Friday, October 31, 2008

Elect Your Inner President

Our worship leader for this Sunday, E, has found and adapted this reading by David Spangler, from a longer document with the same title. Each paragraph will be read by a different congregant hornswoggled into it by me before the service. I hope you find it interesting and inspiring.


1. . . . When great issues are at stake and crises stalk the land, there is a tendency to pin our hopes and desires on a single leader, the "magical" person who will make it all come right. However, the President is still only a human being like the rest of us, capable of wisdom and folly, successes and mistakes.

2. The President cannot by himself or herself change global climate upheaval nor end violence on earth; he (or eventually she) cannot through the power of that office bring someone else to love or bless, cherish or have compassion for another person.

3. He, or she as President, cannot bring about the truly essential changes - the changes of mind and heart, consciousness and spirit - that will most heal the damage that we do to ourselves, to each other, and to the world.

4. This is something only we can do, something only each person can do in the Oval Office of his or her own heart and mind. We often decry the seeming powerlessness of the individual and our inability to "really make a difference" when it comes to the great issues of our times. But this is not true. What it comes down to, is taking responsibility within our immediate world for the values and the changes we want to see implemented.

5. The environment I want to heal is all around me; it's my backyard, my front yard, my neighborhood; the planet is very local. The violence I would like to end in the world must stop in my own thoughts, my own words, my own actions.

6. Changing one heart at a time may not seem like much when there are billions of hearts in the world, but we are also linked energetically. Not that my change is going to make you change but as I change, I alter the spiritual "quality" of the whole system. Each loving act, each compassionate act, each healing, caring act makes all such acts more likely.

7. We don't have the time or the luxury to simply sit back and let a President Obama or a President McCain "do it." We need to do what we can; we need to preside over our own capacities to make a difference, even if that difference is in making one other person's life easier, happier, more blessed, or more productive today.

8. In the final analysis, it is this inner President residing in the Light House of our own hearts and minds who will change the world through our individual acts of love and compassion. Change is our responsibility. Elect your inner President and make it so!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Home from the retreat

Our fall ministers' retreat was restful and inspiring. The program on covenanting was pretty good, though I missed part of it because I fell asleep in my room during a break and didn't participate in the final session. It was pretty pedantic in parts, particularly the evening session on Monday night. That's a rotten time for an hour-long lecture on anything, but it was the only time it could happen. Luckily I didn't fall asleep during that piece.

Our presenter was a colleague from Grand Rapids MI whose wisdom I have read on the ministers' chat many times. I often wade through his remarks with difficulty and occasionally just skip over them because his thinking and writing are so erudite that it can be hard to absorb quickly. That worried me a bit initially, and the Monday night session was difficult, but as we got to know him personally, he lightened up and it was very enjoyable.

Mostly I love our retreats because of the opportunity to schmooz with colleagues. Our fall retreat is limited to ministers in fellowship, meaning ministers who have completed the credentialing process and are either ordained or eligible for ordination. Students are welcome at our winter and spring retreats, but fall is reserved for credentialed ministers. The status of those attending affects the atmosphere of the retreat, as we need to be less conscious of being role models and can let down our hair more freely.

This retreat featured wonderful short worship services most mornings and evenings, plus the presentation by one colleague of his spiritual odyssey, always a rite of passage for the one so chosen. (It was interesting to me that, since I did my odyssey last spring, I felt a different level of appreciation this fall.) And following the odyssey, we had our usual bout of charades, which my team managed to win this time, despite the impossible titles that are always half the fun. I had a relatively easy one---"Burial at Thebes"---which they got with seconds to spare.

Charades tends to bring out our best and our worst---squabbling about rules and how long titles can be (12 words does seem a little extreme! But how are you going to use "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" if they make such a rule?)

Anyhow, I'm home now, have caught up on email, unpacked, gone for groceries, called the furnace guy to come fix the furnace, which conked out for the second time in a week while I was gone, okayed the Order of Service for Sunday. Now all I have to do is finish this belated blog post so that the FS doesn't worry that I am dead in a ditch, sort through all the great covenant materials I got, and get ready to write my sermon tomorrow in between a haircut and a rehearsal for our Saturday night gig.

Here's a great quote, by the way: "The bonds of love keep open the gates of freedom", by 20th century UU minister Napoleon Lovely.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Covenant, Covenant, Who's Got a Covenant?

There are so many things I wish I had known when I was younger. Do we all have that wish? Maybe. So much of what I have learned to this point has come from the knocks and dings of adult life and responsibility.

I remember when I got married in 1966, I had no idea how to maintain a house. I had lived alone for awhile but always had a back-up domicile. When I was living in a tiny place in the Columbia River Gorge and working as a welfare caseworker in Skamania county, I went home to my parents' home every weekend, taking my laundry. The most domestic things I did were to cook my own meals, change the cat litter, and put my garbage out.

Before Larry and I were married, his apartment was my backup and I was just camping out in my own small place. When we got married and actually lived in a house, I was overwhelmed by the demands of living in a house and things got pretty sticky----literally! One day that "sticks" in my memory was the time I didn't know to pierce the skin of the sweet potatoes I had put in the oven. When I reached in with my fork to pull them out, they exploded all over the interior of the oven AND the kitchen. Not understanding the tenacity of sweet potato flesh, I waited to clean it up until way too much later. (I think remnants of that poor potato were glued to the ceiling when we moved, a year afterward!)

But what I'm thinking about right now is the request by the leader of our upcoming ministers' retreat that we write down the particulars of the covenants that we have lived by in our lives. Our UUMA chapter is beginning to work on our collegial covenant with one another, laying out the ways we want to be in relationship.

I'm afraid that most of my covenants (as opposed to the work contracts I've signed) have been seat-of-the-pants kinds of things. I don't think I've ever worked out a covenant with anyone, not even in my marriage. Strictly S.O.T.P, as I've said. It's a little embarrassing to admit this. I have carried unspoken expectations around in my head with every relationship I've ever been in, but few have had any dialogue connected with them.

Not surprisingly, any of those relationships which did not last expired because of those unspoken expectations in my head and, doubtless, in the other person's head. It never occurred to me to talk about what our covenant together might be. In marriage, of course, this is pretty problematic. Larry and I were awfully dumb about what marriage meant and though we stumbled through it for 13 years, we never really "got it".

So here I am, eligible for Medicare, and am just now learning how to create a covenant that is respectful and protective of each person and good for the group. I hope I finally learn how to do this.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Side by Side

A couple of weeks ago, two long-time Island friends, whom I know through the acoustic music community here, approached me about performing their wedding. They wanted as little fuss as possible because they had been a couple for 30 years, had adult children together, and knew that most of their friends probably assumed they'd been married all that time. They weren't even sure they were going to tell anybody because they just didn't want to deal with all the questions and surprise.

As we talked, they asked me to keep it confidential until they knew what they wanted to do. They did plan to talk with their children about it but thought that their children would probably be unable to attend the ceremony. I gave them my wedding template, explaining that it was more fitting for a couple just starting out but that it might give them some ideas.

Yesterday I performed the wedding, with just five of us here: the couple, two witnesses, and me. I wanted to do something to fuss a little bit, so I got a small cake and a bottle of sparkling cider and picked the last gaillardia and daisies for a small bouquet. As it turned out, the woman who was to be a witness also wanted to fuss so we ended up with two small wedding cakes, two bottles of sparkly stuff, and two bouquets.

Our wedding couple was a bit starry-eyed; I guess we all were, recognizing that this was a special occasion even if it was quiet and tiny and low-key. They asked me to cut out all the stuff in the ceremony that didn't fit for them, told me that they had a special way they wanted to do their vows, and we began.

The vows were conducted in my living room with cats basking in the sunshine. The couple was adorned by a guitar and a mandolin. No rings, no lengthy statements, just an "I will" and then this:

"Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money; maybe we're ragged and funny;
But we'll travel along, singing a song, side by side.
Don't know what's coming tomorrow, maybe it's trouble and sorrow,
But we'll travel the road, sharing our load, side by side.
Through all kinds of weather, what if the sky should fall?
Well, as long as we're together, it doesn't matter at all.
When they've all had their quarrels and parted,
We'll be the same as we started,
Just traveling along, singing a song, side by side."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Take a look at these beautiful photo galleries!

My friend Chris Highland, who recently moved from Whidbey to the Bay Area to be with his sweetheart, has a wonderful website with much of his photographic and literary work available for sale. Check it out here!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yikes! This day started out badly!

I went to bed last night really pooped out after a great weekend of rehearsing, performing, and preaching. Our Rockhopper's concert went extremely well on Saturday night. None of the audience left early (we only had 16 people there but that's about typical for a RH gig), all of them sang along and many told us it was great. And we didn't make any major bobbles, at least nothing anybody but us would notice.

Sunday morning was our "grand opening" service, meaning that we had our new chalice, our piano-on-loan, our new altar table, and a few other fixings. We had over 100 people there, including the kids. Somebody counted 120 people total, which is a record for us. We had to put out extra chairs. The choir sang, we all processed into the sanctuary following the bearers of the new chalice and our banner, and the service went beautifully.

That afternoon, I participated in the annual Vigil for Peace and Justice sponsored by the Peace Council of the nearby Episcopal church---two hours of meaningful words and song.

So it was about 6 p.m. when I got home, absolutely tuckered. I went to bed at 9 and slept pretty well till about 5:15 when I got up, realized the house was colder than usual, and tried to crank up the furnace to take the chill off. No go. I had replaced the batteries in the thermostat the evening before and somehow had jimmied up the settings; the furnace was dead and I didn't understand why.

Went down to put a letter in the mailbox and pick up the newspapers, but the paper wasn't there, which is a switch because it's usually there really early. So I trudged back up to the house, went to fire up the computer and read my email, only to find that Comcast had shifted to its new format and I had to spend an hour just figuring out how to use everything. I even contacted the live chat feature to figure one thing out and the techie couldn't even help me. Finally a real person on the phone helped me decipher the solution and I've now figured out how to use it.

What else can I whine about? The furnace guy finally came and got me warmed back up. That was good. The furnace needs a maintenance going-over, though, and I'll schedule that for later this week.

Campaign ads are absolutely repulsive right now. I can't stand the ones where the pictures of the opponent look like something out of a horror movie and the candidate him/herself looks like something out of a fashion mag. I did have to hand it to Sarah Palin for her demeanor on SNL, though. Despite the ridiculous rap song going on behind her, she was composed and smiling. Good for you, Sarah. But it's the only reasonable thing I've seen you do.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A link to the Bayview Sound performance

Link here to view the performance at Rockhopper's last night. I found the video a little choppy; it may be my own software difficulty. I hope you'll find it more viewable. We all had a great time and considered it a fine evening. Very few bobbles in our performance! Yay!

The Home that Democracy Built

by the Rev. Kit Ketcham
Oct. 19, 2008

During this church year, we are addressing, one by one, the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism because we have so many new folks coming through our doors. In August and September, we considered our First and Founding Principle, which states that we member congregations of the UUA do affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

We do not have a creed that all must believe. Instead, we uphold certain values which we believe make human life more responsible and more satisfying.

I've spoken with you several times now this fall about how our First Principle shapes us as a religious community, founded as we are upon the premise that each life is precious and good, that though we may not always do good things, we still were born with inherent worth and dignity. It is a challenge to offer respect sometimes someone because of behavior, but it is our commitment to do so which reflects our own inherent worth and dignity.

Because our national elections are coming up in the next few weeks, we have chosen to address our Fifth Principle during this season, the principle which states that "we affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in our congregations and society."

Now why would a religious community enshrine the democratic process? How is democracy a religious issue? And what does the right of conscience have to do with how a religious community is governed?

As the Rev. Ken Collier has written in his book "Our Seven Principles", there is more to democracy than a simple counting of noses (in a vote). Sometimes the majority is wrong about an issue. Think of how often slavery and oppression of minority groups has been the law of the land, voted in by a majority vote.

This is not usually true democracy, because in most elections only a fraction of the population actually votes, so a vote is often not representative of the people. And without every voice, it's difficult to make the best decisions.

The idea of self-rule or democracy is based on a religious idea: that people should rule themselves because no one is privileged above another. This is in accordance with our First Principle, affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person. If each person is equally worthy, then no one is more worthy than another.

Therefore, it follows that each person in the community is equally responsible with others in the community for the wellbeing of the community. All responsible persons participate in governing and democracy is the best way we know to accomplish this. A successful democracy depends upon the consciences of the individuals who are part of the governing process.

Our conscience is our inner moral plumbline, the deepest values in our hearts, which spring from our own inherent worth and dignity. When we override our conscience or ignore the twinges it gives us when we do the wrong thing, we must deal with the discomfort and the consequences of acting against our conscience. Our conscience is the "still small voice" within us that guides our actions.

Conscience is not the voice of conventional morality. It is the voice that connects us with the worth of all things. It is the deeper voice of the spirit of life, of the earth and sun and stars. We depend on it for peace of mind. Without our conscience, we are rudderless, adrift and susceptible to the influence of less-worthy impulses. This is the role of conscience in our religious life as Unitarian Universalists.

In the past weeks as I was thinking with Toyan and Terra who helped me with this service, we realized that the children's story today is a metaphor for how our Fifth Principle, the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process, was invoked as we built this structure together.

In the story there's a village of people who have very few resources. A stranger comes to the village and asks for food. The villagers have very little food for themselves and are afraid they will not be able to feed this person as well as their own families.

"No problem," says the stranger. "I can make soup out of a stone." And the story is about he does it and what the villagers are able to create together.

In my mind, the village is this congregation when it began to be clear to some folks in leadership that the community would not grow stronger and more effective in the cramped surroundings of a rented space.

Who were those folks in leadership at that time? Who was on the board or committees at the time that the idea of building a church arose? Please stand. (I am going to give you many chances to stand in the next few minutes---please don't feel you have to stand if you are uncomfortable doing so.)

Who was the stranger who needed sustenance? If you came to this congregation during those early years wanting religious education for your kids but finding it hard to get them to church at 4 pm, if you just couldn't manage an afternoon service or the cramped surroundings, or if you came and hung on hoping for a new day, please stand.

And who were the folks in the congregation who were scared of how huge and overwhelming this project might be? I suspect that might have been most of us, at one time or another. Please stand.

And what was the stone that provided the base for the soup, for the building project? In my thinking, at least, it was the dream, the idea, the possibility, that UUCWI could become more than it was at that time, with a space we could offer to the community at large, where we could have classes and worship and concerts and art and be seen as a vibrant contributor to Whidbey Island life. Who all had the idea, who were the dreamers? Please stand.

Where did the soup pot come from? In our congregation's metaphorical soup, the pot would be the land, the spot of ground that has become the foundation for this building, that holds close the soil and timbers and concrete that hold this structure in its firm and gentle grip. Who provided the pot for our soup? Who had a hand in providing or caring for the land on which we built? Please stand.

Underneath the pot of soup, there is always a heat source. Heat is energy. Who supplied the energy for our soup, our building? Did you come to meetings at which plans were discussed and voted on? Did you serve on one of the planning committees? Did you write a newsletter article? Did you invite people to catch the excitement? Then you provided the energy that began to heat up the soup. Please stand up.

Who provided the water? For without the broth, the stock, the liquid capital, there is no soup. Every person who contributed money, to the building fund helped provide the water without which there would be no soup. Will you please stand up.

Now, onions are a particularly important part of a soup. They give a different flavor from everything else. In our soup, our building process, they would be the ones who had questions, who challenged decisions, who felt it very important to consider every aspect of the building process carefully.

Some of these folks were very much against the project, even though they love this community; they believed that our money was better spent elsewhere. They exercised their right of conscience to speak their minds and in so doing, improved the process of decision-making and action.

Sometimes onions make us cry, at least temporarily, but once they're in the soup, they bring important flavor. And the onions in our soup insisted that we put greens in there too! They insisted that our building be environmentally friendly and economically feasible. And their desires were respected and included as much as possible. Who brought the onions to our soup? We appreciate what they did to make this soup so flavorful. Please stand.

Carrots are an ingredient that bring color into the soup. In our building, a lot of people were helpful in figuring out the colors that would be the best and most beautiful and most practical. Who were the carrot-bringers here at UUCWI? the ones who helped make aesthetic decisions? Please stand.

A good soup has to have protein as well. That protein can come in the form of meat or beans or tofu, but to carry a hungry person through to their next meal, the soup has got to have good solid protein. In our building, what would be the protein? I think protein is the heart of the soup; what is the heart of our building? Who did the work, from the earliest days to the present time and beyond? Who put their heart and soul into the construction of this sacred space? If you did any of the work, please stand.

What about the pepper and salt and other spices and herbs? Soup is pretty bland without these ingredients. We could have had a bland building too, but some people kept having ideas about what it should look like and how we might use it. If you had ideas about the building and offered them, even if they weren't used in the final product, you have supplied the spices. Please stand.

Most soups have some kind of carbohydrate like barley or rice or potatoes. These things are often added toward the end of the cooking process and they represent the folks who were new and came to be part of the project during this past year. If you came and were part of our process during the past year, even if you only did a little or contributed some money, you are part of this building too. Please stand.

Well, the soup is finished, all ready to be eaten! But somebody has set the table for us, placing the chairs just so, providing a beautiful table and cloth and candles and flowers for our enjoyment and use. Who prepared this space to be so beautiful? Who polished and varnished and dusted and washed, so that our sanctuary and our rooms would be so attractive? Who is carefully making sure that we have art on our walls and that we keep our space beautiful? Please stand.

I notice that practically everyone here has stood up at least once. That's democracy, where every person is represented in some way. But hang on, we have a couple more things to think about!

Now, who is enjoying the soup? Who is enjoying the building that we all together have created? Who is part of the community which has built this building? If you are here today, you are part of this community. We built this building for you, as well as for ourselves.

We built it for our visitors, for our members, for our children, for our elders, and for those whose ideas and love contributed so much but who died before the building was complete. We built it for you who are here today and for those who cannot be here.

Democracy is a messy thing. We had problems arise during the building of our dream home. We didn't agree on everything. Sometimes tempers got short. Sometimes people got really tired. Sometimes people had to quit the job they were working on and go do something else for awhile. But we went ahead, despite the problems. We rose above the little stuff and worked out as much of the big stuff as we could.

We depended on our consciences to make good choices. When we were angry about something, we tried to listen to that still small voice that said "this is a community worth being part of. try to work out the bugs." We learned---and we continue to learn every day---that all the voices count, even when we don't agree with them.

We kept going, even when it seemed like the project would never end, like the obstacles would never be overcome, like not enough people were showing up to do the work. We were frustrated sometimes by how much there was to do and by the things that went wrong.

But our dreamers and our doers kept us going. There was too big a reward at the end of the project and they wouldn't let us quit----the reward was a metaphorical pot of soup that will nourish us and our community for many years to come.

That's democracy for you. It's tenacious, it's messy, it's imperfect. It's a human system! But it worked and here we are. This meeting house, this sanctuary, these classrooms were built democratically and in accordance with our religious principles and values.

There's a story in our American history books about a Revolutionary War soldier, a Mr. Ames, who, upon seeing the tall three-masted sailing ships of the British empire, observed that there was an important difference between monarchy, in which a hereditary ruler calls all the shots, and a democracy, where the ordinary people govern.

Mr. Ames allowed as how a monarchy was like those big impressive ships and a democracy was like a raft of logs lashed together. The one is beautiful and majestic under sail upon the high seas, but in rough weather can be shattered and sunk against the rocks. The raft of democracy, on the other hand, is virtually unsinkable, but you always have your feet wet.

So---literally and figuratively, we're in the soup together and a tasty concoction it is. We all had a hand in creating it, we each contributed our own particular ingredient or offering to the mix.

And the final question is: who is keeping the soup a cooking? Who is tending the fire, bringing the beauty, tending the land, savoring the community? It seems to me that that's our privilege and responsibility as part of the community which eats the soup.

Every person here has an opportunity to stir the soup, to keep it simmering, to participate in many ways, whether that's ushering or refreshments or helping with religious education or paying a pledge or serving on a committee or attending a gathering or contributing an auction item or picking up litter on the highway or bringing food for Good Cheer.

Because that's what keeps the soup nourishing and plenteous---the willingness of all to stay involved, to give whatever they can to make UUCWI the thriving, giving, loving community it can be. What will your part be? I hope you'll think about what you can do to stir the soup and keep it a-cookin'!

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 each of us has contributed in our own way to the creation of this sacred space. May we remember the responsibilities of democracy, may we heed our conscience, and may we live out our ideals as we begin life in this our new home. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bayview Sound hits the mics!

Tonight is our first performance as Bayview Sound. We are singing a full-length concert at Rockhopper's Coffeehouse on Highway 525 in Clinton at 8 p.m. If you're anywhere nearby, it would be wonderful if you'd come and support us! There's a $5 cover charge. You can come early for dinner if you call ahead for reservations.

Among the songs we'll be doing are "Last Thing on my Mind", "Two Sleepy People", "The Rose", "Cold, Cold Heart", "Love Potion Number 9", "Tennessee Waltz", "White House Blues", and "Home Grown Tomatoes". That's most of the first set. We'll start out with a lively rock-em, sock-em number but we haven't decided for sure which one that will be.

I'm singing lead on Last Thing, Sleepy, and Rose. In the second set, I will be soloing on "How Deep is the Ocean" and singing lead on a couple of others.

Tomorrow's sermon has been ready to go for a couple of days. I really got charged up this week with all the excitement of our Wednesday night conversation, the rehearsal schedule, and tonight's performance. I was operating on overdrive!

I'll let you know how it goes! Wish us luck!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Savoring a memorable night...

about torture. No, I'm not suddenly into B&D. But awhile back, my congregation had to take stock of a decision they made last spring to put up a banner saying "Torture is a Moral Issue", in accordance with our UU commitment to end torture in U.S. overseas facilities. Before erecting the banner, the board took an email poll to determine whether there was clear consensus about the issue and, because there were no negative responses to the poll, put the banner up.

You can probably guess what happened next. The banner had been up for a couple of weeks when I got a call from a member whose family is in the military. We have a strong military presence on Whidbey Island, with a Naval Air Station on the north end. And we have a few military families in our congregation. Our member wondered why the banner had gone up, why she hadn't had a voice on the issue, and did we realize that it sent an implicit anti-military message with its language?

I told her that there had been an email poll so that people would have a chance to speak to the issue. She had seen an email about a social justice issue but had not read it thoroughly and consequently hadn't responded. She had also had the experience of driving past the sign on the highway and having a visceral reaction, wondering if other military folks might see it as a hostile-to-military message and reject our congregation. Then she had heard another military friend react to the sign with anger. She thought I ought to know how this group of folks was feeling.

Awhile back I told you a little bit about this issue and how we were addressing it. We arranged for an open conversation on the banner, inviting the whole congregation to participate, with a facilitator who would help keep things on the right track. That conversation happened last night. It was delayed by construction on the building and people's schedules and that sort of thing. We were all thoroughly ready to get it behind us! And I was anxious about how it might turn out.

I can't express adequately my admiration and love for this group of fifteen people with strong feelings on both sides, who came together and talked through their differences, listened to each other's feelings and understandings, discovered together that there was more common ground than disagreement, and came to a recommendation for the board to consider, a recommendation that all present felt enthusiastic about.

We discovered that torture was not the issue. It was the language of the sign, which seemed to imply to military folks that anyone associated with those who had tortured (i.e., military personnel who have no choice in where they are sent or what they are assigned to do and can't dissent without repercussions) were immoral, that the military is immoral, by extension. And changing the language of the sign without diminishing its message was the recommendation which will go to the board. The wording settled on was something like "Torture is wrong. End it now." (I'm not sure I've got it right.)

I learned a lot from our conversation by just listening. S., our facilitator, handled the conversation so well that I said almost nothing and mostly only spoke to offer a clarification or other explanatory remark. Three individuals representing military families attended and were eloquent in their remarks, without being accusatory or threatening to leave or anything like that. And even those strongly in favor of the wording could see that there was a great deal to be gained by modifying the language.

I was so proud of our group. I have rarely participated in a conflict situation that was so peaceful. People were honest and courteous and supportive of each other. They expressed their caring for each other and their trust that this could be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. And it was. No wonder I love them so much.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Remembering Ordination

I remember my own ordination clearly. It was May 30, 1999, a hot afternoon in Denver, and Jefferson Unitarian Church was packed. I remember how wonderful it felt to see so many friends and colleagues there to bless my future ministry and welcome me into the ranks of ordained ministers. I remember how hot and heavy the hands of the gathered congregation felt on my shoulders as they performed the "laying on of hands", a symbolic act of sending me forth. And I remember the exultation I experienced at the benediction which I gave, my first act as an ordained minister.

All these memories raced through my mind as I participated in the ordination yesterday of my former parishioner, now friend and colleague, Sarah. Sarah began her journey to ministry many years ago and confided her sense of call to me one day in my little office at my former parish where she was a member. Since then I have watched her grow, course by course, idea by idea, sermon by sermon, experience by experience.

When I moved to Whidbey, I left Portland far behind and saw her only occasionally, when she would fill me in on her latest class or realization. This past spring she finished her internship after passing the Ministerial Fellowship Committee's interview with flying colors. She called me over the summer to find out if I would offer the "right hand of fellowship" at her ordination, since I had been her minister at the time she decided to study for the ministry.

I gladly accepted and prepared my few words. And yesterday afternoon, I offered her not only the "right hand of fellowship" but also, for our left-handed colleagues, the "left hand of fellowship". And since she would need to call on us for help in a variety of ways over the years of her ministry, I also offered her the "strong right arm of fellowship" and the "strong left arm" as well. Then I gave her the two-armed hug of fellowship, to emphasize the love I feel for her. It felt really good to be part of her big day.

Tonight I'm bushed after traveling over 600 miles down to Corvallis and back. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Be Not Afraid; This Too Will Pass Away

So says the reader board at the local Lutheran church on Highway 525. And when it first went up, only hours after I wrote about how my spirits had lifted while singing "Come Sing a Song With Me", it had the effect of confirming my best hopes: we can do this, we can survive and thrive in hard times because we've done it before. We need not fear. We have each other and the beauty around us. These hard times will pass.

In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this morning, the Rev. Anthony Robinson, author of a regular PI column, writes of his seven part prescription for living in anxious times. He acknowledges the deep anxiety that we as humans naturally feel when faced with danger and challenge and offers his thoughts about managing that anxiety. It tallies so well with the Lutherans' wisdom that I want to pass it along.

Here's my paraphrase of Rev. Robinson's prescription for non-anxious living:
1. We've done it before; we can do it again. Human living is filled with challenge. We have surmounted and conquered those challenges in the past. We can do it now too. The old hymn, Amazing Grace, says it this way: "through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come. Tis grace that brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home."

2. Gratitude is an antidote to depression and anxiety. "Count your blessings, name them one by one"---another old hymn comes to mind. If you compare your blessings to your non-blessings, you'll doubtless find that the good stuff outweighs the bad. For example, no matter your political persuasion, isn't it a blessing that a black man is a candidate for president of the US?

3. Focus on the things that are forever, not the limits of our resources. Love doesn't fail; oil and retirement funds may run out, but love is an unlimited resource, like the sun and the wind and the life that infuses all.

4. Service to others defuses anxiety and swamps those bad feelings in a wave of caring for others. So many of our friends and neighbors need our help; reaching out to them puts our lives into a better perspective and creates connections that heal us and those we touch.

5. Celebrate the simple, the ordinary. Pet the cat. Play with the dog. Go for a walk in the autumn glory. Shop the farmers' market. Pick the last tomatoes. Make jam. Pick the blackberries off that annoying bramble pile and be grateful for that silver lining to a pesky invader.

6. Remember to be responsive, not reactive. When we're anxious, we tend to speak before thinking, worry before reflecting, blow up before considering the consequences. We can be agents of peace instead of instigators of more anxiety.

7. Laugh at the absurdities of life! Consciously bring humor and laughter into your life. If you need to watch an old sit-com instead of the news, do it. Read the comics instead of the headlines. Laughing lightens the load and makes it easier to keep things in perspective.

It's easy to be discouraged and angry about the mismanagement of the financial markets, the bumbling of government officials, the high prices at the store and pump, but we need not be despairing.

Be Not Afraid. This Too Will Pass Away.

PS. I haven't been able to get Blogger to let me insert the link, so here's the URL, in case you want to read the column:

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Appreciating Jehovah's Witnesses

Every month or so, a couple of Jehovah's Witness women come to my door to give me materials, chat briefly and go on their way. I used to send Witnesses away promptly, telling them that I'm a UU minister, I have my own theology and don't want to know about theirs. But I changed my approach a few years ago during my Clinical Pastoral Education experience.

I was a chaplain intern, just learning about chaplaincy, when I was summoned to the ICU at the Denver hospital where I was serving. A man in his 60's had been brought in comatose; his wife had found him collapsed and not breathing on the floor of the garage, had called 911, and the paramedics had managed to restart his heart. Now he lay unconscious, supported only by a breathing machine.

The whole family was there in the waiting room when I walked in. I learned that their loved one was a Mormon but that they were all Witnesses; they had been told by the doctors that he would not get better and that turning off the life support was probably the kindest thing to do. They had decided to do so and were waiting for the doctor and nurse to return so that they could inform the staff of their decision.

While they were waiting, they invited me to sit with them in prayer. And as heartfelt prayers rose, asking God to be with us, to be with the dying man, to receive him into the kingdom of heaven, I saw these people in a new light. They did not try to convert me; they welcomed me into their circle. And over the week or more that it took this strong man to let go of life, my respect for them increased as they welcomed me time and again as a friend and pastor.

So yesterday, when Natalie and her companion arrived at my door, I welcomed them into my living room, listened to their witness, and received their materials. Natalie is a charming Frenchwoman in her thirties and her demeanor is courteous and graceful. She does not insist that I believe as she does; she simply offers her message.

I told the two women the story of my experience and we shared the pleasure of the realization that, as our spiritual ancestor Francis David has said, "we need not think alike to love alike." Natalie and her companion said goodbye after a few minutes more and took their leave. I felt I had made new friends.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Come Sing a Song With Me

Today after the Worship Committee meeting, as we were cleaning up and getting ready to leave, I was talking with one of the women in the group who was expressing her hope that I'd be feeling much better soon, that she had noticed on Sunday how under the weather I seemed to be. I thanked her and assured her that I did feel much better now and while we were talking, I said that my mood and my sense of wellbeing had taken a marked step upward during the service on Sunday.

I told her that it had happened suddenly, during our opening song:

"And I'll bring you hope, when hope is hard to find, and I'll bring a song of love, and a rose in the winter time..." That was the key for me to hit bottom and bounce upward out of my dark place. Thank you, Carolyn McDade.

Sarah Palin is apparently my second or third cousin-in-law. Sort of.

Joel the Neff has revealed the likelihood that my late cousin Katie's son, who was adopted by her second husband, is a cousin of Todd Palin through his adoptive father. Joel didn't reveal all the connected leaves of the family tree so I don't have the relationship completely established in my mind. But I had wondered if the little boy I remembered from those days was related to the Alaska Palins. He and Joel spent a lot of time together as kids, though after Katie's death we lost some contact. Or at least I did, living in Colorado. My sister and her family were able to stay more connected. He did note that the Portland Palins were not planning to vote GOP.

It's been a hard week or so. Last week at this time, I noticed that my throat was getting a little scratchy, but it does that sometimes, so I didn't do much besides drink more water and suck a lozenge occasionally. But by Wednesday's band rehearsal, I realized I was in danger of losing my voice. And then my schnozz began to itch and drip a little, so I hauled out the cold/sinus meds so I could make it through the Pete Seeger meeting and singing.

By the next morning, it was clear that I was infectious, so I stayed away from the gym, stayed away from the Thursday night jam, popped the meds and hoped for the best. My neti pot became my best friend and helped stave off a worse cold, I think. But I wasn't feeling good.

And then my back began to hurt. Muscle spasms tend to hit me when I'm overworked and underloved, so I sighed, got out the heating pad and the back support stuff, and kept the spasms at bay with heat and pressure.

And then the company I was expecting on Saturday night late arrived several hours early, which took me totally by surprise and increased my sense of being overwhelmed. I'm an extrovert, but I do love my solitude and hate to give it up unexpectedly! But these are dear friends and I was glad to see them, even though surprised.

And then...canker sores, paper cuts, and a major coughing fit during the Sunday service (fortunately my guest colleague was preaching, not me), plus all the little surprises that arrive on Sunday morning before the service starts---the things that didn't get set up in advance, the new visitors who need to be welcomed, the RE stuff that can't be found, etc., etc., etc.

I think I'm out from under the worst of it today, though I woke up feeling sort of dragged out anyhow. I don't have anything too stressful to do today, so that's good, but I'm feeling the lack of exercise, since I haven't been to the gym for a week, and that's a downer. Also, the FS's father-in-law died suddenly several days ago, so his family is in turmoil and that's painful in a whole other way.

It also doesn't help that the world and national scene is so dismal right now. I find myself yelling at the newscasts and especially at the campaign blurbs which are so hateful and so inaccurate, many of them. Our local state ads for governor are awful, on both sides, and I've used the mute button on the remote over and over.

It did kind of help to learn that my colleagues, at least those seven or eight who communicated about the issue, did agree with me about Bill Sinkford's participation in the Fellowship of Reconciliation's meeting with the president of Iran. They spoke very eloquently and very positively about their support of his action. I felt like the lone ranger out there for awhile!

And this morning I learned that it's possible that my friend Gini Courter, UUA moderator, will be able to be our Building Dedication speaker next spring! That's a real upper!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Fellowship of Reconciliation comment

I discovered via Technorati that the Fellowship of Reconciliation had posted an article about the response of Americans, pro and con, to their meeting with the President of Iran. In it they referred to a couple of UU blog posts on either side of the issue. Mine was one of them. I wrote a comment and am reposting it here.

"I appreciate your listing my post in your article. I believe that what you and FOR did, including the president of my religious tradition, Bill Sinkford, was prophetic and courageous, whether others see it that way or not.
Only time will tell whether your act has produced any positive effect, other than the inner sense of being called to act and doing so. ...When we are prophetic, we are often doing it because we have to do it, not because it is going to change our enemy's mind.
You have been criticized because you did not bring power to the table, the traditional power that supposedly gets things done. You brought, in my opinion, a different kind of power to the table, the power of courage and a willingness to sit down with one who may use and abuse you, but whom you see as another human being.
That motivation is fully supported by my own faith tradition's First Principle: that we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. That is our founding principle and it is often hard to act upon, particularly with a man whose behavior has been heinous. To see him as a person with inherent worth and dignity is hard, but you did it. Thank you."

There still has been no conversation about this issue on the ministers' chat, so I don't know what other ministers are thinking, other than those who have posted on their blogs.

Friday, October 03, 2008

My favorite Pete Seeger song

At our Pete Seeger meeting the other night, we swapped ideas of songs we'd like to perform and I chose this one. Of course, I'm no Eva Cassidy and will sing it very straight, if I get to do it. But this is phenomenal, in my book.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

C'mon, kids, let's put on a show!

We had a very successful meeting last night of the folks interested in helping to put together a Pete Seeger benefit concert here on the island. It's scheduled for May 1, which is two days before Pete's 90th birthday.

I had made a couple of pots of soup---bean soup with sausage and Izzy's Green Chile (the dish with which I came out ahead in last winter's chili cookoff). Somebody else brought an apple pie, some hummus and veggies, there was lots of great bread, wine, beer, cider, salad, and singing.

We had a great time! None of us has ever done much like organizing an actual concert, but several people had scraps of experience that related, so we have a lot of resources available within this group. I had invited twelve people and eleven of them actually showed up!

We've decided to organize the concert using a timeline of Pete's life and inserting songs according to the various parts of his life and the causes he sang about. We're going to get one of the better known island MC-types to help us out, if we can, which will be an additional draw.

So we're underway. I'm excited about it and also daunted by the scale of the project.

We did a lot of singing after we'd gotten to a stopping point in the meeting, but I was fighting off a scratchy throat and sore back, so I sent everyone home at 10.

Pete Seeger has been a hero of mine for a long time and I am pleased that we will be honoring his musical contributions in this way. I guess I just like people who do radical things in the name of peace.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Just full of questions today

Re: Bill Sinkford's meeting with the Iranian guy a week ago and duly noted at plus the online journals of UUism.

Bloggers have apparently been slow to take note of this historic meeting but once they did, there has been a lot of discomfort with the fact that Sinkford did this.

I am somewhat uncomfortable with it too, but I think that comes from my own unwillingness to put myself into situations where I intensely dislike the behavior of someone else and disagree with it morally and yet need to say something directly to that person.

I recall a meeting with our chapter's Good Offices folks a few years ago when I needed to call a colleague to account for behavior I had witnessed. I said what I didn't like, the GO person gave my colleague a chance to explain, I rebutted, the colleague responded, and after some further exchanges, we each mouthed words of collegiality and a desire to work together successfully. Little changed, but I had had my say, even though my meeting with the colleague did not change anything in that person's behavior, as far as I could tell.

But it was the right thing to do, to meet with someone with whom I was relatively sure I would not become BFFs. It was scary as hell. Some other colleagues did not see the point and were not encouraging, as the power differential was great and could have been a factor.

But here's the question, at least about Sinkford's meeting with the Iranian guy (whose name I can't spell without looking it up and I don't want to take time to do that right now):

what would Jesus do? or Gandhi? or Martin Luther King Jr.? or Michael Servetus? or Francis David? or, to throw in a few women, what would Joan of Arc do? or any of the myriad of incredibly courageous women who struggled so hard for abolition, suffrage, labor laws, you name it?

I think what he did was incredibly courageous. The Fellowship of Reconciliation is not a fly-by-night operation; it is a well-established Peace Fellowship and it is right in line with our belief in the need for world community.

Sure, whatshisname probably lied through his teeth. I would be very surprised if the delegates truly believed his protestations. But world community is not going to come about if we refuse to talk with those we disagree with, if we are rude, if we are dismissive or call them liars and engage in open conflict with them.

During this time of year, when the Jewish community begins the Days of Awe, leading to the Day of Atonement, it is important to take steps, it seems to me, to address the conflicts we are in and to make a good faith effort to resolve them. It can't happen, in this case, without some real courage.

The greatest danger Sinkford faced, in this situation, was (IMHO, at least) the displeasure of his fellow UUs. Those other guys---a lot of them died for their courage. But in some ways, the displeasure of peers is the hardest thing to take. He stuck his neck out, trying to get to know and understand the other side. It might look foolish to some but I think it was worth trying.

A couple of ideas:

How about let's have the presidential spouses debate: Michelle Obama debating Cindy McCain on the theme of women's rights?

How about let's have the vice presidential spouses debate: Todd Palin debating Jill Jacobs on the role of the vice president?

And do you think it's possible that Sarah Palin said yes to John McCain because she figured he probably wasn't going to win anyhow?