humanist or not. You would think that dying would be harder for the nonreligious. For us, death is the end as final as turning off the television and throwing it in the lake.

However falsely, believers can look forward to eternal bliss or, if not this, at least Justice or resolution of some kind. Picturing a deity's hand upon the cosmic helm, believers can hope for all accounts to be settled at each injustice compensated for, with every life set firmly into meaning’s great template. How strange, then that despite the comfort and support their beliefs are said to bring, most religious people appear to fear dying and to dread death.

My belief and perception is that the humanistic view of living fully is totally satisfying. I seek no more, and if I feel I have tried my best to live well, and to contribute socially, I am in need of no more. Kit, I leave it to you to wrap all this up

KK: Malcolm has shared his thoughts about the concepts of immortality and preparing for our inevitable death. Immortality as a religious concept is reliant on supernatural forces, but I see it in a somewhat different, though related, way. Certainly human memory is a form of life after death, as is our art: writing, music, all our creative products, as well as the human beings we have nurtured in the many ways we can nurture.

But I think we experience extended life in a very biological way as well, and that is as our human bodies return to the earth to become part of the earth, whether buried and disintegrating naturally or by cremation and scattering of remains. However our families and friends choose to dispose of our bodies, we continue to live on in the ecosystem of the earth. That’s probably yet another good reason to eat organically!

Malcolm has also mentioned prayer and I have my own approach to that, as well. I am one humanist who doesn’t struggle with prayer, probably as a result of my Baptist DNA! But I don’t ask for anything but strength and the knowledge to do the right thing, when I pray, whether I am concerned for myself or for another person.

It doesn’t make sense to me that a supernatural being would shift the order of the universe just to make me happy. It does make sense to me that I would have an innate ability to do the right thing, to find the strength I need, by looking for it internally, and I do this through prayer.

I pray aloud nightly and as I hear my words and struggle to make them accurate and honest, I am changed, I see my mistakes and my blessings more clearly, and I forgive myself as I acknowledge those mistakes and begin to decide how to make amends. And I do often find the answer waiting for me in the morning, usually in the form of a shift in my attitude and a readiness to change my actions.

As we’ve worked together on this sermon, I’ve been delighted to have the chance to share with Malcolm my humanistic religious thinking and I’m thankful that he was easy to persuade to do this with me. We represent two different incarnations of religious humanism, and our congregation represents many more! And that’s the way it should be, I think. We are so different; our life’s paths have brought us together here and we each stand in a unique setting, the result of many experiences, of many gene pools, many talents and great creativity.

May humanism, as one of our Sources, be regarded with honor and respect and may humanists regard our other Sources with honor and respect, for it has long been a paradox within UUism that humanism and its reliance on reason and science is often at odds with other world religions, particularly theistic religions.

Yet all these strands form the core of Unitarian Universalism. We need them all, as we create a religion in these days that is capable of rising to the many challenges that our evolving world faces.

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 as human beings, we have the innate ability to choose good over evil, to examine our lives through the lens of critical thinking, and to work to improve conditions on this earth for ourselves and the generations of life to come. May we hold fast to our humanity, expressing it through our arts, our writings, our thoughts, and our choices. And may we recognize that others have found different paths, as meaningful to them as ours are to us. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

What fun! A silver medal in the UU Blog Olympics!

Thank you to the fans who elevated my story about acquiring Maxie into a silver medal in the Blog Awards. I'm truly humbled. And Max is embarrassed, having had a lapse of such magnitude last night ON THE NEW DOWN COMFORTER that he nearly was ejected from the household. I hit the roof so hard (though I didn't touch him) that all the cats were cowering at the language and stomping around and slinging of vinegar and ripping off of sheets and utter fury. I didn't know I had it in me.

But then it's been quite a week. Not to reiterate everything that went wrong, but my own lapses in conduct had been embarrassing to me, I had a sermon to write, and my mood was anything but cheery. Max's indiscretion gave me a much needed reason to explode and vent a lot of pain and irritation.

By dawn's early light, I had forgiven him and myself and later this morning came a phone call of forgiveness from someone I'd hurt, and the world feels right side up again. I don't know exactly what the deal is with Max, and it may be that we'll go to the vet if he lapses again, but he may have been acting out my sorrow in some way. I don't know. My friend Susan the cat whisperer lives across the road. Maybe I'll go ask her.

That little puddle on the bed (fortunately in a spot that is easily washable and de-stinkable) seemed like the putative cherry on the top of a manure sundae, gifted to me by one I trusted, and it parallels metaphorically the way others may have felt because of my lapses.

Okay, okay, enough beating myself up in retrospect. Things are better now and the Vagina Warriors met today for lunch! It was great to see them again and I'm looking forward to our next gathering. I bought a DVD of our performance and I may pour myself a glass of wine and bask in last weekend's good memories. After checking to make sure that Max is not anywhere near the bed, of course!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The latest pix

Happy Valentine's Day from Max to Loosy


Happy Valentine's Day!

This image was deemed inappropriate for a family newspaper by the Seattle dailies and published in the local indie news, The Stranger, along with a message about the Vagina Monologues and its efforts to overcome domestic and sexual violence against women and girls. I think it's awfully pretty.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Unpacking Source #5, Humanism

This is the Sunday that I am speaking on our Fifth Source, Humanism, in cahoots with a fellow in the congregation who is a longtime Humanist and member of the American Humanist Association. It has been a lot of fun to work with him; he is such a gentleman, well spoken, scholarly without being obnoxious, and we enjoy each other's company.

It's been revealing, to investigate and preach on each of our Sources, finding the places where my religious thoughts are enriched by each Source and inviting my congregation to consider those places in themselves. For me, that's one of the most appealing things about Unitarian Universalism, that we have such a rich and diverse wellspring of meaning.

I remember when I first admitted to myself that I didn't believe everything in the Bible literally. It was when I heard the opera Porgy and Bess and the song "It Ain't Necessarily So", sung by the character Sportin' Life. It was the first time I had encountered actual disbelief through popular culture. Not that it hadn't been around for a long time, but it was my first meet-up with blatant disbelief, sung in a rollicking way that was absolutely irresistible.

I kept my heresies to myself for a long time----until I found myself surrounded by others who were equally, perhaps more, skeptical about what was fact and what was truth.

Now I am quite comfortable with the label of humanist, though I consider myself a small h humanist. I'm not a member of the American Humanist Association and I find some of their die-hard principles to be a little overstated. But generally I am in agreement with much of this philosophy. I just don't need to join a club about it nor receive the Skeptical Inquiry magazine.

I notice, when I do read the mag, that there are almost no women contributors and that the Association has not completely gotten over its earliest self-conception of being too scientific to acknowledge anything not provable by empirical means. These days, most humanists are willing to concede that you just can't measure everything and must needs take some things "on faith". Love, for example, is a bit hard to measure scientifically.

In UUism, humanism and "spiritualism" have been at odds in some ways, though the gulf is lessening. I wish there was a better word than "spiritualism", because that word harks back to the days of mediums and seances, which is a far cry from what I mean today. Perhaps a better word will surface as we continue along this track.

In any case, co-preaching means I only have to write half a sermon! And some of our time in the pulpit will be in asking each other questions. I am looking forward to the sermon. I'll post it for you, including my co-preacher's words, if possible.

Things Go Wrong in Multiples, some days

Not only do I have rodents to worry about, but last night as I was getting ready to go to my book club gathering, the door fell off my new medicine cabinet. The screws just plain ripped out of the wood and the door came off in my hand. Or rather, it swung there attached by the bottom set of screws. So I called and emailed the guy who installed it to see if he could come fix it, but I haven't heard back from him yet. It's not his fault; the door was pre-installed. Probably I shouldn't have gotten such an inexpensive one at Home Depot. But I didn't feel I needed anything fancy, just something that works. I will probably take it back tomorrow, but I can't unscrew the solidly-screwed in screws that are holding it to the wall until I get some help. So I'm screwed until friend Richard, who is coming over tonight to rehearse, can exert a little upper body muscle mass on it.

This morning I got up, went to the sink to get a drink, and discovered that I have zero water pressure. After returning from the gym, I called the company that recently installed a new pump filter on the well. (Actually, I called them four times before I got a call-back about noon.) Once it was light, I went down to the pumphouse to see if I could figure out what the deal was. It turned out that the new filter was already chock-full of sediment. I wasn't sure how to flush it out but, after several attempts, finally got it flushed out and the water pressure is back to as normal as it ever is. The pump guy said that we needed to flush it out every couple of weeks, since it's a very fine filter. Okay, we can do that. It's better than having to do something major with the well.

So: mice, medicine cabinet door, pump. What is this? I'm trying to write a sermon today!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

MICE in the car...

are one of the hazards of living in a rural area, I guess, though I don't think city dwellers are necessarily immune.

I took Ruby the red Toyota over the pond to the dealer for the once-yearly megaservice I splurge on and when the guy came to tell me she was ready to roll, he said, "oh, by the way, we found evidence of rodents chewing on one of the non-critical hoses so you might want to take precautions against their doing some real damage."

Yikes! I've had friends who had mouse/rat damage to their cars so bad that they were undrivable and cost big bucks to fix. Apparently the little buggers find it warm and cozy under the hood and make nests that are hard to get rid of.

I asked him if he actually found critters and he said that nothing was moving when they were doing the work, so apparently they didn't stay long. But still....

The funny thing is that I had wondered about it earlier in the fall, when I found what looked like chewed-up styrofoam under the car, and I had planned to ask but spaced it out when I was checking Ruby in at the desk.

So now what do I do? He recommended setting traps or using DeCon, so I'm going to ask around in the congregation and see if anyone has any surefire way of dealing with these guys. I don't want to use unsafe poisons because I have other wildlife on the property, but I don't know if there is such a thing as a safe rodenticide.

I looked online but didn't find much help. I just learned that this is apparently a very common problem!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Voting for UU Blog Awards Begins Today!

Go to this page and vote for your favorites. Please consider voting for Ms. Kitty in a few categories! Thanks.

PS. You don't have to be a UU to vote, just a reader.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Vagina Monologues weekend

Last night was our first public performance of the 2008 Vagina Monologues. It played to a sold-out house that was highly responsive and each monologue was received with lots of laughs or sighs and applause. We all sat backstage listening to each other's performance of our monologue and laughing or crying silently.

This has been a remarkable experience. Before Thursday night, which was our tech rehearsal, I couldn't have told you each woman's name. Our rehearsals had been few to that point and we didn't have a sense of connection until we were onstage with lights and props and costuming and makeup. Somehow that changed everything and with each rehearsal or performance our connection has deepened and I now have friends across the island whom I would never have met otherwise.

Some of that connection has come through the art work and "passion" revelations that we were encouraged to bring for display in the lobby. I brought my ongoing portfolio of photos, sermons, newsletters, that I maintain as a professional discipline. I posted a photo of myself leading the singing at an interfaith worship service celebrating and supporting marriage equality. Others brought collages, sculpture, paintings, photos, and all of it told a story about the lives represented in the cast. Illuminating!

This afternoon is our final performance at 2 p.m., meaning that I will miss our church service at 4, when my friend Bev's son Tim Anderson is speaking. Next Saturday we'll have a cast party at one member's home.

One outcome has been that several women in the cast have said to me, "you must have such a wonderful church, to have them be supportive of your being in this play. I'm going to come visit." And several have visited, with more on the way. Just last night, several more indicated interest. Who knew? UU evangelism via The Vagina Monologues! Hallelujah!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Just back from the Washington State Democratic caucus...

and Freeland, at least, went Obama 49, Clinton 37, with only two undecided. Other precincts had not yet turned in their results.

Why people choose Unitarian Universalism

Again, these thoughts are just that----speculations, theories, possibilities. Your results may vary. To complete the theme, at least for now, here I offer my thoughts about why people choose Unitarian Universalism.

1. They have rejected conservative or mainline religion but want a faith community.

2. They want a religious home that is coherent with their liberal social philosophy.

3. They are looking for a religious home that acts upon its liberal social philosophy.

4. They were born and raised Unitarian Universalist.

5. They marry into Unitarian Universalism after having left another faith.

6. They are freethinkers and are looking for other freethinkers; they have a resistance to orthodoxy.

7. They are spiritual seekers who are looking for a faith community that welcomes all seekers on all paths.

8. They have children who are beginning to ask spiritual and religious questions and want a faith community where answers are not limited to a specific doctrine.

I came to Unitarian Universalism when I became engaged to a man who was UU. We affiliated with a congregation when our son was born. We were both anti-war activists in the 60's and our early experiences with a UU church were in protest marches and rallies. We were both unorthodox thinkers who had come from orthodox backgrounds.

If I had not found Unitarian Universalism through my husband and also some connection with UU volunteers at the agency where I worked, I might well have become a Quaker, because I am so comfortable with their forms of worship and social action.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Why people reject conservative religious paths

In conjunction with a previous post on "why people choose conservative religious paths", I want to offer my thoughts (and that's all they are----thoughts, speculations, brainstorming, based on my personal experience) about why people reject conservative religious paths.

1. They are hurt and angry. They are hurt and angry about abusive authority figures, about being "lied to" by authority figures about religious doctrine, about being forced to attend religious services as children, about apparent or real hypocrisy of religious people, about abusive doctrine or doctrine which excludes the Other.

2. They have learned more about religious history and the questionable behavior of early church leaders, about the scientific process and its lack of importance to conservative religion, about themselves and their tolerance for supernatural doctrine.

3. They have redefined God and no longer accept the definition put forth by conservative religious doctrine.

4. They find a more appealing alternative, preferring to spend Sunday/Sabbath in secular activities.

5. They grew up non-religious and have never seen themselves as needing a spiritual part of their lives.

6. They are rebelling against parental values, for any number of reasons.

7. They marry a person who is not conservative in his/her religious path.

8. They have grown beyond the teachings of their early experience and find that they are unable to go back to those teachings.

For me, who grew up in a conservative home, the turning point was going to Denver as an American Baptist Home Missionary and working in a church-supported community center in the inner city. It was so clear to me that what people needed there had less to do with Jesus and more to do with food, rent, and health care. My early Christianity seemed to be more "about Jesus" than "of Jesus' teachings".

I never did feel angry about what I was taught as a child. My parents were loving and not dogmatic, even though they were very conservative. They had lots of anguish over the UU path I chose, but they had faith in me, as well as God, and I think they did a lot of praying that God would care for me.

I married into Unitarian Universalism, but I had morphed a great deal in that direction before I ever met my husband. And I needed to be in a religious community. That's one thing that growing up Baptist did for me: I could see the value and importance of a faith community and I knew I needed it.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An evening with five old hymns

The movie "Amazing Grace" arrived from Netflix today and because I didn't want to watch the primary hysteria, I sat down and watched it. I was a bit surprised to find that it was a depiction of the stories of five old hymns in addition to the title song: What a Friend We Have in Jesus, How Great Thou Art, Silent Night, and It is Well With My Soul.

These are all hymns I grew up with and, as I sang along with a variety of soloists and choirs, I couldn't help but think about how wide has become the gap between where I was then and where I am now. Singing those old hymns brings me a very deep pleasure but there's also a disconnect because I interpret the words so differently now from the ways I interpreted them as a child and teenager.

Recently a commenter challenged the brainstormed list I made of my speculations about why people choose conservative faiths, the faiths exemplified by these old hymns. The commenter would like, I think, to label me as someone who believes that conservative people of faith are stupid, ignorant, fearful. I don't hold this opinion; I know too many conservative people of faith who explode those stereotypes. People choose their faith for a myriad of reasons and I am not skilled to understand (another old hymn line).

But as I listened to the hymns and sang along and reminisced about hearing George Beverly Shea sing "How Great Thou Art" at a Billy Graham revival meeting in the 50's, all I could identify as my reason for choosing Unitarian Universalism was that I had grown beyond those ways of looking at God, at Jesus, at prayer, at blood sacrifice.

Those old ways just didn't make sense to me any more. I wanted a religious faith that stood up to rational thought, one whose miracles and doctrine did not depend on supernatural events, no matter how beautiful. It was becoming clear to me that the miracle of Jesus' ministry was in his teachings, not in his turning water into wine or in his coming back to life after being murdered. The miracles everybody seemed to think gave Jesus credibility were pale in comparison to his radical teachings.

Those teachings were real, indisputable, challenging, exciting, transformative. They stood up to critical inquiry, didn't require me to suspend my disbelief. The miracles seemed like red herrings, to distract me from the teachings which were scary as all get-out.

Nowadays, when I see so much of Christianity subverted by the gospel of prosperity or discrimination against the Other or turned by charismatic leaders into something I'm sure Jesus never envisioned, I feel great sorrow that so many people cannot see beyond the so-called miracles to the real heart of the message of Jesus, the message of "Love God and love your neighbor as yourself". For, as the rabbis say, "all the rest is commentary."

Bluesy Tuesday

We out here in Washington State don't get to caucus until Saturday by which time we will have a better idea of what voters are thinking about Democratic candidates. That's okay. It's not making me blue.

The FS called last night to report that things in Reno are going well; they're getting new thermal windows in their recently-purchased house; the kids are doing fine; the FDIL is well. No crises there. It's not making me blue.

The Vagina Monologues performances are this weekend and we cast members are invited to bring representations of our "passion" for something---art, writings, etc. I have dug out some pictures of me leading singing at an interfaith worship service for marriage equality a couple of years ago, wearing my robe and rainbow stole. Anticipation there. It's not making me blue.

A consultation session with a doctor yesterday to get ready for a routine colonoscopy went fine. No worries there. It's not making me blue. Very much, anyhow.

A dearly loved person called me yesterday and just left a voice mail saying that they were immediately off to be with their adult child, whose spouse had just died unexpectedly, and would I please do thus and so to make sure their house was okay, their VM tickets were passed along to another person, and other details taken care of. Okay, now I'm blue, really blue.

It's hard to know something so tragic and be unable to do anything directly, only able to leave supportive voice mails, hope for a return call, pray hard for their wellbeing and safety and for the comforting of the family. In a situation where a pastoral presence would be welcomed, I can only hope that they can feel my love and care from many miles away. Blue, blue, blue.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Sermon: Speaking Truth to Power with Love

delivered to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island by
Rev. Kit Ketcham, February 3, 2008

When I was a guidance counselor in Colorado working with young adolescents, one of my concerns was encouraging students to find appropriate help for the problems they faced as they moved from childhood through the teenage years and into young adulthood.

Early adolescence can be fraught with conflict with adults, particularly parents, and often young teens are unwilling or too shy to tell a teacher or counselor about the difficult realities they face.

Sometimes these are commonplace realities---the need to separate from parents and become one’s own person rather than a parental clone; the concerns about “am I normal?” as childish bodies change and others’ perceptions of those bodies seem a little scary or confusing; the many choices a teen must face as he or she thinks about further education, vocational possibilities, the age-old question of “who am I and what am I doing here?”.

And sometimes those realities are too big to handle alone: alcoholic parents, domestic violence, sexual misconduct, suicidal thoughts. Many times youth are uncomfortable telling adults about these problems and more comfortable telling a friend, so peer counseling programs have been a popular approach in many schools.

Peer counseling curricula had been available in our local high schools for several years when my friend Carolee, who taught health education (aka sex ed), and I decided to write a peer counseling curriculum for our older junior high students, 9th graders.

Peer counselors, if you are unfamiliar with that concept, are not professional counselors; they are, instead, peers of the group they hope to reach out to. In our case, we were hoping to train our 14 and 15 year olds to listen helpfully to other students, to offer assistance as appropriate and to bring them to adult counselors or parents if the situation warranted it.

Carolee and I decided, once we got our administration’s go-ahead, to choose a group of about 15-20 9th graders from applications submitted at spring registration time. We interviewed them and looked for students with leadership potential, students who were admired and respected by other kids, not necessarily the most popular kids, the most goody-goody kids, the most academically oriented kids. We admitted some kids that our principal took a dim view of.

But we wanted a diverse group, kids from all peer groups in the school, even the edgy ones thought of as the freaks or the stoners or the skaters. We were full of optimism, even though we knew we were taking on a huge and somewhat risky challenge.

Now, if you think about it, adults have a lot of power over kids. And adults do a lot of telling kids what to do. We do it because we’re scared for them, we’re a little scared of them, we’re a little scared about what the world will be like when we’re aged and they are running things. And we have a huge responsibility to guide them on worthy paths. So we tell them what to do----a lot.

And when kids reach adolescence, they often begin to respond negatively to our efforts because they are beginning to be aware of their own power to say no, to choose a different path.

Sometimes they start doing badly in school. Sometimes they get rowdy. Sometimes they act out in self-destructive ways. Sometimes they gang up---against us. Sometimes they close down and refuse to talk to adults or to acknowledge any responsibility for their actions. Sometimes they are compliant on the surface and go underground with their efforts to feel independent and different from their parents. All these are teenage power plays!

Many of those adults who have learned how to get along well with teens and older youth have discovered that one key is to recognize the power they are coming to have and to find ways to address that power with love.

In our peer counseling program one year we had quite a motley crew. Actually, we did every year, but this was a special group. Not only did we have a racially and academically diverse group, we had several young people about whom our principal just shook his head.

“I don’t know what you are thinking, taking on Jamie so-and-so” he said. “That kid isn’t going to do anything but end up in a gang. Sure, he’s irresistible to the girls and can talk teachers into anything, but with his background? Good luck.”

But we took Jamie on just because of who he was. Jamie was going to be a powerful young man someday and we hoped to be able to shape the ways he used his power. And Jamie loved being selected as a peer counselor, learning to listen between the lines, make responsible decisions about what he heard, and be seen as a student leader. Jamie was a good peer counselor---eventually.

Because there was that time, early in the semester, when Jamie, fooling around in the hall before class, chased a girl he liked down the hall and into a classroom. When Miss Shipley, the math teacher, shouted at him, “Jamie, what in the name of heaven are you doing?”, he called back, as he cornered this giggling girl, “I’m peer counseling her!”

That became, shall we say, a teachable moment for Jamie. The principal threatened to pull him out of the class and make him sit in study hall. But we intervened and kept him in class, and Jamie began to blossom. He never became an angel, but he did become a more responsible young man.

When I saw the effect our peer counseling class, with its strategies of teaching kids to listen deeply to their friends, to know when to alert an adult about a problem, to be able to mediate a quarrel between students, when I saw the effect this had on our students’ lives, I became passionate about the value of giving kids the tools to address the problems in their lives and in their friends’ lives.

Acknowledging our peer counselors’ power, affirming it, giving it constructive avenues for expression---all these methods, taught through games and role plays and actual experiences of listening deeply to another person, produced remarkable results in our small junior high.

Peer Counseling class was the most sought-after class for 9th graders. And every semester, kids learned to use their power with love. Because isn’t that what we’re really talking about? Using power lovingly?

Let’s think about the idea of power. We often use it as a pejorative term: direct and oppressive actions toward a group or individual.

We think of the folly of the war in Iraq and the power of those who declared that war; we think of our own sense of powerlessness when it came to opposing and changing the course of those actions which took us headlong into a very unpopular and wrong conflict.

We think about torture and the power prison guards and interrogators have over suspected terrorists in our foreign prisons. We think about poverty and the economic structure of our society which maintains a poverty class, making it difficult for people to break out of the prison of low income and expensive housing.

Locally, we think of civic issues which pit the powerful over the ordinary citizen, imposing policy decisions without adequate community input. We think of insensitive actions by law officers which profile people stereotypically and unfairly.

In our families, we think of the power of adults over children and how easily it can be misused. And how, in retaliation, children sometimes turn the tables on us and use their less obvious power against us.

We don’t often think of the power of the seemingly powerless, and when I was asked by Peggy to speak on the topic “speaking truth to power---with love”, the story about our peer counselors of those long years ago popped into my head.

It’s not the kind of thing we normally think of when we think of power. But the truth is, we all have power, we all have truth, and we all have love to use as a tool.

Power is not a bad thing. It is how power is used that gives it a bad reputation. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." said the historian and moralist who was known simply as Lord Acton, expressing this opinion in a letter to his friend the Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887.

We have power over any number of the people in our lives. I trust we do not misuse that power but are careful with it. Any number of people have power over us and we hope for their sensitivity to our needs. We give people power over us through our electoral process, through the contracts we enter, through our relationships with one another. And we receive power from others in the same ways.

When power is misused, when an authority figure is unkind or cruel, we on an individual level want to speak up for ourselves. When a society is unkind or cruel to a group of people, we seethe with indignation and may devise ways of making our objections known.

“Speaking truth to power” has long been a hallmark of the Society of Friends, or Quakers as we know them. History is full of stories of the Quakers’ resistance to the groundswells of patriotic fervor that have swept our nation before each of the conflicts America has entered. For their convictions, Quakers have been jailed, persecuted, and even injured. Yet they persist in their non-violent resistance.

At the heart of Quaker non-violence is their strong commitment to their faith, a faith that is firmly based on the principle that humans are loving beings and that love is a better tool than hate.

What, in our Unitarian Universalist faith, gives us the resources to choose love over hate, to speak the truth to power---in love? I suggest that we know how to do this very well. And I suggest, too, that it is not easy.

Those of us who have been parents or teachers know how hard it is to give children the guidance they need without exerting undue power over them, giving them the freedom to make some choices without allowing them to be hurt.

Children use their power on us all the time, charming us into giving them what they want, hitting us up for something when we are at our most exhausted, playing one parent against another, manipulating situations so that we are not sure what the right thing to do might be. And we are often pushed so hard that we may respond in ways that feel violent, whether physically or verbally. We know how easy it is to feel a need for violence when we are faced with another’s power, even that of a child.

I confess that I had these impulses myself, the urge to smack my kid when he talked back, exercising his own power in a way that inflamed me. And when I see some of our elected leaders on the TV screen, it’s all I can do to restrain myself (and often I don’t) from cussing out the lamebrains who run the country. Their power infuriates me and I respond with anger and a desire for vengeance.

And yet there is a better way. Non-violence as a political and personal strategy is a tried and true way of speaking truth to power---with love. It involves knowing our opponent, understanding what drives our opponent, doing the unexpected, and doing it out of a sense of compassion for our opponent.

In the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird”, little Scout Finch, on the steps of the jail with her father who is protecting his client Tom Robinson, pipes up at the moment of highest tension between her father and the mob which has come to lynch Tom.

“Oh, hi, Mr. Cunningham,” she says to a man she recognizes in the mob. “Remember me? I’m Jean Louise Finch. I met you when you came to bring my dad a big sack of nuts the other day. Your boy Walter is in my class at school. He’s a nice boy. Tell him I said hello. And, Mr. Cunningham, I’m sorry if I embarrassed you the other day when you came to our house. I didn’t mean no harm.”

Mr. Cunningham is clearly taken aback by Scout’s friendly greeting and, twisting his hat in his hands, accepts her apology and says, “come on, boys, we don’t belong here, let’s go”. And the mob drifts away. Scout spoke truth to power in love, out of her child’s trusting heart.

Like the Quakers, we UUs have a faith that supports us when we speak truth to power. In our seven Principles, we find strength for this challenge. I’d like to invite you to turn to the back of your O/S and let’s read those principles aloud.

Our commitment to these principles of human attitude and behavior sustain us in our daily lives. Yet it is often hard to put them into concrete actions. Our anger and desire for change are often so strong that we feel paralyzed or helpless or impotent.

In 1961, a Detroit psychologist, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, hungered to find a way to help people communicate compassionately with one another, believing strongly that human beings are not inherently violent, that they prefer peaceful resolution of conflict, and that violence is not the inevitable outcome of unresolved differences.

Since that time, the idea of Nonviolent Communication or Compassionate Communication has become widespread and is taught to people from all walks of life.

Nonviolent Communication helps us humans express ourselves and hear others by fostering respect, attentiveness and empathy, and teaches how to give from the heart and to encourage others to do the same.

NVC is founded on language and communication skills that enable us to remain human, even under the most trying conditions. These skills have been known and used for centuries and are innate in the human psyche, but violence has often blinded us to their presence in ourselves.

This approach to communication emphasizes compassion as the motivation for action, rather than fear, shame, blame, coercion, threat or punishment. It is not about guilt and manipulation. Those who use these methods find that they diminish defensiveness in others and make it easier to deal with critical, hostile messages without taking them personally or giving in.

This week the Christian world enters the period of Lent, a time of self-examination, repentance for wrongdoing, and making amends through self-disciplines of various kinds. It is useful, when reminded by one of our Unitarian Universalist Sources, to consider the worthiness of this important tradition.

The teacher and prophet Jesus, in his short life, taught the value of compassion and love as the key to the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus didn’t invent love, as some Christians might have you believe, because love has always been part of the human condition; but Jesus did say that acting out of love was more important than acting out of obedience to law.

At this holy time in the year, a time when we await spring with great anticipation, when we consider the events of the past year, when we regret our misdeeds and vow to do better, when we as a congregation face the stress of financial obligations, the heavy work of building our own home, the inevitable disagreements about process or priorities, this would be a good time to consider how we are with one another.

Are we careful with our words? Are we compassionate when we consider the effect of our words on another? Are we respectful of another’s time or energy or commitments? Are we honest about our own? Are we able to say what we need without shame or fear?

One of the things we might consider doing, for ourselves and for the larger community, is to sponsor a training in Nonviolent Communication. We have access to trainers right here in Puget Sound. We could offer a huge service to our civic leaders, to our families, to our neighbors, by providing an opportunity to learn how to speak truth to power, in love. Thank you, Peggy, for challenging us with this powerful topic.

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 the innate ability to speak truth to power with love. May we dig deep within ourselves to listen carefully and with compassion to each other and to those in power, framing our truth in such a way that it can be heard. And may we consider offering this learning to our larger community, in the hope that love can prevail in our life together. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Further thoughts

I am one of those cooks who saves leftover chicken carcasses until the freezer runs out of room. Then I take all the frozen chicken parts and frozen drippings from the roasting pan, throw them in a huge pot with some water and boil them until the meat is falling off the bones. I cool the stock, skim the fat off, put it in freezer containers, and store it in the freezer. When the chicken parts have cooled enough to be handled, I separate the meat from the bones, gristle, skin, and ooky stuff and divide it up between several smaller containers to be used later for soup.

That was my morning task today and while separating the meat from the bones I was struck by a thought: we the American people are desperate for a savior. We want someone who will promise us that life can be different under a different ruler. We are drawn to someone whose vision is different from the visions being thrown up by other prophets.

While I was working on the chicken, I thought of the old movie "Shane" and how Shane came to the rescue of the beleaguered people and then rode off into the sunset. I thought of all the heroes of fiction, the super-heroes and the not-so-super; I thought of Moses and John the Baptist and Jesus and the Kennedys and Martin and Malcolm. And I thought, "what makes this different?"

And then Jess's comment popped into my head: "Yes, we can", she said in response to my plea for the hope of the young to come strengthen me. And it's the "we" part that gives me strength.

The "we" implies something other than a ruler. The "we" implies that we all have a part in this metamorphosis, if we will just take it, if we will just find the strength inside to participate in what democracy really means. The "we" means that we don't just work for our candidate to win, we work for a better life for all people, not just the Democrats or Greens or Republicans. The savior's kingdom is not an earthly kingdom, to use Jesus' words; it is inside every heart and mind. It is our transformed life as a people and as individuals.

There, maybe I'm getting it now. Maybe I'm still scared but I want to help bring about a new kindom on earth.

Hoping for the best...

this morning I blackened in the Obama square in my mail-in ballot, said yes to a bunch of school and parks issues, and stuck a stamp on the envelope. And next Saturday I'll go to the caucus and participate, but I'm still scared.

I'm grateful to those of you who have strengthened my hope by sharing your own.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Afraid to Hope

After watching the video of "Yes, We Can", posted on a couple of UU blogs today (thank you, Jess and Adam), I came to the startling realization that I am afraid to hope, in this election. I would never have thought of myself as a person who is afraid to hope. I see hopefulness all around me; I say yes to people who want to try new things; I anticipate spring; I think of myself as a hopeful person.

But when I watched the video and wanted with all my heart to buy into the dream that is Barack Obama as President of the United States, I realized that what was holding me back is the fear that the dream will be destroyed.

I am a person who, in my lifetime, has experienced the physical assassination of John Kennedy, of Robert Kennedy, of Martin Luther King, Jr., of Malcolm X, and the political assassination of countless others who dared to put themselves out there for change.

I have seen with my own eyes the murderous acts of political thugs, whether they used bullets or bullet points to end lives. I do not want that to happen to Barack Obama as it has happened to so many others. I do not want his body riddled with bullets or his character torn to shreds by gossipy accusations.

Hillary Clinton is a walking wounded woman; she has been the target of so much anger and accusation that she has developed a skin thicker than a rhinoceros, a characteristic that her enemies can and do attack. If she wins the election, she will govern with that thick skin and we will see the effect of cruel treatment borne out in her presidency, for good or for ill.

If Barack Obama wins the election, what will happen? Will the dream come to fruition? Or will it die a violent death, either at the hands of an enemy armed with a weapon or at the words of an enemy armed with an accusation? I am afraid to hope for the best after all that has happened.

And yet, in him I see the idealism and courage that seemed to die with my dead heroes, Jack, Bobby, Martin, Malcolm. Can it be that their spirits have come back to invigorate a young man's quest for a dream for America, a dream that held such promise years ago?

I need you young people to give me hope, to help me see that, even though there are no guarantees that the dream won't die, the promise is enough to go on, that whatever change comes because of this election, hope won't die. You are our future. I am counting on you to choose a future that I can't envision, a future of freedom and integrity in this nation. Help me. Please.

Speaking Truth to Power---with Love

Every year at our congregational "Fun-raiser" auction, I offer the opportunity to choose a sermon topic during the coming church year. Last year the purchaser of the topic-choice was a longtime member of the congregation who took several months to decide what she wanted. It took me awhile to figure out where it should fit in the scheme of sermon topics, with the consequence that tonight is our annual auction and tomorrow I am preaching on her topic, "Speaking Truth to Power with Love".

It's been an interesting theme for me to develop and I've enjoyed this process. Two years ago, the purchaser of the topic-choice was a man who died suddenly before I could schedule his sermon. The topic he had chosen was "Belief Divides; Doubt Unites" and the sermon on this topic is tentatively scheduled for June of this year, at the request of his wife. She has been too raw to attend such an event in her husband's name and June of this year felt right to her.

I'm almost done with tomorrow's effort and will post it tomorrow night.