Wednesday, July 29, 2009

And now for something completely different:

This also has an Italian title which, when translated, is "humorous duet by two cats".

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Commiserating with President Obama

Boy, have I been there! Not quite as earth-shakingly, as in the "stupid" heard round the world a few days ago, but definitely in my own way.

It's hard to get used to the idea, whether you are a politician or another kind of public figure (like a minister), that your words, your careless, angry, delighted, public words, have a great deal of power. Not the kind of power you might want, either, but the kind of power that gets you in hot water.

Years ago in a parish far far away, my congregation was voting on a matter of some controversy. I had advised one particular path but how much support I had for that position among members---well, it wasn't enough to get me past the faux pas of audibly saying "YES!" with a both-thumbs-up when the vote approved my recommendation.

Dissidents felt immediately angry with me; supporters felt embarrassed by my lapse; I felt defiant initially, then embarrassed, then humbled enough to offer an apology.

Rookie ministers have this huge lesson to learn: the power of our words, even when nobody seems to be paying attention and they've all fallen asleep in the pews, is far greater than we expect it to be. Say something snarky, say something politically incorrect, say something stupid, say something too revealing, say something anyone can misinterpret----you will be on the hot seat. You don't have to be in the pulpit to say stupid things; you can be at a potluck or just talking to a staff member or teaching a class. You might just be in the grocery line and there isn't a parishioner in sight----if somebody knows you're a minister, you're ON and don't you forget it!

So I sympathize with President Obama. He shot from the hip and scattered a lot of buckshot around, some of it hitting him in places he didn't intend. In fact, he probably didn't intend any of it. This is a guy who has been trying, for God's sake and that of the American people, to get some movement on health care reform; he's been tactfulizing his words for weeks now.

Losing it in public and using a naughty word like "stupid" is not too surprising, after what he's been working on and with whom he's been working. "Stupid" probably actually refers to some of the roadblocks that have been thrown up by his opponents, but Sgt. Crowley, poor guy, took it in the shorts. Neither Crowley nor Gates had any extra tact going on themselves, Gates just home from a trip and Crowley trying to do his job.

One thing that has struck me in all this is that a neighbor apparently turned Gates in. A neighbor? Didn't the neighbor recognize the guy? What kind of a neighborhood is this where people don't recognize the folks who live across the street or next door? No wonder Crowley was suspicious. And no wonder Gates was peeved.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What a way to begin married life!

Just had to post this. I'd love to officiate at a wedding that began like this!

When health trumps promises

Way last year, I welcomed a colleague into our pulpit as the first half of a pulpit exchange. She is the fulltime minister of a congregation about 400 miles away from here and was on her way to a gathering in the San Juan islands, so it was very convenient for her to preach for us one Sunday in October.

In return, we arranged that I would go to her church this weekend and preach for her congregation. Unfortunately, once I got home from my Eliot week, I started feeling ill. It began as a scratchy throat, progressed into congestion for a couple of days, and has now settled into a very very sore throat, untameable by even the strongest pain relievers or lozenges. So I am miserable---partly from the sore throat and partly from the need to cancel my weekend 400 miles away.

I hate to let people down. In recompense, I will send her a check for a speaker's fee, so that it feels more fair. But I'm reminded that when you do work like this, you have to make some hard choices. Fortunately, most congregations keep a folder of backup plans for such emergencies. My own congregation manages this sort of thing very well, as it did when my wayward retina forced me to cancel on them.

This isn't as drastic as a detached retina but it brings to mind the same lesson----health sometimes has to trump promises. It just bothers me a lot that this has happened to me twice now this year. I like to think of myself as having excellent health, high energy, and unlimited resources. At age 67, perhaps it's not as true as it once was.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Post-Eliot Reflections

Eliot Institute is a week-long summer camp at Seabeck, WA, which attracts a couple hundred campers for a week in July and a week in August. There is also a June session at Naramata, BC, since it is an international entity. I've been to both July and August but not yet to Naramata.

This past week at July Eliot featured the Rev. Stefan Jonasson from Winnipeg talking about "Letters of the Spirit", the many ways reverence is expressed in sacred texts of many kinds. The drill is that the speaker, in this case Stefan, speaks every morning (about an hour) Sunday through Friday, and after his talk, we meet in small groups to discuss questions he's posed. It's a very good format and I always enjoy it.

This July I was chaplain for the camp, a pretty easy duty though we did have a short memorial service for a longtime camper who died this past spring. I also had opportunities to talk with other campers about spiritual or ministry issues. I enjoy being chaplain, but this time I felt quite low-key in my approach to the role. I just didn't have the energy to put myself out there much.

I think it was possibly that I attended my 50th high school reunion on Friday and Saturday and had to hurry up to Seabeck on Sunday, a day late, and it took some of the excitement out of seeing old friends and making new ones at Eliot. I was also pretty tired from the long drive, which started at 6 a.m. Sunday morning and ended at about 2 p.m. that afternoon. It's a pretty long haul from Pendleton to Seabeck!

But the reunion was worth every long moment of driving. We started gathering on Friday afternoon at the parking lot of Athena's elementary school; a couple of our group had set up their RVs side by side and erected a canopy to keep out the hot sun. Beer in the coolers, snacks on the table, people we barely recognized alongside us.

What a shock to see formerly carrot-topped Danny Moore, one of my academic rivals in the race for top honors in our graduating class of 20, snowy-topped but still lanky and funny and full of stories about his life since we'd seen him last. Danny, now Daniel, is the composer of a couple of pretty wellknown songs ---Shambala and My Maria---and many others I can't think of immediately. Needless to say, we were impressed! And really thankful that he'd made the effort to come to the reunion. It was his first time back in Athena since graduation and he filled in the details. Turns out he never has done anything but music----dropped out of college as a sophomore and went to LA to sing and compose. And he's never had a day job.

Anyhow, people I once was a bit intimidated by (boys, especially) turned out to be human beings too, funny and still cute and willing to talk to formerly-dweebish me. I was never one of the popular girls---too much the goody-two-shoes---but all that was old news during the reunion and we had a great time reminiscing.

Athena is a small community halfway between Pendleton, Oregon, and Walla Walla, Washington. It is primarily wheat and peas country and harvests of both were going on as we met. The weather is always very hot in the summer (about 95 on this weekend). This particular weekend was also Caledonian Days, their annual Highland Games festival, because of Athena's Scottish roots. The high school was McEwen High, though now it has consolidated with another small high school nearby (Weston) and is, strangely, the "Tiger-Scots", conflating two rather diverse mascots. Oh well.

We were sobered to realize that of our 20 class members, 10 of them are now dead. Some died in accidents but a significant number died of cancer. Since Athena is south-east of Hanford, the nuclear armaments plant now mostly demobbed, there is concern that these deaths were due to the "downwind" effect. Athena was officially declared Not a Downwind Site, but you have to wonder. Of course, this is also a town which is surrounded by fields which get significant amounts of pesticides, via crop-dusters. And it may also be significant that most of those who died of cancer still lived in the area. There are cancer survivors as well in our class.

During my time away, I got a panicky email from the catsitter----Max had escaped. He had apparently torn open a screen on a window and hightailed it into the briar patch. He came back eventually but once inside, he did a pretty good job of soaking the comforter on the guest bed. So I spent a couple of days, once back, cleaning that up thoroughly. Fortunately, it only got the comforter, which can easily be washed and is synthetic, so odors don't tend to linger.

Okay, you're caught up now. Hope you've all been okay. I'm fighting off a cold, which descended on Sunday and has diminished a bit but is keeping me from feeling very energetic. Friday I leave again to complete my half of a pulpit exchange that started last October, when my colleague Annie Holmes spoke at UUCWI. I'm going to Roseburg OR to preach in her church this weekend, taking it easy both ways (it's about 400 miles one way), visiting friends to and from. I'll be back Monday. Pray for me----I'm tired of traveling!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A video making the rounds here in Washington

If you are a Washington resident and are asked to sign the petition to put this proposition on the November ballot, please decline to sign. Equal rights are not a voting issue.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Updates: reunion, Max, July Eliot

Okay, we have a lot of ground to cover, so let's get on with it. I don't know if I'll be able to post again before the 18th, so here goes.

On Thursday last, I got up very early, hit the 5:10 a.m. ferry and hightailed it for Moses Lake, to catch a day with my sister and her family. I'd left the cats plenty of food, covered the bed carefully to discourage urinary punishments by Maxwelton, and though I was a bit worried about whether Max would beat up on Loosy, I figured my precautions would cover all the bases otherwise.

Friday I got a message from the catsitter: Max had pried open the window screen in my bedroom (don't ask me how he did it) and had left the premises. Gone. Disappeared. And though she had looked everywhere outdoors, he was not to be found. She was distraught, I was philosophical though a little worried. I told her to put some dry food outside on the deck and that he'd likely be back eventually.

Also Friday I had left Moses Lake and headed south to Pendleton, where I'd rented a motel room (air conditioned---a necessity out there) and gussied up for the reunion. After all, I was going to be seeing people I hadn't seen for 50 years and wanted to look less like the preacher's pious daughter and more like the more worldly preacher.

The reunion was a blast and I'll tell you more about that at some point. This morning, I left P'ton at 6 a.m. and drove for 8 hours to get to Seabeck, where I am about to fall into bed to sleep the sleep of the overly tired and formerly tipsy. But imagine my delight to get an email from the catsitter informing me that Max had returned.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Another quibble

It surprises me that there's some resistance to the ritual of the laying on of hands, as done for our new UUA president, the Rev. Peter Morales, as he took office recently. Here's what Wikipedia has to say, and it's pretty clear that the ritual is not only for ordination but also to bless and to confer authority. Boy, if there's anything the UUA prez needs, it's blessing and authority! And he might need a bit of that healing property too at some point.

Wikipedia says:

The laying on of hands is a religious practice found throughout the world in varying forms. In Christian churches, this practice is used as both a symbolic and formal method of invoking the Holy Spirit during baptisms, healing services, blessings, and ordination of priests, ministers, elders, deacons, and other church officers, along with a variety of other church sacraments and holy ceremonies.

(I tried to make this gap smaller, but it didn't work. Wiki goes on...)

The tradition of the laying on of hands has its roots in the times of the bible. The laying on of hands was an action that conferred blessing or authority. To wit, Isaac blessed his son Jacob by laying hands (Genesis 27), and Aaron and the High Priests who succeeded him transferred the sins of the Children of Israel to a sacrificial goat (Leviticus 16:21). Finally, in the Old Testament priests were ordained by the laying on of hands.

In the New Testament the laying on of hands was associated with the receiving of the Holy Spirit (See Acts 8:14-19). Initially the Apostles laid hands on new believers as well as believers who were called to a particular service. (See Acts 6:5). In the early church, the practice continued and is still used in a wide variety of church ceremonies, such as the ceremony of confirmation, where a bishop, priest, or minister lays hands on the confirmand and prays for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Many churches also lay hands on a person when commissioning them to particular work, such as missionary or pastoral service.

In its healing form, the laying on of hands is based on biblical precedent set by Jesus. Jesus would walk for days, offering his healing power to peasants and whores, alike. Both Christian and non-Christian faith healers will lay hands on people when praying for healing, and often the name of Jesus is invoked as the spiritual agency through which the healing of physical ailments is believed to be obtained.

Me again: to be sure, the ritual of laying-on-of-hands has been primarily reserved in UUism for the act of ordination and I can understand the questions, but it seems to me that a bit of googling would reveal the definition to be bigger than objectors might have thought.

Some recent pix of Bayview Sound

Photos by Greg Deer, taken May 30 at our WAIF benefit performance.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Standing Alongside Lovers

I know there are quibbles with the heavy emphasis right now on the UUA's "Standing on the Side of Love" campaign, but I like it. I would be hard-pressed to uncover anything more theologically apt for UUs than to focus our attention on Love and its power and meaning in the world. I don't want us to argue about this in the comments, though, okay?

Because this post is not about that campaign. Instead, it is about this past Sunday afternoon when I got to stand alongside two lovers and proclaim their love to the gathering of friends and family members, sanctify it with my love and that of the community, and promise to stand by it and by them.

The love that was present on Sunday afternoon was so visible, so joyous, so full of life and energy that it eclipsed the fear and hesitance that is often present when two women decide to make their love public.

As the two brides came down the aisle together, their faces outshone the light slanting in through the sanctuary windows. Their bridal garb----a white dress here, a resplendent rainbow tunic there---quietly represented the meaning of the moment: this love is pure, this love is beautiful and everlasting---and legitimate. This love can speak its name.

In their words to each other, they acknowledged the 15 years they have been partners and spoke those ancient words of commitment to each other: to love, honor and cherish, for always. In those 15 years, they have already loved and honored and cherished a thousand ways, just as lovers have always tried to do.

In their words to their community, they thanked friends and family for their love and asked these dear ones to stand by them, to defend their love if necessary, and to support their marriage as they grow together in this new way.

"Standing on the Side of Love" isn't just the title of a hymn or a campaign or a new curriculum. It is active, giving, steadying, speaking truth, looking at life through this lens of Love, that human attribute that gave us life, that gives us reason for living, that gives us strength and hope.

When we ask ourselves "what does love mean to me?", we have an opportunity to go beyond the political issues of love, beyond the romantic notions of love, beyond the materialistic trappings of love, to find where love crosses paths with our own lives, where we do not love enough, where we unexpectedly find love, where we are afraid to love.

To quote from the wedding ceremony: "Love is not a mere feeling. It is active, nurturing, giving". Where else might we employ love? in cultural issues? in political arenas? is it to be reserved for certain family and community use alone?

Love is larger than any other force I can think of. I hope, I intend to stand alongside it.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Impatient Ms. Kitty Comes Out of Hiding

Usually I am the soul of patience. In my opinion, anyhow. I am polite to telemarketers, indulgent with rebellious youth, tolerant of my cats' tendency to wake me up way too early, able to listen to criticism reflectively (at least in public), and grateful for the attentions of those I've asked to help me fix something. Like my Comcast internet service.

For two weeks, I have suffered the inconvenience of not being able to send email on my primary account name with Comcast. I didn't discover it right away; it began to dawn on me that I hadn't gotten responses to several emails sent to people who normally sent me a note in return. So I began to check things out and, yup, nobody for two weeks had gotten any messages from me.

In addition, for approximately the same period of time, all the comments for this blog had been landing in my spam folder, where I would find them, mark them "not Spam" and respond to them from my inbox.

This all seemed to coincide with some newly unveiled "improvements" on the Comcast home page, so I figured if I was just patient, it would all resolve, though I took the precaution of calling the tech desk at Comcast to ask them to check my account.

The techie at Comcast couldn't find anything wrong but reset the account and made a referral to the Big Techie who could investigate further. When the reset didn't accomplish anything, I decided to dig a little deeper. It turned out that my two secondary account names were able to send messages, so I forwarded all the messages coming into my primary inbox to one of the secondary inboxes and limped along that way for another week.

Thursday I called back to Comcast to see if the Big Techie had learned anything yet and was told I'd have to be patient a little longer----the 72 hours of wait time wasn't quite up yet and I'd be hearing something soon.

Friday morning, magically, the primary account was able to send messages and comments to Ms. Kitty's were landing in the regular inbox. I was delighted, naturally, and thanked the invisible Big Techie and his/her supervisor in the Cosmos in my prayers for the gift of repaired internet service.

Friday afternoon, Big Techie called. There's nothing wrong with your Comcast account, he said, and there hasn't been all along. It's not our fault, your email must have something wrong with it and all the recipients' services are blocking it. This was said in a somewhat accusatory tone of voice, as though he suspected me of sending porn or spam and deserved to be blocked by AOL, Whidbey Telecom, Earthlink, Yahoo, Hotmail, etc. No solutions or suggestions offered as to how to deal with this and instead his tone of voice touched off an internal response I hadn't even known I was capable of.

"STOP!" I said to him after a few minutes. "You're not listening to me. This is my experience and it is related to Comcast. I am sending out the same kind of email I have always sent out, it is not spam or porn, it coincided with changes Comcast made to its home page, and I am convinced that it is connected."

His response was to reiterate his "not our fault" mantra over and over, talking over me, and eventually I just slammed down the phone in frustration. The interesting thing was that I felt absolutely no regret or guilt, no need to apologize for my attitude, nothing but impatience with how Big Techie had come across. A good customer service rep needs better people skills and I hope he gets them.

Of course, in retrospect, I realize that he is probably right, that whatever it was, it wasn't really Comcast. Somehow my primary account was erroneously marked as suspect, possibly connected to the name of this blog because it is slightly bawdy, and comments to Ms. Kitty's are emailed to my primary account. The fact that they both corrected simultaneously seems significant.

I may be entirely wrong in my theorizing but it's the best I can do. And while I am prepared to admit that Big Techie might be right, I am not inclined to apologize for my impatience. I do wonder where it came from, though. I just started taking a medication to improve my cholesterol numbers and am enough of a hypochondriac to wonder if three days of Zocor could make me an irascible old lady. I guess time will tell.

There are times it is safe to be impatient, hang up on somebody who is being rude, and enjoy the satisfaction of having spoken one's mind and acted impatiently under the circumstances. There are other times it is not safe to do so. I hope to be able to tell the difference!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

July and Independence

Ever since I started with this lovely congregation, back in 2003, I've been setting aside July as the month I "go on vacation". I have the best intentions: to stay out of their hair, to avoid discussing congregational business, to respond only to emergencies, to do a bit of traveling off-island, and to have a lot of fun.

Problem is, ministry is fun, mostly. I do refrain from making recommendations about issues and business, unless it's of an emergency nature. I do go traveling a bit. I do some entertaining of non-church friends and meet those friends for coffee or a jam or barbecue occasionally.

There is one situation that is critical and cannot be abandoned. I will continue to visit and care for this individual as I can during my "vacation". Independence from pastoral care is one of those ministerial duties that doesn't really seem to exist. There is always someone who can't be set aside for a month; too much can happen when someone is very ill. I want to be available if possible when the end comes.

But today I'm going up to Coupeville for lunch with two Astoria friends and next week I'll head for Moses Lake to spend one day and night with my sister and family before going to my 50th high school reunion in Athena. Class of 59, McEwen High School Scotties, Athena, Oregon---go you Scots!

The reunion actually takes place every year in July in Athena, during Caledonian Days, a celebration of Scottish life and customs, with dancing, dog trials, that sort of thing. We grads (and it's "whoever's still vertical") hang out in the park or over by the high school parking lot in RV's, drinking beer and eating barbecue, decorating our class float for the Saturday parade, and reminiscing about old times. It will be fun.

Sunday morning I have to scoot back up to Puget Sound to be the chaplain at July Eliot, the PNW's UU summer camp. That too will be fun.

Now if I can just go incognito to worship on the Sundays I'm here. It's the first year we've had July services and there are some cool things happening on Sunday. Maybe I can wear a nametag that says "I'm only here for worship and coffee hour; no business conversations, please".