Category Archives: Uncategorized

A gift from my sister Madeleine

This small clay plaque was designed by Michael Macone of Spooner Creek Designs in Wisconsin. What a thoughtful gift! It became the focus of my meditation today. For the photo I set it on my meditation cushion. These seven decades of my life are full of things I did for multiple reasons. Perhaps you’ll add your thought in the comments.

  • Life happens and I had to deal.
  • Sometimes the doing was to make it through to the other side of grief.
  • Sometimes I followed the plan laid out before me, such as credits toward graduations at various educational levels, or raising boys who are now wonderful men.
  • Sometimes I accepted assignments without a clue as to how to proceed, but believed it could be done.
  • Given a title brought an expectation to perform in that role.
  • Long-term goals required taking one more step.
  • Mistakes along every path at least were not fatal!
  • I learned from a friend that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly–that perfection is the enemy of “good enough.”
  • From my earliest memories, I listened more than I talked. I’ve learned that I thrive best when solitude and quiet fill part of every day.
  • Most of all, love has guided my life, and helped me believe I could even when I didn’t know how to do it.
  • By the age of 3 I had been taught the God is Love–the kind of love that surrounds us, transcends us, transforms us, heals us.

Here’s my prayer for today.

God of Infinite Love, thank you for loving me and believing in me when I didn’t think I deserved it. I didn’t need to earn it after all. I just had to want love and to stumble toward it in my desire for wholeness. Human love disappoints. We all fall short of what our closest friends and family need. God of Love is our image of highest power. Let love show the way toward the beautiful, true, and good. Amen

She Believed

Language Barrier!


I’m in Japan for two whole weeks to visit my son Rob Nugen and his wife Lin Hayashi. Rob has been here for 14 years; it doesn’t look like he’ll be moving back to the States!

Lin left the house this morning to go to her real estate job. Rob went out twice today to teach some English classes. Now Lin’s Mama is home from work before either of the others is home. Mama knows a few words of English, but I know ever so few words in Japanese. Konnichiwa, arigato, hai (hello, thank you, yes or okay)–that’s about it. It seems that I knew a little bit more on my previous visit in 2011 but it’s gone now.

Mama and I made do with an English to Japanese (or vice versa) translator on my iPad. Ah! the joys of modern technology. Frustrating at times, but quite useful otherwise.

See what I mean?


Wisdom from Thoreau


There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or the hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and summachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flittered noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance.

This is an excerpt from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, an invitation for us to spend some time alone in reverie, preferably outside. That’s where I have been for part of this beautiful day, walking or just sitting in the shade on this sunny, cool day in Austin, TX. Birds, trees, wisteria in bloom, sunshine, and breeze graced my solitude amidst distant noises of the neighborhood. All of Walden Pond is here in this moment, and in you.

If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal–that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. . . . The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little stardust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.

May you enjoy sunshine, stardust, and rainbows of joy.

I Don’t Know A Damn Thing About Black Lives


Remarkable post, enhanced by audio from Bomani Jones, important links, and video of Rev. Martin Luther King. Thanks, Kellye. Truth.

The Boeskool

A few days ago, the Nashville chapter of Black Lives Matter was told they couldn’t use the space at the Nashville Public Library to hold their meetings anymore. The reasoning behind this decision was because someone complained when they found out that the meeting was only open to “People of Color.” My initial reaction when I heard about this story was one basically this: “Wait a second… You mean that the Black Lives Matter folks are DISCRIMINATING against white people?!? That’s NOT okay.” Because I care about black lives. I’m one of the “enlightened” ones. I consider myself an “ally.” I want to help. And now you’re having a meeting and you’re telling me I’M NOT INVITED?? Just because I’m white? That’s not FAIR. And  I started cycling through the Martin Luther King, Jr., quotes that I have in my head… Like a dip shit… Thinking to myself, “What…

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Prayerful Questions



I wrote this before the horrid news from Orlando. Mass shooting, chaos, emergency responders, blood donors, prayer vigils. Love is Love, I say, but sometimes it is hard to hold on to that.

For the following, I offer credit to Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki, In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1996)

What is the purpose of prayer?

How could God pay attention to such insignificant creatures?

Are we just talking to ourselves, our inner wise spirit?

How do we know prayer is communication with God?

How do we know that it’s God?

Questions take us deeper into faith

. . . away from belief in our beliefs

. . . to believe in a God who is more than our beliefs can say.

It is possible for a good prayer not to address anyone by name. After yoga classes with Jogi Bhagat, he closes with prayers and we repeat each line after him.

May all be happy.

May all be healthy.

May there be no distress on earth.

May there be peace everywhere.

May all our actions lead us to make this happen.

May it be so.

Religious Terrorism meets Religious Liberalism


Well said, Krista.

And the stones shall cry

This past Sunday, something pretty scary happened at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans (First UUNO).  Operation Save America, a fundamentalist anti-abortion organization that is known for descending upon abortion clinics and making life a living hell for anyone coming or going, chose to land in one of our congregations.  Several members of OSA showed up at First UUNO as if there to attend worship, and during the service stood up and began verbally accosting the worshippers and pushing anti-abortion pamphlets into their hands.

I don’t think they were prepared for what followed.  That Sunday, First UUNO was commissioning the College of Social Justice youth leaders who had been gathering all week.  The youth leaders immediately circled in and began singing.  Rev. De Vandiver, a New Orleans-based Community Minister who was leading worship that morning, asked the protesters to please respect the worship space and if they couldn’t…

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Shelter from the Storm (a sermon on domestic violence)


Shelter from the Storm

Rev. Kathleen Ellis

First Unitarian Universalist Church

Houston, TX

March 23, 2014



Today’s topic may be challenging to you. It is for me. But I begin with these words of hope from Iain Thomas [frequently attributed to Kurt Vonnegut in error]:

“Be soft.  Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

For my whole life I have lived in a house or a trailer or an apartment—I’ve been lucky that way. My parents did all the work of moving when I was a kid—first when I was less than a year old, and again after 2nd grade when we moved into a big 2-story house for our family of six. That’s where we stayed until I left to go to college. As an adult, every time I move it takes a while to unpack boxes and get used to the new space. One of the best parts is to decide where to hang favorite pictures. THEN it feels more like home.

Home is a place to relax and recuperate from the stress of work and school. We can offer hospitality to invited guests; we can fill it with good food, art, music, laughter, and tears. We can raise children and pets in a safe environment. As long as we have four walls and a roof, we’ll have shelter from wind and rain, heat and cold.

Many of us enjoy the image of home as described by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young—“Our house is a very, very, very fine house, with two cats in the yard. Life used to be so hard, now everything is easy ‘cause of you.” Or the one sung by Madness: “Our house, in the middle of our street . . .” I hope you have wonderful memories of home and a comfortable place to call home today.

However, for this sermon I want to touch on a painful subject—the times when home is not safe for one or more of the residents. Every family is a little bit dysfunctional, I guess, since families are made of real people who get tired and cranky and take it out on the ones we love.

Some homes … are downright dangerous. When a family member is abusive, the rest of the family experiences trauma. I lived in such a home as a child. Even though we had a lot of good times, there was a secret trauma eating away at our innocence.

I am a survivor. I escaped the worst of the abuse, but all of us kids grew up terrified of our father. By the time I was a year old, he had begun molesting my eldest sister Madeleine, who was 9 years old. Two years later, he started in on our sister Jean, when she was 8.

When I was 8 years old, he made me touch him and I remember how scared I was. He must have seen the terrified look on my face. Nothing more happened after that, probably because the only way to get to my bedroom was by passing through another sister’s bedroom.

All four of us were subject to emotional abuse. His nicknames for us were degrading: Moldy, Mildew, Fungus, and Rancid. I was Fungus. Our little brother Hall, otherwise known as Rancid, was physically abused. I watched when Daddy threw him against the wall, just like he kicked my purse across the room when it was in his way, and just like his cruelty to the family dog.

We coped. Madeleine became the perfect child who excelled at everything. Jean became the defiant child who resisted every rule in the house. I learned to disappear and escape notice. Hall became paranoid schizophrenic. Our mother was probably afraid of Daddy’s anger, too. At any rate, she was unable to protect us from his wrath.

How could she not know what was going on? Well, WE didn’t tell anyone because Daddy said if we told, something bad would happen. He never said what that would be, but to a kid, it means that someone will die. So we didn’t tell her. We didn’t tell any trusted adults. We were afraid of the unknown, and filled with shame and embarrassment. In the usual scheme of things, when we got in trouble with our mother and she would tell our dad, he would dish out more punishment, so why make it worse?

Instead, we focused on the good times, especially when Daddy was at work or out of town. Other relatives were patient with us and loved us to pieces. We joined the church choir, and Scout troops, and learned that even school and homework provided an outlet. For years I was in denial of my own trauma. “It wasn’t that bad,” I told myself and others. No bones were broken, no dishes were thrown, and I didn’t know how bad it was for my sisters until I was almost 30 years old.

When we left home we were safe. It took time and effort to live into Iaian Thomas’s words: “Be soft.  Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

Establishing safety is the first step toward recovery from trauma. My sisters and I all had good therapy. We had friends who helped us draw on our strengths to overcome fear and anxiety. When we married and started raising children we were determined not to tolerate an abusive environment.

To teach my sons how to manage anger when they were young, I stuffed an old sock full of old socks, knotted the end and let them use that to beat the tar out of the bed or the floor. Our younger son liked to kick the floor, so his dad made a padded stool covered in Naugahyde. Then when the boys were old enough we taught them to chop wood. It is so satisfying to swing an axe and hear the wood split. And we collected plenty of wood for the fireplace. We taught them from early on that “people are not for hitting.”

With my experience of childhood abuse and my experience in raising children without it, I took a job with the Montgomery County, TX, Women’s Center Shelter as a Resident Advocate. The work was all-encompassing. We fielded phone calls from frightened women, met them at a restaurant, brought them and their children to the shelter, and did the intake interviews and oversaw their progress toward an independent living situation.

We taught parenting skills like how to discipline children without hitting, because that was against shelter rules. We built partnerships with other community organizations and referred residents to them. We taught children how to play cooperative games. We established a support group for former residents. All of us learned about the Cycle of Violence.

At the first stage of a simple 4-part Cycle of Violence, all is calm. No abuse is taking place. It’s like a honeymoon of delight.

Second stage, stress enters the home. Tensions rise and communication is sharper and meaner. The victim becomes fearful and tries to placate the abuser.

Third stage, there’s an explosive incident. It may involve verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. There are threats and intimidation, anger, blaming, and argument. That may sound like a fairly normal day! The difference is that in an abusive situation, the explosion is way out of proportion to any incident that triggered it.

Fourth stage, after the blowup, the abuser apologizes and gives excuses. There are escalating defense mechanisms:

  • It never happened.
  • The victim lied.
  • The victim exaggerated.
  • The victim brought it on.
  • It will never happen again.
  • It’s time to forget the past and move on.

Typically, the family does move on, right back to the stage of calm equilibrium, unless there is a major intervention.

A bystander is at a huge disadvantage, especially if she or he knows both the victim and the perpetrator. Given their different stories, it’s hard to know who to believe. It’s easier to look the other way—it’s not our business and things are going smoothly now. The victim may also participate in the denial, often out of fear, so how could we argue with that?

The perpetrator depends on bystanders. The victim hopes that things will be better … THIS time. Instead, it usually escalates and gets worse the next time unless there is significant intervention.

My work at the shelter taught me a lot about the dynamics of domestic violence. For one thing, it really does cross boundaries of income level, ethnic background, and sexual orientation.  Statistics tell us that

  • 70% of batterers also abuse their children
  • 75% of batterers witnessed abuse between their parents
  • 50% of batterers experienced abuse themselves as children

Domestic violence is carried out predominantly by men, but I personally know two women who use violence against their partners. Men tend to underreport because they don’t want to be seen as weak and vulnerable. As a result 90% of battering is ascribed to men, who are strong and powerful in society and in the home.

Sometimes people are so vulnerable that they make poor choices and become re-victimized. Some people move happily into new relationships and discover too late that the partner is gradually becoming more and more oppressive.

According to Jeff Temple in the Houston Chronicle, “Last year and the year before, the Harris County District Attorney’s office filed more than 10,500 cases of domestic violence.”[i]

Not only that, in every church I’ve served, including this one, there have been cases of domestic violence that were reported directly to me in confidence.  And even though these men and women have experienced physical or sexual violence, it is the emotional abuse that has the most devastating impact. It boils down to power and control.

Abusers might say that you can never do anything right; discourage you from seeing friends or family members; control every penny, take your money or refuse to give you money for expenses; control who you see, where you go, or what you do; intimidate you with fist, knife, gun, or other weapons; or cause actual physical injury. The list goes on. Why don’t they just leave? Here’s what a survivor posted on her blog:

“Why don’t we just leave? Because we’re afraid of the perpetrator’s cruelty, violence, and punishments, and because we feel defeated.

. . . “Why don’t we just leave? It’s because our batterers are cruel and will punish us and our kids, and because we’re afraid. They’ve made us feel helpless and worthless, and we believe them. I used to believe what he told me: that everything was my fault, that I was disgusting and nobody would ever want me, that I would lose my children and become penniless if I left him, that I was stupid and crazy and pathetic and worse. But he was wrong!

“For those women who are still living with your abuser, start thinking “Liar!” every time he insults or blames you. The truth is that you deserve a better life! If I could change my life and transform myself from victim to victor, you can, too!”[ii]

What can a congregation do? You have already been reminded of the problem, its pervasive nature in our own communities and churches, and the cycle of violence. You may know that we provide space at the Museum District Campus for a Batterers Intervention & Prevention Program.

Our teachers know about mandatory reporting of any suspected child abuse. Some of you are engaged in Growth Groups and other small groups in which you can share the stress of your lives. You have a resource list inside your order of service. You may choose to consult with a minister who can guide you to resources that you or a friend may need.

Judith Herman, who wrote Trauma and Recovery, says that multiple populations suffer post-traumatic stress. These include rape survivors, combat veterans, political prisoners, survivors of vast concentration camps created by tyrants, and survivors of private concentration camps created by tyrants in their own homes.

Recovery takes time for survivors. They need to find safety first. They need to reconstruct their story bit by bit as they begin to reconnect fragments of memories. They need to restore connections to their community and feel as though they belong. They need, finally, to restore their faith in life’s purpose and meaning. Often they find meaning in working to help other survivors. When I hear stories of abuse and trauma, I can understand some of the factors that come to bear. I know that recovery is possible.

The hardships of your life may leave you stronger but they may also leave scars and hollow places. These may be the very reason that you can listen to difficult stories and help one another restore connections.

“A house is a home when it shelters the body and comforts the soul,” said Phillip Moffitt. May the interior of your home be a shelter from the storm.


[i] Jeff Temple, “Violence against women hurts us all,” Houston Chronicle, March 9, 2014,

[ii] Lisa Moss, “Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?” The National Domestic Violence Hotline Blog, March 3, 2011,

Domestic Violence: Help Is Near!

National Hotline: or 800-799-7233

Houston Area Women’s Center: / 713-528-2121

Ft. Bend County Women’s Center: / 281-344-5750

How to Stay Safe in an Abusive Environment

  • Computer use and cell phone use can be monitored; try the public library.
  • Find Home Page of, click on Get Help, then click on Path to Safety.
  • Look for the Escape Key on each hotline page to exit immediately. Find and test it first.
  • Memorize the hotline number; don’t leave it lying around on paper.
  • Leave a small bag of essentials at the friend’s home, such as

o   copies of important documents

o   prepaid cell phone

 In the event of escape, turn your regular cell phone off and travel in a friend’s car.

 How Some Abusers Learn to Handle Anger

  • Tell yourself to calm down. Slowly repeat gentle phrases to yourself like “take it easy,” “cool off,” or whatever works for you.
  • Force yourself to leave the situation. Take a time out, walk away, and avoid coming back too soon. Take a walk or go for a run.
  • Use visualization to calm down. Close your eyes and picture yourself in your favorite place.
  • Count to 10 (or 50… or 100) if you feel like you’re about to do or say something harmful.
  • Splash some cold water on your face.
  • Slow down and focus on your breathing. Inhale slowly through your nose and slowly out through your mouth.
  • Phone a friend or family member who can lend an ear and calm you down.Replace negative, angry thoughts with positive, rational ones. Getting angry won’t fix the way that you’re feeling.
  • Learn to communicate with others in a healthy way.
  • Enter a Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP)