Monday, June 29, 2009

Letter to President Obama

I wrote a letter to President Obama which is copied into the comments section of the previous post on DADT. Write a letter yourself! This is a serious humanitarian concern.

This is NOT a confidentiality issue...

because I'm not going to talk about people, except generally. But it's an issue about which confidentiality and controversy swirl: Don't Ask, Don't Tell. That's the dubious policy of the U.S. Armed Forces, whose unintended consequences have resulted in witchhunts in our military units. It is against military law to do anything which would indicate that a person is homosexual and it is alsoagainst military law to ask if a person is homosexual. So all kinds of subterfuge occur to get around this policy and harass people for their sexual orientation.

Last night I sat and listened to a seasoned veteran of our armed forces give advice to men and women who are gay or lesbian and in the military. It was chilling, especially to hear the tactics used by some in the military to "out" gay and lesbian servicemembers. These tactics amount to stalking, in my opinion, and the personal stories shared included being together as a couple two hours away from the military base and suddenly being joined by a group of military colleagues who just happened to be in the same place at the same time.

Or being asked repeatedly by a member of the opposite sex why s/he won't date a man/woman. Or being sexually harassed and told "you and your partner just come with us and we'll show you what really works". Or being photographed in a public place with one's partner whose looks seem to indicate gayness. Or having one's personal room on the base searched by "superiors" looking for evidence, on the grounds that "everything on the base belongs to the military".

Men and women who have served our country well and who wish to continue to serve our country are being hounded out of the military in droves and by devious and cruel tactics. I heard references to women being raped "to show them how real sex should be", to people being injured by apparently deliberate actions of a colleague in order to get information, even to a killing that may have occurred because of hatred toward her for her lesbianism.

If a servicemember objects to this kind of treatment, that's further evidence, in the eyes of the military. If a servicemember lies about his/her sexuality, that's further evidence and, additionally, it's illegal to lie about it. It is against military law to live as a domestic partner, to marry one's partner, to acknowledge one's sexual orientation or engage in any physical affection with a member of the same sex.

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network was formed to offer legal and moral assistance to servicemembers who are faced with this kind of career-busting treatment. No homosexual person in the military is safe, because once the authorities have homed in on someone, they may promise to drop all charges in exchange for the names of other gays and lesbian servicemembers. This is a false promise, because to drop charges in this situation would be illegal.

Even if one's commanding officer is gay or lesbian and seems to be in a protective position, s/he is not, for the officer is him/herself in danger and can be discharged as well. One's only hope seems to be for an honorable discharge at this point, as a known gay person is out, no matter what, it appears.

Hounding gays and lesbians out of the military certainly seems counterproductive for our nation, seeing as how we are hard-pressed to muster enough volunteers already. And the secrecy engendered by DADT leads to cruel and inhumane treatment of good people by people who are threatened by homosexuality. And, like the proverbial butterfly on a pin, the good people have no recourse except to put up with it, leave their careers, or die.

Excuse me while I write President Obama. I'll let you know if I hear something back. While we're at it, why don't you write something too? Our bglt friends and neighbors and the defenders of our country need us to help.

UPDATE: I have posted my letter to President Obama in the comments section of this post.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I was a Hallman supporter yesterday; I'm a Morales supporter today.

One of the things I have most appreciated about UUA presidential elections is the camaraderie and friendly rivalry between candidates. I was first getting active in UU congregational and district life when John Buehrens and Carolyn Owen-Towle were running for president, sixteen years ago. They set a standard, in my mind, of how elections between two very different, highly qualified candidates can be conducted.

They were colleagues and friends first. They were competitors second. And, when John Buehrens won that election, Carolyn Owen-Towle was a gracious runner-up. John led the UUA in positive directions, mentoring and encouraging leaders, providing continuity of purpose and mission. Carolyn did not publicly second-guess or criticize him; if she had concerns, she voiced them only in confidential settings.

Eight years later, Bill Sinkford and Diane Miller conducted the same kind of respectful campaign. Though there was considerable hope among many that a woman would win the election this time, when Bill was elected, it was clear that gender was not such an important factor to the electorate and there was little whining about that loss, as far as I could tell, despite Diane's considerable leadership strengths and charisma.

Now, another eight years later, Peter Morales and Laurel Hallman have conducted yet another respectful, yet intense campaign. And Peter has won, decisively. I supported Laurel in her candidacy; I believed that her strengths outweighed Peter's in some important areas. Yet I knew that either candidate would take the UUA in directions that would add to our strength and growth as a religious tradition which hopes to adjust the trajectory of society.

Yesterday I was a Hallman supporter. Today I am still a Hallman supporter because she is one terrific minister, leader, human being. But Peter can count on me as he forges ahead with his goals for our faith tradition. Today I am also a Morales supporter.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Confidentiality is a bear.

I say that having started two different posts in the past five minutes, thinking that both topics are germane, have gotten me upset about a political or personal issue, and are worthy of further exploration.

Each post was a few sentences underway and then I got a chill: what if this post accidentally reveals something that is confidential? who would be hurt? does it pass the litmus test: is it kind, is it true, is it necessary?

The kind and true parts were there. I could make the post both kind and true. But there is no way I could overlook the "necessary" part. Is it ever necessary to talk about situations of adultery or sexual orientation without the permission of those involved? Nope, not ever.

Confidentiality is one of those tempting-to-set-aside-in-favor-of-drama ethical issues. As both a minister and school counselor, I've known this for a long time. It has also helped me understand that I love drama and the temptation to tell a dramatic story, with identities well-concealed, is something I have to watch out for.

Sometimes it can be done carefully. But the two issues I was tempted to write about began to raise questions in my mind about privacy concerns. So you're not going to get a dramatic story about DADT (don't ask; don't tell) or about my flummoxed reaction upon seeing this morning's headlines about Gov. Sanford. Not that I don't have big opinions about both of them, but my personal connection to each issue, the dramatic story I'd love to tell, makes it too close to the bone for some folks.

Maybe what I can tell you is how ambivalent I feel when I see journalists picking away at the flaws in the work or the life of public figures. While I know that this is one of the hazards of being in public life, I am also appalled that nothing in those lives can be private, that it is all open to scrutiny and speculation.

We as a country seem to feed on the flaws of others; witness Fox News's approach to dissecting every word and gesture of those they don't like. But it's interesting to me to witness, as well, the hypocrisy of those who point the fingers. I need to remind myself that when I point fingers, I too run the risk of hypocrisy. For who among us can cast the first stone? Not me.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bayview Sound photo shoot

Thought you might like to see one of the photos we took today for publicity for an upcoming gig.

Photo by Bridgit Smith.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Spiritual Journey: 10 years of ordained ministry

Rev. Kit Ketcham, June 21, 2009

It was my turn to speak that day in September of 1992, our ingathering service at the beginning of the new church year at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO. As a member of the Committee on Ministry, I’d volunteered to give a brief homily or sermonette on the ups and downs of the past year and our dreams for the new church year. I figured I could handle a bunch of Unitarians; after all, I’d been rasslin’ junior high kids in classrooms and lunchrooms for a couple of decades.

So I got up in the pulpit, delivered my remarks with a couple of stories and reminders of what our congregation’s year had meant to us and to the community, and returned to my seat. I figured I’d done all right---people paid attention, I saw a few nods, even a few smiles and some tears.

Our minister, the Rev. Robert Latham, was next in the pulpit and when he got up there, he turned to where I was sitting in the choir and said to me, “Kit, you missed your calling. You ought to be a minister.”

It was like the proverbial thunderbolt: I was stunned and sat for the rest of the service with Robert’s words echoing in my ears. I ought to be a minister? I ought to be a minister? I ought to be a minister!

Reviewing my life so far as I sat there, I realized that I had accumulated a number of the skills I could see that a minister needed: counseling, teaching, music, writing, herding cats---or rather junior high kids---, even public speaking, if you count lunchroom duty and the use of a bullhorn on a playground. Maybe I could be a minister! Maybe I could do it! Yes, I think I could!

But over the next months, reality set in. I wasn’t very close to retirement; my son was barely out of high school and still living at home and I was pretty well loaded down with the responsibilities of a single parent household. So it didn’t make any sense at all to quit my job as a school counselor and start studying at the local theological school. My calling was put on the back burner and eventually even set aside.

But in 1995, three years later, the thunderbolt took a second swing. I had been elected a delegate to the UU General Assembly which was meeting in Spokane that year, and it was impossible to ignore the deeply buried desire in me to someday be one of the ministers participating in those events. I had been able to retire that year, unexpectedly, would be receiving an early-retirement bonus from the school district, and my son was living on his own.

After a long conversation with one of the women ministers I knew best, I went straight back to Colorado and enrolled at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, a very liberal United Methodist seminary. And in May of 1999, I graduated from Iliff and was ordained to the UU ministry by JUC, all in the same weekend.

Now, ten years after that momentous weekend, I’ve been looking back over that stretch of time, from the thunderbolt that called me into ministry those many years ago to this moment today, here in this beautiful room, with this congregation of loving people, and have been thinking about all I’ve learned about ministry that might mean something to you all, as a congregation and as individuals.

Because ministry is about service to others; it’s about bringing one’s experiences, learning, and compassion together in one desire—to bring hope and courage to one’s fellow humans, acting with integrity and purpose in creating positive change in the world.

Learning about ministry started for me at a very early age, as the eldest child of an American Baptist minister. From my dad, the Rev. Merritt Bernhardt Ketcham, I learned the importance of public service. I saw my dad serve on the library board of his small town, do electrical work for needy parishioners, drive migrant workers to their jobs in eastern Oregon fields, and serve his community in countless small ways.

I also learned from him that sermons should never be boring! My dad wasn’t a particularly gifted preacher, but he wasn’t boring! And I learned that ministry is very stressful work, that you can be the lightning rod for disgruntled members, and that you MUST take good care of your health because the stresses of ministry were a factor in my dad’s early death at age 60.

I learned from being a member of the Ketcham family how valuable a faith community is. Our family was literally supported by our congregations at times, since my dad’s salary was probably never much more than $400 a month and on this he made sure his kids went to college. And I learned well the value of membership in a faith community and have been a member of a congregation almost ever since I was a child.

In the congregations I joined, whether it was Baptist or Unitarian Universalist, I watched the politics of “church” unfold. I saw how easy it was to criticize and that it can have hurtful, permanent consequences. As a member of the Committee on Ministry at JUC, I saw the pain of petty criticism and the value of constructive, kind critique that took place face to face, not as an anonymous comment on a survey or in the parking lot after a worship service.

I saw how easily a promising career can be derailed by a vindictive person. And I saw how important, no, essential, it is to expect and demand ethical behavior from a minister. I saw people, both women and men, damaged by a sexual relationship with a minister who exploited their neediness.

But the negative side of ministry did not deter me. I knew I had learned a great deal from being a preacher’s kid and from being an active layperson in several congregations. I thought I knew where most of the potholes were and vowed to avoid them. So off I went to seminary.

I loved this experience of scholarship, writing, exploring Biblical literature, designing worship. I was not so crazy about the emphasis on doctrine which is a normal byproduct of a Christian seminary, however liberal. There were times I thought I would scream if I heard another word about Paul the Apostle! And the Trinity, for most of my fellow students, was a given; a Unitarian view was exotic and as one of about a dozen UU students at Iliff, I felt like the yeast in a loaf of bread dough! It had never occurred to many of my Christian peers to question the concept of Trinity!

Nevertheless, I loved my seminary experience, finally learning what the word “theology” meant in practical terms. A chaplaincy internship and a full year of parish internship at the Boulder UU Fellowship with my mentor Catharine Harris led me to believe that I was pretty hot stuff!

I was a top student at Iliff, did well in my chaplaincy and parish experiences, and when I got ready to go to the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in April of 1998, I was pretty sure they’d pat me on the back and give me an A Plus Plus and send me back to seminary for my final year as the best candidate for UU ministry they’d ever seen.

You can probably see what’s coming here, can’t you? And it was from the MFC that I began to learn probably the most important lesson a minister can learn: humility. Instead of the A Plus Plus I expected, they told me I was too intense (I think they might have preferred the word “cocky” but were too polite to use it) and needed to undertake a year of spiritual direction before they would grant me preliminary fellowship status.

A year of spiritual direction----that meant sessions with someone who could help me figure out some of the spiritual issues I was struggling with—like humility, for example, or spiritual practice, or how to be in right relationship with family members who were very conservative and were sure I was doomed to hell.

It was one of the best years of my entire life. I learned how important an active spiritual life and a regular spiritual practice are to me. I learned to pray, to pray to a Power I couldn’t describe or name or see or touch, yet who felt like a second skin, part of myself.

After graduation and ordination, in Colorado, I packed all my stuff, my cats, and headed for Portland, where I would be the first fulltime minister for a small congregation named Wy’east. And there my real education about ministry began to take shape. Everything else, it turned out, had been preliminaries.

During the four years I spent serving Wy’east, a congregation which had been formed out of conflict with a minister in another church, I encountered some of the typical problems of a small group undergoing dramatic change: disagreements about worship style, power struggles with each other about a multitude of issues, deep deep fear that a minister would try to change everything they loved, even the time of day the congregation met.

And I was a rookie! I was a rookie who had recently undergone quite a shock, learning that I didn’t know everything there was to know about ministry. Many mistakes later, on the part of the congregation and myself, we patched things up and I made preparations to move on.

But the lessons learned from that experience made me a much better, much wiser minister. I learned that too much ego is very dangerous; when one thinks too highly of oneself, one becomes a target! I learned to listen to and learn from criticism but to let go of unkind or anonymous criticism.

I learned that my strengths can also be my weaknesses, when I push them too far. My friendliness and warmth can become intrusive or too personal; my leadership can be seen as bulldozing; my way with words can lead me into eloquent defensiveness!

I learned how important it is to say that I am sorry for a mistake, for a remark that seemed unkind or insensitive, for an action taken in haste. I learned that I needed to atone for mistakes, to make amends, to repair damaged relationships. And I learned, perhaps most importantly of all, that I am only human, that I will make mistakes, that I need to listen when called to account, and that my behavior as a minister speaks far more loudly than any sermon.

These are personal lessons, as well as ministerial lessons. These are things I needed to learn as a human being. All of the lessons I’ve mentioned can be useful in ordinary life, the life of a retiree, for example, or a teacher or a parent or a musician or a cook or spouse. We’ve each of us experienced these kinds of learnings over our own lifespans. Some of the lessons have “taken”; some of them we may have ignored, preferring not to look too hard at our own lives.

Many of us, I suspect, myself included, have looked at other persons in judgment and said to ourselves, “boy, that person really needs to learn a thing or two!” Negative judgment of others may be one of the hardest lessons to learn and I confess I’m still working on it, every day. It may be that the best I can ever achieve is learning to keep my mouth shut, instead of speaking my negative judgments out loud!

So what does this all have to do with you and me and our relationships with each other, in this congregation? Or in any congregation or group that we may belong to in the future?

Here are a few lessons I believe are valuable for us as a congregation now and in the future to take to heart and keep in our memory banks, in our history, in our everyday work together. They are in no particular order and I rather imagine they are not the only lessons we need to learn! They are just the ones I’ve come up with as I thought about this sermon.

#1. Conflict is a product of living together. Conflict will always arise when people work and play together. It is normal. But it doesn’t have to hurt people if it’s handled thoughtfully. And by thoughtfully, I mean that differences of opinion must be stated tactfully, without conveying scorn or impatience with the other person. Conflict builds up in an unhealthy way when it’s handled secretively, with mean words and actions.

Talking about someone critically behind their back is not helpful; speaking face to face with someone, tactfully and caringly, is much more effective. And I always remember my dad’s admonition at this point. When I think about criticizing someone, I must ask myself “is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?”

#2. Human beings sometimes act out the pain in their personal lives by disrupting congregational life, causing heartache and pain in others by stirring up trouble in the congregation. This is a time for others to act with compassion and love, not by taking sides but by understanding the pain that has come forth in an inappropriate way and helping to alleviate that pain, if possible. And, if not, taking steps to protect the community by creating policies to deal with disruptive behavior. This kind of covenanting is better done during peaceful times, by the way, not in anger.

#3. And great turmoil can open us up to great joy, if we remember our mistakes and learn from them, rather than shoving them underground, refusing to deal with them or make amends. You may remember the movie “Love Story” in which a favorite line for many couples was “Love is never having to say you’re sorry”. Unfortunately, this romantic line is untrue.

Love means saying sorry whenever it’s appropriate, not glossing over mistakes but owning up to them, making amends if necessary. Many couples carried that line right into the marriage counseling office and left it there, sadder and wiser.

Let’s go back in time again, to that moment at the General Assembly in Spokane in 1995 when the call to ministry came again to me. I woke up the next morning in my hotel room with an old song running through my head.

On my way back to Colorado, after deciding I would enroll at Iliff as soon as possible, I stopped by my parents’ gravesite in Goldendale and sat at their headstone to sing this old song. For me at that moment, it was a personal commitment of myself to the journey of ministry, a moment when I understood that I was taking steps which would change my life forever, giving me a responsibility that I would never shed, that would shape my character in ways I could not predict, and give me challenges that I could only hope to meet.

I’ve printed the words in the order of service and I’d like to ask you to sing it with me if you know it or just read along as we sing. Whenever I think of these words, I think of the importance of being true, of being pure, humble, brave, giving, strong and loving. I know I will stumble, but I must return to these values in order to be the best I can be.

It occurs to me that these are good values for a congregation as well, that if we can strive to be together in these ways, we will continue to be the healthy, growing faith community that we have become over the past several years.

Please join me. Nola will play the tune for us, and then let’s sing together.


I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care.
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare (2x).

I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving and forget the gift.
I would be humble for I know my weakness;
I would look up, and laugh and love and lift (2x).

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 our lives are a series of lessons, no matter what our circumstances have been. We can learn positive ways of being in the world from these lessons or we can retreat into misery and unhappiness, causing unhappiness in others around us. May we as individuals and as a congregation strive to use the lessons of our lives in helpful, not hurtful ways, seeking always to give love and justice and compassion to each other and to the larger community. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sara at Orcinus says it far better than I could.

I have struggled for a long time to know how to address, coherently that is, the craziness that has sent insane people into the streets to kill innocent folks, folks they thought God wanted them to kill.

Sara, writing at Orcinus this morning, says it far better than anyone I have heard yet. You can read her words here.

I read her and her partner Dave quite often and find them to be well-informed, thoughtful, and perceptive. Also bitingly cogent and with a minimum of snark.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mr. Deity and the Really Big Favor

Thanks to Linda Hart for posting this on Facebook.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hope Has Human Hands: a sermon

a sermon preached at Woodinville UU Church, June 14, 2009
Rev. Kit Ketcham

In the late 40’s, early 50’s, there was a song which, when it came on the radio, would make my dad groan and move as if to turn it off, muttering “that darn song, it’s so sticky!”, and my mother and I would cry out, “no, we want to hear it!” It was a terrifically sentimental song and its words could even be said to be sappy, schmaltzy, syrupy. And I’ll bet you haven’t heard it for years, but if you remember it and feel like joining in, sing with me.
“Soft as the voice of an angel, breathing a lesson unheard,
HOPE with a gentle persuasion whispers her comforting word:
Wait till the darkness is over, Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow, after the shower is gone.
Whispering Hope, oh how welcome thy voice,
making my heart, in its sorrow, rejoice.”

In those days, hope--to me--meant miracles; it meant a sort of Pollyanna-ish optimism that “everything will be fine in the morning”. It meant that no matter how desperate the financial situation of our family, we would have food on the table; someone from my dad’s little Baptist congregation would deposit a freshly killed Canada goose or venison roast or string of fish on our doorstep.

Hope, in my young mind, was a kind of insurance policy, a belief that God would not desert us if we were faithful. Hope provided for miraculous recoveries, last-minute rescues. It meant that the sun would always rise, that spring would follow winter, that seeds would grow, that birth would produce new life, that the Lone Ranger WOULD arrive on time!

I’m not sure how I reconciled my beliefs with my experience in those days. Though I knew at some level that Hope as a technique didn’t always work, I continued to profess my belief that it would and did produce miracles.

But I guess I figured that even Hope had to take a few days off occasionally; that was probably why my friend Lynn did not recover completely from an unusually serious bout with mononucleosis, why my dad, who was a Baptist minister, sometimes couldn’t make it all the way through his sermon and had to sit down to catch his breath, scaring us all to death. Hope was on break those days. And, of course, it wasn’t Hope’s fault that I didn’t make straight A’s in school; I hoped I would, but obviously Hope wasn’t enough.

What does Hope mean to Unitarian Universalists? We are kind of past the miracle stage. If we are ill, we may hope for a rapid recovery; if a loved one is dying, we may hope for an unexpected sudden cure or a peaceful death. We may hope, as I often do, that the rattle in the car will turn out to be harmless, that the problem ahead of us is not really as bad as it looks, that the grocery line will not be too long, that we can pay the bills, that the kids will be home soon. Our daily hopes are usually simple and focused on our immediate needs and desires.

Over the years, as I’ve examined my religious faith in light of my own experience, I have gradually revamped my thoughts about Hope as a religious concept.

It seems to me that the Hope that is innate in the human spirit is more than simply a wish for good outcomes, for peace on earth, a politically correct holiday greeting. Hope is far more than cliches or a wish for miracles. It is not trivial or sentimental.

The definition I’ve come up with after many years of observing my own need for hope and the moments which seem to create hope, for me and for others, is this: HOPE IS MY AWARENESS, MY DEEP UNDERSTANDING, THAT I AM CONNECTED TO THE INEXTIN-GUISHABLE STREAM OF LIFE, THAT I AM PART OF THE WHOLE.

Let me repeat that definition and ask you to compare your own experiences to it. For me, HOPE is the clear sense that I am a part of the inextinguishable, inexhaustible stream of life. For me, it is a tangible sense of my place in the universe. It is the fiber of the interdependent web of all existence, the connection I have to all else in life.

When I have lost HOPE, I have lost my sense that I belong to the universe, to the web, to life itself. But HOPE is strengthened in me with every reminder I receive of that connection. It may start when I first see the tomato seedling pop up in the seed tray on my windowsill. It may be triggered by the purring of the fuzzy kitten on my lap as I read. Even a stranger’s greeting on the sidewalk or beach may evoke a warmth that reminds me that I do belong here, I am a part of life.

Hope is found in relationship, whether it is in my relationship with my pets, with my friends and family, with strangers, with all of nature or God, if you are comfortable with that word.

If religion is defined as the expression of human relationships with self, with others, and with the universe, then Hope is a manifestation of that relationship and a valuable piece of our active faith. Unitarian Universalists mostly do not hope for a heavenly home; we hope for an earthly home that is heavenly and we know that is our job.

A friend talked with me about her second biopsy for breast cancer. “I was scared to death,” she said. “I’d already had one surgery and was terrified that this was the beginning of the end. I felt loose from my moorings, adrift, disconnected, hopeless. And I knew I couldn’t bear it without help. The nurse started to move away from me after the test, and I said to her, ‘I need you to hold on to me’. She took my hand and I felt myself re-connect with life. She gave me more hope than a negative biopsy.”

Hope does not rely on Divine Intervention, but on human hands. Hope is our job, not God’s, despite nature’s constant and faithful supply of hopefulness. The sun always rises, spring always comes, the snow always melts, the cycles of creation go on and on. We derive great hope from that faithful repetition of nature’s patterns. But nature also socks us in the teeth: hurricanes demolish whole coastlines, avalanches wipe out homes and travelers, the wind whips fire through dry underbrush, the sun burns our skin, disease wipes out millions, rains bring flooding and mud slides. We can’t control it but we can respond to it.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast”, according to the poet Alexander Pope because human beings have an innate gift for hope. When disaster strikes, other human beings immediately reach out to victims. It seems inherent in human nature to give aid in times of trouble. An old Judy Collins song says “Friends are like diamonds, and trouble is a diamond mine.”

That doesn’t mean all human beings give aid, just that we’re all capable of it. Some of us have so squelched our natural inclination to help that we will walk right by, ignoring trouble or fearing the consequences to ourselves. Sometimes it is truly dangerous to offer help; it’s not always easy to know right help from wrong. But sometimes we withhold our help because we see no benefit to ourselves from it, we see no reason to help because our goal in giving help is so we’ll get something back later on .

Like love, hope is active. We can give hope to ourselves and one another. In fact, I believe, we have a responsibility to do so. And our new president is counting on us to offer hope to one another, isn’t he?

I believe that it is in everyday human acts of kindness and respect that we find our own hope rekindled and that others’ hope is also reborn when we reach out to them.

I believe that hope is not passive, something we wait around for, but that it is created and recreated daily in ourselves and others.

I believe that hope comes in many forms--hugs, smiles, acceptance, kindness, respect, patience, thoughtfulness, listening, generosity, appreciation, forgiveness, working for justice.

I believe that we need to recognize our own capacity for giving hope and increase our efforts to do so. And I believe that we must recognize our own need for hope and actively seek it out.

I believe that hope is at the heart of liberal religion, of Unitarian Universalism. We give it to ourselves and to others as we live out our UU principles and purposes. It is the sinew that links us with the interdependent web of existence, the fiber that binds us to one another. Without it, we cannot resist evil. It is our daily work, to give and receive hope.

Hope is our human response to tragedy, whether it is evil brought by perverted human nature or the damage of natural disaster. When another human being is injured, it is up to fellow humans to mend the damage. We might wish that a vengeful God would strike down evildoers or quell natural forces, but it is up to human hands to offer hope.

What does it mean that we are responsible for giving hope? It means that we have a job to do. We don’t know, always, in our daily lives, just who needs hope at any given moment. We have to assume that everyone does. We have to be ready to offer hope to everyone we meet, whether that’s the crabby clerk at the store, the multi-colored, multiply-pierced teens in the park, the stray cat or dog, the frustrated parent with a toddler, the nursing home patient who can no longer remember our name, the homeless man camping in the woods, the beleaguered teacher, our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender neighbors, the victim of domestic violence.

We ourselves also need hope and we can seek it out for ourselves, whether we do it by taking a walk, talking to a friend, giving money to UUSC or the Red Cross for disaster relief, listening to music, pulling weeds, reading poetry, asking for a hug or a listening ear, starting seedlings, feeding the birds, cleaning out a drawer, greeting a stranger, or spending time in prayer or meditation. We give ourselves and others hope every time we reach out to those who need justice and love.

Several years ago in Denver, a young woman named Jeannie Van Velkinburgh ran to help Oumar Dia, a West African man who was shot at a downtown bus stop just because he was black. She got a bullet in the back for her efforts and is now a paraplegic. A cynic might say she should have left well enough alone, that she shouldn’t have gotten involved, because look what it got her.

Jeannie VanVelkinburgh doesn’t think so; she knows that not only did she offer hope to Oumar Dia, she has also given hope to us AND to the murderer, who--though he may never understand it--has received a powerful lesson in human nature. Human beings are supposed to care for one another.

Let’s revisit the definition of Hope I am using this morning: Hope is the conviction, the reassurance that I am connected to, am part of, the inexhaustible, unquenchable stream of life. It is my knowledge that I am supported and nurtured by my place in the interdependent web of existence and it is my job to give it to others.

I’d like to close with a story from my own life.

It was June, a few years ago when I was still living in Colorado. I’d been driving Interstate 80 since dawn, from Farewell Bend on the Snake River in eastern Oregon where I’d camped in my van the night before. I was returning to Colorado after burying my mother, crossing the hot dry deserts of southern Idaho and over the border into Utah, pondering the lessons of her life and death and crying as I drove, my tears drying almost as soon as they appeared, in the hot blast coming through the open window. And now I was beyond tiredness, in that late afternoon state of mind where rational thought and fantasy merge, and reality has a fuzzy edge.

I’d been seeing a lot of hawks poised on telephone poles or circling overhead, their broad wings barely flickering to stay afloat. My mother had loved birds, and hawks and eagles were interesting to both of us. Each bird felt like a message, but in my emotional state, I couldn’t quite figure it out.

Every redtail or northern harrier caused me a fresh pang, and by the time I reached the outskirts of Salt Lake City, I had exhausted my tear ducts and my brain.

I wanted to be back in Colorado as soon as I could. I wanted to drive a favorite route through the mountains, but I had no idea how to find it in the maze of interstates, beltways, and smaller roads that interlace the Salt Lake valley.

I drove south into SLC, peering through my foggy contact lenses at unintelligible signs, looking for landmarks. Nothing. I realized I was in the far left lane of a 6-lane interstate and, in my weariness, nearly sideswiped another car as I tried to pull the huge van over so I could read my map.

At last came a break in traffic, and I eased over to the shoulder, cringing for fear I had missed seeing some hapless little car in my mirror, and half-expecting to feel a sickening crunch. But I made it, stopped the van, and, once again, the tears came. I was safe, I hadn’t hit anyone, but I was exhausted and bereft.

Suddenly, in my rearview mirror, I saw the ominous blink--blue and red, blue and red. “Oh no,” I thought, and hastily mopped my eyes as I fumbled for my car registration.

There appeared at the driverside window a short stocky cop, his hat pushed back on his head, his face serious and concerned. I braced myself for the worst, assuming he’d seen my near-accident, but in a voice of infinite kindness, he just asked, “Lady, are you lost?”

That man could not have known just how lost I was. I couldn’t find myself on any map--neither the map of Utah nor the map of my life. I didn’t know where I was after my mother’s death; I only knew I needed to go home.

I don’t know what I said to him, besides asking how to find route 40, but he neither remarked on my tears nor ticketed me, and within a few minutes I was on my way again.

As I topped the last long hill up out of Salt Lake City, my eye fell upon the broad winged silhouette of another redtailed hawk, soaring just above the horizon.

And all the confused, jumbled thinking that I’d been doing all day--the memories of my mother, my grief at losing her, my anger at myself for all the years I’d felt motherless because of my own rejection of her religious beliefs and because of her illness, the link to birds and mountains and all of nature, the incandescent flame of her unconditional love for me---all these coalesced into one single thought.


Emily Dickinson wrote: “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

When we offer hope to ourselves and to one another, with each smile, each touch, each act of kindness and understanding, we knit up the rips and tears in the interdependent web of existence and bring each other closer to spiritual wholeness.

Let’s pause for a moment 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 no act of kindness is in vain, that our efforts to bring hope to each other and to the larger community will bring us hope as well. May we find ways to minister to the community in which we live, ways which will foster Unitarian Universalism in the world, ways which will address some of the systemic problems that plague society, and ways which will bring us the peace of mind of knowing that together we have offered hope to a hurting world. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Consulting ministry and its issues

I have just completed my sixth year as the consulting minister at UUCWI. I started out as a quarter-time minister, spending one weekend a month on the island, commuting from Seattle and staying with a church family for several nights, cramming everything I did for the congregation into a few weekend days.

This was the best arrangement at the time, for I was also serving the Vashon Island congregation in the same way, though Vashon was close enough to Seattle that I could go back and forth more frequently and not have to cram everything into one weekend. It was a more expensive ferry ride, but the congregation was willing to stand me for ferry tickets. I spent so much time in ferry lines, however, that I began to call myself a "ferry godminister".

In the spring of 2006, I decided to move to Whidbey so that I could do less commuting; I changed my schedule to make one long weekend trip to Vashon, once again cramming a lot of meetings, adult RE, and pastoral care into a few days. This arrangement lasted a little over a year till I decided to end my service to Vashon and concentrate on UUCWI.

Living on Whidbey meant that my schedule opened up completely and I could attend more meetings, schedule things across a full month, and do more emergency pastoral care. It also meant that I began to put in far more hours than I had signed up for. The congregation was embarking on a building project and it was clear that they needed more of my time. So the board bumped me up to one-third time, about 60 hours a month, and adjusted my salary accordingly.

Now the building is finished, we are moved in and much busier than we ever dreamed we would be, and it's become very clear that 60 hours a month is way too few. During this past year I worked at least 80 or 90 hours a month because the situation demanded it. My compensation, of course, stayed at the 60 hour level because there was no extra money during the construction year to fund the extra hours. But I was pretty sure the time would come when they could fund ministry at the appropriate level, so I was okay with that.

This spring, as we looked back over the year, the board decided to raise all staff salaries by at least 5%; the money came in during the pledge drive and the congregation voted to approve such a budget item. That was a good feeling.

But the realization that I have been working at least half-time for the past year or more hit me in another way when I got my absentee delegate's ballot for the UUA elections. In order to vote, I had to be serving one congregation at least half-time. So I decided to ask the board to declare me a half-time minister, so that my absentee vote could be validated. And yesterday they acknowledged my status and agreed to write it into my contract for the coming year, stating clearly that they would work to upgrade my pay to Fair Compensation levels for our area over the next two years.

One of my fondest dreams when I entered the ministry was that I would distinguish myself as a minister in a congregation which appreciated and loved me, that I would be "settled" in that congregation as their minister rather than serve them with a "consulting" contract which was renewable every year. Now I see that "settled" is just a word and does not necessarily convey the sense of joy and delight I experience right now in serving this congregation.

I'm not sure I will ever ask them to go through the lengthy process of settlement, so that I can change my status from "consulting" to "settled". It requires a good deal of process: lots of education about the difference in status labels, lots of discussion about whether I am the best fit for this congregation, and then a vote to call me, if they decide that I am "the one" for them. It's pretty likely that I'd be called, considering the evaluations I've received over the past years and the outpourings of appreciation they offer me.

But I am probably 3-5 years away from retirement and I don't know if I want to spend any of that time in the process that leads up to settlement. There is so much to be done to get infrastructure in place, policies worked out to cover the unfolding needs that owning a building creates, a ministerial candidate in the congregation who needs mentoring this next year, perhaps another building project to house our growing RE program.

And I'm happy as I am. We have made so much growth together as a team and it may be that we are wise to leave "settlement" to a time on down the road when I retire and they go into a search process for a new, fulltime minister. They'll need one by then, if our current growth rate continues, and I want the new minister to come to a congregation that knows how to treat a minister, that is able to pay him/her well, and is healthy and vibrant. That's my job right now, teaching them what ministry offers and what it's worth to them.

When I retire, whenever that is, I want them to look for another minister with full confidence that they are a congregation which is worthy of excellent service, a congregation which supports and loves its minister, a congregation which is capable of paying fair compensation. I know that I will have led them to believe that ministers work far more than they are paid for and I will have to make sure they understand that not all ministers can do that, given family responsibilities and other commitments, and that it is too much to expect from their next minister.

It is likely that by the time I retire, in 3-5 years, I will have buried a fair number of my dearest congregants and that the membership of the church will be much younger than the founding members were. I hope I will have performed several weddings for some of those new folks, that I will have helped UUCWI become known in the community as an active force for social justice, and that we are seen as a center for art and beauty as well.

To those seminarians out there who may become consulting ministers in the early days of their careers, don't think of yourselves as second-class because you are working parttime and on yearly contracts. Think of yourselves as doing some of the most important work in the UUA: teaching congregations to work with a minister and helping them develop attitudes toward leadership that will enable them to grow in healthy and life-giving ways. Consulting ministry is one of our most important and least recognized ministries and you will learn more than seminary can teach you from this kind of relationship.

Blessed be all consulting ministers!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Preaching Gig thoughts

During this church year, I've been speaking about once a month at another UU congregation on the mainland. I've known the leadership at this congregation for several years and am very fond of members of the church, so I was pleased to be asked to be one of the four ministers who would preach for them regularly while they were getting ready to go into search for their own minister.

I've enjoyed this very much; they are a vibrant and energetic, well-organized bunch of folks and I've always had a good experience with them. They pay well; they are appreciative and well-aware of what constitutes high quality worship.

But in April, when my vision went wonky on me, one of the reasons I delayed treatment was so that I could fulfill my obligation to them on the upcoming Sunday, and that was a mistake. This was certainly not their fault; they would have managed just fine if I'd called up and said, "gosh, folks, I'd better get this treated right away. Count me out this Sunday", even at the last moment.

My overdeveloped sense of responsibility put their needs before my own and I have had a couple of months now of regretting my decision, as I realize that my vision will always have this distortion in it and that it was caused by waiting for four days to address a detached retina.

So I've been rethinking how much off-island preaching I want to do in the coming year. I've developed a good reputation as a guest speaker and already have had several invitations to preach around the area during the next church year. And the afore-mentioned congregation asked me to come back on approximately the same schedule for next year, as they were unsuccessful in mounting a search.

I decided awhile back to decline that invitation, if it came, and when it did, a couple of weeks ago, I said that I would be glad to come a couple of times but not every month, as I have done. They suggested a couple of dates, both of which were already promised to UUCWI, so I don't think I will be able to preach there next year. In the meantime, two other congregations have asked me to come preach for them, so I will be going to Skagit and to Blaine---once each.

Here's the thing: I'm only parttime at UUCWI and preach here twice a month, so I have extra Sundays when I can travel to other churches to speak. Most of our UU congregations give a generous honorarium ($250 plus travel expense) to visiting UU ministers. That's a nice chunk of change and really helps my bottom line to be taking in an extra $250 a month. It also gives me a chance to see old friends from across the area, in their own home churches.

But during this past year, when I was on the road at least one Sunday a month, I missed out on some really important lay-led services: This I Believe (when a few members give a brief overview of their religious beliefs); Soap Box Sunday (when members are invited to speak on an issue dear to their hearts); El Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead, a traditional time of remembrance); and also some of the wonderful local speakers from the Whidbey Institute, an environmentally-based not-for-profit group nearby. I hate missing these moments.

And, I hate missing so many Sundays in our own facility, particularly since we have had new people coming in droves. They are coming back repeatedly, too, and often I don't meet them for a few weeks because of my schedule.

I'm even dubious about doing pulpit exchanges this year. I probably will, as I do like for my folks to hear other UU preachers, but I will miss being among my own congregation as they listen to another person.

However it works out, I am newly aware (or aware even more clearly) that I much prefer being at home for church than anywhere else. It's fun to be popular, but there's a price to pay, because I know I put popularity ahead of my own good sense in April. I hope I won't do that again, but, gosh, it's fun to be one of the popular girls----after 60 years!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Miscellaneous Updates

1. Most importantly, Max did come home the other night. He was on the loose for 40 hours, the longest yet. Since then, he's been pretty much a stay-at-home boy, eating nasty stuff on the premises rather than in the woods.

2. After Bayview Sound's appearance at the WAIF fundraiser last Saturday, we have instituted a new policy----if you're not going to pay us, okay, it's a donation, but we want letters for each of us stating that we have EACH donated $150 to their not-for-profit organization.

3. Trilogy's farewell performance was last night at Rockhopper's. I tried to embed it, but it was easier to put on my Facebook profile instead. I'll give you the link here. We sounded pretty good, I think. The crowd was small but enthusiastic, we made $30 which we blew on pizza and beer afterwards, and thus a chapter in my rock star life ends.

4. Today our service was an intergenerational event, dramatizing the story of "Old Turtle and The Broken Truth". It was truly wonderful and was capped off by a recognition of our RE teachers' contributions AND our annual Flower Communion. What a great day! We were packed to the rafters, quite unexpectedly, though new folks have been streaming in by the dozens, it seems. And many of them are staying!

5. I turn 67 tomorrow, June 8, at 3:55 p.m. Pacific Time (I don't think they'd invented Daylight Savings Time then, had they?). My friend Cynthia and I are going up to Christopher's to celebrate with an early dinner. My sister is gleeful----I am once again 2 years older than she, as she turned 65 in April and for a short few weeks, we were only a year apart, according to the way I figure things.

6. Life is good. And the Unbroken Truth is "You are Loved. And So are They."

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

So much anger and grief in the world...

and we just keep adding to it with our attacks and counterattacks, not seeing what we are doing to our children (training them to do the same thing to others), perpetuating the myth that there is an ultimate Evil and an ultimate Good to be arrayed on either side of, pretending that our moral positions are more virtuous than somebody else's because WE (insert particular arrogant prejudice here).

I was feeling unusually sad a little while ago and started to list the things I feel sad about right now: the murder of George Tiller and the deaths of 200+ innocent passengers in a jet over the Atlantic, the distorted sight in my left eye, the upcoming visit to the home of a deceased parishioner with her health advocate to choose a memento from her estate, the situation of a dying man who has asked me to be his pastor as he dies, Max's being gone again (second time in less than a week) for more than 24 hours, the weeds in my garden, the dead fuschia bush, a friend's dropping out of Bayview Sound, attitudes of people on both sides of the ugly choice debates, the attitudes of people on both sides of the ugly civil rights debates, and the fact that I was awake way too early this morning, probably because of Max's absence making the other cats anxious.

I keep replaying arguments in my mind----about choices that have common ground but only a few people seem to pay attention to them; about families' rights to be acknowledged, not condemned out of religious bias; about cats who run loose and act like cats; about convincing friend R to stay in BVS; about death and the dignity that is at stake when our health fails.

I'm sad and I'm angry and I hate both those states of mind. But there isn't any help for it today. It's better for me if I just am sad and angry and get through it. It isn't going to make anything better if I castigate those whose attitudes seem so unforgiving and intolerant of other points of view. It just hurts----and it hurts both me and them, because it perpetuates the anger and the sorrow and we act it out again and again and teach our young ones to do the same thing.

Where have all the flowers gone? When will we ever learn?

Monday, June 01, 2009

A couple of Loosy photos and a picture of last night's jam

Loosy at the jam

Debbie with Loosy on her knee, trying to rehearse for a Trilogy gig.

Last night's jam