Sunday, November 27, 2011

Turning Toward the Morning

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Nov. 27, 2011

I remember discovering this song that we’ve just sung with Ken at a fairly bleak time of my life. It was late fall in Colorado, the golden aspen groves on the mountain slopes were now starkly bare of their leaves, we’d had two feet of snow on Halloween, my marriage was over, my son was struggling, my paycheck barely lasted from month to month, and I was dreading the cold Rocky Mountain winter ahead.

One of my great pleasures in life then was attending the monthly acoustic music jams of the Denver Friends of Folk Music. And one Saturday night, a fellow folkie requested this song, and its words resonated with me and my anxious mood.

I was curious to know where the song came from. I was familiar with the New England composer Gordon Bok’s work and looked for something from Gordon Bok about why he wrote the song “Turning Toward the Morning”. Here’s what I found.

"One of the things that provoked this song was a letter last November from a friend who had had a very difficult year and was looking for the courage to keep on plowing into it. Those times, you lift your eyes unto the hills, as they say, but the hills of … November can be about as much comfort as a cold crowbar.

You have to look ahead a bit, then, and realize that all the hills and trees and flowers will still be there come Spring, usually more permanent than your troubles. And if your courage occasionally fails, that's okay, too: nobody expects you to be as strong (or as old) as the land." - Gordon Bok

I liked that idea, of not dwelling too much on the bleakness of today’s troubles and deliberately looking ahead to the brighter days of spring.

But I also liked another, less obvious, theme within this song and that was the idea that this man took his friend Joanie’s sorrow seriously and gave her the one gift he felt he had to give: a song that reminded her that he cared about her sorrow and, with his music, might help her lift her sight from the icy mud of her surroundings and offer her courage and support by pointing to the simple fact that the world is always turning toward the morning.

Late fall can be a hard time of year, as the days grow shorter and shorter, sunny days are few and far between, and the darkness consumes more and more of our waking hours. It’s cold and often rainy and windy; we worry when the power goes out, unsure of how long it will be out and whether we will be able to stay warm. And the season seems to grind on and on. Often the upcoming holidays just add to our anxiety and gloom.

Spring seems very far away in November. The holidays can distract us, but we need more than distraction sometimes. We need people and places we can depend on. We need to find the truths about the world that sustain us, give us hope, give us reason to keep pushing on, even when life’s troubles have overcome us and we see no easy way out.

Sometimes the only way out is through and November is like that.

I was grateful to Judy when she suggested friendship as a theme for this service which signifies the beginning of a season of waiting for the light, of celebrating, in various faith traditions, the hope inherent in the change of seasons at the winter solstice, the sustaining grace of a menorah that never goes dim, the sweet joy of a child’s birth, all occasions of growing light and diminishing darkness.

These relics of ancient legend and history represent the truth of light and warmth and survival, of the mystical and the pragmatic, of the life process that includes both birth and death, both darkness and bright splendor.

Remember that old camp song “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold”? Or Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”. All these songs speak of the faithfulness and kindness of friends, the human need for friendship and connection with companions, the need for friends to see us through tough times.

I used to be kind of wary of making friends, never quite sure I could count on them. Even best friends have a way of occasionally letting us down or hurting us. Sometimes we learn that a person we thought of as a friend really doesn’t like us very much or inexplicably disappears from our lives.

Sometimes there are exclusions that deliver a message---you’re not our kind of people, so we’re not inviting you to the party, to our church, to our inner circle. Ouch! I suspect we’ve all had a few moments like these. And some of them we brush off because they’re not important; others make us feel rejected at a deep level, make us wonder if we are worthy of friendship.

I was talking with a person recently about an experience she’d had in which she felt excluded---possibly unintentionally, but….she wasn’t sure. And it stirred up old feelings for her, of times when she’d felt similarly excluded or watched others being excluded. Even though she was long past those experiences, the reminders stung.

What are our experiences with friendship? Where do we find our closest friends and comrades?

How many of us here still have some contact with friends from our early days, maybe even elementary school? How long have you known your longest-term friend? (?????)

Why do we maintain contact with some of our earliest friends? What keeps us coming back to them?

Judy and I talked a bit about the common characteristics of our favorite friendships: there’s a comradeship, a sense of being able to be ourselves with a person; we have actual conversations, not just gossip or monologues; it’s nice to have somebody to float an idea by, a person who will understand, critique maybe, but not censure. With the very best of friends, we felt we were able to think at a higher level, especially with someone who could listen as well as converse.

I’ve noticed that shared loss can create a bond. Long years ago, one of my best high school friends, Audrea Montee, died of liver cancer. Audrea and I had palled around all during grade school and high school; she was a crackerjack softball player, smacking that ball way out into left field and then trotting leisurely around the bases as fielders scrambled after the ball which was often lost in the weeds of the far outskirts of the diamond. Audrea was pretty chubby, which slowed her down a bit as she rounded the bases, but she was the home run queen of our class.

She and I were friends partly because we were both kind of teenage misfits, me because I was a preacher’s kid and a brainiac and she because she was quite heavy and had to wear matronly clothes, instead of the popular Pendleton reversible skirts that were a hot item in high school. I didn’t have such a skirt either, so we had that in common, but mainly we just liked each other. She was funny and smart and shrugged off the teasing she got because of her weight; I learned how to do that from her.

When she died at about age 50, a consciousness of mortality seemed to hit some of us McEwen High School grads hard. Out of our tiny graduating class of 20 or so, eight had died young, some in farm accidents or car wrecks, some by cancer or other disease. And so it became important to us who still lived to find each other and hang on.

When I moved back to the PNW in 1999, we started getting together, sometimes in Athena, sometimes at each others’ homes. And a core group of six women formed that has become one of the most important friendship groups I’ve ever experienced.

The interesting thing is that we weren’t close friends in high school, though we knew each other well. All of the other women in the group were part of a different crowd. They could date and go to the movies or go dancing; they had boyfriends and were cheerleaders. I didn’t and I wasn’t. My social life consisted of Baptist Youth Fellowship and other church activities. My school achievements were Honor Roll and Student Body treasurer. Not the stuff of high school dreams!

But in our later years, when we were all in our fifties, we needed each other because our world was changing. No matter where we lived, what our careers meant to us, whatever our different circumstances had been in high school, the people who had been part of our lives for such a long time were dying.

We couldn’t keep that from happening, but we could forge bonds of friendship that honored our long association and the common memories of growing up together in our small community.

Not long after Audrea’s death, another friend, Donna Myers, died suddenly of a massive heart attack. And what had been just a vague idea in our minds became a project. Donna’s grandson, Riley, was in Doernbecher Children’s hospital in Portland with leukemia and the family had no health insurance. Could we help Donna’s family?

Somebody discovered that a softball tournament in Pendleton was being organized as a fundraiser. Maybe we could participate! How long had it been since any of us played softball? How good would we be without our slugger, Audrea? It didn’t matter.

So on a chilly November Saturday almost ten years ago, “Donna’s Team” formed and played the crummiest softball you ever saw. But luckily, it was one of those jokester games where all you had to do was pay off the umpire and get a re-do on your strike-out or your being tagged at home plate. We played with toy bats and hollow plastic softballs. We actually won one game, thanks to my son Mike’s willingness to play and be one of the goofier, more entertaining players on the field.

I still have my Donna’s team t-shirt and hat, mementos of a time when friends fought back the dark for a little boy whose Grandma had been one of us.

We need each other, sometimes, to fight back the dark. Sometimes friends come to our aid when we have an emergency; they take us in when the power goes out; they cover for us when we are ill. They buck us up by listening understandingly (or just by listening, whether they understand us or not!), even if they can’t do a thing to help.

We receive countless gifts from our friends, intangibles we can hardly name. And what do we give, what can we give, in return for this kindness and support?

The thing is, friends give their presence and their aid without any expectation of return. It’s not a you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, much of the time. It’s somebody stepping in when there are few other alternatives; it’s somebody seeing our need when we are reluctant to admit our neediness.

It’s not, usually, a “calling in of a chip” as we hear in the gangster movies on TV. “He owes me a favor” seems more like a business deal than an act of friendship, though I imagine sometimes that’s what we need.

What have been some of the gifts you’ve received this past Thanksgiving week? This national holiday has become a time to express our gratitude for blessings received. Because of the economic crisis in our country, our blessings may have morphed from material things to generosity measured in a different way.

What are the gifts you have received recently from others? Let’s take a moment to reflect and then share some of those gifts. (think, share)

The generosity of both friends and strangers, plus our family members, is a sweet thing to consider. These gifts of time and energy fill our hearts and give us strength for the cold days ahead.

But gratitude is a two way street. We receive gratefully from others, cherishing the thought and the generosity that those gifts of spirit entail. And we also give those gifts to others, grateful for the opportunity to be a giver of gifts of spirit.

You and I have doubtless encountered many people who give only so they can receive something in return. There’s something uncomfortable about being either the giver or receiver with a person like that. The best gifts are given with no expectation of return; the best gifts are received with no expectation of payback. These are gifts of the spirit.

What are the spiritual gifts you have to give to others? Let’s take a moment to reflect, once again, and then share some of those thoughts. (think, share)

The gifts of the spirit are numerous and have often been incorporated as pillars of some of the world’s great religions. They are universal values and we all have them to impart and to receive.

Here’s what I think, after considering how we might both give and receive the gifts of the spirit. I’ve selected seven from the long lists available out there on St. Google.

One of them is wisdom. We seek wisdom from others and we are able to offer our own wisdom to those who seek it from us. Wisdom is the result of our own life experiences and can be both general and specific.

Another is understanding. We strive to understand another’s life circumstances and to extend that understanding to those we meet. When someone really understands us and we know it, that gift is priceless.

How about the ability to make good decisions? This comes from conscience, the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. We support others who make good decisions, who choose for the right instead of the wrong; and we receive from those who make right decisions, because we are better able to choose right behavior ourselves because of them.

Then there’s courage, revealed in the strength of character that develops when we don’t back away from situations that scare us, when we accompany a friend on a journey through terminal illness, when we encourage another to do the hard, fearsome thing because it’s right.

Knowledge is another gift. Our knowledge of the universe and of a life of integrity offer us a way to find meaning in life despite its apparent randomness. We can share knowledge when appropriate and we can receive knowledge gracefully, even when it contradicts a fondly held belief.

Wonder and awe are a gift that is sometimes lacking in us worldly adults. We often let go of our ability to stand struck with awe at the beauty of the universe and of the human creation; children give us back this gift, many times over. But this is a gift we can give ourselves, as well as others, if we just take the time.

Reverence is the final gift on my list. Our desire for rationality and empirical experience sometimes makes it hard to be reverent in the face of our knowledge of good and evil, especially when evil seems so much more in evidence than good. But reverence has the ability to infuse daily life with deeper meaning, like water on a withered plant.

Gordon Bok sings his gift of spirit to his friend Joanie, “oh, my Joanie, don’t you know that the stars are swinging slow, and the seas are rolling easy, as they did so long ago, if I had a thing to give you, I would tell you one more time, that the world is always turning toward the morning.”

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 that we have gifts of the spirit to offer to each other and spiritual gifts to receive as well. May we reflect upon the gifts we have to give; may we receive gratefully the gifts that others hold out; and may we hold fast to the truth, that the world, both literally and metaphorically, is always turning toward the morning. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Horrified and Outraged

That's me---by the news unfolding this week about the authorities at Penn State who allowed obvious sexual abuse of children to occur, abuse which was observed directly and could have been stopped in the moment by those who saw it. Abuse which was not reported in a timely way and which resulted in the blackened reputation of Penn State authorities and the university itself, to say nothing of the untold damage it did to its victims.

It took me back to my days as a junior high school counselor who blew the whistle on two colleagues who were revealed as sexual predators and who victimized two of my students. Both of these men were people I had worked with on a variety of projects; one was a high school principal and one was a teacher in my own school. I liked both of them very much and it never occurred to me that either would prey on children.

I turned them both in and suffered the numbing realization that men I liked and had trusted could betray children, their parents, me, and other colleagues in this dreadful way. They, in fact, betrayed a whole community of school district employees and residents of the district, as well as their own families.

These weren't scummy guys on the surface---they were well-thought of, highly trusted employees. Neither of them looked suspiciously deviant; both were well liked by students and fellow employees.

Yet the naked high school principal attempted to lure a teenage student of mine into his bedroom one afternoon, on the pretext of giving him a tip for mowing his lawn. The boy said no thanks and left, went home and told his dad, who told him to notify me the next day. I told my principal, as the law required, and waited in his office while my principal called the district superintendent. The offense was followed up internally, the man was reassigned to a job where he was not in contact with students, but he was not prosecuted, to the best of my knowledge. I have never felt comfortable about the resolution of this situation; it was handled more as a personnel matter than as a prosecutable offense. But the boy had not been touched, just invited into a creepy situation. I suppose that was their rationale and, at that time, the parents had the right not to press charges, which they did not do.

While I was serving the same small junior high, a group of girls came to my office to say that they were uncomfortable with the way a teacher was treating one of their friends, inviting her into a locked teacher's workroom for a long spell of time from which she would emerge with her hair and makeup mussed up. I invited the girl in for a conversation in which she admitted that the relationship with the teacher was intimate and that she was in love with him. Risking her trust, I notified my principal, who went farther this time and notified the police; her parents pressed charges and the man lost his job. He was eventually deprived of his teaching certificate, but not until he had gone to another district and done it again, befriending a 13 year old girl who was vulnerable to his attention and then becoming intimate with her.

Why does the public not understand the horrific damage done to a person whose identity as a human being is warped so indelibly by sexual abuse? Our sexuality is such an integral part of our being, our identity, that to have it misused is to create a confusion that may never go away. To allow this to happen to any person, young or old, is immoral, unethical, and illegal. In my years as a counselor, I learned to ask every pre-suicidal kid "have you ever been sexually molested?" Nearly every single one of these kids had been violated sexually, in some way.

I am always concerned when I hear a male friend say that an older person initiated him sexually when he was a child or young teen; I am not surprised when that male friend has trouble with relationships, trouble with addictions, trouble with homophobia, trouble with peace of mind. For him it may have been a chance to brag about losing his virginity to someone who saw him as sexually desirable; many of these men suffer consequences that they do not associate with this experience and I feel sad about that.

If you learn that something like this is happening, please do the right thing and report it. It's worth risking the loss of trust by a child, who may well see later that you were not betraying him or her but rather intervening in a life-threatening situation.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Whose Are We?

Rev. Kit Ketcham, Nov. 6, 2011

During the past several months, Unitarian Universalist ministers across the country have been thinking together about theology. You might expect that all ministers would think about theology constantly, and we do, to some extent, but in our Unitarian Universalist Living Tradition, we explore and rethink our stances on various theological issues, separately and together, and frequently, something that distinguishes us from our fundamentalist colleagues.

And because of our pluralistic nature as a religion---that is, our acceptance of a wide variety of faith stances, from atheism to Buddhism, paganism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and beyond---because of this pluralism among us, we find great joy and sometimes consternation in tussling with theological ideas that might not resonate with each of us.

One such question before us hometown theologians right now is the title of this sermon: “Whose Are We?”

Some of our Buddhist colleagues have objected to the implication they see in this question, that somehow human beings belong to a deity. Because Buddhism is a non-theistic religion, that is an uncomfortable place to be challenged, particularly among colleagues where we are committed to be open to challenge and asked to consider hard questions that we might not find very comfortable or easily answerable.

This is one of the things I love best about Unitarian Universalism: that we are each free to build our own theology, to tussle with the big questions on our own and together with others, to find acceptance for ourselves among each other and to find acceptance for each other within our own hearts.

So let me give you a chance to chime in. I am asking you this question. Let me phrase it in three different ways: Whose Are You? Who or What do you belong to? Who or what has a claim on you? Let’s take a moment to consider this in silence and then I’ll give you a chance to call out some of your own answers. (chime, silence)

A Quaker teacher, Douglas Steere, has said that the ancient question “What am I?”, which is a fundamental theological question, inevitably leads to a deeper one, “Whose am I?” because there is no identity outside of relationships. You can’t be a person by yourself, he believes.

And my colleague the Rev. Victoria Safford writes: To ask “Whose am I?” is to extend the questions far beyond the little self-absorbed (ego), and wonder: Who needs you? Who loves you? To whom are you accountable? To whom do you answer? Whose life is altered by your choices? With whose life is your own all bound up, inextricably, in obvious or invisible ways?”

When I was a kid, goofing around outside late on a summer afternoon in our little town of Athena, Oregon, eventually I’d hear my mother’s familiar whistle: pheeoreet, wait a few beats, and pheeoreet again. When I heard it, it was time to come home and set the table for supper or do some other chore or just come in and get ready to go somewhere That whistle was a pointed reminder that I had a connection with my family that I was expected to honor. I rarely pretended not to hear the whistle; it was too important to maintain that connection. And my friends recognized it too. Some of them also had their family signals to which they were bound.

When I married and joined the Gilmore family back in 1967, I was comforted to learn that Larry my husband and his parents and brothers also used a whistle: phephoophephoopheiphoo.
The grandchildren, as they grew up with Larry’s parents and uncles nearby, responded to that whistle just as my sister and brother and I responded to our family whistle. It was a connection, a reminder, a badge that identified us as belonging to one another.

As Mary and I were designing this service, we brainstormed our own possible responses to the question “Whose Are We?” We came up with an extensive list, and you have offered many of the same ideas.

As Max Ehrmann wrote in his old poem Desiderata, “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.” And we started with that at the head of the list: we belong to the universe.

But then it started to occur to us that there are many more things and persons and ideas that we might belong to. We might belong to the things in our lives that influence us; to the people we influence; to our culture, our education, to the media, to our addictions, our organizations.

Do we belong to the things and people we control? Do we belong to our choices or do our choices belong to us? Who or what controls us? And if those things or people control us, does that mean we belong to them?

This is a much stickier question than it might appear on the surface. No wonder a lot of religious people stick with the orthodox answer: we belong to God. And no wonder there is a considerable amount of pushback to that answer, once you look beneath the surface.

What does it mean “to belong” to someone or something? When you “belong” to someone or something, how do you know? What does that word mean? Is it a good thing, “to belong”?

Women may particularly bridle at the assumption that someone can “belong” to another, since feminists have historically fought the idea that they can be given away, traded, used as chattel.

“Belonging” was used as a prison for women and children, for centuries. Men, too, have had their times of imprisonment in slavery or indentured servitude. I still have a hard time with a lot of the popular songs of my adolescence, the “I love you, so you belong to me” variety of song which implies that love means possession.

Perhaps another lens for looking at this question might be “Who or what do I need? Who or what needs me?” I remember a painful moment when, after several months of marriage, my husband said to me, “I don’t want to need you and I don’t want you to need me.”

This set a trajectory for our marriage that was damaging. We each had our different sets of meaning for the word “need”. Because it was the 60’s and because male/female relationships were in transition in our culture, I tried to take that message with a grain of salt and not let my feelings be hurt. But it was hard. I knew there would be times when I would need him; would he be there? I knew there would be times when he would need me; should I be there for him? What did this mean? I was never sure.

Ultimately it sent us in very different directions and made the marriage difficult. We needed each other and couldn’t acknowledge it without losing face. And I, because it was in my nature to give more than I got, was there for him, whether he was there for me or not. He too came through in my times of deepest need, but we did not “belong” to each other in a positive sense, and it was a problem.

Many folks refuse to join organizations (congregations included) because they’re afraid to be needed or to need something or someone. I’ll bet many of us hate asking for help! I do, for sure. That may be a hangover from my difficult marriage or it might just be the common curse of the competent woman, but I have a hard time asking someone to help me, even in an emergency. Thank goodness that, on more than a few occasions, people in my life have been willing and even eager to step forward and provide what I needed. And I have done the same for others.

So let’s examine this new set of questions together: who or what do I need? A time of silence first and then let’s share. (chime, silence)

And how about the second of the two questions: who or what needs me? (chime, silence)

How does shared need relate to this larger question of belonging? If we need each other, is that who we belong to?

Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in The Little Prince, wrote:

"Nothing's perfect," sighed the fox. "My life is monotonous. I hunt chickens; people hunt me. All chickens are just alike, and all men are just alike. So I'm rather bored. But if you tame me, my life will be filled with sunshine. I'll know the sound of footsteps that will be different from all the rest. Other footsteps send me back underground. Yours will call me out of my burrow like music. And then, look! You see the wheat fields over there? I don't eat bread. For me, wheat is no use whatever. Wheat fields say nothing to me. Which is sad. But you have hair the color of gold. So it will be wonderful, once you've tamed me! The wheat, which is golden, will remind me of you. And I'll love the sound of the wind in the wheat..."

The fox speaks of taming as a way of establishing connection. We diehard individualists might not cotton to the idea of taming or being tamed, but what might that mean if we went deeper?

Taming can mean creating a mutual synergy, a connection between individuals or forces that creates an entity larger than either individual or force. When wolves were domesticated into dog breeds, that taming resulted in a greater strength for both animal and human.

Probably most of us have seen movies or read books like The Horse Whisperer or other stories in which something or someone wild and perceived as destructive has been brought into harmony with other creatures by careful, gentle treatment.

I think of recent news items of prisoners working with unruly dogs or other animals to help them become socialized and productive citizens of the animal kingdom. The prisoners themselves are changed by this work.

Or of unlikely mothering or friendship between unlike species: the dachshund mother who nursed the runt piglet; the sheep named Albert who became the best friend of an orphaned baby elephant; the ancient golden retriever who found a friend in a fish pond---a koi with whom he would touch noses.

What does all this have to do with us? Good question.

When our ministers’ chapter got together a couple of weeks ago to examine the question “Whose are We?”, I found it a very engaging exercise to look deep into my heart and see what I found. Since then, I have done even more thinking in preparation for this service. My thoughts are not fully formed but I will share them with you.

Following the thread of the question, looking at “whose am I?”, I started, as did Mary and I earlier, with the idea of belonging. What or whom do I belong to?

Well, I belong to my family, for one thing. I am connected by blood to men and women whose history can be traced back several centuries to towns and hamlets in Northern Europe, where they arrived after millennia of migration out of Africa. My family has a claim on me. I need them and they need me. We belong to each other.

I belong to the things in my life who need me to take care of them; these are binding relationships for me and I do not take them lightly. My pets, of course, but also my friendships, the people who depend on me for comfort, for companionship, for the services I have provided in the past and promise to provide for the foreseeable future. They need me and I need them.

I belong to this community of souls, you, the people with whom I have forged such strong bonds of needing and being needed, of belonging to something bigger than myself which cares for me and which I care for. You are mine and I am yours.

I am inextricably connected to the earth. I need it for sustenance, for comfort, for power. And I like to think that it needs me, for appreciation, for protection, for the actions I can take which will keep the earth healthy and productive.

I am connected to the sun, which warms and lights my life, which offers its magic to the earth, bringing forth each season in its time, each season affecting my life with its challenges and its encouragement. I don’t know if the sun needs me, but I need it!

I am connected to the moon, whose phases delight me and light up my nightward path. That moon belongs to me and I to it, in this mutuality of belonging to the earth, for the moon certainly belongs to the earth. Where would the tides be without it? Or without the sun?

But beyond sun and moon and earth and stars and people and other creatures, is there something else? Something else I belong to?

And I come around at last to an answer that satisfies me: I belong to my Source, the wellspring of life from which I came, from the desire implanted in every living thing---to create.

The Source of all which is unimaginable, unexplainable, beyond all created things, within all created things, moving in mystery and shrouded in light, from which all life has emerged. I do not use the word God very much because it is too narrow to express what I want to express. All human-created terms are inadequate to describe the Source of Life.

From the Source of Life emerge all things, all creatures, all Love and Passion, Anger and Sorrow, all natural law, all Science, all legend and myth, all consciousness and intuition. And we can understand and explain only a fraction of it.

Whose am I? Whose are we? There are multiple answers to that question, none of them exactly alike. My answer may be very different from yours, and that’s okay. We need not think alike to love alike.

And maybe that’s what it all comes down to in the end. Love Divine, all loves excelling, that dwells in each of us and makes us bearers of the Source of Life. Simple and but oh so hard to explain with human language, yet revealed in human experience through the communities of love we form, through this community of love we have here, today.

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 who we belong to and who belongs to us, those embodiments of the Source of Life which give our own lives such meaning. May we cherish and protect those persons and things in our lives to which we belong in mutuality and may we take every opportunity to strengthen the connections we feel between us. Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed be.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Buying more down time

In a conversation with a friend recently, I admitted to behavior I'm not totally proud of but seem to need badly: buying down time.

As I get closer to retirement (about 8 months away), I find myself less interested in causes and projects I would have warmed to immediately, if I were in a different place in my life. Sometimes I'm open about it: "I can't attend your start-up meeting because I'm trying not to get involved in things I can't continue to work with". Other times I'm evasive: "A pastoral situation arose that I needed to schedule during the time I would have attended your gathering". Occasionally, I feel like I'm lying (call it fibbing, to lessen my sense of guilt, maybe): "I will be off-island that day" and then I go off-island, just to be off when I said I'd be off.

I don't need to say once more that I'm tired. You've heard that often enough. I notice in myself, however, that there is good reason to back off from additional causes and projects. It does make sense not to involve myself or the congregation in causes and projects that require immediate high degrees of attention or a longterm commitment. I won't be here long enough to do what's necessary and the congregation has other big issues on its plate, with the search for a new minister to occupy them; I don't want to duck out in June leaving them with a project I committed them to.

What am I doing with my extra time? Not much. Well, I guess I'm enjoying it, enjoying the freedom extra down time provides, enjoying the lessened responsibility, anticipating the anonymity of a new town and new activities. My extrovert nature seems to be taking a back seat to my introvert nature right now. I want to be alone more, want fewer expectations from others (the jam is a good example----I have become much less regular in my attendance and often leave before it's over), am uneasy when someone in the grocery store introduces me as "our minister" and the other person says, "oh, Kit, I've heard good things about you".

The major thing that I won't slack off on is my responsibility to the congregation. I don't want to be a lame duck minister for the next several months, don't want anyone to have reason to gripe that I'm not doing my job. The needs of the institution and the constituency are second only to my own health. And I'm deeply interested in what happens within the congregation because I have become so closely tied to it. It will be hard to cut those ties when the time comes. But for now it is my insurance policy, that my work with them is so meaningful and satisfying. May we all have the strength to loosen the ties when we must.