Distracted

“With what shall I come before the Lord
    and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
    with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
    with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
    the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:6-8

Look, God, I’m happier when you are vague,
when there’s some wiggle, some uncertainty,
when I can find a space to justify
the things I want, I’d rather, do.

Or, better, when the clarity shines on
the things that hide the errors of the days behind,
that shield me from their consequence,
excuse me without need to change my course.

Look, God, I’m wise enough to leave the lambs
and rams behind. I’ll make my sacrifices with
my time (and maybe with my treasure; we will see).
I don’t intend to buy your favor, no.

Intend to, no. Attempt to… that’s a yes.

You have told me, God, what things are good,
and I have heard, and taken them to heart,
and held them close, and meditated on them, and…
sometimes I’ve done them. Sometimes I have not.

‘Cause damn it, God, your justice is beyond me,
beyond us, so it seems. Your love of mercy breaks
my heart with all its blinding brightness. How
can I do other than come humbly to you on our walk?

So that is why I pour my time into the almost just,
the near-to-mercy, all the things that don’t quite work.
With all this busyness, how could you notice, God,
that am running round, not walking by your side?

It’s easier, you see, to place my energy
upon the altar as a sacrifice of praise
than to do justice well, to love with steadfast mercy, and
walk humbly with the God of my salvation.

A poem/prayer based on Micah 6:1-8, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is “High priest offering incense on the altar, as in Leviticus 16:12,” by Illustrator of Henry Davenport Northrop’s Treasures of the Bible, 1894 – http://www.lavistachurchofchrist.org/Pictures/Treasures%20of%20the%20Bible%20(Moses)/target20a.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6611903.

Story: The Greatest

An ‘apapane who is not diving.

January 22, 2023

1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Matthew 4:12-23

Even when he was very young, they said of him, “This ‘apapane will be one of the greatest singers of his generation.” He had a sweet and true voice, with an ability to produce trills that were faster than anyone had ever heard before. He had a range from mauna to makai, high notes to low notes, and each one was pitch-perfect and noteworthy.

“Such a singer,” sighed the aunties and the uncles and the tutus. “Such a singer.”

All would have been absolutely perfect if he had wanted to be the greatest ‘apapane singer of his time. But he didn’t.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be a singer, and it wasn’t that he disliked singing. One of the reasons everybody knew how good he was is that he did enjoy singing. He loved singing. He sang a lot, and he sang beautifully when he did. The problem was that he really wanted to be the greatest diver of his generation.

If you have been wondering why you’ve never heard about ‘apapane divers, well, it’s because they don’t.

He’d been watching the koa’e kea, you see, who nest in the cliffs near the ohi’a trees where the ‘apapane build their nests. He’d first admired them as they soared around Halemau’uma’u and the Kilauea crater, riding the rising air column over the summit. They are elegant when they soar.

Just to see them fly some more, he’d followed some down the slopes from the summit to the sea, which is where koa’e kea go fishing. That had been an eye-opener. He circled at some distance and watched while a bird would hover briefly, spot a fish below the surface, and then dive straight down to catch it. What grace! What elegance!

That, he was sure, was the way to be.

It made him nervous, but he decided to try it. He had no appetite for fish, mind you, so he didn’t worry much about where to dive. He just picked a spot, hovered briefly in mid-air, pointed his beak down, and dove.

It was his first attempt, so it wasn’t all that bad, but things did not go well once he hit the water. His feathers clumped up and he couldn’t see which way was up. His bird-feet had no webs between the toes so even though he instinctively paddled his legs, not much happened. His first dive was about to become his last dive when a beak grabbed him and hauled him to the surface. There was something of a flurry, and then he was hanging from the beak of a koa’e kea heading back to shore.

It dropped him on the ground, wet and disheveled, and now that it didn’t have anything in her beak she said, “What was that all about?”

“I want to be the greatest diver on the island,” gasped the ‘apapane.

She looked him up and down – feathers not meant for ocean water, feet without webs, and a beak designed for bugs and nectar, not fish.

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” she said. “I think it’s likely to drown you.”

He had to admit this was true.

“I’ll tell you what, though,” she said thoughtfully. “I’ve never seen an ‘apapane dive before at all, so right now you’re the best ‘apapane diver on the island. But… I think it best you don’t try it again.”

“I won’t,” he said, as he felt his feathers start to dry. “I’ll go back to singing.”

“Good plan,” she said. “I think that will work a lot better.”

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

In the video above, I am telling the story from memory. My memory can be… inventive.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

The Smaller Boat

“…Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.” – Matthew 4:22

It’s the same boat. It’s the same net.
It’s the same lake. It’s the same fish.

They all seem a little smaller now.

They always were too big for this small beach,
my “Sons of Thunder,” louder and more
vigorous upon the lines than even I,
the Thunderer himself, had been.

Brash? I’ll say, and I’ve been brash and more.
We should have seen it coming, I expect,
when two such souls as she and I
brought similar selves into the world.

We tried the obvious and useless, yes we did.
“Please use your inside voices!” at a roar.
They laughed when they grew old enough
to see the irony, and laughter filled the house.

It filled the village and the beach and echoed
to the skies, the laughter of these two,
and if two parents, sober citizens, could not
join in, well, we smiled and smiled and smiled.

They always were too big for this small beach,
but still, I never thought they’d step away
to follow a poor traveling preacher or
take up a life of shouting out for God.

I’m glad, although I grumble at this pile
of nets awaiting my attention and repair.
This teacher can expand their lives and minds
and souls. The nets and fish and boat… will not.

My breathing settles in a gut-deep sigh.
I’ll claim the tear is sand blown in my eye.
There’s more room in this boat than just a while ago,
so how has it grown smaller in that time?

It’s the same boat. It’s the same net.
It’s the same lake. It’s the same fish.

They all seem a little smaller now.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 4:12-23, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, the Third Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is Jesus calls James and John from their boat; their father Zebedee stands behind them. Woodcut, date and author unknown. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Jesus calls James and John from their boat; their father Zebedee stands behind them. Woodcut. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Author’s note: I need to credit two writers with renewing my thinking about Zebedee and this scene and I commend their work to you: Melissa Bane Sevier’s essay “Left Behind” and Maren Tirabassi’s poem “Zebedee (portrait of the original empty-netter).”

Story: Unclear on the Concept

January 15, 2023

Palm 40:1-11
John 1:29-42

He was still a young ram, and was spending his first season as the senior ram of a small flock. Frankly, most of the ewes in the flock knew more than he did about being a sheep on the mountain slopes, and several of them were smarter than he was, too.

Fortunately, being senior ram of a small flock doesn’t require a lot. Basically, you have to wake up in the morning and look around. If there’s grass where you are, you stay there and everybody eats. If there isn’t, you look around some more, and if you see a spot with grass, you say, “There’s a spot with grass,” and everybody goes over there and eats. And if you don’t see a spot with grass, you ask, “Anybody see a spot with grass?” and somebody says, “Over there.”

And then everybody goes over there and eats.

It’s not a great baaahther.

He was feeling his way into responsibility, however, and he tended to be a bit rambunctious – I’m afraid this story is rather full of puns, and I feel a little sheepish about it – so he could be a little nervous and irritable. Instead of waking up calmly and looking about, he’d spring to his feet and turn around wildly in all directions, like a confused compass. “On your bleat!” he’d shout (he meant, “On your feet!”) and then “Come along, ewe!”

I did apologize for the puns, didn’t I? It’s shearly a pity I didn’t stop making them, isn’t it?

His greatest confusion, however, came the morning that the first lamb arrived. Suddenly the flock was bigger – not much bigger, as it was a small lamb, but he was used to the numbers before, and now there was one more.

“Oh, no,” he said. “That’s too many. Take it back.”

“You can’t take lambs back,” they told him.

“Then I’ll take it back,” he said, even if he had no idea where to go. He walked over to where the lamb was standing by its mother, and said, “Come along. I’m taking you home.”

That was when he noticed that the other ewes of the flocks were crowding in between him and lamb.

“What are you doing?” he said, making the same pun a second time.

“We are ending a rampage,” said the ewes, making a new pun for the first time.

“What are you talking about?” he said as the wall of ewes pressed him away from the lamb.

“Lambs,” said the oldest one, “aren’t for giving back or sending away. Lambs are for treasuring and protecting. Lambs are for raising and celebrating. Lambs are for the joyful present and the promising future of this flock. If you want to be a rampion” – oh, good, another pun! – you will start taking care of this lamb and the other lambs coming right now.”

“Well,” he said, “if ewe put it that way.” He was too rattled to come up with a new pun.

“Think it over,” they said. “Take a ramble.”

He did do a little lam(b)enting, but he came around. The smallest and newest ones in the flock are for treasuring and protecting, for raising and celebrating, for the joyful present and the promising future. For sheep – and for us.

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

In the recording above, I told the story from memory of this prepared text. My memory is… not perfect. But I did remember most of the puns.

Photo of a mother and lamb by Wanderschäfer Sven de Vries – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=116038086.

Following the… Lamb?

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. – John 1:35-37

How peculiar.

It’s not so startling for a shepherd to
be following a lamb in all
its wandering immaturity.
But for adults now seeking spirit,
for a growth developing within:
How is “Lamb of God” attracting?
How is “Lamb of God” inviting?
How is “Lamb of God” revealing?

Still, John the Baptist recognizing
Jesus (majesty concealing),
summoning disciples from his
gathering to Jesus’ circle
only just beginning, made
the “Lamb of God,” inspiring,
the “Lamb of God,” empowering.
So “Lamb of God”: now following.

How peculiar, and how right.

A poem/prayer based on John 1:29-42, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.

The image is The Baptism of Jesus by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios (ca. 1295 – 1317) – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=106761431.

Story: I Want More Light

January 8, 2023

Isaiah 60:1-6
Matthew 2:1-12

“More light,” grumbled the camel. “I want more light.”

Camels are not naturally night animals. If I lived in the desert I would be a night animal, but camels can tolerate the desert sun in ways that I can’t. They like the day, and their favorite way to spend the day is with eating.

After all the Christmas celebrating we’ve done, that might feel a little familiar.

This camel was grumpy because, first of all, he was a burdened beast. On his arched back he carried a saddle sometimes, and a load of goods on others. There was one set of bags he really dreaded. It was heavy and sometimes it clinked in a really annoying way. He preferred carrying one of these stargazers to that one.

“It’s as heavy as lead,” he’d say.

“I think it’s gold,” said another camel.

“It’s as heavy as lead,” he’d repeat, which is basically true, after all.

He didn’t complain quite as much about the other two loads, which were both lighter and smelled nice.

Second of all, the camel was grumpy because it had become a very long trip. Long trips aren’t unusual in the life of a camel, but that doesn’t mean they like them. This one didn’t like them.

“Will it never end?” he said.

“I think we’re almost there,” soothed another camel.

“Will it never end?” he’d repeat.

Third of all, the camel was grumpy because they were travelling at night. Camels aren’t night animals. This camel wasn’t a night animal. This camel was increasingly cross.

“More light,” he grumbled. “I want more light.”

“I think they’re following that star,” said another camel.

“Stupid stargazers,” said the camel. “I want more light.”

I think you can probably guess who those star-followers were, and where they went, and who they saw, and what gifts they gave that family. Here’s a hint: it wasn’t lead. It was gold.

When they left, the camel was in a much better mood. For one thing, it looked like they were taking a different, hopefully shorter route back. For another, the three loads were gone, so there wasn’t as much to carry. For another, they were finally back to sensible travel by day.

And finally, something had happened when that camel had, drawn by some unlikely curiosity, stuck his nose through a window and seen a baby receiving those things he’d carried across the miles. The gold and frankincense and myrrh didn’t seem like great playthings for an infant, but they seemed really important for a family that was obviously poor and seemed to be worried about trouble. And the child himself, well: the camel felt, just for an instant, like he had made a world of difference, and that he could do so again.

“More light,” he said as he took each step on the way home. “I think I’ve seen more light.”

by Eric Anderson

Watch the Recorded Story

In the recording, I’m telling the story from memory of the prepared text above. Between memory and improvisation, there’s a lot differences between them.

The image is Journey of the Magi by James Tissot – Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45592253. Regrettably, the artist set the painting in daylight.

Epiphany 2023

So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

Robert Frost, from “Choose Something Like a Star”

Side by side they march across my media screens:
the images of travellers who, bearing gifts,
will praise an infant in all ignorance
of how his royalty will manifest, and

The images of violence incited by repeated lies,
of broken windows, hangman’s noose, Christian symbols
raised in blasphemous approval
of both praise and blame that went too far.

On this Epiphany I pray for an epiphany,
for light to penetrate the hearts lost in the shadows,
for wisdom to once more display itself in giving,
for a jealous would-be ruler to, for once, step down.

While power battles power still (if with less flash grenades
and tear gas clouds), I’ll turn in prayer to One
who manifested perfect power in its weakness:
a radiant love that flickered like a star.

Photo by Eric Anderson

Radiant

Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. – Isaiah 60:5

Teach me to recognize radiance, O God.
Teach me to revel in brightness of spirit.
Teach me to raise up my voice in rejoicing
for radiance seen with the soul, not the eyes.

Teach me to recognize radiance, O God.
Teach me to gain it in greatness of heart.
Teach me to glorify generous spirit,
the radiance seen with the soul, not the eyes.

Teach me to recognize radiance, O God.
Teach me to mirror a magus of old.
Teach me to make free of marrow and mind, and
the radiance seen with the soul, not the eyes.

A poem/prayer based on Isaiah 60:1-6, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Epiphany.

The image is Awake My Soul by Mike Moyers, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57138 [retrieved January 5, 2023]. Original source: Mike Moyers, https://www.mikemoyersfineart.com/.

2022: The Songs

As mentioned in my summary of 2022, I had a Lenten success this past year, writing six songs during the six weeks of that season. It took longer to compose the other six songs I wrote during the 2022. Some were based on Biblical stories, some inspired by the writing of friends, and others by things going on in the world. You’ll find performances of all of them below, many from the weekly Song from Church of the Holy Cross series.

Wisdom Feed Us

First performed at the Community Concert of March 11, 2022

The simple truth is that I am deeply concerned about the lack of wisdom displayed by human beings. As far as I can tell, folly rules the world.

Dream of Peace

First performed at the Community Concert of March 25, 2022.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. I went looking in my repertoire for a song I’d written about peace, and didn’t find one. I’ve sung “Dream of Peace” several times and it became my contribution to the Interfaith Communities in Action Thanksgiving Celebration video for 2022.

Come On, Guitar

First performed on March 23, 2022.

Although “Come On, Guitar” was performed earlier, it was written a few days after “Dream of Peace.” It is a tribute (or an invocation) to my new Martin D-10E. I had decided that I would write a song on and for the instrument when it arrived, and this song is the result.

Creature of this World

First performed on April 6, 2022.

“Creature of this World” was inspired by “Offering,” a poem by Rachel Hackenberg. It’s become one of my favorites, and is one of the songs providing background music for my video 2022: A Year.

As We Bring Him Down

First performed during Scripture & Poetry for Good Friday, released April 15, 2022.

Written for Good Friday, this song is set in the “Deposition of Christ,” when the body of Jesus was removed from the cross and brought to its tomb. It is, shall we say, somber.

Walk, Mary, Walk

First performed for What I’m Thinking #259, April 18, 2022.

I’ve written a song for Easter for a few years now, and frequently play them during the first episode of What I’m Thinking after Easter Sunday. When I listen to this, I hear echoes of “As We Bring Him Down.” I wrote them seven days apart. This piece completed the Lenten song cycle.

One in a Million of Grief

First performed on May 18, 2022.

In mid May, the one millionth American died of COVID-19. Despite robust public health systems in the United States, the disease infected a greater proportion of the population, and killed a greater proportion of them, than was true in other developed nations. The US has, in fact, suffered more deaths per 100,000 population than any other nation in the world except Peru. This song also marked the first public performance on my Kala 6-string ukulele.

Some Days are Just Too Much

First performed on June 29, 2022.

I had a number of friends in mind when I wrote this song – and myself as well.

Hey, Moses

First performed on July 13, 2022.

I wrote this for Church of the Holy Cross’ Vacation Bible School – and then fell ill that day and didn’t sing it for them. It’s about Moses – and God – at the burning bush. I should probably sing this in a higher key…

To the Banks of the River Jordan

First performed on July 27, 2022.

I wrote this song for my friend Drew, who died just a few hours after this performance. Some may recognize the echoes of Ecclesiastes’ wisdom about time and seasons.

Take the Labyrinth Road

I wasn’t on the planning team for the Pastoral Leaders’ Retreat of the Hawai’i Conference, but I was asked to bring a song. Of course I couldn’t think of one, so this is what I wrote. This is the other song in the music track for 2022: A Year.

Morning Has Come

First performed during worship on Christmas Day, December 25, 2022.

I suspect there are other songs with the title “Morning Has Come.” This one is a Christmas morning song, set in the bright light of morning.

And there they are: twelve new songs in 2022. I wonder how many there will be in 2023?

2022… Well. And Not so Well.

At the end of 2021, I commented on the lost promise of that year. Despite the warnings of epidemiologists and other medical professionals, I like others hoped that the advent of vaccines would end the pandemic, or at least reduce its risks. As 2022 began, however, we were in the midst of the highest level of COVID-19 transmission we’d seen. Church of the Holy Cross UCC continued to worship online-only until the Sunday after Easter – a disappointment for certain.

Still, we did welcome a congregation into the sanctuary in April and were able to observe Pentecost, All Saints, and Christmas with gathered worshipers. We maintained precautions even then. The congregation did not sing hymns until December, so that the first songs they sang were Christmas carols. Our choir director, Doug Albertson, assembled a thirty-five plus voice choir plus string orchestra for a magnificent performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia of Christmas Carols. It was great fun to take part in that ensemble.

A glance at my photos will make someone wonder why I didn’t seem to get around as much as in previous years. There are a lot of flowers but not a lot of varied scenery. COVID remained a factor – I wanted to minimize my exposure so that it would minimize the risk I presented to others – but so was my transportation. Though the Chrysler 300 I’d bought on moving to Hilo continued to run just fine, some of its parts were definitely showing its sixteen years, and I began to avoid long drives. In November I replaced it with a new Kia, leading to the inevitable joke that this pastor finally has a Soul.

I did travel during the year. I attended my first in-person off-island conference since 2020 in May. I went to O’ahu for a disaster response event and spoke about the interfaith response to the Kilauea eruption of 2018. At the end of August I flew east to visit family and friends. I even managed to attend the Wyman family reunion (my paternal grandmother was a Wyman) and The Blandford Fair on Labor Day weekend. I enjoyed seeing everyone, and entirely forgot to get selfies with a good many of them. The trip home afforded the opportunity to get photos of a sunset over the Pacific.

For the most part the family is doing well. My kids continued to share an apartment this past year, but both are looking to moves in 2023. I have hopes that Rebekah’s ordination will come this next year, and Brendan is working toward beginning a Ph.D. program in English literature. Bekah has been working for The Julian Way, an organization focused on education and empowerment with, for, and by, persons of diverse embodiments. They work with congregations and other faith institutions to foster fully inclusive environments.

In October I attended the Pastoral Leaders’ Retreat on O’ahu, the first time we’ve had a full gathering for that event since 2019. Though I wasn’t on the leadership team, I was asked to find a musical selection for the occasion – and as is typical of me, I couldn’t think of one. The result was the song that leads the 2022: A Year video above: “Take the Labyrinth Road.”

It was a busy year musically. During Lent, I set a goal of writing one song for each of the six weeks of Lent. I did it (see: A Lenten Success). By year’s end, I’d written twelve new songs, equaling those produced in 2021. I sang one of my original songs each Wednesday and presented hour-long concerts via live stream twice a month. You can see them all (oh, my) on my YouTube channel in the Music playlist.

Music gave me a couple ways to deal with the stress of the year – and 2022 was certainly stressful. It was a creative outlet, of course, both in composition and in performance, though it could also be exhausting. It also became one of my chosen methods of “retail therapy” this year. During the pandemic I found that I would feel calmer while I waited for a package to arrive. In 2022, three of those packages contained new instruments: a Martin D-10E guitar in sapele wood in March, a Kala KA-ATP6-CTG 6-string ukulele in May, and a Kala KA-EBY-TE in striped ebony in July.

2022 brought some terribly painful times. I officiated at a series of funerals in the spring for people I had known and treasured, and there were more as the year went on. In June my friend and former colleague Drew Page stepped down from his work with the Southern New England Conference UCC. He had been suffering from cancer for two years and the disease had reached a stage where he wanted to give his time to family and friends. In July we talked via video chat. I wrote “To the Banks of the River Jordan,” and about four hours after I sang it live, he died.

I told a few other friends not to make me write such a song for them any time soon.

As the year ended, one of my cousins from my father’s generation, Don Pease, died. Once more my heart wept.

2022 has not been an easy year for grief. In May the United States suffered its one millionth death from COVID-19. At year’s end, many whose lies had contributed to the death toll via social media had recovered access to some of the platforms they’d abused. If I’d doubted that COVID was still around, I’d have been disabused of the notion by catching it in November. It laid me out exhausted for days. I did not fully recover my stamina until late December, just in time for the Christmas services (whew).

I was reelected Chair of the Hawai’i Conference Council in June and will serve until June 2024. My term as President of Interfaith Communities in Action will end in February of 2023, though I expect to continue working with the Steering Committee and Working Group on Family Homelessness. I was asked to rejoin the Hawai’i Island Association’s Committee on Ministry as we have a shortage of ordained ministers on the island who can serve. I have also continued on the Board of Directors of the Ku’ikahi Mediation Center.

May 2023 bring blessings to us all!

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2022 – A Year