Monday, February 28, 2011

So, on this dreary Monday morning....

which seems to want to keep us winterbound as long as possible, I decided to get out the new box of hair color I bought a week ago and refresh my wintry locks with a little jolt. It was a variety I hadn't used before but it was the same brand and it said something about covering the gray, so I went with it.

The product itself didn't seem like the product I'd used in the far away past, but I figured it was updated and continued to apply the pre-conditioner and then mix the color and then apply the color and then set the timer (30 minutes? the other stuff was 15---I hope this is okay!). Rinsing out the goo after 30 minutes, I noticed it had a slightly different color than the stuff I'd used before---darker, somehow, and .....what?!!

So----I'm now a strawberry blonde, for the nonce. It's a great color, it's just not something I'm used to. My normal hair color is light enough that the gray looks kind of blonde, when mixed in with the remaining blondish strands. (I refuse to use the term "dishwater blonde"; what an ugly description!) I haven't colored my hair for years, and six weeks ago when I used up an old box of hair color left over from those days, it didn't do anything unusual, just brightened up my look.

I've had the song "Why Not Me?" by the Judds looping through my mind for weeks, as I try to learn it for this Thursday night's gig, and when I woke up at 4 a.m. today, I thought it might be more than just a song I'm learning. I've come to understand that when a song might not go away and I wake up singing it, there may be a message there.

I have thought, all my life, about "why not me?", in an effort to understand how and why I am different from so-called "normal"---in good and bad ways. So I decided at 4 a.m. that today I am going to spend some time thinking and writing about the topic, because I have a feeling it's more meaningful than the lines of the song: "why not me on a rainy day, why not me to love your cares away, why not me?" Which is meaningful in its own way, as I think about somebody, but the question means so much more than that.

Heavens, it's a real blog post! Don't get used to it, though I may publish fragments of my "why not me?" thinking. The less-embarrassing ones, that is.

The reason I haven't posted much in recent months is that the issues I'm pondering are too personal to post. Nothing traumatic, just too easily identifiable as relating to people who read the blog. Not you, FS.

Hopefully the dry spell will pass and I'll be back at it. But you know, Facebook has drained off some of my need to write---there are such interesting articles and it's lots easier just to link to an article or share a quick comment than to actually compose something for the blog.

Also, I have noticed a distressing quality of impatience within myself and it makes it hard to tolerate dissenting opinions. Why not me, being patient? I'll let you know if I figure it out.

And why not me as a strawberry blonde? Hmmmm, that's a good question!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What's Sex Got to Do WIth It?

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Feb. 27, 2011

I was born the third child to parents who had lost two baby boys to stillbirth or miscarriage in the years before my arrival. And in those war years, when my parents were struggling with many issues, my birth must have seemed miraculous, after so much disappointment and heartache.

As I look back at my childhood, I realize that I was one of those few lucky girl-children who never (that I can remember) heard: “girls aren’t doctors or lawyers or ministers or police officers”. I don’t remember any comments from my parents about throwing like a girl or pretending to be dumb so as not to discourage boyfriends or that sort of thing.

I also don’t remember anyone saying “you are the son your parents wanted as a first child, so they are going to treat you as though you can do everything any boy can do” and I never got the feeling that I should have been a boy, but I was a major tomboy from day one, rarely shy, rarely diffident, mostly confident about my place in life.

But as I got closer to puberty, things got more complicated. I became interested in boys and my girlfriends’ more advanced knowledge about sexuality began to infiltrate my consciousness. I suddenly realized that I was actually a girl; maybe not exactly the kind of more feminine girl my classmates were, but a girl nevertheless, with the same kind of biological potential that they had, the same kinds of biological worries and awarenesses, and the same dangers that girlhood implied.

American culture in those days did have certain assumptions about girls. We took home ec instead of shop; we had girls rules for basketball; we were the cheerleaders, not the players; we were the secretaries of the class and the FFA sweethearts and the Homecoming Queens and Princesses.

We were not so often the presidents or the athletic stars; we played more of a supporting role. And yet we beat the sox off the boys academically and generally were heavily represented on the honor roll every quarter, all the while pretending that it was just luck, not real brains!

And at the time, this all seemed pretty normal to me. It didn’t much bother me that we had to play half-court basketball, though I knew we were perfectly capable of playing full-court. It just seemed like a privilege not to have to race up and down the court so far and so often; nobody was watching our games anyhow, as it was too early for Title Nine awareness of the inequities between girls and boys sports.

I knew at some level that I was capable of doing just about anything any of my male classmates could do---except maybe for football, which seemed excessively violent---but I could also do anything my female classmates could do: drive a truck in harvest, ride my horse many miles on trail rides, get excellent grades in my classes---except maybe for home ec, which seemed excessively boring. I could and did do anything that was interesting, within the limits of Baptist preacher’s kid boundaries.

No movies, no dancing, no card playing, no drinking, no smoking: all of which added up, pretty much, to no dating. And I didn’t date till college, which was when a lot of the restrictions of female-hood took over, in the guise of “in loco parentis”, and dictated what time the girls needed to be in the dorms or where they could go on sorority and fraternity outings.

I’d been pretty well protected in my parents’ home, so it didn’t seem outrageous that we had to be in our dorms well before the boys were required to be in theirs! If my older brothers had lived, I might have chafed against any inklings that they were given more freedom than I, but there were no big brothers to gloat over my captivity.

All in all, a pretty normal 50’s style upbringing for a girl who was bright, whose parents hoped she would go to college but didn’t have specific expectations for her except for the unspoken hope that she might be in public or religious service of some kind. I don’t even remember any conversation about marriage and children.

During my college years, I majored in Modern Languages, mostly Spanish and French, thinking vaguely about being an interpreter with the United Nations or other diplomatic group, but upon graduation realized that what I’d learned in college was not conversational Spanish or French but rather literary language skills. I’d translated Don Quijote from ancient Spanish to modern English during my senior year but that didn’t seem very helpful when it came to getting a job!

So I went home to Goldendale to live with my parents, help out in the church with the junior choir, be bored, and look for work somewhere besides Goldendale! During this fallow period, I considered my options and nearly applied to go to seminary in Berkeley CA, where a number of my Linfield classmates had gone to study for the American Baptist ministry.

Upon investigation, however, I discovered that the only thing women seminarians were trained to do was to be Directors of Christian Education. It hadn’t yet occurred to me that I might be an actual minister myself, but it rankled that women were restricted in our faith to a role which seemed very subservient. Important, yes, but not autonomous, not independent. Another “supporting” role. And that didn’t interest me at all.

Eventually, I qualified and trained to be a public assistance caseworker for Washington State (also known as welfare worker) and began my career in Klickitat and Skamania counties, down in the Columbia River Gorge.

I was mentored in this work by a woman in my dad’s church, Ruth Miller, a feisty older woman who didn’t take guff from anyone and I suspect she had our supervisor, Mr. Zink, pretty well buffaloed into respecting her and the other women in the department, myself included.

This was a good experience for me, but I was still living at home and eventually left the PNW for Baptist missionary work at the Denver Christian Center, where women also got a pretty good shake, even though we couldn’t be pastors---yet. We had the respect of our clients and our supervisors.

So it took me a long time to “get it”, to understand that there were inequities between treatment of men and women employees, inequities in educational and employment opportunities, stereotypes of both genders and their capabilities, and oppression and injustice on both sides of the fence.

But standing back and looking at the sexism scene through a long lens gave me the perspective to see that, as MLK once said, "We are bound by an inescapable garment of mutuality; whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., from the Birmingham jail, 1962.

So just as racism affected people of color, it also affected those who were racist, damaging both sides in irreparable ways. Social disadvantage and discrimination damaged people of color; hate and persecuting ways damaged the souls of those who dealt out oppression.

Since that time, I’ve applied MLK’s words to many forms of oppression: sexism, homophobia, ageism, classism, among others. And I can see that, despite the rewards of privilege, the damage of oppression comes to us all, whether we receive injustice or dish it out.

Getting ready for this service entitled “What’s Sex Got to Do With It?”, I did some brainstorming, trying to delineate between the main modern usages of the word “sex”, seeing if I could clump the actions associated with the usages into helpful groups, as I tussled with the topic.

Gladys and I and her son Ted and husband Mitch sat around their kitchen table and puzzled over the myriad of ways the topic might go, some of which were a bit complicated for a 20-minute sermon, but all of which stirred my brain and got me going.

The word “sex”, in my eventual sorting out of its usages, if not literal meanings, can refer to sexuality---which I am thinking of as the biological capabilities within a male or female organism. It can mean gender---or what I am thinking of as what it means to be male or female within a culture---and it can refer to physical sexual acts.

Working with these fluid and even murky quasi-definitions (and I freely admit that I have tried to define them according to how I see them used in modern culture), I made some lists.

I thought about what our biology as male, female, intersex, and transgender, dictates as far as our behavior goes. Clearly reproduction is delineated by male and female organs and hormones, though modern science has already fiddled with some of these abilities and we see transgender men bearing babies, in one example.

We’ve learned through science that male and female psychological processes seem to be different, genetic and chromosomal makeup of male and female are different, parenting approaches seem to be different, love is expressed differently, and different physical characteristics such as body strength make some tasks easier for males than females and vice versa.

The scientific community has also found some evidence that homosexual men and women may have some biological differences from heterosexual men and women, but it is not completely clear what they may be. And the biology of intersex, bisexual, and transgender folks is yet another issue to be explored more completely.

There is discussion between researchers of sexuality about whether males and females respond to committed relationships differently, whether males or females are generally happier, more likely to be faithful, more prone to addictions, etc. Biology clearly plays a part in “what sex has to do with it”.

How about gender? I have thought about what the word gender means in our culture, because it is not confined to biological gender. Gender often means roles: women’s work, men’s work. Over the years the word has been defined and redefined, as women and men have taken on each other’s gender roles. Men are often house husbands; women are increasingly often CEOs. Never mind that salaries are out of whack; we’ll consider that another day.

Gender used to mean that women cooked, men did the cars and the military. Women were crummy drivers and wussy athletes; men were in politics, went to war, controlled business, were the head of the family, while women stayed home.

All that has shifted and in an Atlantic magazine article last summer, the headline of an article by Hanna Rosin declared “The End of Men: How Women are Taking Control---of Everything”.

Rosin states that “earlier (in 2010), women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in US history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women?”

Hmmm, let’s leave that question to the Atlantic to answer and go on to consider the religious and spiritual implications of our topic, “what’s sex got to do with it?”

Sex also means definite physical sexual acts: intercourse of different kinds, erogenous zones enjoying other erogenous zones, sexual stimulation of many kinds, both physical and psychological. Sexual acts can be violent---and thus not about human love at all but about control and humiliation. Sex acts can be horribly damaging to persons who are unwilling or inappropriate as partners.

And it is in this vein that we find the connection to our theme: “what’s sex got to do with it?” For our newsletter blurb this month, I wrote: “Sexuality is a defining characteristic and essential life force of human beings, but it tends to lead us into the temptation of limiting our experience of other people to our preconceived notions of what sex, sexuality, gender, orientation, and biology mean. Why should it matter how anyone “does it”, whether we’re talking about washing dishes, making love, raising kids, or being good persons?”.

Because it’s physical and psychological sexual acts that tend to get us all discombobulated. Many are uncomfortable with same sex relationships either because they themselves are not attracted to members of their own sex and can’t imagine having a sexual relationship with them OR because they are attracted to members of their own sex and feel ashamed and confused by this attraction, therefore try to cover up that attraction by vehemently protesting it in others OR they may have been sexually violated as children by a member of their own sex and have generalized that violation to a whole population of people.

An increasing number of us have gotten beyond all three of these discomfort zones, but the American political and cultural scene reveals deep fear and antipathy for those who “do it” differently.

Let me be clear that I am not condoning the illegal and damaging sexual acts of child molestation, incest, rape, and other violations of human sexual identity and dignity. These are not legitimate sexual acts; they are about control, and they must be dealt with definitively with appropriate punishment and rehabilitation of the perpetrator, where possible.

The places where how people “do it” tend to be mostly in the areas of sexism and homophobia/heterosexism, areas where privilege resides in the dominant person or paradigm.
Patriarchy is still clearly present, though less obvious, in many segments of our culture---salaries, management positions, many religious cultures, many marriages, and the military, for example. Sexual misconduct occurs across the board, primarily directed toward females.

Those in dominant positions tend to be male; sometimes they are benevolent males, sometimes not. Physical strength has often been the rationale for dominance; less value was given to other kinds of strength, though as the Atlantic article points out, this may be changing as women increasingly fill up the workplace. Men tend to be the ones out of work these days, in greater numbers than women.

Deep fear and outright hate for same sex couples seems to be centered in discomfort with how same sex partners “do it”, the variations on the sex act that seem different from heterosexual activity.

Interestingly, there is very little that same sex couples do sexually that is not also done by opposite sex couples! But the fear remains, largely, I think, in the minds of those who worry that their own sexual attractions are unclear---to others and to themselves. There is no logical reason to be afraid of a gay man or lesbian; it is an emotional issue.

But that emotion tends to put gay, lesbian, bisexual, intersex, and transgender individuals into boxes defined by how they are perceived to behave sexually, just as females are often seen as sex objects by those in dominant positions.

So what does this all mean to us as a religious community, as spiritual seekers, as women and men together who care for each other, who wish to model that caring in appropriate ways?

Our UU principles are pretty clear about our commitment to respecting the worth and dignity of every person, about our hope for justice, equity and compassion in our relationships, about our acceptance of one another for who we are, our desire for world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all, and our respect for the interdependent web of all existence, which MLK expressed so eloquently in his letter from the Birmingham jail in 1962.

Our Covenant of Right Relations, which we passed unanimously last Sunday, also calls us to be respectful, kind, honoring our diversity and striving to be honest and loving with each other. It doesn’t say anything specific about dividing work up equitably and without traditional divisions of labor, and I think we need to look at that.

We are lucky to have a couple of men working with our children, but mostly it’s women. We are lucky to have a few men who cook a dish when potlucks come around, but mostly it’s women. We are lucky to have gay and lesbian folks in our congregation, but are they part of our governance and teaching staff? Are we really doing what we say we want to do?

If you are a male who is not working with our children, ask yourself why. Are you stuck in an old paradigm of “that’s for the women to do?” If you are a male who counts on his wife or the other women in the congregation to pull together the potluck dish, ask yourself why. Do you still consider yourself exempt from culinary responsibilities?

If you are a straight person who has some leadership responsibility but is not currently working with a gay person, male or female, ask yourself why. Are you unsure of what it might mean to have a gay person in leadership?

This topic, of course, deserves far more extensive treatment than we are able to handle in an hour-long worship service. But the questions remain and we can tussle with them privately and in our families. I ask you to do so.

What does sex have to do with it? Everything? Nothing? Does it matter? And what does our answer mean, to us individually, in this community, and in the world beyond our doors?

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, considering the roles sex plays in our lives and in the lives of others. May we consciously deal with our habits and fears in ways that open us up to others in new ways and may we as a community not let ourselves slide into unequal patterns of responsibility, for we depend on each other for our happiness. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's Love Got to Do With It?

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Feb. 13, 2011

Part I:
As I was thinking about the sermon the other morning, getting ready to sit down and write, a little frantic because my own experiences with romantic love, at least, have been a little erratic, a little unsatisfactory, and quite a lot painful at times. And as I was reflecting, in prayer, that evening, I realized that, though I may not have a lot of great romantic experience, I have plenty of experience with deep love, a wider love than romantic love, and this hymn popped into my head. I’ll read you the words of two of my favorite verses.

“O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee, I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be. O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee; I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.”

This is, of course, a very old hymn out of what I think of as the mystical tradition of Christianity, far removed from the literality of much of today’s traditional doctrine, and set firmly in a faith that recognizes the depth and breadth and universality of Love, linking it to the depth and breadth and universality of Joy, its sister.

I offer you this vision of Love to set the path of our reflection for today. We’re going to look at Love in three ways: the way of our most intimate relationships with beloved individuals; the way of our relationships within this congregation; and the way of our relationships with the wider world beyond these walls. And we’ll link it to Joy, its ultimate reward.

And I want us to look at Love---and Joy---as bigger than temporary romantic thrills or….. even the pleasures of chocolate! I want us to look at these two life forces as essential to our lives as individuals, our lives as a community, and our lives as contributors to society.

I invite you to close your eyes for a moment or two and let yourself think about the love in your life, particularly the love you receive from and give to the persons and creatures in your life, now and back as far as you care to go. (a few moments silence)

With your eyes still closed, answer this question either quietly or aloud: “Who do you love?: (say names out loud or only to yourself, whichever you wish) And then this question: “Who loves you?” (again, silently or aloud, whichever you wish).

What are the features of that love? Deep love may be physically intimate, or not; it may be painful at times, it may be exuberant or serene. It may be all of these things. Much of it depends on the nature of our interactions with the person or creature we love. It takes thought to express love in ways that the other person or creature can receive.

How do we express our love to a dear person or a dear creature? You notice I’m including non-human beings in my wonderings. Many of us live with a mate but almost as many of us live with other creatures---pets or wildlife or growing things. What tenderness do we offer to the living beings in our lives? How does that tenderness and affection freely given enhance our life together?

I don’t have a mate but I do have cats! Cats who thrive on my attention and care, cats who purr noisily in my lap, cats who gobble down the Friskies I spoon into their bowls, cats who are glad to see me when I come home, cats who receive the best care and affection I can give them. And what do we receive from those living beings? We can’t order our beloved ones to treat us in certain ways; we generally have to learn how our mates or our children or our pets give love.

The way my son gives love, for example, is pretty much how I like it to be---a phone call every couple of weeks, no requests for money, or at least not usually, an occasional request for advice about raising teenagers, an interest in how I’m doing, a strong “I love you, Mom” at the end of each call. When we are together, he hugs me, lets me give him a kiss on the cheek, is grateful for what I do for him, cherishes me and pays attention when I speak, even if he disagrees. He even reads all my sermons, which is a pretty great tribute for a minister!

One of our UU composers, the late Malvina Reynolds, wrote a lovely song about love: “Love is something, if you give it away, give it away, give it away, 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….you end up having more.”

When we are in relationship with those closest and dearest to us, we usually make a strong effort to keep those relationships warm and rewarding for both parties. It isn’t always easy. Sometimes dear ones are estranged from us; sometimes it takes a lot of work not to throw up our hands in frustration and give up, especially when there are major points of disagreement or dissatisfaction.

But if it’s worth it, if there are many years invested, if there are others to consider, we tend to make the effort as long as we can, not wanting to let go of a love that has been sustaining in the past and might be again. We are instinctively, I think, committed to love as long as we can manage it.

Our desire and instinct to love those closest to us does not die just because we are angry with each other. It takes a betrayal or serious injury of some kind to discourage that instinctive behavior. Chances are we have all been there. Chances are we, right now, have a great deal of love to give the beloved ones in our lives, a great deal of love to give away.

In a phrase in his song “Everything Possible”, UU composer and minister Fred Small has written: “You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around, you can choose one special one, and the only measure of your words and your deeds will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.” With those words in mind, let’s continue with the elements of our worship.

Part Two

Let’s sit for a few moments in silence and consider what the experience of Joys and Concerns means to us. (silence) As we have listened to the joys and concerns of our gathered community, I’m wondering what thoughts and feelings arose for you as our fellow congregants spoke of their lives.

This time during our service gives us a chance to learn what’s going on in others’ lives, their struggles, their griefs, their hopes, their joys. As we listen, we may have a myriad of varied reactions.

We may feel compassionate or sorrowful at hearing of a loss, sympathetic or eager to help if we hear of a need, tickled by a triumph but sometimes even impatient or skeptical, if it’s not our thing or if we are feeling cranky or tired.

But Joys and Concerns is a snapshot, a bird’s eye view of our congregation. In these moments we have a chance to see the humanness, the much-varied lives of our fellow seekers. It can feel sweetly sentimental or jarringly tragic. But Joys and Concerns always invites us into a place of shared life---and love---with our community.

I have experienced this ritual in many congregations over the years, and have seen it used appropriately but also as a bully pulpit for attacking someone, for expressing political opinions, for deriding another person’s faith tradition, for making assumptions about what everyone there believed about some issue, in addition to the more positive candles for soccer wins or lost teeth or birthdays or healings.

I was the worship leader one day many years ago at my home church in Colorado when the teenage son of a former minister who had been asked to resign spoke his mind about the way he thought his mother had been treated by the congregation. Not an easy thing to hear, or respond to, yet very personal and moving and a reminder to our congregation that our actions have unintended consequences.

We are reminded during this time of our shared life, of the losses we have faced and may still face, of the joys we have experienced and have yet to experience. We grieve and rejoice together for a few moments during our service.

Most congregations have a way of letting everyone know what’s going on in the lives of members and friends. Those who don’t have a candle-lighting ceremony such as Joys and Concerns make an effort to announce needs and happy occasions in some way, either from the pulpit or in the O/S or newsletter. It’s really important to know of the struggles and triumphs that we individually are facing. How else can we help out? And these events affect our life together as a community.

Our life experiences help to create the atmosphere of our community. If we are grieving, we may be short-tempered. If we are rejoicing, we may be impatient with another’s sorrow. But we also may be aware, in our grief and our joy, that our responses to each other will be interpreted through a lens we may not understand.

So that if I am grieving some loss and am just trying to make it through the day, I may misinterpret someone else’s words as hurtful when they are not intended to be. If I am joyful about some wonderful event, I may not realize that my excitement may be seen as a slight to someone else.

As we get ready, next Sunday, to vote on our carefully constructed Covenant of Right Relations, we are acknowledging how tricky it can be to get along with each other all of the time. Even happily married couples or longtime friends can get testy and crabby if their toes are stepped on, even accidentally.

Every once in awhile, I hear folks complain about how somebody has hurt their feelings by making a remark or suggestion that rankled. The incident may seem trivial to somebody else, but it has hurt someone deeply or made them feel unimportant or invisible. I occasionally am guilty of making these kinds of remarks and I am also sometimes the one who is hurt.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years, even if I don’t always manage to remember it, is that it is helpful to assume innocent intentions on the part of someone who has hurt my feelings. I have learned that rarely does anyone intend to hurt my feelings; it’s more often that the sensitivity I experience is related to what’s going on in my life at the moment.

I hope our vote on the Covenant of Right Relations next week is a positive vote, a vote to approve it and include it in our official documents, the ones we use in our governance and in our congregational life together. We tend to be a peaceful congregation, generally, and as we grow, it is important to offer that peace to those new folks who join us. Newcomers like to know what the guidelines are, for being together as a faith community, and our Covenant is our baseline guideline.

Our Covenant is based on the affirmation we speak together every Sunday morning: “Love is the spirit of this congregation, and Service is its practice. This is our great covenant, to dwell together in peace, to seek truth in love, and to help one another.”

These beautiful and meaningful words have been fleshed out in the Covenant’s language as promises we make to each other:
We warmly welcome all.
We speak with honesty, respect and kindness.
We listen compassionately.
We express gratitude for the service of others.
We honor and support one another in our life journeys, in times of joy,
need and struggle.
We embrace our diversity and the opportunity to share our different
We address our disagreements directly and openly, and see conflict through
to an authentic resolution.
We serve our spiritual community with generosity and joy, honoring our
We strive to keep these promises, but when we fall short, we forgive
ourselves and others, and begin again in love.

Our Covenant is not going to be a law, a set of rules. It will be an ideal to strive for, a way of reminding ourselves about the human behaviors that most exemplify the life of the Beloved Community.

Let’s consider these ideas as we move forward in our worship service.

Part 3:

The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, president of Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, has written:
Your gifts - whatever you discover them to be -

Can be used to bless or curse the world.

The mind's power,
The strength of the hands,
The reaches of the heart,

The gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting

Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,

Bind up wounds,

Welcome the stranger,

Praise what is sacred,

Do the work of justice
Or offer love.

Any of these can draw down the prison door,

Hoard bread,
Abandon the poor,
Obscure what is holy,

Comply with injustice,
Or withhold love.

You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?

Choose to bless the world.

The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude

To search for the sources of power and grace,

Native wisdom, healing and liberation.

More, the choice will draw you into community,

The endeavor shared,

The heritage passed on,

The companionship of struggle,

The importance of keeping faith,

The life of ritual and praise,

The comfort of human friendship,

The company of earth,

Its chorus of life welcoming you.

None of us alone can save the world.

Together -- that is another possibility,

Rebecca Parker

This morning we have taken up a special offering for WAIF, our island animal protection agency. These donations every month to a variety of helping agencies on Whidbey are one way we choose to bless the world. By reaching out to abandoned animals and their caregivers, we say emphatically that we care what happens to the animals in our world and we are grateful to those who volunteer their time and energy to caring for the many homeless animals on the island.

How are we as a community blessing the world in other ways? Let’s reflect silently for a moment or two on this thought. (silence)

I’ve been noticing the sign on the Trinity Lutheran marquee this week, which states “Do the Math! Count your blessing!” I’m not sure if the sign is intended to read “count your blessings (plural)” but I kind of like the way it turned out, because I’ve thought, every time I drive by, “Yes! My blessing counts, in this world!” I can bless the world, with my every action.

Those of us who were brought up in strict conservative Christian homes might have gotten the notion that only God---or a clergyperson---could give blessing, that mere mortals were not “blessed” with that ability.

But I disagree. We are all capable of giving blessing. Our every act of giving love is giving blessing. When we raise our arms in an arch over our children as they leave for their classes, we are giving them our blessing as a community.

When we offer love to any living thing, we are giving blessing. When we take care of our own health and needs, we are giving blessing. When we offer kindness to our mates, our kids, our friends, we give blessing. When we care for the earth, whether it’s by refraining from littering or polluting, whether it’s by tending a garden or indoor plants or watching protectively for deer or other wildlife on the highway, we are blessing the earth and its creatures.

So, circling back around to the title of this sermon, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Here’s what I think: Love has everything to do with it. It is our most potent power, to love. It affects every aspect of our lives and can be used to heal or, if warped and maimed into false love, it can be used to destroy.

We can choose to bless or to curse each other, our community, and the world. If we bless, the outcome is Joy; if we curse, the outcome is Despair. What will we choose?

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 the power of love is our power, our strength, our opportunity. May we go forth in love to bless the world, to bless our community, and to bless all those we love. And in so doing, may we reap the blessing of Love, which is Joy. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.