Thursday, April 30, 2009

Very much on the mend, thankee kindly!

I'm awaiting the arrival via the 5:30 ferry of my friend Sue from Portland, who is coming up to share the Pete Seeger weekend with me. For more information about the concert, you can click on this article at the South Whidbey Record.

Wish us luck tomorrow night. The dress rehearsal last night wasn't bad but we are banking on enthusiasm and a great deal of camaraderie getting us through!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's been a week...

and I am rapidly getting back to normal. My vision in my left eye has improved markedly and the doctor told me yesterday I could let up on the face-down time. I've shortened it to 15 minute sessions when my eyes get tired, which works out to 15 minutes or so every couple of hours. I'm almost through with the medications and will be able to drive within a few days. I'm considering hiring out as a consultant for people with detached retinas (retinae?). It has not been a piece of cake, as friend Richard predicted it would be since his experience was a piece of cake, but it has not been awful.

The only awful part was hearing the doc tell me what the probable limitations would be. I now know that he posited the worst case scenario in order to impress upon me how important it was. I took him seriously and had a better case than predicted. And I've done a lot of thinking about my life and just what is truly important for me to hang onto. I've done a lot of reading---I usually just skim magazine articles, but The Chair made it more inviting to read things thoroughly, so I read some things I would have skimmed another time. I've slowed down a lot. I have tended to look at empty time in a day as a problem----isn't that wild? That may change!

Now it's going on 11 a.m. and I have completed all the tasks I had intended to do today. The rest of the day lies invitingly in front of me. I can't yet drive, so whatever I do needs to be on the home front. Let's see.....vacuum? dust? make a rhubarb pie? weed? It's a beautiful day and I am almost well! Yay!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Tuesday reflections

On Saturday, I got to listen to ALL of Prairie Home Companion. Arlo Guthrie was the featured musician and one of the songs he sang was so beautiful and meaningful to me that I have embedded it here for your enjoyment---and so that I can learn it.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monday Perspectives

Today has been a day of thinking and deciding. I've been keeping a journal of this journey of "vision", both metaphorical and actual. I'm realizing that for the first few days, I was in fairly deep denial about the seriousness of a detached retina and also of the process of healing. I wanted it to be over fast, I wanted to be faster in recovery than anyone else has ever been (overnight, if possible), I was tempted to drive myself somewhere just to see if I could, I was totally unrealistic about what I could do despite all evidence to the contrary.

Today is different. The local eye guy told me this morning that it might be weeks, even months, before my vision completely returned, that my "central vision" would probably not completely return and I will have to get my contacts and glasses re-prescriptioned, if that's a word. Boy, that's sobering. Not the re-do of the lenses but the lessening of vision. And there's not much I can do about it except obey the doctor's orders.

So the thinking has been serious today. I was supposed to go to Astoria to preach on May 31. I've canceled that; I don't know if I will have good enough vision at that time to take on a long drive alone. I'm also aware that it was one more instance of having overscheduled in order to cram one more obligation/honorarium/excursion into my life when I really wanted more to stay home, forego the $$, and sing with BVS at the WAIF event on the 30th. That I can do without endangering myself or others!

The only things I need to do this week are get the O/S to the administrator for Sunday and write a short blurb about Pete for the service. The concert is pretty much on track and I have little to do to get ready for it, other than some rehearsing. I do have to pick up the birthday cake on Friday afternoon and get it to the church, but my friend Sue will be here and she can drive. By the time she leaves, I ought to be able to drive myself.

Lots of people have remarked on what a "stiff upper lip" and "good attitude" I seem to have about it. And truthfully, I'm not depressed or angry or sad; I'm feeling pretty good. In fact, I'm feeling almost relieved that something drastic yet not life-threatening came along to remove a bunch of stuff from my overloaded plate and give me something to think about.

The timer's about to ring. Back to the pondering position.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday report

Last night I was able to watch the Rockhoppers conglomeration present a concert/jam spontaneously and with little rehearsal time; what fun they had! And how hard it was not to be there! But they pulled together something lighthearted and enjoyable, periodically mentioning me and saying hi into the camera. I loved it but was so sad not to be there. Of course, if I had been, they wouldn't be doing this remarkable thing!

Today I've been inundated with phone calls, emails, several visits, food, flowers----I haven't had this much attention since I had my heart surgery years ago. I'm getting better every day, though I am not able to see well enough to drive.

Tomorrow night and Tuesday night, my fellow Pete performers are going to come rehearse here at the house, since I can't go to them. So I'll get some time to polish the songs I'm doing with them and see them.

Tomorrow morning I go to see the local optometrist who first diagnosed the problem and Tuesday morning, Carol will take me into Seattle to see Dr. Nash, the surgeon. I hope he will be able to tell me that my careful face-down times are paying off with good solid healing.

Friend Sue from Portland is coming on Thursday for the Pete weekend and if I still can't drive, she can drive us around. It will be fun to have her here.

So I'm still feeling chipper and noticing that the routine of 35 down, 25 up is helping me understand how much I can get done in 25 minutes!

PS. Max is eating a rabbit on the deck as I write. He shucked off the collar I put on him within a few hours and came home without it last night. I called my neighbor to tell her that I had at least tried and she was grateful and understanding. Thank goodness for good neighbors!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Saturday's gains

I'm better today. Or at least I'm more comfortable. There seems to have been a turning point somewhere in the past 24 hours, including a delicious night's sleep---all the way to 6 a.m., which for me is a record. No cats scratching at the door or mewing piteously.

Much of it is the comfort that the new equipment, designed to make it possible to read or watch TV while keeping my head down, has brought me. I do look like I'm awaiting the massage therapist to show up and just marking time with a magazine, but it makes 35 minutes go rather quickly by.

Friend Carol took me to the pet store for a collar with a bell, to be applied to one Maxwelton when he comes in next ($6---he'd better not lose it! though I know he will. NOTE: he came home tonight without it. But I tried.) and to the drugstore for a devilish looking eye patch to keep me from getting a headache from the goofy vision provided by one good eye and one surgified eye.

And I got the new "Precious Ramotswe" book via Amazon. That's a treat and has kept me reading and laughing all morning. I washed my hair and didn't do anything to it and it looks halfway decent. And in the mail, there appeared several new magazines, as we're approaching May.

I had several nice phone calls from people---my brother who, even though he has survived a heart transplant AND hernia surgery in the past 10 months, was impressed by my detached retina; a congregant who is always so appreciative and supportive of my work and concerned for me; another friend who just had her knee replaced and is feeling sisterly toward me; and my lovely doctor, Dr. Nash, the saint of Swedish hospital's eye clinic, who called to make sure I am doing well. What a guy!

It's the first Saturday I've been able to listen non-stop to NPR as well. That's a pleasure I rarely get. And, get this, tonight's canceled Trilogy gig is being replaced by a troupe of friends who will provide (in Trilogy's absence) a full two sets of songs, so that Rockhoppers is supported as well. Dan says they've got the web cam fixed now, so I can actually even listen in, which I really want to do, because Richard is going to sing some of my songs! He has a nice, true voice and I am looking forward to hearing him. I may have to let him take over!

I'm reminded of a poem my mom had written in her little book of hand-copied poems, this one by Edna St. Vincent Millay: PRAYER TO PERSEPHONE

Be to her, Persephone,
all the things I might not be;
Take her head upon your knee.
She that was so proud and wild,
flippant, arrogant and free,
She that had no need of me
is a little lonely child.
Lost in Hell---Persephone,
Take her head upon your knee,
Say to her, "my dear, my dear,
It is not so dreadful here."

Nope, it is not so dreadful here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Yoga? Zen? the potential of the face-down position

It's not "downward dog" or any other pose and it's not precisely meditation, but in my more grateful moments I am finding that face-down is not too bad. Once I let go of all the things I was fretting about, it is rather pleasant. I have classical music playing in the background, the cats are curled up around me (actually, Loosy chose to curl up on my back this afternoon when I was face-down on the bed), and my mind is free to go where it likes.

Sometimes it likes to go to sleep, which is fine; other times it is sentimental and teary over the TLC I'm getting from friends and congregants. I discovered in one of my forays to the computer during a vertical stretch that Richard, one of our Trilogy members, is organizing an informal gathering of the Pete folks, the jam folks, and other assorted musicians to take our place at Rockhoppers tomorrow night. Rockhoppers was going to be impacted hard if we didn't come (yeah, right--deprived of the 10 or 15 groupies we get, but still...) so he decided to do something. The only bad part is that I am going to miss it.

Other things have fallen into place. Our DRE Vanessa is agreeable to the idea that we postpone the intergenerational extravaganza we had (not yet) planned for Mother's Day and I'll do my Sex and the Single Planet sermon on May 10. The worship committee came up with a good replacement program for this Sunday; one of our members is the local Audubon prez and she'll be a good Earth Day Sunday speaker.

The Pete service on May 3 is pretty well planned. Several others are taking part, so it's not just up to me and the other planner.

Boy, this is sure turning out differently than I had expected. I knew I was going to be very busy this two weeks, but I didn't know it was going to be busy with letting go of things, making alternate plans, setting up face-down chairs and that sort of thing. You just never know, do you?

Well, the timer has rung. My 25 minutes of verticality is over. Better go assume the position.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Chapter Two: the face down position

Well, do I ever look funny today! One eye bright and clear and myopic; the other mucky and bloodshot and prickly---and unseeing, as yet. But that's retinal detachment for you.

My friend Carol and I headed off on the 9 a.m. ferry yesterday, getting to my appointment at the eye surgeons' office plenty early. Then, because we were an "add-on", even though a semi- emergency one, we had to be added to the roster of surgeries for the day, which meant that we were there all day, paging through the heaps of old magazines in the waiting room. I finally went in to pre-op at 3:30 but surgery didn't start until after 5.

Let me tell you, it's an interesting experience and I also want to issue a warning: if your vision goes wonky, with floaters and flashing lights, do not pass go, go directly to the eye guy/gal and find out what's going on. If you get it taken care of immediately, you will be fine. If not, if you wait a few days like I did, it may not be an easy row to hoe.

Waiting seemed like the right thing to do, frankly, because it was almost the weekend and I didn't think I'd be able to get in to see my eye guy. But I should have tried because it was clear by yesterday afternoon that the situation was getting worse and worse. By the time of the surgery, the small shadow that had impaired my vision had almost blotted out my left eye's sight with its billowing, flashing shape. What was I thinking on Thursday? I won't think that way again, believe me!

Anyhow, the surgery itself was painless because of good meds, tranks, skilled docs and nurses. But it was interesting because I was awake, could feel pressure if not pain, and could count the pops of the laser "gun" as it cemented (wrong word for it, but apt) down the little rips in the retina. It took about an hour to do the whole job. Later, in the recovery room, the doctor came in and we had quite a conversation about the whole process, with his being very clear about how I need to behave in these next two weeks: face down about half the time during the day and all night while sleeping. Boy, that really cuts into my lifestyle!

So I have cancelled the Rockhoppers gig for Saturday night with Richard and Debbie; I will not be preaching on Sunday on "Sex and the Single Planet"---I will finish that sermon another time and deliver it later (maybe on Mother's Day? what a way to solve that topic's dilemma!); I will diligently observe the face-down prescription and I WILL BE HEALED! (Thanks, Ogre, for your FB comment!)

And you know what? It's great fodder for a sermon----or for a post---on Trust! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Next loop on the roller coaster of my life...

is the process of getting my detached retina re-attached. Nuts! Why is it that when one's life is about as full as it can get, something often comes along to upset all the best-laid plans and make it very clear that one is NOT indispensable, that there are higher priorities than, for example, finishing the sermon or going to the Pete dress rehearsal or having a cup of coffee in the morning.

I'd noticed, late last week and a little too late in the week to contact my optometrist, that the vision in my left eye was a little odd---it seemed like a major floater had lodged itself in the left lower corner and rose and fell as I raised and lowered my sight line. Now I have had many floaters in the past few years (you know, those little specks that come and go in one's vision) and they've never been this troublesome, so I was aware that I didn't want to let this go.

So Monday first thing I called my eye guy and made an appointment for Tuesday afternoon (since I had all these very pressing things I just had to do, as if life was normal!). He did an exam and said, basically, yep, detached retina, medical emergency, I'm making you an appointment with the retina guys in Seattle.

Dang! Rats! Crumb! and all the expletives that I would prefer not to put out there in print. But what about my Trilogy rehearsal last night? what about the Pete rehearsal tonight? what about the sermon? what about the meetings I have scheduled for Thursday? what about my life? Dang! Rats! Crumb!

Feeling very sorry for myself, I called friend Carol (who is also a parishioner but one of those folks you feel you can call on in personal emergencies and is more than "just" a parishioner, since I've known her longer than others) and whined into the phone, "I have an emergency, can you help?" and, of course, Carol being Carol said "you got it, no problem, let's leave on the 8:30 a.m. ferry".

So I am up early---without any coffee or food, just in case they have to do more than just laser surgery---still feeling sorry for myself but with a more realistic attitude. That is to say, I am not indispensable and others can pick up the slack. A retinal detachment is not the end of the world nor of my vision unless it doesn't get taken care of in time. The treatments are not bad, and there are several possibilities, the worst possibility being having to keep my head in a particular position for days, in which case someone else may have to preach on Sunday.

I think I've notified the necessary people of the situation, particularly the FS who was properly sympathetic but full of his exciting June trip with family to Switzerland and the sister who had her own concerns about family members in a pickle. So we swapped joys and concerns and I felt better after talking with them.

Somebody else will have to take care of all the things I have to let go of right now, including Pete tickets and posters. I will be back in the swim when I can, humbled by my new knowledge!

MAX UPDATE: my lovely neighbor Susan left me a voice mail last night while I was gone (yes, I did go to the Trilogy rehearsal) asking if I would please consider getting Max a collar with a bell on it to warn the birds at her feeder, as he is lying in wait and bringing them down and hauling them off. Poor Susan, a bird lover, is distraught and I don't blame her. I am definitely going to try this as a solution but if it doesn't work, I may have to find Max a home where he can be a professional hunter. He's too hard on the wildlife here. I don't know if the bell will work, but it's worth a try.

Monday, April 20, 2009

April 20, 1999...

was the bright Denver day when Margaret Beard, director of Extension Ministry services at the UUA, called me late morning to give me the good news that I would be hearing from Wy'east UU Congregation in Portland, Oregon, about my possible appointment as their new Extension/New Congregation minister. Oohing and aahing on the phone to Margaret about how exciting it would be to be back in Portland, my old home town, I was dimly aware of unusual sounds coming from the radio, which I normally had tuned to the local classical music station, KVOD.

"Just a minute," I said to her finally, "there's something bad happening here and I don't know what it is. It sounds like a shooting at a school. I'd better let you go."

"I hope it's nothing too serious," she said, "and congratulations on your new adventure. I hope it all works out well."

Off the phone, I turned up the radio, which normally would have been lilting out Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms tunes. Instead, in a radical move for this classical station, it was giving constant updates on a terrible event unfolding at Columbine High School, where I knew the counselors, some teachers, a few kids whom I'd met while working with Columbine UU Church founders.

I was one month away from graduation from Iliff School of Theology and during my final year we had already experienced the murder of Matthew Shepard, an event which reverberated through our classrooms as we attempted to be pastoral to our bglt classmates and support the student pastors in Laramie WY churches.

Thinking about what I could do, I called the minister of Columbine UUC and left him a message, "I'm coming down, Joel, I don't know if I can be helpful but I would like to be."

Several of us gathered that afternoon at CUUC to think about how to address the massacre, its victims, its survivors, our congregations, the press. It was an event of such magnitude that few of us had ever experienced anything similar. But we kept the church open for drop-ins, made ourselves available, organized a vigil for the next night, went to the Mormon congregation across the street to see if they were okay.

We discovered that several Iliff students had close connections to Columbine teens; some had members of their youth groups killed or injured. Lives and psyches hung in the balance for days, weeks. A teacher in my home congregation had been in her classroom, huddled with her students. My Columbine counseling colleagues from my school district days were devastated by their own helplessness at the time.

So much anger and grief and helpless pity. Though there was at least one Jewish student among the victims, Franklin Graham came to town and offered a Jesus-centered prayer at the public memorial service a few days later, suggesting that non-Christian policies had been to blame. We were enraged. Crosses for all the victims, including the murderers, inspired others' rage. There was so much rage that we felt beaten down by it.

But at the public memorial service in the park across the street, student body leaders---and this I will never forget---stood at the microphones and spoke of their hope that the tragedy would change things for the better. And the young woman who spoke reminded the crowd of the spirit cry "We Are Columbine", used at ball games and school events. "Now we are ALL Columbine", she said, and invited the crowd of thousands to echo her words.

"We Are Columbine" roared the crowd, over and over. And those words echo down the years to me and bring me back to that sunny morning, the tears come, and I am reminded of incredible courage and resiliency in the face of terrible loss, despite the questions that remain, the mistakes made, the lives lost and changed forever.

We Are All Columbine. Yes, we are.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sex and the Single Planet

Okay, that was just to get your attention. It's the title of next Sunday's sermon about over-population and what that's doing to the earth. More on that later. It's the topic chosen by a couple who purchased the right to tell me what to preach about one Sunday. Some of it is inspired by an exchange of letters to the editor in our local newspaper recently, when a news article revealed that the local Youth Center has condoms and information about safe sex available for teens. Yes, it will deal with birth control, abstinence, responsible sexual choices, STDs, pregnancy, and abortion----in church.

Yesterday we had seven newcomers attend the UU101 class we offer a few times a year. My favorite part is listening to everyone tell about their spiritual journey so far including how they happened to come to our church. Somehow that simple story is a doorway into friendship and a sense of belonging; there are so many similarities between people's experiences with less open congregations/denominations and their desire for a place where they can be honest about themselves. I hope and expect that several will become members this spring.

Last evening, I attended a "Circle Supper" with several other UUCWIers----what fun! It was a great group, very lively and funny. Fabulous dinner---chicken curry with toppings, pea salad, green salad, bread, wine, and mocha cheesecake! Yummmo! What a fabulous meal! I brought home some of the pea salad, which I dearly love, and a chunk of cheesecake! Tonight's dinner of cod baked in ranch sauce will be much enhanced by pea salad and mocha cheesecake! Thanks, Karla and Vicky! And to the B's for their hospitality.

Today was a beautiful day at Woodinville; I spoke about our 6th Source, earth-based religious wisdom, to the delight of their pagan members. Then I scuttled home and sang Woody Guthrie songs at Bayview with the band. Right now I am looking forward to that lovely dinner and a movie---then early to bed!

Friday, April 17, 2009

An interesting thing I've noticed...

is located in the details of my SiteMeter report the past couple of weeks. When I glanced at it recently, I was astounded by the number of page reads enumerated by one particular reader. It made me a little curious to know more. If you use SiteMeter, you know that it will display cities and countries of origin and the name of the ISP, but it does not list the email address of the reader, obviously for privacy reasons and to protect readers from being outed unwillingly.

So what I discovered when I delved into the little information available on SiteMeter was that somebody who uses a military computer system has been reading hundreds of Ms Kitty posts over the past couple of weeks, visiting a few times a day. That devoted reader seems to hail from Indianapolis (or the ISP does). So now I'm even more curious---am I being checked out in case I've said something deleterious about the military? (paranoid reaction) or is this reader just captured by my deathless prose? (egoistic reaction) or is it something else entirely? (probably)

Whatever the reason, I'm honored by the attention, which has jacked up my statistics markedly, and invite the mysterious but devoted reader to comment here. Welcome to the Saloon and Roadshow, Ms/Mr Military Reader! Glad you stopped by!

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I posted a definite rant which I decided, after publishing it, was too ranty and too easily pinpointable to put out there. The FS would laugh and probably call me up to commiserate (you can still do that if you want to, FS), local friends would know exactly what I meant and might sympathize but look askance at my putting it out there, and congregants who read the blog might worry that I meant someone they know. So I took it down. You don't need to know just how fallible I am. Just take my word for it---I am.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Happy Day After Easter, all you UU colleagues who have busted your buttons to get everything done during Holy Week and Easter, trying hard to offer something for everyone in worship without sacrificing your integrity or good judgment. If you're like me, you are savoring a day without deadlines, without an endless to-do list, with the rainy skies keeping me from working to overhaul the weedy flower beds, with time to stop at the coffee shop and get a nice cuppa plus a cinnamon roll.

This is the first truly unbusy day I've had for several weeks. I'm caught up, I even have my sermon ready for preaching at Woodinville next Sunday (it's a rerun, though not for them), I figured out a ploy to keep from hating the cats at 5 a.m., I've mailed off the baby gifts to the latest additions to my extended family plus a return to Amazon (which has nothing to do with the so-called "glitch"), and I have a full day to take it easy in. I've got two rehearsals today, but they're fun, not a task to do.

Last night I decided to try something to change how irritated I feel at 5 a.m. when the soft scratching comes at my bedroom door. So this morning, when the little sound came, I got up, didn't turn on any lights, scraped a little wet cat food into their bowls, put Maxie outside as soon as he'd had enough, and went back to bed, leaving the bedroom door open.

I was pretty sure I wouldn't fall asleep again because I really was rested after seven good solid hours of sleep (because I am almost always in bed by 10), but it felt good to snuggle down into the covers. Lo and behold, Loosy was ecstatic that I had gone back to bed and immediately nosed her way under the covers so she could curl up next to me and purr. Lily was bemused and sat atop the bookcase watching us pretend to sleep but she didn't do anything irritating.

About 5:30, I decided I was ready to get up and I have to say, the change in my attitude is nice. I'm not irritated with them, I got to start my day when I felt like it, not when commanded, and I still made it to the gym in plenty of time to avoid the crowds.

It was a successful strategy and I will use it repeatedly after this, at least on mornings when it's too early to get up.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

For your Easter evening delectation

Saving Paradise: an Easter sermon

Rev. Kit Ketcham, April 12, 2009

Sing with me if you remember this old song reminiscent of Easters past or let us sing it to you, if it’s unfamiliar.
I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,
And the voice I hear falling on my ear the son of God discloses,
And he walks with me and he talks with me and he tells me I am his own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.

My best friend in high school once told me, when we were girls, growing up in the First Baptist Church of Athena Oregon, sitting on the front row of the sanctuary under the watchful eye of my dad in the pulpit, that she used to think God’s name was Andy, because of this old hymn we just sang. I have since heard of other children who recited, “Our Father who art in heaven, Howard be thy name.”

We chuckle at these childish memories and the innocence and naivete of childhood; we may remember our own childhoods and some of the things that were important to us then. Many of those values have stuck with us and we may sometimes long for the way things used to be, as we live in a world that is increasingly complex and hard to fathom.

Easter and Passover are a time of the year when the old ways are celebrated and mined for new meaning, a time when we feel grateful for the ancient ways, yet aware that we have moved beyond the literality of those ancient ways.

Recently I’ve been reading the latest book by our own Dr. Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King School for the Ministry---“Saving Paradise”. Dr. Parker and her colleague Rita Brock made an astounding discovery as they explored the earliest vestiges of Christian practice in the first ten centuries of the Common Era, or “Anno Domini, the year of our Lord”.

Let me read you the first lines of the prologue to “Saving Paradise”: “It took Jesus a thousand years to die. Images of his corpse did not appear in churches until the tenth century. Why not?”

And from a review of the book: “…Rita Brock and Rebecca Parker…discovered something that traditional histories of Christianity and Christian art had underplayed or sought to explain away…
“During their first millennium, Christians filled their sanctuaries with images of Christ as a living presence in a vibrant world. He appears as a shepherd, a teacher, a healer, an enthroned god; he is an infant, a youth, and a bearded elder. But he is never dead. When he appears with the cross, he stands in front of it, serene, resurrected. The world around him is ablaze with beauty. These are images of paradise---paradise in this world, permeated and blessed by the presence of God.
“But once Jesus perished, dying was virtually all he seemed able to do.”

This idea, that early Christianity was based on images of paradise promised by Jesus as the reward for a new life in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, piqued my interest, for it was new to me. I’d always wondered about the heavy insistence by most denominations on Jesus’ sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection, when I considered his message of love and mercy to be much more important than how he died.

Jesus died under horrible circumstances, according to most ancient sources. And he must have known that his resistance to Roman oppression and his teachings of a new interpretation of Jewish thought would get him in trouble, big trouble. In none of the stories of his life and death does he appear to be fearful or evasive about the realities of the danger. Death by execution or assassination seemed to be inevitable and he faced it squarely.

Yet his promises of Paradise, both to his followers, to the crowds who listened, to the thief on the cross beside him during his last hours, those promises superseded the specter of death, and after that dreadful event, despite their grief, his followers clearly expected that promise to be fulfilled.

Consequently, in the centuries following his death, it was more important to teach new followers about the promises of Jesus, about the Kingdom of God being within each person, about the need for mercy, pity, and love in human relations, rather than about his sacrificial death.

Remember that in Roman life, whether in occupied lands or in Rome itself, a pantheon of gods shaped the cultural life of the community. Jews in Roman-occupied lands were subject to Romans who were themselves subject to the whims of the Roman gods---who did not care at all how humans treated each other.

So Jesus’ teachings that God loves humankind and treats humans better if they live according to the Divine plan, was a brand new idea, and very appealing to people who were beaten down by the strictures imposed by Roman rulers and their soldiers.

Mercy and pity and love for all persons, not just family members but even the undeserving, were generally thought to be defects of character in that ancient setting. They were impulsive responses based on ignorance, and not to be given into. This tended to be the belief of some classical philosophers, who regarded mercy and pity as pathological emotions.

This was the moral climate in which Christianity emerged, teaching that mercy is a primary virtue, that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful, that Christians please God by loving each other and extending that love beyond the boundaries of family and tribe.

So this was the cultural milieu into which Jesus brought his message. And those who heard it were eager to learn all they could about this new life. A world where people treated each other kindly, mercifully, with understanding and respect---this was a world they wanted to create for themselves and their children, no matter what the price. This was the meaning of Jesus’ life to those early Christians.

And despite the setback of Jesus’ terrible death, the cruelty of the conditions in which they lived, the fear that they would be seen as accomplices to a criminal, the followers of Jesus taught those who came in search of a new life the principles of love and mercy and justice, making sure that they understood well what the requirements were for entrance into the new life.

And when each new follower, or catechumen, had been adequately prepared, the rite which established that person as a fullfledged member of the community was baptism, the immersion of the body in water to symbolize their dedication to a new way of life. Each person was led into a pool of water, immersed fully in the water and lifted up to be clothed in white, symbolic of the leaving behind of old ways and cleansed of sin.

One of my clearest memories, as a child growing up in a small Baptist church, is of the rite of baptism and how important it was to the gathered community. Recently in our lectionary group, we ministers were comparing our rituals and ceremonies, particularly the ones which are germane to the Easter and Lenten season.

Those from more liturgical faiths, such as Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopalian, have certain ways of baptizing the faithful and certain ways of celebrating the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper.

Pastor Glen Horn of the House of Prayer and I found ourselves with some common memories, if not practices, and I told them of my own experiences with baptism.

In Baptist churches, as well as at House of Prayer, the Baptistry is a small, deep reservoir of water, set into the wall at the front of the sanctuary. It has a short flight of steps down into the water and is just big enough for a tall man to be immersed, full length, in the water.

My favorite memory is of my father, tall, stout, dressed all in white, holding out his hand to the person descending the stairs. He leads the person into position, folds their hands in front of them in one large hand, puts his other hand behind the person’s head, says a few words: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit”, leans the person back into the water until it covers the whole person, then lifts them up back up, wiping the water from the face with a tender hand, and helping them back up the steps.

My dad would usually baptize several people during an evening service and we always looked forward to the drama and beauty of the ritual. But my favorite part was when, at the end, he would turn to the congregation with his arms outstretched and say to us, “once again it has been done as God has commanded. And yet there is room.”

Even now, the idea of “and yet there is room” touches me. We Unitarian Universalists don’t baptize people, we don’t have any ritual which cleanses from sin or denotes a changed life, and I’m glad about that. We come from so many different perspectives and religious traditions that to require such a demonstration of a changed life would impose strictures that are not appropriate to our pluralistic, multi-faceted, multi-faith congregation. Yet there is room under this roof and in our hearts for many more people.

It might surprise you, going back to the practices of those earliest followers of Jesus, to know that those small groups, scattered across Roman territory and Asia Minor, were very diverse from area to area, maybe as diverse as we UUs are in our own theology.

There was Jesus’ fundamental message of love and mercy and justice but there were various interpretations, some of which caused consternation among the disciples and later apostles, such as St. Paul.

These diverse bands are known today more as a Jesus movement than as Christians. These devotees were committed to keeping Jesus’ memory alive, telling the stories over and over, doubtless with each story being spun a slightly different way in the telling. We can see some of those differences when we read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all of which have striking differences in how they present some of the stories and the implications they make about the meaning of the stories.

These early followers were just trying to be good Jews, using the message of Jesus to amplify their understandings of Judaism and to spread it among other Jews. They firmly expected that Jesus would physically return and establish a new kingdom of God on earth, Paradise where all would be welcome, all would be fed and cared for, all would learn the mysteries of Paradise.

Their sacred rituals were baptism, both by full immersion and other means, and the communal meal, which was a daily re-creation of elements of the Passover supper which was Jesus’ last meal.

There was an excitement, a passion and sense of empowerment, of growth and fulfillment. The emphasis was not on sin as much as on joy.

At the same time, there was a sense of immense loss at his death, which perhaps was the impetus for the fostering of joy, a counter-reaction to what we might today call PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder.

But there had been an important transformative moment not long after Jesus’ death, described in the book of Acts, a moment when, according to the ancient story, tongues of fire came down upon the assembly of Jesus followers, all Jews but with a great diversity of languages and customs among them. This moment, which is called Pentecost by the Christian world, imbued all those present with a desire to create the Kingdom of God on earth, according to Jesus’ message.

And from this moment they began to spread Jesus’ good news of love and mercy and justice.
Years later, probably in the last half of that first century, many years after Jesus’ death, the stories were published in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as in countless other memoirs and writings.

By this time, the oral tradition had spun Jesus into a miracle-worker, a magician of sorts, the true son of God and the virgin Mary, born in a way unlike any other child, with a death and resurrection that were described differently by several sources. More ancient writings were explored for prophecies that would foretell his birth and triumphant presence in Israel.
And it is not lost on scholars that these stories of Jesus are remarkably similar to other stories of legendary ancient figures.

The man we now call St. Paul, through his writings of letters to each of the small Jesus communities across the Mediterranean area, codified much of early Christianity, creating customs and theologies that would endure, interpreting the stories in a uniform way and advising congregations to adhere to the same theologies and practices.

This helped the early Jesus movement become the Christianity that would survive persecution and martyrdoms. But it also imposed a structure on the early church which sometimes caused dogma and tradition to be more important than the message of love and mercy and justice. Turf wars over who had it right caused church leaders to call for councils to establish “the true way” and out of these councils emerged doctrines of the Trinity and other theological concepts.

Most of you probably know that Unitarians and Universalists were outgrowths of these councils, that they were stances taken by dissidents and heretics who did not agree with the concept of the Trinity, arguing that God was One, not Three and others who argued that a loving God would not condemn his children to life after death in hell, no matter how sinful they might be.

As a Unitarian Universalist, even one with Baptist DNA in my system, I have always felt better served by a theology of joy rather than sorrow, of practices that celebrate life rather than fear death, that reward positive action rather than punish negative deeds.

So I resonate to the idea of Paradise on earth and am fairly uncomfortable with the idea of making a spectacle out of a long-ago death. I have great respect for my friends and family members whose Easter celebration includes an emphasis on the horrible, cruel way that Jesus’ life ended. This is important to their understanding of Jesus’ message and mission, yet for me its portrayal of Jesus as a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”, a living sacrifice looking ahead to his own death, skews his message from joyful living to painful punishment. Somehow I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended to be his legacy.

This past Friday, Good Friday in the Lenten season, the day that is marked as the day of the crucifixion, I took part in the traditional Good Friday vigil that is offered here on the south end of the island every year.

And though I appreciated the invitation to participate and worked hard on a message that would reflect my own UU thinking and yet honor the thinking of traditional Christians, I found it difficult to absorb so much emphasis on the agony of Jesus’ death and the different interpretations of his final words from the cross.

I had chosen to speak on what is called the “Third Word”, when Jesus says to his mother, “Woman, behold your son” and to the disciple who was standing nearby, “Behold your mother”. And my reflection focused on the human feelings and concerns of both mother and son, at seeing the dreadful death unfold.

Jesus, in this moment, asks his friend the disciple to care for his mother in the future, which I used as a metaphorical request to the entire community to care for the elders and needy in the community. And I was satisfied with what I offered the gathered congregation.

But it was clear that others who were speaking were expected to rehash ancient doctrines of blood sacrifice and my heart grew heavy, not with the blood and gore, so much, but with the link I felt I saw between the violence of that day and the violence which permeates our world on this day.

We can’t ignore violence, we need to work against it, but I question whether spotlighting it in this traditional way is helpful. Does it help us resist violence or are we more vulnerable to it when we highlight it rather than move beyond it to the promise of Paradise?

We can’t ignore grief, we need to acknowledge and experience it, but we find healing in new ways of being, new joys, new relationships.

The book “Saving Paradise” ends in this way:
“We reenter this world as sacred space when we love life fiercely and, in the name of love, protect the goodness of earth’s intricate web of life in all its manifold forms. We feast in paradise when we open our hearts to lamentation, to amplitudes of grief for all that has been lost and cannot be repaired…We recommit ourselves to this world as holy ground when we remember the fullness of life that is possible through our communities, our life-affirming rituals, and our love of beauty…We give thanks for gifts of love that have been ours all along…We enter fully---heart, mind, soul and strength---into savoring and saving paradise.”

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, savoring our time together, our love of life and of each other. May we love this paradise we live in so much that we protect and serve it with our whole hearts and minds and souls and strengths. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

WWJTofGFV? or What Would Jesus Think of Good Friday Vigils?

Whew! I thought I'd never get to this point---Good Friday behind me, Easter sermon completed if not polished, rehearsals up the wazoo, meetings, phone calls, brochure contributions, obligations of all sorts, plus taking time out for some essential moments of fun. But here I am with enough time before the North End Koffee Klatch (a combination of obligation and fun) to write an actual blog post.

Of course, it's going to be about the things that I've been doing the past several days and the thoughts they've brought to mind, but that's okay. I feel like I've been behind the eight-ball ever since our ministers' retreat last week. Part of that was the computer breakdown but it was also a stretch of pesky back pain that made it hard to sit in a chair for very long.

The sermon has been hard fought this week. My preparations for the Good Friday service put me in a frame of mind that was hard to shake. A traditional Good Friday service, which is what I was preparing for, is mostly blood and guts because of the importance of understanding Jesus' agony on the cross. It's essential to traditional Christianity that sinners know just how hard-won their salvation is.

But I don't really come from that perspective any more. In fact, I'm not sure it ever really spoke to me. This morning I took one of those ubiquitous Facebook quizzes, entitled "What does Jesus think of you" or some such, and it turns out that, according to my answers, Jesus thinks I'm boring, too straight-arrow to be interesting. Guess I'd probably be one of those law-abiding Jews who is nice to people, even Romans, and not always flipping God off with my rebellious behavior.

But the Good Friday experience reminded me that my religious faith seeks joy, not anguish. It's not that we avoid grief at all costs, but we are always aware that grief brings its lessons and that the outcome of those lessons can be joy. Good Friday reflections tend to be a wallowing in grief and vicarious agony and I'm not sure that's a good thing.

In "Saving Paradise", by Rebecca Parker and Rita Brock, the point is made that early Christians were much more into joy and beauty than into reliving Jesus' death on the cross. Maybe it was the disappointment that Jesus had not yet returned that drove early Christian priests and bishops to revise the emphasis from Paradise on earth to Paradise after death. I haven't yet gotten to that point in the book (boy, it's really a dense, long book!) but I can theorize.

According to their research, Jesus was only pictured in joyous mode, surrounded by beauty and happiness up until the 10th century or so. That's when his corpse began to be part of the picture and Paradise seemed to take a back seat to blood and pain.

My Christian colleagues with whom I was presenting the GF vigil did a fine job with their reflections, not dwelling on the agony any more than necessary, but it's always there, behind the Easter optimism, in the tone and tune of the dirge-like hymns and solemn faces in the congregation.

I'm not saying this approach is wrong for anyone else, but it is for me. The more I experience of other faiths, the more grateful I am that I discovered Unitarian Universalism in 1966. It was a good fit from the get-go. Of course, it's probably telling that if Facebook had a quiz entitled "What Broadway Musical song are you?", mine would probably be "Cockeyed Optimist".

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Difficulties of this Season

I have spent most of yesterday and this morning getting my new MacBook customized for my own preferences and it's always both amusing and frustrating to find that the old ways often don't work and that the new ways are actually re-runs of much older ways. I won't go into detail about it, but it's gotten something stirring in my thinking: the fact that often the oldest ways are the most effective.

This is not a quiet week in my life. I like to give myself plenty of time for reflection and drafting the upcoming sermon, so that by Friday I can let go of it, enjoy some free time on Saturday, and polish it in time for Sunday morning. This week feels very crowded, mostly because I volunteered to be one of the preachers for the ecumenical Good Friday vigil this Friday. This morning I sat down to figure out my thoughts about the words "Woman behold your son" and "Behold your Mother", which are my assigned "words from the cross". I banged something out, not as coherent as I like to be, and hope to have time to rewrite the parts that don't work.

Easter Sunday's title is "Saving Paradise", based on Rebecca Parker's latest tome, in which I hoped to find inspiration for talking about the earliest Christians' celebration of Easter, but of course they didn't. Celebrate Easter, that is, except with every meal in which they recreated the Beloved Community. Maybe now that I've got GF cornered I'll get some inspiration for Easter.

It's hard to talk about this time of year sometimes. I'm not a traditional Christian by any stretch of the imagination, though I am very much a delighter in Jesus' message. I love the message of spring and burgeoning growth, which is much deeper and older than the Easter story, and yet I am not satisfied with simply revisiting that idea every year. I hate to re-hash things, no matter how solid they are; I want some freshness, some newness in the ancient stories and themes.

So I'm struggling a bit with the Easter service. But here's the Good Friday message, in its first draft:


Reading from the Gospel of John: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son”. Then he said to the disciple, “Behold your mother”. And from that time forward, the disciple took her into his own home.”

To me, these are some of the most poignant words in the Gospel story of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. As a Unitarian Universalist, my thoughts go immediately to the very human responses to such a terrible moment. And I wonder, what would it have been like for Mary to see her son, the child of her flesh, beloved by God and humankind, yet condemned as a criminal and sentenced to an agonizing slow death in public?

Mary has cared for Jesus as a baby, as a young child, as a young man entering his adulthood, and now she is faced with his untimely and cruel death, a death she cannot avoid.

My own heart trembles at the thought that she must endure this trial. I wonder if I would have the strength to survive such a catastrophe. We can’t tell from the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death just what might be the thoughts and feelings of those keeping vigil at the foot of the cross.

Yet we know as parents what this might be like. We know in our hearts, either from painful experience or from our vivid imaginations, what our feelings might be. We might be angry---both at the executioners and at our dear child. We might be angry with God. We might be angry at ourselves for not being able to keep our child safe. We might be angry that our child has chosen a path of danger, that he had not listened to our good advice, advice which questioned his good sense in pursuing a path that would take him directly into a situation that he would not escape alive.

I wonder, too, how Jesus must have felt, looking down at his mother and at his dear friends, knowing inside himself that he had to take this step, he had to do what he was called to do, to give up his own life willingly for the Kingdom of God to be fulfilled on earth and in people’s hearts.

Yet he sees his mother’s pain and perhaps knows her anger. He has cared for her, yet he has had to make difficult choices in fulfilling his mission, different choices than she would have preferred. And now he is leaving her bereft.

So when he says to her, “Woman, behold your son”, is he saying to her, “see what I am doing for the greater cause of salvation”? Is he asking her to forgive him for the pain he has caused her? We will best look in our own hearts to find meaning in these words.

In the culture of those days, as the oldest son in his family, Jesus’ duty was to provide for his mother until the end of her life. Yet he would be unable to fulfill that duty and, instead of assigning this duty to one of his brothers, Jesus turned to his best friend, the disciple whom he loved more than all others, and asked that person to receive Mary into his own family.

When he said, “Behold your mother”, was he indicating to his dear friend a new relationship between the two? Was he offering the comforting arms of his friend, in recompense for his inability to continue to care for her? We can’t know for sure, but both interpretations offer insight into Jesus’ mission on earth.

For Mary has had a lot to deal with during Jesus’ life. There was something unusual about her boy from the very beginning. She had known all along about his different-ness. His questions were different, his desire for knowledge about things of the spirit was endless, his understandings were not those taught by the priests in the temple.

His constant questioning and inability to quietly obey the cultural requirements of the day, his efforts to find ways that Jews might endure and even change the yoke of Roman oppression, his unorthodox message and healing deeds---all these frightened Mary for she feared their eventual outcome and yet may have thrilled her deeply.
Because there was that moment in her life when she understood finally that her son’s destiny was not a common destiny, to be a successful young carpenter, but to lead his people toward a new destiny, that of the Kingdom of God on earth.

When Jesus turned to his best friend and said to him, “Behold your mother”, Jesus was not simply asking his friend to care for his mother. From these thousands of years later, we see not only the fulfillment of a son’s duty in his words, but also an invitation to us all, a modeling to the larger community of a way of life that has become deeply embedded in humankind: a compassion that goes beyond family ties, a recognition of the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity, an honoring of the family that broadens its narrow scope and declares the entire world to be one family.

Even on the cross, in his last moments of life, Jesus offered his love to those around him and in so doing, he offers us the opportunity to expand our thinking and to reach out beyond the walls of our families to bring others in, to give them rest and peace, to accept them as our children and our elders. There are countless lives who need our comfort and our support.

“Women and men, here are your children. Beloved ones, here are your parents.”

Monday, April 06, 2009

Just a Quickie

to tell you that I went into town today and bought a new MacBook, just the little one though I had aspirations for something bigger. So all afternoon I have been tinkering with it to get the bookmarks and programs and all that jazz installed or accounted for. It's faster and more capable than my old one, but it feels very familiar and that's nice.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

On the fritz

I sat down at the old (and I do mean old--3 years, an eternity by technostandards, I guess) MacBook this morning after a break of a couple of hours and discovered that I could not access anything, though the thing would boot up and show my home page, tantalizingly, it would not respond to cursor directions.

So the Macfolks have been called, they've advised various treatments which didn't solve anything and ultimately I decided that I will take it into town on Monday for either a new hard drive or (gasp) a new laptop. I have been saving up for just this very moment, when I am needing more from the MacBook than the MacBook can provide quickly. I won't go for the fancy model, but I will get the AppleCare plan so that future repairs will be less expensive.

Mac really is the only way I want to go but a laptop gets carried around enough that shaking and knocks and bumps can lead to needed repairs. It's been in the shop twice in the past 3 years and both times needed a new hard drive. At least I've gotten wiser about backing up; I have almost everything saved safely somewhere.

So I'll be offline for most of the next couple of days. Sorry, just in case you're feeling bereft. Call me if you're lonely!

Friday, April 03, 2009

The More Later Section

I've been away from home for several days this past week, from Sunday through Wednesday afternoon, and you know how it goes----it takes awhile to unwind from a stimulating experience, there are tons of things to catch up (laundry, shopping, meetings, that sort of thing), and somehow all that took precedence over posting. My brain just hasn't been able to pull together coherent thoughts about anything but the catching-up process.

So a series of news items:
1. It is beyond thrilling that Iowa has legalized same sex marriage. What a beautiful surprise! I didn't even realize it was in the works. Yay for Iowa.

2. Maxie did NOT pee on anything while I was gone. I couldn't believe it for awhile and carefully sniffed every surface for the evidence, but I haven't discovered anything.

3. The retreat center had a computer that could be used by visitors, but it was clunky and its office chair was even clunkier, so I came home with incipient muscle spasms in my back which have now become a real treatable problem.

4. The Pete concert is trundling along pretty well. Our Wednesday night rehearsal wasn't so hot; we have one member of the planning committee who insists on telling others how to do their songs and kibitzing constantly throughout the practice. But I think somebody nailed him/her afterwards, because last night at the jam, s/he seemed to have had a "come-to-Jesus" moment and was entirely pleasant.

5. I paid someone to come do all the windows in the house last week and it is so wonderful to have clear, not grimy, windows all over the house.

6. A wonderful person in the congregation has agreed to be Worship Chair for next year! Hallelujah!

7. Our Thursday night acoustic jam has been kicked out of Mike's Place in Langley because of copyright concerns. We have been singing in one corner during their "open" hours and somebody apparently got a bit peeved and ratted us out to BMI, who called Mike and said it was a no-no because we were entertaining paying customers. I am a fervent believer in artistic property rights, but this seems a bit much. It's a jam, not a performance. So we are looking for a new space, where this won't be a problem.

8. It's a beautiful day on Whidbey Island after days of rain. Late last night, apparently a beaver dam on a small creek near Clinton gave way and released a flood of water down a slope, damaging several houses and washing out a section of road.

9. I will be speaking on one of the last words of Jesus on the cross, on Good Friday. My set of words is "Woman, here is your is your mother". The FS can rest assured that I will invoke my experiences as his mother in writing this reflection.

10. In about an hour, I will be enjoying supper with the Young Adult parents group. Chicken-kebob, I understand. Yum!

I will try to be more coherent and less twittery in a post once I am caught up on my life.

For your Friday delectation (more later)

Thanks, Vicky, this is a great perker-upper!