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.