Monday, April 05, 2021

 RISE AGAIN, RISE AGAIN:  Transformation and Tragedy

Rev. Kit Ketcham

Easter, April 4, 2021

It’s been 13 months since the world, our nation, our states, our counties, our towns, our selves were forced into lockdown and isolation, fearful for our own lives and those of our families and friends.  Life turned on a dime---or was it a molecule? 

 For the past year plus, we have contended with all manner of tragedy:  not only disease but also wildfires, landslides, floods, weather events that changed the landscape and destroyed homes and forests, multiple deaths, including mass murders, unfamiliar ways of being in the world with masks, no hugging, no touching, no crowds, and an overlying dread of “what will happen next” with an unstable and cruel federal government.

At the same time, however, we have participated in ongoing resistance to cruel and inhumane treatment of our fellow citizens.  Fueled by unjust laws, occasions of police brutality, neo-nazi threats and actions, our resistance has reflected the undying thread of hope and commitment to a life that offers love and justice to all living beings, to our precious Earth, and enhances our relationships with each other and with the land.

 And here we are at Easter, with its myriad rituals of celebration and dedication.  I ran over in my mind all the various things I think of when I think about Easter:  bunnies, eggs, the vernal equinox, Passover, Holi, death, resurrection, flowers, springtime, Ramadan, Jesus.

If you were a little kid in a traditional Christian Sunday School, like me, cue the old song: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” 

You may have noticed that in Unitarian Universalism, we include Christianity as one of our sources but only one of several, even though many of us grew up as Christians in churches that ranged from fundamentalist to progressive, and our UU principles are remarkably similar to the teachings of Jesus.

I think of myself as a UU Christian and am glad for the gentle guidance of Sunday School teachers of my childhood and youth, though when I went to college and learned from professors who were clearly better informed than those kindly women and men, I learned that there was no one-size-fits-all Christianity and gave myself permission to find the version that fit me best.

Unitarian Universalism presented me with the opportunity to use my skills and commitment---in social justice work, in songs and stories that reflected my values rather than tired old “washed in the blood” theology, and in a way of presenting our UU faith not by proselytizing but by attraction---attraction to a religious faith that honors science and critical thinking, reaching out to a world that sought love and justice in religion, not cruel rejection of The Other, those who were different---in race, in sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, the many ways religion has historically wounded those looking for a safe place to be their real selves.

One of those gifts of UUism has been the opportunity for me to find spiritual meaning and inspiration in a wide array of stories, songs, poetry, the arts, the outpouring of creative expression of an inner life, an inner commitment to say to the world, “this is important!  Listen, watch, sing, pray in these ways.  Let yourself dream, understand, create your own spirituality and meaningful life out of your own understandings and ingenuity.”

And I believe that it is my strong Unitarian Universalist faith that has made this past year a growing time for me, because I was able to see the contrast between the corruption and failures of our harsh government’s policies and the hopeful, justice-seeking practices of a nation of people who craved leaders who valued human life more than riches, whose intent was to help, rather than to punish or to narrow opportunities for all citizens.

This faith has helped me weather the loneliness and frustration of isolation, presented opportunities to be creative in new ways, and to reach out in small ways to connect with others safely.  Though I was inactive here at PUUF for much of this past year, it has been a blessing for me to return as a member of this Fellowship and to offer support to this beloved community of friends.

But back to Easter.  One of the things that has been important to me, and perhaps to you as well, is the overriding knowledge that we have been through an oppressive and dark time, and as the clouds begin to lift, as vaccines have become available, as we stretch out our arms to each other, many of us don’t quite know what to do.  

We want to return to normal, but what, under these circumstances, is normal?  As a congregation, we are diverse in our spiritual and religious lives.  We are definitely NOT one size fits all people. And we are all affected by PTTSD==post-trumptraumatic stress disorder.

It used to be that the old Easter songs—Up From the Grave He Arose—and others of that ilk gave me a certain thrill.  It wasn’t so much the words (you have to translate pretty hard to turn that hymn into something more meaningful to a UU Christian heretic like me), but the thrilling chorus “He arose, he arose, Hallelujah” was always exciting to sing.

As a minister, I’ve dinked around on Easter with other hymns of the season, but my taste really runs more to the folk genre, the songs that challenge us to think about the injustice in the world, the plight of people who are cheated out of a good life by racism or ableism or homophobia or other subtle and not so subtle oppressions.

Listening to the music that came out of the Pete Seeger era and the stories that accompanied those songs, I found that many songs told a story of moral courage, of resurrection and rebirth, of overcoming despair and deprivation, some of them tied to words about God or Jesus but many of them simply telling a story with an outcome that was triumphant.

And isn’t that what Easter is all about?  Buried bulbs turn into daffodils and hyacinths, gnarled old trees produce abundant blossoms, the vernal equinox signals the spring season, eggs and bunnies represent the flourishing of new life.

A long time ago, probably in Denver at one of the many folk jams I attended in those days, I heard a song I really liked.  It was about a fishing boat off the shores of one of the Canadian provinces, a vessel that hit a rock and went down.  I want you to hear it, so I’ve arranged for us to listen to a song that has been meaningful to me for a long time and now even more as I think about its being an allegory for the past few years.

It’s called The Mary Ellen Carter and it has come to mean more to me than just a fishing boat that sank.  See what you think.  We can talk about it in our social time, if you wish.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8uirXFig0IQ&ab_channel=AlS 

I learned this song some time ago, before the days when our nation was starting to deal with the aftereffects of governments that seemed bent on changing our system of self-governance to a system of corporate domination.  We may not have fully recognized its toxicity until 2016 when it began in earnest to poison and kill.

But a time of isolation and social deprivation and distance has made it possible to consider the stories we heard of kindness and connection, the ways people were rising and have always risen during times of crisis.   We and all our global neighbors were living through the same experience and it had quite a leveling effect.

We noticed kindness, we shouted down injustice, we read about what it has meant to be Black, to be Brown or Asian, to be disabled and mocked by a tone-deaf president, to be banned from crossing US borders, detained for minor reasons, as was our friend Ruben Perez.  

To be unprotected as a deadly virus roamed the planet, killing millions of helpless people and here in our country, killing over a half-million of our friends, our grandparents and parents, our children, our young adults, and ourselves as well as many of the health workers who came to serve the ill, risking their own wellbeing.  We have been in mourning for a long time and for a lot of reasons.

Fueled by our anger at the corruption revealed by investigations and arrests, livid that our democracy should be so attacked by those who had for a generation or more enriched the rich, oppressed the poor, and professed a variation of Christianity that had nothing to do with the teachings of the prophet Jesus and had everything to do with corruption and greed.

We resisted, we pushed back, we organized, we marched.  We learned about the Black and Brown and Asian people who were suffering under the hammer of white supremacy and we learned how we colluded with it unwittingly.  We read about Caste and the works of James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, and other writers who made clear the agony and the anger which were the product of that hammer of whiteness.

And we read and watched stories of kindness, of people reaching out to help those struggling, of triumph over loss and fear, of rising despite the obstacles we faced.  We got used to Zoom meetings, went through a lot of dry eye meds as we stared at screens, rejoiced with each other as vaccines became available and more and more of us were fully protected.

We connected with friends on email, on Facetime, on Facebook and Messenger, and some of us reconnected with friends from whom we had been estranged.  Families who lived far apart from other members checked in weekly rather than yearly.  We celebrated birthdays and holidays in new ways.  We stayed home and got creative with cooking or sewing or painting or writing.  We watched the birds.  We walked a lot.

We watched the news and rejoiced as a new federal administration took the reins of a weakened democracy and began to rebuild the damaged pillars of our national life.

We rose and we continue to rise. We celebrate Easter this year with a new sense of resurrection, even with all the deaths that have taken our loved ones away.  We rise. 

So maybe the real message of this time of year is simply this:  Rise Again, Rise again, though your heart it be broken or life about to end.

Rise Again, after four years of watching our precious democracy chopped away at by greed and corruption and the relief of finding leaders with compassion and a determination to make real democracy live again.

Rise Again, through the confusion and fear and sorrow of not knowing who you are and lifted up by kindness, finding possible joy and truth beyond the fear.

Maya Angelou closes her epic poem “Still I Rise” in this way:

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.

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

BENEDICTION:  Our worship service is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering that the message of Easter is of Rising Again, and again, and again, and helping our friends and neighbors Rise with us.  May we offer always kindness instead of meanness and may our strength make others’ lives easier.   Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.


Monday, January 18, 2021

 CHANGING OUR PERSPECTIVE ON RACISM

Rev. Kit Ketcham

January 17, 2021


The past couple of years have been tumultuous, not just because of the pandemic and its lockdowns, social distancing, and the politicization of national health, but because we as a global society are having to come to terms with a previously unseen and evil force:  the white supremacy which lies like a deadening blanket over our relationships with our fellow human beings of color.

Like many of you, no doubt, I have been doing a lot of reading about white fragility, white supremacy, institutional racism, and looking at myself and my own history of growing up in a world of racial privilege that I didn’t even notice, most of the time.

One of the books I read was Isabel Wilkerson’s CASTE:  the origins of our discontents.  Wilkerson’s personal experiences, her scholarship, and her knack of telling stories and making connections with our painful American history gave me a picture of an embedded poison in our heritage that has come to a head with political and social events of recent decades.

Her book starts with an analogy, one you may not have heard before.  

In the summer of 2016, in the Siberian tundra, an abnormal heat wave caused the tundra to warm up to the point where something unusual began to happen.  A strange pathogen sickened and killed hundreds of human beings and animals.  It was discovered to be the anthrax pathogen which had killed herds of reindeer decades earlier, carcasses buried in the permafrost since WWII and now surfacing unexpectedly to cause havoc as the pathogen awakened in the heat.  It seeped into the grazing lands and infected reindeer and herders who raised and relied upon those animals for sustenance.

Wilkerson writes:  “The anthrax, like the reactivation of the human pathogens of hatred and tribalism in this evolving century, had never died.  It lay in wait, sleeping, until extreme circumstances brought it to the surface and back to life.”

That same year, 2016, in the USA, two candidates vied for the office of POTUS, one a no-nonsense woman with decades of experience and highly qualified, the other an impetuous billionaire, reality TV star, prone to insulting anyone unlike himself, who had never held public office.

During the campaign, these polar opposites displayed opposite campaign tactics as well.  The billionaire boasted about his sexual assaults, mocked the disabled, encouraged violence, declared FAKE NEWS to be endemic in the media, and had his supporters shouting “Lock her up” at every rally.

On the other side of the aisle, the woman candidate could hardly get a word in edgewise when, at debates, the billionaire loomed over her as she spoke, as if threatening her from behind her podium.  And despite her obvious qualifications, she was a woman and therefore the billionaire’s target.

After the election, won by probably the least qualified candidate in US history, anger and fear for our democracy arose in large pockets of resistance across the land:  the Women’s March movement, Black Lives Matter, and several others, and we as a nation began to see how deeply divided our citizenry is.

During the past four years, my concern and disgust toward the situation which was developing as the president of the US wreaked havoc drove me to read what I could about both the person in the White House and the motives which seemed to be driving him.

We have known for a long time that systematic, institutional racism infects our culture deeply.  But what does it look like in other parts of the world?  Isabel Wilkerson’s book CASTE addressed that topic and as I read it, I could see that it was bigger than US history.  It did not start with slavery in our country but was a logical progression in a worldview which regarded certain classes of people to be less than human.

Wilkerson discusses three major caste systems throughout the book:  India, Nazi Germany, and America.  There are differences, of course, but there are many similarities.  Did you know, for example, that the Nazis actually studied America’s segregation practices and Jim Crow laws in their run-up to Jewish persecution and execution?

She describes 8 pillars of the Caste system, ancient principles upon which a caste system is constructed, beliefs that were at one time or another deep within the culture and collective subconscious of most every inhabitant.  That’s how caste develops and functions.  These foundational concepts have arisen from Wilkerson’s study of the ancient principles underlying the parallels, overlap, and commonalities of three major caste hierarchies.

As I describe them, I hope you’ll think about where you have seen or experienced these pillars at work in our American life, as well as in other societies you may be familiar with.

The first of these principles is “Divine Will and the Laws of Nature”

Religious legends have been told for centuries about how the gods or god created a hierarchy of human beings---in Hinduism, for example, the Brahmin is the head, the mouth, the philosopher, priest, the one nearest the gods;  and then downwards, level by bodily level,  according  each part of the human body to a certain social role. 


 The Brahmin is the head, and the feet are the servants which bear the burden, and they are at the bottom.  Yet not quite at the bottom, for there are the Untouchables, now called Dalits, who pollute with their very shadow, the Outcastes.

Close your eyes for a moment and imagine yourself born into a caste level that is unchangeable, controls who you may marry, causes you to fear the possibility of pollution from a lower caste person or, if you are a lower caste person, the fear of being accused and punished for offenses of pollution.  

Imagine that you are limited to certain kinds of work and education, that you are vulnerable to oppression in health care, that terror and cruelty, both psychological and physical, are used to control you.  Imagine that you are always to be part of the inherently superior caste and always to assume that members of a lower caste are stereotypically dangerous criminals or dishonest in their financial dealings.

I’m sure that most of us can see how these levels of caste appear in human life, not just in Hinduism and Nazi Germany, but in American life.

Even though here in the US, we don’t openly label the levels of hierarchy, they still shape our expectations and behavior, in some of us more than others. 

The second pillar of caste is Heritability: the mechanism by which a member of a caste can never escape that caste level.  Born a Brahmin, always a Brahmin.  Born a Rockefeller, always a Rockefeller or a Kennedy or a Roosevelt.  Born a Black, always a Black no matter how educated or talented. Even with a Harvard education, Barack Obama was still Black and, by many, considered to be lower caste.

The third pillar of caste is Control of Marriage and Mating:  that a member of the upper level must marry or mate with another member of the upper level. Certain people are not allowed to marry or mate, no matter what their level status, even if they’re white----as in same sex relationships.  Blacks and whites must not marry or mate.  I remember the reaction I got from family members when I revealed that my first serious love was a Black man whom I had met in our religious tradition, American Baptist.

The fourth pillar of caste is Purity versus Pollution:  the need to be pure of blood, not polluted by blood from a lower caste person.  Even a drop of Black blood meant a person was black.  Earlier in the 20th century, Jews and Blacks were forbidden to use certain pools and beaches and whites would not enter water that had touched black skin.  And segregation, of course, meant exclusion of the polluting caste. Over the centuries, the dominant caste has taken extreme measures to protect its sanctity from the perceived taint of the lower castes.

The fifth pillar of caste is Occupational Hierarchy:  a division of labor depending on one’s place in the caste hierarchy.  The drudge work went to those who were considered to be of low intelligence and skill---the slave in early American history, as an example.  

A Southern politician declared this central doctrine from the floor of the US Senate in March 1858:  “In all social systems, there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life,” said Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina. “That is a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill.  Its requisites are vigor, docility, fidelity, such a class you must have---it constitutes the very mudsill of society.”

The sixth pillar of caste is Dehumanization and Stigma:  Black people and Jewish people in history have been used for medical and social experimentation, treated cruelly deliberately because they were not considered human and couldn’t feel pain the way real people felt pain.  This treatment was documented in Nazi concentration camps and in literature that came out of the slavery days in America. Brown children in cages at the Mexican border, torn from their parents, is another more recent example.

To dehumanize another human being is not merely to declare that someone is not human, and it does not happen by accident.  It is a process, a programming.  It takes energy and reinforcement to deny what is self-evident in another member of one’s own species.

The seventh pillar of caste is Terror as Enforcement and Cruelty for Control:  violence and terror, both physical and psychological, have been used to control and prevent resistance.

A quote from p. 151 of Wilkerson’s book:  “Jews in Nazi controlled Europe, African-Americans in the antebellum and Jim Crow South, and Dalits in India were all at the mercy of people who had been fed a diet of contempt and hate for them, and had incentive to try to prove their superiority by joining in or acquiescing to cruelties against (their) fellow humans.”

Black and Brown and Jewish people live with a constant concern that they may become targets for those who have terror and cruelty to the Other embedded in themselves by this assumption.

The eighth pillar of caste is Inherent Superiority versus Inherent Inferiority:  people are forced into roles that are stereotypical of their caste level.  There is an assumption embedded in this pillar that Blacks are dangerous criminals and violent, that Jews are sly and money-grubbing, that Brown people are lazy or stupid.

One teaching technique for elementary students has been the division in the classroom by eye color, designating the blue-eyed children, for example, as less deserving and the brown eyed children as more deserving.  Privileges and treats were doled out according to eye color and after lunch, the designation was changed---blue eyed children were the deserving group and brown-eyed kids were less deserving.  

It was a dramatic way of showing the ways physical appearance can be stigmatizing and it was maybe too effective, as children reported the abuse and name-calling they experienced when they were the less-deserving kids and the more deserving children were observed relishing their opportunity to abuse and harass the others.  This technique, of course, varies in its success, depending on the skill and empathy of the teacher!

Imagine the training that Black and Brown and Jewish parents must give their kids, the warnings about staying in line, not disobeying the limitations of their caste, and at the same time, encouraging them to get education, to strive for excellence, without fear and always knowing that fear for their children is part of the equation.

What training did our parents give us?  My well-meaning parents gave me the standard lessons for girls:  don’t date certain boys, keep your knees together, keep the doors locked on the car, that sort of thing---pretty mild compared to what Black parents, for example, have to teach their children.

The world has changed, yes, and perhaps things are a bit better than they were in the 50’s and 60’s in America, but when the attempted coup by angry Trump supporters occurred 10 days ago, it became clear that we are still fighting the battle to establish in this country a multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy.

We are further realizing that this has never been successfully achieved in our history.  It is a shining goal, an ambition we may not have considered possible in the past but now see as essential, if democracy is to survive and prosper in our nation.

I read a blog weekly by an organization led by Darren Walker, its president.  On January 7, he wrote this, which I will read in closing:


I have long believed that inequality is the greatest threat to justice—and, the corollary, that white supremacy is the greatest threat to democracy. But what has become clear during recent weeks—and all the more apparent yesterday—is that the converse is also true: Democracy is the greatest threat to white supremacy.


As the inimitable, incisive Isabel Wilkerson Tweeted in real time, “we have seen caste in action.”


I, too, cannot see yesterday’s insurrection as anything other than the latest chapter in a long, dispiriting, exhausting history. And yet, from this very same history, I also—perhaps, paradoxically—draw hope.


I’m hopeful because, from our founding contradiction, we have emerged a freer, fairer nation. All too slowly, all too unevenly, all too imperfectly—and at far too high a cost—we, the people, have struggled to root out the strand of white supremacy in our country’s DNA.


Our founding aspirations were just that: aspirations. It’s been the work of generations—from Frederick Douglass and Fannie Lou Hamer to Harriet Tubman and Bayard Rustin—to realize these aspirations. And while much remains to be done, and undone, I believe we can emerge—and are emerging—a more unified, more equal, more just, more American America.


Yes, the ideal of democracy is the greatest threat to the ideology of white supremacy; neither can long endure in the presence of the other. That is why today—and every day—we must renew our commitment to protect our democratic values and institutions from all enemies, foreign and domestic, especially those falsely disguised as patriots.


Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer, followed by our closing song.


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 what we have heard today and looking for the evil traces of caste in the situations we observe and read about.  May we be vigilant in eliminating those caste expectations from our lives and may we continue to do all we can to make the world a safer place for our blossoming multicultural, multiracial democracy.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.



Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Birth of Ms. Kitty

When I was married, we had an old VW bus in which we traversed Colorado and parts west and east.  My husband loved the idea of communicating with the semi drivers who plied the interstates, so he bought a CB radio for the bus and we all decided on our CB "handles". 

I think Larry was Silver Bullet, our son Mike was the Midnight Bullet (I could be wrong---maybe he'll correct me), and I, riffing on the old Gunsmoke TV show, decided I would be Ms. Kitty.  This moniker was a slight dig at my husband who once complained that the term "Ms." meant manuscript.  You might be able to tell he was an English major.

In any case, after we split up amicably, we shared the bus and the boy, and I entered a whole new stage of life.  My mother had suggested I look into joining Mensa as a way of making new friends.  I hadn't given much thought to the early years when my being a brainiac in high school had invited some of those hated nicknames, but she persisted and I took the IQ test and qualified for Mensahood.

As I got acquainted with other nerds (whose chief attraction was that they thought I was funny--not funny-looking or weird, but that they laughed at my jokes), I discovered that when they heard the nickname Ms. Kitty, they loved it! 

All these new friends immediately recognized the updating of Amanda Blake, the Miss Kitty of Gunsmoke and the apparent paramour of Sheriff Matt Dillon.  I became Ms. Kitty of Denver Mile High Mensa.  Not exactly a saloon, but we did spend a certain amount of time on bar stools after meetings and at TGIFs.

Ms. Kitty became a persona for me, over time, a persona that had to be set aside during my ministry studies and the 20 years I spent in ministry.  I was essentially celibate for those 25 years and continue with that approach to new friends, being the "A" in the sexual minority alphabet, where, in my case, it stands for both Ally and asexual.  I'm past caring about having a sexual partner.  I just want friends who laugh at my jokes.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

What's in a Name?

When, in 1958, I came home from high school Baptist summer camp having decided to change my nickname from Betsy (from Elizabeth) to Kit (from nothing other than it was alliterative with my surname Ketcham) and announced this to my family, I blithely thought they had taken it in stride, a phase in the life of their eldest daughter who was beginning to show signs of flying the coop.

But the truth was that I was sick of being Betsy.  Betsy sounded so immature, a pigtailed persona with pimples.  Betsy Ketcham was too easy a name to turn into semi-insulting taunts:  Ketchup, Ketchy Belchum, Betsy Wetsy, Catgut, Ketcham and Kissum, and the like.

I had learned from my dad not to rise to the bait but to laugh off the slurs rather than to get mad or hurt.  He had learned this trick as a teenager who was 6'6", 140 pounds soaking wet, and teased unmercifully as a result.  So I coped, but when I went to college, I had made up my mind:  my family could still call me Betsy, but to everyone else, I was going to be Kit.

This transition was hard on my parents, who loved the name Elizabeth and had bestowed the nickname Betsy at birth.  They still called me Betsy, even in public where my fellow college chums could hear, and my sister was miffed because I had a lot of nicknames at my disposal, like Beth and Liza, and wasn't using them.  She didn't see what was so bad about Lizzie, but I did, and I wasn't going there either.  She had a very normal name with few nickname alternatives and she was peeved that she had very little to work with.

My brother had been given a difficult name himself, named for my father and our maternal grandfather, both of these names a mouthful and always requiring an explanation, both of their origin and how to spell them.  He has grown into his difficult name and wears it proudly these days, as far as I can tell.

Now, as an adult about to achieve my 78th birthday, I have been Kit for 61 years.  Kit, of course, has its own set of take-offs:  Kit Karson, Kitty, Kitsy, and the inevitable question arises---is your real name Kathleen?  I didn't really avoid much unnecessary attention by becoming Kit.  I still, in some circles, enjoy the moniker "Ms. Kitty", as you'll see from the name of my blog.




Thursday, April 30, 2020

Missing Real Contact with Friends

It struck me this morning in the middle of my 7th week of quarantine that what is getting me down these days is the lack of real contact with friends.  Yes, there's Facebook and email and Messenger and the phone, but there's no hugging, no coffees or lunches together, no singing together, no long conversations marked by laughter or tears, no cooking for guests, none of the deep normal pleasures of friendships both longtime and new.

As an extrovert with introvert tendencies, I can attest that I love the quietness, the solitude, the time to work on projects uninterrupted, the occasional sit-down at a distance with somebody equally wary about safe distance.  All these are important parts of my quarantined life and I am grateful.

But since I retired, I've had the chance to meet new friends, friends I'm not professionally connected to, friends who bring newness into my life, friends to sing with, to let down my hair with, to allow to know me more deeply than most others, to be my real self with, not the professional persona of ministry.

These (mostly women) friends have been the greatest gifts of retirement for me and I have loved the time spent with them over a glass of wine or cup of coffee, a meal, a jam session, a walk, a conversation that frequently erupted into gales of laughter, a chance to hug and be hugged, a sense of being nourished by a friendship.  Not joined at the hip but ready to meet and replenish the wells of responsible living that are easily drained down by our obligations.

Most of my friendships seem to be online or on-phone these days and I am longing for the day when I can see friends face to face, hug them, laugh with them out loud instead of with emojis.  I'm not planning to resist the rest of the quarantine but I sure will celebrate it when it comes.

Friends are clearly a lifeline for me, especially with family members far away.  This experience has made me so aware of my friendships and how important they are.  I am grateful.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Murder on the Riverwalk?

MURDER ON THE RIVERWALK?
Kit Ketcham
August 2018

         It started out innocently enough a few months ago, I swear.  I’d been hooked on the idea of a murder since my Gearhart days, wondering if it was worth the effort, worth the expense, worth the public condemnation, worth the possible repercussions, as I’d heard warnings of all of these.
         You won’t be able to quit, they told me.  You’ll get dependent on the thrill.  You’ll spend your hard-earned pennies on setting the stage, wooing the victims, arranging the set-up and following through.  Once you set things in motion, you have to continue, mindful of the enemies you may make and the friends you may lose.  And the victim may seek revenge.
         My early attempts in Gearhart were spotty and unsatisfying.  The set-up proved to be illusory, too hard to get the target to cooperate, and once I did get a feeble effort underway, I ended up moving to Astoria and having to bunch the whole deal.
         But I moved to Alderbrook in Astoria, to a spot near enough to the Riverwalk that it might be possible to pull off a murder without attracting too much attention.  So I brooded and I watched and I listened, familiarizing myself with my new environment, its challenges and its advantages.
         There’s lots of open space in the natural area, lots of trees, plenty of cover, and, early in the morning, not too many intruders on my intended territory.  The path seemed a perfect surface—easily picked clean of other debris, easy to spot the lure of the bait from the alders and willows, where my intended prey seemed to lurk.
         So I began to set the trap.  Each morning I’d fill a baggie full of bait, stuffing it in a pocket on the other side of the doggie biscuits I always carry.  If I saw an intended target, I’d make a great show of turning around and flinging my mysterious lures in the air, making sure that my motions would be easily spotted and the bait clearly visible on the path.
         The problem was that other people like to use the Riverwalk as well, so I had to conceal my murderous impulses and often make polite conversation with runners, bikers, dog walkers, and the occasional derelict sleeping on the Lewis and Clark bench.  So efforts were again spotty, with all the interruptions, but it was so clear that there was a population hungry for opportunities to group up and take chances on a mysterious snack from my hands.
         And then suddenly my potential victims did not show up at the accustomed time.  No raucous greetings, no swish of garb, no noisy thank you’s, no chatter amongst themselves.  What had happened?  Did the weather keep them away?  Had they sensed a threat?  I did see them in the distance, nearer the water, but not a one approached me and my baggie.
         They had posed for a photo earlier in the week.  I was eager to see that enthusiastic crowd again.  Was I being shunned?  How many individuals does it take to create a murder?
         Would 15 do it?  How about 25?  You be the judge.  Was there a murder on the Riverwalk

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Post-College Musical Memories Part III.

After college graduation in May 1963, I spent the summer at the American Baptist Assembly grounds in Green Lake, WI, as an ice cream shop clerk, immediately gaining back all the weight I'd lost just before my senior year.

That summer, musically, was kind of like Baptist summer camp, with songfests weekly around a campfire, a little choir drummed up by the music director, and a review of a lot of Sunday School songs dressed up by the changed voices of the boys who were once sopranos and had, over time, become tenors and basses.

I'd been urged to come by a sort-of boyfriend who was part of a musical quartet invited to provide worship service music.  The romance cooled shortly after we arrived at Green Lake, but the music continued in staff housing and in theatrical productions.  And it took on a distinctive social-justice flavor. 

The South was tumultuous in the summer of 1963 and the issues of voting rights for black people, unions for blue collar workers, and women's reproductive rights were part of our cultural milieu, even far far north of the Southern states.  And the songs of social upheaval were what we sang around the campfires and after hours.

At the end of the summer, I returned to my parents' home in small town Washington, as I had no job prospects, and attempted to get back in step with conservative theologies and hymnody.  But I had learned enough about more progressive hymn writers and modern theologies of freedom that I craved music other than what we always had sung in my dad's churches.

I accepted the invitation to lead the junior choir, where I could make my own choices about songs to teach them and felt daring as I chose less traditional Christmas and Easter songs for them to sing.  Not that "I wonder as I wander" is particularly daring in itself, but it does push the envelope a bit, though it was irresistible to even the most hidebound mama in the congregation when her angelic Ruthie sang the plaintive verses in a sweet, pure soprano.

A job came along and I let someone else lead the junior choir, as I explored the new freedom of living away from home for a full year, living in the Columbia River Gorge in a tiny apartment and serving a small WA county's welfare recipients.  No music, except for records, but I did join the Columbia Record Club where you could select several records for a dollar and just pay postage.

I remember that I discovered the Swingle Singers, Norman Luboff Choir, Robert Shaw Chorale, and played and replayed the two albums our college choir had recorded during my years at Linfield.  But there wasn't much radio reception in Stevenson WA, just upriver from Bonneville Dam, so it was records or nothing until I went either to Portland (downriver) or back up to Goldendale (upriver) where reception was better.

After 18 months of serving welfare recipients in the very backwoods of rural Washington, I had a chance to move to Denver CO to be a program worker at the Denver Christian Center, and that will be a story for another day.