Adventures in travel, music, and ministry

Fill in the Blank

The summer of 2014 and into early 2015 have brought national and international deaths by violence. Every day some part of the world is wracked by violence over which most of us have little control. In that context I offer this reflection:

Anxious, agitated,

Uncertain, unclear, unsure–

The latest news about (fill in the blank) breaks my heart. I am a woman of privilege who was born into a middle class white family in a white neighborhood. Life has not been completely rosy. Childhood abuse, the deaths of loved ones, divorce, and depression were usually followed by therapy or medication–another sign of privilege for sure, since I had to belong a system that made remedies available, affordable, and acceptable to my cultural group. For less serious anxieties I learned meditation.  Benefits arose from paying attention to my breath and to the present moment. I could regain equilibrium and go on about my business.

But watch the news;  see how fast social media churn up nastiness and ignorance;  witness insults and put-downs pawned off as humor. No amount of meditation makes it go away. War, jihad, racism, bullying, systems of oppression all seem impossible to address. What can I do anyway?

Then I remember the children and adults who have no choice but to do something for survival. They have no choice but to live inside a system that’s designed to keep them silent and out of sight.

  • Teachers and students kidnapped or killed because they value education.
  • Families in underground bunkers because of bombs that level neighborhoods.
  • Domestic partners and children abused by those who claim to love them.
  • Minorities threatened and killed because of skin color, religion, or national origin.
  • Refugees who cross borders to escape war or financial ruin.
  • (Fill in the blank.)

History repeats itself and all we can do is wring our hands? NO! That’s not good enough!

If I am remotely worthy of the privilege gained by my white skin and U.S. citizenship, I can stand up; speak out; swap safety for courage. It’s time to step forward in solidarity with those who have no choice.

Fergus McInnes


Her brother has disappeared in Switzerland.

Originally posted on Lorna's Tearoom Delights:

By brother, Fergus McInnes, went missing in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday 9 September 2014.

He was due to attend a work conference in the Swiss town of Martigny the following day, and to meet his colleagues that evening for a meal.

He boarded the 09:35 EasyJet flight at Edinburgh airport and was seen on CCTV in Geneva airport around 13:00, where he bought a train ticket that we believe was a return to Martigny.

Nothing has been seen of him since.

He did not arrive at the meeting point that evening to go for a meal, he did not check into his hotel room and he did not appear at the conference. He also failed to catch his return flight to Edinburgh on 11 September.

His mobile phone has not been switched on since he switched it off for the flight, nor has he checked his emails since the morning of…

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La Sagrada Família has been under construction since 1882. It is an expiatory cathedral, meaning that is has been paid entirely by donations–built by the people, not the Church. Though the work was begun by a diocesan architect, Antoni Gaudí was commissioned in 1883 to carry out the project. To quote from the website, “Gaudí himself said: ‘The expiatory church of La Sagrada Família is made by the people and is mirrored in them. It is a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.'” He devoted himself to this project for the rest of his life (1926) and even lived on site for the last few years of his life. In 1926 he was hit by a tram and died 3 days later from serious injuries. Architects since then have been carrying out his original plans. Latest projection is to complete the work by 2060 (but the date gets pushed back on a regular basis).

Gaudí left his mark all over Barcelona, primarily in architecture, but also in planning and landscaping, designing furniture.

My camera couldn’t capture the grandeur, so I invite you to check out the slide show on the official website. You can select the language of your choice from a dropdown list. Even better is a virtual tour. A congregation worships there in a side chapel. Hundreds of tourists come through the sanctuary on a daily basis. Definitely worth the ticket price!

Here are a few pictures I took. I chose one that shows construction cranes on one side. The door, covered with leaves of ivy, also hosts various other insects such as a praying mantis. Gaudí  wanted to acknowledge the creatures that had been displaced by construction. The geometrical shapes were in a demonstration area to show construction techniques.

The final one is an actual workshop (unoccupied when we were there) where contemporary artisans make molds for today’s construction. Gaudí had built his workshop on site and used the most modern of techniques to make construction easier and safer for workers.

A Day in Barcelona

On our way to southern France, my husband Jon and I met my sister Madeleine and her husband Dick in Barcelona for a couple of nights. None of us had never been to Spain, and we all loved it. Dick speaks Spanish fluently (he’s an interpreter), Madeleine does well from their trips to Mexico; Jon and I have a few words and phrases that came to us like answers to a crossword puzzle.

We did lot of walking that first day, including a visit to the Catedral de Barcelona and the History Museum of Barcelona. The museum is built over excavations of Roman ruins. Conquerors would simply build over existing structures. These included wine making, fabric dyeing, and fish preparation. Very interesting to see and well curated.

After a late lunch and a siesta, we walked on the famous pedestrian boulevard called La Rambla all the way to the waterfront. We stopped at a market on the way back for apples and oranges.

Can Culleretes is a recommended restaurant that was established in 1786, an impressive 228 years ago. Food and service were excellent. Barcelona is a beautiful city where I would love to spend more time someday. Friends who have been there love it, too.

Can Culleretes


Well said, Krista.

Originally posted on 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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A Move in Progress

Boxes and lists surround me couple of weeks before I move

from my Houston apartment back to my house in Austin.


Obviously the days of this month are diminishing, but new items on the lists continue to appear. Not everything will be accomplished in the end; something will be left undone or left behind in one form or another.

Mainly I want to clear my schedule as much as possible for goodbyes. First Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston ( is full of wonderful people. They are smart, funny, kind, friendly, wise, creative and many other positive attributes.

Yesterday I wrote about 2/3 of my final sermon here, to deliver on July 27. So soon!

Then there will be a farewell party hosted by the members and staff. I anticipate tears and laughter as we share what’s on our hearts. In just under 2 years we have changed each other. We have made indelible memories that have filled me with gratitude.

The weekly commute became too much to continue for another year. Husband, friends, and family await my permanent return. To rest, to plan our trip to Barcelona and the Canal du Midi in southern France, and to contemplate the next chapter in my life–those are my 3 primary goals. Perhaps more blogging, too!


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)
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