On the Island

Reflections – by Carolyn A. Kerr – SG2 Chapel Service

Do you have a “rock” that you cling to? A solid rock? A spiritual rock? A talisman, a memory that acts as a guidepost and helps keep you on solid footing?

My “rocks” include my human and feline families (my cats Apple Cobbler and Lucie Louise), close personal friends, my church family, Star Island and, of course, my Star Island family. Like the rock on which the Chapel sits, my rocks are solid, immovable, and permanent.

But this last year I felt some of my rocks crumbling.  My mother, Harriet Kerr Swenson, died on August 23, 2019, two weeks after I returned from the Star Gathering 2 conference. Some of you may remember when I had many frantic telephone calls with medical personnel at Concord Hospital and with my brother (shoaler and former Pelican) from the East Porch of the Oceanic Hotel and on various island hot spots. Mom’s nurse practitioner at the health center where she was temporarily staying called me on Monday, two days after I arrived on Star. Mom’s ARNP sent mom, alone, in an ambulance to the ER because mom couldn’t swallow. Mom apparently didn’t complain because of her gentle nature and, in fact, she wanted to tip the ambulance driver for his help, but she forgot her purse. That’s my mom.

Mom had emergency abdominal surgery. Her physicians encouraged me to remain on Star Island until the conference was over because they felt mom would be sleeping most of the time. She made it very clear the morning I left for Star Island that she wanted me to be on Star Island with my Star family.  It was a hard decision to stay on Star and yet also an easy one, because I know how much Star Island meant to both of us, it enabled her to picture me there where she could no longer go, and it is our spirit’s home.  My brother, Bill, visited mom daily and I also spoke with her nurses regularly.

Initially panicked because I was far away and, let’s face it, I couldn’t swim to shore to hitch a ride to the hospital, I texted our minister Carlos. I asked him if he had any time to stop by the hospital during the week to check on Mom. Like mom, I don’t like to bother people to ask for favors, but I figured mom’s solo visit to the ER merited a ministerial call.  It was a priceless gift when Carlos texted me a selfie of Mom and Carlos smiling in her ER room. So concerned and focused on Mom’s care, I was surprised to hear from Carlos that Mom, an old Shoaler, wanted to know if I was having a good time on Star.

I left Star Island on Saturday August 10 and drove directly to the hospital to be with Mom. On Friday, August 23, less than 2 weeks later, she was gone.

My dad, Rev. William I. Kerr, died of cancer on August 24 many years earlier, two weeks after our usual family Star vacation. A coincidence or the unseen magic of Star Island?

Mom and Dad first brought my siblings Bill, Laurie and me to the UCC conferences on the old rugged wood boat – the Viking Sun? – in the late 1960’s. I still remember the boat crashing through the waves with our luggage on the bow of the boat. In spite of admonitions to stay away from the edge of the boat as it ploughed through the waves, I delighted in getting drenched with heavy spray from the waves as we headed to Star.  My parents took a huge risk bringing a young family of five to a small bit of land 8 miles out to sea to spend a week with a bunch of religious folks they didn’t know. What if the conference was full of religious fanatics? What if we needed or wanted to leave quickly? What a risk!!! But what a grand reward it was and continues to be.

Dad was slated to be the chaplain his last summer.  Instead, he left Mass General Hospital, where he was dying, to spend a little more time on Star Island to say good-bye to close Star family and friends. With his doctor’s blessing and the help of several Star friends, he made the trip on whichever Viking boat was the least seaworthy one stormy August evening. It seemed like everyone on the island was on the Pier to greet him when he disembarked in his wheelchair. There wasn’t a dry eye to be had. He was in a lot of pain, but he had made it to his rock, his touchstone, to his family and to Star island, his spirit’s home.  He had to leave a few days later but he had, indeed, come back one last time. His wish was fulfilled.

Mom wished to come to Star again last year, but she was unable to do so. She was in rehab working on increasing her strength using her walker when I left her on August 3 and with dreams of seeing Star again. She was determined, fierce and focused.

This year I grieve the loss of my mother and my father, who both created a spiritual home for my extended (four generations) family. I cannot imagine my life without Star Island in it. I also grieve at not being able to get to Star this year to see my Rock, my Star family, my spiritual home, when I feel I need it so badly. The last time I was there I was overseeing mom’s care from afar and this year I wanted and needed time to reflect, relax and breathe.  I am grateful I was surrounded by my Star family during mom’s medical odyssey last year and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support.

But this is not the end of Star Island or our conference. This is, I must believe, a temporary impasse, an unexpected break, a space that we will reflect upon later.  I plan to return to Star Island, my spiritual home, next year. Like mom, I am fierce and determined.

Are we all grieving?  Yes, but let’s also express our gratitude for this rich Star community, where nothing can destroy our foundation. This Rock, this place, this Star Island. What a gift it has been and will continue to be for me and for you, too, I hope.

So, until we meet again, I ask you to find a small rock, a pebble, a talisman, an icon, any sort of a symbol representative of Star Island. Keep this item with you and reflect on what Star Island means to you during the coming year.  Bring the talisman when you return next summer. We’ll have a basket in the hotel lobby where we will hold these items to share and reflect on in the Oceanic Hotel lobby.

We will come back!

Amen.

 

Carolyn A. Kerr

Star Gathering 2

August 2020

On the Island

Regatta Reflections

Today would have been the 11th Annual Gosport Regatta, our beloved community event in partnership with the Piscataqua Sailing Association. We are reminiscing about sailboats on the horizon, an amazing BBQ feast, kites flying high in the air by the Oceanic Hotel, and lively music on the front porch. ⭐️🎉
We would like to gratefully recognize the dedicated Gosport Regatta sponsors who generously continued their support for Star Island this year even though the Regatta was cancelled. Thank you Ambit Engineering, Cambridge Trust Company, Five Maples Development Communications, McLane Middleton P.A., and Underwood Engineers for your steadfast partnership! ⛵️⚓️⭐️

Shoaler Voices

Art Challenge: Paint from a Picture

We asked and you answered! We’re excited to share the results of our ART CHALLENGE: Paint from a Picture. Special thanks to Chris Volpe and Anna Birch for inspiring this activity with their own art and to all the Shoalers who participated in their own ways. We hope you enjoy this gallery of unique and beautiful Star Island themed artwork.

On the Island

Painting Star Island from a Photo, A Step-by-Step with Chris Volpe

I chose this photo because I like the composition – it has plenty of contrast and perspective, interesting texture and shape variations, and it hints strongly at the characteristic rocky, haphazard terrain of Star and the Shoals. That’s what I love about the Shoals, that elemental disorder. The great American novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne described it like this: “It is as if some of the massive materials of the world remained superfluous after the Creator had finished, and were carelessly thrown down here, where the millionth part of them emerge from the sea, and in the course of thousands of years have become partially bestrewn with a little soil.”

From the outset, I decided this would be a fairly straightforward, traditional landscape painted in the prevailing neo-Impressionist style favored by most the of contemporary landscape and plein air painters pushing around paint in America today.

I’ll break the process into five steps:

1. The sketch
2. Painting in the sky
3. Blocking in the darks
4. Adding the lights
5. Putting in the details, adjusting the values, and adding finishing touches

Step 1. Drawing a sketch. I chose to start this painting with a rapid sketch (probably took all of 1-2 minutes). I find it’s helpful for getting the overall composition right at the outset. It’s said every painting lives or dies in the first 15 minutes, and it’s because of the design – nothing can fix a painting with a weak underlying abstract architecture. Here I’ve departed from the photo in lots of ways, but the main things are three: 1. I added diagonal lines from the bottom right foreground to lead the eye in to the design. 2. I connected the islands to the land mass – I have a rule that everything in a painting connects, usually accomplished by connecting “the darks” (shadows, etc.) and 3. I flatted out the picture plane a little so the rocks in the foreground spill out into the left-hand corner of the foreground, again in a leading-in diagonal, to keep the eye moving and to prevent the composition from getting static. I’ll be making similar diagonals in the sky too.

To do the sketch, I used a ragged brush (so I can’t get too fussy) and mixture of burnt umber (brown) and ultramarine blue thinned with Gamsol (odorless turpentine substitute).

Here’s the completed sketch:

Step 2. Painting the sky. Next thing I did was paint in the sky. Note the diagonals, again, on both the right and left hand sides of the picture. I don’t always put in the sky first, but sometimes it does seem to help you know how light or dark to make the adjacent land or ocean masses (this is known as “gauging your values”. It’s also encouraging to get a good sky done – you feel like, with a good sky, you’re off to a good start and maybe this painting will be a success after all.

The sky colors are ultramarine and Prussian blue mixed with Titanium white and a smidge of yellow ochre. I applied the blue layer first, rather thinly, with a brush, and then dragged a thicker quantity of light yellow pigment over top of it with the side of my palette knife.

Note how the sky gets lighter and lighter as it nears the horizon, until it’s almost just yellow-white. Skies do that, and it gives your middle-ground sufficient contrast if you keep the sky from being too dark.

Step 3. Blocking in the shadows. Next I blocked in the shadows with a darker version (more blue this time) of the same blue-brown mixture I used in the initial sketch. This is where I really think about design and creating a clear and interesting / dynamic path for the eye through the painting. I consciously try to connect the darks, so that no part of the composition is stranded, something I learned from studying Japanese prints. This is also the reason I tucked the islands behind the land mass in the upper right, so they would literally connect to the rest of the darks.

Step 4. Adding the lights. In oil painting, one generally starts with the darks and works up to the lights (the opposite of how one approaches a watercolor). I painted the rocks and the grass right over the shadows, adjusting details as I went. The grass I painted mostly with a brush, the rocks I did with the edge of the palette knife. I used an array of greens, mixed to the warm side and broken up in Impressionist fashion with flecks of ochre, violet, brown-green and blue-green. Green is notoriously hard to handle in painting because it can look too hard and bright for its own good.

I felt like the “real” painting was finished at this point – it was “saying” what I had intended the painting to “say,” which was to tell about the massive pieces of creation “carelessly thrown down here” by God, as Hawthorne put it. The outline of the rocks differs considerably from the photo; I deliberately paid more attention to the “jagged” feeling I was getting into the rocks than to the factual topography of that portion of Star – at some point I stopped looking at the photo and just worked those shapes with the palette knife until they expressed the feeling I wanted, Later I would go back and adjust a couple angles and add a very few factual details from the photo just to make sure it was still that spot on Star. Artists have to lie to tell the truth.

I added a sprinkling of sunlight along the rim of the near slope and painted in the sea. I put in a few more details and added highlights here and there with brighter, higher-keyed touches in the grass and the stones. I had to must the brightness of the rocks in a few place so that at no point were they a higher value (brighter) than the sky. I also re-darkened shadows in some spots, most importantly in the bottom right corner, where they’d somehow gotten too light during the grass-painting phase.

This was, I thought, finished, until I noticed that the water in the foreground is brighter (higher value) than some of the clouds, which besides being unnatural makes the painting seem relatively dull. I needed to go back into that area and add darker values of the same colors, and when I did, I realized I wanted to then adjust the value of the ocean in the background too.

Here is the finished painting. Again, the colors are different from those in the photo of course, because it was more important to me to get a particular feeling into the painting than to copy the original exactly, which was a bit too dull, gray, and cold for the mood I wanted. I wanted a warmer, more buoyant, uplifting feeling (without becoming cliché), and I feel that I got enough of that to satisfy me while also conveying that rough-edged primordial beauty which was the original reason and impetus for painting the picture in the first place.

You can see more of my work at www.christophervolpe.com, where you can also enquire about classes and workshops, check out my blog, and sign up to receive an intermittent newsletter with new work and stories from the wild and woolly world of contemporary art.

On the Island

Choose to Bless the World by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker

This piece is an excerpt from It Is Time Now: Offerings from the Beloved Community Project, an educational resource produced in 2019 as part of Star Island’s Beloved Community Project. The Star Island Beloved Community Project is a journey SIC has begun as an organization to create a more inclusive and intentional community, to help spread more empathy and understanding in the world, and to become a more welcoming place for all people. We recognize and affirm that many have been on this journey for a long time, and we are excited to listen and learn as we continue on this important journey.

Your gifts—whatever you discover them to be—
can be used to bless or curse the world.

The mind’s power,
the strength of the hands,
the reaches of the heart,
the gift of speaking, listening, imagining, seeing, waiting

Any of these can serve to feed the hungry,
bind up wounds,
welcome the stranger,
praise what is sacred,
do the work of justice
or offer love.

Any of these can draw down the prison door,
hoard bread,
abandon the poor,
obscure what is holy,
comply with injustice
or withhold love.

You must answer this question:
What will you do with your gifts?

Choose to bless the world.

The choice to bless the world is more than an act of will,
a moving forward into the world
with the intention to do good.

It is an act of recognition,
a confession of surprise,
a grateful acknowledgment
that in the midst of a broken world
unspeakable beauty, grace and mystery abide.

There is an embrace of kindness
that encompasses all life, even yours.

And while there is injustice, anesthetization, or evil
there moves a holy disturbance,
a benevolent rage,
a revolutionary love,
protesting, urging, insisting
that which is sacred will not be defiled.

Those who bless the world live their life
as a gesture of thanks
for this beauty
and this rage.

The choice to bless the world can take you into solitude
to search for the sources
of power and grace;
native wisdom, healing, and liberation.

More, the choice will draw you into community,
the endeavor shared,
the heritage passed on,
the companionship of struggle,
the importance of keeping faith,

the life of ritual and praise,
the comfort of human friendship,
the company of earth
the chorus of life welcoming you.

None of us alone can save the world.
Together—that is another possibility, waiting.

On the Island

What Makes You Come Alive? By Rev. Chris Jablonski

This piece is an excerpt from It Is Time Now: Offerings from the Beloved Community Project, an educational resource produced in 2019 as part of Star Island’s Beloved Community Project. The Star Island Beloved Community Project is a journey SIC has begun as an organization to create a more inclusive and intentional community, to help spread more empathy and understanding in the world, and to become a more welcoming place for all people. We recognize and affirm that many have been on this journey for a long time, and we are excited to listen and learn as we continue on this important journey.

I love this quote from Howard Thurman,

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go and do that, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”

This has been a guiding light idea in my ministry. I see part of my purpose as helping people come alive. I see part of my purpose as helping our communities come alive.

I believe that this aliveness is contagious. The more we come alive, the more we abet aliveness in one another and in the communities we create.

And I mention it here because I think that sometimes when we ask how can my church, or my conference, or my community, embrace these ideas and practices of the Beloved Community, sometimes we can think of what our church needs. We can think, oh, my conference could be so Beloved if only… if only…

Whereas, I think, perhaps we could ask, “What would make my conference come alive?” Or “When have I felt my community most alive?” And go and do that. Build on that aliveness and allow that aliveness to pull you into deeper connection, clearer purpose and more authentic joy.

So what makes you come alive?

On the Island

A message from the leadership of the International Affairs Conference

The International Affairs conference is a family/multigenerational conference which chooses a theme with an international focus for its week. Themes have ranged from those on the environment such as the Oceans, or on global education or global politics and US influence. Speakers who are experts on the topic provide daily morning presentations with robust discussion and insights. There is a staffed daily children’s program that is one of the reasons many young families keep coming back. The children are divided by age group and each group has two trained group leader who supervises age appropriate activities daily. Our IA follies is renowned for its artistic presentations, from whimsical to musical. Other activities during the week include Art Barn, Yoga tours to Smuttynose and Appledore. We also have intergenerational dance and book discussion.

Our multigenerational atmosphere means we get three generation families, as well as young families, and single attendees and all are able to enjoy the diverse range of programming.

This year we are having Virtual IA week starting on Saturday, July 25th to Friday July 31st. Our events during the week include a presentation by Dr. Daniel Griffin, an Infectious Disease and Global Health expert who will present on the Pandemic. Dr. Griffin was recently on a PBS documentary which looked at the US early response to the pandemic. Other activities include morning music, children’s activities, social hour, book discussion and various workshops. Check out our daily activities for the week.

On the Island

Letter to My Fellow UU Humanists by Rev. Patrice Curtis

This piece is an excerpt from It Is Time Now: Offerings from the Beloved Community Project, an educational resource produced in 2019 as part of Star Island’s Beloved Community Project. The Star Island Beloved Community Project is a journey SIC has begun as an organization to create a more inclusive and intentional community, to help spread more empathy and understanding in the world, and to become a more welcoming place for all people. We recognize and affirm that many have been on this journey for a long time, and we are excited to listen and learn as we continue on this important journey.

 

Dear Fellow UU Humanists,

This letter is to you the humanist who does not believe in God, or Gods. You may also call yourself an atheist or non-theist or something else altogether. No matter; what you believe in is that from goodness and glory and compassion and love, we people can create a community of true beloveds on earth. If this is you, your dream, I invite you to read on in the spirit of a heart-to-heart conversation, and not scholarly commentary.

I am going to take it as a given that as a humanist you believe you have great power within you (though no more so than any other person). This does not mean you are not humble, nor that you are full of your own ego (though you may be seduced by this darkness from time to time). I am also going to take it as a given that we have won a rightful place in the family of religious and spiritual beliefs to follow our own paths of open-heartedness; no one will be successful in silencing us as “nonbelievers” and indeed, we may now choose to be identified as what we are, rather than what we are not (but that is for another time).

Now, then, is the time for us to take the energy we have used to proclaim “we are here” and instead use it to claim a place with others who are building a beloved community.

To consider this, we need to face some truths. We must admit that though we are powerful, we have not activated that power for good. It is true we have accomplished good in the world: slavery is no longer legal anywhere (yet it continues to flourish as modern-day sailor slaves and sex-trafficked women and children; and through migrant workers who pick our fruits and vegetables). We are partially to blame for the manmade island of a disgusting and growing pile of plastic human detritus, now floating in the Pacific Ocean.

We have turned our backs against the possibility of a supernatural force that will save us from any of this and worse; that will save us from ourselves, or from each other. We have thrown our lot in with each other. We are left, powerfully, with the simple idea that we must get busy if we want to see a different world than the one we have now. In other words, upon our shoulders is the weight of the human world.

We must therefore vow to see the best in each other. If you are white, male, financially comfortable, and educated, this will be easiest; indeed, you may have never thought about what it would be like to have to believe in humanism day after day in the face of evidence to the contrary. Imagine moving through a city of people who point at or avert their eyes from your hijab; or question why you wear your kinked and wild hair high like a crown rather than smoothed down flat; or have strangers stare, rudely, then ask what you are, either implicitly or with malice attempting to strip you of your humanity; or have your body parts grabbed in a subway, on a bus, or at a party.

How do we live this faith in humanity? We might do so by honoring and learning from the strength of humanists who, in the face of racist and misogynist cuts day after day after day, still yet awaken in the mornings renewing their humanist vows. The Beloved Community means all are centered.

My people, my dear humanists, my central thought is this: you and I have chosen a long, and hard, and potentially incredibly enriching road to walk. The tasks needed to reach our destination of a Beloved Community are mine, and yours, to do.

It is up to us to provide fishes and loaves, and clean water. It is up to us to provide good health care and to clothe each other; to clean up our environment; to treat well our neighbors and colleagues and co-congregants, the ones we dislike too; and more. Disregarding the Bible does not mean we get to disregard the reported words of that social justice activist, Jesus of Nazareth. Rather, we have chosen to take the weight of his charge to create Beloved Community upon our own shoulders, to hold our heads high, to be willing to be poked with thorns when we speak truth to power.

We also must acknowledge that some of us will be poked with the biggest thorns, while some will be treated with such deference that the thorns never come. If you have been gifted with such deference, then I wish to demand of you that you use that power to make a discernible difference with a greater number of people than someone who must fight their way simply to survive.

We have fallen, are falling short; yet we have not fallen catastrophically. Hope is alive. We can see it in our movement, though at the moment we chafe at change. We will get there when we find a way to center all voices equally. That seems to mean decentering voices currently taking up all the space in the middle to create space for other voices or finding a way to make that middle larger.

In close, dear ones, we have considered the capacities humans desire in and from God, and have chosen to have faith that humans can offer the same to each other, such as grace; forgiveness for the most heinous evil acts (while holding evil-doers accountable); kindness to all things and people unconditionally; love to those who are different; and more. You may see God as myth, as do I, but we must admit, acknowledge, and embrace that those desires attributed to living in covenant with a god resonate as some of humanity’s deepest desires. May our humanist faith give us strength to help build the Beloved Community.

Yours in the struggle,
Patrice

On the Island

Beloved Community: a Credo by Rev. Eric Cherry

This piece is an excerpt from It Is Time Now: Offerings from the Beloved Community Project, an educational resource produced in 2019 as part of Star Island’s Beloved Community Project. The Star Island Beloved Community Project is a journey SIC has begun as an organization to create a more inclusive and intentional community, to help spread more empathy and understanding in the world, and to become a more welcoming place for all people. We recognize and affirm that many have been on this journey for a long time, and we are excited to listen and learn as we continue on this important journey.

 

I believe in original sin, in the sense that human sinning has no lack of originality and that it is entrenched in institutions and systems.

I believe in original blessing, too, and the power of creativity which builds and strengthens goodness, beauty, harmony and recovery—and the potential for more.

I believe suffering from sin is inescapable for the sinner, and most people experience this in larger measure than appearances suggest.

I believe suffering inflicted upon others by sin is evil incarnated.

I believe responsibility for the pain, injury and trauma inflicted on others by sins committed—and by culpability—requires more spiritual attention and accountability than is commonly given.

I believe in universal salvation, not because a peaceful eternity is easily earned or deserved, but because God’s love is at work and that strong.

I believe in grace.
I believe that grace requires honest confession.
I believe that everyone, yes, everyone, needs more confession and grace.

I believe in prayer.
I believe in the power of penitential prayer.
I believe in the power of righteously angry prayer.
I believe that prayer changes people, or it isn’t prayer at all.

I believe in absolution—in the same way that I believe in reconciliation, forgiveness, and mercy.
I believe absolution requires hard, hard, hard work—the journey of a lifetime.
I believe the past is not changed through absolution, only the future, sometimes the generation to come.
And, I believe being an obstacle or diversion to someone’s absolution path counters God’s work and love.

I believe in Beloved Community, and not just eschatologically.

But…

But, I don’t believe the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, the peaceable kingdom, or Beloved Community. Though, I would like to.
I hope someday I will.

Instead…
I believe the curve of the moral arc of the universe is shaped and re-shaped by:

Original sin
Original blessing
Confession
Grace
Prayer
Penitence
And Absolution

I believe religious communities and their sacred, sacred, sacred places can be reformed so that they remain sanctuaries—though too often of privilege—but also convents for the blessing and absolution path for all.

And,

I believe, this is one way in which Beloved Community becomes.

On the Island

Oscar Gets a New Coat

Oscar the Cod wind vane was born in 1859, a commission by the people of Gosport to both commemorate the long tradition of cod fishing and to provide a means of indicating prevailing winds. He was mounted on a wooden tower, which was blown over in 1892. The vane was damaged, bending the tail. At this time, he was repaired, regilded, and reshipped (mounted) on a new, stronger stone tower built by Oscar Laighton. Oscar stolidly remained in place, a symbol of pride and practical service. He was repaired again in 1931, and restored and regilded in 1947. In 1974, he was unshipped and sent in again to Portsmouth to patch bullet holes (a common fate of wind vanes). This repair was workmanlike, but Oscar was painted bronze by an autobody shop.

Oscar continued to serve and delight mariners and visitors, but by 2009, he began to show problems. He would occasionally freeze, and the top of the “S” directional was broken. Being unable to turn freely also caused uneven weathering, and put a strain on his tail and the mast he rested on.

In the summer of 2018, Oscar was again unshipped, and returned to Portsmouth for a complete restoration. Long time Shoaler and third generation blacksmith Tom Coleman began a complete restoration. The star and directional were disintegrated, and replicated in a more durable marine bronze. Oscar’s tail was straightened, and he was again patched, cleaned, holes filled, and painted. Finally, he was gilded in triple 24 karat gold leaf, restoring him to his full 1859 glory.

Today, Oscar has been reshipped to his rightful place on the newly rebuilt chapel steeple, high above Gosport and Star, to delight and serve more generations of Shoalers. Shine On, Oscar, Good and Faithful Friend!