Sunday, August 31, 2008

Regardless of WHOSE baby it is,

why on earth would the mother of a 4-month old child with Down's Syndrome, who will need her care and attention for the rest of his life, opt for a job with the kinds of travel pressures and stress that campaigning for the presidency will involve? I continue to be boggled.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

What would it mean if this rumor is true?

That Trig Palin is actually Bristol Palin's baby, not Sarah Palin's. I don't know whether to trust the source I heard this from; the message came from someone I consider credible. I don't know what to think. For now I'm discounting it.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Lots of thoughts in my head tonight

The announcement by John McCain that he has selected Sarah Palin as his running mate has absolutely boggled my mind. What an odd couple! Others have said far more cogent things than I can about this match; all I have to say is that I am bewildered by his thinking. If I needed any further evidence that the man does not know what he's doing, I've got it now. This seems a little like when Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supremes.

To counteract the oddball machinations of my mind, I have spent the evening watching the recently-released Pete Seeger DVD, "Power of Song". It chronicles Pete's life as an activist folksinger, from his early days with Alan Lomax and Woody Guthrie to seventeen years of being banned from American airwaves to present day concerts in Carnegie Hall.

And I am struck by the contrast between the vision and hope of Pete Seeger and his means for accomplishing it---getting people to sing together and listen to each other---and the vision and what? not hope---but covetousness, lust, an appetite for unlimited power that fuels the kind of behavior we are seeing from, particularly, the McCain campaign.

It seems to me that the vision and hope that the Obama campaign is putting forth is much more in keeping with the Seeger vision and hope.

I hope that next spring, on May 1, when we here on the island put on a Pete Seeger retrospective to honor his 90th birthday, we will be experiencing some of that hope and vision that Obama has offered us.

A number of local musicians have volunteered to contribute their interpretations of Pete Seeger songs for a concert on May 1, with proceeds to be split between my congregation and the local group Hearts and Hammers, which repairs homes in a huge May 2 blitz of paint and pounding. On May 3, which is Pete's 90th birthday, my congregation will have a Pete Seeger service, since he is a longtime UU. We're starting to plan right now and looking forward to the work ahead.

Also right now, five of us from the Thursday night jam are performing a couple of hours of music at the local food bank's celebration of Hunger Awareness day. We've been rehearsing like mad and are having a blast putting together a very eclectic program of folk, oldies, bluegrass, and gospel. We ought to call ourselves something that means "stew", but the current name of the group is Wry Whiskey. Don't ask me why; it was an inherited name.

I'm getting to sing lead or solo on several songs: Last Thing on my Mind, Two Sleepy People, I'll Fly Away, The Rose, and Sunny Side. In just about everything else, I'm ooooing or singing harmony. It's so great! I'm in a band! Even if it does have a dorky name. But we've kind of made that work out a little bit---Debbie (other female singer) and I have decided if this is Wry Whiskey, we must be the Whiskey Chicks.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An interesting opinion by a local resident

Local Whidbey resident, author Elizabeth George, has written an eloquent statement in our South Whidbey Record about why she is voting for Barack Obama. Here is the URL:

Is this really about race and/or gender?

Or is it about generation? I keep hearing the criticism that Barack Obama is too inexperienced, too unseasoned by life, particularly voiced by people of my generation. And I'm wondering if what is actually being said is "he represents the new, not the familiar, and that's scary to me".

There are lots of things about Obama that are new and unfamiliar to my generation and my elders: his mixed-racial heritage, his emphasis on Hope and Change rather than business as usual, his confidence in our ability to work together to bring back the American dream, his lateral, rather than linear, approach to power politics. He's competent with technology, he uses it to reach his constituents, he's a challenge to the old ways of doing things. He's, if not the messiah, a thrilling speaker who seems to capture sincerely the innate sense--in me, at least--that there are better ways of solving America's problems than to just keep on doing what we've been doing.

Though I voted for him in our primary, I also cheered on Hillary Clinton, for her dogged pursuit of the nomination. I think a woman would also bring to the presidency a new vision. But Hillary is of my generation and she is more of a "business as usual" person. It seems to be the M.O. of the "older generation" to criticize and fear the actions of the "younger generation". And that's what I see happening here.

This human tendency is present in us regardless of our race or gender. We question whether our youth can manage without us. We question whether one so young can have the requisite wisdom to lead. We are afraid that a youth's confidence is not as solid as an elder's seniority. We worry that eloquence is not as valuable as battle scars.

These are reasonable worries, of course, but they also gloss over the deeper issue: are older people willing to let younger people take the lead? Will it mean too much new stuff to get used to? Will we be able to survive in a nation that is using technology that is way beyond us? Are we archaic? Do we have any use?

John McCain represents these fears in many, regardless of their age. Barack Obama represents those who are itching to get on with a new approach to politics and American life.

We all want our nation to regain the respect of other nations. We all want our nation to represent a high ethical standard. We all want our nation to lead the way in human relations and compassion.

But I ask, are the old ways better? Or are we at the point where we need to let go of many of the old ways and let the new ways begin to take the lead?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Worth and Dignity 101

The forecast this morning was for showers all day but when I looked outside, I thought it might possibly hold off until after the morning service, which was to be outdoors. But we readied the foyer just in case we had to use plan B. The service was complete at 11:00 a.m.; the rain began about noon. Here's the sermon.

by Rev. Kit Ketcham, August 20, 2008

Sing with me if you remember this old hymn, and if you don’t, just let us sing it to you:
There’s a church in the valley by the wildwood,
No lovelier place in the dale;
No spot is so dear to my childhood,
As the little brown church in the vale.
Come to the church in the wildwood,
Oh, come to the church in the dale,
No spot is so dear to my childhood,
As the little brown church in the vale.
What a good old hymn to use as a springboard for talking about worth and dignity and the welcome that we extend to those who come looking for a place of peace, acceptance, and beauty. Thank you for indulging me! Now let me tell you a story that will sound familiar to many.
It was just a normal Sunday, with the normal familiar smiles and
greetings as people passed by me before joining others in the sanctuary.
There had been the normal “hi, so nice to see you today!’s your mom?
and........what do you hear from so and so?
and.......welcome to our UU congregation! would you like a nametag?
and...........yes, I think there is a plan to go out for a meal after the service; I hope you can come. are you feeling these days?”

UU congregations are always on the lookout for visitors and this congregation was no different. We want to be able to say hello, offer a friendly smile----and a nametag!------and demonstrate the best welcome we can offer to someone new, someone who is perhaps hurting, perhaps lonely, perhaps unfamiliar with UUism, or----perhaps a longtime UU looking for a new church home. It’s our normal Sunday routine.

On this particular Sunday, however, members of this small congregation took one look at the visitor coming through the door and did a double take. No, it wasn’t President Bush, coming to see how we liked his latest environmental action or economic recession response; it wasn’t some glamorous movie star or bedraggled game show survivor; it wasn’t the mayor of the small town or any other well known local personage.

This visitor’s appearance was startling in itself, and I could feel my own apprehensions rise up. Why would anyone choose to look the way this person did? I quickly began to think about how best to approach this individual; how would others in the congregation respond to him?

And then, I saw one of our greeters step forward toward our visitor and the two ordinary looking people who had come in with him. I saw a friendly smile on the greeter’s face and then a handshake; I watched as the greeter helped them prepare nametags and gave them orders of service; and when the three visitors came to where I was standing, outside the sanctuary door, I had been given a clear model for how we were going to welcome our unusual visitor.

“Cat”, as we came to know him that day, is a Native American who has adopted the unusual practice of changing his appearance to resemble that of his totem animal, a tiger. Cat is tattooed with tiger-like markings; he uses special contact lenses to give his eyes a catlike shape and color; his nails are shaped into claws; his face has been surgically altered to a more feline shape and his teeth are sharp and fang-like.

Cat is not your typical visitor. Wherever he goes in the community, people stop and stare and perhaps walk the other way. Now, I don’t know all the reasons Cat looks the way he does. There are lots of questions in my mind about how he has chosen this path.

But on that day, my task and that of the rest of us attending that service was to welcome Cat and his friends, to make a place for them among us, to offer them the simple hospitality of our sacred space, of our worship time, to invite them to have a cup of coffee and a cookie after the service, to go with our group to the Chinese place for a meal after church.

I tell this story today to remind us of the challenge we met together about three years ago, when Cat and his friends visited us and of the respect and friendliness they received from this congregation, despite our being taken aback and feeling somewhat frightened by Cat's unusual appearance, despite feeling protective of our children and ourselves, despite wondering if we were doing the right thing.

Members since that time have revealed to me their deep concern about that moment in our congregational life, having been through hard times while striving to be understanding and accepting of someone very different and difficult. Cat turned out to be no real threat during his visit here but we didn't know that when we first met him.

I have a lifetime behind me of defending people who are radically different; I also have the more negative habit of not always listening deeply to people's concerns about those who are radically different, whether that be in appearance or behavior. For that I'm sorry and vow to do better. But recognizing and acknowledging that shortcoming has given me a broader perspective on how we understand and implement our First Principle.

It's hard to know how to fully embrace our First Principle, of affirming and promoting the inherent worth and dignity of every person. We have an obligation to our community to keep our children safe, to keep each other safe, to the best of our ability. And that obligation sometimes clashes with our desire to see each person as having inherent worth and dignity.

So we proceed with caution. On that day over three years ago, we acted in good faith and welcomed a stranger, not knowing what effect his presence might have in our lives. But folks' fears were real and I regret not acknowledging them as well as I might have, in my joy at seeing the calm welcome and acceptance of a truly unusual person.

I hope that those of you who felt your fears unheard and unappreciated will forgive me for being obtuse at that time. What I've learned since then, with your help, has deepened my understanding of what it means to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I guess I'll never be too old to learn something new!

What I have come to realize is that when we sense danger, we respond in protective ways. Greg McKendry of the Knoxville UU church displayed this protectiveness a few weeks ago when he saw a man approach the sanctuary doors, holding a gun. He stepped in front of the shooter and received the blast himself. It's the most dramatic protectiveness we humans can provide for our loved ones---to give our lives.

It seems to me that our First Principle is a challenge to our inborn need to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our homes. Perhaps each of our seven principles offers this kind of challenge, to modify and replace an inborn reaction with a more conscious, perhaps more compassionate, less immediately judgmental response.

When we sign up to be Unitarian Universalists, we sign up to do heavy work, the heavy work of altering and even overriding our natural human impulses to be afraid, to be angry, to judge, to defend. None of these behaviors is necessarily wrong in itself; it's just that we need to make sure that they are not always our default position!

Our Principles challenge us to dig deep for a new way of responding--not careless, so that we unnecessarily endanger ourselves and others, but so that we can move beyond primal reactions of self-protection and into a new response tempered by compassion and kindness, without giving up good sense, striving to understand another being.

For our primal reactions are largely there to insure our survival; they are essential responses and yet they get in our way sometimes. They can keep us from offering compassion and kindness at times when these responses are more appropriate and more helpful.

Our First Principle may be our hardest principle, and yet it is foundational to the rest. We must acknowledge our inevitable human first gut reaction, and yet we also must take our courage in both hands, and find ways to love our neighbor who is scary.

As I was preparing for today, I took note of the many ways we UUs have lived out our First Principle. We have historically been the champions of justice for marginalized groups and humanitarian issues for centuries; we have stumped for women's suffrage, abolition of slavery, democratic process in government, reproductive freedom, religious freedom, humane treatment of the insane, of prisoners, of children, of animals, education for all, abolishment of torture, withdrawal from inhumane wars, protection of the environment, civil rights for people of color and sexual minorities and the differently abled. And each cause has been adopted because we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all humankind, in fact, of all beings.

All of these causes have put us in danger, individually and as a movement. Our religious ancestors have been ridiculed, imprisoned, tortured, and even murdered. Yet they responded out of their own inherent worth and dignity, recognizing that compassion and kindness would accomplish more than fear. We have many reasons to be quietly proud of our religious heritage. But new challenges crop up daily, it seems.

What do we do about issues like sex offenders or other felons who may want to visit or join us? What do we do about people whose behavior is out of bounds or dangerous? What kinds of safeguards are reasonable and yet free us to do the important work of welcoming and accepting our neighbor?

There aren't any easy, quick answers to these questions, so we have done our best to address these issues by requiring background checks of our staff and the volunteers who work with our children, by consulting with the authorities about offenders, by considering covenants between us which outline our responsibilities to each other as members and friends of this congregation.

Some congregations, in the wake of the Knoxville tragedy where two people were shot and killed by an intruder into a church service, have begun to review their safety policies.

Others have considered a variety of protective responses. We will doubtless consider our own safety issues at UUCWI as well. But I am inclined to think that it is better that we should face those who scare us with the innocence of love, rather than an expectation of evil.

Where do we find that innocence of love? I believe we find it when we embrace and live out of our own inherent worth and dignity. For it isn't just in others that this quality lives, it is our own identity as well.

Sometimes we act in fear and anger because we are afraid we are not worthy of love. Sometimes our sense of worth and dignity has been damaged by life's events and we are shaky about our own value. Sometimes we have loved and have been hurt in return. Sometimes our dignity has been shattered by humiliation and rejection.

We have all had these kinds of damaging events in our lives. And they shape us, they can make it hard to find worth and dignity in others. My own reaction is often to overcompensate for my shortcomings in this area, and this gets me into trouble too!

So we're all kinda in the same boat together---knowing that we want to recognize and honor the inherent worth and dignity of each person yet knowing too that we ourselves do not always recognize and honor our own inherent worth and dignity. This being human is hard work.

That's one of the functions of a faith community---we have others to help us shore up our own sense of inherent worthiness and dignity. We can't do this very well on our own. If our own history has damaged our sense of worth and dignity, we need others to help rebuild it.

My experience has led me to believe that our early families are where we learn that we have inherent worth and dignity. We learn this from the treatment we receive from parents, from siblings, from other family members and other adults. If they treat us with respect and kindness, we learn to trust others and to give others that same respect and kindness. If we receive disrespect and cruelty, we can learn to mistrust and mistreat others.

Later in life, our experience with other humans also shapes our sense of worth and dignity. Those individuals who are the most destructive in our society are those, I believe, who were robbed of their sense of worth and dignity as they grew up. Even the worst offender, even someone like Hitler, I believe, did have worth and dignity as an infant. But somehow that inherent worthiness was demolished and a despotic tyrant emerged, with a cruel sense of entitlement and warped superiority.

Very few individuals suffer this tragic shaping into monster-hood, but most of us do experience some tough knocks in our lives and are shaped by them. We usually recognize these bruises and dings in our personalities and make an effort to heal them, with the help of therapists, doctors, friends, and family.

A faith community can be a wonderful resource for healing the soul, knitting back together the rips and tears in our sense of self-worth. Right here, today, I'll bet there are those of you who feel your life has been made much better by your association with a faith community, perhaps even this one. I know that this community helped me heal after a difficult ministry in another church.

We have a number of visitors here with us today. Some of you are thinking about joining us as we begin our new adventure, with our new opportunities and resources. I hope you will do that. I hope you will find friends here, companions on your spiritual path, women and men and children and youth who will give you the kind of support and encouragement and love that you need. And we hope you in turn will offer your gifts to this community, loving us and being our companion on the road as we explore what it means to be religious liberals in our world today.

There's a lot of opportunity to serve out there in our larger community and also a lot of opportunity to give and to receive here in our midst. I hope you will join us in serving each other and the larger community of Whidbey Island as we discover what it means to affirm and promote the values of Unitarian Universalism and to live in love and service to all humankind, of all beings.

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 all beings have worth and dignity, and that it is a wonderful gift of life to be able to set aside our fears and get to know those who seem different from us. May we offer kindness and compassion to all those on life's road, grateful for the opportunity to stretch our horizons and love our neighbors and ourselves. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Missing Post

The Favorite Son called to check on me yesterday, wondering what had happened to a recent post, and in our conversation I realized that I regretted baiting Robin with that post. Because that's what it was for me, baiting.

I am sorry, Robin, it wasn't a very nice thing to do.

I don't agree with Robin very often and I knew that his sardonic remarks were not really a recommendation to donate to something he disdained. I chose to see it that way because I knew it would irritate him. I don't like that behavior in others; I don't want to do it myself. And I'm sorry.

But I'm still not going to publish his comments when they are inappropriate.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Bloggers who Lunch

Just got back a little while ago from a quick trip across the Strait to have lunch with CUUMBAYA, Joel Monka, and his wife Ginger in Port Townsend. If you are a reader of Joel's page, you'll notice that there is a picture of "The Monkas" right up front, so I assumed I was looking for chocolate covered nude people when I got off the boat.

However, sweet as the Monkas are, they were neither chocolaty nor nude, and they swept me off to lunch at a very nice little French bistro they had discovered in Port T. where we had a delicious lunch (they had exotic things like something manque and quiche with duck soup; I had fish and chips---but they were excellent fish and chips) and discussed the state of the blogosphere, the presidential campaign (both UUA and USA), and how you can indeed be both a conservative person and a UU. Joel is Mr. Diversity himself---a conservative UU Pagan.

We traded cat stories---my Maxie for their Lorelei, their Simon and Garfunkle for my Loosy and Lily---and marveled at the ways animals attach themselves to us and we are HELPLESS. Ginger and I talked horses; we are both horse nuts. (Wait, that didn't come out right.) We love horses.

I didn't think to tell her my family's story about my horsish obsession when I was a kid. I remember that we were driving along some gravel road near Athena; I must have been about 10 and was raving about the horse that a man in our church had loaned me for the summer. The horse's name was Dan, and he was a rangy, elderly thoroughbred with a backbone like a coral reef who was extremely interesting to ride bareback (that means no saddle, not no shirt).

So we're tooling along this country road and I'm raving on and suddenly I babble out "I am in love with Dan and someday I'm going to marry him and Daddy will pronounce us Gelding and Wife."

I don't remember my parents' response, though it was doubtless kind and straightened out my faulty understandings. My sister, of course, remembers this incident in technicolor and it gets better every time she tells it, which is why I generally let her tell it. So Ginger, if you're reading this, my sister's version is much more interesting!

Anyhow, it was a good day and I'm delighted to have met such fine fellow UUs, far from home. Next time they come visit Ginger's mom, they're going to come visit me on Whidbey! I hope.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hints for UU bloggers: pass it on!

Dear Shelby Meyerhoff has put together a "Best Practices for UU Bloggers" document which is available here: She interviewed a bunch of us, picked our brains pretty thoroughly, and then selected the responses that seemed most printable and (?) most helpful to other UUs who might benefit from our experiences.

I hope you'll check it out and give her some hoorahs.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My favorite kind of day!

This morning, UUCWIers on the south end of the island will gather for SEKK, the South End Koffee Klatch, at Rockhopper's Coffeehouse in Clinton. Rockhopper's is a fabulous venue for coffee and conversation, yes, but it's also an art gallery and music hall.

UUs get together there on the third Tuesday morning of the month to chat, drink Rene's coffee concoctions and eat the hot scones, solve the world's problems, and generally socialize in a local setting on the far south end.

North Enders also have NEKK, usually on the second Saturday afternoon of the month; they meet at the Whidbey General Hospital cafeteria, which is open to the public all the time. They too gather for conversation and socializing in a farther-north setting.

My day today includes SEKK till noon, then a quick trip up to Whidbey General to volunteer as a chaplain for a little while, over to the local assisted living joint to see a parishioner, and on up to Oak Harbor to see about changing my cell phone service.

When I moved to the island, I knew I was going to need to find friends and activities outside the congregation and I've been lucky in both areas. Music has provided the majority of my outside friends; I'm making music with folks two and three nights a week. And community service has provided the outside activities; volunteering as a chaplain is a major interest and the local effort to institute a Public Utility District also has my interest. ( My brother tried to get me to put my name in to be an elected PUD commissioner, but that's more than I can take on.)

Our parents raised us with a sense of obligation to the larger community. My brother has always been active in community affairs, as a Rotarian and as a PUD commissioner in his county. My sister is active in CADA and issues of adoption and foster care. And I am a marriage equality and civil rights activist, interested in interfaith ministry, and now veterans issues.

Each of us has a different approach to religion and spirituality but we are all committed to humanitarian work in the larger community. It's a good way to live. I think Mom and Dad would be pleased.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cool and Rainy after a Hot Weekend

I got back last night about 7 from my trip to eastern Washington to visit my sister in Moses Lake and then drive down to the TriCities on Sunday morning to preach at the little UU church there. Moses Lake was scorchingly hot---100+ degrees---and I almost, but not quite, felt guilty about holing up with a book most of the day Saturday.

My brother in law was busy with church stuff (he's a deacon in their CMA congregation) most of the time I was there, so my sister and I went out for supper Friday night at their great Mexican find, Inca, bringing home leftovers of fabulous fajitas and enjoying raspberry margaritas with dinner. The rest of the evening we spent reading because they don't have TV and we had no movies we wanted to watch.

Saturday we prowled the nearby garage sales, finding a few useful items, and went to the huge farmers' market where we snagged some great melons, corn, potatoes, wax beans, baked goods, and dog biscuits. You ask about the dog biscuits? Both my singing companions have lovely dogs---Eve and Bodhi---and I wanted to bring them a treat. Saturday afternoon we just hung out in the cool house and read our books some more.

I had been looking forward to being in ML for a couple of days because it is the only place I visit where I don't have to DO anything. My sister sometimes lets me help, if I ask, but she as often as not just tells me to stay put. Her kitchen is small and efficient and I can easily get in the way. So I sit in their great big easy chairs with my feet up and read whatever books I've brought.

Since the Neff quit his job at the local newspaper, they don't even buy the paper anymore, so I am pretty effectively cut off from the news, too. What a blessing! I can get snippets of news from their computer, but mostly I don't. I do check my email and my favorite blogs, but that's about it.

When I come back from Moses Lake, I feel pretty washed clean of stressors for awhile. Yes, it's hot, yes, the traffic on I-90 can be bad going home on Sunday afternoon, but it's all worth it. And I dearly love spending time with my sister and her family. I missed seeing the Neff and his troops, however; that was a loss.

Sunday morning I drove down to Pasco to preach at the little UU church there and met my high school friend Mary Alice, who drove up from Pendleton to attend and go out to lunch with me. We had a terrific time catching up on eastern Oregon news and the gossip from our classmates. I am so grateful to have her and my other high school pals back in my life. Next year is our 50th reunion and I'm planning to be there!

As I drove down Snoqualmie Pass yesterday afternoon, the temperature dropped lower and lower and by the time I was on the ferry headed home, it had dropped to about 70. In the night, it rained and this morning is cool and cloudy, with a few sprinkles. Ah, home again!

Later this week, I'm going to be able to meet with a UU blogger friend, CUUMBAYA, when he and his family visit relatives in Port Townsend. I'm looking forward to that. Otherwise, the week is pretty easy-going, except that I have to write a sermon on "Worth and Dignity 101".

More later.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

By the way...


I will spare you the gory details, but he was in a hurry, born three weeks early, and took only four hours to be delivered. He continues to be the greatest joy of my life.

I called him this morning at 8:16 Pacific time, just to give him birthday greetings at the very moment of his birth anniversary.

Why don't UUs do more for our military personnel?

I had a wonderful conversation yesterday with a woman who is committed to UUism but sometimes feels awkward in UU circles because she is a member of a military family and is sensitive to the mixed feelings we UUs tend to have about military actions and personnel.

Recently, I think I told you, a local incident of violence at a festival nearby alerted me to the fact that in this area we have no services for returning vets, particularly for returning vets with disabilities, including PTSD. There are limited services on the mainland and 40 miles north at the Navy Airbase, but they are time-consuming and expensive to get to.

And there is nothing for relatives other than spouses and children. In the case of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we have very young soldiers coming home maimed, permanently disabled, with severe PTSD, and their only personal resource is their parents. These parents have nothing provided for them in the way of resources or services. They have to fend for themselves and are lucky if they know something about the social services system and can find help that way.

We Unitarian Universalists deplore war, we are kind of a semi-peace church, we say we support our troops, but most of us don't do a darned thing to show our support. We have peace vigils and wave banners and speak out against the war, but what do we do to demonstrate our humanitarian concern for our own young people who are victims of war?

Talking with my friend yesterday helped me clarify in my own mind that we UUs need to be welcoming not just to sexual minorities and people of color but also to our military personnel. Our men and women in the armed forces have a huge job to do, protecting our country and coming to the rescue in natural disasters.

They have been mis-assigned, in my opinion, to the Iraq war, but their contract with their country and their employer (the civilian authorities who direct the armed forces) demands that they go where they're sent. If they refuse, out of their misgivings about the rightness of the assignment, they are severely punished. Some can afford to do this, if they have no dependents and a strong sense of self. Most are trapped and whether or not they think what they're assigned to do is right, they have family responsibilities that take priority over their personal ethics.

This is an untenable psychological place to be. People who are in this position have to reinforce their defenses against one side or the other, in order to survive psychically. Our warriors, to survive, must side with the forces that feed their families, even though they may hate what they have to do and recognize that they are being damaged by their work.

It's not easy to take the moral high ground when one's family is in the mix. It's easy for us to blame the military for torture or war or other violence, but we are dependent on our warriors to defend us when danger comes. And they do defend us, regardless of our attitudes toward them.

I've been thinking about this for several weeks now and I got to wondering about what might be offered out there by UU congregations, so I put out an inquiry on the UU ministers' chat line, asking what they were doing in their congregations.

The first time I put it out there, the responses basically mentioned what the VA was doing in various parts of the country. That wasn't what I'd asked, so I put it out again, and though the responses this time were more appropriate, it didn't look like anybody was doing much.

The heartening thing was that it seemed to start a conversation about the misperception of our military folks that UUs hate the military. Since we do nothing to counteract this misperception, it's not surprising that we have this reputation.

I'm hopeful that my congregation's efforts to reach out to the families and vets on the island will help my friend to feel more connected, less marginalized. I think it's a terrible shame that she and her friends and family have felt this separation. And I think we need to do something to change it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Troubled by the world this morning

I woke up feeling out of sorts and reading the newspaper didn't help, with all its news about Russia and Georgia, John Edwards' behavior, election accusations and counter-accusations between candidates, both local and national, and the latest environmental concerns. Usually the comics provide a little relief, but this morning neither comics nor coffee nor cats did the trick. Lily even snarled and batted at Loosy, behavior so out of character that I yelled at both of them.

I know a lot of it is because I'm really tired. The past four or five days have been just jammed with responsibilities, things to prepare for, things to stage or participate in, pastoral care, meetings, workshop, planning for the new year, wondering how various issues within the congregation will resolve and what I can do to facilitate positive moves. There haven't been enough breaks between responsibilities to do more than barely catch my breath. It's the moment in time when I start wondering how I can wangle a mental health day! This used to be a good solution when I was a teacher; it doesn't work so well in ministry!

Annoyance seems to be my mood right now: annoyance at the petty, selfish things people do and say, annoyance at attitudes that may be perfectly fine to the person holding them but irritating as hell to me, annoyance at the idiocies of public figures who somehow think that if they apologize to their wives for their infidelities everything should be okay with the American people and it's none of our business (it's not, but yet it is too our business if someone is dishonest), annoyance at my own foolishness, annoyance at Max for not coming in when it's dark, annoyance at the way certain issues seem to occupy my consciousness even though I know they will probably resolve in a reasonable way.

Usually getting together with other musicians and spending some time rehearsing or just singing dispels the blues for me, but last night's practice time didn't do it. I came home late, even more tired after a couple of hours of practice which didn't feel that productive. I like my fellow musicians a lot, but it just was hard last night.

We did have a wonderful time yesterday at the worship committee's annual workshop training session. That was definitely a bright spot and even though it was a huge responsibility and added to my tiredness, it was a great day. The weather cooperated and we were able to be outside on the grass, we had a good turnout, and I'm pleased by folks' response to it as well as by the chance to work with two other leaders whom I didn't know well.

Life is actually good in most ways. I'm just tired. And I'm going to make a conscious effort to find time every day this week to back away from responsibilities. I know some of this is a reaction to not having had enough time off in July, as well as the inevitable "wedding rush" that always comes along in the summer. And there are other issues as well that I don't have the freedom to discuss in the blog that trouble me and I hope for their peaceful resolution.

This weekend, I'm going to eastern Washington to spend the weekend with my sister and preach at the Pasco church before coming home on Sunday. Even though it is a long drive, just being away from home for a few days will be restorative and meeting some new folks at the Pasco church will be fun.

More later.

UPDATE: Had a good, productive RE committee meeting this morning, had a great latte' from Rockhoppers, and am home now feeling more upbeat. Going up to Coupeville this afternoon to visit a parishioner in the hospital and maybe do a little retail therapy. Yay!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A different take on an interim year

During this church year, three other colleagues and I are together offering worship services and pastoral care to a neighboring congregation in suburban Seattle whose minister has gone to another settlement. They decided not to go into search immediately nor to get an interim minister, for a number of reasons too complicated to describe here.

Three of us are preaching for them during the year; a fourth is providing pastoral care. We haven't worked out the details of the arrangement but I'm intrigued by the concept of their approach to the year. They have a theme for the year which is open enough to give us preachers a lot of leeway, but the purpose of the year is to take a long hard look at who they are, where they are, and where they want to go.

I preached there today and had a good experience; I also spent some time after the service talking with the worship co-chairs about the year. We are planning to bring all four ministers plus some of the church leadership together to talk about how we might fulfill their hope of getting a clearer look at themselves and discerning a path.

Several years ago I precandidated with this congregation but chose another opportunity instead. Later I was interested in them again but things didn't work out. This time I have signed on for something rather unusual---to preach for them ten times during the church year, to give them ministerial support in this way, but not to advise them or counsel them about actions of their leadership. In a way, it sounds utopian because of not having to be involved with anything but worship, but I'm wondering how it will work out in practice.

They have had some ups and downs with ministers and this affects the context in which we four will be operating. We each have very different styles in the pulpit. We will be expected to refer pastoral care situations to the pastor-minister and the cares and concerns committee. I'm both excited and a little puzzled about how this will work, but I'm looking forward to it.

It may turn out to be a workable model for other congregations who are in discernment about ministry. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Weddings and Marriages

Yesterday, I performed a marriage vows renewal ceremony for a couple of folks who had contacted me via our church website. It was a really nice experience which called for some creativity on my part, as I had never done such a thing before and had never witnessed such a ceremony either. My colleagues on the ministers' chat were helpful but it was up to me to put together the ceremony for a couple I had met only 24 hours before the ceremony. Afterwards, we sat and enjoyed a bit of wedding cake, a glass of wine, and some more getting-acquainted time. They were a delightful pair, clearly still in love after 25 years, and optimistic, even though their trip to Whidbey had been a little challenging!

This morning I'm getting ready to perform a marriage ceremony for a young couple, at his parents' home north of here, and when I got up, I realized it was going to be a rainy day, at least for part of the day. I thought about the so-called wisdom of the ministers' adage repertoire, "rain on your wedding day means good luck", because that's what I was going to tell them if it was still rainy when I got there this afternoon.

Thinking more about it later, it occurred to me that unexpected setbacks on one's wedding day are a test of one's maturity and ability to handle challenge. If nothing else, those setbacks underscore the impossibility of controlling details, or the weather, or others' behavior, and how one rises to that occasion can indicate how well s/he will rise to the occasions of "sickness and health", "rich or poor".

So in an important way, it is a lucky thing to have rain on a wedding day. I wouldn't want to carry the idea too far, as there are tons of things that can affect one's falling apart on one's wedding day and the weather can be the final straw, but the sun is out now and I probably won't have to say a thing!

Tomorrow I go over to America to preach at a neighboring church. I'm looking forward to seeing many friends in this particular congregation. I'm going to recycle my Holy Fool sermon; it's a good one for August.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Questions in the Aftermath...

Actually, only one right now: did Fox News say anything at all about the Knoxville shootings? I just searched their site and didn't find anything when I used the words Knoxville Unitarian.

Just wondering, particularly since they got so much press related to the terrible things some of their "reporters"/opinionators have said about liberals. I would have thought they'd be denying that their remarks had anything to do with the berserk actions of a wounded man.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Caring for Each Other and the World

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Aug. 3, 2008

Wednesday morning of this past week, I had gotten up plenty early to get to the gym and do my workout before starting the day, but I’d gotten sidetracked by all the information and emotion still flooding into my online world and my mind was full of the sorrow and consternation that such a bad thing could happen to such good people, as exemplified by the experience of our brothers and sisters in the Tennessee Valley UU church.

Gail Adams was at the gym too, and she and I often have a bit of conversation side by side on the exercise bikes, and that morning was no exception. We both had things to say about the Knoxville tragedy and we shared our own grief about the uncertainties of life and the inevitability of unexpected changes in our lives.
When she got off her bike to go to her yoga class, I said to her, “Gail, thanks for being here this morning, because it really helps me to talk about these things and I haven’t had much chance in the last day or so. Thanks.”

And she responded as we know Gail would respond, with a smile and an invitation to call anytime. I resumed my workout with a little lighter heart and after doing my normal routine, I collected my jacket and my keys and left the parking lot.

Just as I passed Trinity Lutheran’s little chapel, where we have met so many times as a congregation, I noticed that a car approaching me on the highway was actually sitting still in its lane, with a string of cars backed up behind it. Before I had a chance to register much more than that, the other car’s lights flashed bright and dim at me, a clear signal of some kind.

It was then that I looked to the side of the road and saw three deer, very possibly the three that roam my woods and yard, trotting along in the barrow pit. I stopped, waited till they had made up their minds about which side of the road they wanted to be on, and then began to roll again.

As I drove slowly past the other car with its out-of-state license plate, my hand went up in an involuntary wave, a signal of solidarity with the other driver and with our mutual desire to care for the deer.

My heart felt warmed and lifted again and as I made my way up the highway toward Bush Point Road, something came to me, something I’ve always known but was clarified sharply in that moment: We are here to care for one another and to care for the world. That is our job as human beings, whether we are Unitarian Universalist or Muslim or Jewish or devout anti-religious person. We are here to care for each other and to care for the world.

I’ve spent a good deal of time in the last week grieving about the shootings at our sister congregation in the Tennessee Valley, wondering what implications it has for us here on Whidbey Island, in our little rural enclave of mostly progressive folks, and how we might act on our convictions about peace and conflict and justice and oppression.

When I first heard the news last Sunday about Knoxville’s tragedy, I felt overwhelmed by the startling knowledge that someone could come looking for someone like me, looking for people like us, to kill us because they disagree with our beliefs about life and feel we are responsible for their pain. I could hardly fathom the degree of anger that would produce such an act of violence. It was hard to think about, hard to understand.

But after a few days of stewing about this event, I began wanting to do something with this new knowledge and understanding. And I thought about what Knoxville’s tragedy may mean to us here on Whidbey Island.

I’m not talking about being afraid. I’m talking about doing something to alleviate the pain in the world: the pain of disenfranchised people, the pain of addictions, the pain of homelessness, the pain of depression, the pain of poverty, the pain of war and torture and oppression.

Religion, we know, is about ultimate things. It’s not about fashions or trends or possessions or money. It’s about life and death, joy and sorrow, anger and reconciliation, shame and redemption, relationship and loneliness, love and hate, altruism and self-centeredness, stewardship and destruction.

We come to a faith community in order to find others to consider these matters with. We are not here to do navel-gazing but to care for each other and to care for those in the larger community.

What does that mean to us here today? If you had a magic wand, what would you do with it? What would you change, what would you do to care for us here? For the world?

The title of the sermon this morning is officially “Gearing Up”, and I had had vague thoughts about using mechanical analogies or equipment similes, maybe throwing in something about picking up speed.

But when I began to read the responses of the religious world and the secular world to our family tragedy in Knoxville, the mélange of love and courage and faith and support and, yes, insults and misinformation, I began to think differently about what I wanted to share with you today.

I could tell, from the responses of the outside world, that there is a lot of education to be done about what UUism is, a lot of misunderstandings and misinformation to be corrected, a lot of hate out there to soften and gentle down.

I could also tell, from the responses of the religious world, that there is a lot of admiration for us as a faith tradition that takes seriously our work in the world, that our openness to all people, our championing of unpopular but just causes, our desire for reconciliation instead of rejection, our commitment to peaceful solutions, all these qualities that define the heart of our faith are appreciated by many other religious people.

I am proud of our faith, proud of our people, proud of our principles.

UUA President Bill Sinkford issued a statement on the tragedy, saying:

"It will take time for Unitarian Universalists to mourn and to heal.
But let me assure you that we will not change our beliefs or compromise
our demands for social justice. Fear will not prevent us from standing
on the side of love, and we will continue to open our doors and our
hearts to all people. This Sunday, just like any other, more than one
thousand Unitarian Universalist congregations will be open for business,
and our business is to welcome the stranger, to love our neighbor, to
nurture the spirits of our people, and to help heal our wounded world."
To welcome the stranger, to love our neighbor, to nurture the spirits of our people, and to help heal our wounded world. That is our business as Unitarian Universalists."

When something threatens our safety or the safety of our loved ones, we always wonder what we can do to protect them and ourselves. And in the wake of the violence we see around us, we may be tempted to set barriers in place, to be wary of anyone who looks different, to limit what we do, what our children do, where we go, what we offer to others.

My colleague the Rev. Randy Becker, who serves a congregation in Florida, wrote recently on the UU ministers’ listserv about his experience as a parent. His eldest daughter was killed in a terrible car accident several years ago and Randy struggled with how he could protect his younger daughters from a similar fate. His impulse was to keep them home, keep them safe, keep them under wraps.

Instead, his understandings of what life is all about led him to a different conclusion. Here’s what he told us: "As I pondered (my theology) to inform my feelings and actions, I began to realize that fulfillment of my wish (total safety and security) would mean almost absolute restriction of my daughters' freedom. In the name of keeping them safe I would, in effect, be killing their futures, killing them. The theology I found which helped me past that chilling possibility was one that allowed me to let them get on with their lives: to drive the interstate, go away to university, do the daring things which young people do, make their mistakes, risk their lives, and in the process be alive.

"That theology has only a few simple statements:
-- We can't control what will happen to us, but we can control how we
react to what happens.
-- Energy which is spent on security is energy which is not available
for living.
-- Life lived in fear is not life lived.
-- There can be meaning on the other side of anything.

" To embrace this theology, I had to be willing to acknowledge that I
can't control everything. I also had to see that beyond (reasonable) measures of security, any energy invested in striving for safety and security actually diminishes the living of life.

"Scary times call for daring people, not fearful people. (The man who gave his life) Greg McKendry showed us that spirit on Sunday. I hope we can remember how he lived more than how he died." Thank you, Randy.

Security is appealing, but too much security limits our living, circumscribes our freedom, and makes us afraid. Security is found less in the barriers we erect between ourselves and perceived dangers and more in the love and understanding we invest in caring for each other and for the world.

Security is love, security is life, security is joy, security is reconciliation and redemption. It’s not fear or isolation or protectionism.

And that’s what we in this community are all about---security, real security:
The security of knowing that there are people here who will care for us if we need them to. The security of knowing that we are ready to care for others who need us. The security of being free to believe what feels right to us, to trust our own experience, our own understandings, our deepest longings for relationship. The security of a community that we can work with to help heal the world. The security of a community that welcomes all who come through our doors. This is the security that our faith community offers.

We do take stands on controversial topics. Sometimes our stands on those topics can be misunderstood, misinterpreted. We are sometimes criticized when others infer from our stance that we are rejecting something that is important to them. Sometimes that’s true, as in the case of equal marriage rights; more often it is a misunderstanding and requires conversation to clarify the issue.

Recently, we took part in the national anti-torture campaign directed toward the government’s refusal to forbid certain forms of interrogation that are considered torture by the Geneva Convention. In doing so, we posted a banner on our property: Torture is a Moral Issue.

For most folks who saw the sign, this was clearly a recognition that acts of torture, such as waterboarding, sexual humiliation, and physical injury, are not humane treatment of prisoners and violate international laws which regulate wartime behaviors.

Others were not so sure. What kind of message might this send to military families who had already had to deal with fear for loved ones in this very unpopular war, the loss of loved ones, the damage done to military personnel by the traumas of war?

Might we unwittingly be sending a message that would cause military families to believe that we hate the military, that we want to get rid of the military, that we blame the entire military for the acts of torture which have occurred at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo?

It was a surprise to think about this issue from another point of view. Most of us strongly support our troops, grieve with families who have lost a loved one in war, want the war to end so that our young men and women can come home and serve their country in a more appropriate way.

But we also had to consider the idea that our passion to end torture might be seen as a condemnation of their loyalty to their country by folks already beleaguered and demoralized by the many criticisms of the wartime policies of the armed forces and its leaders. For it is the rank and file in our armed forces who do the heavy lifting and take the brunt of the blame when things go wrong.

I remember how demoralizing it was to be a teacher and to interpret even well-meaning critique as just one more indication that nobody appreciated all that public educators do. So I can sympathize with this sense of being unappreciated and misunderstood. I also believe that we must take stands on important moral issues.

So conversations about the ways we disagree are crucial. Whether we are able to come to a complete understanding of another point of view or not, we can talk about it and have a chance to explain ourselves and listen to another’s explanation. It’s valuable to step back for a moment and consider other points of view and to make it safe for those points of view to be expressed.

But here’s what I think is really important: we need to put our convictions into action, to make them so clear that no one can be misled. We need to put our money where our mouth is, as they say.

If we support our troops, for example, let’s act on that support. Let’s do something for the thousands of men and women who are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic-stress-disorder.

The gunman last Sunday was a Vietnam vet who received no effective treatment for his PTSD. His life had spiraled into a nightmare from which he could not awaken and he inflicted his pain on those around him.

You may have read the recent story in the South Whidbey Record about a young man in our community who had a violent outburst at Choochokam recently. Luckily, this young man’s behavior was recognized as related to his wartime experiences and the PTSD with which he is dealing.

I’ve had a conversation with this young man’s parents, for they are friends of this congregation, and together we are going to see what we can do to offer support and care to the vets on this island, many of whom are suffering from PTSD and not receiving adequate support. In this way, perhaps we can demonstrate our deep concern for our troops and set minds to rest about our true support for our innocent military personnel, who only want to serve their country and whose families deal with anxiety about them every day.

On that fateful day last weekend, the children of the attacked congregation were singing songs of hope from the musical Annie. Their grand finale was to be the familiar song “Tomorrow”. Instead, they were rushed from that bloody scene to a neighboring Presbyterian church for shelter.

They didn’t get to sing their song that day but the next evening, that chorus of children sang it at a vigil in the sheltering sanctuary, in defiance of the hate and anger which had been hurled at them and their families the day before.

I will always have a new appreciation for this little ditty as I think of those children singing it in the aftermath of that tragic day. And I invite you, if you remember the words, to sing it with me now.

The sun'll come out Tomorrow
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There'll be sun!

Just thinkin' about
Clears away the cobwebs,
And the sorrow
'Til there's none!

When I'm stuck a day
That's gray,
And lonely,
I just stick out my chin
And Grin,
And Say,

The sun'll come out
So ya gotta hang on
'Til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
I love ya Tomorrow!
You're always
A day
A way!

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

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that love is a stronger force than hate, that security is found in the care we take for one another and for our world, and that to change the world, we must be brave. May we find love and security and courage in this community and may we share that with the world. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Orcinus redux

I used parts of Sara Robinson's masterful essay entitled "Madmen and Martyrs", published at Orcinus last week as the reading for our worship service today and several people wanted to read it in full, so I'm pasting it in here. I took eight paragraphs and asked eight different people to read them. Very provocative and well done by the volunteers.

Today's sermon was well-received and will be posted soon.

Thoughts about worship committees

When I was looking at my calendar and making decisions about which Sundays I wanted to preach and which Sundays I wanted the worship committee to fill, I chose August 3 because I wanted to be able to welcome folks back to our services myself, rather than leaving that up to the "who can we get?" process that our wonderful worship committee sometimes has to fall back on.

We are blessed, at UUCWI, with a stellar worship committee which represents many aspects of the congregation and creates worship that is of reliably high quality. Two of the busiest people in the congregation are our co-chairs and other members are equally involved in congregational life. Over the years we've developed a process and a communication system that works for us and results in my feeling respected and appreciated as the minister and gives me huge appreciation and respect for their work. We don't always agree on everything but we listen to each other's points of view and make the best decisions we can.

Here's what I think a worship committee needs:
1. a clear sense of mission to offer high quality worship that is about Unitarian Universalism, its theology, its spiritual components, its social action work, its sources, its principles, etc.
2. a way of keeping a finger on the worship pulse of the congregation, whether by a survey, an open invitation to the congregation to give feedback, whatever, so that worship is open enough, varied enough, reverent enough, intellectual enough, to give most people a sense of worshipfulness every Sunday.
3. a thick enough skin to take in negative feedback without being demoralized or discouraged by it, recognizing that people often criticize without thinking very hard and the bigger picture is the more accurate one, not the one that emerges after something hits somebody wrong.
4. an awareness that you won't please everyone. Period. And that can't be helped.
5. a commitment to educating congregants about the purpose of worship and the value of "taking what you like and leaving the rest", as they say in 12-step groups.
6. a sense of drama that keeps worship from becoming humdrum but doesn't require that every Sunday be wildly different from the Sunday before.
7. a relationship with the minister of the congregation that is peaceful and creative, with mutual respect and appreciation.
8. if there is no minister, the worship committee needs to think of itself as the minister pro tem and bring to the congregation on Sundays the kinds of worship that a minister might want to provide, though with a layperson's perspective. We ministers think of our worship services/sermons as falling into several categories: pastoral (about comforting and caring), prophetic (about social justice causes), pedagogical (teaching), priestly (using rituals to bring a message), to name a few. These can be styles or topics. They all include theological threads and combinations of styles/topics.

Just a few thoughts on a Sunday morning before I head off to get ready to preach, on this first Sunday back in the pulpit after our July hiatus. We'll be meeting on the "lawn" of the sanctuary and sitting in plastic lawn chairs, accompanying our hymns on guitar, and cranking up the sound system to override the sound of the nearby highway, and we'll be smiling a lot, even though today we are remembering the victims of the Knoxville shootings. It will be good to be back home again.

Friday, August 01, 2008

What a week!

After I quit whining about not having much of a vacation during July, I realized that in reality I had gotten a valuable gift, even though it meant giving up something in return. In dealing with the inquiry of a sex offender, a troubled congregant who needed to talk about an issue, and the Knoxville tragedy, I had a chance to invest in the relationship between me and my congregation. That's never a bad thing and I know that it will serve me well, to have shown my commitment to them by being available for these difficult events.

This week has been full of sorrow for Unitarian Universalists across the continent and perhaps the world. Our safety has been challenged; we have been faced by the realization that our pristine principles are not so great in some folks' eyes. Some people would be willing to kill us for our beliefs.

I have struggled to write the sermon this week. It's not that there is nothing to say. It's more that I am uncomfortable wallowing in grief for too long a time. I want to get on with it, get on with doing something to make the grieving feel productive.

This afternoon I finished the sermon and I'm fairly pleased with it. It alludes to Knoxville, to the concerns some have had about our posting the "Torture is a Moral Issue" banner, and to the hope that the children of Knoxville exhibited at a Monday night vigil, by singing their closing song, "Tomorrow" from the musical Annie.

I am not a preacher who gets in people's faces much, but I am concerned that we do something to alleviate the pain of our returning soldiers, those who have seen and been asked to do terrible things in the name of the USA. We are sometimes, in our passion for peace, seen as anti-military and this can be problematic if we have military families in our congregations, which we do. We say we support our troops, but our actions don't always show it.

UUCWI may have an opportunity to show our support for our troops in a very real way. We have been invited to help set up a support system for returning vets struggling with PTSD. A young man loosely connected with our congregation is currently undergoing treatment for this condition after he had a violent outburst at a local festival recently. This may be our chance to put our money where our mouth is, if we can offer friendship and care to men and women who are in pain because of what their military duties have involved.

I'm very hopeful.