Sunday, May 31, 2009

Singing when nobody's listening...

is not my idea of a satisfying gig. And yet so often, that's the lot of aspiring bands and those who would be lead singers in bands. Bayview Sound, for example.

Though it was a lot of fun to rehearse, choose our songs, polish them to a tee, perfect our harmonies, create a set list, dress for the occasion in western garb, scour the thrift shops for cowboy boots and hats, show up early to set up and rehearse, once the music started we became invisible, background noise, something to fill the quiet air between sales pitches for various items in a silent auction happening nearby.

What has happened to audiences? Why do so many music performances become mere background for something else more important? Why have music at all---at places like farmers' markets, fundraising galas, birthday parties---if the audience is at liberty to roam around, chat, walk right in front of the performers while chatting, take over the mic between songs for sales pitches?

Nice people, the WAIF organizers; nice charity, the animal shelter; nice donations, the givers of the auction premiums. Nice treatment of the volunteers who donated their time and music to the evening? Not so great.

I know that there are times and places that are appropriate for background music, for music that gets no applause, no attention. Funeral preludes come to mind, perhaps a quiet flute behind muffled tears; at a bedside while families gather; to underscore the reverence of a meditative time.

I expected to be background music yesterday; I knew it would be that way. It's been that way for almost every gig we've taken in the past year. We stand up there behind the mics singing our hearts out with the carefully rehearsed harmonies that we feel are our best feature, while people ignore us. The major exception to this rule was the Pete Seeger concert, when people sat in seats facing forward and clapped afterwards.

The sad thing yesterday was how hard we had worked to prepare for this gig. It was a donation to the animal shelter. If we'd been paid, we could have asked for a few hundred bucks but it was a donation. We had learned a bunch of new songs for this one, since it was a western theme and cowboy songs were requested. We were glad to do it. We knew we wouldn't get paid, but the guy who asked us to perform was grateful and said he'd make sure we got a nice meal out of the deal. (Originally we weren't even going to get food after the performance unless we bought $75 tickets.)

Well, we made nice about it, but the upshot was that, after all the paying guests had left for the gala dinner in the dining area, set up with centerpieces and glassware and cloth napkins, we were presented with a few bags of deli meat, sliced cheese, generic chips, cheapo bread, and whatever beers or generic sodas we could scrounge out of the coolers' melted ice. Oh, and a couple boxes of dried-up donut holes and mini-donuts for dessert. We were starving, after singing for 90 minutes, watching the servers roaming with their platters of hors d'oerves, far out of our reach.

There was a good part, though, and that was sitting together in the cool evening munching these self-made sandwiches and chips and talking about how good we sounded together, even though hardly anyone clapped or even paid attention. That's the whole reason we're singing anyhow, the joy of making those harmonies, whether anyone's listening or not. I guess I'll keep doing it.

Friday, May 29, 2009

News Flash:

Max came home last night after an absence of 24 hours. I'm relieved but irritated that I found a huge blob of rabbit guts on the driveway this morning, doubtless deposited there shortly before he came inside. Dang! and Yay!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Max didn't come home last night.

Not even at midnight or 3 a.m., when something woke me up and I thought it might be his mewing at the window. But it wasn't and I went back to sleep after a brief period of wondering if I would feel devastated or relieved if he never came home again.

The predatory nature of cats in general and Max in particular has been much in evidence since our spate of nice weather started a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday I found the grisly remains of one baby rabbit when I went out to go to the store and a few hours later I found a second pile of entrails on the driveway. This on top of a full meal at 5 a.m.

Several times I have found him playing with a baby rabbit or a bird or a chipmunk in the flower bed and have gone out and picked him up by the scruff of the neck, put him indoors, and then shepherded the victim to a safer place. He never seems to be put out by my rescuing of the victim and doesn't run off when I approach. But he doesn't learn from time-outs or yelling or rewards for good behavior; it's too deeply hardwired into his nature.

I have to close the deck door when I'm not right there to supervise the ins and outs through the flexible screen because he has frequently brought in his kills, much to the fascination of Loosy and Lily who would like to be predators themselves but don't have much to work with, since they can't get off the deck, being too chicken to jump like Max does. I'm fine with their fly- and moth-kills; somehow that doesn't seem like the same thing.

He's been gone almost twenty-four hours now. He could still come romping home with feathers or fur on his whiskers and, of course, I would welcome him. If he doesn't come home, I will mourn him and miss him, but not the corpses I have to deal with daily. Such is the nature of the food chain, I guess. It's neither kind nor merciful in many, perhaps most, species (including human?), but it works.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Voting on my mind

The 6-1 vote of the California Supreme Court revealed yesterday disappointed me and yet did not surprise me. I can see the judicial reasoning and I can also understand and share the sorrow of those for whom the decision was a great disappointment. Impartiality is not easy to take, sometimes, when it is a matter close to our hearts and when it affects human lives in negative ways.

Another vote is also on my mind, for I recently received my ballot for the election of our UUA president at this General Assembly. I'm not able to go to Salt Lake City for the meeting, but I can vote absentee. Ministers who serve a congregation at least half-time are given suffrage and I am taking advantage of that opportunity. I sent off my ballot a few days ago.

Here was my dilemma: I know both candidates, have spent time with them professionally and socially, have high regard for both, am personally grateful to each of them for services they have rendered my own friends and family members.

Laurel buried my much-loved brother-in-law Everett Gilmore, when he died a few years ago; Ev was a longtime member of First Dallas and had a strong relationship with that congregation and with Laurel. Peter brought Jefferson Unitarian Church from a plateau of 350 members to its current size of nearly 700 and has been minister to longtime friends since his arrival at JUC.

I expect that my JUC friends would assume that I'd vote for Peter. But I didn't; I have voted for Laurel Hallman for UUA president, considering her the steadier hand at the wheel, recognizing her long tenure as a UU minister and layperson, seeing her leadership as better-proven.

Though Peter has much to commend him as a candidate, I don't think he has what I'm looking for in a UUA president: greater maturity as a minister and layperson, a broad range of ideas for maintaining our social witness, and for taking Unitarian Universalism into the future.

Laurel Hallman has these qualities, I believe, and therefore my vote has been cast for her.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Honoring the Heart of the Matter...

was the title given to today's tribute to veterans, their families, and their communities by the newly fledged Veterans Resource Center. I went more out of support for my friends Judith and Perry, whose son Orrin has been the inspiration for their involvement in creating the Center, not knowing what to expect.

I sat stunned for two hours, listening to men and women---veterans, children and spouses of veterans, parents of veterans---giving voice to the experience of all those affected by military service and going straight to the "heart of the matter", which is the effect of war on the entire community.

It was a different kind of peace gathering, a different way of honoring vets, an acknowledgement of the wide concentric circles which range outward from one person who goes off to fight.

Titles of some of the readings: There is no Ready; Dude, Where's my Weapon?; I Sleep Next to PTSD; I Don't Know Where My Mind Is; Serving in Silence (by a lesbian); When a Man Kills; Vietnam and Mothers; Healing is Possible.

I'm a person who often, maybe nearly always, puts my feelings about something on a shelf until I have time to mull them over. It's a defense mechanism born of years of living with the need to respond immediately to crisis, with no time to experience the feelings about the crisis. It helps me deal with what's going on but it has, in the past, led to my stuffing feelings and never dealing with them.

I understand myself better now and when I postpone feeling in favor of action, it's with the knowledge that I must come back and revisit my feelings or I will be incomplete in my experience.

During the past several months, as I have encouraged Judith and Perry and watched their efforts to create the VRC pay off, I've revisited old feelings about friends lost in Vietnam, friends who came back maimed in body and mind from Vietnam and Korea, wondering about the effects on others who did not go but lost friends and family members. I've remembered friends who came back and struggled to find a path that would lead them to health, not addiction and violence and suicide.

Two names---John Roessler and Paul Eklund---always come to mind when I think about Vietnam. John was someone I met through my husband; he enlisted when his marriage fell apart and he stepped on a land mine in SE Asia when he had been there only a few months. Paul was the husband of a college friend; tall, quiet, handsome, he was drafted right after their marriage and did not come home again.

A third name---Pat Mendoza---belongs to a living man, one of the first people to ever suggest that I sing, somebody who heard me singing along at a TGIF party in a bar where he was performing, somebody who invited me to get up and harmonize with him on some of the songs. Pat and I sang in smoky lounges and pool halls for tips. He told me that he wrote songs and sang them in order to stay out of trouble. Pat worked at staying sane but he would not talk about Vietnam and what he had done there.

Today's gathering brought tears to my eyes and the realization to my heart that we may have found the answer to war. When we can acknowledge and accept the impact of the individual's experience of war on his or her entire community, in addition to him/herself, when we can see that we ourselves are maimed by another's pain, when we can visualize the effects upon other societies (Iraqi, Afghan, Vietnamese, German, whoever) and understand that what nations do to each other in wartime only compounds the pain and the violence and the vengefulness---perhaps we can find other ways of dealing with our conflicts.

Today felt like a start in that direction.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Memorial Day Reflection

Our Unitarian Universalist Association is currently considering whether or not we should take steps to become a denomination thought of as a Peace Church. Other groups, among them the Mennonites and Quakers, have long been thought of as pacifist denominations. Should we join their ranks? It's an important question and not easy to answer. We tend to disapprove of most war, but to proclaim ourselves a pacifist denomination would be a departure from what I think of as our primary mission, that of unity within diversity.

And there are other questions to consider, on this Memorial Day weekend.

It seems to me that whether or not we approve of the war we're in, we have a humanitarian duty to serve our returning veterans with honor and respect----and appropriate medical care. Here on Whidbey Island, the parents of a young man who came back from Afghanistan a couple of years ago with serious PTSD have instigated an effort to serve these young vets with the kind of help that will benefit them most----therapy and medical help, yes, but also companionship and mentoring by older vets who have survived the journey back home and have found a healthier place in the world they found when they came back.

They have created, from scratch basically, a Veterans' Resource Center with counseling, sharing groups, mentoring, and social opportunities---a place to share their journey, their experience, their sorrows and struggles with other men and women who understand where they've been. Whidbey has a Naval Airbase, but it serves only active military, and the VA services are many miles plus a ferry ride away.

My congregation has been supportive of this effort and we have helped to enlist board members for the fledgling effort as well as the involvement of our Social Responsibility Council. We are well aware of the needs of our military families and individuals because of the NAS unit on Whidbey, but it has taken us awhile to learn that our peace and justice efforts are incomplete if we do not serve our vets and military personnel with compassion and appreciation for the work they do in our nation's behalf, even as we suffer the pain of military involvement, both appropriate and inappropriate.

Whether we ever decide to become an official Peace Church or not, we must not neglect the needs of those who serve our country.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Getting used to things I don't want to be used to...

is a challenge. It's tempting to get used to some things that are inexcusable, like oppression, discrimination, poverty, that sort of social ill, and I work at avoiding that kind of acceptance.

But aging is not avoidable and while it's possible to stay healthy and active and productive, it turns out it is necessary to get used to it. I had hoped this was not so, but I am forced to take a second look. Of course, I've always been one to heehaw at the magazine and TV ads that promise rejuvenation on a grand scale if one just buys certain products. I wasn't born yesterday, folks---I was born LOTS of yesterdays ago and I know better.

But that doesn't make it any easier to accept that I have wrinkles on my face that will never go away, even if I exfoliate down to the bone. I have a tummy that is a permanent fixture, partly because of aging, partly because of my fondness for snacking. My hair is at that point where you can't really tell if I'm blonde or gray or both. My fingernails look just like my mother's---soft and easily torn. My toenails look just like my dad's, and we won't go there except to say that he never wore sandals either. My bosom is okay but trending downward.

But these are cosmetic features, for the most part. The one that has troubled me most, especially since the eye doc told me it might be permanent, is the slight distortion in the vision in my left eye, which makes it hard to focus easily on the written word. That's life-changing. I have been pretending it doesn't exist, and actually that helps. When I think about it, the line of words goes askew, a little like my bosom, trending downward. And since my right eye sees perfectly well, I get a little 20 degree angle of 2 lines of type, if that makes sense. Picture the form of an upside down stapler, with the level base having legible letters and the downward-angled stapling part having distorted letters.

I have discovered that when we rehearse and I'm singing, the distortion pretty much goes away. I think my brain is affected by the combination of singing and focusing and I'll bet there's research to support that somewhere. I'm learning not to be distracted by the distortion, but it's hard work to maintain the focus. The overall effect is of ultra-3-D perception, nice for the movies maybe but a little tricky when I'm trying to light the chalice and overshooting the wick with the candle. So I have to learn to see things in a different way.

Maybe that's the whole trick to aging, to accepting the inevitable slides of physical functioning. I haven't had any major slide until now; my eyes and teeth and other essential functions have been pretty stable---until now.

But just as I learned that open heart surgery meant opening my heart in a new way, maybe I will learn that having a different kind of vision means I will see things in a new way. I'll let you know.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"Trust and Obey...

for there's no other way", went the old hymn from my childhood. The next line or so ("to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey") don't fit the circumstances, but "trust and obey" is a philosophy worth considering when one is faced with a crisis and needs to place one's fate in the hands of others.

I've been meaning to write about trust for a little while now, ever since the eye surgery pulled the props out from under me temporarily. And I've been thinking about how trust grows in human beings. I was probably pretty lucky because my parents and other adults around me were very trustworthy and when I encountered, later in life, people and relationships which were untrustworthy, I still had faith in human beings and relationships generally. I just became wiser about human nature.

Ten years ago this summer I was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect, which required open heart surgery. Though this was a huge shock to me, I don't remember ever feeling afraid about it. I don't think I was numb either but I was confident that my body could heal after the surgery, that the cardiologist and surgeon were competent, that my congregation would be supportive throughout, and that my family and friends would also rally round. All this came to pass and when I had the surgery, I was aided in recovery by this confidence.

I was also aided in recovery by my obedience to the self-care procedures given to me by the medical staff when I went home: no driving for two weeks, no lifting, mild exercise, that sort of thing. It did not occur to me to challenge any of the strictures imposed and my sister was present for a couple of weeks to keep me in line, should I be tempted to stray!

This recent eye "event" (a detached retina) has reminded me of the value of "trust and obey" thinking. When the optometrist I consulted about the growing shadow in my vision told me I had an appointment for emergency eye surgery the next day in Seattle, I went home, dialed a number and said to the friend who answered, "I have an emergency and have to have somebody to drive me to Seattle tomorrow for surgery". I knew who I trusted in that situation and she came through. In fact, she came through several times during the next weeks and that reminds me, I want to do something really nice for her and her husband soon.

I'm often tempted to argue with people who tell me I need to do something, that it will change my life, relieve my back pain, whatever; I don't argue but I am likely to ignore the advice and do things my own way. Not this time. The "trust and obey" bounced up like an answer on my ancient "8-ball" and it was clear that this was not a time for rebellion or second-guessing.

The surgeon and staff were competent and reassuring; the operation went well; my friend stuck by me the whole time; my congregation has been supportive and eager to help; my friends filled in for me musically when I couldn't perform; I had to back out of a worship service and somebody preached for me. They were trustworthy and I have been obedient to the requirements for a successful recovery: head down position for 35 minutes out of every hour for a week; no lifting; no driving for two weeks; use of eye drops and other meds faithfully.

This whole trust experience has been revelatory. I had no choice but to trust and obey, if I wanted to save my vision. And when we are in that position, big important questions come up: does anyone care what's happening to me? can I really ask for help? if I ask, will anyone be willing to help? who will do what I can't do? will people resent my neediness? will I ever be the same again, able to help myself?

It's scary to ask these questions sometimes because we simply don't know what the answers will be. Sometimes we are disappointed in others' responses to our neediness. Sometimes our need to trust is not met; people do let us down. But I think this happens less often when we are part of a community, whether that's a congregation or a group of friends or other associates who have a sense of belonging together.

I'm grateful for my early learnings about trust. It makes it easier to face life's difficulties. I'm not recklessly trusting, either. I'm wiser than that; somehow I learned that not everyone was trustworthy and that there were ways to tell. I've also learned that it's essential that I be trustworthy myself, that if I am careful about this trait, then I am better able to trust others.

When the surgeon was talking with me after the procedure, he asked me if I'd found anything worth conveying to others about my experience. He knew I was a UU minister and wondered if I'd ever preach about it. "Trust", I said. "That's what I'm going to talk about someday. Trust. Not being afraid but relying on the wisdom and skill of others to help me."

Trust. And obey.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Neovita still hauling them in...

to Ms. Kitty's, that is. It's interesting to me that--almost three years after I wrote a post stating frankly that I had wasted almost $700 on Neovita inserts for my plantar fasciitis and felt it was, if not a downright rip-off, at least not right for me--searches for "neovita" are still a primary reason for people to arrive at the ole Saloon and Road Show.

My suspicions about the medical marketing field and its blatant use of rosy advertising to hawk wares of every kind to gullible and hurting people have been underscored in a big way over the past few years, as marketing of drugs, appliances, feel-good curealls, that sort of thing, have dominated the media ads. They are cleverly done in such a way as to convince us that we have a problem and it can only be cured by the purchase of a pill, a machine, a shoe insert, a pad, a deodorant, a toothpaste or some other device or medication.

In addition, it raises our fears about health matters. Do I need a cholesterol pill? Do I need a blood pressure pill? Do I need $700 of nonrefundable shoe inserts? Or do I need to eat right, get some exercise, stretch my plantar fasciia before I step down with my full weight on my hurting foot?

What cured my plantar fasciitis was when I learned from a friend that his doc had taught him a simple stretching exercise to gently stretch out tendons that had tautened up during the night, rather than tearing them by standing full-weight on his feet. I did this exercise every morning before I even walked out of the bedroom to feed the cats and within a couple of weeks had no pain at all. Then all I had to do was decide what to do with the Neovita inserts, because I had cured myself.

At that point I had used the Neovita stuff for a year, adhering faithfully to the instructions of the pimply staff person (where did he get his podiatric expertise? I have no idea but I believed him because I felt desperate). And I was in as much pain, sometimes even more, as I had been initially. What's the definition of insanity? When you keep doing the same thing over and over even when it doesn't work?

Yet, despite how clear I was about my own experience and not denying that Neovita might be great for somebody else, I periodically get hysterical all-caps responses to my critique, saying how wrong I am (huh?), that Neovita has saved lives (huh?), that $700 is a small price to pay for being painfree (okay, I can see that), and that I shouldn't criticize this wonderful business. Some of these hysterical responses I publish and others are just too awful so they get deep-sixed.

Anyhow, if you're a Neovita fan and are reading this, please don't take it personally. If you're getting good results, that is wonderful. But don't tell me I didn't do it right, don't tell me I didn't try it long enough (a year isn't long enough?), don't tell me how wonderful the product is. Get your own blog and rave on about Neovita. You'll get tons of readers who are looking for information. Share your own experience but don't knock others' experience, okay?

I still have the inserts in a drawer somewhere. I could go to a Neovita store somewhere and exchange them, but for what? Yep, just another set of inserts. So really, I did waste $700, money I will never see again, for inserts that have languished in my sock drawer for three years now. And there is no recompense from Neovita---you can't get your money back. Oooh, now I'm getting mad all over again. Better quit.

And that's the last word on that subject.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Passionate Differences of Opinion...

are inevitable in this blogging biz, I've learned. Though virtually everyone at UUCWI this past Sunday raved about the sermon, there are definitely differing points of view. Joel at CUUMBAYA basically says "bah, humbug" about overpopulation; Joel the Neff and his beautiful and charming wife Christina, devout Catholics whom I love, have their own thoughts about the topic and they are not much like mine. Other commenters have had their own say and I have stepped back, not wishing to get into any arguments.

Not that I haven't argued to myself about the places we differ! In the car driving to Seattle today, I described very lucidly my own point of view about overpopulation and its connection to the environment, plus a few choice words about how perfectly wonderful my point of view is and how lame others' are. I'm great at arguments where I'm the only one talking. I'm not so hot at it when I'm arguing with people I love. I've never been any good at it and probably won't ever be. It's simply not in my nature to argue, even when I'm sure I'm right.

Passionate differences of opinion, after all, are not going to be reconciled and brought into submission by any well-chosen rhetoric, not mine, not yours, not nobody's. I admit that it's a little "let's you and him fight" sometimes, as in the 60's tome "Games People Play", and I sort of hoped others would duke it out in the semantical arena, but it didn't happen and that's just as well.

Passionate differences of opinion make this world juicy and interesting and push us forward in ways we don't even notice. I love it!

PS. My eye is healing nicely and the doc says I don't have to come back to see him unless I have trouble.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

Sex and the Single Planet: the sermon

Rev. Kit Ketcham, May 10, 2009

A few weeks ago, our local newspaper, the South Whidbey Record, published the information that The Hub, Langley’s youth connection after-school hangout at the Methodist Church, was making condoms and prevention information about pregnancy and STD’s available free to its teenage visitors. I noted this with approval and thought, “Good for them! And good for the Methodists to have The Hub in their basement!”

It was just one more reminder that this island is a pretty progressive place and I felt pleased once again with my happy landing here on Whidbey.

A week later, a letter appeared in the opinion section of the paper responding with polite horror to the very idea that young people should be taught anything but abstinence when it came to sexual behavior. She felt that to offer information about prevention was to encourage sexual activity.

The writer was genuinely concerned about teens’ future and how too-early sexual behavior can negatively affect their lives. And I agreed with her on that point but couldn’t resist writing a letter of disagreement in response, particularly when she launched into a diatribe about Planned Parenthood and a litany of accusations about one of my favorite organizations, a humanitarian organization that was started by a courageous woman, Margaret Sanger, who saw the anguish of women whose bodies were worn out by pregnancy and who were dying in childbirth and from illegal abortions sought out of desperation.

In my letter of response, I mentioned the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only sex education, as documented in government studies, and I described the sex education curriculum developed jointly by the UUA and the UCof C, entitled Our Whole Lives.

OWL, as it is called, has segments for all age groups, from pre-school to adult, and we intend to offer the middle-school-age curriculum here during the next year.

But our topic today is not abstinence only sex education nor the rate of American teen pregnancies and STD’s. It’s not abortion or contraception, per se, but rather the larger issue of too many people on this planet, too many pregnancies across the planet, too few ways of controlling population ethically.

Mavis Cauffman, our administrator, often sends me articles and web links on upcoming topics and I’m particularly grateful to her for sending me this one, for, in an article for Scientific American entitled “10 Myths of Sustainability”, writer Michael D. Lemonick offers this observation:

Myth 9: Sustainability is ultimately a population problem.
This is not a myth, but it represents a false solution. Every environmental problem is ultimately a population problem.
If the world’s population were only 100 million people, we would be hard-pressed to generate enough waste to overwhelm nature’s cleanup systems. We could dump all our trash in a landfill in some remote area, and nobody would notice.
Population experts agree that the best way to limit population is to educate women and raise the standard of living generally in developing countries. But that strategy cannot possibly happen quickly enough to put a dent in the population on any useful timescale. The U.N. projects that the planet will have to sustain another 2.6 billion people by 2050. But even at the current population level of 6.5 billion, we’re using up resources at an unsustainable rate. There is no way to reduce the population significantly without trampling egregiously on individual rights (as China has done with its one-child policy), encouraging mass suicide or worse. None of those proposals seems preferable to focusing directly on less wasteful use of resources.

Linda and Leonard Good, who purchased the right to choose a sermon topic at our annual auction, have requested that I preach about overpopulation and its effect on the resources of the earth. Linda wrote me a list of possible questions to consider: why do people have large families? How come we don’t hear more about the effects of overpopulation on the environment?
How does it relate to our first principle, of the worth and dignity of every person? Is UUSC doing anything about population issues? What about Planned Parenthood? Have things changed with a new administration? What are the statistics about contraception, abortion, sex ed, that sort of thing? How does social engineering figure into the issue? Would we end up with designer babies? Would the wealthy be favored? How about the relationship between education and birth control? And, finally, what can and should we as UUs do?

Quite the daunting list of questions and more than enough to cover in a 20 minute sermon!

And when I began to dig into the topic and to consider my own personal response to it, I had to dig down through the layers of consequences, possible solutions to those consequences, to see what lay at the bottom of the issue.

Why do we have an overpopulation problem on this planet? It’s a two part answer and, put most bluntly, it’s partly because we humans keep having babies. And why do we keep having babies? Because, aside from the basic human need for air, water, and food, we humans have an innate need to reproduce ourselves; most of us are drawn physically and emotionally into relationships which create babies.

Sexual desire, a lovely and nearly irresistible force in human life, causes human beings to mate and, if the two participants are fertile, to produce offspring. Many, perhaps most of us are susceptible to sexual desire and want to have children.

There was a time in human history when this was not a problem. There were real reasons to have many children: rural families needed many hands to manage farms and homesteads; in areas without health care, many children died and did not become self-sufficient adults; large families were the norm, not the exception, for these reasons.

Ancient religious laws mandated certain behaviors which led to procreation and forbade sexual relationships that did not lead to reproduction.

Even today, there is encouragement from religious traditions to continue to have large families. For Catholics, it is a sin to use contraception. For Mormons, it has been the desire to create human bodies for celestial spirits, though this practice is changing in latter-day church policy. Some strict Christian sects also tend to encourage large families.

One such Christian group is the Quiverfull movement, which takes the Biblical mandate “to be fruitful and multiply” quite literally. It is based on Psalm 127 which says, “like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.”

Those in the Quiverfull movement shun birth control, believing that God will give them the right number of children. It turns out that’s a lot of kids, in most cases, despite the realities of raising many children, educating them well and providing adequate supervision, health care, and physical and emotional nourishment, to say nothing of what it does to a woman’s body and spirit to have 10 or even more pregnancies.

For Quiverfull families, the motivation to have many children is a not-so-secret desire to preserve Christian patriarchy and to change society.

Author Kathryn Joyce quotes a leader in the movement who says: “If everyone starts having eight or 12 children, imagine in three generations what we’ll be able to do. We’ll be able to take over both halls of Congress, we’ll be able to reclaim sinful cities like San Francisco for the faithful, and we’ll be able to wage very effective boycotts against companies that are going against God’s will.”

Quiverfull is one example of a culture of fecundity, the idea of more is better, children are wealth, fertility should be uncontrolled, dominion over the earth is desirable, and a husband has marital rights over his wife.

It has long been considered an inviolable human right to determine one’s own family size and efforts to regulate the exercise of this right have had mostly negative results.

In China, whose culture inflates the importance and value of male children, a one-child rule has led to abandonment and even infanticide of female babies. It has also led to a surplus of marriageable young men and a scarcity of marriageable young women. It has been blamed for an increase in violence among young men who are unable to marry and raise families.

In polygamous Mormon families, a related dynamic has resulted from the early marriage of multiple young women to adult men who wish to have more than one wife. Young men who cannot find mates because of this practice are effectively excluded from the community where they grew up.

Unwanted pregnancies, if not prevented by contraception, may be ended by legal abortion in this country, but this is not an acceptable practice for many. Even if women believe that abortion is a legitimate option, many are uncomfortable seeking an abortion, for a variety of reasons.

Looking at the other side of the coin, the second reason for overpopulation, we, in our scientific and medically-motivated zeal, are also prolonging human life, learning to thwart disease, to slow down the aging process, to save the lives of premature and desperately ill or handicapped children. Our human instinct to survive has produced in us a need to do all we can to stave off death, in addition to our drive to reproduce.

But what are the effects of too many people on too small a planet?

Here are just a few in random order: overcrowded cities, lack of animal habitat, restrictions of personal freedom, deforestation, neglected children, loss of soil nutrients from overused farm land, solid waste, human waste, social effects of crowding such as violence and disease, proliferation of pests because of an imbalance in ecosystems, insufficient food, insufficient water, insufficient energy resources, land erosion, poverty, pollution, massive numbers of refugees from famine-ravaged and war-torn countries.

Nature has its own solutions to the problems of overpopulation---they are called pandemics, famine, war, violence. The earth will survive but human beings may not. We are proliferating ourselves beyond the capacity of our species to survive under the conditions we have created.

There are some indications that birthrates across the planet are falling or leveling off in some places. But China, by the year 2050, will no longer be the most populous country in the world. India will have beat them. And there is no possibility that birthrates will decline quickly enough to prevent many of the drastic consequences attributable to overpopulation.

In the United States, overconsumption of resources adds to the global crisis of overpopulation. We ourselves average 2.1 children per family, yet we consume 25% of the available resources, compared to other countries.

We have declined to support United Nations efforts to educate other human beings across the planet about how to prevent unwanted pregnancy.

And it’s not just how much we consume but the technology we use to produce all that we consume----and the waste we create as we produce and consume it.

So what are the solutions? The ethical, practical, do-able solutions? And what happens when they come up against the emotional reasons we humans have for wanting children and to live a long and healthy life?

The solutions put forth by most experts on population issues tend to be educational in nature: raise women’s awareness and give them the tools to prevent pregnancy and to protect themselves from sexual assault; raise men’s awareness and give them the tools to prevent pregnancy and to treat women as equal partners, not as a means for sexual gratification; teach people to manage their resources sustainably; educate developing nations about agriculture; help developing countries to offer incentives for voluntarily reducing the birth rate; educate people about the effects of overpopulation on their own nation; teach people to manage their waste products, both garbage and sewage.

But all of these well-meaning efforts inevitably come up against human nature and our instinctive drives to reproduce ourselves, to nurture new lives and to prolong each life. Our compassion for human life clashes with the hard-headed, rational view that we must eliminate drains on our resources, that we must let people die sooner or force people not to have more than one or two children.

Our insistence on religious freedom clashes with our disagreement with those religious leaders who preach dominion of the earth and forbid use of contraception or abortion.

On Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we celebrate the parental roles we’ve enjoyed and these moments of pleasure clash with our uneasy feeling that we have brought children into this troubled, overcrowded world.

Our awareness of the effect of overcrowding on the resources of this earth clashes with our primal need to be in relationship, to offer the best we have to the younger beings in our lives and our drive to live as long as possible.

I’d like to stop at this moment for a time of silence, to consider the welter of conflicting desires, needs, and hopes inherent in the condition of overpopulation. And then I am going to invite you to share your own thoughts about your experience as a parent, as a child, as a human being torn between the clear need for restraint and conservation of our resources and the deep, inherent human desire for adding something/someone worthwhile to this world. (Silence) What would you like to say?

I don’t know that there is a perfectly clear answer to the huge dilemma of overpopulation and its effect on the environment. The reality of not enough resources to support the growing population is clear. There are few ethical ways of reducing the population other than voluntarily.

And so it seems to me that we are faced, on Mother’s Day, with that oldest of motherly dilemmas----how to get the kids to clean up their rooms, to do their homework, and to choose friends who won’t get them into trouble, all the while giving them a certain amount of freedom to make mistakes. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

We know what needs to be done. We need to model appropriate behavior, offer incentives, require certain standards to be met, and hope and pray a lot that the kids will get the message and not screw up their lives.

We need to make sure they have the information they need to stay safe while taking on the tasks of adulthood. We need to offer real help as they are learning, not just yell at them for their mistakes.

And, in the end, there is no guarantee that they will do what we want them to do. We can only do our own work of cleaning up, of doing our homework, of communicating the needs of the planet clearly and thoroughly. We can’t stand still and do nothing, whether or not the rest of the world agrees.

It’s hard to know how to bring a discussion like this to a close. The problem is so vast and the solutions seem so puny, so slow, so difficult to achieve. We want quicker action! We want to be able to point a finger---cut that out, you prolific parents! But so much of human life is like this---that there is really only slow, dogged, painstaking work to be done and there is no guarantee of the outcome.

So our work as Unitarian Universalists, as human beings, really, is to find the patience to do what we can on our own doorsteps, accomplishing what we can locally, giving support to faraway efforts to educate and raise the standard of living, speaking out for education, for self-control, for an end to poverty and oppression.

All of this will make a difference, however slowly. It may not be accomplished in our lifetime; it may never be accomplished. The human race may well die out because of our own foolishness.

All we can do is seize the day, do what we can today, raise our children and our grandchildren and our students with the knowledge they need to continue our work, letting go of the eventual outcome, since we cannot control it, and trust that our work today is not in vain.

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

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that no act of conscience, however small, is wasted, that no helping hand to a struggling child is in vain. May we offer our love and our guidance to all the children, those nearby and those faraway, knowing that they hope for the same thing we do: a planet that is livable and beautiful, a community that is supportive and sustainable, a life that is satisfying and productive. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sermon's done, finally

It's been an interesting process, writing this sermon. I started it weeks ago, when I intended to preach it on Earth Sunday. But then life got in the way, in the shape of a detached retina, which meant I had to forego almost everything I'd planned from April 22 through God only knew when. So I had a bit of a beginning, but as I tried to take off again from that starting point, I could only ramble and pontificate and it wasn't working.

To complicate matters, though my vision is almost back to normal, there's this annoying streak through the vision in my left eye. It may clear up, it may not, but it is distracting enough that I wasn't having an easy time of it, sitting at the computer trying to write. So I'd make a bunch of notes, download a bunch of info, try to turn it into something useful, and throw up my hands in frustration. Sermon prep is not usually so daunting for me!

Then the Favorite Son called because he'd read the preceding post and wanted to talk about the emotional aspects of the human urge to merge, that sneaky little biological motivation that keeps people making like bunnies, despite the consequences. Other commenters to the blog post expanded the conversation. One contributor told me via Facebook that she hoped I wouldn't throw her and other parents with more than 2.1 children under the bus. I'm pretty sure Joel the Neff, a committed Catholic with 8 kids, felt the same! Relax, all, nobody's feet are sticking out from under the local Island Transit.

But eventually it all came together and I printed off the final version this morning. I ended up deleting a lot of the three-week-old draft beginning, but you won't miss it. I realized, in the process, that there are a lot of human problems that just plain can't be fixed overnight, if at all. The only thing we can do sometimes is to persist: in doing the first things first, in trusting, in putting one foot in front of the other, in changing our own little plot of ground, our own little negative habits. We can only change others by changing ourselves. Funny how my mother used to tell me that over and over; it's a lesson I learn almost every day.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom, wherever you are!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Sermon Must Come First!

Tomorrow I have a whole full day to work on the sermon for Sunday, the one which was going to be delivered on April 26, with an Earth Day slant. Not a problem then, except that life intervened and laid me low for two weeks of wonky eyeball stuff. Easy to make a sermon on overpopulation jibe with Earth Day.

Now I'm challenged with making a sermon on overpopulation jibe with Mother's Day and I have not had a moment to think about it all week because of competing agenda items, like six days worth of company and a memorial service. Tomorrow I was scheduled to have two meetings but luckily they have both been postponed and I have an entire day to get caught up, not just on the sermon but on the laundry.

So no provocative blog posts for a few days, folks, unless you want to give me some ideas about how to weave Mother's Day and overpopulation into a sermon. You'd think it would be a snap but I don't want to go the route of "cut it out, you mothers". Just me, I guess.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger!

It has been quite a weekend! Friday night was our Pete Seeger 90th Birthday Bash tribute concert and it totally sold out. We had people sitting in the foyer, on the patio, and standing along the walls. We took in over $1800 in ticket sales and t-shirt sales.

The concert itself was a howling success, with people singing and clapping and grinning from ear to ear. I'm going to find some photos to post or else give you a link to a page where you can find them. I wish I had a way to give you a listen to some of the songs.

It was an incredible high; we were all exhilarated by the turnout, by the enthusiasm of our audience, and by our own ability to raise the roof with song. Our narrator, Jim Freeman, had a spiel between songs that gave information about Pete's life and philosophy. Our stage manager extraordinaire, Dave Draper, whipped this ragtag bunch of would-be singers into a real show, not just amateur hour.

Today our worship service was also dedicated to Seeger songs and philosophy; we had great attendance and participation. Nearly every chair was taken and though it was a pretty informal service, people (I think) went away having had a spiritual experience. One visitor said to me afterwards that he'd never been to a church service like it and he absolutely loved it!

I am thrilled by our success and starting to think about what we might do next year!

Here's a link to a page of pictures: