I was given the task to write the homily for today’s service. Our consulting minister, Dan Kane, provided me with an excellent guideline for what he was going to write. He wanted to focus, as he wrote, “...on Palm Sunday and how Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem ended up very differently from how everyone thought it would be...”.
I woke up on Thursday morning with the knowledge that someone would need to write the homily because Dan couldn’t be here with us today. I thought about how much these walls have seen of heartache and joys throughout the years this building has been here. I said to myself that morning “I won’t volunteer because I’ve got too much to do already.” Then, of course, during a conference call I found the words “I’ll do it. I’ll write the homily!” escape from my mouth like so many marbles from a mischievous 7-year-old boy’s tin box.
I started my search for information about this building on Thursday night over the Internet. I first found information about Kelseyville. It is located 6 miles southeast of Lakeport, at an elevation of 1384 feet. “Okay”, I thought, a good factual start. Then I learned that this place was originally called Kelsey Town in honor of Andrew Kelsey, described as the first “American” settler in Lake County. He was killed in 1850 in an uprising against him by a band of Pomo natives who had been enslaved by him. This episode ended with the Bloody Island Massacre. Did you know that Kelseyville was once called Uncle Sam after Mount Uncle Sam (now Mount Konocti)? The Uncle Sam post office opened in 1858 and changed its name to Kelseyville in 1882.
I then discovered that the Methodist Episcopal Church South was the pioneer church within the bounds of Lake County, having been organized in a schoolhouse in Big Valley in 1857. The original Kelseyville church, where this building is located, was built in 1870.
“Hold on. Backup!” I said, to the historical train in my head. What was this about Andrew Kelsey? I heard stories and read snippets of Kelsey’s excesses before, but had not paid much attention to them until Thursday night. One of the most well-known and tragic events in Northern California's history is called the Bloody Island Massacre. It occurred on May 15, 1850 on an island on Clear Lake. That is where nearly 500 Pomo Indians were reportedly murdered by Andrew Kelsey's relatives, his business partners, and the US Army. This was in revenge for what is arguably the justifiable killing of Kelsey by Pomo warriors earlier.
I read all this in a book entitled “History Of Mendocino and Lake Counties Callifornia” by Aurelius O. Carpenter and Percy H. Millberry written in 1914. “Wow!”, I thought, “Holy, ending up very differently from where you thought you would be!” I was going to follow Dan’s suggestions tying Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with fulfilling our vision for a spiritual home but I ended up knee deep in the murky history of this place we call Kelseyville. Now, by the way, I am of the opinion that we should change the name of this town to something else. I’m not certain that “Uncle Sam” would be best, but I think almost any other name would be an improvement.
My original thought was to speak about how the very ground we walk on... the stones and sticks and dirt of a place, resonates with our psychic energy. Then I was going to move on from there to talk about how the walls of the two church buildings erected on this location have been imbued with spiritual energy that has made this place hallowed ground.
But I cannot simply move on from stone and dirt. The historical train in my head cannot rush past the scenery to some brighter place without bearing witness to the profound injustices done in this area. “But why is this place so different from countless other locations where terrible things were done?” you might ask. The answer shouts out from the very ground where we are... “Because they were done here, and because this is where our church is, and because this is where we claim sacred space with our Methodist brothers and sisters, and because this is where we Unitarian Universalists must entirely commit ourselves to our beliefs and we must rededicate this building to the principle of respect for every being on our planet!!”
My dear friends, Martin Luther King, Jr. said “Without justice there can be no peace. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.” Today we gather to honor the people who built this place of peace, justice, hope, charity, healing, and transformation. Our Methodist sisters and brothers, who have so fiercely fought on the ramparts of justice and equity with us, now share their home with us. From this place we spiritual roommates can dramatically expand our capacity to minister to those who are wounded by humanity’s inhumanity.
In a thousand years it may be possible to read the history of this place locked deep in the molecules of the ground that has been sweated and bled upon. In the future, people will read the accounts of what we do here, in this place, at this time. They may discover that the title of this homily is “A House of Hope, Healing, and Transformation”. For the sake of our children and their children’s children, let that be so! Let them understand that, while we Unitarian Universalists may not have been able to change the name of this town, we changed its heart. We worked to transform our world through the power of reason and the revolutionary force of radical love. Let them understand that we persisted — through bigotry, hatred, fear, intolerance, and ignorance — to finally heal our world. Let them understand that ours was a legacy of hope and peace for all people.
And finally, let us hope that future generations do not only judge our congregation by the amazing growth we experienced, or the tremendous pioneering innovations we made to ensure that religious organizations like ours can remain a vibrant and relevant force in the lives of people in a desperately needing world. But, let us hope that future generations reading the molecular psychic structure of the buildings that we have imbued with our passion, and our commitment, and our energy, and our love for one another still find them white hot!
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!