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Wash, Pray, Love

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

What does “love your neighbor as yourself” look like today?

The economic fall-out from the Great Hunkering is taking a particularly heavy toll on small businesses, especially those in which human contact is inevitable. The profit margins for restaurants, hair salons, small shops and bookstores can be pretty slim; a sharp decrease in appointments and foot traffic may be catastrophic.

How to help?

If you’ve got favorite shops and restaurants you are reluctantly refraining from visiting in these microphobic days, buying gift certificates (to use yourself, or give as gifts) and pre-paying for your next haircut or pedicure are, in effect, small interest-free loans that not only may help to maintain the economic health of both businesses and communities, but are also good for morale—the store owner’s and yours, affirming that this too shall pass.

A friend, knowing I need reminders, texted: Hey, Kate! Don’t forget to pray. Don’t forget to wash your hands for 20 seconds.


Did the math, and as it turns out, it takes me just a bit over 20 seconds to say the St. Francis’ Prayer.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Pray-n-wash, my friends!

Grace For the Naughty And Nice!

Thursday, December 19th, 2019

By Rev Kate Braestrup

When preaching for my local United Church of Christ congregation, I generally “preach from the lectionary,” meaning that I read and meditate upon the Bible verses assigned for that week by the denomination and offer the sermon thereby sparked.

It is an opportunity to work within boundaries that are different from those operating at a Unitarian Universalist church, boundaries that are refreshingly explicit as well as challenging.

Sunday before last, the congregation heard the story of John the Baptist, anticipating the coming of Christ as told in Matthew 3:1-12.

John the Baptist does not describe the Messiah — his cousin Jesus — as a mellow, non-judgemental sort of guy.

Quite the opposite. Dunking the repentant in the Jordan River, clad in hairy camel-skins, bits of locust stuck between his teeth, John threatens the self-satisfied and complacent with what you might call some serious personal climate change.

The story — repent! — is strangely juxtaposed to the seasonal happenings in the church. Over in the Sunday-school classroom, the children are practicing their Nativity pageant… the decor committee has been congratulated for the lovely evergreen garland looped about the choir loft…Repent! This, too, is part of the charm of preaching from the lectionary: In two weeks, Baby Jesus will emerge from the womb, and maybe just for the morning we’re to picture him with a teeny-weeny winnowing fork clutched in one chubby fist and a pack of sinner-burning matches in the other.

But wait! Isn’t the angel going to say unto us — well, or at least unto the shepherds — “Fear Not?”

So which is it? Is Jesus coming to save mankind, or is he coming to cast us, like last year’s dried-out compost, into the unquenchable fire?

Which would you prefer?

I ask, because not too long ago I had an experience that cast light on our human resistance to unearned and unmerited salvation, our resistance to hope and grace.

canstockphoto16068421I’d come across a news article about an invention… which, because I’m not an engineer, I’ll just describe as a machine, capable of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This thing is actually in development and, as I recall, it is even expected to be operational within the next few years. Its makers don’t think it’s going to be particularly difficult to deploy or expensive to use.

After thinking it over, I decided that this was a fairly interesting and hopeful bit of news, so I brought it with me as a sort of hostess gift to the next holiday get-together.

“Guess what?” I said, to my hostess, an elegant and environmentally conscious woman. “I bring you tidings of great joy! Y’know how we’ve been belching out too many greenhouse gases? And because of that, the earth is heating up, the ice caps are melting, ecosystems are on the verge of collapse, and we’re all doomed? Well, it seems there are engineers who can fix that.” And I explained about the carbon dioxide removal machine.

There was a long silence.

“Well, That’s just great,” my hostess snorted. She did not sound joyful.

“Um…isn’t it?”

“You’re saying that Americans can just go right on living like we have been, using fossil fuels, driving gas guzzlers, overheating our houses, flying all over the planet…our capitalist consumerism, colonialist and patriarchal systems of oppression, all of it will just keep rolling along, consequence-free.”

“Well,” I said. “If it makes you feel any better, the Communist system of oppression will be able to keep rolling along consequence-free too? China can go right on being the world’s top CO2 contributor, burning dirty coal to its heart’s content. The machine will clean up after them. The coal-guzzling Germans and Danes too! And poor little Greta Thunberg can stop fretting and striking and giving spooky little speeches to the UN…she can have her dreams and her childhood back. She can get off that freaking sailboat and go back to school! Won’t that be wonderful?”

My hostess did not seem nearly as pleased as I thought she would be.

She seemed, instead, really irritated, despite the fact that she had just told me about planting a tree in her yard to make up for all the flights to Europe and the Caribbean she and her husband had been taking lately.

I’ve since had nearly-identical conversations with a number of people, who exhibited the same, reflexive disappointment.

“Fear not! For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy…” the angels sang out, “…for unto us is born this day, in the city of David, a savior which is Christ the King.”

And I wonder if there were, among the shepherds abiding in the fields watching over the flocks by night, one or two who huffed: “Well that’s just PEACHY. So all the sinners who’ve been properly afflicted with leprosy and blindness for their sins are just going to be cured, everybody’s going to heaven, no need to be ashamed, or rue the day, repent or dismantle …Just poof!~ Jesus fixed it!”

Unmerited grace can be surprisingly difficult to accept. After all, if an invention un-ravages the ravages of climate change, it is everyone who is going to be saved — the blithe, science-denying oil-company executive who has been commuting from the suburbs in her SUV will receive exactly as much salvation as the guy who has been conscientiously riding his bike. Come on! Is that fair?

The phenomenon of reflexive, soteriological stinginess would not come as a surprise to our Universalist Christian ancestors.

If what you really want is for a person to cease and desist in behaviors you consider sinful, let alone if you want an entire global system to be transformed, you’re not going to be happy if your primary argument for that transformation — change or die! — is taken away from you. Deny the reality of hell, and how do you keep your kid from growing up to be a liar, a cheat, an adulterer? Cure lung cancer and emphysema, and smokers don’t have to stop smoking… put Lipitor in the drinking water and we don’t have to stop snarfing french fries. I’ve had folks tell me that Narcan is undermining the best argument against drug abuse…which boils down to: Change or die!

If we aren’t going to die, if the earth isn’t going to be destroyed, if we aren’t headed for the unquenchable fire…we don’t have to change. Right?

Grace — unmerited, unearned — wasn’t received with much enthusiasm by Pharisees and Sadducees and their ilk, who imagined themselves blameless. In their case, it was by pedigree (“we are the children of Abraham”) but in our case, it’s our self-assurance that even if (yes, yes) we’re all sinners when it comes to climate change, you and I aren’t the real, worst sinners. Yes, we might fly out to California to visit the in-laws, fly down to Mexico for a destination Christmas, but we make big donations to the Environmental Defense Fund ! We offset!

So human beings are resistant to grace because we don’t want to think we need it.

Or, sometimes, because the wrong person is offering it to us — for instance, that rude guy in the camel hair coat.

But sometimes it’s because God’s love and grace extends to everyone and — let’s face it — our neighbors clearly don’t deserve it. I mean, look at them!

And yet it is grace we are given, today and every day, with miracles landing in our undeserving laps and the not-at-all unreasonable hope of more — of miracles we can’t imagine and already know we aren’t entitled to.

Let me offer you just a few, underreported yet very spiffy miracles from 2019:

NASA satellites have been watching as the world grows greener and lusher — more trees, more plants — over the last 20 years, especially in China and India, the countries with the largest human populations.
If all these green plants and that CO2 remover machine need more help to clean up the atmosphere, Israeli scientists have also genetically engineered an E. Coli bacteria that eats carbon dioxide.
Bald eagles, once very high up on the endangered species list, are now so plentiful that the San Bernardino National Forest officials aren’t bothering to keep track of them anymore, (go, eagles!) while a study unveiled in November says that humpback whales in the western South Atlantic region now number 24,900, give or take a pod — which is nearly 93 percent of their population size back before they were hunted almost to extinction (go, humpback whales!).
In 2018, Cambodia reported zero malaria-related deaths for the first time in the country’s history, and India reported a huge reduction as well — 2.6 million fewer in 2018 than in 2017.
There’s a new blood test on the way from one group of scientists that could detect breast cancer five years before other clinical signs manifest themselves, while a whole other group of scientists is developing a new treatment for early-stage breast cancer that could wipe out a growth in just one treatment.
Researchers at UC San Francisco have managed to transform human stem cells — derived from human fat, so no supply problems — into mature insulin-producing cells, a major breakthrough in the effort to cure Type 1 Diabetes.
And, in July, researchers for the first time successfully eliminated HIV from the DNA of infected mice, bringing them a giant step closer to curing the virus in humans.
All of that is pretty fine, isn’t it? More humpback whales and bald eagles, less breast cancer, malaria, a cure for AIDS… wouldn’t it be lovely if these became illnesses our grandchildren never even hear of?

But here and now, today, we fear these illnesses, don’t we? Some of us have gone through them ourselves, or remember people we’ve loved who suffered and were lost. They didn’t deserve their deaths. They died anyway. How can we possibly have earned the right to be spared?

There is so much in life that we don’t earn and can’t.

So much.

Deserving or not, ready or not, like it or not, here it comes: Salvation.

Sinners we may be, and yet the savior is born and miracles are happening: miracles so marvelous that any Bible-reader might be forgiven for glancing round, half-expecting to see a wolf dwelling at peace with the lamb, a lion and a yearling frolicking together. Why not? Stranger things are already happening.

In this, the advent season, the season of blessings, gratitude and peace, may we be generous with our hope, unstinting in our forgiveness and lavish with our love.


Oh, I Remember This…

Friday, January 19th, 2018

I just sent this video to all the past, present and future mothers on my list. It is an astonishingly high resolution video of a 20-week old fetus. She or he is wiggling around inside his/her mother’s body: Just watching it brought back, with visceral clarity, what it was like to have another, lively human being butting that round head against my diaphragm, or elbowing me in the ribs!

I included a note to my future daughter-in-law: My boy Peter was up to these rock-n-roll shenanigans 24/7 for the whole of his allotted forty-two weeks inside, though I think he might have had a cow bell and maybe some maracas in there too.

He was having such a good time in utero that he resented being born, and let his feelings on this score be known all over the hospital. Having discovered the joy of making very loud sounds with his mouth and lungs, he seemed to decide that extra-uterine existence wasn’t all that bad after all. Especially when he discovered that meals were part of the deal.

So he ate and shrieked and grew, and my Peter…well, your Peter now…has been entertaining us all for nearly thirty years.

Bless you!


Sunday, November 19th, 2017

My husband brings me coffee one recent morning, and as he hands me the cup he says “Kate, you’ve gone viral.”

A story I told for my favorite NPR show, the Moth Radio Hour, has been posted as a video online…and it has now received more than three million views.

Instantly I have an image of the little girl from the story. I take my first sip of coffee as, fifty miles away she waits at the end of her driveway for the school bus. A light rain falls. She doesn’t know that millions of people have now heard her story. She’s just standing there, in her raincoat, swinging her lunchbox. At last, the yellow bus comes lumbering along the wet street and comes to a stop, bright under the gray sky. The red lights flash, the doors fold open and the little girl climbs aboard.

Bless you, Sweetpea, and three million thanks. We are glad you share this world with us.

We Need To Talk!

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Dear Readers and Friends!

Many of you have confessed to sharing with me a certain frustration with the dismal state of American public discourse. However you describe it (“ideological bubbles” “political correctness” “sound and fury signifying nothing”) it is a problem nationally, within our communities and our churches, even within our own families.

Having spent a year or two cursing the darkness, I joined forces with my friend and co-conspirator Mel Pine to create a blog called <a href="" title="Truly Open Minds and Hearts". will still be the place to go to find out about my writing events and other news, but Mel and I hope that Truly Open Minds and Hearts (I call it To-moh or "Toe-Moe" in my mind) will serve as a genuinely inclusive platform for civil, fearless, friendly discussion about things that matter—to us, to you, to our country and our world.

We will begin by posting essays on topics of interest to us once a week or so, in the hope these will prove interesting enough to inspire comments and discussion. We proceed in the confidence that disagreement is not a disaster, and that the “ free and responsible search for truth and meaning” that has been the calling card of Unitarian Universalism is and ought to be a challenge. It is, nonetheless, worthwhile, indeed, crucial. Not to mention, dare we say it, fun!

To keep it fun, we’ve created and posted a Code of Conduct that all of us will endeavor to follow (keep it civil, play the person not the ball, no profanity, no shouting-in-CAPS…)

There will be worship resources (poems and prayers), links to articles on the world-wide web that caught our attention or challenged our minds, and —we fervently hope—your thoughts, ideas, poems, discoveries and stories.

Please consider pitching in—if you have something to say and especially if you have found yourself stymied and blocked of late, think about contributing to TOMOH.

There are instructions for proposing and submitting your stuff on the site.

Bless you all!

He’s Still A Drummer…

Friday, September 29th, 2017

My son’s Peter’s band, Five of the Eyes, is going on tour to promote their new (and already rave-reviewed) album “Venus Transit” and coming soon to a venue near you!

9/30 Portland House of music, 25 Temple St, Portland, ME 04101

10/13 Sherman Showcase, 522 Main St, Stroudsburg, PA 18360

10/14 Graperoom, 105 Grape St, Philadelphia, PA 19127

10/15 Whytestone Creative, 4903 Osage St, College Park, Maryland, MD 20740

10/17 Buzzbin, 331 Cleveland Ave NW, Canton, OH 44702

10/18 The Hub, 1209 Main St, Cincinnati, OH 45202

10/19 The Doom Room, McCarty Lane, Lafayette, IN 47905

10/20 Progtoberfest, Reggies, 2105 South State St, Chicago, IL 60616

10/23 Be Here Now, 505 N Dill St. Muncie, IN 47303

10/24 Evening Star, 8810 Niagara Falls Blvd Niagara Falls, New York, NY 14304

10/26 Radio Bean, 8-12 North Winooski Ave, Burlington, VT 05401

10/27 Uncharted, 103 Market St, Lowell, MA 01852

10/29 The Space, 295 Treadwell St, Hamden, CT 06514

Marriage Ends

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

Once upon a time, I was a parish minister and one of my elderly (90-ish) parishioners, “Sally,” was dying. I went to visit her in the hospital, finding her semi-comatose in her bed, surrounded by an encampment of family members and with her not-dying but very old and dignified husband beside her.

The husband—I’ll call him Fred— had not left his wife’s side for two days, sitting upright in a chair, holding her hand and refusing all invitations and entreaties to go home to bed, if not for the night then at least for a nap.

I suggested that if the Fred wouldn’t go to bed, maybe the bed could come to him? The nurse agreed. We found a cot and wedged it in between the wall and Sally’s bed. Upon discovering that the cot wasn’t high enough to allow Fred to be able to comfortably maintain his grip on Sally’s hand, we stacked another mattress on top. Fred clambered aboard this slightly precarious perch, lay down, took hold of Sally’s hand and grinned blissfully. 

I was standing at the foot of what was now—sort of—a double bed. I was dressed in clerical garb. Fred was still wearing his customary jacket and tie. Sally looked lovely in a white hospital gown draped in a white blanket. There were bouquets in the vicinity. 

“Yeesh, this looks like a wedding!” said one of the grandchildren.
Fred and Sally’s daughter’s eyes at once lit up. “That’s what we’re going to do! We’re going to have a wedding!” She ran out into the hall to collect stray grandchildren who had wandered away during the cot-moving exercise, roped in a few nurses’ aid and a doctor or two. One of the grandchildren strummed a guitar.

“In the presence of God and of this beloved congregation,” I performed a renewal of vows and, “by the power vested in me by the State of Maine” pronounced that Sally and Fred were still married. Fred kissed the bride, who smiled. 
Sally died the next morning. 

In the National Review Online, Wesley J. Smith has written an essay about the increase in “couples euthanasia” in European countries that have adopted an affirmative right to end your own life.

In a story guaranteed to evoke “ahhhs” from the sentimental and perhaps a recognizant twinge from anyone who is in love with his or her spouse, he describes an elderly couple who died “holding hands, surrounded by loved ones.” 

They were both 91, seriously old even by 21st century standards. 

“The couple’s daughter told The Gelderlander [translated]. “The geriatrician determined that our mother was still mentally competent. However, if our father were to die, she could become completely disoriented, ending up in a nursing home. “Something which she desperately did not want. Dying together was their deepest wish.”

When my first husband died, I had our four young children to think of, so the thought of joining Drew in death could not be entertained for long…but it definitely did occur. So I get the “deepest wish” thing, truly. 

Fred would get it, too, I think. After all, he had loved, honored and been faithful to Sally for sixty years, but even if their marriage had made them one flesh, they remained two souls and so they were parted by death.

And that sweet old Dutch couple in the story have been parted by death, too.

“Unless, of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions ‘on the further shore,’ pictured in entirely earthly terms,” C.S. Lewis wrote in his autobiographical A Grief Observed: “But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs. There’s not a word of it in the Bible. And it rings false. We know it couldn’t be like that. Reality never repeats.”

The notion that we can (let alone should) die together with our loved ones and then spend eternity in a celestial version of earthly reality is as absurd and, in its way, as selfish as the idea that we can take our money with us when we go. That the Dutch wife might become completely disoriented, might end up in a nursing home was not a reason for her to die in some sort of refined pharmaceutical sutteee.
For all her children’s sentimentalizing self-exculpation, the fact remains that a double-euthanasia has freed them from the duty (and, if only they could see it this way, the privilege) of comforting their mother through the grief that is the privilege of love. 

 “Et voila,” Smith writes. “…Before you know it, the children of elderly parents attend and celebrate their joint euthanasia killings–instead of urging them to remain alive and assuring them that they will be loved and cared for, come what may.” Euthanasia, he argues, inevitably corrupts our “perceptions of children’s obligations to aging parents and society’s duties toward their elderly members.”

It also extends an already-endemic and self-indulgent DiCaprio/Winslet identification of eros rather than agape with the highest, best manifestation of love.

A good friend and fine warden, Michael, demonstrated agape for me when his wife died. He was devastated. And yet, within minutes of her death, when a kind nurse at the hospital tried to tell him “she’ll always be with you,” Michael gently corrected her. “She is with God.”

For all my anguished yearning to somehow be with Drew after he died, he was with God. It was not possible for me to go with him nor for him to remain with me. Instead, it was my privilege to grieve for him and to carry his memory into the life he did not get to live.

I frequently assure my present husband that he is obliged to outlive me, but if Simon instead predeceases me, then as his (hopefully really aged) wife I will yield him into God’s embrace and mourn him fiercely, for whatever time is given me to live.

It is living on and loving more, not dying-too that honors love.
Fred, by the way, grieved strongly for his Sally. It hurt to lose her; it was—as C.S. Lewis would say—a kind of amputation. And yet, he lived on. Sure, he needed more help as he got even older. He moved in with his daughter and son-in-law… and then he started dating again.

My Boy’s Band and Maternal Inadequacy (Updated!)

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

I’m not a music person.

I’m just not.

Yes, I used to play the piano. Still do, when I happen across one, but otherwise? I barely even listen to music on the radio anymore.

I wouldn’t have said that my children’s dad was especially musical either, yet somehow we managed to produce Peter.


Who has been working on, working with, working toward music—specifically the drums—since he was about eleven years old.

Is he any good at it? I don’t know. Even when I do listen to the radio, I listen to classical (specifically Baroque). Left to my own devices, I would never listen to whatever it is that Peter’s band—Five of the Eyes— does. I know that when I go to hear his band play, I am mesmerized. All the wild energy that made Peter a challenging boy to have in the house or for that matter in one’s uterus (he was always Peter, right from the get-go!) make him compelling on stage, Or is that just maternal devotion talking?

Some of you, dear readers, must know about music. So I figured I’d provide this link to Five of the Eyes’ new album’s promo page and maybe those with ears to hear will understand him as his mother can’t.

Oh, by the way—there are two guys who look like Jesus in the band? Mine is the taller Jesus.

UPDATE: Their album has received some rave reviews, including one that described my son thus: Drummer extroardinaire Peter Griffith holds down the backbeat with his impeccable timing, precision playing and a Tazmanian Devil level of energy that propels the songs forward at a breakneck pace.

That’s my boy—a Tasmanian devil, right from conception.

Sermons and Events, Fall 2017

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017

Sunday, August 27 Sermon, Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Thursday, September 14th “Two Old Cops And An Angel” with Mark Nickerson and John Ford
Gray Library, Gray ME 6:30 pm
Sunday, September 17, Sermon, Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, September 24th Sermon, Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, October 8th Sermon Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, October 22nd Sermon Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, October 29 Sermon First Universalist Church of Pittsfield, ME
Sunday, November 19th Sermon Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church
Sunday, December 10 Sermon Lincolnville Center (ME) United Christian Church

Sermons and Talks, Spring ’17

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

Sunday, April 2, Lincolnville United Christian Church, Lincolnville, ME 9:30 AM
Saturday, April 8, Maynard Book Festival, Maynard (MA.) Public Library 3:30 PM
Sunday, April 16, Easter Service, First Universalist Church of Rockland, ME. 10 AM
Sunday, April 23, First Universalist Churches of West Paris and Norway, ME 9 and 11 AM
Sunday, May 7, Unitarian Universalist Church, Castine, ME 10:00 AM
Wednesday, June 7 Think and Drink Community Discussion Panel, Portland, ME 6:00 PM
Sunday, June 11 Lincolnville United Christian Church, Lincolnville, ME 9:30 AM
Sunday, June 18 First Universalist Church of Pittsfield, ME 9:30 AM
Sunday, July 16 First Universalist Church of Rockland, ME 10:00 AM