Thursday, December 27, 2012

What the "Christmas Season" means to me these days

I've been thinking a lot, during these weeks of Christmas fervor, about what Christmas means to me, not only now that I'm not in active ministry but also now that I am a UU, a "scientist", a theologian, a scholar, in my thinking.  I've been trying to discern just what Christmas actually means to ME, not the hyped up portrayals of "the Christmas spirit" or the "giving season" or the legends and stories associated with the season.

What are my Christmas habits?  I no longer give extravagant gifts to family members; I don't decorate the house; I don't increase my charitable giving except with the donations I make to selected charities in my siblings' names.  I don't go shopping in busy places.  I don't worry about what gifts I might get.  I am always very happy on Dec. 26 that the season is over and we have a week of relative quiet before the new year begins.

What do I believe about Christmas, now that I know that Jesus undoubtedly wasn't born on Dec. 25, that the legends that surround his birth, life, and death are mostly romantic stories designed to put forth various doctrinal agendas, that the actual history around his birth, as best it can be discovered, has been subsumed by the cultural need to dress it up in miraculous terms.  What do I actually believe?

I believe the things I know to be true, true by rational standards such as critical thinking, scientifically gained knowledge.  I am skeptical about hyped-up dramas about giving or miraculous events or "wonder" or the value of maintaining the Santa fiction for children.  I resist looking at red and green and gold decor in the stores; I don't want to hear carols on loudspeakers; I don't want to hear or read sappy mawkish writings about Christmas spirit, though I must admit there are a few that tickle me or put a lump in my throat.

Yet I don't feel like Scrooge.  This time of year is precious to me and it has nothing to do with a doctrinally-induced religious season.  It is precious and even sacred to me because of what the earth is doing, what human beings are experiencing, what the tide is bringing up on the shore, where the birds are going, how the constellations wheel in the night sky.  It matters deeply to me that the sun sets early and rises late, because that's true, a faithful repetition of nature's patterns that we can count on.

It matters to me that the rains and snows come because they represent the season we're cycling through; I don't need constant sunshine nor do I resent the water in the air and the slush on the roads (unless I have to drive in dangerous conditions!).  I like it that the leaves have left the trees and are rotting on the ground.  That's the way it's supposed to be, according to the winter season.  I like it that we have weird weather at the times of seasonal change; it's like nature's adolescence as it readies for the next stage of earth's life.

For me, the earth is the sacred story.  Its rhythms and processes and regeneration are the miracles, the dependable, eternal faithfulness that no home-made deity can reproduce.  The earth has taught humankind everything we know, from how to survive in harsh conditions to the most intellectually difficult imaginings of the theoretical scientists.  We learned it all from studying the world around us and applying what we learned to our dreams.

More valuable to me than all the lessons and carols, the lights and the merrymaking, the giving and the receiving of gifts, is the chance to be still, to witness the earth moving as the stars revolve, to be part of the grand cotillion of the universe as it wheels throughout space and time.

My small human life is expanded by this experience and I offer to the universe my contributions:  walking along the tide line and seeing the new gifts of the sea, gathering friends for a meal and conversation, giving tenderness to those I meet and receiving their warmth in return.  These times are real.  They mean something true.  This is the meaning of the season for me.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Conversations and the significance of Nov. 18.

My dad, Merritt Bernhardt Ketcham, was born in Missouri on this date in 1907, so he would be 105 today.  He died way too young, before he had a chance to meet his grandson Michael Gilmore or granddaughter Susanna Martin, my sister's daughter, though his death in 1970 meant that he had time with his first grandchild, Joel Martin.  He would have enjoyed knowing Tennyson Ketcham, my brother's daughter, born several years after his death.  Happy Birthday, Daddy, wherever you are.  Your spirit remains with us.

Saturday mornings, if I feel I can afford the carb splurge, I stop by the local bakery/coffee shop on my beach loop walk.  It's about 10 minutes from my house and only open during the off-season on Saturday and Sunday mornings.  I had the good fortune to be introduced to this local gathering spot by a new friend, Pat, who is a longtime resident.  We met there for coffee shortly after we connected at a North Coast Land Conservancy event and have been meeting there almost every Saturday morning ever since.

Yesterday, I got there a little early and took a seat among these new acquaintances, chiming in on the conversation occasionally.  It was all guys when I got there and I've noticed that conversations tend to change when women show up, but I like hearing the things men talk about (if not locker-room type stuff), so I asked a few questions about the topic (the non-existence of frost heaves at the coast) and learned a few things in the process.

After awhile, I heard a couple of guys at the next table talking about something interesting; a guy I didn't know was telling his friend the geologist (whom I did know) that what he was learning about rocks and geologic time was making him wonder about the theology of his Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation.  At a lull in the conversation, the geologist guy introduced me to the MSL guy and I joined them.

This led to a sharing of stories about our experiences growing up in various churches and the events that had brought us to the current religious (or non-religious) place we are today.  It was rich and revealing and I've been thinking about it ever since.

I notice that many times my best conversations are with men.  For sure that was true yesterday.  I often have good conversations with women as well, but they are different.  We have different topics---relationships, news about each other, our creative efforts, our personal lives.  With men, I've noticed that the topics are often about technology, science, and, of course, sports.  I can hold my own with science and technology, even if it's just listening and asking questions; sports----gag!  Not interested. 

Yesterday, I noticed that MSL guy and geologist guy stayed pretty superficial on the topic until I joined them and injected a personal story into the mix---how I moved from a conservative religious upbringing to a very liberal religious stance.  Then their stories came out as well.

I think men are slow to tell their personal stories until they have heard someone else's story and since women are quicker to do this, women often start this thread of conversation. 

I think hearing personal stories gives people a chance to think of their own stories and link to the one they're hearing.  But you have to have an invitation to tell your story; it's hard to just burst into a story that nobody has asked to hear.

A preacher has been given an open invitation to tell his/her own story---I think it's why I was a pretty good preacher, because I shared my own stories, and many people commented that they appreciated my openness.  All my sermons had a personal connection.

As a listener to sermons, I hope for a story that will tell me how my life is related to the speaker's life.  It makes the sermon more engaging for me.  It's important, however, for the story not to be self-serving or insensitive.  You can't boast or appear arrogant unless you acknowledge it and resolve it in a sensitive way, a fact I've learned the hard way.

As I get more comfortable with new friends, I find I'm not as averse to their knowing that I'm a retired minister. I really avoided identifying myself in that way for several weeks; now I'm not so shy, though I only reveal it if asked.  I was initially afraid people would jump to stereotypical conclusions, but I'm finding that's not happening.  Most are only mildly interested.  Guess it's not really about who I WAS, but who I AM.  Nice.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

It's weird being here among active ministers....

and candidates when I have no interest, any longer, in being one myself.  Beyond answering the question "how's retirement?", I have little to say and the topics up for discussion, here at our fall UUMA retreat, mostly don't interest me.

Other of the retired ministers here have similar interests to mine, but few active ministers or candidates are interested or even have reason to be interested in our lives as retirees, so we talk among ourselves but don't much share these interests with others,

I have asked the nominating committee to take me off the Ethics/Collegiality committee, where I have served for most of the time I've been in this chapter.  I want the freedom not to come to retreats, if I choose, so I am going to turn down any new job they want to offer, at least right now.  I have served every year in some capacity and have done my time!  I turned down (for the first time) a request to play the piano for worship, last night.  It's the first time I have refused to do that; my piano skills are rusty and playing for worship means I can't just relax into worship.  I don't feel like doing that ever again.

I've been enjoying our colleague Mark Morrison-Reed's offerings this week, however.  He's retired and has found joy in reframing his ministry into teaching and writing.  I think his approach (and his wonderful story of transformation) is a good one and one I might consider, but I'm not there yet.  I do not want to work with people right now and maybe never again, at least in the ways I have over the past 50 years.

Mark's morphing into community ministry has appeal, but if I did that, I would limit my outreach to the natural world of land and animals, with maybe an occasional wedding, memorial service, and pulpit supply thrown in.  Organizational development duties make me tired these days  No board or committee meetings, no matter how delightful the members, for me.  No settling of disputes or listening to the cantankerous dissenter.  No administrivia.

I retired because I didn't have any energy left or any new ideas for a new year.  I no longer felt like lending my strength to repetitive activities or to local political issues.  I was even getting tired of activities I loved, though I loved the people involved and hated to leave them.

I had come to realize that all my life I have worked with people in one way or another:  as a welfare worker, a missionary, as a teacher and counselor, and as a minister.  My so-called "leisure" activities have been similar:  church, music groups, Mensa, social justice politics, book clubs, support groups, and the like. 

I'm not hoping to give up on people---I am an extrovert, after all---but I would like to be less responsible for them.  I am relieved to be out of WA issue politics, though I care deeply about the results of the upcoming elections.  I am relieved that Dennis, with his high energy, is eagerly taking on what I started at the church and will take them in new directions.

I am pleasantly surprised to find such comfort in learning about the coastal landforms and their characteristics and needs.  It's been so pleasant to meet people who are similarly interested, to focus on water and wildlife and sand and the natural habits of the land, to be side by side with others, learning rather than being expected to lead.

Incidentally, in looking back over my life and thinking about a conversation a week or so ago in the Science Exchange group, I realize that I am really a "middle child" in birth order, even though I'm the oldest surviving child.  I am a follower who has learned to be a leader in some ways.  I'm a supporter with a few good ideas and some willingness to take initiative, a cheerleader for others' efforts.  I go along, but in my own individual ways.  I tend to distinguish myself with wisecracks more than wisdom, though I have a lot of wisdom to share.  I'd just rather be funny than serious.

One of the delights of groups like the Science Exchange and Mensa is that my wisecracks are better accepted there.  They're not as appropriate in many other settings and I have been accused, as a minister (and rightfully so), of being "flip".  I suspect this tendency to be a wiseacre has turned off a few cute guys, as well, to my regret.  But I see the funny side of things so often, see patterns in events that bring forth smartalecky remarks.  I never mean to offend, but "Funny Girl" was a movie and real funny girls don't always get the cutest guys.

I just hope for one who gets my jokes and can make a few himself.

Friday, October 19, 2012

10,000 steps

I don't remember where I heard that ten thousand steps daily is something we need to strive for if we are to get adequate exercise.  Maybe Dr. Oz or somebody similar made the comment during the tag end of some Oprah show back when I was catching ten minutes of Oprah before NBC segued into the 5 p.m. news.  In any case, it stuck in my mind and I've made some half-hearted stabs at it:  bought a pedometer but neglected to make sure I set the a.m./p.m. button right, so it was always clicking off at noon and resetting to zero.  I'd get 3 or 4 thousand steps under my tennies and then back to zero.  I didn't have the resolve to change the setting and stuck the pedo in a drawer till the battery died.

But once I moved to the coast and had plenty of time for lengthy walking, I dug the pedometer out, reset it with a fresh battery, and have been totting up ten thousand and more steps daily.

I'm sure there's a sermon in there somewhere, with analogies galore about multiple steps in multiple processes to multiple solutions and resolutions.  But I'm not looking for sermon fodder right now.  Instead, I've been thinking about geography as I step off those miles in 2.5 foot strides.  And, in case you're wondering, 10,000 steps times 2.5 divided by 5280 is almost 5 miles, 4.734 miles to be more precise.

Geography and its attendant natural features have shaped my life; it may have shaped yours too, if you lived in places marked by hills and valleys, tiny ditches and broad fields.  My life stories all seem to include some geographic attribute, some characteristic supplied by nature, not human-made.

Some of these stories are worth noting, I think.  I can see traces of those shapings in my daily life right now.  I recall walking with my mother down steep Steele street between SE 39th and 37th and noticing a rivulet of rainwater trickling down the gutter.  It was rainbow-stained with oil, working its way around the gravel and leaves in its downward path.  I have a memory of moving little sticks and pine needles into its path to see what would happen.  My mother let me experiment without hurrying me on.  And even today I find myself watching currents, seeing how they eddy-up at bends in the stream, how logs and debris in the path divert or dam up the flow.  Currents, from tiny rivulets to irrigation ditches, to huge rivers like the Colorado and the Columbia, and now to peaceful Neacoxie creek out my back door, are, to some extent, predictable.  Currents in my life give shape as well, as they encounter blockages, downward and upward slopes, and wear away the excesses I've accumulated.

As I walk my daily three mile loop through town and out through the dunes to the beach, I notice differences in sand.  The dry summer produced soft, squeaky sand that is hard to trudge through with long strides; I'd head for the shoreline closest to the water, where the sand was hard and damp, easier to walk on.  But inevitably I'd have to slog upslope through soft sand that shifted underfoot, causing my steps to slide back slightly and making the whole beach walk less pleasant and more tiring.  I hated that part of the walk but was resigned to it because the rest of the walk was wonderful----until I discovered something.

In Outward Bound, decades ago, we learned something called the "rest step", which made going up steep slopes much easier.  It was simply pausing infinitesimally with all the weight on the lead foot while the following foot "rested" briefly.  Trying this on the soft sand dunes, I discovered that small steps accomplished the same thing, that my foot didn't slide around when I kept all my weight on it.  (I think this is better understood kinesthetically, rather than by reading about it.)  Hills, no matter what they're made of, are more manageable when approached mindfully, whether you're going up or down.
Other geographic features that have shaped me:  volcanoes sticking straight up out of the land; creeks disappearing into impenetrable forest; loud, big ocean waves; tidepools with unimaginable life; deep, rocky canyons; waterfalls descending from mysterious sources; timberline paths; pathless forests.

I find that I am more and more shaped by the land I have inhabited and which I walk daily.  Ten thousand steps on crumpled pavement, on wet sand, on needle-covered sidewalks, on forest trails, and on the surfaces of my home.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

What's an Extrovert to do...

when the blues strike in a new and unfamiliar home?

Yesterday was a bit of a blue day.  I intended to go to the ENCORE (50+ educational activities) Science Exchange class in Astoria.  I'd tried to attend last week but got there and discovered that the class had been rescheduled for a different day.  Darn!  So I put it on my calendar for the correct day of the week but didn't think to ask if the locale had been changed.  I showed up yesterday at the right time, but still no class.  I was peeved!  So I spent a couple of hours grousing to myself, scanning the paltry info I could find on website and printed materials, leaving piteous messages on the voice mail of a couple of ENCORE volunteers, and feeling sorry for myself.

Of course, once I actually talked to someone about the situation, I felt better.  It was a classic case of volunteers just not being able to cover the mountain of tasks involved in a new start to the year, not Ms. Kitty being ostracized.  And I will be able to go next week on the right day and to the right location.  The volunteer who called me to apologize was so nice, non-defensive, and she called me "honey", which I ordinarily would not welcome, but it was just what I needed to cool down.

Later, on my second walk of the day, I thought about why I was feeling blue that day, wondering if this was going to be the magical new start I'd hoped for, whether my back pain would ever go away completely.  On my first walk all I could do was gritch to myself about the similarities between a congregation which drops the welcoming ball for a newcomer and an educational organization which isn't well-organized in its approach to welcome.  Both the religious seeker and the education seeker feel rejected and may quit trying.  I sure was considering quitting the search.

But I had to take responsibility for some of this.  I didn't ask about the possibility of a new location for the class; it wasn't necessarily my responsibility but I could have asked.  The biggest responsibility for me is that I MUST take the initiative in finding new social groups here.  They aren't going to just fall into my lap; I have to go out and find them.

The euphoria of being on the coast, of working on creating a home, of visiting old haunts, of exploring this little town----the euphoria is dimming and I'm realizing that finding my niche here is a big job, sorting through people, activities, providing necessities.  Now that much of the physical stuff is done, the social stuff needs to take highest priority, as my extrovert self is hungry for socializing.

So I'm thinking about what more I can do in that department.  I will definitely visit the Monday night jam in Cannon Beach.  I want to see if one of the local chorales needs singers.  I want to organize a jam with some musicians here at my house.  I want FUN!

I have been walking two or three times a day and my weight is back down below 160, even with the snacking I've been doing.  The exercise is certainly the key!  Yesterday I fixed my pedometer and clocked over 10,000 steps, which is about 5 miles for me.  That was in two walks, one of which was only about half an hour.  The earlier one was an hour long.

My back continues to ache and may be working up to a couple of days of spasms.  I haven't overdone physically but I am newly aware of the tension and stress that has built up with the demands of settling in.  I thought all my tension and stress was behind me, but the move has taken more of a toll than I knew.

No blues today!  I'm going into Portland to see my sister and, with her, visit our Aunt Sigrid, who has had some rough times lately.  Jean and I will lunch, shop, and gab.  She's a good companion and a fierce Lexulous competitor.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Ethics of Asking for Favors

I had intended to go on the annual Bridgewalk over the Columbia River today.  A friend had offered me her ticket to walk; it's an official 10 k. run/walk from one side of the river to the other and I've wanted to do it.  I thought this would be my chance and was glad to take her up on it.  But when I read the brochure she gave me along with the instructions for picking up the ticket and t-shirt, it clearly stated "tickets are not transferable" and "anyone caught with a transferred ticket will not be allowed to return".

I called her and voiced my concerns but she wasn't particularly concerned.  She has done this walk several times and was pretty sure that the restriction was only for runners, that nobody would have a problem with my using her ticket.  She suggested that I just go and pick up the ticket and packet and do it in her name.  I didn't want to insult her generosity but I just couldn't do that.  I thanked her for offering the ticket and told her that I didn't feel I wanted to take the chance and I wasn't comfortable asking the race officials for an exception to the rule.

So I've been thinking about where that discomfort comes from, because it's something I've experienced before---from the other side.  As a school teacher and counselor, I always had to deal with kids and parents who wanted an exception to the rule.  It was hugely annoying to be asked to circumvent the scheduling policies and give a kid Ms. Soandso for algebra instead of Mr. Whozit.  Or to let a kid cut into the lunch line so that he could go to the band room sooner.  Or to ask Mr. Whozit to change a grade.

As a minister, too, I had to deal with people who wanted to circumvent a policy:  to hold a fundraiser which set aside a Finance committee policy; to re-join the congregation despite the turmoil s/he had caused when s/he was a member previously, despite the disruptive behavior and covenant of right relations; to move a child from one RE class to another to avoid someone.

There's always the standard answer:  if I let you do it, I'll have to let others do it.  Everyone hates to hear that old saw, but it's true.  One camel's nose under the tent and what have you got?  A herd of camels trompling on your stuffed dates, that's what.  And I can be funny about it here, but it's gotten me into difficulty in the past and has caused me to harden my heart about circumventing rules and policies.

And it's made me resistant to asking others to circumvent stated rules, to do me a favor, to give me special consideration.  Of course, this kinda backfired when our son was having struggles in school; we delayed asking for help for him until we were all going crazy trying to cope.

It can also get mixed up with my "strong woman" persona, the one that doesn't like to ask for help for any reason!  As I age, it gets harder and harder to justify.  I know that someday I will have to rely on others for my needs.  Perhaps I will start practicing that particular skill.  But next year I will apply for my own ticket to do the Bridgewalk!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Good grief! It's been almost a month...

since I last posted at Ms. Kitty's.  So let me give you a rundown on what retirement in Utopia has been like so far.

Here's some of what I wrote this morning, sitting at the Pig 'n Pancake, the only place nearby that opens at 6 a.m.  It's my replacement for the Freeland Cafe, whose friendly waitress Ursula greeted me every Sunday morning at 6 for so many years.

Well, I have just about put all the "transitional" matters of the move into place and am finding that I can now do the exploring and visiting of new places that is part of the larger picture.

So far I've done 4 North Coast Land Conservancy events, walked quite a bit around my new environs, made one new friend through NCLC and reconnected with a couple of others I know slightly, gone to Ecola State Park, Ecola Creek Forest Reserve, walked the local beach almost daily, looked around Astoria a bit, and revisited Cannon Beach, Seaside, and other favorite spots a few times.  I also drove up to Long Beach, Oysterville, and Willapa Bay.

I want to become more familiar with Astoria, walk the south Seaside beach, visit the South Jetty again and find Neacoxie Creek there, go to Cape Disappointment, and drive some of the roads that are new to me.

I want to brave the acoustic jams I've found out about.  I plan to do the Astoria/Megler Bridge walk next Sunday, even if I have to bail out before I make it all the way.  A friend gave me her ticket and it's something I've wanted to do.  My only qualm is the minor back pain I tend to get from long walks.

My routine has kind of settled in.  This morning I'm at the Pig 'n Pancake for Sunday breakfast.  It has good food, a nice waitress, and is open early.

The cats are still hungry and yowling at an early hour but I am willingly waking up after 7 hours of sleep, so I am often up at 4:30 willingly and not grousing about it.  I'm getting a nap after lunch, usually, so I don't mind.  I think it mattered more to me when I had long, busy days ahead and worried about missing my sleep.  

The Oregonian doesn't arrive as early as the Seattle Times did, but I get up and have my coffee while checking things electronically.  I don't get as much email as I once did, having unsubscribed from drewslist, the Whidbey craigslist bulletin, but what I get is meaningful, if not demanding.  The paper is usually there by 6, which is time enough for me.

Sundays are PUUF days but I can just enjoy services rather than feel responsible for them.  After church, my day is open:  farmers' market?  lunch with a PUUFer?  visiting some Astoria spot?  Usually I've just come home, had lunch, a nap, and read a book or gone somewhere, taken a walk in the late afternoon, done some laundry.  I'm not exhausted, as I often was after having preached.

Monday is a shopping day, going to Fred Meyer's early enough to miss the crowds but not so early that the fish counter isn't yet stocked.  Now that I've gotten most of my household necessities, I'm not making trips to FM every couple of days any more!

It's such an unaccustomed luxury to be able to read in an easy chair in the middle of the day, rather than only at nap or bedtime.  I'm not used to this!  I'm also watching a certain amount of TV at night, though not the election-ridden news.  I'm catching up on my Big Bang Theory reruns and approaching  the saturation point.

I've had both a massage and a haircut, both satisfactory.  I have an ophthalmologist and have her reassurance that my eyes are fine and that I only need to watch for changes, in case the epiretinal membrane affects my vision seriously.  I have a doctor's appointment in a couple of weeks at which time I expect to find that my bloodwork reveals the benefits of weight loss and exercise.

That's as far as I got this morning; buckwheat pancakes, bacon, and coffee were my breakfast of choice and bought me an hour of writing time as I lingered over the last refills of my cup.

It's a beautiful day here on the north coast.  In a little while, I'm going to put on a real dress and nice jacket and go to church.  I realized that if I'm going to get any more good out of my dress-up clothes, I'm going to need to wear them to church!  Otherwise I ought to give them away and I am not yet ready to do that!

My weight remains "at goal".  I'm  splurging occasionally but staying on the WW food I learned to love---the salads, soups, and smaller portions---while walking daily at least an hour (3 miles).  I haven't gone over goal more than a pound and that feels great.  I've learned that splurging just needs to be paid for----a gooey sticky bun at the local bakery needs to be compensated by a salad lunch, a small supper, and a good long walk.  I can have these treats regularly; I just have to pay for them.  Weighing two or three times a week helps me keep track.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Here's a picture a friend took at the Meerkerk Bluegrass Festival Saturday the 25th, the last performance of Bayview Sound before my move to the coast.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Making a new home

I've been here in my new digs (temporarily) since Sunday but don't yet have internet service, so I'm writing blog posts in rtf. docs and saving them for when the cable guy/gal comes to hook me up to the web, the TV, and the phone system.

My bandmates gave me quite a send-off party last Saturday night; lots of music and food and drinkables, but the best part was the wonderful company.  I'm really going to miss singing with this group of folks.  Not just the band but all the musicians who have been my primary social group while I've been living on the island.

I moved here in March of 2006 and found out about an acoustic jam group that met weekly on Thursday nights at a local cafe.  I attended off and on but didn't really get attached until we began meeting in a place more conducive to group singing.  It was then that I made connections; my voice and ability to harmonize accurately and hold a true pitch made me a welcome addition to a fairly motley crew which mainly dinked around on instruments and did little actual singing.

Before long, a few of us realized that we had a nice sound and when our jam group was invited to sing a few songs for a local charity, five of us worked up a few songs and sallied forth.  We did mostly benefits in return for free food, but gradually we got a few paying gigs here and there.

Now we have had enough paying gigs that we actually have a bank account and an LLC.  The band is trying to decide how to replace me and they haven't made any decisions.  They say I'm irreplaceable and have even said embarrassing things like "Kit has the best set of pipes on the island".  That's nice to hear, but it isn't anywhere near true.  I do have a good singing voice and I have learned to stay on pitch, but I lack the vocal virtuosity that a jazz or pop singer would have.  I just sing things straight with very few embellishments or improvisations.  I do like to use facial expressions and hand movements to spice things up, and I can because I don't have to hold an instrument. 

I would like them to find another singer who can play an instrument like the banjo or dobro, which we don't currently have.  Then they could really do the bluegrass which they love.  I think they would be fine without me.


I'll be heading back to Whidbey tomorrow morning for three more days, topped off with our final gig together as a band.  Bayview Sound (that's us) will be opening for the Meerkerk Bluegrass Festival at noon on Saturday the 25th.  I'll probably hang around long enough to hear the other bands and schmooze with other attendees, maybe check out the Meerkerk grounds---it's a beautiful rhododendron garden and nursery, beautiful all year round.  They put on a summertime show and we've opened the show for them before.  It's the reason I've stayed all summer on Whidbey.

But after the gig, I'm free to go.  The plan is to get the car packed after the show and Sunday morning head south with the cats.  I hope they're good travelers, but I fear that Lily will not be.  She has been no farther than from Vashon Island to Seattle and then from Seattle to Whidbey, years ago.  Oh well, toots, you're a North Coast cat now!

Lots of things got done today----new TV bought and cable/internet/phone installed, new laundry appliances, more unpacking and squaring away.  Even the guest room is set up for guests.

When I return on Sunday, it will feel like a true home.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Going from 30 to 60 to 80 and then back down to 30

It sounds like a highway related moment, but it also describes the animal related events of the past week or two, here on Harrington Hill.

Faithful readers will recall that certain mysteries were bedeviling me:  "thin" places in the fencing system, disappearance of vital life-sustaining pellets, "diva" behavior on the part of one mare, that sort of thing.  Those mysteries have not all been solved, but in a few, clarity has evolved.

Before I go on, I would like to say that this has been a generally clarifying experience, these two months of animal husbandry on the Harrington Hill spread.  I am extremely glad to have been invited to act as caretaker during my friends' fishing stint up north because I've learned some things about myself and about caring for animals---particularly other people's animals.  And it has had similarities to my experience in ministry.

Going from full-speed-ahead ministry (even though it was ostensibly half-time) to no-speed-at-all retirement would not have been easy.  Going from ministry at top speed to horse and dog wrangler atop a hill overlooking Saratoga Passage and Mt. Baker was like going from 60 to 30 overnight.  Animal care has shaped my days:  up at 5 (no, that hasn't changed even though I don't have my cats with me), catch up on the email, feed the dogs, check on the horses, have breakfast, more horse care, 6-8 walks with the dogs during the course of the day, slotting my own activities in and around my duties to the animals.  This has all been fine, easy, and leisurely, at least for the first four weeks.

I should have known, when "diva mare" and her BFF mysteriously moved from pasture to pasture without human intervention, that more was in the works.  That the diva had discovered something interesting:  the electric fence was no longer working.  And since the entire property is electrically-protected, this was going to be a problem.  I didn't know this yet, but I was about to learn.

A week ago, I moved the horses from pasture 3 to pasture 4.  The grass is getting a little sparse because it's the dry season, but pasture 4 is expansive and it looked like it would be fine.  The plan was that I would continue to move them back and forth from the paddock where they are fed and spend the night into pasture 4 every morning.  But early last week I went out to move them and discovered that they had kicked out a section of fence in the paddock, making it unusable.  Phone call to Alaska ensues.

Plan B:  keep them in pasture 4 continually and feed them hay and pellets there at night.  Okay.  At least until I caught one of the geldings (presumably at the command of Diva Mare) working on the slats of an old wooden gate and splintering and dislodging one of its boards.

Plan C:  I find an old unused metal gate not far away and, using duct tape, bungee cords, and hayrope, affix it to the wooden gate so they can't do any more damage OR break out into the yard.  Later that day, I discover that another old wooden gate has been damaged enough that all five of the horses have managed to get into a piece of pastureland that is not well-fenced.  My suspicions are confirmed:  the electric fence is disabled for some reason and is not guarding the perimeters. 

Plan D:  I find a second old unused metal gate on the property and, using 200 feet of rope, just in case, lash it into the gap where the old wooden gate used to be.  I lure all five horses back into pasture 4 and make another emergency phone call to Alaska, from whence relief is summoned in the form of a local horse family.  The Kellers come to the ranch, re-electrify the fence, check on the perimeter, and save my bacon.

Since then, all has been quiet on the HH front.  The horses are getting a great deal of attention from me; it's hay in the morning, hay in the noonday sun, hay in the evening, a dose of pellets midmorning, and carrots or apples whenever I think of it.  I want these horses to stay happy!  Because if they're happy, I can sleep at night.

Plan F:  if necessary, there are two small paddocks which are tightly fenced with both metal and heavy wood slats where the five can be imprisoned temporarily.  I don't think we will have to do this to them, but at least it's an option.

Saving grace:  Paula, one of the owners, will be home on Wednesday night.  The hardest part of all of this has been doing it alone, as the neighbors who were willing and able to help have just not been  available when I needed them.  One of the hazards of working with volunteers!

But here's what has been so valuable about the whole experience:  I've discovered coping qualities in myself that I've never had to use before.  Fixing fences and gates with baling twine, ropes, and bungee cords?  Nope.  Comforting a dog who has just had a seizure?  Nope.  Protecting a scapegoat mare from a diva mare?  Nope.  Understanding that fences have to be secure or animals are not safe?  Not for a long, long time.  Having full responsibility for eight beautiful, valuable, beloved animals who belong to somebody else and who have needs that I don't fully "get"?  Nope, not that either.  Being willing to do it anyway and learn what I need to know "on the hoof", as it were?  Yep, that one I've always had and that's the one that has bailed me out in this situation:  my commitment to doing what needs to be done, to the best of my ability.

It's been a little bit like my early days in ministry, when I was learning things they couldn't teach in seminary:  how to coax powerful personalities into cooperation when they weren't sure they wanted to cooperate with me; offering sustenance to a wide variety of needs without giving up my own needs completely; doing the best I could with the resources I had and not kicking myself if I goofed up; finding the lesson in the crisis rather than just the anger and worry.

I've loved this experience.  I'm so glad to have had it, even with the crises.  And, as I told Paula recently in one of our advice-filled phone conversations, now, if I ever want to revamp my resume, I can put "horse and dog wrangler" down as a job skill.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Ah, the mysteries of ranch life...

have bedeviled me now for the past week or so.  Nothing too drastic, just small mysteries that wrinkle my (already-somewhat-wrinkled) brow, cause me to request advice from faraway fisherwoman owner, and ask myself "what next?"

How did Smarty and Ellie (two of the horses, Ellie being the boarding horse) get from pasture 3 to pasture 2 without human intervention, since all the fences appear intact?  How did they later get from pasture 2 to pasture 1?  Oh wait, I know the answer to that one:  they tore down the electric gate.  So, okay, how did they do that without getting a shock? 

Why does the dapply-white mare occupy the low end of the pecking order?  And why is she the one most bugged by the bugs?  Why do all the others chase her away when she comes near? 

Why do I no longer have any desire to ride horses?  I enjoy being around them but I feel no urge to saddle up and ride out, even with other riders.

Where did all the dog food go?  I just emptied a 40 pound bag of pellets into the storage bin.  It should have lasted longer than a couple of weeks.  I'm pretty sure the dogs haven't been into it; they would have a hard time concealing their thievery.

Where did all the horse pellets go?  One week ago, I emptied a 50 pound bag of pellets into the storage bin (with help from bandmate Lynn, hunky guy).  Methinks somebody has "borrowed" some for other horses, but there is no proof of this.

Where did three of the horses go one day?  Why doesn't anyone let me know when they take three of the horses out for a ride?  It's okay with the owner that they ride the horses, so that's not the mystery.  I would just like to know when they do it.

Where did all the dogs go for hours on end?  Are they with the riders?  Are their collars impaled on some branch in the woods?  Did the mama dog have another seizure out there where I can't see?  Is that where the boy dog ran into whatever made his eye swell up and start itching?

All small mysteries, few of them with major consequences, but they give meaning to the cliche "inquiring minds want to know".  I probably don't need to know, but I would like to.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gigging at the old folks homes

Earlier this year our band, Bayview Sound, was invited to perform at the Friday afternoon Happy Hour at a local assisted living facility in Freeland.  I've had several folks from the congregation in residence at Maple Ridge over the years and appreciate the beautiful facility, the kind staff, and the good cheer of most of the residents.

It reminded me a bit of Canterbury Inn, the assisted living facility in Longview WA where my mom lived for several years; I had the pleasure of visiting her there many times, getting acquainted with her friends there, and meeting the staff.  She was happy there and well cared for, her multiple health difficulties receiving the treatment they required.

Our first performance at Maple Ridge was a success and we have been invited back several times.  We have enjoyed this gig so much that we asked the folks at CareAge, a nursing home in Coupeville, if they were interested in our performing for them, and we have been to CareAge several times as well this year.

CareAge is a facility for aged residents with very limited mobility and dementia/brain injury patients.  I have had parishioners in residence at CareAge in the past and was pleased with the standard of care they received.  Maple Ridge is a facility for people who can still live more or less independently, with minimal care, though they may have limited mobility and may be experiencing some memory loss.

What I've noticed is that as humans age, we seem to become more intensely the person we have learned to be over our lifetimes.  If life has been harsh, if we have been unhappy or angry much of our lives, we are even more unhappy and angry as our abilities decline and our circle of friends diminishes.  If life has been harsh, if we have been ill-treated much of our lives but have had a few experiences that give us hope, we seem to have a less-angry, somewhat happier approach to old age and the losses we experience.

If life has been privileged and cushy, if our demands have been treated with deference and compliance, we continue to expect that this will continue and, because of the nature of aging and its demands on our resources, we are apt to be fretful, angry, depressed, and hard to get along with as we age.  If we have had any life at all---harsh, loving, privileged, whatever---we face old age with certain ingrained behaviors that can make our last years miserable or fulfilling.

I've been wondering how the sweet-natured folks I've been meeting at CareAge and Maple Ridge have come to this place in life:  a joy to serve, a pleasure in conversation, a blessing rather than a burden.  And I've been wondering how the grouchy folks at these facilties came to be so grouchy:  demanding, difficult to satisfy, always unhappy, repellant rather than inviting.

Pain, of course, is a factor.  So are loss of hearing and sight and memory and mobility.  Many physical discomforts can make us frantic, begging for relief, but these discomforts are borne by some with equanimity, even good cheer and hope.  For others, it's just too much to overcome.

Staff personnel treat everyone with the same good care and attention, to the best of their ability.  But who could blame them for being impatient on occasion, for being slow to answer the incessant buzzer from the same room over and over.  We ourselves would doubtless struggle with these situations.

Is there anything we can do to learn the art of growing old, to ingrain those traits that will make our old age happier, and to let go of the traits that will surely diminish our ability to enjoy the life we have left?

I figure I have 15-20 years left.  I've been working on the physical health piece now for quite awhile.  I still have some aches and pains but I'm in pretty good shape otherwise.  Mentally, the crossword puzzles and jumbles and quizzes that I'm addicted to are keeping my brain working, more or less.  But spiritually?  attitudinally?  I'm still thinking about how these may be affected by aging.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Almost half-done with this house-sitting gig!

No, I'm not counting the days---yet.  But I'm getting very itchy to leave this situation behind and have a home of my own again.  It's hard living in someone else's house, using their things, trying to guess what they'd do in any given semi-crisis, and finding that the item I really need for this or that meal/outfit/experience is packed deep within the storage locker down in Freeland.  Very frustrating, that:  I have the lid to my electric fry pan---and its cord---but not the fry pan.  I have innumerable cleaning supplies but no need to use any of them because this house is well equipped.  This house, however, has very little kleenex in it, except the boxes I've bought at the store, since I packed all of them and left them in the locker, assuming there would be kleenex here.  Toilet paper, a decent amount, but not kleenex.  Oh well.  It does now!  I will have boxes and boxes of half-used-up kleenex when I move south.

The dogs are a lot of fun---they're obedient (now that I've figured out some of the commands), friendly, loving, and eager to be with me.  They also bark at every perceived intrusion on the property, so with deer, eagles, cars on the road below, neighboring animals, thunder, fireworks, etc., there is a lot of high-pitched barking and rushing out the door, scattering rugs, protective coverings, anything in their path, into muddy, hairy piles on the floor.

The horses continue to be fine and only a slight challenge.  The ongoing wet, thundery weather makes wading through mud a fact of life, just about every day, and one morning I couldn't untangle the gate chain without pliers, so I put all five of the horses in a different pasture than usual.  Mysteriously, when I went to feed them several hours later, one horse (the boarder) was in an adjoining pasture, not the one I'd put everyone in in the morning.  I still haven't figured that one out, as her owner didn't come to ride that afternoon.  I do not know how she could possible have gotten into the adjoining pasture without human help; I checked the fenceline, which was fine, no breaks, no low spots she could have stepped over.  Anyhow, if there had been a break or low spot, chances are all the other horses would have joined her there.  It will be interesting to see if it happens again. At least she was safe, just lonely at being separated from the other horses.

I have developed my little routines for the day, and nearly every day has some event in it, many of them lunches with friends!  Luckily, I have made my WW goal weight of 160 and am determined to stay there, but I am also getting so much exercise with the dogs (we walk a half-mile loop together at least 6 times a day) and horses that I am not worried about regaining weight, at least right now.

But I am absolutely craving my own home.  I like what I'm doing; it's a great break from ministry and I feel very relieved to have let that go.  But I fall into bed at night absolutely tired to the bone from the physicality of the work.  Feeding the horses at night is what mainly does it----the hay bales are heavy and need to be cut open and "flaked out", one flake per horse; the cart full of hay flakes is heavy and unwieldy; it needs to be lugged to the paddock and distributed into five feeding troughs, fences have to be checked, gates opened and closed, horses shoved around as necessary.

At 9 p.m., I am ready to conk out.  Luckily the dogs are too, so we all hit the hay (not literally) before it's dark.  I'm up seven hours later feeling rested for the time being, have a cup of coffee before getting the dogs up and fed and walked, then it's breakfast, a little FB and email time, and then moving the horses into the pasture of the day.

Everything I do during the day has to be timed around the animals' needs:  I can't leave for very long until after the horses are moved into their pasture at 8:30; I have to be back by 5:30 to feed horses and dogs.  Usually this is no problem, since there are helpful neighbors nearby.

Listen, it is going to be a piece of cake to take Loosy and Lily to Gearhart and start living with them again!  No more toting of barges and lifting of bales down there!  I can hardly wait!  That's assuming the girls are willing to leave their Auntie Carol and Unka Roy's palatial digs on Saratoga Road and go with me to the sandy terrain of the Oregon Coast.  Only about four weeks to go, girls, better get used to the idea.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Leaving things behind...

is inevitably one of the features of a major lifestyle change.  In the past year, I have left behind some old habits (overeating, for one; underexercising, for another), acknowledged the need to leave behind many people who have been very significant in my life (congregants, local friends, my bandmates), have moved out of the nicest home I've ever had, and have most recently left behind the most fulfilling work I've ever done (except possibly for mothering).

Interestingly, I feel very little emotion about any of this, at least yet.  I am not experiencing sorrow but rather relief.  In leaving behind the old food habits, I've taken on new habits---bring on the vegetables and fruit! cut that chicken breast in half!   In leaving behind congregants, I've found a new way of being with people I once served and it's not "on" (at least much of the time---I still have to be careful).  In leaving behind local friends and my bandmates---well, I haven't, not quite yet.

In leaving behind this incredible work, I've been able to bask in the sense of a ministry well-done, with almost no loose ends unattended, in the appreciation of a congregation that feels well-served, in the knowledge that I have been part of many people's stories as they've rejoiced, mourned, and turned pages in their lives' books.  Memories of me are in many hearts as I leave behind this time and place and work and that feels very satisfying.  Most of those memories are good, though I know not all are sterling.

Once I have left the island and this life, I will have moved miles away from a place and time that I have often called the happiest years of my life.  I'm not scared of the future, even though I'm leaving so much behind.  I contemplate the coming years as a retired person in a small town as a new book to be opened and savored, as new friends and opportunities, new ways to be useful, new connections to make.

Tending horses and dogs for two months is nice interim work.  The stresses of caring for dependent animals are somewhat similar to caring for humans dependent on my services:  feed and water them, make sure they have the space and shelter they need, have fun with them, be authoritative but not authoritarian, be kind and affectionate but don't let them walk all over me!  Dogs and horses don't have language, so they can't talk behind my back.  Their relationship with me is evidenced in their responses to my care.  People are not so different.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Creating a framework....

for this new life was a worry for me initially, particularly before I had gotten the feel of what days would be like as a dog and horse wrangler.  I didn't know how tricky it would be to work with the horses; I didn't know if the dogs would mind me; I didn't know if I would be lonely or bored or so eager to get summer behind me that I could think of nothing else.

Slowly the days have evolved and it's a little like being on swing shift:  lots to do early in the day (feeding dogs, moving horses---none of which takes much time), then time to putz around with household stuff (laundry, washing the dogs' rugs and blankets, shopping), a run into town to read the paper (yes, I succumbed) and pick up the mail.  Lunch, a nap, more walks with the dogs (I've been getting five or six daily), and late afternoon the responsibility picks up again (feed dogs, move and feed horses).  Evenings are mine, but it's the end of a day and everybody's tired, so I tend to hang around the house with the dogs and we're all abed by 9ish.

So a framework has been established, a framework which shapes the day and gives me edges to be observed so that the responsibilities are fulfilled.  I'm comfortable with it, I enjoy the work with the dogs and horses, I'm getting more confident as I work with the animals, and I've mostly quit worrying about where everyone is during the day.  The dogs always seem to return home, even after a couple of hours of being afield, and so far there have always been five horses afoot in the pasture.

It's interesting to do something so completely new to me, to have completely new responsibilities, to have let go of the old responsibilities completely, and to be able to draw on a virtually blank slate, as I find my way through these days.

I'm still thinking a lot about the final move to Gearhart, trying to figure out how to get help for my nephews Justin and Scott on the actual move day; the guys from the congregation can't promise to help on that date, so I'll need to go looking elsewhere, I guess.  But it will work out.  Once that's done, my tensions will ease another degree.

One more trip to Gearhart and back before the permanent move on or about Aug. 26, right after our Meerkerk gig; I hope my sore derriere will be ready to go by then.  At least once I move, I can call a halt to long car trips!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Days of This New Life

My days are settling into a bit of a routine, but I'm not totally comfortable yet.  I'm still getting up early (6ish), but I don't want to wake the dogs (who sleep in kennels in another room) yet, so I tiptoe around, make coffee, sit down at the computer to read the latest whatever, and let them out for their breakfast about 7ish.   Sometimes we walk the 1/2 mile trail before I feed, sometimes after.  But we take a walk early---good for everyone's digestion!  We usually take four or five of these walks a day.

I eat bf myself around the same time they do and about 9ish, I go down to the paddock and lead the horses into the pasture of the day.  They're all interconnected, so that's just a matter of opening and closing gates.  But they're so eager to get into the grassy pasture that they're a little pushy.  It's no problem, though, as my old horse-skills seem to be coming back:  show no fear, show you're the boss, etc., with words and tone of voice and posture, basically. 

Not having a newspaper to read, except online, has changed that major morning habit for me; I'm debating going into town to the library every day to read the news, but I may find I don't need to do that.  The new habit may serve me well.  But in my new home, I intend to subscribe to every newspaper I can:  Oregonian, Astorian, Seaside Sun/Spotlight, maybe even the NYTimes Sunday edition.

Today I have to call my elderly aunt, who fell recently in her yard and lay there behind the rhodies for 3 hours before anyone found her.  She is in rehab again (last time was for a broken right shoulder, this time a broken left arm).  She's 89 and insists on living in her big house all alone; I hope she is persuaded to live with my cousin Peter or in assisted living somewhere after this.  My sister Jean and I have each been calling her once a month and we got alarmed when we could only reach her answering machine.

I also plan to go visit a woman in the congregation who had bigtime heart surgery two months ago and who just got home from hospital/rehab.  I felt bad about not seeing her while she was recuperating but there just wasn't an opportunity, so I feel like I need to make up for that, even though it's past my retirement date.

Friday I'll be going to Astoria to pick up my keys and drop some stuff off at the house, then heading to White Salmon to do the wedding and to reconnect briefly with some of the Athena pals, since I'll be staying at Judy's house in WS.  That will be a fun weekend, I think.

It's a quiet Fourth of July here on my hilltop.  Only a few firecracker booms, but it made the dogs a bit nervous.  I'm going to make sure they're indoors when I take off for the barbecue I've been invited to.  Roxy's the nervous one, but her fear seems to alert the others.

Today's the first day I've actually sat down to read recreationally!  I went to the library yesterday and picked up some (hopefully) trashy novels---I'm so tired of reading serious stuff and thinking about how I can write a sermon on the topic.

I wonder if anyone has ever written a sermon based on murder mystery novels?  That would be right up my alley right now.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Eight hours of sleep last night!

After weeks of getting by on 6 and 7 hours of sleep because of the stress I was under (including Lily and Loosy's demands), last night I got a nearly-uninterrupted eight hours of sleep and this morning, except for the normal early-day stiff-and-soreness, I am feeling whole again, not scattered, not anxious about what I need to do next.

Today is Sunday and instead of getting dressed up and going over to the church to set up and be cheerful and welcoming to all who come in, I am sitting at the laptop looking again out over a steel-grey Saratoga Passage toward Camano Island.

I figured out how to turn on the gas fireplace and heat the house, as it has been chilly, breezy, and a little drippy for a couple of days, so it's toasty in here right now.  The dogs have been fed and walked (there is a 1/2 mile loop around the property that works perfectly for an early walk with them---I actually take five of these walks with them every day) and I have only a few things to do today.

Yesterday I made a quick visit to the B's to see Lily and Loosy, neither of whom were particularly overjoyed to see me.  Lily is still pretending to be afraid of the B's and hides under things much of the time but while I was there she did come out and was a little sociable.  They're confused, I think, about how attached to get to the B's, with me going and coming every few days.  But they are getting retrained into new early-morning habits, I hope, which I will try to keep them in when I move south.

The dogs are lovely---Rider, Roxy, and Keely are their names.  Roxy is Rider and Keely's mother, so she's the oldest, but all three are high energy, friendly, and seem to have fallen in love with me.  I tend to be pretty lovey-dovey with them, being deprived of my own animals, and they are eager to be with me.  Rider, who, according to the neighbor, is shy around strangers, seems to be particularly enamored, laying his head in my lap, gazing adoringly as I stroke his ears, bumping my hand up onto his head again if I should tire.  They are Irish Setters and it's a huge pleasure to see them racing hell-bent across the yard, ears and tails flying.  But they are obedient and quick to communicate their own needs and hopes.  Like a walk!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The New Gig

You'll notice that I've retitled the blog.  Or, rather, I've added a secondary title since I'm no longer in the active ministry (i.e., paid).  I guess I am, technically, still on staff at UUCWI till Saturday, at which time my contract runs out, my Comcast address expires, and the post office starts forwarding my mail.

I've spent the last few days packing madly, marshalling the friends who signed up to help me move out of the house, and cleaning up in more than just a desultory way, so that I can get back all (hopefully) of my damage deposit.  I'm meeting the landlord on Saturday the 30th for just such an inspection and I'm pretty confident.  You'd never guess how much grime can accumulate over six years of easy living, even though I've always been pretty good about staying tidy.  I haven't always mopped up every barf mark on the floors, but I've gotten most of them and I had eagle-eyed friends scoping it all out for me.

According to the Merry Men who packed up the cartons and various and sundry other possession and took them to the storage locker, I need to watch for falling items when I go to move things with the nephs later in July.  They apparently stuffed it pretty tight, in order not to need a second locker.  I'm grateful!  These were the sweetest bunch of guys:  Dave Sweetwood, Gene Berg, John Long, John Leaser, Charlie Knutila, John Kron, Chris Bell, and Tom Buxton.  More testosterone in one place than I have been privileged to enjoy for many a year!  They made short work of a house-full of stuff---3 hours total!

Later that day, Terra Anderson, Judy Kaplan, Christi Shaffer, and Wendy Ferrier came over and shined up the place.  They were done in an hour!

So the biggest part of the move is done.  Still to follow are a few minor items to pickup at the house tomorrow or Saturday, the walk-through with the landlord, and, of course, the eventual move to Gearhard with Scott and Justin, the nephs.  I'm hoping they can manage it without me, because otherwise I'd be awfully stretched to get back home in time to do a wedding and a band gig the day after.  My sister suggested that as a solution, which I hadn't thought of.  I think it's a good idea.

So Ms. Kitty is off on another adventure:  free time, less responsibility, more opportunities to follow my interests without deadlines and meetings to pay attention to.  Whoopee!  Let the good times roll!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Civilian life begins.

Rev. Kit Ketcham, June 24, 2012

    I had originally intended to go through a stack of datebooks which chronicle the years I’ve spent with you, from September of 2003 when I first began to discover the wonders of Whidbey Island until the present, June of 2012, when I am coming to the end of my service with you, leaving behind some wonderful times and taking with me many delicious memories.

    But it didn’t take me very long to realize that simply telling you the highlights and lowlights of our time together wasn’t going to be much of a revelation and just wading through the datebooks was going to be an exercise in boredom, sort of like writing an endless report to the board.

    Mark and I and the Committee on Ministry—Sandy and Sarah—have thought about how this service might go for many long months.  None of us have had a lot of time to spend on it until after that super-bondongical party you threw for us all a week ago.  What an incredible experience---fun and heartwarming and enriching, in many ways.  Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity.

    I remember one of the first sermons I ever preached for you.  I recalled, in that sermon, a Sunday School hymn that popped into my head on the morning after I’d felt that second serious call to ministry, back in 1995 at the UU General Assembly meeting in Spokane.  It became my theme song for my ministry, no matter where I was---in the best or the worst of situations---and it is my theme song still as I leave this ministry.  I hope I have lived up to its words and that I continue to live up to the challenges it poses.

    Sing with me if you know this song too.  The words are in the order of service.
    “I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
    I would be pure, for there are those who care;
    I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
    I would be brave, for there is much to dare (repeat).

    I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless;
    I would be giving, and forget the gift;
    I would be humble, for I know my weakness,
    I would look up, and laugh and love and lift; (repeat)”

    I didn’t know at the time what those words might imply, how much of a challenge they might offer me.  I couldn’t anticipate the dark nights when I didn’t know if I was strong enough or brave enough or trustworthy enough.  I confess I never had much of a chance to test my purity!  Maybe that’s good!

    It’s hard to know how to be true, when my responsibilities have led me down paths where it would be so easy to turn around and go back; sometimes that happens in a pastoral situation, when someone is hurting badly and all I can think of is how little I can do to change the situation or remove the pain. 

    Just being there often feels like too little and I wish I could back out, but sometimes that’s what being true means---not giving up just because I can’t fix it.  Your trust in me to be true, to not let you down by my actions or choices---that’s been important to me.

    What does purity even mean in this day and age, the aftermath of the so-called Sexual Revolution?  There was a time when single women were assumed to be lesbian or ugly crones incapable of landing a boyfriend or a husband.  There was a time when Ms. Kitty lived it up pretty intensely.  I did have me some good times.  But I had me some scares too, as HIV/AIDs put the kibosh on being too free with one’s romances.

    When I went into the ministry, I left all that behind, at least partly because I found myself way too busy studying or writing or counseling or visiting hospital patients or preparing for Sundays and the myriad of other ministry-related tasks and responsibilities.  Need I say that many women ministers find that their former allure is swamped by the demands of the work, in addition to the scare we seem to throw into our gentlemen friends, simply because we are women in a previously male-dominated, highly values-laden profession.

    And where are we going to meet eligible, strong-minded, religiously-oriented men, anyway?  In our congregations, mostly, where it is definitely not okay to get romantically involved!  Many a congregation has been badly damaged by the sexual impropriety of its minister, who couldn’t keep his or her hands off the flock.  I’d rather be celibate than take that chance.

    There are many strong and brave challenges---memorial services take the starch right out of me.  They are an honor and a privilege and yet there were times when I just didn’t know if I had it in me to say goodbye to one more beloved member.  Luckily, I had your help and support to draw on and we saw it through, every time.  But I needed every ounce of strength and courage.

    Speaking of strong and brave---challenging someone’s inappropriate behavior in the congregation has required courage and the very few times I’ve had to do that, I have turned to our leadership teams for assistance.  I’ve been so grateful to this Committee on Ministry, Mark, Sandy, and Sarah, and others in former years for their guidance over the past few years when we faced some hard decisions.  (Who else here today has been a member of the COM?)   

    We have had to consider the health of the congregation in making those decisions and it’s hard, because we always want to be kind and fair.
But sometimes you can be too kind, and in doing so be unfair to the congregation, allowing hurtful behavior which damages the health of the congregation.  In those rare instances, we struggled to be brave and strong and do the right thing.  Our Covenant of Right Relations is an outgrowth of those struggles.

    I would be friend of all, the foe, the friendless.  It’s been interesting to walk the tightrope of friendship here at UUCWI; conventional wisdom among ministers has it that we must be careful about getting too close to our parishioners.  But how is it possible to serve you adequately without knowing you deeply?  I have simply tried not to play favorites, to love you all as equally as I can, and not worry about whether we are getting too close.  I love you, there’s no getting around it, and I will always love you. 

    The foe and the friendless take a little more work, but I have an abiding interest in people who are different from me, who think differently, who worship differently.  I recommend getting friendly with people who seem way different; invite the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the fundamentalists into your life and befriend them.  You don’t have to argue or try to convert them; you’ll find that they are mostly decent people and very much like us in all our human ways.

    I would be giving and forget the gift.  You have been so generous with me over the years, always apologizing for not paying me more, never being stingy about money; it has inspired me to be generous too.  And when I opened that envelope last Saturday night, it was the last thing I expected----and yet, knowing your generous natures, it was just one more loving and generous expression of your love and appreciation.

    I would be humble, for I know my weakness.  Oh boy, it took me a long time, as a younger person, to learn that humility wasn’t the same thing as humiliation, that it was okay to have strong self-worth but that it was important not to assume I was smarter or better or more talented than others.  And boy, do I know my weakness!  What I learned---and you may have learned this about yourselves too---is that my weaknesses tend to be my strengths carried to extreme. 

     Self-confidence can become arrogance, unwilling to listen to another point of view.  Believe me, I have had that painful experience!  High energy can become bulldozing, overriding less assertive folks.  Smart can turn into smart-ass.  Being funny can turn into being flippant and disrespectful.  I have made and still make all those mistakes!  Fortunately, you have mostly forgiven me.

    I would look up and laugh, and love, and lift.  What a great closing line this is to our song!  I look to the Spirit of Life and Love to support me in this human life,  I laugh at my own foibles and laugh with delight at the great joy of living; I love because I can do no other---Love is everywhere I look and within me; and I lift wherever a helping hand is needed.

    You know, this isn’t really a religious song, exactly.  It’s a song of human integrity and conscience.  It applies to all of us, not just ministers or others in helping professions.  You too have a desire and a responsibility to be true and pure and strong and brave; you too have the ability to be friend to all, even the foe and friendless, to be generous without expecting something in return, to be humble even though we’re practically perfect, and to find connection to that Spirit of Life and Love, laughing and loving and lifting in every day of this life.

    As I end these lovely nine years with you and go off to live a new and different life somewhere else, I would hope for you the fulfillment of the dreams of this congregation: a growing spiritual presence among you, a hearty and robust membership that supports one another and reaches out in love to the larger community.  In my humble opinion, that’s the purpose of a faith community----to look to the Spirit of Life and Love for strength, to enjoy the love and companionship of the beloved community, and to do the best we can to change the world for the better.  That’s all.  And you can do it.

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

HYMN #311, Let it Be a Dance 



Saturday, June 23, 2012

Last week of my ministry at UUCWI

The days I secretly thought might never come are actually here.  Tomorrow is my last service with the congregation I've served for nine years, nine wonderful years with only a few bad moments and always the support of my congregation.

Only a couple of folks have been obstreperous in any way that needed attention, which I deem incredible luck, as my previous congregation in Portland was a little harder to deal with---and I was a rookie at the time as well.

If pain and trouble taught me anything then, it resulted in my having a better idea of which hills were worthy of defending; which battles are worth fighting?  which precious value must be preserved at all cost?

Knowing that so and so had scared a couple of people badly enough that they were uneasy about coming to church---that needed to be dealt with.  And because of the integrity of the people involved and the people I consulted for help, we did a pretty good job of sorting out the truths and letting go of the rumors which were at the base of the trouble. 

Knowing that another so and so had damaged the congregation so badly many years ago yet failed to understand or accept responsibility for the damage---that also needed to be dealt with when the person wanted to return to the congregation.  And it was dealt with fairly and kindly, thanks again to the help of others in leadership.

So tomorrow I say goodbye and recount some of what I've learned.  My theme song for ministry, all the years of it from call to retirement, has been the Sunday School hymn "I Would Be True".  That will be the theme of tomorrow's sermon.  Watch for it.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rev. Kit Ketcham, June 10, 2012, with Mary Goolsby

    In February, Eileen and Mavis and I brought you a worship experience that focused on the importance of music in our spiritual lives.  We wanted to give you a musical encounter that might move you into your right brain far enough that you could feel music taking you to a different place---not necessarily a place of sweet contentment, but a place of creative reflection and interchange.

    The responses to the experience made me wonder if we could do the same thing with the visual arts and their importance in our spiritual lives.  This morning, Gladys, Mary and I, with the help and support of others on the visual arts committee, hope to accomplish something similar as we explore the spiritual stimulation we receive through viewing the art another has created.

    In thinking about my own experience with the visual arts, my own efforts to create something beautiful with paper or clay or wood or textiles, and the impact certain artworks have had on me, one particular work stands out in my mind.

    As I’ve thought about this work, I’ve realized that part of its importance to me is that I know the artist, I know something about the experience out of which the art was created, and the colors and design cause me to contemplate its meaning at a deep level.  I am always seeing something new in it.

    I have brought it to show you.  Many of you have seen it on the wall of my home; it is one of my most valued pieces of art.  It is a batik created by a former student whose name is Valerie. 

    Valerie was very angry with me at one point in our relationship because I had learned that one of her teachers was sexually involved with her and I had to report that situation to the police.  This batik was created during her tumultuous 8th grade year, when she was just 13 years old and trying to understand why all this had happened.

    Later, when we had successfully navigated that difficult time, I asked Valerie if I could buy this piece of art from her, as a remembrance of our painful but ultimately growthful experience together.  It has been on the wall of my home ever since.

    Other works of art in my life include wonderful photographs of nature scenes, paintings by beloved friends including our dear Nola Allen and Judi Nyerges, needlework made as gifts and returned to me upon my mother’s death, gifts from others, and the many paintings, sculptures, photographs, and designs I’ve contemplated in galleries and museums, including the walls of this building and other sacred spaces.

    This very building, this sanctuary, is a work of art that inspires me and gives me peace of heart.  I sit in our chairs and from any angle, I can look out these windows and experience the movement of the wind in the trees, enhanced by the fine grain of the wood framing.  I’ve often thought it’s like being in a life-size Ansel Adams photograph.

    When I look up, I see the symmetry and texture of the crossbeams that support our roof.  Not only are they eco-friendly, they are also lovely in their coloring and striation, with ironwork placed just so to set off the attractive wood structure.

    Through our round windows I can see the sky, the clouds scudding by, the rain patterns against the glass.  At various times of the day, the sunlight streams through our windows and strikes the floor, making the lustrous bamboo glow. 

    And our beautiful wall hanging of the madrona trees which line our landscape reflects the colors and shapes of our outdoor setting as it reminds us of the creative spirit that produced the design, the color selection, the intricate stitchery, and made our sanctuary extraordinary.

    Other useful and beautiful elements in this room add to the visual effectiveness and stimulation for our spiritual experience:  our beautiful pulpit, our chalice, the sanctuary doors, the ways the colors and textures of wood, fabric, and metal harmonize to create a visual feast of beauty for our worship.

    Sometimes the beauty that surrounds us, whether natural or humanly created, becomes so familiar that its effectiveness is dimmed.  We hope that today you will be refreshed and reminded that the beauty that surrounds us every day is a source of spiritual renewal and inspiration.

    Mary is going to lead us all now in a meditative time, that we might experience or re-experience what visual art has meant to us spiritually.

(Mary leads visualization meditation.)

    In their recent book “A House for Hope”, the Rev. John Buehrens, former president of the UUA, and the Rev. Rebecca Parker, current president of Starr King School for the Ministry, are clear about the importance of the visual arts to our experience of the divine, to our ability to find hope and comfort in human living, and to the creative spirit within each of us.

    Here’s one passage from their book:

    “Progressive religion in the 21st century will be stronger if it can engage not only music but also the visual arts in developing a house for the Spirit, a house for hope.  Many Americans today gather in megachurch sanctuaries that exude the aesthetics of shopping malls or sports arenas.  The spaces are purged of anything too “churchy”---which surely has marketing advantages, given how alienated from “religion” many people today are.
    “But this accommodation of American religion to the world of consumerism, aided and abetted by Protestant iconoclasm  lacks full power to reshape the imagination as a true home for the Spirit.  Early Christians knew better.  Their worship spaces were filled with beauty, giving a sense of paradise now to those whose eyes brought them there for the rituals…of shared worship…
    “To give faith greater form, progressive religion must learn to become practiced and disciplined in the creation, use, and interpretation of images, not just words and music.”

    Parker and Buehrens go on to say that in order to practice the love that is innate within us, in order to freely offer it to both friends and enemies, we must remember and re-imagine that love.  Images, symbols, and songs are the medium for such memory and imagination.   Without their presence, we cannot be fully human and fully creative.

    Words cannot do it all, much as we love them!  We also require physical beauty in our spiritual diet.  Our restless spirits are soothed by the beauty of nature and take flight as we create beauty of our own making.

    In the years ahead, the ministry of this congregation will expand and strengthen, in collaboration with your new minister, Dennis Reynolds.  As you grow together, it is my fond hope that you will remember that a religious community flourishes best when the facets of its ministry are equally attentive to outreach and inreach.

    Remember that in order to give your best to the larger community, you as the Beloved Community here within these walls must attend to your own needs as well.  As the cabin staff on our airlines point out every time we prepare to go aloft, you must put on your own oxygen mask before you take care of others’ need for oxygen.  If you can’t breathe, you can’t help others breathe.

    Ministry is a demanding cause, whether you are an ordained clergyperson or a lay person.  To be the most effective minister possible, you must take care of your own spiritual needs before attempting to take care of others’ needs.

    I once naively asked one of my Iliff professors what his theology was, and he answered, “Beauty.  Beauty is my theology.”  I may have been na├»ve in my question, but I understood his answer immediately.  Beauty is the wellspring from which spiritual wholeness emerges.  That can be beauty of action, beauty of thought, beauty of words, beauty of relationship, but it flows out of an appreciation and a connection with the beauty around us.

    We are lucky here to live in a beautiful natural environment and we have created a sanctuary for the spirit here in these rooms.  As we are strengthened by the beauty of our home here, we become better able to serve the needs of the larger community. May your ministries of outreach always include beautiful music, beautiful artwork, beautiful relationships, beautiful words of hope. 

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

Before our benediction, let me offer this poem by Mary Oliver:

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees

are turning
their own bodies

into pillars of light,

are giving off the rich

fragrance of cinnamon

and fulfillment,

the long tapers
 of cattails

are bursting and floating away over

the blue shoulders of the ponds,

and every pond,

no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.

Every year


I have ever learned

in my lifetime

leads back to this: the fires

and the black river of loss

whose other side

is salvation,

whose meaning

none of us will ever know.

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

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 beauty of this time and place and carrying it with us into our lives beyond these walls.  May we seek beauty in nature, beauty in human living, beauty in creative thought and act, and may we strive to bring beauty into others’ lives, that they too might find spiritual wholeness in art, music, and loving relationships.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Moving and shaking!

It's been a month since I last posted; the sermons in May were brief and kinda standard-issue:  Flower Communion, which I rarely write something new for but just tell the story, and Memorial Sunday, which is more of a sharing service for everyone rather than a time for a sermon.  I did speak the names of all those for whom I had performed memorial services during the nine years I have served this congregation, plus the names of my own dear ones who had died during the past year.

But primarily I've been involved in the whole moving-away and letting-go-of-ministry process.  I've found a house to rent on the Oregon Coast and am looking forward to getting the key, commandeering my nephews into moving me down there, and starting to get settled in a new home.  It's a sweet little house, on a creek, about ten minutes' walk from the shoreline, and, in another direction, ten minutes from the local coffee shop.  It's 1200 square feet, all on one level, with lots of storage, and I feel very lucky to have found just what I was hoping for.

I will be staying on the island most of the summer, so that I can sing with the band, and will be house-sitting for a couple in the church who live on top of a hill outside Coupeville.  I'll take care of their animals and property for a couple of months while Lily and Loosy stay with another couple in the congregation till I'm ready to take them to the coast.  I should be moved into my new home around the first of September.

My going-away activities are in the works; yesterday, the lectionary group took me out to lunch after our last session together and we said goodbye.  I will miss them very much on Friday mornings; they have been one of the most important groups in my island life, giving me encouragement and collegial support, even though our theologies are different.

My last two services with the congregation are June 10 and 24.  I'll be posting those sermons as they are given and I'll try to be better about posting on this blog until the end of June.  Then I have decided to chronicle my life in retirement, as an exercise in reflecting on who I am when I don't have a career ongoing.  I want to continue to write and to express my experiences in words.

I'll probably start a whole new blog, but I like the Ms Kitty's title so well I'll figure out a way to keep the flavor of it while changing the topic from active ministry to active retirement.

The big retirement party will be June 16 and they're planning quite the bash.  My band will play a short set, they will honor me with the title of Minister Emerita during the party, give me a Memory Book that has been in production for the past several weeks, and I don't know what all else.

On the 24th, I'm planning the final service with my Committee on Ministry; it will end with a ritual that will be something of a surprise to the congregation, though I've been telling a few people what to expect.

So, though many of my congregants are assuming that I am all torn up about leaving them, the truth is that I am thrilled to be laying down the mantle of ministry and letting someone else take it up.  I am not grieving this change a bit, at least right now; I am so glad they've found a good candidate to take my place and I hope that works out really well.  I am looking forward with glee to letting go of so much responsibility for other people and for leading the charge in progressive religious causes.

I've pretty much decided that when I do get ready to volunteer next winter (if then), I want to work with animals, with animal rescue if possible.  I want to learn things I've never had time to learn in the interstices between work responsibilities.  I want to rest!  at least for awhile.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Trail of Beauty and of Tears

Rev. Kit Ketcham, with Jarina Moss, April 29, 2012

    In February, I spoke to you on the topic of current civil rights issues in America, mentioning several different groups needing expanded civil rights, particularly our gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender/intersex friends and neighbors.  I felt pretty good about what we are doing to support these groups and what Unitarian Universalists have historically done to support civil rights for oppressed groups.

    After the service, Jarina came to me and said something like, “you listed a lot of groups that need expanded civil rights, but you left out Native Americans.  What about Native peoples?”

    I confess I was dumbfounded, because it simply hadn’t occurred to me to include Native Americans, First Nations peoples, in the litany of those whose human rights have been neglected by our country and other countries.  As we talked, she shared some of her story and I apologized, probably feebly, for my oversight.  And I promised that I would speak about the issues of indigenous peoples today.

    It’s not as though I didn’t believe that native peoples have any problems.  It’s more likely that the needs of native peoples have become invisible to me.  I have not been as conscious of the oppression they’ve endured, even though I’ve had native friends who lived on reservations, whose family members have died of alcohol related disease, who’ve been accused of being “dirty Indians” because of reservation conditions and genetic disposition to addiction.

    My own white privilege has kept me from acknowledging my complicity in the conditions which affect native peoples, not only here in America but across the globe. 

    For indigenous peoples have gotten a raw deal in virtually every country discovered by European explorers centuries ago and policies enacted in those times continue to oppress native peoples to this day. 

    So when I promised Jarina that I would speak about this today, I was taking on a big topic, one which affects many areas of our comfortable lives and is related to many historical policies and acts of our U.S. government, whether the party in power was Republican or Democrat.

    Steve Newcomb is an American Indian of Shawnee & Lenape ancestry. For over a decade, he has studied the origins of United States federal Indian law and international law dating back to the early days of Christendom. He is currently completing a book on his findings entitled, Pagans In the Promised Land: Religion, Law, and the American Indian.

    In an essay entitled “Five Hundred Years of Injustice”, he writes this:
    When Christopher Columbus first set foot on the white sands of Guanahani island, he performed a ceremony to "take possession" of the land for the king and queen of Spain, acting under the international laws of Western Christendom. Although the story of Columbus' "discovery" has taken on mythological proportions in most of the Western world, few people are aware that his act of "possession" was based on a religious doctrine now known in history as the Doctrine of Discovery. Even fewer people realize that today - five centuries later - the United States government still uses this archaic Judeo-Christian doctrine to deny the rights of Native American Indians.

    Newcomb goes on to explain the origins of the Doctrine of Discovery.  In the year 1452, 40 years before Columbus made his journey to the Americas, a statement, or papal bull, was issued by the reigning Catholic pope, Pope Nicholas, declaring war against all non Christians, sanctioning and promoting conquest, colonization, and exploitation of non-Christian nations and territories.

    “Under various theological and legal doctrines formulated during and after the Crusades, non-Christians were considered enemies of the Catholic faith and, as such, less than human. Accordingly, in the bull of 1452, Pope Nicholas directed King Alfonso to ‘capture, vanquish, and subdue the saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ,’ to ‘put them into perpetual slavery," and "to take all their possessions and property.’”

     This action was taken to expand and strengthen the so-called Christian Empire.  And it affects, even today, the actions of the United States government toward Native Americans, including Mexican immigrants, and the resources of the lands native peoples occupied at the time of conquest and which they occupy today.

    I’ve been concerned about the immigration battles along the US/Mexico border and the crackdowns on so-called illegal border crossings that have displaced dual-citizenship families, punished US born children for the efforts of their non-US-born parents to give their children a better life, and painted an ugly picture of the governments of those states.

    But it has seemed like a problem that didn’t affect our area much so far, even though the problem of Mexican citizens crossing the border without permission has surfaced here, most recently in Skagit County, when a well-known organic herb farm was discovered to have a workforce made up largely of non-compliant unpermitted Mexican citizens.  The owner of that farm has been indicted for this unlawful activity.

    But consider this:  Centuries ago, the United States was the homeland of native peoples who roamed freely throughout the southwestern states.  Borders were fluid and even nonexistent---until European conquerors moved in, using the Doctrine of Discovery to claim the native lands of those indigenous peoples and to subjugate them, to Christianize those who were willing to convert, and to kill or enslave those who were not willing to leave their indigenous religion and embrace Christianity.

    Guess what happened because of this religious enactment in the 15th century?  Mr. Newcomb will explain:

    In 1823, the Christian Doctrine of Discovery was quietly adopted into U.S. law by the Supreme Court in the celebrated case, Johnson v. McIntosh (8 Wheat., 543). Writing for a unanimous court, Chief Justice John Marshall observed that Christian European nations had assumed "ultimate dominion" over the lands of America during the Age of Discovery, and that - upon "discovery" - the Indians had lost "their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations," and only retained a right of "occupancy" in their lands. In other words, Indians nation were subject to the ultimate authority of the first nation of Christendom to claim possession of a given region of Indian lands.

    Yes, that’s right.  U.S. law concerning native American rights to peaceful existence in this, their native land, is based on a 500 year old religious dictum which authorized capture, conversion, killing, enslavement, and displacement of peoples whose misfortune it was to have been here first.

    Since that enactment of U.S. law by the Supreme Court nearly 200 years ago, native peoples have been herded onto reservations, forced to sign treaties to maintain some semblance of existence, massacred if they dared to oppose this treatment, caricatured by popular culture, and robbed of sacred rituals and practices which have been misappropriated by the dominant culture and used for commercial gain.

    The concept which came to be known as Manifest Destiny has been a hallmark of U.S. policy toward the expansion of European-born peoples across the Americas, upheld by politicians of every stripe, ostensibly to promote democracy across the continent and to declare it a moral law that superseded all other law.

    In other words, it was considered the destiny of American democracy to eradicate and subdue, in this country, non-democratic forms of government.  Historian William E. Weeks has noted that three key themes were usually touched upon by advocates of Manifest Destiny:

1.    the virtue of the American people and their institutions;
2.    the mission to spread these institutions, thereby redeeming and remaking the world in the image of the U.S.; and
3.    the destiny under God to do this work.

    Since that time, many of us have come to understand what terrible wrongs have been committed against indigenous peoples, both here and abroad, and slowly the tide has turned, our thinking has evolved, and there is a growing undercurrent of support to repeal laws which are based on the Doctrine of Discovery, to be in full compliance with the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

    The Doctrine of Discovery was used to justify the conquest of Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Americas.  It was the justification for the appropriation of lands and resources and the domination of native nations and usurpation of their sovereignty.  It formed the basis for the slave trade, the partition and colonization of the Near East, the colonization of the Americas, and the genocides of the indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas.

    The Doctrine of Discovery codified, put into law, made legal the oppression of others and it may be what gives tacit permission to all the bullying behavior we see in society, from the playground to the boardroom and marketplace, and ultimately to the battlefield.

    Let’s take a moment of silence to consider this historic moment in the history of our nation and to think about the questions it raises in our minds.  (chime)

    I’m wondering what questions might be in our minds right now?  Let’s hear from a few of you and then I’ll say a bit about my own thoughts.  (Questions)   

    Thank you for your thoughtful questions.  Here’s what I’ve been thinking, as I’ve researched and considered the implications of this challenging world-impacting situation:  First of all, DUH!  How could I miss this?  How can native peoples have been subjected to this without my recognizing it?  How could they become invisible to me? 

    When I think of my high school friends, Joyce and Belva, who lived on the nearby Umatilla reservation and went to my high school, I remember that they were both beautiful, both of them were honored as Indian princesses in the Happy Canyon show that was part of the Pendleton RoundUp every year; their pictures were in our high school yearbook---on horseback, dressed in white deerskin, feathers in their hair, looking regal.

    There were two boys, Peter and Paul, who were basketball stars at St. Joseph’s Academy in Pendleton.  We all had crushes on these two guys.  I even wrote them an anonymous note one time, at the height of my starry-eyed phase.  What became of these beautiful young men and women?

    Sadly, as I researched the names of these friends and admired ones, I found death notice after death notice----all of these four had died too young, between ages 50 and 60.  Why?  I couldn’t find out why, but knowing the bleak history of health vulnerabilities among indigenous peoples, I could hazard a guess.

    Was it alcoholism taking advantage of the genetic make-up of Native Americans?  Or their high susceptibility to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity?  Did poverty and depression contribute to their deaths? 

    These are questions I have never before thought to ask.  Has the treatment of Native peoples by their conquerors over the centuries resulted in such poor living conditions that their emotional and physical health has been damaged?  That their history from the day Europeans set foot on their lands has been one of death and displacement?  My answer to these questions is Yes.

    And my next question is, logically, what---500 years later---can we do about any of this?

    As Terra, Jarina, and I talked about this service, we had to face the questions that Jarina has asked, in her reflection:  why do we not think of the rights of native people?  Why do we still treat them as the invisible inconvenience of white colonialism?  What is it about human nature that allows us to dehumanize others of our species to the extent that we have?

    We acknowledge that we have within each of us the capacity for both good and evil.  Why do we so often choose hurtful behavior over compassion?  How do we begin to examine our own tendencies to dominate and to oppress?  How do we change our sense of entitlement so that it no longer impinges on the rights of others? 

    Native peoples in this country and others have contributed hugely to our arts and cultural heritage.  We in return have often misappropriated their art, spiritual practices, music, and other contributions, using them for our own material gain.  We do so without understanding their history, the heritage that they represent, and we may even callously adapt those rituals and items to better meet our needs, not caring that their originators might feel resentful and hurt.  The beauty they have offered----in art, in music, in ritual, in culture---has often been stolen and misused.

    Native lands are always under the gun.  Just this past week, I received notices about proposed mining in Alaska that threatens native fishing rights and  an impending auction in North Dakota that will sell the Fort Berthold Indian reservation’s oil and gas rights.  Large corporations were behind both these proposed acquisitions.

    Clearly, we must act.  What can we do?  The Unitarian Universalist Peace Ministry Network repudiates the Doctrine of Discovery and is bringing a resolution to the floor of our upcoming General Assembly in Phoenix, the end of June, when the related issue, of immigration laws, will also be a focus of attention.

    Other religious traditions are also speaking out in favor of repeal of laws which are based on the Doctrine of Discovery and we would do well to study the issue deeply and align with other concerned congregations and humanitarian groups, including the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

    In addition, we can strongly oppose legislation and corporate actions which impinge upon native lands.  We can educate ourselves and others.  We can reach out in friendship to those affected by these ancient policies and, instead of just feeling helpless and looking away, let’s seek truth, let’s question what we’ve always done, and let’s practice compassion and seek reconciliation.

    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,  thinking hard about how our lives have been shaped by the oppressive policies of the past.  May we dedicate ourselves to doing our part to change the laws which hurt others and may we never forget that our privileged lives are, to some degree, bought by the pain of others.  We pray for strength to understand and the courage to change.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.