Sunday, May 08, 2011

Freedom and Creativity: a homily

Rev. Kit Ketcham, May 8, 2011

Who was the creative one in your family? Was it you? (raise hand if so) Were you the artist? the musician? The writer or poet? Who was the non-creative person? What did it feel like to be creative? What did it feel like to be considered non-creative?

In my family, my sister and my mother were the creative ones. They both loved to draw and I have a very flattering pencil portrait that my sister drew for me when I was in college. My mother had been a sketcher and a painter in her younger days but only picked up a drawing pencil now and then during her mothering days; when she went back to college at Ellensburg in midlife, she again picked up her pencils and brushes and created some beautiful paintings which still exist in our family storerooms.

I was the musician---sort of. That is, I could play the piano for hymn singing at my dad’s church, I could read music pretty well and carry a tune, and I was in the a cappella choir in college. And I also have a store of poems written in grubby notebooks while sitting in a truck in a hot field of wheat or peas, awaiting my turn to load my truck.

My dad and brother tended more toward craftsman skills; both were experts with their hands, whether it was to build backyard forts or repair damaged wiring or install any number of household amenities---plumbing, appliances, you name it, they could do it. And I’m sure my brother still can. My dad, of course, was also a writer of sermons, few of which survive except in my memory.

Small town American culture, in the 50’s, did not encourage great creativity, did not give creativity much freedom to blossom. There were no art or drama classes in my tiny high school, no creative writing classes, little attention given to musicality.

Girls took home ec; boys took shop. Our creative impulses were channeled into practical applications. Too much interest in art or drama or poetry or dance got one labeled an eccentric, an oddball, a free thinker, out of place in the small community where good crops were the primary focus and any creative effort should be directed toward that goal.

Children in every generation seem to have had similar experiences. My online friend “Mile High Pixie”, who lives in Denver but grew up in the South, wrote something interesting in her blog recently and I asked her if I could quote her. Pixie became an architect who loves her work, if not its politics. This was her childhood experience decades after mine.

I drew a great deal, but I never wrote much down, per se, as it always seemed like my mind went so much faster and farther than my hands could write…. But (the) names (of my imaginary characters) remain in my head like it's 1983: Botae, a multi-talented woman; her dad Oz, who looked like my mom's Dad in Michigan and was born super-old and nearly died at birth …; and Mr. Invy, who was mayor of Legoland and somehow allowed (the punk rock band) Devo to move into the neighborhood and drive around in their red-and-black van, which my sister named "Devo-Machine" and would dead-pan narrate its thoughts and voice.…
I didn't tell a lot of people about these characters, as I seemed to know/feel even as a child that imagination would be mocked. I kept my drawings to myself, mostly, although (my sister) was really good about encouraging and adding onto my ideas.

As children, we are often creative and free in our self-expression, at least when we are left to our own devices, but many children are discouraged later in life, told we can’t draw, can’t sing, can’t write a coherent line, and our creative life is cut short, at least until we get new messages of encouragement and begin to regain our freedom of expression.

We have honored today the women and men who have given us the gifts of our fabric art and the system of hardware that makes it movable; the beautifully carved wooden doors and the strong arms and hands that mounted them; the cartons and cartons of donated books which were then sorted and categorized, the design process for the shelving which would hold them, AND the careful creation and crafting of those shelves, followed by their secure mounting on the walls.

We are the recipients of hours of creative energy and hard work. We cannot overestimate the importance of these gifts nor the value of the act of creation which is the hallmark of human endeavor.

This is a joyful day, partly because it celebrates the lives of those who are mothers, those who mother others’ children, those who look out for others both adult and child in their everyday lives. It is joyful too because we have all received this wonderful Mother’s Day present in these gifts of artistic and literary creativity.

And yet there is a tinge of dark remembrance in this year 201l, ten years out from that terrible day in 2001 when we Americans received the gut punch of September 11, with its monumental death toll and psychic damage.

One week ago we learned that the instigator of that murderous act had been tracked down and killed by our armed forces. Millions of Americans rejoiced that Osama bin Laden was dead. Millions across the world danced in the streets. Others refused to believe that it was true. Still others, like me and perhaps many of you, were disturbed by public gloating over the death of this man.

And yet he has been the death of creativity in many, many human lives, some live taken by those murderous plane crashes, some lives taken by the heroic acts their own compassion and professionality demanded of them. Other lives were simply too damaged by their pain to go on.

Still others, however, used their creative impulses and training to make something worthwhile out of the destruction of life in general and individual lives in particular. Works of art and architecture, poetry, music, dance, stories, and other artistic expressions have been created out of that terrible event. Children were conceived out of the irresistible human urge to make sure that life goes on.

Osama bin Laden sought to punish America, to make us so afraid that we would be hamstrung and impotent as a people. To some extent, he succeeded. We now have tighter reins on our freedoms; we are not as carefree nor do we feel as safe as we once did. But we are still free to love and to create beauty in all its forms.

As our newly dedicated works of art proclaim, to create is to bring new life into the world. That new life might be an infant, or it might be a poem, a painting, a play, a carving, a stitchery, a sturdy library shelf, a photo, a dance, a song, a building, a garden, a recipe, a pot of soup, a friendship.

Our responsive reading this morning and the insert which accompanies it draw our attention to the difficulties women and mothers encounter as they raise families, maintain their own health and their families’ health, and struggle to bring children into the world safely.

Because human reproduction is the place where the creative urge begins, we must safeguard it, in order to safeguard the process of creativity. To do so, we must work toward basic health care for men, women and children, toward safe contraception for all, toward comprehensive, accurate sex education for all, and to maintain legal protections for those who must end a pregnancy, offering sympathy instead of punishment.

“Every night a child is born is a holy night,” wrote Sophia Lyon Fahs, one of our UU foremothers. A creative spirit is the birthright of every child and we, the adults in that child’s life, are the nurturers of that spirit. I hope that we would be supportive of our children’s desire to express themselves creatively, offering encouragement rather than criticism, acceptance rather than skepticism.

And I hope that we will always be supportive of those children’s parents, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, all those who are raising our children, for in their hands is the future of all human creativity.

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 the joy of this day and appreciating the many gifts of creativity we enjoy. May we honor and protect the creative spirit within each other and within ourselves, that we may live to the fullest of our human potential. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.


Mile High Pixie said...

This is a wonderful homily and dedication to the creative spirit, Rev. Kit. I'm inspired by the way you could weave 9/11 into the creative spirit in a way that I hadn't thought about. And I'm flattered that you would even include a chunk from my silly tripe of a blog. As always, well done!

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Pixie, I think people resonated to your experience.

Anonymous said...

It was a pleasure to be with you all on Sunday the 8th. I enjoyed the lunch at Five Siblings House, too. My father holds you in high regard. Thank you for the affirmation and encouragement.

ms. kitty said...

Andrew, it was lovely to spend time with you too, especially at the House of the Five Siblings. I love your father dearly---and your mother too. I also enjoyed very much your conversations with Carmen and Fong; I know they appreciated your interest too.

Miss Kitty said...

Ms. K, what a wonderful sermon! Amazing how you managed to weave so many different yet pertinent themes through it. My hat's off to you.

ms. kitty said...

Thanks muchly, Miss K.