Monday, January 26, 2009

Such a day...

I have done things today which I normally would never do. I have been sorting out some things in my mind, puzzling over a matter which has caused me a couple of sleepless nights of worry and wondering about how to handle a situation, and I was frustrated because no answers were forthcoming, despite prayer, despite journaling, the things that normally ease my mind.

The car had to go into the city today for its yearly maintenance at the Toyota dealer, so I was up early to make the ferry and looking forward to a day when I would have several hours in Seattle to do whatever I wanted, with a loaner car. On the ferry, my thoughts returned to the dilemma in my life, but I was sick of it so I picked up the book I always have in the car for ferry trips---Rachel Naomi Remen's "Kitchen Table Wisdom". (If you haven't read it, I recommend it.)

While reading one of the stories in the book, I literally felt pieces of my dilemma coming together into a coherent whole and before the boat docked, I felt I had received an answer. My heart lifted, I started thinking about what next step might be best, now that I had seen the problem more clearly and more deeply. This kind of solution rarely comes to me in this way. It was as though one of the stories mirrored my dilemma enough that I could see through it to what lay at the heart of my experience.

I had decided a week or so ago that I wanted to spend some of my day enjoying the "Lucy" exhibit at the Pacific Science Center, which I did. It was the same day and time as a rowdy bunch of high school kids were also viewing the exhibit, so it was a little tricky to manage any sort of quiet contemplation, but at one point I walked into an almost-empty room with a display case in the middle of it.

In that case lay the actual fossilized skeleton of this multi-million-year aged woman, Lucy, the oldest specimen of hominid yet discovered. As I gazed down at these ancient stone bones, I felt tears pricking my eyes, inexplicably, and a lump in my throat. I can't even tell you quite why I felt like crying, but as I handed in my audio-device to the young woman at the exit, I mentioned my emotional reaction, and she nodded sagely, "yes, one woman told me that she stood there and sobbed when she saw Lucy".

I got a bite of lunch and was heading back to the car. Near the Space Needle, an elderly man had a tamborine and a cup set out in front of him as he sang in a husky voice some old chant that sounded a little like a spiritual or a one line gospel song, "Lord, I'm so thankful, when I was lonely, you were my friend, when I was sick, you healed me, when I was broke, you comforted me" over and over, shaking the tamborine.

I put a $5 in his cup and sat down by him. I would never have done such a thing on another day, I suspect. But this day was different. I stayed with him for twenty minutes or so. He finished his song and then began to preach, encouraging me to say amen periodically, which I did. He talked about Jesus and how Jesus was so important to him. And again I felt the tears behind my eyelids. People walked by; we were both oblivious. After awhile I stood up to go and he said "sister, you have been a blessing to me today, and I thank you" and I said "Lionel Lewis (which he had said was his name), you have been a blessing to me today, and I thank you." And we hugged and I walked away.

It has been such a day...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rosa Martin Could Walk

Emma sent me this:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dear World:

My friend Sue sent me this and gave me permission to send it on. I think it's great. I'm not sure if she wrote it or someone else did, but see what you think.

Dear World:
We, the United States of America, your top
quality supplier of ideals of democracy, would
like to apologize for our 2001-2008 interruption
in service. The technical fault that led to this
eight-year service outage has been located, and
the software responsible was replaced November
4, 2008. Early tests of the newly installed
program indicate that we are now operating
correctly, and we expect it to be fully
functional on January 20, 2009. We apologize for
any inconvenience caused by the outage. We look
forward to resuming full service and hope to
improve service in years to come. We thank you
for your patience and understanding.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Celebration

It was a hot time in the old town last night but I wiped out early, not being that crazy about crowds and volume. Vicky, from my congregation, took this picture of Sara (also from UUCWI) and me at the big Freeland Hall inaugural ball. Thanks, Vicky!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What a Blessed Benediction!

I told you the benediction is more powerful than the invocation! Did you recognize the opening lines as being from what is termed the black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing"? (By the way, I thought Rev. Warren's invocation was just fine.)

Rev. Joseph Lowery, who co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., delivered the benediction at the inaugural ceremony. Below is a transcription of his address, provided by CQ Transcriptwire:

LOWERY: God of our weary years, god of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our god, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee.

Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land.

We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day.

We pay now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration.

He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

For we know that, Lord, you are able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union.

And while we have sown the seeds of greed -- the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone.

With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around...


... when yellow will be mellow...


LOWERY: ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.


LOWERY: Say Amen.


LOWERY: And Amen.



Okay, it's not a dream but...

I'm still glad I was all by myself watching the inauguration because I was bawling the whole time, to see this wondrous thing happening, to see the joy on all those faces, to hear those inspiring and uplifting words, to feel myself promise, along with everyone else I could see, that YES, I WILL HELP BRING THIS COUNTRY TO A NEW PLACE OF UNITY!

I believe.

Is it a dream?

Okay, okay, I'm about to turn off the rest of the world and go watch the inauguration on TV, all by myself, because I'm pretty sure this is all a dream and when I wake up I don't want to share my tears of disappointment with the rest of the world.

There's a streak of fear in me about this whole thing. I find myself living with an ineradicable sense of unreality, a fear of being disappointed once again by the reality, and wishing I could share the utter joy of the faces I see as the TV cameras scan the crowds.

Let me be clear----I am not afraid that Obama will be a bad president. In him I see an integrity that I have rarely seen in a political figure, even those I have admired. Like me and you, he is human and therefore can't be pure to the bone. Even though we are hoping he will be perfect, we know he can't be. And that's not the disappointment I fear. I'm sure he will make his share of mistakes; how else can he learn? I'm okay with that.

What I wish I could do is set aside my fears for him and his family and join in the spectacular celebrations of his inauguration as our 44th President.

I'm not sure where this comes from, though I suspect it harks back to the dark day in 1963 when we watched re-runs incessantly of JFK's assassination and heard the hooting laughter of his enemies and their children in our classrooms and on the streets.

I hear echoes of that laughter around me. I read it in the neo-Nazi blogs and comments that I run across; I see it in the hateful words of those who would condemn him or anyone who differs from their conservative agenda, whether that be civil rights, reproductive rights, labor rights, or other of the many issues this country has been polarized around. I even see it in the hypersensitive reactions of those who read insult into every move he makes that doesn't fit their agenda.

I'm not so afraid he'll be assassinated as I once was, seeing the massive security efforts which protect him and his family. I'm not expecting to be disappointed by President Obama's efforts to reunite the country.

I am expecting---and wishing I weren't---to be disappointed by those who refuse to be reunited, who want to hang onto their grudges, their anger, their raison d'etre in life. Don't they see the joy of others at the thrill of having elected such a man to the highest office in the land? Doesn't this affect their dour outlook at all? I am appalled by it in them----and in myself.

And yet I know that this is just part of living. We all have the right to dissent and to state our opinion. It is one of the many things about democracy that is messy, that is inevitable, that we all must cope with, in others---and in ourselves.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A little slice of UU history on the cover of The Nation

A Whidbey friend sent this link to those of us in the Peace and Justice network and when I looked at it, I saw several faces and names which are part of our Unitarian Universalist history. See if you can identify them by checking it out. I couldn't get the link installed properly, so I'm just posting the URL:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pete Seeger at the inaugural concert

MLK and the Search for Truth and Meaning: a sermon

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Jan. 18, 2009

You could easily have called it the "Winter of My Discontent". It was January of 1965 and I was living in Goldendale, WA, with my parents, serving as a welfare caseworker for Klickitat and Skamania Counties. I'd been transferred from the office in Stevenson, which is located in the Columbia River Gorge, and is the county seat of Skamania County, to the Klickitat county office in Goldendale.

My dad was the minister at the First Baptist Church of Goldendale and it was logical that I would move back in with my parents, who lived in the parsonage next door to the church. I'd lived in Stevenson alone the year prior to that, in my own apartment, and had had a taste of independence--and loneliness--in my first full year out of college. Now I was moving back to my parents' home and this became problematic, even as it helped with my economic bottom line.

The trouble was, I'd gotten a new perspective on the Christianity of my childhood, a perspective gained primarily from my education at liberal arts Linfield College. And the summer after graduation, I'd spent three months at the American Baptist Assembly grounds in Green Lake, Wisconsin, marinating in the heady liberalism that was beginning to take root in American Baptist theology.

It was not a living situation that boded well for me or for my poor parents, who were doubtless bewildered by my restlessness, my strange physical complaints of dizziness and weakness, my irritability and puzzling unhappiness. I was still a good girl, though, and dutifully attended church services, led the junior choir, and played the piano for hymn singing.

For the physical complaints, I went to my parents' doctor, old Doc Timmer, who advised me kindly to leave Goldendale and start creating my own life, or else I was likely to end up like the stereotypical spinster living at home and caring for her aging parents while slowly giving up her own life.

That recommendation was what caused me to sign up for an adult religious education class on the other side of the Simcoe mountains, in Yakima. It was late winter by then, and Satus Pass was no fun in the snow, but I drove back and forth to Yakima every Tuesday night for weeks, in search of something positive to feed my desire for a meaningful life away from Goldendale.

The last night of the course, we had a visiting minister from American Baptist headquarters, a young man who made my heart go pitty-pat with his charisma and good looks. And I have to admit that it was probably his charm that made me ask him about the programs he supervised nationwide, serving Baptist community centers in such farflung places as Detroit and Chicago and West Virginia, thousands of miles from Goldendale.

But when he told me that he thought I'd be a natural as a program worker in one of these centers, I fell in love and started the application process. I learned that the western-most center was located in Denver and, after interviews and visits, I was assigned to the Denver Christian Center in the inner city.

My rationale for requesting assignment to Denver was that I had to be near mountains, and even though the Rockies barely qualified in my mind as real mountains (since all real mountains are actually former volcanoes), Denver felt like a good fit.

When I reached Denver that fall of 1965 to begin my work as a youth and children's program worker at the Denver Christian Center, I found myself in an environment that was both familiar and unfamiliar. My work was with youth and small children, which I knew something about from my preacher's kid days. My colleagues were black and white and brown and yellow, in the vernacular of the day. Our clients, our families, mostly lived in the housing projects nearby and they too were the colors of the human rainbow.

Our neighborhood, on the corner of 29th and Curtis, was dilapidated, dirty, and scary at night, when many of our activities with youth took place. But I was thrilled to be there. I'd rarely lived in a large city before and was excited by its opportunities. I'd never eaten burritos or enchiladas, either, nor chitlins or barbecue. And I had never really seen poverty or racism in the ways I began to see it now.

The center director, the Rev. George Turner, had been to Selma that spring and had marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They were friends; George talked about Martin, about his hope for black America, about his hope that white America would understand what it meant to be oppressed, that the powers of government could be bent toward justice, that civil rights for minorities would be assured.

I knew nothing of Unitarian Universalism in those days, aside from the fact that the women of First Unitarian Church in Denver supplied materials and goodies for my preschoolers. But I was learning a lot about social justice work, humanitarian work, and the responsibility of the religious community to fight for civil rights for others.

Writing long letters home to my family, sending photos of the children and teens, telling about my experiences in the inner city, I was ecstatic about the work we were doing and every day my eyes were opened wider to the challenges of being poor, of being trapped in substandard housing, of being treated with disdain and scorn because of race or gender or class.

As I look back at it, though, I realize that though my work was meaningful, it was not particularly activist. My missionary experience---and that's what my official title was, Home Missionary---did not include politics, did not include activism beyond the day to day acts of providing the services of the community center: a food bank, clothing closet, free optometric clinic, job referrals, after-school activities, a Head Start class, and a small church service on Sundays.

That may have been most appropriate for my role as a missionary, but it was true of much of my generation as well. We, those of us born in the years 1929 through 1945 according to sociologists studying generational differences, were tagged The Silent Generation.

Whatever the reasons for our silence---whether it was because of the patriarchal system we grew up in or the almost overwhelming establishment-mindedness of our parents or the frightening rebellion of our Baby Boomer children or siblings---we were observers of the cultural milieu we lived in, not activists who sought to change systems.

Of course, that changed for many of us as we grew older and realized that oppressive systems affected us all and once we got our dander up, we were more likely to participate in the political activism that has brought so much change in our culture.

But we needed leadership and role models and one of our most revered leaders became the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a so-called Silent Generation member himself, who was pressed into service as a leader of the civil rights movement because somebody had to do it, and he was there, in the South, when leadership was required.

That is often what happens to us, isn't it? Somebody has to do it. Somebody has to step in and say, "no more", say "let's try this", say "stop hitting that child, that woman, that man", say "I'll do it". We may prefer observing; we usually can't maintain that stance for long when circumstances require that we step forward.

So the good Rev. Dr. Martin provided that impetus, that model for many of us and I suspect that many of us here have been activists for many years because of his leadership, perhaps quietly, supporting causes with donations; perhaps vociferously, protesting injustices, standing up for freedoms.

Rev. King once wrote the following, which is one of the readings in our hymnal:
"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted. Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that. We must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love…We shall hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope."

Though Dr. King is primarily remembered for his civil rights work in the South, he was not a one-issue leader, as history has shown us. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," he said. He took on the Vietnam War, poverty, class, and labor issues. When he was assassinated, his wife and family took up his work.

I have been thinking about the several justice issues of our day. Racism, of course, is still an issue, though we have overcome enough of it to be witness to one of the most remarkable events in American history---the election of a biracial man named Barack Obama as our 44th president. We are not fooled, however---racism is still a threat and I pray for him daily, both for his safety and his integrity.

But we have become more sensitized to the many other civil rights abuses of our world as we have watched our former leaders misuse the United States constitution, declare pre-emptive war on Iraq, and respond in vengeance, aggression, and retaliation to the objections of even our own citizenry.

We see uneven taxation levels of our citizens, adding to the skewed imbalance of wealth among our citizens, and compounding the already-dreadful effects of poverty, poor education, and hopelessness.

We see racial profiling, that insidious product of fear, tribalism, and hate. We see gender discrimination and the continuing inequities between the roles of males and females in many workplaces.

We see violence toward children, women, and men, both at home and in our institutions, even our religious institutions.

We see laws that deny equal rights to certain groups---prisoners in our foreign prisons, the mentally ill, and sexual minorities, to name a few.

And I ask myself, what are we doing about any of these? What can we do? Well, I've had an idea and here it is. This idea is in addition to the many possible projects of the Social Responsibility Council and has been approved by our board as part of our Welcoming Congregation opportunities and responsibilities.

A few weeks ago, two of our newer folks stood up here at joys and concerns and announced their engagement. The smiles on their faces ignited smiles in our hearts as well, for their comfort in our midst and their joy at being together isn't always possible or welcomed in a religious setting. If we were a Southern Baptist church, we probably wouldn't have been so thrilled for them. If we were a Catholic parish, such an announcement might have been tantamount to thumbing one's nose at the Virgin Mary and the Pope.

But we are a Unitarian Universalist congregation and their love for each other thrilled us. This young couple has asked me if I will perform their wedding ceremony next summer and, of course, I agreed, with joy.

It won't be a civil marriage, in that they won't be going to the County Clerk to get a license. Instead, it is a marriage of two hearts, in the presence of friends and family members, which is what every successful marriage must be--a marriage of hearts as well as bodies, a marriage of friendship as well as romance, a marriage of commitment to one another during the good times and the hard times.

After our service that Sunday, I was struck by a thought. We have a great many same sex couples on this island, some of them having been together for many years. Some of them have traveled to far places to be legally married---Canada, New England, California. Some of them have traveled to places to be married and then had that legal relationship snatched away from them by voters' actions or court decisions.

After seeing this happen to two young friends in Portland a couple of years ago, I decided that someday I wanted to do something concrete to alleviate some of the pain caused by injustice toward sexual minorities. I had performed their wedding ceremony, had celebrated with them and their families, and had taken part in these festivities with great joy, because Portland and Corvallis had declared that civil marriage was a civil right.

And then, that right was unceremoniously taken away, creating unnecessary heartbreak and fear in my friends' hearts and in the hearts of all who had rejoiced with them.

Now, here in Washington our legislature has enacted domestic partnership laws that ensure some of the rights of marriage for same sex couples, but those laws are inadequate to supply all the rights and benefits of marriage, both in a legal sense and in a cultural sense.

Children in families where two women or two men are heads of households cannot say that their parents are married, cannot enjoy the security of knowing that they are part of a nice normal culturally accepted family. Their parents love them as fiercely as any heterosexual parents, yet children are sensitive to the slights of their peers over cultural differences and must figure out how to cope with those slights.

To offer something to counteract the fear and heartbreak inherent in injustice of all kinds, to offer something only we, as Unitarian Universalists, can offer from our position as a Welcoming Congregation in a faith tradition whose First Principle states that we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, to offer as a gift to same sex couples on this island, I have asked the board of trustees to approve what I am calling Proposal 2009. And they have done so, helping me work out the appropriate details of this gift and committing themselves to the support of the gift.

Here's what we, the UU Congregation of Whidbey Island, will offer to same sex couples on this island, during the year 2009: the use of our sanctuary and my services as an officiant to celebrate their marriages of the heart in wedding ceremonies that acknowledge their commitment to one another, their relationship as a positive and healthy thing in their lives, and their children as beloved members of a beautiful family.

I will work with these couples as I do with all couples who wish to be married, helping them to create a ceremony that expresses for them their deep connections, their vows of love and loyalty, their sense of beauty and honor. Their wedding may be public or private; it may be small or large; it may be simple or fancy, casual or formal.

But it will be a real wedding. And I will give them a certificate which acknowledges the seriousness of their commitment, as well as a promise that when the time comes, as it inevitably will in our state and across the nation, when civil marriage is acknowledged as a civil right by our state, I will sign their civil marriage license with great joy.

This is our gift as a congregation and my gift as a UU minister to our neighbors here on Whidbey Island who do not yet have this important cultural right to civil marriage. This is a gift, meaning that we will not charge for the use of our sanctuary and my services. We hope that our modeling of this act of affirmation will encourage other congregations to take bold steps to welcome same sex couples into a place where their love is honored and respected and validated.

We are grounded theologically in this gift by our Unitarian Universalist principles which state, among other things, that we affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person and that in a democratic society such as our, all persons must have equal civil rights.

In addition, two years ago we committed ourselves as a congregation to acting in behalf of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex community. As a Welcoming Congregation, we have a commitment to advocate and care for these friends, neighbors, and family members, whether or not they are members of this congregation.

I know that you may have questions and ideas about this gift. To give all a chance to discuss it with me, I invite you to be part of the regular conversation I normally have during the month we are examining each of our principles. That discussion would normally be at my home but instead we will have it here, in the sanctuary, to accommodate more folks than my little living room. We'll have some refreshments and some time to talk about what this may mean in our congregational life and in the life of the larger community.

I know some of you may be wondering what this has to do with honoring Martin Luther King Jr. I'd offer these words by Coretta Scott King in answer to your question:
For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law...I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." On another occasion he said, "I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible." Like Martin, I don't believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.

So in the spirit of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, let us joyfully offer our gifts as a congregation to our friends and neighbors on Whidbey Island, in hope that we can do something concrete to alleviate the pain of injustice.

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 charge as human beings is to bring love and justice to each other and to the world beyond these doors. May we take this charge seriously, treating others as we would wish to be treated, loving the universe, the world we live in, and caring for it respectfully. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ruminations on Sin

Chalice Chick has been ruminating this morning about sin and how it plays out institutionally in society. Go read what she has to say here.

I've been thinking about it too, though more in the context of social justice. On the bulletin board directly in front of where I sit at the computer, I've written myself a little note (written long ago in response to some of the more outrageous stuff out there objecting to marriage equality). I might have posted it before, but I'll do it again, since I've revised it a bit:

Love is not a sin.
Commitment is not a sin.
Taking responsibility is not a sin.
Being true to your whole self is not a sin.
Sex between consenting adults is not a sin.
Trust is not a sin.

Injustice is a sin.
Betrayal is a sin.
Resentment is a sin.
Being dishonest about who you are is a sin.
Rape is a sin.
Faithlessness is a sin.

Fear is normal, but love casts out fear.

I think fear is often at the root of the actions I would call sin: fear that someone is going to hurt us and therefore we make it illegal for them to do certain things or fear that someone is going to betray us and therefore we betray them first, fear that we are not as capable as we need to be and therefore we resent and undermine those who are, fear that we are not able to have a normal sexual relationship and therefore we force others into sexual acts, fear that we do not deserve faithfulness and therefore we are faithless ourselves.

I've always found it interesting that Unitarian Universalists have a very mixed reaction to the word "Sin", as though none of us would ever do such a thing. When we do something wrong, what do we call it? Sometimes it makes sense to call it a mistake, but when we do something wrong deliberately? Is there a better word than "Sin"?

Sin is something that we ought to feel guilty about! There's another word we don't like---guilt. But it just means feeling disturbed that we did something hurtful to another person and taking responsibility for it. It's the overblown, hyped use of the word that is meaningless---when we obsess about our guilt and don't actually do anything to atone for it.

I'm getting ready to announce to the congregation tomorrow that UUCWI is undertaking what I'm calling "Proposal 2009: Standing on the Side of Love". My sermon is about MLK Jr. and his leadership of the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers into being activists for social change, referring to his statement that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere". I am going to tell them enough about the plan to help them see its connection to our status as a Welcoming Congregation and our desire to be social activists in our community and then invite them to a conversation next week about its theological underpinnings---Principles One and Five of UUism.

I'm excited about the chance to offer good will and welcome to a group of folks who have been historically mistreated and misunderstood by a society that is afraid of those who are different. A chance to offer love instead of fear? That's the way I see it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Beau and Frodo

Beau and Frodo belong to Neal and Bridgit, who host Bayview Sound rehearsals at their home every week. Frodo tends to stay underneath things when we visit, though he is getting braver. Beau, however, is the ultimate extrovert and all he wants to do is play. Here he is in quieter moments with Frodo. Can you guess which is which?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Starting a new life

No, not me, but a woman I had lunch with today, a longtime member of our congregation who is moving away, far away, to be closer to one family member in a place where she knows almost no one. As I listened to her, I was astounded at the personal courage and commitment she had mustered to make this immense change.

She's not a person who does this sort of thing easily, it seems to me, and as we talked about her leaving friends behind, leaving behind a home she has loved, leaving a community where she has fit so well, my admiration for her grew. She doesn't know what she will find in the new place---friends? a beloved home? a church home? a new job or outlet for her skills?

The one thing she knows for sure is that the family member is worth this move. And that has given her the strength to pull up stakes and go.

I'm reminded of ancestors who bet everything they had on a homestead in Wyoming or Oregon, packed their belongings, and left the old place in Missouri or Ohio to start a new life. The chances people are willing to take in are astounding.

One thing she feels she can count on is the UU congregation in her new locale. She is confident she will find friends there, a warm reception. She's an honest and forthright person, authentic, reserved, completely herself. She's also tender, sensitive. I hope her new church home welcomes her wholeheartedly. If she comes to your church, please take her in and help her feel at home.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pictures from the Trilogy house concert

Kit, Richard, and Debbie in the middle of a song.
Praise for Richard who has just performed "Puttin' on the Ritz" as part of the concert.

The concert went beautifully. We had a full house, fabulous refreshments, and lots of applause. Thanks to all the folks who helped us put it on and bought tickets at last spring's auction. You made the year's worth of rehearsing worth it!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Trilogy Performance Tonight!

Tonight is the house concert that Debbie, Richard, and I have been preparing for over a year. It has been a lot of work and a lot of fun, and I am glad we've done it. For one thing, I've gotten to know both of these musicians much better and have become very fond of them personally and as musicians. We've had some differences, but we've been able to work them out pretty amicably.

It's been really good for me to take part in this kind of sustained rehearsal; their parts are far more demanding than mine and sometimes I have to wait for them to work out a chord sequence or address a technical problem or tune their instruments again.

But it's time well spent. My musical knowledge has grown a great deal since I've been practicing with them. I know more about chords, more about rhythm, more about tonality, more about the instruments they play, and especially more about what it means to make music in a small group.

The songs we'll be doing tonight include "Stardust", "Skylark", "Heart and Soul", "The Nearness of You", "Two Sleepy People", a medley of "Lazy Bones" and "Bidin' My Time", as well as others in the same general time period and genre. Richard and I sing harmony together on a couple of them and Richard and Debbie do two instrumentals, "Two Kites" and "Soir et Matin". The concert will last about 75 minutes with no intermission.

The audience is made up of folks from the Whidbey congregation and a few extra friends, about 25 people in all, including ourselves. The hosts will provide refreshments before and after.

I don't know whether Trilogy will continue or not. We've talked about offering the same program at Rockhoppers, a local venue, and we may do that. But both Richard and I are dubious about working up anything new because of our additional commitment to Bayview Sound, which has Rockhoppers gigs on Feb. 7 and 28, meaning a lot of rehearsal time between now and then.

So we'll see how things go after tonight. One thing is for sure, our rehearsals together in the kind of intense, concentrated way we've been working for the past two weeks are a thing of the past. We were slowed down by illness and the horrible weather which kept Richard confined on his mountaintop, even with his big 4x4 pickup. So we had to bust our buttons to do the final preparations for tonight. Having that behind us will be a big relief.

I'll try to post pictures if I can remember to take my camera for someone to take some shots. More later.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Harmony as a spiritual practice

Yesterday afternoon during our Bayview Sound rehearsal, we were working on a new song arrangement (Whiskey Evening, by Maria Dunn) and testing harmonies. The house we were meeting in has an empty room which is almost a sound chamber, so we went in there to stand in a tight circle and sing the chorus of the song a cappella, to hear how the various parts sounded together. We've done this before but it didn't hit me quite as hard then as it did last night.

I've expressed before my strong visceral need to make music. Without that opportunity, I tend to become too focused on minutiae, on externals, on angst. I don't even realize how much it affects my happiness to be without the opportunity to make music. I don't mean listening to music. That doesn't have the same effect. I need to be making music, alone or with others.

This often manifests in my singing harmony to the songs I may hear on the radio or CD player. I gravitate toward making harmony, rather than singing lead, though I do like to sing the melody. I've described myself in the past as having an alto nature.

I think it's more than that. I dug out my old copy of "Four Spiritualities", my colleague and friend the Rev. Peter Richardson's book linking Myers Briggs typologies to spiritual nature, and refreshed my memory about my ENFJ personality type and its spiritual nature.

Not surprisingly, that chapter---about NF type---is entitled "The Journey of Harmony". Here's part of that chapter:
"The native spirituality of the Journey of Harmony concentrates in six manifestations of the ... NF personality type: 1. the quest toward authentic, actualized selfhood; 2. mystical harmony; 3. a life attitude of expectancy; 4. the importance of openness to healing and the place of the dream in this process; 5. social idealism; and 6. focus on process in relationships, familial and social."

Those of you who are also NF types may recognize yourselves in these six characteristics. I certainly do. But it's the "mystical harmony" one that leaps out at me. There is a craving in me to find the place where every voice fits, the musical line that works in the lovesong or the lifesong. I want others to find a place where their voice fits; I want to hear how it works with my voice. I want to experience the exquisite beauty of voices in harmony, the unusual note that somehow brings either movement to the song or resolves it in a creative way or ends it in a chord of meaning. I want all this both physically and metaphorically.

Last night, listening to our voices blend, Lynn on tenor, me on melody, Neal on baritone, Debbie and Richard an octave apart on the same line, I felt----well, I can't even describe it. The sound resonated in me so powerfully that I felt transported into another realm. The words of the song are meaningful to me as well, describing an experience of remembering an old love now gone, and singing it with good friends increased its power to goosebump level. It became not just a great song and sound but a true spiritual experience.

I'd suggest to anyone curious about spiritual pathways and interested in Jungian typologies that they find Peter's book at the library or through a local or national book store or the UUA bookstore. It's published by Davies-Black Publishing in Palo Alto, CA. It's a wonderful guide for understanding why different people are attracted to different spiritual and religious paths. And that in itself is a mechanism for finding harmony!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Proposal 2009 redux

As I've asked in ever-widening circles for feedback about my idea to offer a gift to our local BGLT community, I've gotten a great deal of support and positive input about it. I've asked for the thoughts of my colleagues on the UUMA chat, on our district ministers' chat, from BGLT and straight friends and congregants, and from friends Harry Knox at the Human Rights Campaign and Keith Kron of the UUA's office of bglt concerns. I asked you, my readers, for your thoughts as well.

There's been some very good advice as well as a few caveats and I am encouraged enough that I plan to ask my committee on ministry and the board of trustees this week to consider it and give their blessing. Assuming I get that blessing, I will talk with the congregation about it later this month and, assuming their blessing as well, I will announce the gift via the local newspapers in February, appropriately. I won't do it unless I have the support of my congregation, but I am fairly certain they will give it.

The gift to the BGLT community is this, in case you've just tuned in: to counteract the oppressive passage of Proposition 8 in California during the Nov. election, we will offer Proposal 2009, the use of our sanctuary and/or my services as officiant to same sex couples who wish to have a wedding ceremony (religious or spiritual) during the year 2009. Couples will be asked to register as domestic partners in advance, to make sure they have legal standing as a couple, unless there are extenuating circumstances, like military service. There will be no charge for the use of the sanctuary or my services; donations are welcome but not necessary.

In writing an op ed piece for the papers, I will focus on the theological and social justice bases of Unitarian Universalism---the inherent worth and dignity of every person and our belief that a democratic society offers equal rights to every person. Ceremonies can be public or private at the preference of the couple. The purpose of this gift is to counteract negative actions toward the BGLT community, to offer a tangible gift to folks whose relationships have not been honored in the traditional way, and to engender good will toward Unitarian Universalism.

That said, I know that there are some dangers in taking such a stand. Though Whidbey Island tends to be pretty liberal, at least on the South end, there may be some angry responses. We may get some threats. Some people may take advantage of the "freebie" without giving adequate thought to the significance of marriage. There are no guarantees that anyone will even want to receive this gift.

But I feel compelled to DO something, not just bemoan the uneven justice in American treatment of BGLT couples. This seems like something my congregation and I can do for them.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Whom Some Call God: a sermon

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Jan. 4, 2009

"Whom some call God"…..I'm not sure where I first heard this phrase, but it has stuck with me and I use it with some frequency.

It's the wording I use when I'm beginning a public prayer with Unitarian Universalists, generally. I wouldn't use it in an ecumenical or all-Christian gathering, probably, as the assumption there is that everyone is on the same page with God and folks would spend the rest of my prayer-time trying to figure out what I meant. It's more appropriate in an interfaith setting where some are pagan, some Buddhist, some Muslim, where not all use the word God.

In an ecumenical setting, I'd probably say something like "Spirit of Life and Love, God in our midst", which would be a bow to my understanding of God without jarring that of traditional theists in the room.

When Amy and Matt Cyprian chose a topic for the traditional "auction" sermon they purchased last February, we had a long conversation one day about all the ideas they had about the sermon.

During that conversation, I made a list of the possible directions this sermon might go. Here are just a few of those ideas: Who or what is God? How do we deal with religion that seems promoted by what we might call false prophets? How do we form an understanding of God or a relationship with God when we have not had a traditional religious upbringing? When the public face of religion seems evil in some ways, how do we reconcile wanting to be part of a religious community?

What are humanism and deism and how are they part of our religious faith today? And what the heck has happened to the revolution that the Baby Boomers started in the 60's?

You can see that there were a lot of possible topics raised that day. We knew that it would be impossible to address them all, but as I thought about it and considered what the underlying issue might be, the issue that touches the lives of many of us here today, I saw a theme emerge and as current events and issues interacted with that theme in my mind, I decided to address an issue that often concerns me deeply and causes me middle-of-the-night wakefulness. It may do the same to you.

This theme is implied in several of the topics raised by my conversation with Amy and Matt: God (and I use that word in its broadest sense to include all the various ways of viewing the concept of God) and religion have gotten a bad name; can we help to redeem those ideas and clarify them and free them from the evil connotations that they have absorbed? In other words, can we save God and religion from going to Hell in a handbasket? And we UUs don't even believe in Hell!

This fall, our youth did a survey here at UUCWI, asking for our ideas about God. Most of the responses fell in a few major areas. Folks could check more than one idea of God, so the totals do not reflect anything but general priorities.

Here are the major areas:
32 responses indicated that many folks sense that there is a spark of divinity in each person. 27 indicated that they think we can use Science and Reason to understand our Universe. 25 felt that there are probably as many ideas about God as there are people. 23 find God in Nature. 19 see Creation as ongoing and that humans are co-creators in the Universe. And 16 see God and the Universe as the same, with God being in everything and everyone.

Other less-chosen responses pointed out that there is no way we can know for sure whether there is "a God" or not. Others found God in relationships, in one's conscience, in Spirit form that is everywhere and always creating. Some felt a personal relationship with a God who listened to prayer. Some felt God had created the universe and left it to run itself, the theology called Deism.

Some saw motherly qualities in God; some doubted an all-powerful God because of the great suffering and evil which exists; some acknowledged Jesus as a pathway to God. Some felt that there is no such thing as God and found the word God meaningless. Interestingly, nobody indicated that God might be the source of our moral principles and that without God there would be no morality.

We can see from the responses to the survey that there are countless ways to view the idea of God or Divinity or Higher Power or Sacred Reality, as well as many names. Some of our ways of viewing that Higher Power are simple and trusting; others are complicated and highly intellectual. Some ways are anthropomorphic, that is, human-like, personal, motherly, fatherly. Some are relational, some ethics-based, some creativity-based. And some are angry.

We are no different from most Unitarian Universalist congregations in our diversity of opinion and thought about Who or What God might be. Our youth were interested in what you thought about this theological concept; they are sorting out their own beliefs and, in so doing, they look at what their elders and their peers think about big topics.

Their interest in this idea is certainly reflective of what is going on in the larger world outside these walls, where God is often presented as moralistic, legalistic, punishing and a Big Daddy who must be adored and praised and kowtowed to, in order to avoid punishment.

Yet Unitarian Universalism has always questioned and redefined the traditional theologies of God and human nature. We are in good standing in the world as reliable heretics! Many of us never use the word God, yet we acknowledge the idea of a power beyond human power, knowable through human power yet not completely understandable; expressed through science and the arts, visible in the creative force of the universe. And each of us has our own thoughts and understandings of that power.

Let's spend a few moments in silence, each of us thinking about what, for us as individuals, is the power beyond human power. (chime, 1 min)

I do a lot of thinking about "God"---what that concept means to me personally, how I am in relationship with "God", how I express my relationship with "God", how I nurture that relationship. And yet you will rarely hear me use the word----in fact I have already used it in this sermon more than I will typically use it in a month! I just don't use the word much.

Why is that? Because the word is so loaded that whoever hears me use it may automatically jump in their thinking to some conclusion about what I believe about the power beyond human power. A devout Christian, or even Jew or Muslim may assume that I am talking about that Big Daddy in the sky who judges and punishes human beings for their sins and assume that I agree with them on a lot of other things. A committed atheist may write me off as "a true believer" and discount anything else I say.

You may have had this experience: when people ask me what Unitarian Universalism is, I never know quite how to phrase my answer. I rarely want to hit anyone over the head with an answer like "well, we are a long-standing radical and heretical religion whose members may also be Christian or Jew or pagan or Muslim or agnostic or atheist or Buddhist".

I usually try something easier to swallow, like "well, we've been around for centuries, we developed out of liberal Christianity, and we welcome all who agree with our principles of how we treat each other and the planet." But no matter how I answer, some folks will always look at me blankly and, then, with a flash of hope, say "well, we all believe in the same God, don't we?"

Well, no, we don't. And that's the way it should be. Each of us has our own unique understanding of the power beyond human power, though many of us share some of the same ideas. Our understandings are as diverse as we are, as diverse as the many names of God, as diverse as the many ways we experience our relationship with the sacred.

So how do we explain our understandings to others? or is it even possible? Remember this old poem by John Godfrey Saxe?

The Blind Man and the Elephant
It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant~(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation~Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side, ~ At once began to bawl:
"God bless me! but the Elephant ~ Is very like a wall!"

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, "Ho! what have we here?
So very round and smooth and sharp? ~ To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant ~ Is very like a spear!"

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands, ~ Thus boldly up and spake:
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant ~ Is very like a snake!"

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
"What most this wondrous beast is like ~ Is mighty plain," quoth he;
"'Tis clear enough the Elephant ~ Is very like a tree!"

The Fifth who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: "E'en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most; ~ Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant ~ Is very like a fan!"

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail ~ That fell within his scope,
"I see," quoth he, "the Elephant ~ Is very like a rope!

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion ~ Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right ~ And all were in the wrong!

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

Each of the Blind Men of Indostan experienced the elephant in his own unique way, relating what he experienced to something else he had experienced earlier in life, whether that was a wall, a spear, a fan, a rope. And each was right, in what he likened the elephant to, but there was no way to reconcile together a whole portrait of the elephant because each experience was so different.

Let's pause again for a time of silence, taking this opportunity to reflect upon the differences and similarities between our own view of the Divine and that of others. (chime, 1 min.)

In our world today, we see the devastating effects of arguments about the nature of the power beyond human power, whom some call God. The so-called holy wars of the past and present, when infidels were tortured and killed during the Crusades of the Middle Ages, when witches were burned at the stake for being nothing more than talented or outspoken, when God was purported to advocate destruction of entire peoples, when the Bible has become a blueprint for oppression of certain groups, when, instead of the compassion advocated by true prophets, punishment and exclusion have become the backbone of traditional religion.

If this God were a human, he'd be hellbound, by all reasonable standards.

Recently, in liberal circles, there has been a great deal of conversation about how this country needs to move forward, to correct the oppressive policies of the past and to bring a sense of hope and national unity into American lives and onto the world scene once again.

Much of this conversation has been political in nature and I don't want to go there, as I am generally uneasy about politics from the pulpit. I am more interested in the deeper human issues that are reflected in political discourse and the decisions made by politicians.

As President-elect Barack Obama has begun to select his cabinet and plan for his inauguration, his supporters have had mixed feelings about some of his selections. This is pretty normal, for we all have our likes and dislikes and our opinions about who can do the job, what choices ought to be made, that sort of thing. After all, we the voters elected this guy over the other one and we figure we have a right to our opinions! And we do, of course.

It's harder for us to see the bigger picture sometimes. This country has become so polarized around social issues like abortion and marriage equality that the lenses we see our leaders through are tinged with a not-so-rosy coloring. We are afraid to trust them. And with good reason, sometimes.

One choice that has upset a great many people was the decision to have both an invocation and a benediction at the inauguration. The inauguration on Jan. 20 is not a religious ceremony; therefore it seems inappropriate to many that there should be religious elements in the occasion. Tradition has dictated that the President-elect may make that choice and Barack Obama has chosen to include those elements.

To offer the invocation, the opening words of the ceremony, he asked Pastor Rick Warren to participate. To offer the benediction, the closing words of the ceremony, he asked the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery to participate.

Politically, it's pretty clear that the choice of Pastor Warren, who is seen as an opponent of many liberal causes, is a nod to evangelical youth whose idealistic passion for the causes of poverty and environment helped to elect Obama. And the choice of Rev. Lowery, a proponent and supporter of civil rights for all, including same sex marriage, is intended to counterbalance the choice of Pastor Warren and to acknowledge the power of the liberal folks who are passionate supporters of civil rights for all.

This has been a painful moment for many people, particularly passionate supporters, like myself, of equal rights for sexual minorities.. And after I got over the shock of the political choice my hero Mr. Obama had made, I went back in my mind to what I most liked about this man in the first place---that he saw that our country was crumbling under the stresses of its polarization and felt that he could help heal some of those wounds.

Not unlike the United States in the days of slavery, our country had taken sides over new social issues of oppression and was teetering on the brink of a metaphorical civil war fueled by religious differences.

We could not continue the same path as we had in the past, fighting each other over pro-life and pro-choice policies, over hetero and homosexual rights and traditions, just to name two of the most divisive issues.

The message of this past election was that we as a nation need change, that we need to find ways to come together, to talk to each other, to consider where we are in harmony and not let our differences divide us again.

This is something we Unitarian Universalists have been learning to do in our congregations ever since the merger of the humanistic Unitarians with the theistic Universalists almost fifty years ago. We have learned to walk together, even with our differences in theology and in our views of the power beyond human power. We have learned to love each other despite our disagreements on certain issues, for we can see beyond those issues to the Beloved Community we hope to create.

As our country goes forward under the leadership of President Obama and his co-leaders, our experience as a diverse congregation can help us trust the process of bridge-building between liberal and conservative, between those who fear equal rights and those who believe in equal rights, between secular and religious, between orthodox and heretic. As one of our spiritual ancestors, Francis David, wrote in the 16th century, "we need not think alike to love alike".

Let's pause for a moment of silence, as we consider what our part might be in rebuilding our nation, our home, our community. (chime, 1 min)

To return to the question I asked early in these remarks: "can we save God and religion from going to Hell?" As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that there is no such thing as an afterlife in Hell. We tend to believe that we create our own Hell here on earth by our actions. We've seen ourselves and our nation standing on the brink of that Hell for a long time now but we believe it's possible, by our love, to redeem and reconcile those who are in danger.

We believe it will take changes on our part and that it may be a long process. We know, from our own human experience, that we cannot change other people; we can only change ourselves, which means that others must change in order to stay in relationship with us, whether that's as family members, as friends, as coworkers, as leaders.

And change is a long process, one which asks of us our best efforts, our greatest courage, our deepest love.

Let's pause for a time of meditation 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 changes in ourselves encourage changes in others. May we strive to build bridges between ourselves and those who do not understand us, those we do not understand. And may we always recall that our charge as human beings is to love one another as best we can. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Obama's Grandma Toot's Memorial Service

President-elect Barack Obama and his family held the memorial for his grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham, in the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu. Their minister, the Rev. Mike Young, wrote this for the newsletter of the Pacific Central District, of which the Honolulu church is a member. I thought you might be interested.

Many years ago Madelyn Dunham brought a small boy to the First Unitarian
Church for Sunday School. On December 23rd, he came back to celebrate her
memorial service. She had died two days before he was elected President of
the United States.

This time he came with his family, his sister's family and a few close
friends; and a huge contingent of Secret Service Agents, bomb sniffing dogs,
and snipers. The whole property was locked down. Every nook and cranny of
the church was searched. The event was successfully kept a secret for two
weeks ahead of time to protect the privacy of the family.

The service was a simple one, with music by Dion Hangtree. Barack and his
sister, Maya, spoke warmly remembering their grandmother, "Toot," (The
Hawaiian word for grandmother is Tutu.) She had been a local bank executive.
The president mentioned that she was the sort of bright, strong woman who,
if she had been born 20 years later, would have been president of the bank.
Her ashes were later scattered in the ocean off Lanai Point, South Oahu.
This is from the opening I wrote for the service:

Madelyn Dunham chose this land of gentle and violent beauty for her final
resting place. We stand now in the leeward shadow of the majestic Ko'olaus,
in the distance the rich and fecund Pacific. Along this coast, Punchbowl,
Diamond Head, Koko, Hanauma, craters of the ancient birthing of this land in
fire. Wrapped in moist trade winds scented and spiced with pikaki and
ginger. Mauka, the verdant mist washed valleys watering a fertile garden of
the human spirit. From the most ancient Kanaka Maoli to today's rich
diversity of peoples whose spirits are rooted in this land, here have you
come. Here will her ashes and the good wishes of those who loved her be
joined with the elements of this place. We come here today to seek the
blessings of this land upon her repose. Once, she admired this beauty as she
moved through its spaces. Now she will be a part of it; greeting the dawn
and the sunset, storm and calm, from within the very heart of that beauty.

I was honored to have shared this moment with the family of President-elect
Barack Obama.