Sunday, September 24, 2017

My contribution to our service on "Our UU Journey"

Rev. Kit Ketcham

            I was an innocent young Baptist missionary in Denver’s inner city, back in 1965, when I discovered Unitarians.  Among other duties, I taught a tiny preschool class three mornings a week at the Denver Christian Center, and the ladies of the First Unitarian Church of Denver supplied a teacher’s aide, cookies, and juice for my tiny tots.  I had never heard of Unitarians before this, but I sure appreciated their willingness to come down into a tough neighborhood to help out.  First Baptist Church had not yet shown up.
            The die was cast that Unitarian Universalism was in my future when a handsome young Unitarian Universalist fellow asked me out to a movie (I think it was Dr. Zhivago) and subsequently, several months later, asked me to marry him.
            With my husband Larry Gilmore, I attended UU churches, marched in protests against the Vietnam War, and began to see the limits of the Baptist faith I’d grown up in.
            A few years later, our son Michael was born and we decided we needed to have a church home.  I didn’t think of myself as a UU at that point; I was still pretty much a Baptist at heart.  But on Christmas Eve of 1972, when Mike was only four months old and screaming his way through the child dedication service at Jefferson Unitarian Church, I decided that I liked the UU approach to welcoming children into their midst, and Larry and I signed the membership book.
            At Jefferson Unitarian Church, I began to compare the lessons and challenges offered by Unitarian Universalism with the limited outlook of my Baptist upbringing, and though I could see a great deal of value in those old doctrines of Jesus’ message to serve others, I didn’t see the action I craved.
            JUC was active in the larger community, its hymns did not mention “the blood of the Lamb” but rather “the starry firmament on high” as an iconic image, and the UU message of peace and acceptance of all humanity as worthy was balm to my soul after a lifetime of rules which excluded people and ideas.  A religion of seven principles focused on how humans treated each other and the earth met my needs and I felt myself begin to blossom into a different person.
            When, after 13 years of marriage, Larry and I decided to go our separate ways, our church did not shame us, nor get nosy about our reasons for divorcing.  Our fellow congregants gathered us up, nurtured all three of us, recognized that we were all hurting, and our minister, the Rev. Lex Crane, counseled us through those tough times.
            In the years that followed, I found JUC and other UU churches in the Denver area to be a source of friendships and inspiration that I had not found anywhere else.  I joined the all-church social justice project, refurbishing apartments and clothes closets for local families down on their luck, and began to consider what else I might do to be involved.
            One memorable September Sunday in 1992, I was part of the Committee on Ministry’s annual Homecoming service, in which we looked back at the year behind us and forward toward the coming year in our congregation.  Because of my experience as a junior high school teacher and counselor who was proficient in the ways of public speaking (or so they thought!), I was asked to give a short homily on our mission as a congregation and what we had done over the past year.
            So I got up in the pulpit, spoke for a few minutes about the joys and sorrows of our past year, noticed a few laughs and a few tears in the audience, and sat down feeling relieved that it was over.
            Our minister at that time, the Rev. Robert Latham, turned to me as he went to the pulpit and said, in front of the whole congregation and on a microphone, “Kit, you missed your calling.  You ought to be a minister.”
            It was like a thunderbolt.  I could not think of anything else for the rest of the service, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that I could take any steps toward that goal of ministry, which had overridden every other goal I might have had.
            In 1995, the annual General Assembly of the UUA was in Spokane and I decided to go.  It was the first time I’d ever attended such an event and I was thrilled by the speakers, the workshops, the worship services.
            On the last day of the event, a worship service called the Service of the Living Tradition honored the brand-new ministers just becoming eligible for a parish, the longtime ministers retiring, and the ministers who had died during the past year.
            The processional hymn was “For All the Saints”, which we have just sung together. Its theology and language are dated and hark back to the olden days when we were closer to our Christian roots.  But there’s a verse in there that spoke to me that day and speaks to me yet: “And when the strife is fierce, the conflict long, steals on the ear the distant triumph song, and hearts are brave again and arms are strong. Alleluia, alleluia.”
            Because of that hope that we can make this world a better place by loving each other and the world, I have been a staunch Unitarian Universalist since I first signed that membership book at Jefferson Unitarian Church.  It’s been over 40 years of joy and sorrow and striving and accomplishing.  I’ve never regretted a moment of it.
            Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.
            As Dave extinguishes our chalice, let’s pause for our benediction.
            Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that we have a reason to be here---to be together, to love each other and the world, and to serve those around us.  May we find strength together and the commitment that will carry us through to a better world.
Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Water water everywhere...

Rev. Kit Ketcham
PUUF, Sept. 10, 2017
            Two weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey came roaring into Houston, hell-bent for leather, as they say in Texas, and since then it’s been non-stop awful photos and stories of both heroism and tragedy, as well as jerksomeness.  And a lot of filthy, filthy water, not just roaring down the concrete streets but filling up houses and cars and making everything stink of sewage.  And now we have Irma and Jose in line to hit landfall or ocean on top of the fires raging across the West and crying out for water.
            When we think of water, the true source of life on our planet, we imagine crystalline liquid, or sea water, or huge expanses of river as seen outside our windows.  We don’t think of sludgy smelly wastewater.  Water is for health, for playtime, for gardens, for beautiful waterfalls, for power.  And yet sometimes water is not healthy, not clean, not pretty, but ugly and polluted.
            Today we’ve brought water from the events of our recent lives, to pool together in our common vessel.  Some of it represents beautiful times, some of it represents hard times. 
            As we have pooled our waters today, symbolizing the pooling of our lives as a community, let’s stop and think about the drama that has unfolded over the past two weeks:  the human kindness and the human selfishness, the heroism and the miserliness, the terror of destruction and the relief of rescue, the despair at losing so much and the miracle of assistance from others.
            Let us pledge ourselves every day to be on the side of kindness instead of callousness, on the side of compassion rather than condemnation, on the side of giving rather than grudgefulness. 
            One of my pet peeves during crises of this kind, when it is happening to “somebody else”, not us, and a friend or a relative or a neighbor happens to opine:  “I don’t feel a bit sorry for them---they asked for it by electing politicians who caved in to corporate interests and removed zoning regulations or eliminated protections of the environment in favor of making more money, whose self-interest outweighed the interests of the citizens of Texas.”
            I can see where they are coming from and I have some sympathy for that frustrated point of view.  But my training as a teacher, as a counselor, as a minister, as a human being who has received a great deal of compassion when I didn’t necessarily deserve it, as a person who has come to understand that as some quipster has put it “we are not here to see through each other, but to see each other through.”
            When we fail to understand or even try to understand why people don’t vote or behave the ways we think they should, when we would deny them basic services, or help with reclaiming their lives from disaster, when we begrudge them the mercy of a humane response, then our own humanity is at stake.
            We are not here to see through each other, but to see each other through.  I have been so heartened in my time in ministry by the enormous generosity of our congregants.  Your loving and giving hearts have made life much better for others, whether it was in giving money to a cause, or giving water even to someone who turned out not to be trustworthy, or bringing meals to a busy family slowed down by illness, or providing gifts to a single mom with few resources.
            This is what it means to be human, to be humane, to answer the call of love, to be true Americans.
            Our friend and my colleague the Rev. Amy Beltaine has written this, which I offer in closing:  Amy writes:
            Traditionally, congregations in (our) movement celebrate a ceremony of coming back together in September. We call it the "Water Communion" ceremony and we mingle the waters from our summers, and our individual lives, into one container during the worship service.
What is important to me about this ceremony is that it is a reminder that we are all connected in community. It takes all of us to make the sacred water. It takes us coming together with intention to create the community that will sustain us through the year.
Each one of us contributes our part. Each one of us needs to shine our own light. Each one needs to show up in our own way. When we do that, the way is made easier. When we do that, we can clean up a mess like the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, or global climate change, or racism.
Showing up to shine may mean donating dollars. Showing up to shine may mean creating symbolic rituals that inspire others and create community feeling. Showing up to shine may be pulling out a lifeboat and paddling to rescue an exhausted puppy. When we are looking for the helpers, sometimes we are the ones getting helped, and always, we are the helpers. We are the ones we are waiting for. We can rise and shine. We can give all our glory (to one another).


Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Never Got Over Those Blue Eyes: an elegy

I'm listening to Wednesday morning folk with Merianne on KMUN this morning and singing along to some of my favorite songs....and reminiscing about what life was like with The Best Boyfriend Ever, back in the day when we'd go camping in the big red van, roaming Colorado and Utah canyonlands, and sitting around a campfire at night while he played his banjo and I sang the songs we knew, sometimes solo and sometimes harmonizing.

I remember those days so fondly.  Gil was a funny man, proficient on the banjo, an IBM guy who worked on multiple government classified projects before he retired, cute in his curly-headed lanky way.  We were quite the pair:  "Kit and Gil, up next" on the open mic roster at Swallow Hill in Denver.  I have a notebook full of the songs we knew, some I'd never heard before but came to love as I learned the words and harmonies:  "Summer Wages", "Amelia Earhart", Walt Michaels stuff.

We were together for three lovely years.  He wasn't much for saying "I love you" but I figured he did love me and was willing to let it lie.  He acted like he loved me and that was enough until one afternoon, sitting on a hillside at White Ranch, outside of Golden, he said, "we need to talk" and tearfully told me that he had been unfaithful with a woman friend in his AA group.

I had followed his lead in so many ways, attending AlAnon meetings to understand my own behavior with people who were alcoholics, learning to sing with a mic, depending on his companionship to brave the kind of camping we did, getting familiar with the "circle of fifths", basking in his admiration of my singing ability, getting to know his friends and his banjo-playing son, laughing at his jokes, admiring the way AA had helped him shape his life.

He asked me to forgive him,. I told him I did---too quickly, probably---and we went on from there.  But something was broken, and a few months later, he told me that he needed to sort out his life and he wanted to just be friends from then on.

Like many so-called "just friends", we had a hard time with that.  I couldn't believe he was really gone and he couldn't believe I couldn't let go.  We kept trying to be friends rather than lovers but it never really worked.

But our separation made it possible for me to answer the call to ministry that I felt so strongly a year after our breakup.  And four years later, he and his current lady attended my ordination and I got ready to move to Portland.

Gil visited me in Portland, sans lady friend, a couple of times and it became evident that he was not well.  He'd had some weird reactions to medicines, his vision had gotten wonky, and he couldn't manage the banjo any more.  Eventually, he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease, and his health went downhill from there.  I'd talk with him by phone occasionally till he couldn't manage a conversation any more.  I made friends with the lady friend who had stuck by him during his failing health; I talked with her more than I could talk with Gil.

And then he died.  But I never got over those blue eyes.