Monday, March 31, 2008

March goes out like a lion!

Lion-like is the best way to describe the March weather on my travels the past several days. I had been invited to preach at the Pacific UU Fellowship in Astoria, Oregon, one of my favorite extra gigs, on March 30 and expected the weekend to be mild and springy, but no such luck!

Instead, I left the island Thursday in a stormy gale, traveled to Portland to stay with friends through squally stormlets down I-5, scraped snow off my windshield to do errands and visit my aunt on Friday, and watched the weather reports with trepidation on Saturday, the day I was to cross the Coast Range to Manzanita, where other friends lived. Sunday I would be going north to Astoria in the morning to preach and then heading home via I-5 again.

The Coast Range is one of those deceptively low sets of mountains which are treacherous when the temperature is at freezing, whether there's snow in the air or not. Moisture in the pavement rises to the surface at night and freezes, forming black ice. And if there is snow falling, it can create a skating rink of packed-down slushy ice.

There are two or three routes to the North Coast from Portland, all of them treacherous in bad weather, but I chose the least-ominous sounding route (US 30) even though it was miles farther to Manzanita that way, and drove through intermittent squalls and snow showers but missed any terrible slick spots, and got to Manzanita at mid-afternoon Saturday.

It snowed again Saturday night and I crept north to Astoria on US 101 to get to PUUF in time to preach, with no mishaps. Coming home after the service I had to drive through several blinding rain and hailstorms. But traffic was fairly light and I was home before dark.

I love preaching at other churches! I enjoy finding out what they're doing, how they organize their worship, their social hour, the bulletins on their walls, their projects, all that stuff. And I love seeing the familiar faces when I return again and again. I think I've preached at PUUF seven or eight times over the years, so their leadership is familiar to me, I enjoy seeing their maturation and optimism, and since they don't currently have a minister, I fill that role for a few hours.

But this weather! I've heard that global warming causes chaotic weather, not just a rise in temperature. And it's a La Nina year, I think, as well. We'll surely be glad when it settles down.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Taking a Break

Thanks to all for your thoughts about the Easter sermon and also the Holy Week reflections.

I'm taking a break from blogging for a few days and will be back on Monday, with some new thoughts.

Tomorrow I'm hosting the clergywomen's group here and shortly afterwards I'm hopping on the ferry and driving down to Portland to visit friends and my Aunt Sigrid, then on to the Oregon Coast for two days, staying with other friends and preaching at the Pacific UU Fellowship in Astoria on Sunday.

Today I'm trying to keep a case of the sniffles and scratchy throat from becoming more than just that. My brain this week is occupied with that task, not with blog-worthy thoughts. But by Monday, things ought to be better.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Confessions of a Christian Humanist: the sermon

Rev. Kit Ketcham, March 23, 2008

A UU Sunday school teacher is sitting in a circle with her
charges to talk about Easter. "What can you tell me about Easter?"

"The Easter bunny brings us jelly beans and chocolate and
we all go to our grandparents for dinner," says the
gourmet in the group.

"Yes, that's right, and what else can you tell me?"

"We dye eggs and then our mom hides them and we hunt for

"All of those are lovely traditions, but Easter is also a
religious holiday. Does anyone know about that part?"

"Is it the one where we all bring flowers?"

"Not exactly. It has to do with Jesus..." No response.

"Who died on the cross..." No response.

"And on the third day..."

"Oh, Oh!" a little boy raises his hand. "I know! On the
third day, his mother went to his tomb..."


"And saw the stone had moved away..."

"Yes, yes! You've got it!"

"And Jesus had come out..."

"That's what a lot of people believe..."

"And seen his shadow, and that's why we have six more
weeks of winter!"

I’m sure that our kids know a much better, more accurate version of the Easter story, but this joke---which demonstrates the rather mixed ideas that many kids have about religion and holidays---does reveal how hard it can be to communicate the meaning of the Easter season, when there is so much disagreement in the religious world about Christian doctrine and so many secular and pagan associations with Easter. Thanks to my Bremerton colleague the Rev. Liz Stevens for her version of this story!

Last year, I spoke to you about Jesus, who has always been a hero of mine. I talked about Jesus’ strength and courage and the life lessons his ministry offered to the world. Jesus’ values are very similar to many of our Unitarian Universalist values: to seek justice; to treat people as we want to be treated; to work for peace; to know the difference between material values and true values; not to judge; not to harbor grudges; to be modest and unpretentious; to be generous and not just so we get repaid.

This afternoon, I want to speak to you about viewing Easter through the lens of a Christian Humanist, since we have been examining the Sources of UUism this year. That’s me. That’s very possibly many of you. We CH’s share a skepticism about Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead and the other miracles ascribed to him, but we acknowledge that there are human traits and mysteries which come together to form stories that are both magical and contain great truth.

How can one be both a Christian and a Humanist? By traditional standards, it may not be possible. I know there are orthodox Christians who have a very limited view of what it means to be a Christian and my version of Christianity doesn’t fit.

There are also orthodox Humanists who have a limited view of what it means to be a Humanist and my version of Humanism doesn’t fit.

Then there’s also my view, in the mix, that Jesus was not a Christian and that he was a Humanist! This tends to throw people off, as you might expect!

When I spoke with the kids a few minutes ago about Easter and what they knew about it, we heard some typical things. What might you add to their list of “what do you know about Easter?” (response)

My list is much like yours: Easter is about spring, rebirth, baby animals, flowers, candy, Easter eggs, new growth, death and life. Easter is also about misunderstandings, vision, strength, forgiveness, betrayal, greed, and violence. And Easter is about love and hope and generosity.

How does my Christian self see Easter? I believe that Jesus was human and not a God, so my Christian-ness has more to do with the wisdom of his message: the teachings that the kingdom of heaven is within each person, that it is better to give than to receive, that laws are made to help humans, not hurt them, that love is more powerful than political might, and that out of terrible tragedy can come new life.

This past week, we have reeled after the news of the death of our gifted musician friend Devin Ossman, who played so beautifully for us last week. And I have felt the humanness of the Easter story very deeply. Our community has experienced the loss of a human being whose life was memorable, who gave the world the gift of beauty and creativity.

His death came apparently within hours of his being here with us, sharing his music, with the promise of new moments together to come, and this fact makes this time in our lives most poignant and can help us to understand better how the life and death of Jesus affected his companions and the world in which he lived.

Jesus was a remarkable human being, whose radical ideas changed history. Because of his ideals and his message of a new way of living, he has been deified, made into a God, by the passage of time and the tendency of human beings to want to set our heroes on a pedestal.

The story of Easter, then, has taken on great significance in the Christian and not-so-Christian world. Believers on one side and non-believers on the other side throw darts back and forth and threaten hell and damnation or ridicule and insult upon the other. As their rhetoric accelerates, we can see that not only are there fundamentalist believers, there may also be fundamentalist non-believers, all so sure that they are right that they can’t hear any truth but their own.

During this past week, I had set myself the task, the discipline, of reading each of the Christian scriptures describing the individual days of Holy Week, the seven days preceding Easter, and considering them through my Christian Humanist lens. I’d like to share some of those thoughts with you.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, the first day of Holy Week, a week in which the story of Jesus’ life rises to a climax and ends in his death and a new life.

The events described in the scriptures of the week are a panorama of utterly human events, performed on a stage with the backdrop of ancient times and cultures. I have seen these things happen in our time as well. They are not peculiar to the first century nor confined to the women and men of that day. We see parallels to these events in our own culture today.

On Palm Sunday, a brilliant teacher and leader hears loud “Hosannas”, a cheer that means “deliver us”, as he rides into Jerusalem humbly seated on a donkey, welcomed by throngs of people overjoyed to see him, eager for his wisdom, hoping for his help in overcoming the misery of their lives, expecting him to overthrow the oppressive regime and set them free.

At the same time, the teacher’s so-called friend and companion is looking for a way to profit from the popularity of this man and makes a deal to betray him.

During Holy Week, the Christian scriptures tell of other events and interactions which show the humanity of this story in vivid detail. If I were to go into detail for each one, we’d be here till next Easter! But let me mention some of the human themes I see playing out during this week in religious history, and invite you to consider them yourself at a later time.

On Palm Sunday, we read of the expectations of the welcoming crowd and are warned about the betrayal by a friend.

The next day, Jesus’ friend Mary generously anoints his feet with an expensive ointment and Judas gripes about the cost, suggesting the money should have been given to the poor.

On Tuesday, the scripture reminds us that Good and Evil are intertwined, that what is good for one person may be evil for another. Judas is expected to betray Jesus; this is God’s will, according to the scriptures, which ought to make it a good thing. But the result is agony and death. On the other hand, by his death, Jesus ensured that his teachings would live forever. What is good and what is evil?

In the reading for Wednesday, Jesus identifies Judas as his betrayer and, angry and humiliated, Judas vengefully sets Jesus’s death in motion and contributes to the immortality of his teachings.

In Thursday’s scripture, Jesus performs the humble act of serving his disciples by washing their feet, charging them with the responsibility to serve others and to love one another.

On Friday, as the week builds toward its climax, we see a courageous man speaking his truth with integrity to the authority figures of the day and we see a cowardly man distancing himself from that courageous man and denying their friendship.

On Saturday, two secret admirers, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, a tax collector, arrange the burial of Jesus’ body, offering the kindness they were afraid to offer openly to a man they nevertheless admired and loved.

And today, Sunday, we recognize the grief and disbelief of the friends and followers left behind. We understand their inability to take in the idea that their leader is truly dead. We don’t blame them for wanting it to be different, for we’ve all been there, hoping to see a different ending. Only one person recognizes that Jesus is not really dead, that he lives on, whether we consider it a literal resurrection or the immortality of Jesus’ teachings.

How often these themes are repeated in human history: a visionary leader bursts onto the scene, shifts the trajectory of culture, suffers at the hands of friends and enemies, and comes to a tragic end. Few heroes live out their lives in peace and quiet. Most sacrifice themselves on the altar of altruism.

Only in the movies do heroes ride off into the sunset to rescue fair damsels (or nations) another day. Most suffer the slings and arrows of opposition as well as the sweetness of approval and a sense of accomplishment. We see this right now in our presidential election campaign.

Most of us are not heroes in the way of Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Shane , Wonder Woman, Xena, and others. Most of us just put one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, and if we change the trajectory of culture, it’s in very tiny increments. And we all experience betrayals both large and small, in marriage, in health, in work, in family, in friends.

I see Jesus as a young man who has done a lot of thinking and study about his religious heritage, has diverged from the traditional path and has developed a theology that is focused on lovingkindness instead of obeying rigid laws which hurt people.

Those whose job it is to uphold those rigid laws are fearful. Does his message mean chaos in their world? They use the disappointment and frustration of Judas, a man who had expected Jesus to rise up as a rebel leader against Roman rule, to bring down this charismatic leader who hoped to change Jewish culture and who taught a way of life so different from the rigid purity laws.

Using his Jewish heritage and culture as a foundation, Jesus sought to help people see that true freedom from oppression lay within, that an inner life in relationship with the Holy was more to be prized than the overthrow of Caesar’s rule. He planted this seed at that time and lived it out himself, that we might have a model for our own lives.

Yet even those who profess to take Jesus’ message most seriously often find themselves (ourselves?) ignoring the inner life in favor of fighting windmills. I certainly do this. I criticize others’ behavior or beliefs at times while neglecting to nurture my own relationship with the Holy.

Holy Week and Easter can be a time for self-examination, for considering our inner lives and how our lives compare to Jesus’ classic example of goodness and mercy. We are here to deliver the world---hence, the Hosanna! And in so doing, we will struggle against the criticism and undermining by those who are disappointed in our efforts---the Judas’ kiss.

It is an age-old challenge for human living. You may be punished for the good you do in the world. Do good anyway.

During this week of thinking about the events which led to Jesus’ death on the cross and the resurrection story, whatever its actual facts might be, it popped into my head to wonder, “what would it have been like for Jesus to be in that dark place, having been to hell and back, perhaps both literally and figuratively, and then to see the light begin to grow, to see the stone, the barrier roll away, and to be free of binding shroud and painful wounds?”

And it occurred to me that many times we humans are in such a dark place---our hearts are dead from grief, from addiction, from illness, from abandonment, from the host of human disasters to which we are heir. And very often, a light begins to appear, perhaps slowly at first, perhaps imperceptible to others, until we find new life outside the tomb which had imprisoned us.

We have all been there, in one way or another. We have despaired over the turn of life’s events; we have wondered if we will recover from the losses, from the illnesses, from the upheavals we’ve experienced.

On Holy Saturday, the day when Jesus’ family and friends are most bereft, most despairing, not remembering, in their grief, that he has said he will be with them always, we witness the simple kindness of Joseph and Nicodemus in preparing Jesus’ body, generously bringing the linens and the special spices used in burial, offering Joseph’s own tomb for Jesus’ body, rolling a stone across the doorway themselves so that others need not take on this task.

And in these acts of human kindness, the seeds of renewal are sown. Because, according to the scriptures, Jesus was no longer in the tomb the next day, the Sabbath. And here the mystery begins. Was his body removed by his enemies? By his friends? He had said he would be with them always; did that mean physically or spiritually? We can’t know for sure, though we are pretty certain that dead bodies don’t come back to life, despite all the ghost stories we’ve heard.

On the other hand, we recognize the reality that immense ideas don’t die, that timeless wisdom is immortal, that love never ends, that there is indeed, in these ways, life beyond death.

And in that realization, my Christian humanism finds hope and comfort. I understand that my life on this planet is limited, that I have only a certain, unknown, amount of time to do what I can do. I have learned that there is light beyond the darkness and that I can learn from even the most grievous sorrow, finding healing in a new path, a new life.

In my darkest times, I have experienced the kindness and generosity of those around me. And whether or not I have shifted the trajectory of culture one iota, I feel joy that I am living in this time and place, and each Easter reminds me that new life is always there if I will just accept it.

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

Hymn # 274, “Dear Mother-Father of us all”

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 our generosity and kindness to each other is our legacy, the way our lives will be remembered. May we live out our ideals daily, expressing our love for each other, and offering goodness and mercy at every opportunity, that our integrity will be unblemished and our lives a beacon of hope. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

We Are Risen

I've been awake for longer than I've been up, if that makes sense, and it's got nothing to do with Easter. And now we are risen and beginning the business of Easter Sunday.

A week ago, we had another little bed-peeing incident with Max so, since I have vowed that he will not be going to the shelter on my watch and that I will figure out what the problem is, I called my friend Susan, the cat whisperer.

I'm not a particularly woowoo person, but Susan has a lot of cat-cred in my eyes, having offered some insights about other incidents that proved true. And she uses her intuition and insights into animal behavior to make her recommendations, which fits my criteria for a credible advisor.

Her insight, when she had a chance to come over to the house and check things out, was that Max was literally pissed off because I shut him and Loosy and Lily out of the bedroom in the middle of the night. She based this on the clues I offered her: the peeing has happened only first thing in the morning while the bed is still warm, I have always let the cats sleep with me until I have to get up in the night to use the john and then shut them out so that I'm not weighted down with catness all night long, and they come to the closed door and scratch or meow until I get up and feed them (at 5:30 a.m.!).

This definitely has the ring of good sense to it. Her recommendation, however, was a little harder to accept, but I agreed that I would experiment with letting the cats stay on the bed all night and would not shut them out.

So we have been doing this since Thursday, mostly successfully. No pee incidents have occurred, though it may be too soon to be sure about that, and I have been surprised that it's not that difficult to sleep soundly with Loosy tucked under my chin all night, Lily hunkered up against one leg and Max purring loudly in my ear.

This morning at 4:30, after a calm night, the wind kicked up and woke the cats, who began to prowl the house, suggesting that it was time for them to be fed. I stayed in bed for another hour, not willing to start a precedent of getting up whenever they told me to, and got up at 5:30, my normal time to rise.

I figured, what the heck, it's Easter, the whole of Christendom is considering getting up to go to the sunrise service. Probably most of them will turn over and go back to sleep, but those who rise will be rewarded with a commemoration of the thrill of Easter: He is Risen Indeed! And so are we.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Confessions: Secrecy and Kindness

John 19:38-42

19:38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body.

19:39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds.

19:40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.

19:41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.

19:42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

How sad it is when someone has to keep his or her true identity hidden for fear of condemnation and punishment! Joseph and Nicodemus, closeted by fear, have yet the courage to offer kindness and assistance to Jesus' family and friends. Where are Peter and the other disciples? Have Joseph and Nicodemus overcome their fear? Or do their skills as businessmen override their caution and impel them to deal with the practical matters of burial, despite their fears?

Joseph generously donates his own tomb. Nicodemus brings the necessary spices and together they prepare Jesus' body for burial and place him in the tomb.

And then begins the period of mourning and grieving for this lost life, the place we have all been, as family members and friends come to the end of their lives. It is a time when we don't recognize that after great pain may come great joy. It is dark and forbidding. It is hopeless. It is despairing.

And yet kindness has emerged, unexpectedly, like the first crocus of spring, a hint that all is not lost, that human love and mercy continue, despite great loss and sorrow. (Cue the band: "Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow, you're only a day away.")

Friday, March 21, 2008

Confessions: Freedom and Authority

The scripture for Good Friday is quite lengthy and would take up more space than I want to give it. You may look it up here: John 18:1-19:42

This scripture is the story of Jesus's being accosted by the Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane and his subsequent trial before Pilate. It includes Peter's denial that he is a disciple of Jesus.

In our nation's presidential campaign, we have a vivid example of the conflict between freedom of speech and freedom to disagree with that speech. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has exercised his freedom of the pulpit and has preached blazingly about the injustices of racism; in the Free Church tradition (which includes the United Church of Christ, the Baptists, and us Unitarian Universalists), this is normative. Our preachers have the right to say anything they feel needs to be said from the pulpit.

At the same time, the Free Church tradition honors the freedom of the pew. People listening to the words from the pulpit have the freedom to disagree, even strongly, with what is being said. If a congregation feels that the preacher is in error, it has the right to remove him/her from the position, but it cannot tell him/her what to say from the pulpit.

Religious people who are not familiar with the Free Church denominations often misunderstand this freedom and think that the people in the pew should leave the church if they disagree with the preacher. This is, of course, an option. But most choose to express their disagreement directly to the preacher and will stay with the congregation as long as it meets other spiritual needs. This is an even better option, "the loyal opposition" as it is called.

Barack Obama is in the position of disagreeing with the tone of some of Rev. Wright's words, distancing himself from Wright's positions in an effort to keep the issues raised in conversation, but unwilling to sacrifice his integrity by pandering to those who think he ought to reject his faith community, Trinity UCC.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we read of Peter, one of Jesus' lead disciples, and how he, in fear for his life, rejected Jesus outright, denying any association. This is more the position other candidates have taken, in trying to appease critics.

In Jerusalem in those days, there was no such thing as freedom of speech; there was only the sharp sword of authority and authority could be manipulated. In this case, a man of integrity spoke his truth and those who disagreed and who feared his truth manipulated authority so that he would be silenced---by death.

This is what we commemorate on Good Friday. A man of integrity, a hero in his day, has been sacrificed for his words and ideals.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Confessions: Humility and Service

13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
13:2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper
13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,
13:4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.
13:5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.
13:6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"
13:7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."
13:8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."
13:9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"
13:10 Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you."
13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."
13:12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?
13:13 You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am.
13:14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.
13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
13:16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.
13:17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
13:31b When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.
13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.
13:33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.'
13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.
13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Through this passage of scripture, seen through a Christian Humanist lens, run the themes of humility and service. Both of these ideas run counter to what is popularly perceived in our society as being desirable characteristics.

We're not supposed to be humble, for that would be humiliating! We're not supposed to serve; others are here to serve us. To be proud and well-served, that's the way of life we aspire to, many of us.

Our magazines and newspapers are full of commercial ads telling us how to raise our self-esteem and the many ways we can pay people to serve us, as though these two comprise surefire ways to find happiness.

Jesus has humbled himself by washing his disciples' feet, by serving them. And these acts of service to his friends are by way of underscoring his message of love: Love. One. Another. As I have loved you.

And that is happiness.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

In Memory of Devin Ossman

The following will appear in the April newsletter, Island Passages, of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island.


Devin Ossman, a flutist who had often played for UUCWI worship services, died while hiking on Mount Rainier on Monday, March 17. Devin had played for our service the day before his fateful hike, offering listeners his beautiful music one last time.

As he ended the prelude that evening, suddenly a cascade of silvery notes poured into the room and we all wondered “how did he do that on a flute?”. Then we saw him blush a bit, clap his hand to his pocket, and draw out his cell phone. Oftentimes, a cell phone’s ring is blaring and ugly but this string of notes was right in tune with his flute and might have even added to the beauty of his music. We all laughed and applauded, even as we sympathized.

Ironically, the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton was speaking that day on “Living Till We Die”. She ended the service with these words. Perhaps Devin carried them with him in some way.

May you know what it is to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun;
May you know what it is to free the breath from its restless tides,
So that you may rise and expand and seek the Divine unencumbered.
When you drink from the river of silence, may you indeed sing;
And when you have reached the mountain top, may you truly begin to climb.

Thank you, Devin, for your music

We have just learned that Devin's body was found not far from the place where he had gone missing. It appears that he died of exposure, but an autopsy will determine the cause of death.

Devin's music was a cause for great celebration. He was well-known in music circles on the island, performing with flute, pipe, and delight.

On Sunday night after the service in which he performed, I said to him, "Devin, it's so wonderful to have you here with us. I hope you'll come again soon." And he beamed and said he would be back.

But there will be no repeat performance for us, only the sweet memory of those final notes.

The sermon on Sunday was given by my friend and colleague Rachel Taber-Hamilton, the rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal in Oak Harbor. She spoke about preparing for our deaths to our crowd of retirees and healthy young persons. How ironic that a day or so later, one of our younger listeners that night would be dead, for unknown reasons.

Be at peace, Devin.

Your thoughts and prayers, please, for Devin Ossman

This morning, the Seattle Times reports that a man my congregation knows well as a gifted musician and valued friend, though he doesn't live on the island, is missing after a Monday hike near Mt. Rainier.

Devin had played his flute for us on Sunday and his music was beautiful, transcendent, and even enhanced by the moment when, as the the prelude ended, a silvery peal of liquid notes glissando-ed into the air. I remember that my thought was "how did he do that on a flute? what a master!". I'm sure others wondered the same thing until Devin blushed, clapped his hand against his pocket, and drew out his cell phone. We, of course, appreciated the moment and laughed and cheered for him, since what else could we do?

The Everett newspaper further reports that Devin's wife had described him as despondent. I am hoping and praying for his safe return.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Confessions: What is Good and what is Evil?

The text for Tuesday of Holy Week:
John 12:20-36

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.

12:21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."

12:22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

12:23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

12:27 "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say--' Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

12:28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

12:29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."

12:30 Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

12:33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

12:34 The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?"

12:35 Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.

12:36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

One of the questions I remember puzzling over as a teenager was this: "if Jesus came to earth to die to save humans from their sins, how come everyone is so mad at Judas?"

After all, Judas was only the vehicle for this sacrificial act by Jesus. He was doing his job. It was God's Will that Jesus die on the cross and that he be betrayed by a friend. According to most Christian doctrine, God wanted this to happen and arranged it; and Jesus bought into it, though he wasn't happy about it. He also had to obey God's will.

Another question that bothered me: "Why is Jesus so stuck on himself? For that matter, why is God so stuck on Himself? Why is all this glorifying required if God/Jesus is the main act? Does God have an ego?" (I'd just taken Psych 101)

It began to occur to me that the line between Good and Evil is often murky, that what is Good for one entity is Evil for another.

Good: that Jesus loved humankind and wanted to do something to save them.
Evil: that Judas was shanghaied into colluding with Good by doing something Evil.

Good: that Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
Evil: that thousands of Iraqis lost their lives in the process, as well as Americans.

Good: that beautiful Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.
Evil: that Adam and Eve wanted to know the difference between Good and Evil and ate of the tree's fruit.

It all reminds me of that old adage from Physics class: for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, if I've got it right. Physics was not my strong suit.

And Evil often turns out to have Good consequences.

Evil: that I had a hard time with Physics.
Good: that I turned to writing and speaking instead of science as a profession.

Evil: that a human being is addicted to narcotics and is forced into treatment.
Good: that the human being hits bottom and finds strength after coping with this crisis.

Evil: that a girl is pregnant out of wedlock by an irresponsible male.
Good: that the girl often uses the pregnancy to grow up, learn hard lessons, and deal with the life of the child in a life-enhancing way.

In today's reading from John, Jesus is clear that Good and Evil are intertwined, that the grain of wheat must die before it can produce fruit, that it is necessary to give up one's control of life in order to find more abundant life, a life that comes from within, not from outside.

In our world, this is hard to admit. The economy is in the cellar, the war goes on, oppression continues to blight people's lives, yet these are all external conditions. If we are to take Jesus' message seriously, we need to focus on our inner life, find the inner light, use the inner light, and in so doing, we will change the outer world.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Confession: Generosity and Stinginess

I am using the Vanderbilt Lectionary readings as the source of my Holy Week reflections. The reading for Monday is John 12:1-11.

12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,

12:5 "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?"

12:6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

12:7 Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.

12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

12:9 When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.

12:10 So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well,

12:11 since it was on account of him that many of the Jews were deserting and were believing in Jesus.

When I read this passage, I am struck by Mary's generosity toward Jesus and Judas' jealous carping about how it might have been better used. It's a familiar theme in human living, isn't it?

In our congregations, one person gives a work of art for the sanctuary and another person thinks the gift should be sold and the money go into the social action committee's budget. Or in a household, one partner's purchase is seen as too expensive and is criticized unkindly by the other partner.

Only in the Easter story, it's more serious than a congregational or family squabble about finances--it's the ultimate division between the human act of generosity and the human desire to look good while acquiring more for oneself.

One impulse is generated from within and the other is generated from outside the person. When we are freely generous, we are acting out of our best selves, desiring only to give whatever we have. When we are jealously guarding our resources, we act out of a fear that we aren't really adequate.

What is it about money that is so divisive? Mary is generous; Judas is greedy. Mary is grateful that her brother Lazarus is still alive; Judas is itching to get his hands on more cash. Mary has enough; Judas will never have enough and it will cost him his life. Mary's act of generosity is ridiculed and questioned by Judas. Jesus scolds Judas and praises Mary for her kindness. Judas is angry and continues to plan his revenge.

Sounds to me like a first century soap opera!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Confessions: Expectation and Betrayal

Today is Palm Sunday in the Christian world, the day which commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, riding on the back of a humble donkey, and received by crowds waving palm branches and shouting, "Hosanna, hosanna in the highest heaven", which means, essentially, "thank God you're here, deliver us!"

Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, in which the story of Jesus' life rises to a climax and ends in his death and a new life. It is also the day when the story of Judas' betrayal is told.

It's interesting to observe the juxtaposition of these two events: a brilliant teacher and leader is welcomed by a throng of women and men overjoyed to see him, eager for his wisdom, hoping for his help in overcoming the evil conditions of their lives, expecting him to overthrow the oppressor and set them free; at the same time, the teacher's erstwhile friend and companion is looking for his own way to profit from the popularity of this man and makes a deal to betray him.

How often this story is repeated in human history: a visionary leader bursts onto the scene, shifts the trajectory of culture, suffers at the hands of friends and enemies, and comes to a tragic end. Few heroes live out their lives in peace and quiet; most sacrifice themselves on the altar of altruism.

Only in the movies do heroes ride off into the sunset to rescue fair damsels (or nations) another day. Most suffer the slings and arrows of opposition as well as the sweetness of approval and a sense of accomplishment.

Most of us are not heroes in the way of Jesus, MLK Jr., Shane, Abraham Lincoln, Wonder Woman, Xena, and others. Most of us just put one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, and if we change the trajectory of culture, it's in very tiny increments. And we all experience betrayals both large and small: in marriage, health, work, family, friends.

Through the lens of my low Christology (i.e., Jesus was not God), I see Jesus as a young man who has done a lot of thinking and study about his religious heritage, has diverged from the traditional path and has developed a theology that is focused on lovingkindness instead of obeying rigid laws which hurt people. He speaks his truth: "the laws were made for humankind; humankind was not made for the law".

Those whose job it is to uphold those rigid laws are fearful; does his message mean chaos? They use the disappointment of Judas, a man who had expected Jesus to rise up as a rebel leader against Roman rule, to bring down this charismatic leader who hoped to change Jewish culture and who taught a way of life so different from the rigid purity laws.

Using his Jewish heritage and culture as a foundation, Jesus sought to help people see that true freedom from oppression lay within, that an inner life in relationship with the Holy was more to be prized than the overthrow of Caesar's rule. He planted this seed at that time and lived it himself, that we might have a model for our own lives.

Yet even those who profess to take Jesus' message most seriously often find themselves (ourselves?) ignoring the inner life in favor of fighting windmills. I certainly do this. I criticize others' behavior or beliefs while neglecting to nurture my relationship with the Holy.

Holy Week is a time for self-examination, for considering our inner lives and how our lives compare to Jesus' classic example of goodness and mercy. We are here to deliver the world---the Hosanna! And in so doing, we will struggle against the criticism and undermining by those who are disappointed in our efforts---the Judas kiss.

It is an age-old challenge for human living. You're gonna be punished for the good you do in the world. Do good anyway.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Confessions, a beginning

This morning at the lectionary group meeting, my Christian colleagues were earnestly discussing the implications of the empty tomb and it popped into my head to wonder aloud "what would it have been like for Jesus to be in that dark place, having been to hell and back, perhaps both literally and figuratively, and then to see the light begin to grow, the stone roll away, and to be free of binding shroud and painful wounds?"

It had occurred to me that many times we humans are in such a place----our hearts dead from grief, from addiction, from illness, from abandonment, from the host of human disasters to which we are heir. And very often, a light begins to appear, perhaps slowly at first, perhaps imperceptible to others, until we find new life outside the tomb which had imprisoned us.

This did add something to the conversation and toward the end of our time, one pastor asked me directly, "so, Kit, how do you handle Easter, as a Unitarian Universalist?"

And, knowing that it probably went against the grain of some of these friends, I identified myself as a Christian humanist, whose theology was founded upon the non-supernatural events of Jesus' life and for whom his teachings and life were the miracle, not a virgin birth, not a bodily resurrection, not any of the many miracles proclaimed in the scriptures.

My congregation on Easter Sunday will contain folks from all over the theological spectrum and they all need to hear something that brings them light, so I will offer my thoughts with that in mind.

I told them the title of my Easter sermon, "Confessions of a Christian Humanist", and told them that I would be blogging during Holy Week about the events of that time and how I see them. Nobody clamored for the address of Ms. Kitty's, but it may be that they will tune in.

These men are warm, loving individuals, men of integrity, and I have come to love them very much. And I feel loved by them, even though we are very different. What a blessing!

Confessions of a Christian Humanist...

is the title of my Easter sermon and I've decided to spend some time during the upcoming Christian Holy Week blogging about my perceptions of this holy time.

I am both a Christian (non-traditional) and a Humanist (though more of a small h variety) and I have a history with Easter that involves both of these religious philosophies. I don't shun Easter as many Humanists do; that is, I don't ridicule it or avoid the topic.

If all of Christendom is celebrating this moment in time, I am interested in exploring its meaning for me, a non-traditional humanistic Christian.

I'll be meeting with my lectionary colleagues in a little while at the local Catholic church and we'll be talking about the Friday night vigil and the Sunday service and its scriptural passages.

I am not participating the vigil on Friday, though I was invited to do so. I am a bit uncomfortable representing my congregation there, as I don't want to imply that all UUs feel as I do about the meaning of the Easter season. And I'm not a bit sure that the listeners who would hear my message (I'd be preaching on a New Testament text for 5 minutes) would hear me accurately. Maybe I am over-analyzing this, but that's my thinking this year. Maybe next year I'll take part.

In any case, I have been gathering my thoughts about what Easter and the story of Jesus' mission, message, and violent death mean to me. I don't find the Easter story to be historical truth, but I do find deep moral truth in it. And that's the theme of my Easter sermon this year.

I hope to take each scripture reading for Holy Week and offer some observations on it through my Christian Humanist lens. I hope you'll stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Where did those teenage girls get the STDs?

There's a lot of concern out there right now about the 25% of teenage girls in our country who have an STD of one type or another, and I agree that it's a shocking statistic.

But nothing I've read has indicated the source of those STDs. Where did these girls get their sexually transmitted disease? How come the shocking news only involves the girls?

Is the implication that the girls are giving themselves the diseases? Surely not. If one-quarter of American teenage girls have an STD, what does that say about boys? Who are the girls having sex with? Who else is part of this picture?

It's been pretty well established that you are unlikely to get an STD from a toilet seat. Masturbation doesn't do it. Lesbians, according to my limited knowledge, rarely give each other an STD.

Who gives STDs to teenage girls? Who is talking teenage girls into sexual experiences that transmit STDs? And why aren't there statistics about how many males have STDs?

Monday, March 10, 2008

I did it! Here's the video of Trilogy

The first rendition of "Stardust" is without proper mic-ing but it is offered later in the video as an encore. Thanks to Dan Schlangen at Rockhoppers for the help in embedding the video.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Trilogy debut!

On the spur of the moment last night, I dubbed our little group "Trilogy" and we had a great 15 minutes of fame at Rockhoppers' Open Mic. I am still trying to figure out how to embed the video, but if you want to hear our debut, here's a link to it: Trilogy at Rockhoppers

Friday, March 07, 2008

Getting excited...

about singing tonight at the Rockhoppers Open Mic with my friends Debbie and Richard. Here's the link, where the webcam will probably be operating starting at 7 p.m. PST:

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Not a deep thought in my head

Sometimes I look at the very thoughtful posts of my fellow bloggers and marvel at their ability to deal with difficult and sensitive subjects, such as the PEW report on American religious habits and explorations, the election campaigns of the presidential candidates, a variety of congregational and national challenges. I wonder, then, about my own perfunctory interest in most of these issues.

It's not that I don't care about them; it's more as if I have little energy to become interested. And this worries me a little bit. I'm very interested in what's going on in my congregation here on the island----the meetinghouse as it goes up, the preparations for adapting to a life in our own space, the worship life of the community, what I'm going to preach on, the wellbeing of congregants, and that sort of thing. And I'm very interested in my chaplaincy work, the lectionary study group, the clergywomen's group, as well as in my personal life's activities.

But all the other issues seem so far away, so meaningful to others but not to me. And I wonder if it's because I'm living on an island, or because I'm working only parttime, or because I'm getting older, or because my mind just doesn't want to wrap itself around negative things right now.

I don't feel like hashing over the PEW report or committing myself very avidly to either presidential candidate; I don't even feel like bashing Bush right now. Though some of the issues out there are truly horrifying, I can barely work up the energy to find out more about them.

Most likely it's normal weariness from a not-so-normal church year. The church year has been marked by excitement and tension over the building project underway; it's all going well, but folks are tired and stressed over the work involved, the many negotiations and the inevitable cost overruns that must be dealt with. And we're trying to predict all the possible changes we'll experience, so that they won't catch us unawares.

In any case, at AGM last weekend, I became aware of my apathy about big issues when I played hookey from all the workshops I'd signed up for and went for walks and even to the Tacoma Mall (gag!) for a brief time. Others were raving about chaordic this and canvass that and I couldn't have cared less, though I didn't let on. I did love sitting and talking with friends I rarely see, except for AGM, and my enthusiasm for that never waned!

In other news, Maxie went to the vet a couple of days ago to make sure he doesn't have a bladder infection, which he doesn't. And I am over my worry that I would have to find him a new home. We would miss him around here way too much. He's here for good. My friend Susan the animal communicator thinks it may have been a litterbox issue, so I've done something about that and am hopeful that it will do the trick. The dishwasher had gone on the fritz and it'll be repaired by tomorrow. The broken window in the front room was fixed this morning and the filter on the pump is under order and will be replaced soon. All these things have contributed to my anxiety and may be related to a lack of interest in bigger issues.

My sister and brother in law are coming to visit for the weekend and I am looking forward to spending some good time with them. Our little music group, for which I am the torch singer wannabe, is going to the Rockhoppers open mic tomorrow night to test three of our songs and that will be fun---and informative! I'll let you know how you can watch the webcam recording that they usually make for open mic, in case you're interested in seeing us do our thing.

To derail any possible notion that I am a serious person at all times...

I'm a Ford Mustang!

You're an American classic -- fast, strong, and bold. You're not snobby or pretentious, but you have what it takes to give anyone a run for their money.

"Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Thank you to John at the Pageless Book

What an honor! John over at The Pageless Book wrote to me awhile back and asked if I was willing to be interviewed for a series he was considering. John is in the process of discerning his call to ministry and is interested in the experience of UU ministers who've been there.

I said yes, sure, great, send me your questions, and his post today is the result. John offers an interesting and diverse blog and I read it regularly (gotta update my blogroll, don't I?).

Thanks, John, for spotlighting Ms. Kitty's. I'll sing you a song, next time the Roadshow lets me get up in front of the mic.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


When I went away last Wednesday to attend the ministers' retreat and our annual district meeting, I did what I could think of to protect the house, including sparkling clean litter boxes and a tarp over the bed to make it less inviting to little urethras. And when I came home, there was no reek and no yellow stains anywhere I could see, so I was somewhat consoled.

But I called my friend Susan, the cat whisperer, to ask for her help. She told me to get Max checked out for a bladder infection, which I have scheduled for this morning since the vet was not open yesterday. And she will come over tomorrow to get acquainted with the cats and see what she thinks. My theory is that he is somehow marking his territory and trying to discourage the other cats from encroaching, but we'll see what she thinks and what the exam shows.

In other news, it was great to see Hafidha over at "Never Say Never" briefly at the Annual General Meeting! We didn't have much of a chance to talk, but there she was and we at least got in a hug. She is beautiful!

Our ministers' meeting was in conjunction with our LREDA colleagues, the directors of religious education, and whereas such meetings have been fraught, in the past, with tension because of the attitude of some former ministers toward those "lesser" professional roles, this meeting was exciting and productive. I think we have made great strides in recognizing that our DREs are religious professionals with responsibilities as important as ministers' responsibilities. This is a major shift in attitude and I'm glad to see it.

Of course, it could be that our topic, "Classism", was an eye-opener to the ways in which we unconsciously sort people out according to class, and DREs have typically been assigned to a lower class, professionally, because so many of them work only parttime, work only with children and youth, and are seen as expendable when money is tight. I suspect I wasn't the only one who noticed that this classification process goes on in ministry as well!

In any case, the topic was timely and uncomfortable-----and very good for us! I'm certainly better informed, more sensitive, and embarking on a process of self-critique in this area.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

In Andy's Garden: a sermon

I hustled back this morning fairly early to be home in time to prepare to preach this afternoon. I've revamped a sermon I've used before and present it herewith.

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Mar. 2, 2008
Bear with me for a moment, set aside any theological reservations you might have, and sing with me, if you know this old hymn, and if you don't, just let us sing it to you.

I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses,
And he walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there none other has ever known.

My best friend in high school once told me, when we were girls sitting in the front row of the First Baptist Church of Athena, Oregon, where my dad was the minister, that she used to think God's name was Andy, because of the old hymn we just sang. I have since heard of children who thought otherwise: Our father who art in heaven, Howard be thy name.

Most of us have updated our concepts of God by now but many of us still remember our old ideas and the old songs with a nostalgic smile. If you're a Unitarian Universalist, of course, it isn't too cool to cling to old words and songs and rituals which are politically incorrect and theologically out of date. When I became a UU, I gave up that old-time religion in favor of a more pluralistic, interfaith tradition.

But I've come to realize, after several years of study and ministry experience, that you may take the girl out of the Baptists, but you can't take the Baptist out of the girl. I'm a Unitarian Universalist to the core, but my core remains Baptist. I think it's in my DNA.

I come by my UUism honestly through the time-honored route of youthful rebellion. One of my ancestors was BlackJack Ketcham, a New Mexican gunfighter in the 1800s, and my granddad was a bootlegger in Missouri during Prohibition, so of course, my dad became a Baptist minister and thereby set the stage for me and my rebellion.

I was a good girl, growing up, and in 1965, went to Denver, Colorado, as an American Baptist Home Missionary. My mission field was the Denver Christian Center in the inner city. A couple of years later, I married a UU man and began to explore the wider horizons of a noncredal religious faith.

But sometimes when I was alone, I'd sit down at the piano and plunk out the old hymns--Great is thy Faithfulness, O God My Father, Wonderful Grace of Jesus, Out of the Ivory Palaces-- the hymns which didn't appear in the UU hymnbook but occupied a prominent place in the hymnal of the First Baptist Church.

I did this surreptitiously and with many a caveat; I didn't want anyone to think I wasn't a devout UU, but those old hymns spoke to me in ways that no other songs did. I couldn't figure it out. Was it just nostalgia for a simpler faith? Did they speak a subconscious message? I had long ago moved beyond a theology of Jesus as bloody sacrifice, God as a white male, heaven as a place with golden streets.

In any case, it was interesting to have my poor mother accusing me of having lost my childhood faith by joining a UU church, on the one hand, and, on the other, to find such power (unidentified as it was) in the old songs.

I struggled with reconciliation for many years, reconciliation between me and my horrified family members, and reconciliation between my Baptist DNA and my UU beliefs.

And now, thirty years later, I'm making some headway. As I explore my own theology and its foundations more deeply, I am beginning to understand the contribution that being a Baptist preachers kid has made to my spiritual life.

I'd like to try an experiment here. I recognize that we all come from differing backgrounds; we may have grown up Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Mormon, Jewish, you name it. Some of us grew up as Unitarian Universalists. Others may have no formal religious background. But we all have a spiritual history. For many, it was specific church doctrines; for others, values imparted by family or culture. No matter what, we all bring to our present religious experience the accumulation of years of values teaching.

So I ask you to delve into that experience and consider your responses to a few questions. I'll ask some of you to share your answers, if you're willing.

Question 1: think of a favorite old hymn or song, whose words no longer fit for you but which you still enjoy hearing or singing. Is there anyone who would be willing to share the name of the song?

Question 2: think of a present-day religious value that is a holdover from your early learnings.

Question 3: think of a religious value that you have added to that early value which makes you the unique person of faith you are today.

To return for a moment to the old hymn with which we began a few minutes ago: Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own. I no longer think of God as a white male on a throne, but this song still expresses for me the very close connection I feel to the Divine, to Higher Power, to the Ultimate in the Universe.

When I am in Andy's garden, whether on a high pass in the mountains or along a foggy Whidbey beach, I am very aware of Divine Presence and my connection to the Universe, to God as I understand God. And the joy we share as we tarry overwhelming.

The great challenge of our religious journey, I believe, may be to take what we know, our earliest values and religious instruction, and go deeper with it, beyond the literal, beyond the familiar, looking for ways to expand our understanding of what it means to be a human being in relationship with the Cosmos, with one another, with ourselves.

Most of us live and work in a community where people’s creeds and beliefs are different from our own. We are surrounded daily by people who are conservative Christian, Catholic, Jewish, or adamantly anti-religious. In our own congregations, we worship with folks whose theology is different from ours--pagans, Buddhists, humanists, theists, nontheists.

To be in religious dialogue with all, we must be able to articulate our faith in common terms, so that all feel welcome at the table of religious community.

Beneath the surface of most religious traditions, there is a depth of common human experience that transcends orthodox doctrine and dogma. When we explore those depths, both in our own religious past and in the traditions of others, we find common ground.

We learn to interpret legends as metaphors, not as literal fact, to find the deeper, more universal meanings beneath the fantastic stories and myths.

This is one of the challenges of Unitarian Universalism. As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I preach to good people, folks who are theists, nontheists, Jews, Christians, pagans, humanists, Buddhists and combinations of all of the above.

I must present my thinking in terms which go deeper than the traditional language of Christianity, which is my native tongue.

To do this, I have learned to use my intuitive understandings of life, my mystical experiences, my dreams, my relationships with others, with the spirit I call God, and with myself, to glean what is common to the human experience and express it in terms which are understandable by others whose religious thinking is widely varied.

I remember as a Preacher's kid thinking to myself that there had to be a bottom line to religion, principles of behavior toward other people and toward God that would work no matter what. I remember feeling concerned that I was expected to base my behavior and beliefs on supernatural events which I sensed were hard to prove.

So I began to look for that bottom line. I didn't want my religious faith falling apart if somebody proved that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. I wanted it based on something that I understood and knew to be true.

I looked for permanent, not transient, values: Love. Forgiveness. Service to others. Acceptance of others, no matter how different from me they might seem. In the Bible, the words of the prophet Micah particularly resonated for me: to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with my God. These were the values that seemed most important to me as a youngster, and they still do.

Take what you know and go deeper has become my guide to developing my theology, my personal creed, my own spirituality. It is important for three reasons:

1. When I take a familiar idea from the Bible stories I learned as a child and go deeper, I discover meaning that goes far beyond the literal story. One example of this is the idea of Jesus as my personal savior, which we hear quite a bit from more traditional Christians. I understand Jesus' death on the cross as an example of unconditional love, one man’s willingness to die for his friends and his beliefs. I do NOT see it as a sacrifice for my sins. I consider Jesus a human who was deified by history and the love of his followers. I am a heretic, a non-trinitarian. But Love is my personal savior. What Jesus represents to me is my salvation, my way of finding wholeness in a broken world.

Jesus' words in the Christian Scriptures, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one comes to God but by me” say to me, Love is the way, the truth, the life; no one finds a relationship with life and living things without learning to love.

2. When I take what I know and go deeper, I find language with which I can talk with others of differing faiths. A non-theist may find the words God and Christian and salvation uncomfortable, even offensive. But most non-theists, however secular they may be, find the word and the concept of Love to be deeply meaningful. And Love does what Jesus and Gandhi and other heroes of faith came to do--it reclaims, redeems, reconciles all beings.

3. When I take what I know and go deeper, talking with those of other faiths about the inherent meanings of human experience, my understanding increases and deepens, joining me in religious community with women and men who are radically different. I am graced by this new community, and I have learned that it's not the story that is so important; its the meaning of the story.

This is, of course, not a bit easy. It's hard to listen and talk calmly about issues which are so important to us, especially when we feel we have the Truth. But we must learn to do it, both for the sake of community within our own congregations and a shared dream of peace in our larger world.

Martin Luther King Jr. did it when he, a Baptist minister himself, proclaimed love and justice with nonviolence to be the prophet Jesus' essential message from God. Mahatma Gandhi did it when he, a devout Hindu, used non-violent protest to reclaim his country's independence. Countless others have done it in the name of freedom, in the name of hope, in the name of justice.

This is the meaning of our UU principle “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”. Whenever we look for meaning beneath the surface of orthodoxy, we are following in the large footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Jesus, LaoTse, the Buddha and other prophetic men and women. When we take what we know and go deeper, we grow.

You and I bring to our Unitarian Universalism all the meaning of our early lives. We bring our ability to be faithful. We bring our ability to love. We come wanting to know more about the Divine. We know that our children need instruction. We come trusting our own experiences and our own minds. We want to be accepted for ourselves. We believe that in community we will find spiritual sustenance.

We crave beauty and find it in many settings, in nature, in art of all kinds, in a human face, in deeds of love and kindness. We want to give nurture, to reach beyond ourselves into the larger community, to bring justice to a world in pain. And we want a safe place to experience grief and joy. All these are the roots we bring to our religious journey.

And we also have wings. As our hymn Spirit of Life says, roots hold me close, wings set me free. Wings symbolize for us our religious freedom, that search for personal truth and meaning that directs our path. Our wings enable us to put our new insights into action.

My wings have enabled me to fly from a belief in a white male God to the conviction that the interdependent web of the universe connects all beings; I have leapt from the slogan "Jesus loves me" to a recognition that unconditional Love speaks to the inherent worth and dignity of every person; I have rejected supernatural events as doctrine and have accepted a free and responsible search for meaning instead. I have taken what I know and have gone deeper.

But anything that keeps me from growing, from using my wings, is not a root, it's a tether. It is imperative that I look courageously at my faith, opening myself to new insight, eagerly joining others of differing faiths in dialogue which goes beyond doctrine, and learning the deep language which can bring us that shining goal which is another of our UU principles, that goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

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

Hymn #123, Spirit of Life

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 our whole lives have brought us to this place in time and that our earliest learnings are valuable to us, if we can use them as starting points for our searchings. May we live out our faith in our daily lives, taking what we know and going deeper. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Working-class roots and resentments

Wednesday I came down to Tacoma for our ministers' retreat (not much retreating to be done, but you get the idea). I was looking forward to spending time with colleagues, putting my worries aside for a time about Max and the health concerns of beloved others, and enjoying a new city and new faces. And mostly that has happened, though I've been plagued, to some extent, by dreams that resurrect some of those worries and keep me temporarily from sleep.

Our retreat topic was "Classism" and it was very challenging. I'm a believer in the idea that hard topics must often be addressed in pain. It is uncomfortable to hear that others think negatively of us, at least in the abstract, and for this to be the subject of a daylong workshop. Yet unless we look at this issue head-on, we are likely to allow ourselves to avoid dealing with it.

The workshop essentially caused us to sort ourselves according to class grouping, based on the circumstances of our upbringing. We were sharing the workshop with our professional religious educators (aka DRE's or Directors of Religious Education), and we had a broad spectrum of class backgrounds.

We could always opt out of the classification process, but most of us proceeded with it and found ourselves facing uncomfortable realities about our own attitudes, even though the classifying process was about our growing-up years, not about our adulthood.

I was in the working class group for most of the exercises and had to face the reality that I have experienced a good deal of resentment toward people who have a lot more resources than I. Generally speaking, the classes we sorted ourselves into were working-class, middle-class professionals, and owner-class. (To clarify,you were an "owner-class" if you never had to worry about money, had more than one home or property, were pretty much able to do what you wanted about education, vacations, etc. That's too simplistic, but there you are.)

Most of us in the workshop had changed places over the years and were no longer in the class we started out in. I have moved more into the middle-class professional group, but I still see myself as working-class because of my upbringing. Others had moved out of the owner-class into the middle-class professional group and experienced a good deal of discomfort over the implied and sometimes overt resentment of those who took the part of the working-class.

It was profoundly uncomfortable for many of us, I think, but very informative, and I'm glad we did it. I have to look more carefully than before at my working class roots and how they affect my present-day life.