Thursday, January 31, 2008

Taking a Mental Health Day

As a public school employee for 25 years, I enjoyed the unwritten perk of an occasional "mental health day", a day which might be planned in advance or might be spontaneously taken when the alarm clock went off one morning. It was understood by my colleagues as an absolute necessity on occasion; we were careful not to take them so often that the principal could call us on them, but we did get 12 sick days per school year and if we had enough stored up, we felt free to take one mental health day every few months. I'm sure that judiciously-taken mental health days saved more than one teacher or counselor from nervous breakdowns over junior high kids' behavior!

All week long I've been eying my Thursday somewhat apprehensively, trying to get as much done as possible in advance so that I could afford to take a full day and go to a ministers' cluster meeting in Port Townsend. These meetings are always enjoyable; we have conversations that range from Gnosticism (today's topic) to the more mundane details of congregational life and my North Sound colleagues are great company.

But today I woke up knowing that I didn't want to go. A couple of good reasons: it just hasn't been possible to cram everything into Monday through Wednesday so I don't feel I can take a full day off and a windy night foretells a windy day on the Strait, meaning that the passenger ferry that plies the Sound between Whidbey and Pt. T could well be canceled, leaving me stranded on the other side.

So those are reasons, but I always feel uncomfortable about bowing out of something I am expected to do. And, along with the relief of having taken the day back, I'm feeling---what? guilty? not really, because I'm not shirking a duty like program or lunch or some such. wussy? sort of, because non-ferry-riders don't always understand the vagaries of ferry travel and might consider me overreacting.

Regretful is the best I can come up with, because I don't want my colleagues to think I care for them so little that I am unwilling to take these risks to see them. Our cluster meetings are supposed to be for self-care, as much as anything, and it's usually true for me. But factoring in the times and the tides involved, it becomes an exercise in over-extending myself. And that, I know, is not self-care for me.

I tend to get sick if I get to a certain point of over-extension without building in some relief. And this week has been particularly stressful, with weather, rehearsals for the Ms. Kitty onstage auction item, the auction itself, for which I am sponsoring a chili cookoff, and preaching on Sunday---a sermon which has yet to progress beyond the opening story.

So to quote Martin Luther the original, "Here I stand. God help me. I can do no other. Amen.".

(Sort of melodramatic for a mere mental health day, I know, but whatever works to salve my conscience!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

And the beat goes on...

over at the ministers' chat, with many chiming in about Tom Schade's post about worship and its meaning. It's a good conversation and very useful to our collegial and theological life.

I have had some more thoughts about it. I haven't yet offered my take on Tom's statement, needing time to consider it. I'm not a master of the quick response; I'll never be able to preach without a manuscript, I'm afraid---I need the time to make sure I know what I'm saying!

But some questions are rolling around in my head:

Is there a difference between the liturgy/worship experience that men plan and conduct and the liturgy/worship experience that women plan and conduct? Tom is speaking from his niche as a longtime male minister. How does his conviction of what is essential in worship compare/contrast with the conviction of a female minister? I would love to attend a service and see for myself what "church" feels like in Worcester. My experience is that worship planned and conducted by women is different from that conducted by men. What does this mean? Should it be this way? Are men being served well in congregations pastored by women? And are women being served well in congregations pastored by men? Does it matter what gender the minister is?

Is there a difference between the liturgy/worship experience in New England/East coast cities and the liturgy/worship experience in the Western U.S.? Tom is speaking from his niche as an urban New England minister. How does his understanding of who his congregation is compare/contrast with the understanding of a Western U.S. or Canadian minister? Does urban vs. rural have an impact on liturgy and worship?

Does this feel like an essay test? No, no, scratch that, it wasn't really one of the questions.

But these questions for me are important. I see glimmerings of what I do here on Whidbey and what I have experienced in other Western congregations, in what Tom espouses. I love church that is formal, structured, high quality. I also only find it in big urban churches. Is that bad? Should my little worship team strive for a big-city experience?

I keep coming back to the ancient idea of "where two or three are gathered together in the name of the holy" being a sacred time. It doesn't say anything about high quality or good speakers. It does imply that the whole point is to acknowledge and revere what is holy.

So it seems to me that, even when the music is stumbling and amateur, even when the speaker is verbose and dull, even when the order of service isn't printed on time, even when the ushers forget to follow the normal procedures of taking the offering, even when the worship leader leaves out some important liturgical piece, there is value in coming together in the name of the holy.

I think Tom and I agree on this point. He gets there in a more orderly fashion, perhaps, but I think we both get there.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The meaning of worship

Over on the ministers' chat, my colleague the Rev. Tom Schade at First Unitarian Church, Worcester MA, has remarked that he feels that we UUs neglect the worship experience in our congregations in favor of enhancing community building. This was in response to some queries about what it means when handfuls of of folks don't come to worship but sit together outside the sanctuary doing other things and chatting.

Some ministers felt that this was a power play, an insult to the preacher and the congregation; others felt that this was an opportunity for the preacher to connect with a group that might feel disengaged from the community. The conversation meandered from solution to suggestion to questions about the meaning of worship and how we ministers can encourage full participation in worship.

Tom had written some pretty thoughtful stuff about this topic and I asked him to tell us what it was like at his church. How do he and his worship team create worship that offers an experience that goes home with people, that invites them into the kind of worship experience we all hope for?

He has given me permission to quote his post here, because I have found that many of my readers are layleaders in their own congregations and struggle with some of these same concerns. I hope he will speak more about this topic over at his blog The Lively Tradition.

Tom writes:

Dear Kit,
I am not sure that we have a much better formula for worship at Worcester
than anywhere else. We are, gratefully, worshipping in accordance with a
tradition that is over 200 years old, and which, the church has never
consciously junked. Of course, it has changed, but it has never been
overthrown as the "awful old." We do try the following:

1. we aim for excellence -- high quality music and capable speakers.
2. we stick to the order of service week after week. People know what to
3. The message and take-away of most services is personal -- the message
needs to have personal significance to the persons in the pew. It's about
you and your life: giving up your war with reality, recognizing and
responding to love etc.
4. We do not promote Unitarian Universalism per se. Our message to persons
is that they should take time to worship and pray, and should live
ethically, and serve etc. We are not asking them to BE Unitarian
Universalists. We want them to follow their passions, find their ministry
and live out of their spirits. Institutionally, our loyalty is the First
Unitarian Church of Worcester, to liberal religion and then, the
5. Our goal is that if a person comes once to the church, they will have a
meaningful worship experience that might help them, whether or not they ever
come again. Visiting is not a prelude to joining -- is not church shopping
-- it is worshipping with us.
6. We pray -- a common prayer, a minute plus of silent prayer for people who
need our help, and the Lord's Prayer. We explicitly say that one of our
purposes is to help people develop the ability to pray.
7. There are always big laughs somewhere in the service.

Just to be clear, First Unitarian Church is not a Christian church, in that
we do not preach or promote the doctrine that there is any special spiritual
significance to how one regards Jesus. Liturgically, we are a broadly
theistic church, in that our liturgy has the purpose of "worshipping God."
Theologically, we are broadly diverse, with many atheists, Buddhist
practicioners, liberal Christians, and lots of free-lance seekers of the

I cannot stress enough that I think that we, as worship leaders, have to
place the highest priority on how each person is touched by the worship
service and the message of the day. Building the community, building the
sense of community, these are secondary -- important yes, but secondary.

My sense is that we have placed our focus on the community building purpose
of worship as primary, and down graded the personal to the secondary
priority. And the result is that the communities we build, and the worship
services that celebrate them, become arenas for people to play out their
needs regarding themselves in community: their need for power, their sense
of exclusion, their desire for self-expression etc. The result is an
inwardly focused community about being a community.

Big questions.

Tom Schade
First U, Worcester

My thanks to Tom for his wisdom.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

It was Lily all along!

The mystery of the peed-upon down comforter is solved. It wasn't Max, though he took the fall and lost his masculine appendages because of it. No, a week after Max came back from the vet much subdued, another puddle appeared on the bed and this one revealed a pinkish tinge. Fortunately, the comforter is not ruined this time, since only one corner got wet and it can be either cut off or tucked way underneath the mattress. I soaked it in vinegar, at the advice of other catpersons.

No, it was Lily, who had a bladder infection and now is on antibiotics and special food. The only problem with the special food (aside from the fact that it is ungodly expensive) is that Lily doesn't like it. So we will revert to the special diet Friskies I had been using sporadically in the past year; all cats will get only the urinary tract special diet of Friskies from now on. I hope this will stave off the problem. If not, we'll see if there are other alternatives to Royal Canin and Science Diet at $1.25 per 5.5 oz. can. Luckily I only bought four cans. I'll get some of the dry stuff to try out.

So poor Lily was sick and I didn't know it until she had an accident on the white coverlet. Poor baby. She's feeling better but not back to herself. And I am keeping the bedroom door shut until I can get the bed made and put down something protective.

I'm off to a Mystery Murder party tonight up in Coupeville, put on by a member of the congregation. I feel quite up for it, now that I have solved my own personal mystery without having to murder anything.

Friday, January 25, 2008

A "Hallelujah" Reflection

Not long ago, my colleague the Rev. James Ford, over at Monkey Mind , posted a music video of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah which captivated me and got me singing it constantly. I asked my fellow house-concert musicians if they'd be up for my singing it as part of our concert, even though it isn't really in the Hoagy Carmichael genre (duh!), but one of them was opposed, so I dropped it. But I'm still singing it and re-running the video to learn the words.

In that process, I have been thinking hard about the words. There are several versions out there but of them all, I prefer Cohen's personal version as it appeared on MonkeyMind. Because of the implied violence in one stanza, I've had to examine my attachment to the song.

Here are the words:

"Hallelujah" by Leonard Cohen

Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this,
The fourth, the fifth,
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

If I were ever to sing it for an audience, I would be trying to convey a message. Not of a sexual encounter between King David and Bathsheba, not of the crimes David committed in taking her for his queen and breaking the integrity of the throne, not of the metaphoric shaming of David in the song by alluding to Delilah's cutting of Samson's hair and stealing his strength, but of how, in finding the chord of "Hallelujah", we humans bumble and make mistakes, sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately.

The lines "there's a blaze of light in every word, it doesn't matter what you heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah" and "And even though it all went wrong, I'll stand before the Lord of Song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah" express for me the ecstasy of those times of joy beyond sorrow and shame, that couldn't have happened if it hadn't been for the sorrow and shame, the wisdom that comes from living through that pain and coming out on the other side, understanding and accepting that this is life and life abundant.

And I'm with James, I want it sung at my memorial service!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Humanism 101

I had an enjoyable meeting with one of my congregants today, to do some brainstorming about a February sermon on Humanism, the Fifth Source of Unitarian Universalism. In case you haven't been checking out Ms. Kitty's for long, we've themed this worship year to spend time learning about our Sources, our bedrock, the roots from which we as a religious tradition have sprung.

My congregant is an older fellow, a staunch humanist for most of his life, trained as a scientific thinker and brilliant. When I first began to plan for this series of sermons, I knew I would want to engage him in conversation and perhaps as a co-celebrant for the service.

We are now thinking about a dialogue of sorts, offering perspectives on humanism and what it has been in our lives. So today's conversation was in that vein----offering possible threads to explore as we look at this Source.

The language of the Source is this: "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."

I've always viewed religious humanism as the anchor which keeps UUism from drifting, and I think that's what the language implies, that we are grounded, as a faith, in reason and in scientific process. Most of our membership avows a deep connection to humanism, the philosophy that all knowing comes through human experience and sensing.

Wikipedia's definition sounds like it was written by a Unitarian Universalist:

Humanism is a broad category of ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on the ability to determine right and wrong by appeal to universal human qualities—particularly rationality. It is a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems and is incorporated into several religious schools of thought. Humanism entails a commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of human interests. In focusing on the capacity for self-determination, Humanism rejects the validity of transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on belief without reason, the supernatural, or texts of allegedly divine origin. Humanists endorse universal morality based on the commonality of the human condition, suggesting that solutions to human social and cultural problems cannot be parochial.

We'll talk a bit about the history of humanism as a philosophy, the differences between secular and religious humanism, how we see it relating to our seven principles and how it contributes to the human search for meaning.

I'm looking forward very much to working with this gentleman and offering this service to the congregation next month.

Fourth Annual UU Blogger Awards

I was tickled last year just to be nominated for an award in a few categories and this year I'm up again for consideration. In this national election year, with candidates by the bushel-load asking for your vote in primaries, caucuses, and in endless debates, it seems almost like a no-brainer to ask you to consider voting for Ms. Kitty's in some category or another.

You can vote whether or not you are a UU. Just go to the Nominations page on UUpdater and check out the nominations. You can nominate additional blogs or posts, if you wish. The voting itself will take place next week and I'll post a reminder.

This is a way to let UU bloggers know that you're enjoying what they're putting out there for you. Thanks for reading us!

Monday, January 21, 2008

How Privileged Are You?

From What Privileges Do You Have?, based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

Bold the true statements.

1. Father went to college.

2. Father finished college.

3. Mother went to college.

4. Mother finished college.

5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor.

6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.

7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.

8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.

9. Were read children's books by a parent.

10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.

11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.

12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.

13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.

14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.

15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.

16. Went to a private high school.

17. Went to summer camp.

18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.

19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.

20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.

21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.

22. There was original art in your house when you were a child [kid's work is original!]

23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.

24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.

25. You had your own room as a child.

26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.

27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course.

28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.

29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.

30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.

31. Went on a cruise with your family.

32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.

33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.

34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.

An interesting exercise, coming right on the heels of a week of preparation for the sermon on classism that is posted below.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

MLK Jr. and Classism

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Jan. 20, 2008

In the fall issue of the UU World magazine, Doug Muder, a writer for the World, wrote an article entitled “Not My Father’s Religion, Unitarian Universalism and the Working Class.” Some of you probably read the article and may have been struck by its relevance (or not) to your own life.

In the article, Muder described his upbringing in a working-class family, where his father worked in an Illinois factory, making cattle feed. It was steady work but not much fun and had a negative effect on his father’s health, with chemicals, noise, and night shift work.

Doug Muder grew up in a very conservative Lutheran household in the Midwest, and the elder Muders continue to be conservative Lutherans, content with a religion that specifies what to do and what not to do in order to get to heaven. Doug Muder is now a Unitarian Universalist and when he gave his first sermon, his father came to hear him but has never returned. There just aren’t any other people like Doug’s dad at his New England UU congregation. Doug wonders why UUism doesn’t attract more working class folks and his article is a theory in process about this question.

As I read the article, my own family came to mind. I come from working class forebears---both my maternal and paternal grandparents and great grandparents were folks who were pretty close to the edge of poverty much of their lives.

Farmers, gandy-dancers, draftsmen, clerks, gas station operators, mailmen, carpenters, cowboys, orchardmen, firemen, loggers, small business operators, to name a few of the jobs my male ancestors held. Their wives were almost universally stay-at-home moms because that’s what women did in those days.

My dad was the first person in his family to get much education beyond high school and that was two years of study at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, preparing to be a Baptist minister.

My mom went to school too, two year at Oregon Normal School fresh out of high school, to be a teacher and, when she married my father, to learn how to be a minister’s wife. They got their Moody Bible Institute education during the Depression and struggled just to eat during those years, never mind paying for hospitalization when my mother had a miscarriage of her first baby.

This slim layer of education separated my parents, in a way, from the working-class status of their families to that point. But their roots defined them still. So I grew up in a family where people who worked in service occupations were highly regarded, treated respectfully (they were our aunts and uncles and grandparents, after all), and who were not pressured to get more education or to move up in the world. Where they were was fine.

But nearly every one of those working class parents did push my generation of cousins to get an education, even just a year or two of junior college or training in a trade. And so it is that most of my cousins and both my siblings and I have at least a year of college and some of us have much more.

But almost every member of my family of origin is a member of a conservative congregation. I do have an aunt who is a Presbyterian and a cousin who is a Methodist, but nearly everyone else is staunchly in the conservative camp and always has been. Except me, of course.

I have done a lot of thinking about why this may be so. Education is clearly not an adequate explanation for the strong preference my family has for conservative theology.

I don’t pretend to understand each person’s affinity for theology I find inadequate. And I don’t really care. I am at peace with their choices and know that they are good and loving people, regardless of what faith they hold.

The people I know who choose other religions than Unitarian Universalism are smart people, educated people, fine people. They are not interested in UUism, I think, because to them, we’re not really a religion. We’re nice smart people, but we aren’t a religion by their standards. We know we’re a religion, but their definition of religion is different from ours.

So Muder’s question “why aren’t working class people more attracted to Unitarian Universalism?” sticks in my mind---and, to some extent, in my craw. I think it may be the wrong question.

My question might be “who are we really as UUs? Are we merely upper crust mostly-white liberals or are we reflective people from all walks of life? If so, how do we reach out to other reflective people from all walks of life?”

Muder lives in New Hampshire and grew up in the Midwest, so perhaps his viewpoint is tinged with that cultural overlay. I look around this West Coast congregation and at the Western congregations where I have been a member in the past and I see lots of people who are like me, whose education was hard-won, who don’t have McMansions, just ordinary houses, who read murder mysteries and do crafts, who play old songs on old acoustic instruments, who don’t dress in designer clothes or have designer pets or big honking cars.

Many of us have working class roots and are comfortable in that place. And we found UUism! So how does it happen that we may have a class problem? Because I think we do, but I’m not sure it’s the way Doug Muder sees it! At least not in this part of the country!

I do think we need to ask ourselves how we view our neighbors and friends, especially those who work for us, whose jobs are service jobs, who make minimum wage, who work two or more jobs to make ends meet. Because I don’t think we are fully aware of our privilege, even though we give generously to charities, support good causes, and try to walk our talk.

I want you to change personas for a moment. I want to invite you to imagine yourself as an immigrant woman working as a housecleaner here on Whidbey. Or imagine yourself as a custodian at one of the schools. Imagine yourself as a waitress at a local restaurant. Imagine yourself with an 8th grade education. Or as a man living in a camper in the Trinity parking lot and working days in construction. Or a student scraping by on student loans and several jobs. In this new persona, listen to these quotes from a survey on classism.

I ate out with a friend — someone proud to call herself a Massachusetts liberal — and the waitress got her order wrong. My friend said, "Well, if she was smart, she wouldn't be a waitress.

I was once part of organizing a radical book fair. It was held in a hall at a local university. At the end of the day several folks started to leave, despite the fact that the hall was a complete mess. When challenged to help clean up, one of them replied "Isn't that for the janitors to do?"

My mother is a passionate liberal Democrat. Her long-time housekeeper, a Mexican immigrant Pentecostal, voted for Bush on moral grounds. My mother says of her, "These people just don't understand!"

"Of course I am going to be patronizing to workers, I'm educated."

I have heard two different feminist governing boards, when deciding how to set fees for an event, say, "Everyone can afford five dollars. If they are not willing to spend five dollars, then they don't care enough about the event."

A faculty friend of mine and I use to talk about classes I taught on issues of hunger and homelessness. The faculty person, who came from working class roots, said "Those homeless people like being homeless; they choose to be that way, and they like living under the bridge". My mouth instantly dropped!

When I was a cashier at a food co-op, I hated it when members would say, "Have a great week-end," assuming that I had 2-day weekends off.

I was in college — an elite college where class stuff went down everyday. But one of the most classist things I ever heard was from a woman working to provide internships with school alumni for college women. I had won an internship in N. Dakota and had received a scholarship from the Dean to get airfare to go to fulfill my internship, but they wanted to issue it on a reimbursement basis. I didn't have money or a credit card, nor the safety net of my parents. When I tried to explain this to the woman, she simply told me: Well, ask a friend if you can buy it on their credit card. I didn't end up going, because none of my friends had credit cards with $500 available either. I was so angry that this woman called herself a liberal working on behalf of young women's development.

What do you hear between the lines in these personal experiences with classism? How would it feel to you if you actually were an immigrant woman or custodian or parking lot dweller or waitress or student and overheard these remarks?

I have to admit that I squirmed at some of these quotes, recognizing some of my own hidden assumptions, attitudes I didn’t realize that I had, ways of viewing others whose lives were unfamiliar to me, not understanding how patronizing my attitude or actions might be.

It gives me pause to know that even with my own working class roots, I might not be aware of ways I am patronizing to people I really want to know and help.

One of the prophetic men and women whose wisdom inspires us UUs, Martin Luther King, Jr., began his work as a civil rights activist working for the liberation of African Americans in our nation, but his perspective broadened as he began to see the connections between racism and classism, the invisible lines that poverty draws between people. He could see that the poor white families in the South were no better off than the poor black families, except that they had pale skin and could therefore lord it over poor black people. He once wrote the following in an essay entitled “The Community of Man”:

“As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than 28 or 30 years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at Mayo Clinic.

“I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.
This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.”

The interdependent web links us all, he was saying. The destiny of the rich is linked to the destiny of the poor.

“I, a privileged white woman, can never be what I ought to be until you, an impoverished immigrant woman, are what you ought to be.” Hmmm.

Turn it around and hear it again: “I, an impoverished migrant worker, can never be what I ought to be until you, a privileged person, are what you ought to be.”
The destiny of the poor is linked to the destiny of the rich. What is my obligation as a privileged person to assure a less-privileged person of a better life? What had I ought to be, in the words of Martin Luther King? What must I be in order to give others the chance to be what they ought to be?

The questions of privilege and wealth and education and career hover over every UU congregation. How do we provide a social and religious context here for all who enter this sanctuary?

How do we combat the impression some may have that Unitarian Universalism is mainly for educated, privileged people who are doctors or professors or lawyers or engineers or artists or social workers or therapists? Because we ARE all of those things AND we are also landscapers and hair stylists and accountants and construction workers and deep sea fishers and disabled people, limited income people, military people, retired people, small business people, young and middleaged and old people.

We are a rainbow of humanity and each of us brings to this congregation a set of traits, skills, knowhow, resources, which enriches our time together. We sometimes assume that we must all have the same kind of history, background, and upbringing, if we are in this place together. But we are remarkably different.

We have a common hope, though, in coming together and that is that we will find others who are reflective about the ways people ought to treat each other, the ways we ought to treat the earth, and the ways we can work together to achieve a better world.

And if there is something more we should be doing, I suggest that it is in the area of making sure that all of us, no matter our income level or our education or our employment or our history, that all of us have an equal place in this community, that our activities are affordable for all, that our events offer child care, that our conversation not linger on our expensive trips or our great educations or the hallmarks of privilege but on the common human experiences we all have.

Let us, also, be more mindful of the needs of the very poor in our larger community. If they come through our doors or if we have a chance to befriend them, let us be unfailingly respectful and never patronizing, remembering that hospitality is the trademark of true religious community. Let us seek to be helpful by offering our resources to agencies which serve our community. Let us give our time and energy where it matters to people.

And above all, let us examine our own attitudes and assumptions about others. Let us exercise our commitment to our first principle, affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of every person, whatever their station in life, whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity, whatever their race or creed or color, whatever their abilities or age or nationality.

And as we make ourselves what we ought to be, in Martin Luther King’s immortal words, we will give others a better chance to be who and what they ought to be.

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, mindful of our attitudes and assumptions about each other, committed to seeing each other as valued friends and equals. May we create here a community that is strong and vibrant and rich with the gifts of all who assemble here. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Why people choose conservative religious paths

I have thought about this for much of my life, certainly ever since I became a serious Unitarian Universalist back in the 1970s. For a long time, I assumed it was a lack of information or education that kept people loyal to very conservative theological paths. But as I've spent time in ministry, become acquainted with good people on a wide variety of religious paths, and examined my own reasons for leaving conservative religion, I've had to change my thinking.

Quite a few people whom I respect and love are devout members of conservative religious communities with theologies far different in many respects from my brand of liberal UU mostly-Christian thought. Many of them are well-educated and committed to serving others. Except for theology, they're not that different from me, though we diverge on some social issues.

As I sat in a local restaurant this morning, finishing my breakfast coffee, I started a list of the reasons I think people choose (or remain in) conservative religious paths. Here it is, in order of how they came to mind.

1. They were born into it and see no reason to leave.
2. They make a bargain with God during some crisis.
3. They marry into it and are devout to satisfy their mate.
4. They are willing to believe religious authority figures (pastor, priest, etc.) about doctrinal matters.
5. They stay because of family unity.
6. They are not very self-reflective or critical of doctrine.
7. They lack information or they reject the information they do get.
8. They want to belong to a popular religious path.
9. They reject liberal social values.
10. They are rebelling against parents.
11. They work at jobs that give them little or no time to reflect on religious doctrines.
12. They have distaste for the Other whom their religion considers sinful.
13. The foundational story of their religion is gripping and the consequences of diverging from its tenets are frightening.
14. They fear that the story is true and this keeps them from abandoning it.
15. Their religion allows them to act in ways that they enjoy while forbidding them to act in ways they fear.

This is not an exhaustive list and there are overlapping reasons. If you think of more or if you quibble with any of them, please comment. I also jotted down lists of "why people reject conservative religious paths", "why people come to liberal religions" and "why people come to Unitarian Universalism". I will blog on those lists another time.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Got a life!

A tip of the old hatlo to Miss Cellania:

This Is My Life, Rated
Take the Rate My Life Quiz

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mad Max is conked out.

Well, it's been a quiet day here at Ms. Kitty's, what with Maxwelton off at the vet's getting clipped. The instructions from the vet said to give him nothing to eat or drink after 10 p.m. and to have him there around 8 a.m. today.

I shuddered, thinking about the logistics of feeding Loosy and Lily while keeping Max away from the food, but it worked out pretty well to feed them all at 10 p.m., then put away all the food and water until morning, sequester the boycat while the girls ate, and then put it all away again.

Low blood sugar and thirst are no problem for Max, apparently, as his energy level was unabated this morning, though he looked puzzled at the lack of anything to put in his mouth. Finally it was 8 a.m. and we hustled off to the vet.

When I returned without him, L & L were suspicious and yet relieved. We all had a Max-free day, the girls snoozing undisturbed by the radiator, safe from the pillaging Mad One, I doping out this Sunday's sermon.

But it was too quiet. And when I picked him up at 3 p.m., we all wondered what to expect. A sore tush and general anesthesia have combined to keep the activity level down and it has continued to be a quiet day. He's currently sacked out in Loosy's favorite warm spot, after devouring a good-sized mound of Friskies. I expect that tomorrow we'll be back to chaos again.

I have ordered a new down comforter from The Company Store, after learning from the vet that the comforter would never lose its urine-y smell and was likely to be peed on again because of that smell. I hope such accidents are behind us, with Max's former gonads.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Mad Max is driving us crazy.

Max is off to the vet tomorrow morning to get his little tushy clipped. He is driving all the females in the house crazy, including me, though he treats me better than he treats the other girls. He has fallen in love with me and even as I type, he is attempting to meld with my face, my shoulders, my belly, rubbing and rubbing and purring and purring. He treats Loosy and Lily like punching bags, leaping on them, rolling them over as they yowl fiercely and hiss and bat at him. It's sort of like a 6th grade boy.

It won't be easy doing this. He can't have any food after 10 p.m., so he will have to be isolated until after the older cats have eaten in the morning and then he will doubtless need a lot of comfort and understanding and I will need to wear earplugs until I can bundle him into the carrier at 8 a.m. for the trip to the vet. I can't wait.

And yet, with my free and responsible search for truth and meaning coupled with a lifelong obsession for understanding myself, I have to wonder about my eagerness to emasculate this little guy. I don't think I generally approve of emasculating males of any species, but I can hardly wait to diminish the supply of testosterone in the house. Lily has enough for all of us.

But yesterday morning, SOMEBODY peed on my down comforter and it wasn't ME! So the usual suspect is going to take the fall. It's time, of course. He's five months old and getting more and more aggressive in his playing, even as he tries to tell me that I'm his only love. For Max, true love is related to food and I'd like to keep it that way.

Funniest thing...

I visited the museum for this railroad when I went to Reno for the FS's wedding last June.

You're the Virginia & Truckee!

Though you don't have much to be angry about, you really like
to blow off steam. People think that you come from simple, even common
heritage, citing your history with mountainous miners, but you know that
you have some royal blood in you. This doesn't keep you from having a bit
of interest in the wild west as well, however, and you enjoy a good poker
game as much as the next. If you were a lode, it would be the

Take the Trains and Railroads Quiz
at RMI Miniature Railroads.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hey, Ms. K's still got it!

Typing speed, that is. I got an award in high school.

79 words

A satisfying experience

Another joy of ministry: being invited to preach in a colleague's church during a sabbatical or other arranged absence. It's an honor to be welcomed into another pulpit, a pleasure to experience the carefully crafted worship of another congregation, and a treat to meet Unitarian Universalists in another part of the district.

I hadn't had much experience with the Olympia UU Congregation, in our state capitol, except that I know their minister and a few congregants fairly well. And they have been a staunch supporter of the marriage equality movement that I have been quite involved in over the past four years, supplying large quantities of food for our yearly Equality Day at the capitol.

So when their minister, the Rev. Art Vaeni, asked colleagues in the PNWD if we would be willing to fill his pulpit during his four month sabbatical, I jumped at the chance to volunteer and signed up for Jan. 13. I also was invited to spend Saturday night at the home of some folks who had been part of my Vashon congregation before they moved to the Olympia area.

Choosing what to say as a guest preacher can be a little tricky. You want to challenge and inspire, yes, but you also know that you are filling big shoes and need to be entertaining and substantive as well. I also didn't have a lot of time to write a new sermon, so I chose one that had been successful and thought-provoking for my own congregation on Whidbey: "The Holy Fool".

After letting the worship committee at OUUC know my choice for the upcoming newsletter, I started to sweat it out. Was this going to be serious enough for a congregation known for its social activism? What if they hated the idea of joking about UUism? But it was a little late to change, so I vowed to give it my best and went ahead.

It turned out to be a huge success; everyone seemed to have a good experience, including me; they have a wonderful choir and choir director who really got into it and produced an incredible version of "A Modern Unitarian", Chris Raible's parody of a well-known Gilbert and Sullivan "Pirates of Penzance" song. They laughed at the jokes and nodded knowingly at the premise--that UUs are America's Holy Fool, willing to look foolish and stick our necks out for what we see as issues of freedom and conscience.

To top it off, I met my brother and his wife and daughter for lunch at a nice restaurant in Olympia after the service and we spent a couple of hours together. He looks wonderful after his surgery to implant a "left ventricle assist device" and may have a heart transplant in as little as four months, if the right donor is found. I am hugely relieved to have seen him, hugged him, heard his stories about the experience, and to know in my heart that he is going to be with us for a good deal longer. A few months ago it was pretty scary to contemplate.

So now I'm home again, gearing up for MLK Sunday and a service on classism, something I've been meaning to address for several weeks. MLK had strong opinions about classism and its connection to racism, so I'm looking forward to pulling it together into a sermon.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Opposing Torture

Last night, members of the lectionary group (Quaker, United Methodist, and UU) sponsored a showing of "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" to a group of about 50 folks from the island. It was my second viewing of this stomach-turning, powerfully-convincing HBO movie and no easier to sit through the second time.

After the movie, viewers discussed their responses to the brutality and sadism they had seen depicted and the dehumanization of both detainees AND their brutalizers, most of whom were ordinary soldiers who had been encouraged by their superiors to torture the detainees.

I was overcome by the senselessness of torture. Our military "superiors" had made a terrible post-9/11 scenario and made it a thousand times worse, by degrading their captives and forcing young soldiers to participate in torturing their victims. The soldiers clearly felt ashamed of their behavior and were remarkably candid about what they had done and how they had maintained a sense of equilibrium during their stint at Abu Ghraib.

This heinous behavior by the American military has created even more hatred in the world for Americans, has ruined the lives of the young soldiers who participated, and has made America less safe by increasing the justifiable anger of those who were tortured and who lost friends and family members to torture.

What possible good outcome can torture have? The information gained thereby is suspect and scanty. It is vengeance, rather than necessary military policy, when men are humiliated, injured, and even killed for an elusive hint of information. It is unconscionable.

No more posts this weekend. I'm off to Olympia to preach at OUUC tomorrow morning. Back later.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Joys of Ministry

There are some joys I didn't know to anticipate when I went into the ministry. I experienced some today at our lectionary group. We have been spending our hour together talking more about the problems of poverty and homelessness on the island than about the scriptures of the week. And the joy I found in noticing that shift in our conversation was quiet and unexpected; I don't know whether my presence has had anything at all to do with it, except, perhaps, to change the balance of orthodoxy. Perhaps the more social-action-oriented pastors see me as a fellow advocate for social action. Last year, it was pretty much all Bible all the time. This year it's different.

At our lunch yesterday, we had one brave soul show up, the longtime pastor of the Assembly of God church, though the word was that others would have been there, including the pastor who was shy of me last year, except that travel or other obligations intruded. We decided we would get together every few months to discuss common cause, so perhaps we will be able to build bridges. And another unexpected quiet joy came as we all held hands for our grace before the meal and I felt included, accepted, a member of the collegial group serving South Whidbey Island.

I don't feel a need to argue about theology; I don't feel uncomfortable even when "in Jesus' name" we prayed; I offer my particular wisdom when it feels appropriate and let them discuss their insights without comment, and I find joy when they say something pretty orthodox and I can see what they mean. Bricks and steel like this build the bridges I'm hoping for.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reaching out to conservative pastors

Today my lectionary group is trying something new. We've invited the conservative pastors on the South End to lunch at a local restaurant, in hopes of finding common ground to stand on, so that we can work together to address some of the human needs on the island: homelessness, poverty, unemployment--all the things that every community needs to face.

I can't predict how it will turn out but I'm hopeful. I'm also realistic. One of the pastors, a volunteer chaplain at the hospital, was asked (when I was getting ready to start volunteering myself) by the coordinator to show me around and teach me the ropes of informal chaplaincy. He turned down the request because I'm not the right kind of Christian, i.e., someone who believes that Jesus was God.

The coordinator was a little abashed at telling me the news but I read his mind, when he said that he'd been turned down. "Is it because of our different theology?" I asked. He said yes and I theorized that it was because of our differing Christology (though I didn't use that word). He acknowledged that was the case.

I was frustrated but not surprised. The implication seemed to be that somehow meeting with me would be a betrayal of his belief system, that he would endanger his soul by helping me learn the hospital's chaplaincy procedures, that his congregation would disapprove.

So I hope for today's luncheon and I wonder if this pastor will show up. I wonder what I might say to allay the fears. I wonder if my colleagues in the lectionary group understand the depth of antipathy that one "Christian" has for another.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Bookin' It, John-o

Is that a dated expression or what? John over at A Pageless Book has tagged me with a meme. I'm thinking I've done this one before but as I read through the categories, I had some different answers and I think I'll do it again.

A book that changed my life:
"Heavenly Discourse" by Charles Erskine Scott Wood. I discovered it the summer after I graduated from college. I was a staffer at the American Baptist Assembly grounds in Green Lake, Wisconsin, and I think one of our speakers that summer recommended it. The concept is of God talking with people who are in heaven: Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, Billy Sunday, Carry Nation, Voltaire, Rabelais. What a Universalist motif! They are discoursing about the state of affairs on earth, particularly Christianity's mistakes.

A book I read more than once:

"The Source" by James Michener. I must have read this one five times as a young adult. Also the Tolkien trilogy.

A book I'd want to have on a desert island:
"How to Survive in the Woods" by Bradford Angier. I went through a phase in my early married life (with a man who thrived on this kind of thing post-Outward Bound) when I was fascinated by the ingenuity with which one could live well in the woods. I particularly remember the part about how the stomach of a deer which had been feasting on leaves could produce an already-dressed salad for a hungry human.

A book that made me laugh:
Any of the Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich. I wait with great anticipation for each new book. Anyone who has read this series knows exactly what I'm talking about.

A book that made me cry:
Books don't usually make me cry with sorrow but rather with tenderness. I teared up a lot over Kate Braestrup's "Here If You Need Me". Did you notice it's been on the best seller list? What great PR for UUism!

A book I wish I'd written:
"Bridging the gap between conservative and liberal religious folk". I guess I'd rather build the bridge than write about it. It seems to me that we have some common causes to support; I wish we could find them instead of criticizing each other's approach to the ones we disagree on.

A book I wish had never been written:

There aren't any. I think every book has contributed something, if only to start a backlash against what it says.

A book I'm currently reading:
"Pillars in the Earth" by Ken Follett. I read it first a long time ago and thought about reading the sequel to it, but I didn't remember enough of PITE to feel ready to take on the project, so I'm rereading it. I'm about half through with it and getting a little tired of this darned cathedral and Prior Philip's tribulations. (Heresy!)

A book I've been meaning to read:

Al Gore's "The Assault on Reason". It's been sitting on my night stand for months. I got it cheap at Costco and it just sits there. It's mostly that I can hardly bring myself to read serious non-fiction any more. Diatribe doesn't move me like story moves me.

So there you go, John, I've booked it, as you asked. I'm not going to tag anyone else. Whoever wants to can pick it up.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Twelfth Night Epiphanies

A sermon delivered on January 6, 2008, at the UU Congregation of Whidbey Island.

On the morning I had set for myself to begin working on today’s sermon, I woke up singing an old song I’d learned in my dad’s church many years ago. And I’d like to invite you to sing it with me, as a starting point for our thoughts today. It’s an insert in the O/S and I expect that some of you know it as well.

“Work for the night is coming, work through the morning hours;
Work while the dew is sparkling; work 'mid springing flower.
Work when the day grows brighter, work in the glowing sun,
Work for the night is coming, when man's work is done."

Anna Coghill, who wrote this old hymn in 1854, doubtless had a different take on work than most of us do today. Not only was the work she had in mind of the sort that brings folks to Jesus, but work generally in the mid-19th century was different.

There were no computers to program, no McDonald’s burgers to flip, no open-heart surgery to perform, no video games to invent, few of the spectrum of job opportunities open to human beings today. Work in the 19th century was mostly grueling physical work: farming, mining, logging, housekeeping, all were even harder than they are today. The Industrial Revolution was just beginning and most people did not have the resources to purchase the few labor-saving devices coming onto the market.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents lived in an age when heavy physical labor was what most breadwinners did to support their families. Many of them were also subservient to bosses or overseers whose demands were constant and often heartless; their jobs were in jeopardy much of the time and wages were scant.

Factory work was grueling but it was where people worked when they left the farm and its insecurities for so-called greater opportunities in the city. And people did work through all hours of the bright day, for the night was their only respite---unless, of course, they were on the night shift at some factory or birthing baby animals on a farm.

Since that time, the work scene has changed considerably. Unions have changed working conditions in many heavy physical jobs and also in white-collar workplaces. Educational opportunities are greater and an emphasis on education and training for all has changed what young people expect to do to win their “bread”.

I often recall my own early work experiences when I think about how much times have changed. My earliest jobs were physically hard. As a teenager, I was one of the many girls in Umatilla County who drove a truck during harvest season, a job which paid 85 cents all the way up to a dollar an hour for twelve hours a day of work, in the hot, dusty pea and wheat fields of northeastern Oregon.

I’ll bet you have your own hard physical jobs to recount. What are some of those?

Today, January 6, marks the holiday celebrated as Twelfth Night in some cultures and known in many Christian denominations as the Feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the arrival of the three kings in the nativity story and the proclamation by the early church that Jesus was a divine being, one with God. Unitarians had their own epiphany about that decision for it caused our spiritual ancestors to declare the heresy that God was one and that Jesus was a prophet and teacher and NOT God!

Twelfth Night, however, had less doctrinal, more pagan connotations. In Tudor England, the Twelfth Night marked the end of an autumn into winter festival that started on All Hallows Eve, which we now call Halloween, and is the twelfth day after Christmas. In Twelfth Night festivities, The Lord of Misrule, a character prominent in this gala event, symbolized the world turning upside down. And you may remember in Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night” that its theme is mistaken identity and confusion leading to erroneous assumptions and hilarious situations.

On January 6, the date of Twelfth Night, the king and all those who were in high places would become the peasants and the peasants would temporarily take their places. At the beginning of the Twelfth Night festival, a special cake was served and eaten, a cake which contained a bean.

The person who found the bean became the ruler of the festival and would rule over the feast. Midnight signaled the end of that upside down rule and the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed.

In Ireland, January 6 is also known as Women's Christmas, so called because of the tradition of Irish men (at least in Cork) taking on all the household duties on that day and giving their spouses a day off. Most women either hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with other women. Bars and restaurants have a near 100 percent female clientele on this night, as women celebrate this upside-down day.

So what does any of this have to do with us as Unitarian Universalists? Let’s see how we can tie some of these threads together. One of my favorite challenges in life is looking for patterns, finding connections between seemingly disparate things, finding sense in the apparently nonsensical.

Twelfth Night is a perfect time to do that! So let Misrule reign and let’s look for the patterns, the connections, the meanings in a collection of disparate bits of trivia about January 6.

Let’s let Twelfth Night and its epiphanies set the pace, with the idea of trading places, doing things differently from what we’re used to, allowing unexpected insights to change our thinking and our lives.

What if we suddenly found ourselves as individuals involuntarily placed in a position that we did not choose, did not prepare for, did not want! How would we respond to the insights that such a situation brought?

In our story for all ages, we laughed as we watched a band of tough old cowpokes be changed by the presence of Foofy, the toy poodle. They learned to appreciate things they had never thought important in the past. They learned to do things they had previously thought of as wimpy. They learned that they could change without losing themselves in the process.

In our true story, the one going on around us right now, we may someday be faced with the prospect of living conditions much changed from what we’re used to, by the lack of petroleum products or building materials or by flood or earthquake or accident or other natural disaster. Our lives can change in a flash, through seemingly random events.

What would that mean to us? How would it test us? Would we survive such a shift in our lives or would we buckle under its strain? We can’t know just how or when or why another kind of life might overtake us. We can only be vigilant and do what we may to prepare.

I remember as a little kid, lying on my back in bed staring up at the ceiling and wondering what it would be like to live on the ceiling, stepping over doorway lintels, walking around light fixtures, stooping down to look out of windows.

I could see that my whole perspective on my life would change if I lived on the ceiling. How would I sit to eat? How would I read my book? (Gravity didn’t seem to figure into this imaginative scenario!)

Now, of course, astronauts do this all the time in their zero-gravity environments. It was something I could not foretell with my limited experience but I could tell that life would be much different and would require a great deal of adaptation.

So one thing that topsy-turvy Twelfth Night might offer us is the knowledge that change, even drastic change, can happen suddenly and without notice and that we can survive it, even thrive with it. No matter what the change, if we can find a measure of dignity, we can survive a topsy-turvy world. And that’s a heck of an epiphany!

A epiphany, as you probably know, is a realization of the meaning and importance of something or someone, an inspired understanding arising from discovering some profound insight, awareness, or truth.

A friend of mine in Portland, a PhD clinical psychologist with many credits to his name, once found himself so depressed by life’s events that he felt unable to work as a psychologist. He had experienced an unexpected divorce, his son had committed suicide, and he was having flashbacks to having been the victim, as a child, of sexual assault. He was desperate to support himself and took a job as a temporary laborer at a construction site. The only skill he had to offer in that arena was wielding a broom as the cleaner-upper behind the skilled craftsmen.

Initially, he was ashamed at how low he felt he’d fallen. Sweeping up construction debris at a condo project was a far cry from sitting at a desk counseling patients. But one day, after a conversation with the foreman, he gradually began to find his work meaningful.

It wasn’t just the gratitude of the foreman for his help, or the appreciation of the craftsmen or other laborers, it was the epiphany that honest work, no matter how lowly, is valuable. This friend found dignity in seeing his work as honest and valuable and that dignity enabled him to survive a blow to his circumstances.

We have all worked at a wide variety of jobs, I’m guessing, some easy, some hard and physical, some mentally challenging, some mind-numbingly boring. We know what it means to work hard, day in and day out.

What is the work we are doing now, today? For we are all still working, even though many of us may be retired. And I’m not talking about income-producing labor. I’m talking about the places we put our energy, our time, our hearts. In other words, I’m not talking about employment necessarily, but the service we offer to each other and the larger community because of our commitments to peace, to justice, and to inclusiveness.

This is our work, as people of liberal religious faith, as Unitarian Universalists.

During 2007, we as a congregation experienced a huge epiphany of our own, when we came together on Sept. 9 to mark the official start of our building project. When so many from the larger community came to celebrate with us, when our friend Pastor Jim Lindus from Trinity said to us, in essence, “it’s time for you to be in your own home, offering your unique message of hope and faith to Whidbey Island from this place which you are creating”, when this happened, we were collectively jolted into realizing how important our effort is in this community.

And when the foundation was poured and the first work parties began, as the sanding and varnishing of trusses progressed, as the windows and framing took shape, as we poured our time and energy into our home, we all grew, just as the building grew. Carpentry and cleanup were equally valued as we worked together on our common cause. That was another great epiphany!

The crisis of climate change, as it became more and more evident that our lives would be drastically altered by the effects of global warming, has caused a huge shift in consciousness across the planet. And we realized that we are not alone in honoring and protecting the earth, that disparate faith communities, big business, political entities all have a stake and an interest in dealing with this crisis. The human community is waking up to one of our UU principles and sources, which is the need to respect and live in harmony with the earth. Another remarkable epiphany!

So just in this past several months, we as a community of Unitarian Universalists have been jolted into the recognition that we are important on Whidbey Island, that we are capable of building a home for ourselves, that we have a message to offer to people on the island who are not served well by traditional religion, that we are expected to step up to the plate and serve not only ourselves but the entire community.

How will we choose to do that?

As I’ve helped in my small ways to make our sacred home a reality, I can’t help but look forward in my mind to the day we get ready to move into our new home.

And I have dreamed something like this. I have dreamed of a long procession of vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles, with banners and flags waving from every antenna and open window, escorted by the Island County sheriff’s department, departing from the Trinity parking lot with great ceremony, driving in a long caravan of singing, rejoicing, flag-waving humanity, carrying our chalice and proceeding together to 20103 State Route 525, where we will enter our building, our new home, for our first worship service together in that space.

And I’ve continued to dream. I have dreamed of rooms filled with children, rooms filled with community leaders working on civic matters, rooms filled with support groups helping people make changes in their lives.

I’ve dreamed of teachers teaching classes in our building. I’ve dreamed of concerts in our sanctuary. I’ve dreamed of banners and weavings and artwork beautifying our halls. I’ve dreamed of music in every corner, a family band that performs for us on special occasions, a choir that fills the sanctuary with soaring harmonies and poetic lyrics.

And I’ve dreamed of worship services in a sanctuary that we can call our own, where our chalice is always in the center of our sacred space, where seats are filled with spiritual seekers, where every Sunday morning hearts are nourished by the wisdom of those who speak here. I’ve dreamed of joy reverberating around the room and enlivening all those present.

And I’ve dreamed of reaching out into the larger community, of offering space to our Quaker friends, to our Jewish friends, sharing our building with compatible people of faith. I have dreamed of sponsoring a scout troop that welcomes all youths, regardless of their beliefs or sexual orientation. I have dreamed of becoming a gathering place for people eager to promote peace and peacemaking in our world.

I’ve dreamed of a renewed spirit among us as a congregation. I’ve dreamed of an awareness in our midst of the value and the joy of being of service to this congregation. I’ve dreamed that we have all the volunteer ushers and refreshment providers that we can possibly use. I’ve dreamed that an atmosphere of bounteous generosity pervades our congregation so that we have the resources to do all that we can to live out our Unitarian Universalist ideals and principles.

And I’ve dreamed of a sanctuary where all those who are members and friends of this congregation make it their first priority to come together on Sundays, bringing their friends, their relatives, their neighbors. I’ve dreamed that every Sunday our sanctuary is full, full of seekers, full of children and parents, full of people who belong to this community, whose faces and forms are as dear to us as our own.

But that’s not all I dream about.

On Friday, the South End ministers met at my house for our weekly Bible study, and over coffee and cookies we got to talking about civic affairs on the island----affordable housing, ministry to prisoners, our homeless population. One pastor talked eloquently about the ways he is encouraging his congregation to be more active in community outreach. His congregation had invited the Wellington school to set up shop in their facility, when Wellington was flooded out in December, and he wanted his congregants to continue to reach out in the community.

As he was talking, I started dreaming again. Would it be possible to work with other congregations on the South End to develop projects that would improve conditions for the island’s low-income folks? Affordable rental units supervised and underwritten by a coalition of congregations?

A homeless shelter? A ministry to prisoners in our county jail? Help for families in transition, for victims of domestic violence?

Because our work as a congregation is to serve not only ourselves but the larger community. And therefore we must look beyond the walls of our shiny new home to find ways of using our home as a springboard for community outreach. If we only use our building to make ourselves happy, we will have a shallow happiness indeed. It is when we use our new resources to reach out to others that we will find a deep and abiding happiness that will enrich not only our lives but the lives around us.

What are your epiphanies on this Twelfth Night, at the end of the year 2007? I hope you’ll share them with us as we look ahead to the coming year of 2008.

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 the epiphanies and insights of these past months can inform our future together as a congregation. May we take what we have learned from these moments and use their energy and strength to help us make a real difference in people’s lives, here on Whidbey Island. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Is there such a thing as a transgender cat?

The reason I ask is that my beautiful Lilycat really seems to be more of a boy than a girl. I know she's physically a neutered female and when the vet removed her girl parts, she (the vet) didn't say anything about there being any anomalies, but she looks and acts like a big male.

Having had several transgender friends, I'm conscious of the gender identity issue for humans and maybe that makes me more alert to gender signals, but I have caught myself calling Lily "he" and "him", even though she has a female name and is a black tortoise-shell calico, a color pattern which is almost never male.

Lily is big and bulky, not fat, but she probably weighs 18 pounds and she behaves in a boyish way. I think I've become more conscious of this behavior since Maxie came to live with us. Maxie is an as-yet-tomkitten who is definitely full of testosterone, even at 5 months, though fortunately he hasn't displayed any spraying behaviors and will be off to the vet himself in a month or so for a little clipping of the nether regions.

I have read somewhere that sexual orientation is a feature of all animals, not just humans, and that homosexual behavior is displayed by a percentage of all animal life. Because Lily is spayed, she's not getting any sex hormones, so I can't say that she's a lesbian cat. But there is something different about Lily and it seems to be her masculine nature in a female body. Her nature is so different from Loosy's nature that it's remarkable, and some of the differences (not all) seem gender-ish in nature.

I used to think it was because she had a feral mama and might have absorbed some of her mama's wild instincts. Now I wonder if her nature may be more connected to her sense of being different.

Of the three cats, s/he is probably my favorite because she is so different. She is absolutely gorgeous but very wary of strangers and takes a long time to warm up to anyone else. Yet she will hoist her majestic bulk up into my lap, plant her paws against my bosom and her head into my chin, and purr till the house rattles. She is pretty much a one-person cat and this is very flattering, of course.

When Maxie came along, Lily was initially very wary of him, seeing him, no doubt, as a competitor for my affection. But she came to terms with him much sooner than Loosy, who still hisses and swats him angrily, and the two of them are more like big brother/little brother. Maxie seems to consider Lily his bud and he clearly considers Loosy a girl to tease and torment.

Now, I know I'm anthropomorphing my cats and that there may be no substance to what I'm theorizing. But I've been wondering about this for awhile. If anyone has any evidence or helpful input, I'd appreciate it. Her gender identity is not a problem of any kind, it's just interesting.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Twelfth Night and Epiphanies

At our ministers' lectionary session today, we didn't spend much time on the upcoming lectionary reading. Instead, we spent our hour together talking about local civic matters---the lack of affordable housing on the island, our homeless population, the problems with ferry transportation which have the potential to cripple the local economy.

I've been struggling with this Sunday's sermon, which is entitled "Twelfth Night Epiphanies", linking both the paganish celebration of Twelfth Night (Jan. 6) and the Feast of Epiphany in traditional liturgical bodies and coming up with a collection of trivia that didn't seem to be going anywhere.

But during our conversation in the lectionary group, I had an epiphany of my own. This community desperately needs affordable housing for our work force, the women and men who teach in our schools, who cut our hair, who build boats and houses and churches and manage to bring in just enough income to survive---unless they live in a house whose rent or mortgage payment is beyond their means. We have a number of homeless people who live in cars or in dark corners of the forest and scavenge a living with odd jobs and other means.

What if our congregations (today the Methodists, Lutherans, House of Prayer, UUs, and Quakers were represented) combined our resources, wrote for grants, and inveigled the other congregations on the island to pitch in, and set up units of affordable housing? When I broached the idea, it seemed like a pipe dream at first, but I think we could do it.

It would take time and energy and money, but I can envision an agency run by representatives of many congregations which would oversee the units, keep maintenance current, police the development so that it was safe and livable, and offer an example of religious folk working together despite their theological differences.

That's a dream I have, that evangelical Christians, mainline Christians, Jews, UUs, and anyone else interested can come together to serve a common cause, letting our differences be less important than our mission to serve our community.

Wouldn't that be exciting? After the meeting, I found I had a lot of ideas for the sermon and it's just about done now!

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Work for the Night is Coming

I'm using this old hymn, written by Anna Coghill in 1854 when she was 18 years old, as a starting point for this Sunday's sermon. I like to start with an unexpected song on occasion and this one fits the topic.

As I prepare a sermon, I pray for guidance about the topic, and sometimes I get that guidance in the form of a song that appears first thing in the morning. This morning, "Work for the night is coming" was the song I found myself singing in the shower.

I'd been puzzling over how to start the sermon, whose title is actually "Twelfth Night Epiphanies" and whose theme is actually "service". We ministers think up these titles for a newsletter deadline and then spend time trying to reconcile the title with the theme that is trying to be born.

Did you know, as I was reminded during my Wiki search for info about Twelfth Night, that this day was once celebrated by a reversal of roles in some cultures? It was a time when the peasant became king for a day and the Lord of Misrule reigned in the village. At midnight the roles reversed again and things went back to normal.

It reminded me of my days as a teacher, when "Spirit Week" in the junior high where I taught sponsored a day when students taught the classes and the teachers sat in the desks. It was chaotic but kind of fun and I was always acutely aware of how well (or not) I had prepared my student to teach.

"Work" for Ms. Coghill probably meant working to save souls, as this hymn appears in most traditional hymnals and refers to a New Testament admonition to do God's work until night comes.

But the concept of "work" in today's world is markedly different from "work" in the mid-19th century, pre-Industrial Revolution. I hope to note some of those differences and contrast "work" with "service". And somewhere I have to tie it to epiphanies, as well.

But right now I'm taking a break, having written about four pages (doublespaced) and looking forward to getting a haircut at 11. My back is much better and it allowed me to spend New Year's Eve with some folks from the church, eating and playing games and laughing, then going home at 10 p.m., since it was midnight in Chicago!

Happy New Year, all, and thanks for spending time at Ms. Kitty's!