Sunday, February 28, 2010

Still Standing on the Side of Love: Love, Sex, and Ethics

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Feb. 28, 2010

Sing with me if you ever went to camp and sang this old song around a campfire:
“Tell me why the stars do shine, tell me why the ivy twines,
Tell me why the sky’s so blue, and I will tell you just why I love you.
Because God made the stars to shine,
Because God made the ivy twine,
Because God made the sky so blue,
Because God made you, that’s why I love you.”
Of course, there’s an old MIT (Mass. Inst. Of Tech.) version of how a science student was supposed to sing it:
“Nuclear fusion makes stars to shine,
It’s heliotropism makes ivy twine,
Celestial refraction makes the sky be blue,
And testicular hormones are why I love you!”

Sort of an interesting rewrite of an old song to fit a sermon that has turned out to be on the topic of Love, Sex, and Ethics.

Because as Karla and I began to talk about this topic, of Standing on the Side of Love, and comparing our own experiences with love and relationships and the ethical dilemmas they present, I realized that our theme this month of “the role of the faith community in human life” is intricately entwined with the themes of love and sex and ethics.

Later, I did some research with the help of St. Google and then made a list of the issues of sexual ethics we humans often encounter. You may think of even more than I have but here’s my list, in no particular order: birth control, abortion, sex education, homosexuality, gender identity, sexism, divorce, marriage, sex slavery, prostitution, rape, appearance, STDs and sexual abuse. Does anyone have anything more to add to the list? These are the ones I thought of and will be what I address this morning.

Chances are that some, maybe even many, of us have experienced difficulty with items on this list, either firsthand or in someone we love. These experiences are common to the human condition and are influenced by our culture, our gender, our age, who we are attracted to, who we have power over or who has power over us, traditions that linger in our society even as our culture has set them aside, our religious beliefs, our own moral code.

Our sexual identity is so essential to our sense of self that when it is damaged in some way, we are left with a wound that may never heal, unless we take the steps necessary to do so. We may paper it over with a veneer of health and wellbeing, but if we have been severely wounded in this critical part of our selfhood, we may be unable to experience a full and satisfying life.

During my forty-plus years of counseling students and their parents and then later as a pastor counseling adults, I have listened to many a tale of persons whose sexual or gender identity had been damaged and who were trying to deal with the consequences of that damage and be whole again. Again, these are not in any particular order and do not represent the experience of all people who have been victims of identity abuse.

Girls and boys who had been sexually abused as children and teenagers took their anger and self-loathing out on themselves and others, often attempting suicide, violence, running away, cutting themselves, developing eating disorders, substance abuse troubles, and bullying.

Adults who had been sexually abused as children, both males and females, struggled with substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, abusive behavior toward others, and other self-destructive behavior. Many of them had trouble maintaining healthy love relationships, even with partners they cared deeply for. Many had trouble expressing affection for friends of the same sex, out of their fear after having been abused by a person of the same sex.

Teens and adults whose gender identity was an issue---that is, they felt they had the wrong genitals for who they felt they were---agonized over how they could be safe in a world where transgender persons are often victimized and treated unfairly.

Teens and adults who were attracted to same-sex partners hid their sexual orientation for fear of being victimized and ridiculed, even persecuted, losing jobs, friends, family, because of their love for a same-sex partner.

Men and women whose love for a same sex partner resulted in many long loving years of a committed relationship hired lawyers to arrange agreements to protect their partners in the event of a death or health crisis, spending thousands and thousands of dollars to give each other the protections that a simple marriage certificate could provide.

Students whose parents objected to the school-based sex education requirement lost out on the chance to learn even the basics of human reproduction and pregnancy and disease prevention in a safe, well-informed environment, overridden by a “just say no”, homophobic, and “abstinence only” approach to sex education.

Girls who lacked adequate knowledge of sexual intercourse and its consequences and responsibilities needed information about pregnancy termination or medical care or adoption or breaking the news to punitive families.

Boys who knew nothing about taking pregnancy and disease precautions needed to learn about their own responsibilities in creating a new life or transmitting a disease.

Children who had been sexually abused at a very early age often did not develop the necessary trust and attachment to a parent or caregiver and suffered the loneliness and confusion of a life without trustworthy connections.

Girls who had gotten abortions despite the heavy moralistic message of guilt and fear of many religious traditions endured the blame and accusations of “murderer” for making this choice in a desperate time.

Teens who had run away from an abusive home found themselves on the street with no way of supporting themselves except to sell their sexual favors.

Parents with their own sexual identity issues worried about how those issues would affect their children. Married men and women who had late in life discovered their attraction to same-sex partners tried to figure out how to tell their families and minimize the hurt. Married men and women who had, late in life, realized that they were not really male or not really female, despite their genitalia, did not know how to break this news to an unsuspecting spouse.

Young men and women, scared to be gay or lesbian, ranted about the evilness of same-sex attraction, teasing and humiliating those classmates who they thought might be gay or lesbian. Young men and women, knowing they were attracted to same-sex partners, tried to change themselves because of the fear of being ostracized or victimized. Young men and women, outed by fearful classmates, tried to crawl back in the closet or at least minimize the fallout by being evasive, even to the point of having to lie.

Young men and women, worried about body image, whether fat or thin, busty or flat-chested, muscular or frail, beautiful or plain, pimply or clear-skinned, starved themselves, mutilated themselves, exploited themselves, hid themselves, to deflect the painful comments about their physical appearance.

Women and men who are lesbian or gay encountered the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy of the military and had to live dishonest lives and to deny their partners for fear of losing their military standing.

These are all examples of the high cost of our society’s confused and convoluted attitudes and behavior toward love and sex and ethics. There are a lot of facets to the issues of sexual ethics. The problems of our society are attributable, in part, to the mixed messages we receive from many sources about the role of gender and sexuality in human life.

When overlaid with the biological issues of survival, the need to procreate, the need to feed ourselves and our progeny, the need to protect ourselves and our offspring from predators, human compassion has often taken a back seat in deference to biology.

The more vulnerable members of the human clan---children, women, the aged and disabled---have often been exploited because of their weakness, often sexually, and to protect themselves, those exploited often devise their own means of safety, achieving a sometimes unhealthy balance that has long-term negative effects.

Some of our worst ethical offenses have grown out of the imbalance of power between people: sexism, in which one gender is considered to be more valuable than another; heterosexism, in which one sexual orientation is considered to be more normal than another;
ageism, in which one age group is considered to be more authoritative than another; racism, in which one race or ethnic group is considered to be more worthy than another.

When the imbalance of power is applied to a relationship in which sexuality is an issue, the vulnerable person may be sexually abused, kept ignorant of his or her sexual rights, forced into sexual servitude, ridiculed for his/her needs or appearance, even used as an item of barter for goods or services.

Some faith traditions have chosen to maintain some of these unfair or even exploitative practices; some separate males and females physically and socially out of a fear that the female may lead the male astray. Some deny the full range of contraception or even sexual knowledge to sexual partners or youths. Some have definitions of embryonic life which are so broad as to make even a necessary abortion or masturbation a terrible evil. Some take young girls as multiple wives, in order to produce more children for the patriarch and his religious beliefs. Some require women to cover themselves almost completely, ostensibly to protect them from male predators. Most do not recognize the love and commitment between partners of the same gender and even ban them from participation in the sacred ceremonies of the faith.

Of course, secular society has its own set of unfair and exploitative practices: the provocative clothing that our young daughters are invited to wear, more suitable for someone on a Las Vegas stage; shows on television and movies which titillate and encourage exploitative behavior; commercials in which sexual attractiveness sells the product or in which one gender or another is suggested to be the appropriate user of a cleaning product or sports car; educational settings where youth look up to and often have crushes on authority figures who then may use them sexually; homes in which incest is practiced by one or both parents or other relatives; marriages in which sexuality cannot be discussed freely and divorces in which sexual infidelity is a factor; laws which prohibit loving couples from marrying if they are the same gender.

But we’re not just looking at sex and ethics, are we? We’re looking at love and sex and ethics. And love can change things. But defining love in a healthy and comprehensive way can be problematic. Too often, “love” is used as a weapon or as a manipulator or as a warning, rather than as compassion or assistance or humanitarian action. It is used to persuade young people to allow themselves to be exploited rather than treated respectfully and with an acknowledgement of a power differential. It is used to deny civil rights or adequate pay or other benefits to some groups out of a professed need to “protect” them or to protect some tradition.

But the Love we’re talking about today is a love that is comprised of respect and acceptance, of freedom to be one’s real self, an autonomy coupled with interdependence, a love that is available to us whether we are young or old or single or partnered or ill or well, no matter what ethnicity we hold, a love that cares for victims, a love that considers consequences, a love that is faithful and freeing.

The love we’re talking about today is inherent in our Unitarian Universalist principles and sources. Here’s how our faith tradition’s values promote loving sexual ethics: I’m quoting from a page of the “Safe Congregations” handbook published by the UUA.

• The inherent worth and dignity of every person
Every person's sexuality is sacred and is worthy of respect, and therefore, is not to be violated.

• Justice, equity and compassion in human relationships 
We treat others as we would want to be treated; therefore, sexual exploitation is wrong.

• Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth 
Accepting each other as we are means not taking advantage of what we have or don't have*physically, psychologically and spiritually.

• A free and responsible search for truth and meaning 
In our relationship to others, our freedom of sexuality is important as is the responsibility for it.

• The right to conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations
As a community and as an institution, we have the responsibility to create a secure and safe environment.

• The goal of a world community with peace, liberty and justice for all 
We have the opportunity to create the kind of environment that lends itself to peace, liberty and justice in human sexuality, and we can become a model for the rest of society.

• Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part
When we respect each person's sexual integrity we honor the wholeness of life and we respect the web of all existence.

As a faith community, what are we already doing and what can we do, to model loving sexual ethics to the world around us? How can we support and teach responsible, loving sexual ethics? How can we encourage our young people to be responsible and loving with their own sexual behavior? How can we encourage each other to let go of any behaviors that may be tinged with disrespect and to practice the behaviors that demonstrate our high regard for each other and our community?

These are the questions inherent in the larger theological question of the role of the faith community in human life. Because of our commitment to principles of behavior and fair treatment for others, we have an obligation to share that commitment with the larger community.

We are already doing some of this. Several years ago, we undertook 18 months of study of the issues of homosexuality, in order to qualify as a Welcoming Congregation of the UUA; we changed our bylaws to reflect this status and hope that same sex couples will find a religious home here. A year ago, this congregation publicly announced to the Whidbey Island community that we would give the gift of the use of our sanctuary and my services to perform wedding ceremonies to celebrate the love of same sex couples.

We are currently beginning to lay the foundation for a comprehensive sex education program for our middle school kids, the “Our Whole Lives” program, aka OWL, perhaps followed by a similar program for high school age students. When we are ready to offer the course, we will open it to participation from other congregations and agencies on the island.

One more small step has been our designated offering today, going to Planned Parenthood, and we thank Bernita for her words today, giving us a better idea of how Planned Parenthood offers its help to folks here in our community.

Is there more we can do? Yes, there is. We can work with our children, our grandchildren, and our great grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our friends and neighbors, to model responsible sexual behavior and respect for each person’s sexuality, to answer questions honestly and forthrightly as best we can, and to be the sexually responsible and well-informed adults that our community needs.

Perhaps someday we can offer a symposium on human sexuality, maybe even an adult OWL class. At the very least, we can signal our willingness to bring sexual ethics out of the closet and into the daylight of truth and honesty. Because that’s the Love part of our topic today.

Healthy sexual ethics are founded on the love that is different from love of pleasure or love of power, or love of money, or the other loves that are based on another person’s usefulness to us. Sexual ethics are founded on the love that recognizes the freedom and equality of human beings, that respects and values each human being for his or her inherent worth and dignity, that wishes to extend compassion and assistance to those in need without requiring something in return, and treats others as we would want to be treated. Let us practice that love ourselves and model it, as best we can, to those around us.

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 our values as people of faith can help us in our advocacy for a sexual ethic of love and justice. May we model to the larger community our commitment to loving sexual ethics and may we make a difference in a hurting world. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Friday, February 26, 2010


I woke up early this morning thinking about the phone call I would be making at 9 a.m. to Jane at a travel agency in Reno, getting underway with the preparations for a Caribbean cruise next Christmas with the FS, FDIL, FGKs, and other family members. Naturally, my foggy brain could only think of the hazards of making such a trip: traveling at Christmas, traveling during snow season, the financial outlay, the need to find Max a bunk at a kitty storage unit so he doesn't punish me while I'm gone, the need to give our Christmas Eve service to someone else to prepare, so that I can fly out to meet the others in Ft. Lauderdale in time to sail on the 26th. Yikes and double yikes!

I am not a miser and I am no longer a spendthrift; I am pretty good with money these days, thanks to hard lessons learned in an earlier stage of life. So it was reassuring to talk with Jane about costs, deadlines for meeting payment schedules, travel insurance, and decide that "yes, I can manage this". And it means a week in the sunshine with people I love and people I am coming to love.

The pure pleasure of spending a week with the FS and his family is worth every penny to me. I would be traveling to Reno anyhow to spend time with them and this opportunity will be even more fun, I think. I'll have a single room which will give me a place to find some solitude. I haven't thought of a way to make it tax deductible and I probably won't even try----God knows I need to take an actual vacation without trying to figure out how to take advantage of it tax-wise.

I find myself poring over the cruisewear catalogs and wondering about how you pack for 70-80 degree temps for the week onboard and 30 and below temps for travel to and from Ft. L. What a delicious dilemma! I'm sure I'll figure it out!

Thanks to the FS and family for making this possible!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Working on this Sunday's sermon

Children's Story: “When I was a little girl”…..Feb. 28, 2010

When I was a little girl, I was kind of adventurous. I liked to be a little bit different from everyone else and try things that others didn’t want to try, like standing on my hands and using my cape to try to fly. I wasn’t too afraid of getting in trouble because my parents didn’t usually spank me and all I had to do was very sincerely say sorry and promise never to do it again.

The worst punishment was to have to go to my room and be on my bed and NOT READ! That was the worst of all.

One day my little sister Jeannie and I and a little boy named Drew who my mother babysat, were out in our backyard in Portland playing. I had my big rubber boots on, because it was wet and muddy.

We had two big strong old clothesline poles made out of iron and shaped like a T with heavy wires strung between them for the wet clothes to be hung on to dry, because we didn’t have a clothes dryer.

I had just learned how to hang by my knees on the monkeybars at school. Do you know how to do that yet?

And it looked to me as though our T-shaped clothesline pole would be a good place to practice this important skill. So I pulled an old bucket over to the clothesline pole and hoisted myself up onto the T crossbar.

The clotheslines that ran between the two T-shaped supports were heavy wires, which had been anchored to the support crossbar by twisting them around the bar. The wires stuck up (like this) with a sharp end pointing up.

I thought I was so cool! Here I was hanging by my knees and upside down, making faces at Jeannie and Drew, who were looking at me with their mouths open, obviously very jealous of my superior abilities!

Until I was tired of hanging upside down and wanted to get down---then I discovered that the sharp end of one wire had poked through my rubber boot and I was stuck, upside down. I couldn’t get down from the pole because my boot was caught by the wire and I couldn’t reach it to untangle it.

I wiggled and I stretched and just couldn’t manage to untangle my boot, and finally I started to cry. It was so embarrassing to be stuck upside down in front of Jeannie and Drew. I felt so helpless and kind of scared.

Now, I have to admit that I often teased Jeannie and Drew a lot; they were younger than I was and I kind of bossed them around, maybe too much. Because when I pleaded with Jeannie to go get Mom, she took her sweet time.

Our family story has it that Jeannie played a little more in the yard before she went in and announced to our mother that I was hanging from the clothesline.

Naturally, my mother came rushing out into the backyard and untangled me and lifted me down. And she sat all three of us down and explained that when someone was in trouble, it’s really important to get help right away, not goof around while that person is feeling scared and crying.

And, she told me in no uncertain terms that my teasing might have caused Jeannie to feel kind of glad that I was stuck and embarrassed and scared, because I might have made her feel that way with my teasing. I learned something important that day.

I’m glad to tell you that my sister grew up to be a woman who really loves and cares about people when they are hurting and in trouble, especially kids. And I don’t tease her any more and she always comes to help me when I need her. I hope you’ll remember this the next time you feel mad when someone teases you or when you tease someone and they get mad. Because it’s important to know.

I'm going to be talking to the adults in a little while about how we treat people when they are in trouble and things aren't fair. We're talking about Love in this story and I'll be talking about Love in the sermon. I bet you'll be talking about Love in your classrooms, too. Let's sing you off to your classes now.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A Positive Look at this Administration

I received this report from a MoveOnWhidbey friend after a meeting with our wonderful WA representative, Rick Larsen. I think it should be read by all those who are frustrated with what they think is slow progress in Congress.

Meeting with Rick Larsen

On Saturday, Feb. 20, about 30 people, including six MoveOn Whidbey members, met with Congressman Rick Larsen at the Skagit College campus in Oak Harbor from 3:00 to 4:30 PM. Larsen spoke for about a half an hour; then had another hour for questions and answers.

He began by distributing a column written by Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute that was published in the Washington Post on January 31, 2010 ( The article, “A very Productive Congress, Despite what the Approval Ratings Say” documents how much has been accomplished by the current administration and this Congress. As Ornstein says, “This Democratic Congress is on a path to become one of the most productive since the Great Society 89th Congress in 1965 to 66, and Obama already has the most legislative success of any modern president…and that includes Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson.”

Larsen went on the say, “I’m not the angry guy.” He wants to have a positive and optimistic approach to accomplishing what he thinks is important. He added, “We can look to the future or stay dragged down in the past.”

Here is Larsen’s list for what he believes must be done (some of which has already been signed into law)

• Reduce unemployment and create jobs (he noted that the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” which was signed into law is doing that).
• Help community banks and encourage them to make loans to small businesses.
• Invest in manufacturing, especially in clean energy products, and make the products in America instead of outsourcing the manufacturing.
• Help struggling families (the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act) has been passed by the House, and Larsen is optimistic it will be passed by the Senate and signed into law).
• Reform Wall Street and end the era of big bank bailouts (the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act has been passed by the House and Larsen expects passage in the Senate).

Other accomplishments by the Congress (programs that have been signed into law) include:
• Cash for Clunkers
• Worker, Homeownership and Business Assistance Act
• Helping Families Save their Homes Act
• Health Care for 11 Million Children (S-CHIP)
• FDA Regulation of Tobacco
• Omnibus Public Land Management Act
• Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights
• Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act
• Defense Procurement Reform
• Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
• Stronger TARP Oversight
• FY 2009 Supplemental (meeting the troop needs to wind down the Iraq War, change strategy in Afghanistan and make retroactive stop loss payments to over 185,000 service members)
• Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act
• Defense Authorization (to provide 3.4% pay raise for troops and expand support for military families and create new strategies for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq)

If your source of news and information is primarily mainstream media, you probably haven’t heard much about these accomplishments, let alone Norman Ornstein’s assessment.

Larsen also clarified his position on what he wants in a health care bill (that he is optimistic is “percolating” through Congress and will be passed):
• Public option
• Medicare reform
• Public health care options (which is about half of the current bill)

I encourage all of my MoveOn folks to stay involved and stay tuned and check out the details of any of the legislation listed above. There are also many acts that have been passed by the House and are awaiting approval in the Senate.

So, when you hear the right (and many progressives for that matter) trashing this administration……pass on some of this information, and stay focused on continuing to make things happen.

Carolyn Tamler
MoveOn Whidbey Council Coordinator

A snapshot of the PNWD 2010 District Assembly

(courtesy of Jim Mason)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Pictures of the amazing event

An amazing connection

Last year about this time, at our District Assembly, I glimpsed a familiar name on a nametag across the aisle from me. The wearer was an elderly gentleman with a twinkle in his eye and the name he sported was "Vernon Swaim".

"Vernon Swaim", I thought. "I had a high school teacher named Vernon Swaim." So I asked Mr. Nametag if he'd ever taught high school out in Eastern Oregon, like at McEwen High School in Athena. And he had! It turned out to be my former Algebra teacher, who had only spent one year in Athena but had many, many accurate memories of that year, even at age 85.

He had become a Unitarian Universalist the year after he left Athena for Vancouver WA high school teaching and has been a longtime member of the Vancouver UU Church.

Well, he was back this year again, with his lovely ladyfriend Lora, and I have pictures to prove it!

I'll post pictures as soon as Blogspot lets me. For some reason it's balking.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In the chill still of the night...

Things I have been waking up in the night thinking about:

1. Where the heck is Max? It's midnight!
2. Why can't these dumbos lay off of Obama? I know he's not perfect, not the knight in shining armor. He's made mistakes. His faith in Congress is touching but it's not getting things done. But he's the best we've got right now. And the Re-pubs are a mess. A scary mess, however.
3. Gosh, it was fun on Sunday to see everyone hugging each other and shouting "I love you and there's not a thing you can do about it!"
4. When will Lily succumb to temptation and come and scratch or meow at the closed bedroom door, despite the fact that she KNOWS I will come after her with a squirt bottle?
5. A Christmas cruise! with the FS and family! what a great invitation!
6. The country seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. Oh, wait, they are making progress on DADT. Even so.....Congress needs a come-to-Jesus moment. Both sides need it, not just their side!
7. I wish there was somebody next to me that I could just roll over and cuddle with. Besides Loosy.
8. What about that sermon on Feb. 28? Maybe Thomas and I could sing the verses to "Standing on the Side of Love" and let the congregation sing the chorus.
9. Friend Sue will be here this week so we can commute to the District Assembly across the water. Ooo, she's a night person and I'm a morning person. How is this going to work? We need to catch the 11 p.m. ferry one night coming home and be on the 7 a.m. ferry the next morning to get to Bellevue by 8. Yikes! I wonder if we will. If we don't, I'll be worn out the next morning.
10. Where the heck is Max? It's 2 a.m.!
11. Oh, Maxie, there you are. Snore.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Will Guide Us

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Feb. 14, 2010

What’s your favorite love song? Maybe you have a special song that reminds you of your love for someone? Let’s hear a few of those great songs, old or new. Just call them out and I’ll repeat them.

I have a couple myself, the old Hoagy Carmichael hits “Stardust” and “Skylark”, both of which remind me of long-ago love gained or love lost. Their romantic words seem timeless, expressing both sweetness and sorrow, the universal qualities which infuse our love relationships.

We humans tend to move through stages in our ability to love, from that helpless dependency of infancy and childhood, through the tense love between adolescents and their parents, the chaotic feelings of puppy love, the steadier, growing affection between young lovers which often blossoms into the more mature love of committed partnership and perhaps parenthood. With parenthood or other family relationships comes that shocking love that awakens us to the depths of love and opens us to both the joy, sorrow, disappointment and even fear that accompany committed loving. Some of us lose that committed love and must shift gears when love dies, whether we search for love in another partner or in fulfilling work or in devotion to children, our own and others’.

You’ve probably learned, at some point, about the several names the Greeks gave love: Eros---passionate love, with sensual desire and longing; Philia---love for family and friends; Agape---often considered the highest, purest form of love, by which altruistic love of humankind is expressed.

We all experience all of these forms of love, whether it’s for another human, for a pet, or for chocolate. We learn from our experiences how to express our love, what the loved ones need from us, and, we hope, our understandings improve our ability to communicate our love.

We also come to recognize that our experiences can lead us down some pretty negative paths, that a hurtful experience can keep us from loving again. It takes courage to love, to express our love, and to build our love.
My blogger friend Joanna, a seminary student in the Houston TX area, sent me an email the other day describing a recent worship service she’d offered to a rather staid and buttoned-up UU congregation nearby. Let me read you her delightful note:

When people try to tell you about UUs being "God's frozen people," don't you believe it for a minute.
Today I guest-preached at a fellowship that had the reputation for being ... well, a little taciturn. Dour. "Give us the intellectual sermons and save that belly-button-gazing touchy-feely stuff for someone else." (one of their members walks out of the service if she just hears the word "I." Literally.)
But I love 'em more than my luggage. They're an older congregation and they're just filled with the types of people I grew up around. I have to confess that because of that, I just always feel the need to "push" them a little out of their comfort zone. So I'm just a little louder, a little more evangelical when I visit them.

I had something I wanted to do -- well, something I wanted to tell them to do -- but I was a little nervous. What if half of 'em walked out? Well, I reasoned, "that'll blog."

So, just a couple of paragraphs into my service, I told them to turn to someone near and say, “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it!”
There was 1/2 a second of silence while they processed the request. And then, total bedlam. Little old ladies turned and said it to each other. Men said it to men, women hugged each other, men and women said it to each other, patting each other's arms. They turned around to tell those behind them, in front, even across the aisles.

THREE TIMES I tried to begin my sermon again. I finally gave up and said with glee, "Look at this!"

Finally they settled back down and I continued on my sermon about expressing love. Preaching to the choir. No credit due me -- this was at the start of the sermon. All they needed was someone to give them permission.
"We bring diverse people together around shared Universal values" is our motto. And of these values, I contend, the greatest is love.

I invite you to think about that. Who here in this room would you want to say that to? Your spouse, probably, your friend, your fellow choir member or committee member or board member. We know we love certain people, the ones we know the best. But what about others in the congregation, the ones we don’t know well. Could we say it to someone we are seeing for the first time? What would it mean to say “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it!” to a stranger?

What kind of love might that be?

The past several months have been another lesson for me in the nature of love. No, I’m not about to announce a secret romance nor am I adopting yet another cat. It’s just that I’ve been struck by how many opportunities we have for love in our lives, how many opportunities for love I have in my life.

Over my lifetime, I have found myself drawn to people and animals and ideas that are “different” in some way, like UUism, for example!

There was my crotchety Spanish professor in college, Dr. Malone, whose passion for ancient Spanish and the correct usage of the pluperfect subjunctive challenged me to do my very best as we translated Don Quixote from the 17th century original text to classic 20th century English (good English, that is).
There was Paleface, the rambunctious, ornery white horse who finally let me pet him and give him a carrot without biting me.

There was the Washougal Old Age welfare recipient, Ed, who had run off his other caseworkers and yet became my favorite client.

There were countless junior high kids who wormed their way into my heart over the 25 years I spent in junior high, teaching and counseling, despite their addictions, their obnoxious behavior, their rudeness, and their neediness.

And then there was Macho, the motheaten tomcat who used to haunt my backyard for a handout yet resisted any kind of affection and who stole my heart, even though I couldn’t get near him.

I learned from these encounters that my capacity for love is deep and that I can deliberately find lovable-ness in eccentric people or animals or in religious philosophies that challenge the orthodox. I think this is something I learned long long ago, from childhood experiences.

There’s a very old-fashioned poem from my Sunday School days that pops into my head occasionally, when I am particularly irritated by someone’s behavior, one of those folks you wish Jesus hadn’t been talking about when he said that thing about loving your neighbor.

“That I should love my neighbor as myself
was pure impossibility, I said.
How love someone so completely lost to good,
whose bitter temper was a thing to dread?
He may have lacked much opportunity to learn good ways
to shape his living by,
But with his glaring follies and his faults,
how could he claim the love of such as I?
And then I glimpsed how I must look to God,
and now I go about my little labor of love
in overwhelmed astonishment,
that God should love me as he loves my neighbor.”

The God theology doesn’t quite work the same way for me these days, but the idea that I might think I am too good to love someone, that someone is unworthy of my love and my loving behavior, hmmmm----there’s the rub.

Our theological question for this month is “what is the role of a faith community in human life?” Let me tell you of something that illustrates this point.

In the 1960’s as the Civil Rights movement was intensifying, one of our most beloved ministers and social action advocates, the late Rev. James Luther Adams, was the minister at First Unitarian Church of Chicago. He had been working with the board of trustees to make First Unitarian an integrated church.

They had been struggling with this question for a long time and kept running up against the disagreement of a board member who thought that to declare the church open to integration would make people leave, would ruin the church financially, and besides, he said, “this is a non-credal church. Desegregation would be a creedal action.”

Finally, at one board meeting, the issue came to a head. They had been at it for hours and it was 1:30 a.m. Rev. Adams had heard it all by then and everyone was exhausted. He asked the board to answer him a question: “what is the purpose of this church?” And he repeated the question, “what is the purpose of this church?”

They argued some more, getting more and more frustrated, when suddenly, the stubborn member threw up his hands and said to them all, “the purpose of this church, the purpose of this church is to get ahold of people like me and change them.”

The First Unitarian Church of Chicago went on to become one of the most integrated churches in our history and this has become one of the apocryphal stories of Unitarian Universalism.

What is the purpose of a faith community? What is the role of the faith community in human life? It’s to get ahold of people like us and change us, to allow us to change in transformative ways, to see things through a different lens, to find companions on a path that can be challenging and sometimes painful. A faith community is where we practice love.

In the Adult Religious Education curriculum “Building Your Own Theology” published by the UUA, the question is answered in these ways:

A liberal faith community is a community of celebration, of worship, of caring, of learning; it is a place of moral discourse and social action, a community of commitment---of time, energy, and resources. It is a place of refuge and a source of strength in good times and in bad.

Each one of these statements can be unpacked and amplified endlessly. They are high-minded words and hint at the important work we as a UU congregation are challenged to carry out. But they’re just words, not stories. And stories are what make us real to one another.

So here’s what I think:
We are a community of celebration and worship. Every time I light the chalice and we say our congregational response: may love reign among us here, in this hour of community, I think of what it means that under this roof we join together to express our love and gratitude to each other for the circumstances that have brought us here and to the powers beyond our power that have made it possible to worship freely, in our own way.

We are a community of caring. When John Harrington came to us last spring, desperately needing a place to belong as he lived out the last months of his life, many of you reached out to him in friendship. Some of you spent hours and hours with him, took him on errands and for social occasions and he died in your presence, surrounded by the love he had discovered here.

We are a place of learning. We come together to talk about our values and learn from each other’s thoughts and ideas. We explore new avenues of learning and make those avenues available to each other and to our children. We disagree and we learn from our disagreements. We even learn to like others’ points of view! We do this at koffee klatches and book groups and at committee meetings and over dine outs and social hours, in fact anywhere two or more of us meet to talk.

We are a place of moral discourse and social action. We examine together what is right behavior, right thinking, right knowing. We argue for freedom for the oppressed. We act in behalf of the environment, the unfairly treated, the poor and the lonely. We offer our building and our support to same sex couples who want to be married. We put up an anti-torture banner and found a way to make it express the variety of feelings in the congregation. We invite the community into our lives.

We are a community of commitment. We give our time, our energy, our ideas, our financial resources, so that this community can do its work in the world, reaching out to give our resources of time, energy and money to those who need it most. We take up designated offerings and have in the past year or so given away thousands of dollars to local agencies who help others.

We are a place of refuge and a source of strength in good times and in bad. People come to us lonely and confused and hurting. People come to us bereft and sorrowing. People come to us with joy and promise, with ideas and creativity and talent. The loneliness and sorrow and joy and promise are brought to this sanctuary and burdens are lifted and gladness and serenity freely shared. We learn what’s going on in each others’ lives as we listen to the Joys and Concerns expressed in our services and we support and hold one another close, bringing food or providing transportation, a hug and a listening ear.

So what does it mean to be part of a faith community? It means intimacy and knowing each other’s lives. It means both giving help and receiving it. It means watching out for our children and for the elderly and disabled. It means caring for the social fabric of the community, providing a safety net for those who come here.

And it means learning to love people who are very different from ourselves, looking for that divine spark in each person, that fountainhead of love that we share, as human beings.

I’d like to invite you in a moment to join me in Joanna’s experiment, by turning to someone nearby and saying to them “I love you and there’s nothing you can do about it!” Say it to someone you know you love dearly. Say it to someone you don’t know well at all. Say it to someone who makes you mad sometimes. Say it to anyone at all. For our capacity to love is deep and wide and saying it to each other makes it more real. It may be the most important thing that can happen to anybody here today. Let’s try it!

There’s a song by Malvina Reynolds which I asked Mavis to print in the O/S, so that we can sing it together. I think many of you will know it, but if you don’t, just let us sing it to you:

“Love is something, if you give it away (2x)
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.
It’s just like a Magic Penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor, for
Love is something if you give it away (2x),
Love is something if you give it away
You’ll end up having more.”

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

Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place. Let us go in peace, remembering the deep well of love inside each and every one of us, ready to be given to those we meet in our daily lives. May we have the courage to share our love with each other every day and may we find this congregation, this faith community, to be a source of love and support and challenge as we are transformed by love together. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Stories may be the most important thing we share about the dead.

John died on Thursday evening, about 6, with friends and family at his side. We decided to have an informal memorial service for him on Sunday afternoon when his brother and son would be able to attend and quickly got the word out. We didn't expect many people to come because few congregants had gotten to know him well, but we needed a time to honor his life and share our memories. And we wanted to know more about who this man was, how he had come to be so independent and resolute in his approach to death.

On Sunday afternoon, in between a choir rehearsal and a children's recital, about 15-20 of us gathered around a chalice lit in honor of John's life and told stories.

I had asked his brother Tom and son Chris to tell us more about John's life and how he grew up and conducted his life before the cancer diagnosis and they told of a man who grew up in harsh conditions, learned to work hard, not to ask too much of anyone, and to be independent. They told of a man who welcomed and relished hard work, never wanted to take the easy road, taught his kids skills and habits that serve them still, and, even when dying, wanted not to ask too much.

Others recounted his love of music, noting that the last thing he did before the crisis that killed him was to attend a concert in our sanctuary, expressing several times to leaders his appreciation for the music. We had all heard from John how proud he was of his children and we all knew that he loved nature and wanted to die in a beautiful place. Those three things---family, music, nature---formed the unwavering center of his life.

His dogged pursuit of independence drew laughter and tears, as we shared moments when he'd refuse help, send the hospice workers away if they came too often, rage at the weakness that was gradually overcoming him and then bounce back briefly to enjoy a moment with Sara or Kent or Sally, whose friendship sustained him during these past months.

We heard from his friends in the trailer park---Steve, Kristin, Laurie, Diane, Scott and Al---whom he took into his heart as the kind of friends who are really family. We all felt like family members by the end of the service, when we extinguished the chalice and said goodbye.

Tom, Chris, and Sara lugged in cartons of non-perishable foodstuffs that John had stockpiled over the months plus personal hygiene items, all of which will go to the local foodbank, Good Cheer.

And I thought once again how we give an immense gift to those who come to our rescue in time of need---allowing those folks to take care of us, watch out for us, companion us. John gave us that gift by coming to our congregation needing our help. He gave us a chance to serve him, to know him, to love him, and to mourn his death. His life made a difference to us. May our lives make a difference to others, in both our living and our dying.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Our friend died tonight.

He died tonight after a long struggle with throat cancer, his family and friends at his side, peaceful and painfree. Rest in Peace, John Harrington.

The Dilemma of Death

I have a parishioner who is in the last stage of his life and had a crisis recently that sent him to the hospital, frail, medically very fragile, unable to convey his wishes very coherently because of his terminal disease, and with all the necessary steps taken to use Washington's Death with Dignity act, when and if he chooses to.

He came into the hospital with a major infection and, though he is also a hospice client, the hospital is duty-bound to treat his medical condition aggressively, with pain meds and antibiotics. I don't disagree with this because I know the hospital has its protocols for prolonging life, even when they might sympathize that the kindest thing to do might be to let his condition run its course and not prolong his life.

His family is farflung and the congregation has been supporting him, with rides to church, visits, special foods, companionship, and I've offered pastoral care during the past almost-year that he's been with us. During this time, the local hospice staff has also provided nursing and spiritual care.

So a few of us have been with him over the past two days, until his family members could arrive; one friend stayed a night with him, when he was at his lowest ebb, and I came to relieve her the next morning, staying 5 or 6 hours myself, until family members could get there.

During the time while we were waiting, the hospice chaplain and I and others considered what his options are and what protocols we must offer, as supporters but not directors of his care. And it pretty much came down to "what he wants and is able to communicate is what we will do". My ethics and those of the others considering the issue are in line with this dictum.

However (and there's always a however, isn't there?), though I doubt this man has ever "lost a marble" in his life, it's hard to know just how much he understands and how accurately he is communicating to us. Hand gestures are indeterminate sometimes; nods and shakes of the head are easy to misinterpret; words are not possible---he isn't strong enough to write anything and can no longer talk intelligibly.

So we are in the limbo of indecision. Whether he will use the meds to end his life, whether he will allow himself to be cared for in a physical hospice setting (where they don't permit clients to use the DWD act because of liability and other concerns), whether he will die of his illness before any of this can happen---all these options (and probably others I haven't thought of) are on the table. He probably will remain in the hospital until the infection can be controlled, perhaps another several days. This will make him much stronger and able to live longer, but what will his actual quality of life be?

We are all agreed that it is unlikely that he can manage at home unless he has constant care and his home is very very small, too small to allow for a live-in caretaker. If he decides he wants to go home and live alone again----there's the unanswerable question. Even family members can't easily make that decision for him without declaring him incompetent to make those decisions.

Families deal with this so often, at the time of a loved one's impending death. And I can't help but wonder, as I watch them and help them deal with it, what it will be like 20plus years from now when I might be in the same predicament. Or rather when the Favorite Son will be in the predicament along with whoever his pastor is at that time.

FS, are you listening? I hope so. It may be over 20 years away, but it'll probably happen to us too. You might consider quitting any life-threatening habits you have so that it's not me and your spouse and kids making the decision about you! Just sayin'.

UPDATE: In talking with family members, I have learned that our friend is resting peacefully, in no pain, receiving no extraordinary measures, and will drift away with family at his bedside. No more interventions to give him pain or prolong misery, which is what we all hope for, a good death. Thank you, God, Goddess, the powers that be.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A colleague sent me this...

and I thought it would be a companion post to an earlier post on Science and Spirit.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Out with the old, in with the new

Here are some photos of the 2010 Ms. Kitty followed by one from probably 25 years ago.
My hair style is the major difference in these photos; my mouth is still big and wide open!
I'd like to think I was discussing something important here, like the Evolution of God or some such.
Do I look flirtatious? I'm trying to, but have practically forgotten how!
Oh, that's right, these were all taken at the Thursday night jam, my favorite night of the week, at Maurlee's in Langley with Lynn on my right and Richard on left. These photos were all taken by Debbie.
The younger, single Ms. K in her party girl days, long since gone. Probably taken in the 80's sometime.