Sproing!

[Jesus said,] “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” – Luke 17:6

Look, Lord, I have faith!

Sproing!

You pointed at this mulberry tree, and look!

Sproing!

It’s gallivanting all about, prancing on the shore.
I know you said to tell it to take root, but look!
What eye could turn away from jigging roots
and twisting trunk, from limbs a-sweeping in the dance?

Sproing!

Now isn’t that great?

Sproing!

Jesus? Isn’t that good?

Sproing!

Look, Jesus, I admit that servants have to serve
and all, but look! A leaping tree!
The spray upon your cheek comes from its hula
in the waves!

Sproing!

What happened to, “Well done, my faithful one”
(now that I’ve demonstrated faith)?
What happened to, “Your faith has made you well” –
and in my case, not well, but great!

Sproing!

You really mean discipleship is not about
the majesty of miracle, but finds its roots
in gentler dance, in tender care,
in humble healing, and in righteousness?

Sproing!

All right, Jesus. Mulberry, take your place.
My place, it seems, is with
the cranky and demanding
healer.

A poem/prayer based on 17:5-10, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Proper 22 (27).

Photo of a mulberry branch by Luis Fernández García – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85431793.

Story: The Hardest Thing

September 25, 2022

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

They were an unusual collection of friends. They literally came from different parts of the world: from land, from sea, and from air, a mongoose, a honu, and a kolea. I don’t know how it first happened, but they’d developed the habit of taking a spot on a beach, with the honu pulled up in the sun, and the kolea looking for tidbits, and the mongoose taking a brief rest while the three talked story.

Today they were deciding what was the hardest thing.

“Rocks are the hardest thing,” shuddered the mongoose. “They hurt my paws sometimes, and a couple times when I wasn’t careful I knocked my head on one. Rocks are definitely the hardest thing.”

“Rocks are pretty hard,” agreed the honu, “but they also make nice shelter when the waves are high. You just nestle in behind them.”

“I fell into water once,” said the kolea. “I have to say it was pretty hard.”

“That’s right,” said the honu. “Water is the hardest thing. When the waves are crashing over me or the undercurrent is pulling me away from the beach, I’m grateful for the rocks. They don’t do that.”

“You haven’t tried the air,” said the kolea. “That’s a hard thing for sure. This last flight here to Hawai’i Island, I wasn’t sure I’d make it. We flew into winds that just blew us back and back and back. I can’t imagine anything harder than that.”

The three of them thought about this for a good long time, tossing in more examples of how rocks and water and air were hard things, when the honu said, “I’m hungry.” His two friends agreed.

They were about to split up to find dinner, when the mongoose said, “Wait just a moment. Wait just a moment and let’s think about this moment.

“Do either of you know that you’ll find food? I mean, absolutely know?”

The honu and the kolea admitted that they didn’t, although the kolea took a quick look around for a handy bug before saying so.

“In this moment, we’re all hungry, we all need food, right? And none of us are certain that we’ll find it.”

“Yes,” said the honu, “but we hope we’ll find it.”

“Right,” said the kolea, “we hope we’ll find it.”

“But isn’t this the hardest thing?” asked the mongoose. “We know what we need now and we don’t know if we can find it – not for certain. We hope we will… but doesn’t that make hope the hardest thing?”

That’s how a mongoose, a kolea, and a honu discovered that hope – that time we spend between realizing what we need and finding what we need – is, indeed, the hardest thing. Hope carries us from one to the other, but it may not be an easy journey, and it’s harder than high winds or strong waves or a solid rock.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

In the video above, the story was told from memory of this manuscript. Between gaps of memory and flashes of inspiration, the two are not the same.

Photo of a honu (before the arrival of a mongoose or a kolea) by Eric Anderson.

Go Buy a Field

“For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.'” – Jeremiah 32:15

O, Jeremiah, what a run you’ve had.

God called you in your youth,
a prophet to the nations,
destroyer, overthrower,
whose words would bring the powerful down.

So to a people well assured
their safety and their righteousness
were beyond query, you announced
they’d changed their fountains for a leaky cistern.

You spoke your words to Baruch’s pen,
to read before the king and summon him
and all the nation to repent, reform, renew.
At king’s command your words were shriveled in the flame.

From summons to reform you turned to warning,
warning of disaster unavoidable,
while all this time the guilty prospered,
and the linen loincloth festered in the earth.

You languished in the stocks and raised your plaint
to God, whose flaming word would not relent
within you, making you a laughingstock
and grieving that you’d lived your life.

You watched your city fall, its leaders hauled
away and into exile, a monarch’s uncle crowned
as client king, and knew (as who would not)
that folly’s day of triumph still was yet to come.

And now, confined by royal order in
the palace guard, invading armies all
around the city walls, you hear the Divine Word:
Come, Jeremiah, buy a field.

Come, Jeremiah, buy a field,
because though armies yet will harrow
this beleaguered citadel, destroy its
ancient temple, spatter it with blood,

A day will come when land once more
will pass from family to family,
from ancestor to progeny,
and grain will ripen in the sun.

O Jeremiah, now I have to ask:
Of all the things you suffered
(cisterns, stocks, and ridicule),
was anything so challenging as hope?

A poem/prayer based on Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Proper 21 (26).

The image is Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem by Rembrandt (1630) – http://www.rijksmuseum.nl : Home : Info, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10720351.

Story: World of Weeping

September 18, 2022

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9

Up on Kilauea, where people look out over the great crater/caldera at the summit, a little girl was crying as if her heart would break. Why? Well, it probably had something to do with a trip and a fall and some bruised knees, and maybe because a favorite stuffed animal was all dusty. There were tears running through the dirt on her face.

This story is not about her, however, even if it starts with her. It is about a young koa’e kea, a white-tailed tropicbird, that was resting on a small ledge in the cliff just below the little girl and her family. She’d never heard such a sound before. She leapt into the air and circled about, watching the little human and her family as they comforted her, brushed the dirt from the stuffed animal, and headed away.

The young koa’e kea found her father had joined her circling. “What was that all about?” she asked.

“That was crying,” he said. “Creatures cry when they’re unhappy or in distress.”

“What a horrible noise,” she said, “and those drops of water from the eyes!”

Her father watched the human father who was carrying the little girl in his arms by this point and said, “It seems to work. A lot of creatures have their own version of tears.”

“I’ll never do anything of the kind,” announced the koa’e kea daughter firmly.

“Never?” asked the father.

“Never,” said the daughter.

“Hm,” said the father. “Fly with me for a little bit.”

The first thing they saw in their loops about the island was a mother pig and some piglets. One of the little ones had wandered into a thicket and got turned around, and he was squalling for his family. The sow heard him, found him, and herded him off to join the rest of the family.

The next thing they saw was an old ohi’a tree creaking in the wind. You and I wouldn’t say it was crying, exactly, but there was a light dust floating away on the breeze as the tree swayed. “Is it sad?” asked the young koa’e kea.

“Just a little,” said her faither. “It’s struggling to keep growing where it is, but it has special tears. They’re seeds, and even if this tree can’t grow, perhaps some of its seeds can.”

They flew about the cliffsides until they heard another sound. It was a koa’e kea nest, and the chick in it had spotted one of his parents. It cried its hunger until the mother satisfied it.

“Did I do that?” asked the young koa’e kea circling nearby.

“You did,” confirmed her father.

Last of all, they swooped and soared over the Halema’uma’u crater, watching the red lava, which was streaming from a vent in the crater side into the lava lake below.

“Is the mountain crying?” asked the young bird.

“You can say so,” said her father. “When the mountain cries, the island rises.”

“So all things weep,” said the koa’e kea.

“Maybe not all,” said her father, “but when they do, it’s usually for a reason. It helps them get through the time.”

“I guess if the rest of the world can do it,” she said, “maybe I can, too. If I need to.”

“If you need to,” said her father, and they flew off to the ocean for dinner.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

As always, Pastor Eric told this story from memory of the text above. The two versions are not the same.

Photo of a koa’e kea taken on Kilauea by Eric Anderson.

Anticipatory Grief

“My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.” – Jeremiah 8:18

Tell me, Jeremiah, down across the centuries,
just what you knew or thought you knew
when vainly seeking balm in Gilead?

Did you lament Josiah’s sad and foolish death?
Or did you hope that Judah would repent?
Or had you come to grieve disaster still to come?

Anticipatory grief.

Ah, Jeremiah, called so young, who saw
Josiah’s candle snuffed so raw,
whose life was marked by shameful taunts and blows,

Who raged anew at warnings burned,
who urged reform when few would hear,
who languished on a cistern’s sodden floor.

Anticipatory grief.

Your griefs indeed took form, took fire,
your people’s cries rebounded from
the city’s crumbling walls.

And so we hear again your warning to
avoid oppressing those at risk
or risk the consequences of our evil…

Anticipatory grief.

A poem/prayer based on Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Proper 20 (25).

The image is Cry of prophet Jeremiah on the Ruins of Jerusalem by Ilya Repin (1870), http://www.art-catalog.ru/picture.php?id_picture=11437, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3257688.

Story: Over and Around

September 11, 2022

Exodus 32:7-14
Luke 15:1-10

A few weeks ago, you might recall, I told a story about nene school. Do you remember that at all? In the story, the class got to talking while the teacher was working with one of the students. They didn’t listen when their teacher asked them to be quiet, until she got so frustrated that she flew off in a huff.

Or, well, a minute and a huff.

This story is about that same class and that same teacher, but now we’ll spend time with the young nene who was getting special instruction in flying.

The reason he needed extra help was, well, the fact that he would try anything. I mean anything. One of his early attempts at flying was to see what happened when he flapped his feet. Nene have webbed feet, to be sure, but they have less webbing between their toes than a duck does or than a Canada goose (which they resemble) does. It wouldn’t matter if they had the same amount of webbing on their feet. Ducks and geese don’t fly with their feet.

But he thought he’d give it a try. If you’re wondering how well it worked, it didn’t work well at all.

He tried flying with one wing pointing up at the sky and one wing pointing down at the ground. That was also, I must say, a crashing failure. He tried taking off by doing back flips. I’m afraid his classmates found that pretty funny, and I dare say you and I would have laughed, too. A lot of his experiments resulted in scattered feathers and, let’s be honest, strained muscles and a fascinating set of bruises (hidden beneath the feathers). Most of them ended right there on the ground where they began.

His teacher tried desperately to limit some of his ideas to things that wouldn’t lead to total disaster. Sometimes she succeeded. Sometimes she’d turn around for a moment, hear a honk and a clatter, and look around to find dust rising over another crash landing.

She had to admit, though, that he didn’t repeat his failures. If something didn’t work, he might try a variation or two on it, but he didn’t do the same thing twice. That sideways idea, for example. He tried it with the left wing up, and he tried it with the right wing up, but he didn’t try it with the left wing up a second time.

The teacher also noticed that every once in a while he found something new that she’d never seen before. One day, for example, he was flying at a good height, flipped over on his back, tucked his wings in, and pointed his beak at the ground. She watched in horror as he headed toward earth, but he pushed those wings back out again, caught the air, and leveled out going back the way he’d come. It was amazing.

“Why,” she asked him, “do you try everything when you know so many of the things you try can’t possibly work? Why don’t you follow the flying lessons nene have been using for years?”

He looked uncomfortable, as well he might (he’d just had another crash landing and the aches were settling in). “I could do that, I know,” he said, “and it would work just fine. But…”

“But what?” the teacher asked.

“But then I wouldn’t have tried everything, and I wouldn’t know about the things that nobody has tried, or nobody has passed down the word. I wouldn’t know what I can really do and what I really can’t.”

Trying everything is a hard way to do things, for sure. The good news is that trying things is a way to learn and to grow. Trying things is all about making spaces to find out who you are and what you can be.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

The story above was told live from memory of this text.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Precious

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?” – Luke 15:8

If my fortune were confined
to just ten coins, well, Jesus,
then I’d search and search
to find the one I’d lost.

And if my flock were just
a century, and one astray,
because I treasure life I’d search
until I found it safe and whole.

The trouble is, dear Jesus,
that you’ve used the coin and sheep
as if they represented people
lost and disregarded.

If they were precious, we would seek.
Because we do not seek, you know they’re not.
Not precious to us.
Not precious in the world we’ve made.

And there you are, lamp-bearer,
there you are, sheep-seeker,
for those we do not treasure
are so precious in your sight.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 15:1-10, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Proper 19: (24).

The image is Parable of the Lost Drachma (ca. 1618) by Domenico Fetti – Web Gallery of Art:   Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15453383.

Story: Here. Not There.

August 21, 2022

Psalm 71:1-6
Luke 13:10-17

It’s been a while since I told a story about this kind of fish. It’s called a hinalea, a cleaner wrasse – in fact, a Hawaiian cleaner wrasse – and they’re small fish that live along the reefs in somewhat deeper water.

As small fish, you’d expect they’d be hunted by larger fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And they are, in fact, hunted – but not as food. Despite the fact that we’re so much bigger than a mosquito, they still come and land on us and try to eat a little bit of us, right? Similar things happen to fish, and unlike mosquitoes, a lot of these pesky creatures don’t let go. After a while, a fish can have quite a lot of unwelcome passengers, all of them trying to take a nibble on them. It’s not fun.

Cleaner wrasse eat those tiny pesky irritating creatures, gently nibbling them away from the skin and scales of the larger fish. They set up spots along the reef which people call “cleaning stations,” and where the larger fish will gather for a cleaner wrasse or three to remove those little pests. It’s a nice arrangement. The large fish go away greatly relieved, and the hinalea get, well, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

One particular school of hinalea had one of the busiest cleaning stations on the reef. The school leaders – and I know you want me to call them teachers, but a wrasse school isn’t a school, it’s a business, so the best term for school leaders is bosses – the school leaders had announced that they needed all the hinalea there at the cleaning station. No cleaning fish anywhere else.

They couldn’t clean all the time, of course. Nobody can eat all the time, despite the things you’ll sometimes hear about human teenagers. The cleaner wrasse would take a break for a while, but the only place they were allowed to clean was at the station.

One hinalea was on his break, lazily swimming along the reef and not much worried about anything, when a larger fish came along. It was an ‘uhu, a parrotfish, and it was in terrible shape. It had picked up so many pesky creatures that it was really painful. She was wandering aimlessly along the reef, unable to figure out which way she was going and where she could find a cleaning station. She spotted the lone hinalea with its bright blue and yellow and purple scales, and settled next to him.

She didn’t need to say anything. She needed help. The hinalea went to work. All alone outside the cleaning station and as covered as she was, this would take some time.

Another hinalea, one of the bosses on break, wandered over and stopped, shocked to see what he was doing. “This isn’t the cleaning station!” he said. “Stop that now!”

Our hinalea said nothing – his mouth was full. In fury, the other hinalea swam at him and chased him away from the ‘uhu, chased him all the way back to the cleaning station.

“This fish cleaned away from the cleaning station,” announced the boss. “What shall we do with him?”

The other bosses gathered menacingly. This didn’t look good at all. But just then the ‘uhu appeared and swam to the little wrasse in the center of the angry fish. “Thank you so much,” she said.

She turned to the bosses and said, “Do you know what this little one did? I had so many pests on me that I couldn’t find the cleaning station. He picked off enough of them that I could find you. I can’t tell you what would have happened if he hadn’t. I’m pretty sure you would have lost a customer.”

She looked at the hinalea again and said, “As good a job as you did, you got interrupted. Do you suppose you could finish?” And so he did.

Sometimes bosses in the world are foolish, and sometimes they are wise. This group of hinalea bosses chose wisdom that day. It remained important that everyone concentrate on the cleaning station – a lot of fish waited there – but if a hinalea on break could help get a fish to the station? That was good, and right, and important, too.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

The story above was told live from memory of this text.

Photo of two hinalea by Dr. Dwayne Meadows, NOAA/NMFS/OPR – http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/htmls/reef0662.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2111807.

Just Wait

“Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” – Luke 13:10-11

Wait now, just wait.
I know it hurts – I feel your pain.
But now is not the time.
The time will come when… it comes.
Until then, wait. Just wait.

Wait now, just wait.
I know you’re burdened – I carry it with you –
But things are just not ready.
You’ll have to carry it until the time is ripe.
Until then, wait. Just wait.

Wait now, just wait.
I know oppression harms you – I’m there with you.
But hearts have not been opened.
Hang on for just a little while.
Until then, wait. Just wait.

“But the Lord answered him and said… ‘And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?'” – Luke 13:15a, 16

A poem/prayer based on Luke 13:10-17, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Proper 16 (21).

The image is Christ Heals the Hunchback Woman, a mosaic in the Monreale Cathedral, Palermo, Sicily, Italy. Photo by Sibeaster – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4470788.

Story: When Nene Get Cranky

August 14, 2022

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Luke 12:49-56

It might surprise you to hear that young nene go to school. Many of us wish that their classes included one in staying away from roads that have cars moving on them, but apparently they don’t.

As you’d expect, though, they teach a lot about two of the big components of nene life. Eating and flying. They do learn about eating and flying from their parents, of course, but there’s definitely more to learn about both topics for a growing nene.

A little flock of young nene had gathered with their teacher and had just finished the eating section of the day. Eating lessons for a nene are both complicated and simple. They’re complicated because nene like to eat a lot of different things. If it’s green and its leaves are grass-shaped, they probably eat it. So there’s a lot to explore in an eating class.

What’s simple about it, of course, is that if it’s green and the leaves are grass-shaped, they’ll try to eat it.

Flying, however, is definitely an advanced topic. Nene have smaller wings for the size of their body than you’ll find on other birds. It requires effort to get that much bird off the ground. When there’s a few of them in the air, they fly carefully spaced in formation. That takes some learning. And, of course, they will pull a few special tricks from time to time, like making a barrel roll in midair.

The class this day had got pretty excited during the eating session and the young students were eagerly debating the merits of the various grasses they’d tried. Their teacher was talking with one of the young goslings who wanted some help with take-offs. As she spoke with him, the other nene got louder, and louder, and louder.

“Class, settle down,” said the teacher (I’m afraid teachers everywhere of every creature say that phrase a lot). “I’ll be right with you, and if you listen you can learn something about take-offs, too.”

They were quiet for a few moments, but rather like human students, the chatter started up again, and grew rapidly until the teacher couldn’t hear herself.

“Class, settle down!” she called.

They were quiet. For… a little bit. And despite the very helpful things she was saying about wing position on takeoff, the quickly raised the volume from a murmur to a racket.

The teacher honked in complete exasperation and shouted, “Class dismissed!” Then she flew away.

The students were shocked. This had never happened before. They looked at one another – and for once, they were silent. The one who’d been getting take-off instructions looked at them unhappily.

“Come on,” he said after a few minutes. “We need to go find her.”

They found her in a clump of ‘ohelo, taking a berry, then honking in frustration, then taking a berry. They waited until she’d slowed down on berries and on honking.

“We’re sorry,” they said.

“What are you sorry for?” she asked.

That was a question they hadn’t expected. What, after all, had they done? They weren’t sure they knew, except for the one who’d been getting take-off help.

“We’re sorry we didn’t pay attention when you were teaching us the things we want and need to learn,” he said.

“Are all of you sorry for that?” she asked.

Now that somebody had said it, they were.

You see, that’s when nene teachers get cranky: when they’re sharing the things young nene need and want to know, and the students ignore them. Fortunately, there are things that help. There’s ‘ohelo berries, of course, and a soothing turn around in the sky. Best of all, there’s the students who think to say, “I’m sorry,” and come back ready to learn.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

The story is told from an imperfect memory of this manuscript. To responsive children. The story as told is not identical to the story as written, oh, no, not for a moment it isn’t.

Photo of nene on the wing by Eric Anderson.