Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Photos from Bayview Sound's performance at Postcards from Whidbey Island

Richard on Bass
Lynn singing lead
Debbie doing her thing.
The band in action
Yours truly

Can I do it?

An electronic fast of 10 days? I'm leaning toward shutting off all my electronic devices between Christmas Eve and January 2. It sounds both scary and wonderful.

Imagine not reading 100 emails a day, not to mention answering the few that need attention? Answering several phone calls? Checking Facebook every few hours? Checking UUpdates for the latest blog posts? Watching the evening news? Playing Lexulous with my sister endlessly? What will happen if I don't?

Well, at least I'll be spared the inevitable surge of disgust when I read the latest obscenity from the Fox crew, or dismay at the mishandling of apostrophes, commas, dashes, and misplaced letters in some friends' FB posts, or frustration at the wingnuts' (both left and right) condemnations of President Obama's efforts to work deals with the Party of No. For ten days, I'd be spared those bursts of adrenaline and clenched jaws.

In their place, I might have a chance to finish Ken Follett's latest masterpiece on WWI, do some much needed personal journaling, walk on the beach, talk with friends and family, show off my new pedicure, make music, sleep late, that sort of thing.

This fall has been so stressful with its many difficult demands that I am wound up tighter than a drum and am feeling almost desperate for a change of scenery, a time away from the church and its needs and enticements. This week has been the first time in a few months when I have not had some major event that I needed to prepare for but had little time to do it in.

There've been the normal worship services, a huge memorial service, band performances, cataract surgery, assorted minor physical ills, leaky pipes and bad weather. I've worried about preparing for the trip I plan to take with my family, what to do with the cats (especially Max the problem child), what to take to go from chilly wet Seattle to warm humid ocean and back, how to avoid problems at the airport, the long flights, all that sort of stuff.

I've actually gone from feeling very ambivalent about the trip to thinking -----get me out of here! Now! I need this trip immediately! It's finally dawned on me that it is the perfect way to enforce an electronic fast----get on a boat, go somewhere where they either don't have the internet or wireless service OR they charge so much for it that I won't want to pay for it.

That's it! I'll take a cruise! Well, actually I've been signed up for this thing for months. I get to spend a whole week with the Favorite Son and Favorite Daughter in law and my two Favorite Grandkids. And I really am going to fast---electronically, that is! See you when I'm back online.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Songs and Stories of Christmas: a homily

by Rev. Kit Ketcham, Dec. 19, 2010

Many of you were here last week when we experienced the retelling of the Christian Nativity story through the lens of Unitarian Universalism, in which the ancient story’s themes took on new meanings, new insights.

This is one of the delights, for me, of our faith---that because we are a Living Tradition, that is, we are always seeking new truth, new understandings, new insights, we have the freedom to reconsider those old stories, so often interpreted through lenses of literality and dogma. We have the freedom to look for new truth, new understanding, new insight.

At this time of year, when we strive to find ways to be inclusive of others’ views while honoring our own, we often get pretty creative. And the outcome can be very touching. I’d like to read you a story written by my colleague the Rev. Christine Robinson, of First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque. This is “The Grace of the Christmas Pageant”, written a few years ago.

from “The Grace of the Christmas Pageant”
by The Rev. Christine Robinson
I turned this year’s Christmas pageant over to an energetic member experienced in improvisational theater. I gave her some old scripts, the box of costumes, told her about the (cardboard) animals which must be included with their pre-school creators, recruited someone to play the carol “The Friendly Beasts,” and left the rest to her.

She recruited my husband, who came home with ominous news. “Wise Guys,” he reported, “midwives, and every kid in the Sunday School can wear a costume and bring an appropriate gift.”

“Wise Guys?” I ask, skeptically.

“With the gift of humor.”


“You don’t think Joseph delivered that baby by himself, do you?” he quoted.

If ever I am tempted to pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us, miserable sinners,” it is at the time of the Christmas Pageant.

The Saturday before the performance, I wandered through the rehearsal hall periodically, trying to keep my anxieties to myself. All was Chaos. There were an astounding number of people around, [one costumed child resembling the villain from “Star Wars”]. There were four figures on the stage: [an adult as] Mary holding a wrapped doll, Joseph, and a toddler. “Lucy won’t leave her mother,” the director explained to me, “so I just let her stay there. Maybe by tomorrow she will want to be a rabbit.” I retired to my study, astounded.

My husband came home, swearing he’d never be involved in such foolishness again, and reported the lines of the head wise guy. “You need a sense of humor, little buddy; if you don’t have that, when you start doing miracles, you’ll get nailed.” All night, I dreamed of chaos, poor taste, and the church overrun by Rabbits and Darth Vaders.

The first children to arrive Sunday morning are dressed as a football player and a rat. “What are you going to give the baby?” I ask, trying to keep my tone light. “Speed and courage,” says the child solemnly. “He’ll need them.” The rat simply brandishes an enormous yellow sponge which, he tells me, is cheese.

I speak to the first two Wise Guys I see, who agree that the Methodist Grandmothers in the congregation might not appreciate the reference to nails, and they agree to discuss the matter with the third of the trio when he arrives. A three-year-old rabbit with a beribboned carrot, an extraordinary two-boy camel (one head for each hump), two little girls wrapped in sheep skin automobile seat covers arrive in quick succession, and I am ready to retire to my study for the duration.

The rat wants to light the flaming chalice, but agrees that someone who will not be in the pageant should have an opportunity. Two tiny children are crying over their (cardboard) animals. Some young pyromaniac has made off with the matches. It is time to begin the worship service.

The first part of the service goes amazingly well, all things considered. There is even a moment of real silence at the time of the meditation, and one child catches on to the point of (joys and concerns) fast enough to light a candle for his father, “who usually doesn’t come to church, but came to see me in the play.” Mercifully, no one laughs.

The pageant concerns a statue of St. Francis which comes to life and creates a living crèche, just as he did in Assisi. In the middle of the saint’s plea to the congregation for cooperation, the treasurer, who was not at the rehearsal, jumps up and says “It sounds like this is going to cost money!” He brings down the house, as they say in the theater business, which this is not.

“We need some shepherds, some angels, some wise men...” continues Francis, and he is interrupted again. “And Wise WOMEN! ! !” yells an adolescent feminist dressed in an army jacket. She lopes down the aisle to give the baby her jam box treasure chest and her best advice. “Just be yourself, you know,” she says, and somehow, it is touching. The wise guys lurch down the aisle with their blind camel, and deliver their lines, uncut but sufficiently muffled that only the initiated laugh.

The midwife arrives with her own children (“No baby-sitters in those days!”), and a zoo-full of animals proceed to give their gifts, one by one, to Mary, the baby, and the unexplained toddler. The gifts range from the sublime (a reading book, because you have to be able to read to be wise) to the ridiculous (a carrot to eat, when you are older), but they are clearly given from the heart. The adults have stopped laughing.

The (cardboard) animals arrive. We all sing “The Friendly Beasts.” Saint Francis reads the old story from Luke. It is like magic. Even the rat seems enthralled. Mary has put down the doll and is holding her own child.

“St. Francis” complains of stiffness and is helped by the Narrator (a teenager who didn’t know he could act) back to his pedestal. We sing “Silent Night.” I have goosebumps and the tickle of a tear in the back of my nose. It has been, as they say, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Oh ye of little faith....

It happens every year like this, and it occurs to me that if I understood the magic of the Christmas pageant, I would have the keys to the kingdom, or at least to the church. Whatever it is that brings a small mob of adults and children to a long and boring rehearsal on the busiest day of the year, that allows self-conscious adolescents to offer their best to the congregation, that permits adults to play dress-up in sheets and bathrobes in front of other adults -- well, it’s too big to be magic. It must be the holy spirit.

In some ways, we never get far from the Christmas Pageant. Here we are: busy adults playing with children, self-conscious adolescents finding new talents and offering unlikely gifts, wise guys who say inappropriate things and are forgiven, two-headed camels lurching blindly around the place doing the best we can.... And yet somehow, it all comes together. With stunning regularity, chaos and kitsch are transformed by intention, idealism, and grace into moving, motivated offerings. This is the miracle of the church, as well as its salvation.

What was your experience during the pageant last week? What was it like to hear the old story re-interpreted? Did you find any new understandings? What did you feel as we sang the songs?
For those of you who could not attend last week, here is a brief synopsis of this unusual playlet, written by Canadian Unitarian Joyce Poley:

Mary and Joseph are traveling to Bethlehem to pay their taxes; Mary is about to give birth to the couple’s first child; they are very tired and Joseph is trying to find a place where they can rest. So he goes to a nearby inn to see if there is space. No surprises so far, right?

But the friendly innkeeper welcomes them instead of turning them away; seeing that Mary is so close to giving birth he offers them space in his private stable, cleans the stable quickly, furnishes it with fresh hay for a bed, shoos out the animals, and the innkeeper’s wife stays with the little family to help Mary with the birthing.

The animals who have been shooed outside into the cold want to return to the comfort of their stalls in the stable and Mary’s donkey, who is also tired, makes a plea for all of them, despite the innkeeper’s wife’s objections. Mary responds “let them in---we are in their house---let them come back in”.

Not your typical Christmas story, right? But wait, there’s more.

Shepherds arrive and the innkeeper tries to bar the door to them, pointing out their lowly status as homeless wanderers. But Joseph tells the innkeeper that he, Joseph, is a lowly carpenter himself and allows the shepherds to come in, where they tell their story of having witnessed a choir of angels who directed them to the stable.

Magi arrive with their camels and offer gifts, telling of a star, though the shepherds are fearful and urge Joseph to refuse them entry, as they are strangely dressed and clearly not Jews. But Joseph welcomes the Magi and they present their story of following that magnificent light to find the newly born child, and after giving their gifts, the magi depart, leaving the little family to sleep; Joseph finds a spot to rest in and Mary ponders.

But what’s this? The innkeeper’s young daughter has crept back for a look at the baby. She has no idea of what this all may mean, she only knows that there is a newborn in the stable and like all children, she is captivated by the new little life which has come so mysteriously.

Mary sees her watching and invites her to come closer, “would you like to hold the baby? Would you like to see him smile? Can you make your arms a cradle and rock him for awhile? This gift that I’ve been given is yours as much as mine, would you like to hold the baby? Take your time, take your time.”

This version of the ancient story shifts the spotlight from the traditional elements and focuses on the moments in which real human beings behave with both kindness and judgmentalness. Rejection is turned into welcome. Human beings learn real human lessons about hospitality, acceptance, giving, and promise.

Mary and Joseph invite us all to hold the baby, not keeping him separate from those who are poor or different or unfamiliar. We are urged to seek something larger than our own daily needs and desires. We are surprised and awed, alongside the shepherds and the magi. We rejoice at birth and at life’s promise. We give without expectation of return.

This is, I think, one true meaning of this season, whether we are celebrating solstice or Hanukkah or Christmas or Kwanzaa: that we human beings can be more than our everyday selves, that we can stretch and grow beyond our self-serving motives, that we can give and not be concerned about what we receive in return. And we may learn, if we recognize the opportunity, to take our time, take our time.

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

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that this season need not be a time of stress and worry and desire. It can be a time of peace and joy and love. May we take our time with each other and with ourselves. May we be hospitable and welcoming without draining our own reserves completely and may we offer our best to one another and receive what it is that they can give, with joy and love. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"Would you like to hold the baby?" is...

a retelling of the Nativity story through a Unitarian Universalist lens and it never fails to delight me, moving me to tears on occasion as I sing the words to the songs: "there is room in the stable for everyone", "if we saw the things the shepherds saw, would we have eyes to see?", "offer your gifts, whatever they are, be not afraid, follow the star", and "would you like to hold the baby? ...this gift that I've been given is yours as much as mine".

The author and composer of this Christmas pageant, Joyce Poley, has done a masterful job of giving harried DREs and choir leaders plenty of help in staging and all things pageant-y. I praise her name in behalf of all of us who helped put the pageant together yesterday.

But it feels sad to me that there is still so much leftover pain in some folks' hearts that they can't hear the new message drawn out of this ancient story, a message that has nothing to do with the supernatural and everything to do with timeless values of inclusion, courage, insight, and caring for others.

I pray at this season for peace of heart and mind for those who cannot yet see or hear a new message of hope because of their own pain. And I am grateful to know when this pain rears its head in the hearts and minds of folks I know and love; it's a common pain that many UUs suffer at this time of year. But it is possible, with time and reflection, to heal the wounds and move beyond the pain into a time of joy and delight, the product of reframing the ancient myth into its true metaphors of love and acceptance.

For our children need to know these stories; they are part of our culture and far more positive than the commercial messages of the marketplace at Christmastide. In addition, they need to have their own understanding of the stories to ground them in our values, especially when their playmates from fundamentalist congregations of many kinds tell them they're going to hell because they don't believe the same things their playmates do. They need the courage and commitment exemplified in the ancient stories and they need to know that this courage and commitment does not come from supernatural sources, but from their own hearts and minds.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Music to the Heart

By Rev. Kit Ketcham, Dec. 5, 2010

Ever since I was a little kid, music has had a special place in my life. When it was “the people’s choice” at my dad’s Sunday evening service and we could request certain hymns, my favorites always were about singing: “This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ear, all nature sings and around me rings the music of the spheres” and the ones with lots of “alleluias” and the lines about “o tell of his might and sing of his grace, whose robe is the light, whose canopy space”.

If somebody besides me was playing the piano that night and I had free rein to sing, I’d bellow out the words until my dad shot me a warning glance, as if to say, “honey, you’re a little too loud”. We did have a woman in our congregation who sang loudly and in a monotone and was a source of great amusement to my sister and me, but our father said to us very firmly, “Grace is praising God in her own way and I do NOT want you making fun of her.”

That’s probably why I have a soft spot for people who think they can’t carry a tune because I want them to sing anyway----and I want us all to be kind about it----because participation in music is a worshipful act, worshipful in terms of creating something of worth. Singing creates a tapestry of sound and we each contribute a thread to that tapestry, a creation that is worth more than whether it is perfect or not. Sort of like life, right?----worthwhile even when it’s not perfect! And who’s to say what’s perfect anyhow?

Remember the Leonard Cohen song Anthem? “Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There is a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in.”

Lots of less than perfect music in my life: campfires at the beach or in the forest, friends picking instruments and singing harmony under the stars, in living rooms, in bars; in choirs, struggling to meet the demands of the conductor, read the parts, stay on key, not fall off the risers, remember the words; though Glee Club in high school was never like the TV show Glee!

But the years passed and I went from hymn-playing and hymn-singing in my dad’s little church to leading the junior choir in other churches and a singing group at the Denver Christian Center where I worked for awhile, then on to folk music jams and group sings where I’d admire the instrumentalists and fumble with the chords on my own cheapo guitar, eager to join in but unable to sing and play at the same time!

It seemed natural to have the radio on full blast at home and harmonize to the Beatles and other pop singers of the day, as a young stay-at-home mom. And sing I did, at least until my spouse came home and switched the station over to jazz or classical, because he liked songs without words.

But we agreed on folk music as worthwhile and belted out the anti-war songs we both knew, admired Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary, together. We sang our little boy to sleep with “All the Pretty Little Horses” and “Go to sleepy little Baby”. Every once in awhile, nursing him at night, I’d sneak in a lullaby my mother sang to me, “Mama’s darling, daddy’s sweetheart, Jesus’ precious little lamb, how we love him, how we love him, how we love our Michael boy.”

At home before marriage, I sang a lot. Afterwards, I felt shy, afraid of critique, embarrassed by my love of the old hymns of the traditional church, and wanting to be a wife who was attuned to her husband’s wants and preferences, just like my mother.

After the end of the marriage, I found myself drawn back into choirs and children’s music groups in the church. I sought out friends who were musical, hungry to make music with others. I harmonized with the lounge singer in a bar a few times and even was invited to join one talented friend in his act on occasion.

But I never thought of myself as a singer. Nobody had ever encouraged me to sing; I had always invited myself into choirs and other singing groups and, once there, found the camaraderie and sense of belonging that I so hungered for.

As I grew more comfortable in a music group, I got braver and started to sing publicly with one friend or another playing the guitar: at open mics, at church, at parties. And it became important not to sing just anything, but to sing songs that were meaningful to me, songs with a message.

It became more and more important to be part of the music, not just listen. I didn’t need to stand out, I just needed to be part of it. I remember sitting in my Colorado church listening to our very talented pianist playing Mozart’s Turkish March, eyes closed, enjoying the lively tune, when the person sitting next to me nudged me and pointed at my hand, which was thumping the notes out on my knee. We both laughed and I hid my hand where he couldn’t see it and continued to play along.

When we sing here, in our worship services, I am so conscious of the words we are singing. You know that old joke about the Unitarian Universalists not being such great singers because they’re always reading ahead to see if they agree with the words? I think this congregation has gotten past that, but I still am very aware that words matter.

I like our hymnal for that reason, because these hymns have been carefully selected for their universality, their inclusiveness, their reverence, and their power to inspire. They aren’t all easy to sing but this group does pretty well, even with the hard ones. I think you are wonderful, enthusiastic singers!

But as I reflect about music and its ability to inspire us, I am reminded of a moment a couple of years ago, when my whole relationship with music seemed to come together in an understandable rush.

It was at a gathering of friends, at someone’s house; we’d all come together for a late summer music party. There was food and beer and lots of laughter. We had plowed through the heaps of enchiladas and chips and guacamole and somebody brought out a guitar, struck a few chords, tuned a string or two, and began to sing.

More instruments joined in, more voices rose in song, and it seemed that everyone at the party had suddenly clustered in the living room of the house, standing close together, singing. Here I was standing among all these people, singing a harmony part that seemed to come out of nowhere but blending with the bass, the tenor, the melody carrier, and all the other streams of sound in that room. It was a transcendent moment.

If it could be said that we lived inside that circle of sound for the time it took to sing the song, it would be true. When the song ended, we stood looking at each other with amazement in our eyes. What an experience, to be inside the song, part of the musical vibrations that formed that enclosure of melody and harmony. My heart was pounding and I felt like crying. Instead we all took a collective deep breath, let it out, and just said, “Wow”.

I look for that kind of experience now every time I am singing with others. Performing is fun, but nothing matches that moment when the music envelopes and transports me beyond the every day.

I get it sometimes when we sing together and I look out at you and catch your eye and you grin and I grin back. I get it sometimes when I hear our choir hit a perfectly in tune chord. I get it sometimes when Nola swings into one of her wonderful hymn accompaniments and takes us along with her. I get it sometimes when all of you adults join the kids in the motions for some song or another----singing “Peace Like a River” or “This Little Light of Mine” and waving our arms around in the motions, just like kids.

When we make music together, whether it’s in song or instrumental form, there is a communion of sound that nourishes us and makes us more whole. When we listen to others creating music, we have an opportunity to let go and let ourselves be part of that experience, not just regarding it as a performance but as a way to come together in the music that is part of all of us, whether we can carry a tune or play an instrument or just listen.

The important thing is that we do it together. You may have noticed that we try to restrain our desire to applaud our musicians until the end of the service. That’s because music within a worship service is different, not a performance but an offering of an opportunity to be transported by the music into another realm of experience. It’s not easy, but our musicians usually understand that they are contributing something different, not a performance but an experience of worship.

Every voice, every tone, every heart raised in song, harmonic or dissonant, is important, not to be stifled but to be welcomed and accepted. That’s part of what it means to be in community. Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that we have music within us, music to share and to treasure. May we find our own ways of being inside the music in our lives and may we not be afraid to share that music. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Ten Best Ministers I Know

This appeared recently in a source I regularly read and gives insight into the arts of ministry, as they were seen by the author at the time it was written, many decades ago and before many of the awarenesses we now have, with women, sexual minorities and racial minorities more strongly among us. It's by Clarke Dewey Wells, one of our UU "Oaks of Righteousness". (I'm hoping someone writes an updated version soon.)

The Best Ministers I Know
by Clarke Dewey Wells

I ask myself what men in our denomination do I admire most? I wrote down ten names. Then I ask what these ten have in common, why I like them. They range in age from their 30s to late 60s. I've known them from 6 years to 20 years. (It takes time for cream to rise.) Here is what I discover.

1. All of them have enormous egos, but most know it and pray about it and every day try again to shape up and fly right.

2. All are married, fathers and masculine; big, fine voices, strong and athletic of body, but free to express their feminine component and maternal impulses.

3. All are great talkers but, with the exception of 2, can greatly enjoy hearing other great talkers. All have wide-ranging enthusiasms, intellectual depth, and some scholarly interests and pursuits.

4. All are sinners. I mean, to my surprise, that all of them have been wrong on some important denominational issues over the years. None is afraid to be in the wrong with two or three. Most are slightly narcissistic and compulsively energetic.

5. All are saints in their love of life and dedicated to making it more humane. 7 of them even know how to go about doing it.

6. Seven of ten will answer your letters; 4 of them will give indication in their reply of having read yours.

7. All are outstanding preachers, that is they speak with conviction, literacy, power.

8. All have balanced ministries; personal-social, science-art, tradition-novelty, pastor-prophet.

9. None is guilty of the following: sentimentality--though each pours on the
sentiment; manipulation, though none is ashamed to use powers of
persuasion; sanctimoniousness, though each is deeply religious; betrayal of
confidence, though each knows more than any gossip in town; bitterness,
though each is capable of wrath; and colored-socks, though each acknowledges
the right of others to wear them.

10. All are sharply defined, idiosyncratic, individual, unique. They have
presence. They stand out. While co-operative, gregarious, social to a fault,
they don't blend in. As a matter of fact, if you put one in a blender he'd
break the blades, crack the glass and bounce around like a steel fork.

I hope you are always fortunate enough to have ministers like them, and help
to keep them that way.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hard to say goodbye forever...

to a young woman who died suddenly and unexpectedly just before Thanksgiving.

I'd never memorialized such a young person before and was not well-prepared for the emotionality of the service, although in retrospect it makes sense. How can you lose someone who is only 39, who has a child not yet grown, a husband of only a few years, a family who had counted on her to be around forever, or at least for the rest of their lives. And in such a tragic way----of a sudden blood clot to the lungs, with no premonition of danger.

I traveled to Vashon Island at the request of the family, whom I have known for many years and in several different ways. I'd known the father and his second wife through UU events in Colorado; I'd known the mother through my Vashon days; I'd known the young woman and her daughter through the Vashon congregation and learned then that she had been an acquaintance of my son in our Colorado days.

The little sanctuary was packed with friends and family members. The service itself was memorable for its wonderful stories and all the tears. I met her husband, her brothers, her best friends, her many relatives and acquaintances. The "community sharing" (aka "open mic") time was heartfelt and teary and lengthy.

But the question remains: how can such a thing happen to a young, vibrant, passionate, giving woman as Spring Cole Stuhlman? There is no reason, no explaining it adequately, no platitudes that give comfort. She is dead, gone, and only memories and love---and ashes---remain.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A minor rant

Some days it's more minor than others, but I really feel concerned sometimes about the grammar and spelling skills of people I love. I used to worry a lot about the Favorite Son's eventual transit into adulthood with the kind of skills he had in high school, but his dad, the English major, took him in hand---or maybe spellcheck did or his own good sense, who knows---and he's quite skilled these days. He's actually writing a thesis, and though his dad the English major or his sweet wife may be proofing it occasionally, I have no doubt but what it will look pretty good under the university's microscope.

But other people I love! Those unnecessary or misplaced apostrophes! Those run-on sentences! Those barely-phonetic spellings of words! People! Don't be careless when you're posting on FB or MS----get it right! Please.

Some folks are great. They know what they're doing and if they make a mistake, they go back and fix it. Others are just typing too fast and don't proofread. Others don't give a darn and never proof anything. Others? I hate to say it, but it looks like they flunked English. Now maybe that's forgivable if a person has a learning disability or some other handicap. But people who are writing for publication or emailing colleagues about a professional matter or drumming up support for a cause-----you really need to have a proofreader if you can't do it yourself! Or refrain from putting things in writing if you can't do it right.

We aren't going to quit loving you or donating to your cause or dealing with you professionally just because you don't know the difference between it's and its or your and you're, but we who know better cringe when we see your goofups, especially when we know personally how really smart you are.

But how hard can it be to re-scan what you've written and correct the glaring ones at least? Or ask someone else to look it over?

I realize I'm asking too much. That's why it's only a minor rant. And, of course, I have been known to make a mistake or two myself!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Ministers are asked to do some interesting things...

and today I am facing one of those challenges. Actually, it's a reasonable conversation to have with someone, but it was unexpected. Let me give you some background.

Years ago in a congregation far far away, a sweet little old lady who was (I realized) struggling with issues of too-high intelligence, too-advanced dementia, and very few social skills asked me outright on one of my visits to her little home if I would please give her an enema. She was having some problems in that area, couldn't manage it herself and it didn't feel right to ask her middle-aged son, who lived with her, if he would do it. I said no as gently as I could and suggested she needed a medically-oriented person to do that kind of thing for her. I don't remember the outcome of the situation, but I escaped with my composure intact, mostly.

This afternoon I am having a conversation with a gentleman who asked, at our recent Peace Vigil with the Interfaith Amigos (a local group of three clergy---a Sufi Muslim, a Christian pastor, and a Rabbi), what their position is on the justice of circumcision. Needless to say, the Rabbi had no problem with it, but the other two had to admit that they had not ever discussed it. Perhaps it will become a topic for their consideration at some point, but I'll bet the most immediate thing that happened was that the planners of the Vigil decided never to have a Q & A period again.

Anyhow, a week or so ago, the same fellow called me up and asked if I had a position on circumcision and would I please meet with him to discuss how my congregation might get involved in his campaign to outlaw it. I was feeling benevolent at the moment and agreed to meet----in a public place, this afternoon, for a little chat. Now I'm wishing the snow were more of an obstacle, but it's not, and so I will do what I said I'd do.

He's a nice older guy, but, like my former parishioner, with rusty (or few) social skills and earnest about his convictions. And I think it's a worthwhile conversation to have, but I really don't want to ask my congregation to get involved in this matter. And I probably will tell him that, at half-time, I don't have the energy or time to do it myself but will refer it to our Social Responsibility Council. They might well want to consider the issue, but I'm sure it will initially raise everyone's eyebrows.

Circumcision is a growing concern among folks who now wish they were not circumcised or who wish they'd never circumcised their sons or who are trying to make the decision about a newborn or a future son. And, one has to admit, there are creepy similarities between even the most hygienic and carefully-performed circumcisions and the genital mutilation of little girls. They aren't done for the same reasons, but why should they be done at all?

I may have an addendum to this post later today. Maybe I will get more interested in it than I think.

UPDATE: Well, I am far better informed and full of information. I had not thought much about the ethical issues involved and now I have. And all he wanted (and he was very much NOT some wingnut) was to give me info to share with congregants who might ask about the issue. I am glad I went.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Western Washington rarely gets much snow, but this year we are predicted to get much more than usual, because of a strong La Nina factor in the Pacific. And all day today, this early in the year, it has snowed like a sonofagun. We have several inches piled up on the deck. My only foray out of the house has been down the driveway on foot to pick up the mail.

The girl cats are curious about the snow but not desperate to go outside. Max is a different breed of cat; he MUST be out, but then he MUST come back in because it's so cold. He has been in and out at least ten times this evening, going from one door to another to see if the weather is any better out back than out front. Every time he comes in, he's covered in snow, so I wipe him down, warm him up a bit, and then he wants out again.

I tried refusing him, but he started to beat up on Loosy, so out he went again. Finally he has given up and is snoozing on the cabinet next to the window here in the study, with one eye open to keep tabs on the weather.

It's too late to let him go back out now, as I'm off to bed soon. I hope the predicted winds don't kick up, as it would be pretty serious to lose power tonight.

I tried watching DWTS but couldn't stomach the glitz or the posturing. How do people actually dance in those outfits? I hadn't watched it before but felt like giving poor Bristol a looksee. It wasn't much fun.

Maybe I'll get inspired tomorrow and write more of a blog post. I feel like I'm not keeping up very well.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

We Gather Together

By Rev. Kit Ketcham, Nov. 21, 2010
It was late November of 1989 when my sister called me in Denver with the awful words, "Mom's had a stroke, it doesn't look good, can you come home for Thanksgiving early?" I flew home here to the Pacific Northwest with my heart in my mouth. My brother and his family, my sister and hers, our cousins, aunts and uncles all converged that November afternoon in Vancouver, Washington, where my mother, Mona Elizabeth Larson Ketcham, was hospitalized with a major stroke.

We had been planning to have Thanksgiving at cousin Katie's anyhow, with my mother and all the family who could come. And as it turned out, we did have Thanksgiving there, but immediately after our meal, we all trooped over to the hospital, formed a conga line outside my mother’s room, and danced in, singing "over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's bed we go", much to her delight and the open mouths of the nurses.
 She couldn't speak.

One side of her body was floppy and loose, but half of her face could smile, and smile she did! We were all scared to death but more scared to show it than anything. So when she smiled and laughed at our antics, it was the reprieve we'd hoped for. We knew she wouldn't be leaving us just yet.

We Gather Together. This is the time of year when we make plans to gather together with family members and friends. We may have seen them just yesterday, but this holiday marks a time in our lives when we purposely come together to spend time in each other’s company, to see how much the children have grown, to sample the familiar foods, perhaps watch a game or two, sing a few songs, and celebrate Thanksgiving in the company of family and friends.

Unless we don’t. Many of us don’t have family nearby or we can’t get there or we wouldn’t want to go there, and so we find other ways, but we gather together. Maybe we invite folks over; maybe we invite ourselves to someone’s gathering or suggest that friends gather at our house on that fourth Thursday afternoon in a family of choice.

Gathering together is the theme of our service today, during a month in which we are considering, as inspirational sources of our Unitarian Universalist faith, family and relationships. When Libby and I were planning the service and thinking how to meld Joann’s story, Guest at Your Table, and Thanksgiving celebrations into a coherent whole, we looked through our hymnal for hymns appropriate to the season.

And in our thinking about what to offer to you today, we realized that the hymns we sing at this time of year---before Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs become more appropriate---these songs are all about “gathering together”.

Our first hymn “We Sing Now Together” speaks of the many joys and challenges of human living---gratitude for freedom, for the commitment of those who defend our freedom, for the service of those who teach, who prophesy, who lead, who dream and create.

And the final verse reminds us of this: “we sing of community now in the making, in every far continent, region and land. With those of all races, all times and names and places, we pledge ourselves in covenant firmly to stand.”

We are reminded at this time of year that all human beings desire and need community. We need each other. We need someone to say, “yes, I have a generator and you can come over and have a hot shower!” We need to hear “of course you can come for Thanksgiving----I didn’t realize you might be available.” We might be fine in our solitude for a long time, but there comes a moment when we crave the sound of another voice. We may not be lonely, but we value the presence of another person.

Tuesday morning, when I woke up realizing that the power had not yet come back on and I was going to have to figure out a game plan for light, for coffee and for warmth, my instinctive reaction was to get in the car and go find someplace that was open, someplace where others had gathered.

The Texaco station was all I could find, where several of us huddled around the coffee pot, reached for the batteries, and listened to each other’s news bulletins. What? The power might not be back on everywhere until Thursday? What? And we shared our collective groans about the promises of Puget Sound Energy to serve the island efficiently and quickly.

Hmph, said one, that wasn’t hardly even a big blow last night at my place. Well, said another, guess we got a day off anyhow. And I came home with my cup of coffee, warmed by the knowledge that there were others in the same fix and figuring out how early I could see to start work on the sermon.

Our second hymn, “Gather the Spirit”, the one we sang a few minutes ago, is one of my favorites. If I had my druthers, we’d sing it every couple of weeks, because it is an eloquent description of what a spiritual community offers to us human beings.

And though we have a mission in this congregation to serve our larger community with love and justice, we derive strength to accomplish these goals from our time together in community, both on Sunday morning and at other gathering times.

(here’s the chorus) “Gather in peace, gather in thanks, gather in sympathy now and then, gather in hope, compassion, and strength, gather to celebrate once again.”

For me, this invokes the experience of our worship service together. Worship in our midst does not mean bowing down in adoration before a deity. The word worship comes from two ancient Anglo Saxon words: weorth, which means worth or worthiness, and schippe, which means to shape. When we speak of worship and our services of worship, we mean that time when we shape worth together, when we gather together to find meaning and inspiration from the sources that we value.

Gather the spirit, harvest the power, our separate fires will kindle one flame. Witness the mystery of this hour, our trials in this light appear all the same.

The song speaks of the mystery of this worship hour, this time when we come together to gain strength and inspiration from each other, when we laugh together, share our joys and sorrows and perhaps learn something new or hear a story that speaks of shared experience. We sing together, one of humankind’s most basic ways to share our lives.

When we sing together, we blend our voices----not just the tuneful ones but the wavery ones too, the voices that might not work in a choir but are an important part of our shared song. Blended voices are beautiful, even when they don’t all sing quite the same tune. So take heart, those of you who were once told to just mouth the words. Your song too is beautiful.

Gather the spirit of heart and mind, seeds for the sowing are laid in store, nurtured in love and conscience refined, with body and spirit united once more.

Poetry, for that’s what hymn lyrics are, poetry tells a story in figurative language. What are the seeds we lay in store, when we come together? Perhaps the memories, perhaps the inspiration, perhaps the stories that emerge from our shared experience? Perhaps we lay these in store to bring out again on a dark night, or when we need to be recalled to our best selves, or when the love we’ve experienced here and the collective conscience we’ve developed merge and we find strength to meet life’s demands, to go beyond our fears and our sorrows.

Gather the spirit growing in all, drawn by the moon and fed by the sun, winter to spring and summer to fall, the chorus of life resounding as one.

Experiencing the seasons of life as we go through them together, watching the moon through the trees and framed by our circular window, feeling the sunshine stream into this place on a lovely day, watching the leaves fall from the alder and madrona trees in the fall and awaiting their return in the spring, hearing the frogs and squirrels and eagles voices nearby, and seeing coyote and deer mosey across the land---we also experience the cycles of human life together.

The birth of a new child, the chatter of babies and toddlers, the watchful care of parents, the rambunctious boys and reflective girls, the rambunctious girls and reflective boys. Our youth growing taller and more beautiful every week, adding their experiences and their thoughts to our community.

And we experience, too, the mellowings of life---the wisdom of our older parents as they shepherd teens and young adults through their maturation process, the depth and sagacity of our elders in their maturity, the aging of all of us, the many needs of our diverse community.

All these we experience together—the joy, the pleasure, the life that flows through our time together. And the concerns for those whose health is dwindling, who may be hungry both physically and spiritually, those who are jobless, those who are discouraged, those who are tired of living and those who wish for just one more day.

Gather in peace, gather in thanks, gather in sympathy now and then, gather in hope, compassion and strength, gather to celebrate once again.

I invite you to close your eyes for a moment. Settle yourself in your chair and take a few deep breaths and let’s be silent for a time to let our hearts relax. (silence) (chime)

I believe that there are persons here today who have great joy and love in their lives, who smile because they are genuinely happy, who want to reach out with the abundance in their lives and share it with others.

I believe also that there are those here today who have a deep grief in their hearts, who come here looking for compassion and understanding. I believe that there are those who are struggling with some dilemma---how to make the best, the wisest, the most realistic choice about an issue, be it health, career, children, spouse, education, even life and death.

I believe that there are people here today who are lonely, looking for friends, people who are in search of new ideas and new meaningful work. I believe that there are people in this room who are hurting and looking for relief.

I believe that there are men and women in this room who are grateful for a smile, hoping for a hug, needing someone to talk to for awhile. I believe that there are folks in this room who are confused and anxious, needing hope.

Many of us both need nurture and hope and also have nurture and hope to share. That is sort of the human condition in a nutshell, isn’t it? How can we be helped and help others? Let’s consider this for a moment. (silence/chime)

When we come together in community, we receive nurture and hope and we have opportunities to give it as well. When we turn our collective gaze to the world beyond these walls, we see that our individual opportunities to serve others are limitless; also we see that we as a community can offer strength and hope to countless others in a variety of ways.

And we begin to recognize that it is our responsibility to do so, not to hang on so tightly to our comfortable lives within this community but to invite others in, to reach out with our resources to support others who need us, both within these walls and outside of them. If you are lonely or confused or anxious or looking for friends, we are here for you. If you are happy and generous, we are here for you. And you, we hope, are here for us.

Let me shift direction a bit now.

This past Wednesday night, our Lyceum 2.0 speaker Lauren Hartzell spoke to us eloquently of the dire situation our planet is facing because of drastic climate changes. She challenged us to think deeply about the ethics of our behavior as we marshal our defenses and prepare our adaptations to the predicted shifts in weather patterns and the results of melting ice caps.

She told us that she as an ethicist sees three possible responses to climate change: despite the mounting evidence, we can decide everything is fine and do nothing to prepare; or we can decide that nothing we can do will help, so we decide not to do anything; or we can decide to do what we can where we can. None of these responses is perfect, but it’s what we’ve got to work with.

According to Dr. Hartzell, the truth is that the problem is so big that only massive global intervention can change it in time to avert major problems. But massive global intervention is not possible at this point. Perhaps the major players, such as the US, Canada, Europe, Brazil and a few others, can agree to do something to diminish the effects somewhat and adapt to the changes which come. But there are enough deniers of the problem that this probably won’t happen as effectively as it might, at least until major global disaster is evident.

In a conversation I had later with friends, one person said, “I just have a hard time believing that it’s as bad as it sounds”, and another said, “well, I’m of the opinion that nothing I can do will change things, so I’m inclined to not do anything.” To which another replied, “Gee, I’m of the opinion that nothing I can do will change things but I’m inclined to do what I can where I can.”

Why? Reasons offered in that brief moment ranged from disbelief and mistrust of the scientific research, to fatalistic acceptance of the inevitable, to taking care of self though concerned about future generations, to making self feel better about the situation by doing something, anything.

But as I thought about my own spontaneous response, which was more of the “do something, anything, and make myself feel better” variety, I began to be more coherent about my reasons.

And I thought about what I believe is my moral duty to the universe, what I think I must do to keep my conscience clear and to keep from making a bad situation worse.

It would be easy to say, “yeah, it’s bad but I can’t change it, so I’m not going to go to the recycle center or thrift shop anymore. I’ll just have the best, most convenient life I can have until it all falls apart.”

But that would go so against the grain for me---and perhaps for you---that, despite my recognition that my efforts will be puny and not change things very much, I will not go that direction.

My own creed of behavior includes a strong commitment to future generations. My own creed of behavior includes a strong commitment to the community in which I live. My own creed of behavior includes a strong commitment to living in accordance with my conscience, not ignoring its proddings in favor of convenience.

So I’ve been thinking about what I might say to my denier friends and my fatalistic friends, whose opinions I respect but strongly disagree with.

And I think it will be something like this: I believe that I have a moral obligation to future generations and am doing the best I can not to make their world uninhabitable; I believe that my behavior serves as an example to others and that it needs to be a good example, not a bad one; I believe that this planet is an interdependent system and that I must act with the understanding that my behavior affects others, both directly and indirectly; I believe that it is a moral act to avoid wastefulness of resources.

I don’t know if that statement will change my friends’ minds, but I need to make it. I need to ask myself and them this question: “who does your action or non-action affect besides yourself?” For our actions do affect one another, now and in the future.

Our actions toward each other in this community affect the health of the community and require our vigilance, our compassion, and our care.

This faith community is not just a warm and fuzzy place to get together spiritually and lovingly. It is also a place where we do the hard work of acting on our commitments---to ourselves and each other and to the larger world beyond these walls. I ask you to share this work with me and with all of us.

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

HYMN #318: As we sing our closing hymn, I invite you to consider the words we sing. “we would be one….we would build for tomorrow…we seek a nobler world than our world today…and we pledge ourselves to greater service…for this will make us free.”

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering the ways we have been nurtured and supported by others and committing ourselves to nurturing and supporting the many folks around us who need our help. May we consider our actions in light of the effect they have on ourselves, those around us, and future generations and may we heed the proddings of our conscience, both individually and collectively, that the world will be the best place we can make it. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Seeing Straight

Today is the first day in maybe all of my life that I have been able to see straight with both eyes.

I don't remember having poor vision early in life, but at age 6, I got my first pair of glasses and wore them constantly up until my senior year of college, when I got contact lenses. That was in 1962 and I have used hard or gas-permeable contacts all that time until this week, when miraculous cataract surgery gave me 20/20 vision in both eyes.

It was always just something I coped with---the wetting and cleansing and soaking solutions, the eyelash under the lens, the cloudiness when I'd fall asleep wearing them, the worry about losing one or dislodging one or forgetting to put the plug in the sink before rinsing one off under the faucet.

I felt kinda ugly in my glasses, even when they had cute or colorful frames. My high school graduation picture, taken at age 16, with my swooped-up pointy rhinestoned frames make me look like a young old person. There were times I had to wear my glasses because my eyes had changed enough that the contacts were uncomfortable and couldn't be worn; we weren't able to afford a new prescription right away and anyhow, they might change back. Birth control pills and pregnancy somehow changed the shape of my eyes.

I thought about getting my eyes lazixed, but I would have had to go contact-free for months to allow the corneas to go back to their original shape. So I didn't do that. It was too expensive anyhow.

About 18 months ago, a retinal detachment put me back in glasses for an extended period, which turned out to be not so bad, except that I couldn't see as well in glasses as in contacts. The retina business also caused a bit of a crinkle in my vision, distorting letters slightly, so I figured I was doomed to wear glasses the rest of my life.

But then cataracts intervened, Medicare stepped up to the plate, and voila! I can see. I need reading glasses for close-up work and computer glasses (less magnification) for computer and pulpit (and music stand) work. But that's all.

I wake up in the night and can read the clock without squinting. I can see the shapes of the leaves on the trees. I saw the red sunrise this morning without having to put on glasses or contacts. The colors are beautiful without the film that cataracts impose.

It was easy surgery, fast and painless. I am blessed.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Hope Has Human Hands

by Rev. Kit Ketcham, Nov. 7, 2010

In the late 40’s, early 50’s, there was a song which, when it came on the radio, would make my dad groan and move as if to turn it off, muttering “that darn song, it’s so sticky!”, and my mother and I would cry out, “no, we want to hear it!” It was a terrifically sentimental song and its words could even be said to be sappy, schmaltzy, syrupy. And I’ll bet you haven’t heard it for years, but if you remember it and feel like joining in, sing with me.

“Soft as the voice of an angel, breathing a lesson unheard, HOPE with a gentle persuasion whispers her comforting word: Wait till the darkness is over, Wait till the tempest is done, Hope for the sunshine tomorrow, after the shower is gone. Whispering Hope, oh how welcome thy voice, making my heart, in its sorrow, rejoice.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can’t control it but we can respond to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that no act of kindness is in vain, that our efforts to bring hope to each other and to the larger community will bring us hope as well. May we find ways to minister to the community in which we live, ways which will foster Unitarian Universalism in the world, ways which will address some of the systemic problems that plague society, and ways which will bring us the peace of mind of knowing that together we have offered hope to a hurting world. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Running Lava Falls...

in the Grand Canyon is one of those lifetime events that you look forward to with mixed anticipation and dread, knowing that you're probably not going to drown but that the possibility is there. And even if you don't get thrown out of the boat, it's going to be a big challenging experience, especially if you're in small boats with a private trip. Which is the only way I've ever run any river.

I woke up in the night recently thinking about the upcoming weekend (the one that started last night, actually) with the same kind of anticipatory dread that two runs through Lava many years ago inspired in me: will I make it through? will anything go wrong? have I considered all the logistics, the people involved, the needs of others in the boat? is the equipment solid? what if we lose an oar? or the food goes overboard? or, heaven forfend, if the boat flips?

When we put in at Lee's Ferry for both those trips, Lava loomed big. It was way down the river, days and days away from the starting point of the trip, but it was The Rapid, the one that---successfully run---marked an outstanding trip. You wanted to hit it just right, good water level even though that meant that the holes were big and the waves bigger, riding the tongue down into the first drop, keeping the boat pointed downstream, not sideways, and being spit out on the other side of the maelstrom upright, with all passengers aboard, and no loss of cargo.

This weekend has loomed like that for me ever since circumstances dictated that we have Baird's memorial service tomorrow right after church. Family needs came first in planning the service, not anything else, and that's as it should be. It just meant that the weekend was jammed with both professional and personal events for me, none of which I could easily jettison.

All my usual mechanisms came into play, the good ones and the not-so-good ones. First of all, it was clear that since I would be preaching at 10 a.m. and officiating the memorial at 1 p.m., I would have to set priorities about which was more important. I'd planned to preach on DADT, since it was pre-Veterans Day, but the thought of writing a sermon on that gloomy topic while grieving the loss of one of our dearest members-----I didn't think I could do it. So the topic was the first to go and I pulled out one of my favorite oldies, "Hope Has Human Hands". (It will go up here on Sunday.)

That decision made, it was clear I could let go of anxiety about the worship service, at least once I had checked the church website listing of sermons preached during the past years. I don't think I've offered this one for years. But it's a good one to precede the farewells to be said during the memorial service.

I use a flexible template for both the memorial service and for my own reflections about life and death. Though I adapt each one to the circumstances, I know what I want to cover and don't try to reinvent the wheel each time; I know what my own grief requires and I'm not a very creative thinker when I'm writing a memorial service. But I always want to include my own thoughts about the life of the deceased and that requires thought and writing time.

With extra planning and help from my wonderful worship leader T, I was able to be ready for the worship service by Tuesday. Tuesday evening I started to get the first pangs of muscle spasms in my back, signaling the tension build-up that often accompanies stress in my life. An acupuncture treatment took up some extra time but diminished the symptoms a bit. Time spent with the heating pad ate into my work schedule but I managed to get everything done by Friday morning, so that I could squeeze in a lectionary meeting and a rehearsal.

A rehearsal? Yes, because Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m. the band has a gig. We're doing a private party for friends. Fortunately, I haven't lost my voice during this run-up to The Metaphorical Rapid.

Sunday morning at 10, we head into the turbulent waters of The Big One and by 3 p.m. (since we have to be out of the building before the Quakers arrive for their service) we'll be floating into the tail of the whitewater. And then it will be jubilation time----we made it! And singing we will go into the eddy below Lava to celebrate a successful run.

I have no doubts about whether this will go well. There might be some glitches, but the planning has been adequate, I have lots of help for every hole and wave, and if the boat flips, it will be an accident that couldn't be avoided.

And, I suspect, by Monday morning my muscle spasms will be gone. I've at least learned that fighting them (just like fighting water) just makes them worse. Learning to relax consciously when they strike is the best thing I've come across for pain reduction. Sort of like letting the life jacket take over when you get thrown out of the boat. Yeah, like that.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Here's an epilogue to the "GNIP" controversy...

Or at least Epilogue I. I got the idea to write to Randy Cohen, who writes "The Ethicist" column for the NYT and is published elsewhere around the land. I figured he could give me a sense of the ethics of adapting words to a song and he did. Here is the exchange between us. (I asked for and received his permission to print our exchange.) Start at the bottom, with my letter to him, if you wish. Or not.

Mr. Cohen (after I had asked his permission to reprint):

Sure. But if you do, I'd appreciate your including the Q&A I link to so my reply doesn't seem so cursory. And I hope it's clear that what I regard as ethical may flout the law (and that I am not a lawyer and do not purport to give legal advice). RC

His answer to my original question:

Coincidentally, I was just listening to the Soul Stirrers sing "Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone," suspiciously like a revised version of "Amazing Grace," and neither the Stirrers nor I committed any transgression in doing so. How would copyright law forbid illicit singing? No government agents cruise the neighborhood and arrest a guy strolling along singing his own version, Send in the Clones. Copyright can erect a legal barrier to your altering and reproducing a work. But I see no ethical objection to anyone changing any work any way they want to when they sing a hymn or read a story aloud to their kids or perform a play for their pals. Who's hurt? What if I skip the boring bits when I read a book, thus flouting the author's design. Am I guilty of something? Remember, the central purpose of copyright law is to promote creativity not to ensure that no idea is ever transformed, the objections of an author notwithstanding. What I do think worthwhile is making it clear to the singers and listeners that the work has been altered, a matter of honesty, so nobody misattributes something to the original author. I took up these issues in the column in a related question, about a Neil Simon play. Here's the link: Stage Mother-New York Times

All best, RC

Here's my original question:

On Oct 29, 2010, at 5:49 PM, kitketcham@comcast.net wrote:

Dear Ethicist Cohen,
As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I have encountered an ethical situation I'm not sure I know how to handle (actually, there's more than one, but this one I need your thoughts on; the others will have to wait).

A lovely little song in our hymnal is printed with its original words, which contain a phrase which is routinely changed when people in our congregations sing it. When our hymnal was in production, the editors asked for permission to change the words to the adapted and commonly sung phrase, but the composer refused to allow that change. It's such a lovely hymn that they printed it as she requested, which was fitting.

The original phrase is "may the love of God surround you" and the adapted phrase is "may the spirit of love surround you". Since we have many atheists and agnostics in our congregations, you may understand why many prefer the adapted phrase.

However, it has come to be assumed that because she requested that the original words be published, nobody should ever sing the adapted words again and there has been a certain amount of pressure exerted across the denomination either to sing only the published words or substitute another song.

Copyright laws forbid publishing adapted words without written permission of the author. They do not forbid singing adapted words, as long as they are not published. There is no evidence that I have found so far that the composer expressed any requirement that nobody ever sing the adapted words, but it has been assumed that this would be her wish.

My question would be "is it unethical to sing these adapted words, which are more theologically in line with our beliefs, if there is no documentation of any request of this kind?" If I were to hear from her heirs that this was indeed her expressed request, I would be willing to honor it. Otherwise, I am inclined to continue to use this song as adapted.

Rev. Elizabeth "Kit" Ketcham
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island

Blogging at: http://mskittyssaloonandroadshow.blogspot.com/

"Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave in a certain way, you will be transformed." --Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase (270)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Making Amends to a Colleague

Over ten years ago, when I was a very junior minister in another state, I made an egregious collegial error by accepting a request to perform a memorial service for a member of another congregation without making sure it was all right with the minister of that congregation. It was sort of an accident, but one that should not have happened, no matter how ignorant I was of the existing UUMA guidelines.

Subsequently, I had a lot of explaining to do, much of which was inadequate, and managed to avoid being hauled up in front of a national good offices person, mostly out of the kindness of the colleague and district UUMA folks. The reasoning was that I was a rookie, that the copy of the guidelines I had been given was out of date, and it was not a malicious act. I apologized as deeply as I was able at the time and tucked away my much improved and clarified knowledge of our UUMA guidelines.

But tension remained between me and the colleague. Every time I would see the person, I was embarrassed and self-conscious, interpreting every glance as hostile or at least mistrustful. We'd be cordial, but there was pain between us.

That person didn't come to a lot of district functions for a time and this helped me avoid thinking much more about it. But then, there s/he was, at our recent UUMA retreat, and we ended up in the same small covenant group. Gulp.

The first two sessions were unremarkable, just sharing about various ministry roles and situations. But the final one was about end of life issues, memorial services, and grieving.

You may remember from an earlier post that I have been grieving the loss of one of our most esteemed congregants, a man who took a terrible fall in June and has been declining ever since. During our retreat, I was aware that he had only a day or so more to live and I had made plans to say my last goodbyes when I could stop by and visit him in hospice, on my way home.

During the conversation in our covenant group, my sense of remorse and regret began to intensify, as I made the connections about how I would feel if someone had pre-empted my chance to say goodbye to this precious congregant, and I realized just how hurtful my action had been toward my colleague, even though it had not been deliberately inflicted. I knew I had to say something to my colleague, something that would let him/her know that I finally understood the meaning of this guideline.

I had an opportunity at lunch to sit down with him/her and express my deep remorse and sorrow over having hurt him/her at that time, saying that I now understood what I had done from an entirely different perspective and that I wanted to tell him/her of my new awareness. S/he accepted my apology and, I like to think, the mistrustful expression changed a little bit. S/he said thank you and we went on with lunch.

We often think of our UUMA guidelines as "turf" issues, but I know personally that they are not. I know that now; I didn't always know it. A few times over the years, congregants have had someone other than me perform a rite of passage for them---a marriage, a blessing, a memorial---and it has hurt a little bit. I wish those other celebrants had had the courtesy to check with me first; I wish those congregants had understood that a minister's relationship with his/her parish is deep and bypassing it when celebrating a life's passage can be painful to the minister. But I've discovered that professional guidelines in other denominations are not as well-thought-out as ours in UUism.

For me, making mistakes is a surefire way of learning. I often have to be hit smack between the eyes with some revelation before I really understand what the mistake was and what it means. It took me ten years to realize the depth of the hurt I had inflicted and make amends for that in some way. I am grateful for the patience of my colleague. I hope nobody else will ever have to wait that long for me again.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rockstar Hero or Everyday Hero?

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Oct. 24, 2010

Sitting in a small booth at China City last Sunday night, awaiting my meal, I took out the little notebook I always carry and a pen, thinking I’d make a quick list of the various people I’d considered my heroes and heroines over the course of my life so far.

Let’s see, there were my parents and Ethlyn Whitney, the woman who was my Camp Fire Girl leader when I was a kid, a few professors in college. Oh, and fictional heroines counted---so there was Jo March, the literary creation of Louisa May Alcott, and, of course, Nancy Drew.

And then my list came to an abrupt halt. The next figure on my adult list was my boss at the Denver Christian Center, in 1965, the Rev. George Turner, and his presence on the list marked a huge shift in my hero standards.

George Turner, director of the Christian Center, was a whole different kind of character than anyone I’d known before. He shared some traits with my earlier hero figures, but he was different because his life stood for something greater than I had experienced in a hero before.

Before I go on to explain his presence on my list, I’d like to ask you to tell me some of the men and women who are on your personal hero list. Just call out those names; I’ll repeat as many as I can catch. (cong. response)

Thank you! And now, take a moment to reflect and then call out the chief characteristic that makes this person a heroic figure in your eyes. I’ll repeat as many as I can. (cong. response)
Again, thank you!

As I listened to your responses, I notice quite a bit of overlap in our choices. I hear in many of yours the same traits that I have come to acknowledge as heroic: moral courage, physical bravery, ethical integrity, intellect used compassionately and productively, appreciation for others’ efforts to behave with integrity. And these are only some of those traits.

George Turner’s leadership of the Christian Center wasn’t ideal. He sometimes overlooked important details, he expected our staff to work nights and Sundays and weekends on occasion when we didn’t want to, he was only a so-so preacher. He was quiet and unassuming, not fiery and aggressive. His wife Rae griped about his domestic habits occasionally and his son Georgie Jr. just saw him as Dad.

But he was the first person I knew who had had the moral courage to leave his comfortable life and to participate in the March to Selma, Alabama, when the temperature of the antagonism of the Southern states was in triple digits. He didn’t stay safely in Denver with his family. He went to Alabama to help his friend Martin Luther King Jr. His wife and son were scared for him but they too had moral courage and told him to go.

As Gladys and I were preparing this service, we talked about our own hero figures. Many of her heroes were people whom she knew through her family. As a born and raised Unitarian Universalist, she was personally acquainted with some of our denominational heroes---Charles Follen, for example. But her family background exposed her to men and women who had real moral courage and stood up to the likes of Joseph McCarthy during that era of our history and helped to integrate their local communities, at a time when this was a very risky thing to do.

Moral courage is one of my top requirements in a hero figure. It often looks like irresponsible foolishness to those who don’t recognize it. Jesus had it. Martin Luther King Jr. had it as have many historical figures. A person who is willing to risk the ultimate for an ideal or for another’s wellbeing has moral courage.

It’s as though the person looks into the immediate future and thinks “will I feel better about my life if I take this path of offering help in this crisis or if I take this path of avoiding danger?” It’s less a matter of safety and self-preservation than a matter of doing the right thing and knowing that it is the moral choice, not the choice of fear or apathy.

Our reading today comes from the Memoir in Progress of our UUCWI member Don Wollett. I have had the privilege, for the past seven years, of visiting Don every few weeks and spending time with him and his big old dog Major, listening to his stories about WWII and baseball and union negotiations and family. I’ve spent many a pleasant hour discussing current events and politics and justice issues with Don and I always come away feeling enriched by our time together.

As I have listened to Don’s thoughts and the stories that exemplify his values, I have come to see him as a hero figure for me. Our reading today gives you a glimpse of his values, but I’d like to tell you a bit more.

Don captained a ship for the U.S. Navy during World War II and considered stopping Hitler’s march across Europe to be a moral challenge which required his full commitment and participation. Though he came to hate wars of choice, like Iraq and Afghanistan, he saw Hitler as a threat to the safety and preservation of a democratic way of life, a threat to the lives of millions of innocent human beings, and a threat to the concept of freedom for all humanity.

Don served as a negotiator for a number of labor groups during his civilian career as an attorney, including baseball teams, teachers, and transit workers. And at one time, he was the contract negotiator for transit unions in the San Francisco Bay area. Because he worked successfully with the union and management to solve the problem of absenteeism and tardiness among drivers, the result was an improvement in the big picture: service for riders, improved morale among bus drivers, and consumer support.

This accomplishment caused an improvement in public funding, meaning wage increases. He got the union to cooperate with the boss, and vice versa, instead of the traditional adversarial role that unions and management often assume.

Consumers got better service, bus drivers got more money. Don has called this his finest hour. He calls it an example of enlightened self-interest in which adversaries realize the value of cooperation for the greater good.

Helping two adversarial bodies come to terms can be a risky business. There can be dangers from both sides, loss of reputation, loss of career, efforts to buy favoritism, even physical danger at times.

Now, Don’s many acts of heroism are not the kind you’ll see written up in the newspaper; they didn’t earn him a Pulitzer or Nobel Prize. He was rewarded for his service by the US Navy, in the same ways that most veterans are rewarded---an honorable discharge at the end of service and a medal or two.

But a hero he is nevertheless. To me, at least, and perhaps to those of you who also know him well.

Because Don is one of those unassuming, quiet, steadfast kind of guys whose heroism is unremarked but not unremarkable. He stepped up to the plate, both literally and figuratively, and did the right thing, at a time when the right thing might not have been the popular thing, the first choice for those who were only looking out for Number One.

I’ve mentioned from time to time, I think, how sometimes sermons come to write themselves, how occasionally they pay no attention to what I’ve described in the newsletter blurb and take off in a different direction.

To some extent, that has happened here, as I had intended to focus on heroes of our faith---the rock stars of Unitarian Universalism like Francis David and Michael Servetus and all those Transcendentalists, plus the heroes of social justice, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

But as I’ve spent time lately with people like Don---and you here today---I’ve found my hero thinking focusing on ordinary people who have heroic traits and behavior. Maybe not rock star traits like those I’ve mentioned, maybe with warts and feet of clay like our own, but with everyday moral courage and integrity.

A conversation with a friend later this past week helped me see it even more clearly. We realized together that our greatest heroes, it turned out, were people we knew personally: those who could really hear us, who could really see who we were; those who were not ruled by fear; those who were not plowed under by adversity; those who were open-minded and open-hearted; those who acted from their depths and inspired us to act from our depths---and even to help others in the same way.

These were our heroes’ traits and these people are all around us. One need not be a rock star hero, one only needs to be an every day hero, listening carefully to our friends and family members to be sure we understand who they are and what they need; not letting our fears hold us back; rising up from adversity to face it with courage, not despair; staying open to new learnings and welcoming new companions into our lives; going deep within to find strength for every day and helping us to find that strength deep within our own selves.

The Hebrew prophet Micah once wrote: “What does God require of you, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” We might paraphrase this in more universal terms, but the message is the same----what is a human life and what does it ask of us?

We’ve recently been thinking about the wording of our Covenant of Right Relations and the Best Practices suggestions that came out of our September potluck conversations. And it occurred to me that what we are asking of each other is everyday moral courage and ethical integrity.

We are asking each other to really listen, to really hear what someone is saying, to be compassionate and respectful with one another. We are asking each other to be honest and kind, to be generous and faithful, to be forgiving and open to reconciliation.

Sometimes we don’t realize that these qualities, which I think we might agree are basic human niceties, are actually rare enough in human life that when we see them, we acknowledge how precious they are, we call them heroic.

I think most of us are fairly modest about our own heroic actions and qualities. We think of heroes as being those rock stars of history or of current events: the courage of Chilean miners trapped for months half a mile beneath the surface and the persistence of all those who worked to rescue them; the elected officials who accomplish some spectacular bit of legislation; the discoverer of cures for deadly diseases.

Of course these are heroic figures, there’s no doubt about that. They are the rock stars. But for every big name hero, there are hundreds, thousands, of little name heroes, and I don’t want that to be lost in the shuffle.

Being a rock star hero is often just a matter of timing, of being in the right place at the right time. Rosa Parks already believed she was good enough to sit in the front of the bus; Martin Luther King Jr. was pressed into service in the civil rights movement because nobody else was available.

Louisa May Alcott’s family was about to be evicted. Michael Servetus had just written a book. Ralph Waldo Emerson was sick of being a minister who couldn’t speak his own truth. Spiderman got bitten by a bug.

Most rock star heroes didn’t plan to be rock stars. They just wanted to live decent lives, have a few friends, speak the truth as they saw it. But when the moment arose, they fearlessly stepped into the new role and Mrs. Parks touched off the bus boycott in Montgomery, Dr. King led thousands of people in non-violent protest, Alcott wrote a series of classic books whose characters still live today. Servetus challenged the most notable clergyman of his age, John Calvin, Emerson quit the ministry and became part of a world-shaking literary movement based on natural theology. And Spiderman was just an unassuming student at a high school science fair who used his powers for good.

Some of us are tapped for greatness. Most of us just want to live decent lives, have a few friends, speak the truth as we see it. Sometimes a moment appears when we are thrust into the spotlight for some deed---we stop the bleeding of an injured person, we perform CPR on a person who has stopped breathing, we find a lost child, we contribute bunches of money to charity, we organize something that has far-reaching positive outcomes, we save the lives of a busload of people on a treacherous road when the bus driver has a heart attack, we donate a kidney or make the difficult decision to donate the organs of a dying loved one.

These things could happen; most of us are aware that the unexpected moment could fall into our laps. We hope we would respond in the right way.

But there are analogous heroic actions we can take every day: we can tend to the bleeding hearts of those who are grieving deep loss; we can wrap our arms around a person whose breath has been taken away by some great blow; we can reach out to the many lost children in our schools, those who are struggling to learn, those who are defenseless against bullying and harassment, those who are the victims of addiction and abuse.

We can contribute our time and talent to charitable causes; we can invite people over for a holiday meal or just an ordinary supper; we can provide transportation for a shut-in or visit the heart attack victim in the hospital; we can check that little box on our driver’s license that marks us as an organ donor and let our families know that this is what we want.

Every day we have opportunities to be heroes, people with moral courage, people with ethical integrity, people who are not ruled by fear, people who don’t let adversity stop them for long, people who are open-minded and open-hearted, acting out of a depth of character.

What might be the outcome of investing ourselves in everyday acts of moral courage, ethical integrity, fearlessness, respect and kindness? I believe that these acts of everyday courage and compassion are foundational to a life lived fully and satisfyingly, a life of deep meaning, a life which contributes something valuable to both the local and the larger community.

I mentioned during Joys and Sorrows that our dear Baird Bardarson will be receiving hospice care, as he has contracted pneumonia and, as he would wish, this disease, long called “the old man’s friend”, will be allowed to end his life, probably within the next days.

Baird has been a hero for many of us in this congregation, a man with moral courage, passion, vision, and commitment. And his name should be mentioned today as a hero among us. There will be time another day to tell the story of his life, but Baird has contributed so much to us as a congregation that his name must always be included, along with Don Wollett’s and many of your names, in our list of heroes, men and women whose lives are a testament to the best in human character.

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

BENEDICTION: Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering that we too have heroic qualities, we too can save lives---if not by stopping a runaway bus, then by easing a grieving heart or standing up for someone who is in need. May we have the moral courage to do these simple, everyday acts of heroism, for it is in this way that we make the world a better place. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.