The oma’o is a fairly small bird, living on the lower slopes of the volcanoes from Hamakua to Ka’u. When you’re an oma’o chick, you’re even smaller. He hatched and grew up in a hole in a koa tree, and about the only thing he could even imagine as he looked out from the hole was:
It’s a great big world, and I’m a very small bird.
He was, of course, a very small bird, but he grew to become, well, a larger but still very small bird. The world outside was still a lot bigger than he was. He watched his parents fly back and forth to and from the nest, and wondered how they did it. Their wings seemed awfully small to carry even their small bodies. Their feet seemed awfully fragile to grip a twig. How was someone like him to have any place in a huge world like this?
Young oma’o do some experiments that lead to flying. They move their wings around and start to preen them, to settle their feathers with their beaks. They start to hop and stretch their legs in the nest – but they don’t leave the nest. In fact, after they leave the nest, they don’t come back to it. They’ll stay where their parents can find them – they still feed them for a while – but they don’t go back to the nest.
This young oma’o, however, wasn’t sure he wanted to leave the nest. Big world. Small bird. Small wings, big air. It was a night that the winds blew hard that he came to a decision.
“No,” he told his father. “I’m staying here.”
“Very smart, son,” said his father. “It’s a nasty night. The nest is a good place for now, and it’s not a great time to take your first flight.”
“No,” said the youngster. “I mean I’m just staying here. I’m not going to leave.”
The father didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. Nor did mother when the youngster told her in the morning.
“What are you going to do just staying in the nest?” asked mother.
“What I’m doing now,” he said.
“Wouldn’t you like to fly?” asked father.
“I don’t think so,” said the child.
It was mother who settled down with him and got him to say what was going on. The world was too big. The winds were too strong. His wings were too fragile. He was too small.
Then he asked, “How do you do it, Mom?”
She thought about it. “It is a big world,” she said. “I’m a small bird. My little wings aren’t much to carry me through strong winds. But I’ve got a couple of things that carry me through it all.”
“Well, I haven’t got one just wing. I’ve got two. With only one, I don’t think I’d get far. With two, I can get anywhere I want.”
“But how did you make that first leap of faith?” he asked.
“I just flapped my wings and hopped, and as I hopped I hoped and prayed. Suddenly my wings caught the air and I was flying.”
Without even realizing it, the young fledgling was hopping and flapping. “So a wing and a prayer?” he asked.
“Two wings and a prayer,” said his mother, “and I took my first flight – just like you’re doing now.”
Sure enough, his flapping wings had caught the air and he’d taken off on his first short flight.
“Just like that,” he marveled, “on two wings and a prayer.”
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The story was told from memory of this manuscript text – which means that in the recording, it’s told differently.
Drew liked to tell the story of how we met. My daughter had signed up for a winter event at Silver Lake Conference Center, and I had asked if I could volunteer with the other age group that weekend. Drew and Debby led the group I wanted to work with.
Although it’s always useful to have adult counselors at these events, Drew wasn’t at all sure he wanted to include this unknown “helicopter parent” who might both distract the other group and leave him without a fully engaged counselor. I assume he got enough reassurance from the camp directors because he and Debby welcomed me with no signs of his reluctance.
I confess that I brought my own hesitations. Drew set off all sorts of alarm bells going back to my teenage years. He was tall with a booming voice. He was an athlete. His hair was closely cropped. He led the event with an air of confident authority. He reminded me of too many people I’d had painful relationships with many years before.
And… he was tall. He had a booming voice. He was an athlete, winning a bronze medal in his age group at the US National Fencing Championships in 2016. He did change the length of his hair, but it was never very long. He did carry himself with confident authority.
That weekend also demonstrated the incredible depth of his heart and soul. Drew had trained to be a public school teacher because of his passion for teaching and inspiring young people. He left the classroom because the administrative overhead frustrated him more than he would accept (my father, who worked many years as a public school administrator and teacher, would have sympathized). He poured that commitment to teaching into coaching. He founded a fencing school in Willimantic, Sword in the Scroll, which offered both modern fencing and German broadsword.
When we met, one of the other counselors for the weekend, a college-age student, was nursing some bruises from a mistake in her guard. Drew the coach was both sympathetic, making certain that she wasn’t doing things that would delay her recovery, and also evaluative, helping her understand what she’d done so that she could do it better next time.
It was a good weekend.
I didn’t yet know I’d made a friend.
Some time later the Silver Lake directors asked me to consider becoming a dean for a week-long summer conference. “We’ll set you up with experienced deans,” they said. So in summer 2008 I joined Drew and Debby Page as the third wheel dean for “I Learned it All in Volleyball.” Volleyball, incidentally, is an enthusiasm Drew and I shared. Among the trio, Drew was known as the “alpha dean,” Debby as the “beta dean,” and I was the “omega dean.” It worked so well that we did it again the next summer (and my son Brendan came along as a counselor).
In the meantime, Drew and I had started to spend a lot more time together. At the end of 2008, we offered him the position of Media Assistant for the Connecticut Conference UCC. It was not an easy choice. We had some really solid candidates who offered very different sets of talents and skills. The position was new and none of us really knew what it would become. In the end we settled on Drew because he was not only skilled, he was constantly adding to his skills. He would do so throughout his work with the Connecticut Conference and the Southern New England Conference over the next 13 years.
Drew joined me in a large but rather noisy and visually chaotic office on the “Garden Level” (basement) of United Church Center in Hartford. Noisy? Drew’s desk sat next to three servers and other network appliances whose fan noise varied but never ceased. Visually chaotic? Shelves around the room contained computer equipment, reference manuals, and stacks of storage media. I had a habit of retaining the packing boxes of computers we’d recently purchased in case a defective unit needed to go back. And I had an, um, elastic notion of “recently purchased.”
Drew settled in to maintain mailing lists, postal and electronic. He assisted with feeding various databases. He was a solid copy editor, cleaning up my more awkward constructions (and I’d rather like him to read this piece right now). He took on writing projects for our printed and online publications. His first byline, as far as I can tell, appeared in spring 2009. He stepped behind a video camera at Conference events, and like his boss (me), carried a still camera on his shoulder.
He’d done some of these pieces in other parts of his life before, but he learned new things incredibly fast, as well as combining these skills in ways that really served the ministry we were doing. Drew’s ideas rose from a deep understanding of what we were trying to accomplish, what benefit we were trying to bring to the people of the conference. We didn’t try everything he thought of. Not everything we tried worked. A couple things that I thought worked well took more time than we had for them – I really regret the video reporting we couldn’t do.
We gave Drew more hours. Drew took those hours and turned them into precious gifts.
We shared an office. I remember one spring when we had a very heavy workload. We were preparing for a spring meeting of the Conference. We were also filming and editing 32 brief videos in which Silver Lake deans invited young people to their conferences. Each one lasted a minutes, but – there were 32 of them!
The two of us recorded them together during a gathering of the deans. He’d film one group while I filmed another. When we were back to the office, Drew sat down at his computer and forged through those recordings, reviewing each take (there was always more than one), adding transitions, fixing the audio as best he could, and putting in the titles. It was hours of work – and he did it so well that Silver Lake has continued to do much the same in the eight years since.
Sharing an office isn’t just about work. You learn things about office mates that you don’t learn about the folks who work down the hall. When Drew was preparing for competition at the national level (this was before 2016), he changed his diet and work habits – by which I mean, he made sure to move around more and avoid stiffening up at the desk. When he suffered increasing shoulder pain from an old injury – and when that injury was aggravated – I was one of his companions in the journey to heal.
And then we started going out to lunch.
I have… irregular meal habits. I frequently skip lunch entirely. Drew, a much more careful person around health and diet, did not. It might be light, but he made sure his body was being properly sustained.
But then once or twice a week we’d go out to lunch along with Emily (then Hale) McKenna (who may have got this started in the first place). There were several places we enjoyed in that immediate West End neighborhood. We’d take the opportunity of workers everywhere to gripe about our workloads (I was formally Drew’s boss, remember), but mostly we talked about the important things outside of the working life of the church. We talked about music and kids and dreams. We told stories about our pasts and imagined things for our future.
In the office we were partners and collaborators. At the table we were friends.
I can’t remember more than a fraction of the stories. I can’t remember more than a portion of the dreams. What I remember was the assurance of friendship, or companionship, of faith in one another as well as in God.
When I left the Connecticut Conference and moved to Hawai’i, Drew told me that he’d committed to making only three phone calls to ask me about a problem. Those calls, by the way, were more than fair. I’d left a working system, but I’d left a system that, for the most part, I’d built. There were a lot of things that, despite my best efforts to document them as I was leaving, I was probably the only one who knew. I expected that Drew would have to make more than three calls despite his best efforts and intentions.
He only made two.
In February 2020 Drew received a diagnosis of colon cancer. He went through radiation and surgery, writing about them quite frankly in his blog, Drew’s 2 Cents – and he did it during a global pandemic. He had a reassuring season, but in January of this year learned that the cancer had spread to lungs and lymph nodes. Though there were treatment options, none would have much impact on the course of the disease, and all would reduce his ability to enjoy the life he had. He chose to enjoy that life.
“In otherwise,” he wrote, “dream of the things you want to do, enjoy the life right in front of you, and try like hell to be good to other people. If you have the skill, knowledge, or talent to impact other’s lives, do it. If you have the opportunity to witness something amazing, don’t hesitate. And don’t underestimate what can amaze.”
Last week I wrote a song for Drew, performing it during my weekly live stream. Its formal title is “To the Banks of the River Jordan,” but truthfully it’s Drew’s Song to me. About four hours after I sang it, Drew went from our care to God’s.
When I heard Drew had died, my prayers were not suitable for human ears. God may be excused for not listening for a while. They weren’t coherent. I was not blaming anyone, not God or a person or even that demon “Cancer.” I was just blistering the metaphorical air with my hurt.
It didn’t take too long for me to be mad at the world. “Why aren’t you stopping?” I shouted (silently). “My friend has died! Stop! Just STOP!”
Neither the world, nor I (to be honest), stopped. When has it? When, to be honest, have I?
Drew was far more than my experience of him. We were co-workers and friends. Drew was also a husband. It was a joy to witness his relationship with Debby. He was a father, and over the years the only thing that grew faster than Duncan and Dani was his love for them. He was a teacher and coach, and I had only a glimpse of that. He was a musician, and oddly enough the two of us didn’t make much music together, though we played the same gig once.
In the end, what can I say but this: He was my friend, and I have rarely made a better choice than to enter this friendship. Now he is gone, and I am deeply sad. The memories remain in their precious fragility, but more than that the love endures, and will endure beyond the end of time.
To you and I, an ‘amakihi nest doesn’t look that big. It’s sort of an irregular ball shape – it doesn’t look exactly like an egg, but you might possibly think, “Oh. It does look a little bit like an ‘amakihi egg, only larger.”
It might be large, but it’s still not large for us. Most ‘amakihi nests are a little bit larger than a softball. Made of grasses and twigs, they’ve got a bit of a cup shaped top to hold the two or three eggs.
A mother-to-be was pretty anxious about getting her nest ready for the eggs that she’d be laying. Her husband, sad to say, didn’t help much. Or at all. That’s not uncommon among the ‘amakihi of this island. He would bring materials and he would stay nearby to encourage her, but she did the selection and the weaving of all the grasses and twigs and fern leaves. It was her first nest, and she was absolutely determined that there would be no problems for her eggs. It was going to be safe and warm and dry.
So she started with the basic structure, and it widened out as the nest grew higher. When she got near the top, she began to form the rim around the little bowl shape where the eggs would lay. That’s when she got… worried about things.
“What if the eggs roll out?” she asked her husband when the nest seemed finished.
He looked at it carefully and said, “I don’t think it would. It looks like the nest I was hatched in.”
“I think they’d roll out,” she said.
“Do you want to make the sides higher?” he said.
“I do,” she said, and she set about it. This in turn made the nest start to expand outward because the sides had to be supported underneath. And they kept going up.
“I think that looks good,” her husband ventured one day. “I don’t think they’ll roll out of that.”
“But what if the hatchlings fall out?” she asked. “They can climb, right?”
The husband wasn’t sure.
“Higher,” she said, and the nest kept getting bigger.
The day came when she had to stop building because she had eggs to lay and it was time. She looked at them proudly resting at the bottom of the cup in the nest. “There,” she said. “You’re safe and I’ll keep you warm.”
Her husband looked down at her. He seemed far away. “Um. How is this going to work?” he asked.
“How is what going to work?”
“How are we going to feed the chicks?”
Her nest had become an oversized softball with a narrow hole in the top that led down into it – quite a long way for a small bird like an ‘amakihi. It was actually so far that if he strained his neck down and she strained her neck up they couldn’t actually touch.
“How are you going to get out to eat?” he asked.
The sides were going to be an effort to climb. She’d struggled, in fact, to get to the bottom to lay her eggs.
“I think,” she said slowly, “that we’re going to have make some changes.” She looked at the eggs below her. “That is, can you make the changes?”
“Just tell me what to do,” he said.
“Let’s start by pulling away the top – at least until I can see out,” she said. And that’s what they did – until the nest that was built for ultimate safety was actually fit to use.
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
In the recording above, the story is told from memory of this text. It is rather different.
“Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.’ But he said to him, ‘Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?'” – Luke 12:13-14
Greedy? Never! Jesus, you misunderstand! Of course I come to you for aid in seeking justice for myself (and for my sisters, too, of course, which goes without my even mentioning their needs to you). You are a Teacher, you a specialist in Law, in virtue, and in righteousness. Who better to give me advice, or (better) act for me in dealing with my brother, or declaring in my favor (that would be the best).
But greedy? No! Oh, Jesus, you are just so wrong. It’s just the justice of the thing. I did as much (and more, much more) than he, my older brother, did. We both were active on the land, but he, it must be said, just doesn’t have the feel for farming, doesn’t have the skill to know which crops to plant and plants to tend. Left solely in his hands, our patrimony withers on the vine. (Why yes, there’s grapes upon the land. How did you know?)
And – quietly into your ear, O Teacher of the Law, he hasn’t really been the best of men. He stays up late. Well, I do, too, but I still rise before the dawn and he comes stumbling out just as the sunbeams gleam. It’s not a major difference, sure, but which of us should have the double portion, would you say? The one born first, or me, the one who’s first to greet the day?
So Jesus, I don’t need a lecture on the sin of greed, nor echoes of another ancient Teacher (“the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”) when I’m arguing quite clearly and with concrete proofs my brother, though he’s mostly fine, is not equipped to fairly manage this estate, and I, in humble duty, must step forward, and in justice, ask you to decide for me.
What are you saying now?
Didn’t I tell you I do not need to hear a story about greed?
A poem/prayer based on Luke 12:13-21, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Proper 13 (18).
First one leads, then one follows One aids, and one seeks aid. In the story of friendship You and I have made. But you’ve taken the lead this season And I cannot keep pace To the banks of the River Jordan, To your crossing place.
There’s a time for work and progress, There’s a time for rest and play, But this time to say farewell to you: I’d have asked for a later day.
We shared in joys and sorrows. We put our hands to the plow. There were times of heartfelt sharing: May they comfort us now. As you walk to the bank of Jordan, As you near your crossing time, My tears flow with reason, My grief has so many rhymes.
There’s a time to plant and nourish, There’s a time to harvest and store, But I’m lost in this time of farewell. I’d have asked for a little time more.
Bright days and thunder sounding, Our minds at work to shape words Telling others’ stories as sweetly As ever a story was heard. As you make your crossing of Jordan, Don’t linger, my friend, for me. You can lay aside life’s burden. In the crossing, my friend, you’re free.
You can lay aside life’s burden. In the crossing, be free.
There’s a time to live and to flourish, There’s a time to shed life’s shell. Though I could have asked for later, my friend: Aloha o’e – fare well.
When recorded, I was delivering the story from a memory of this text – which means they’re not the same. It is distinctive, however, for including the coining of the word, “tentacally,” which sadly, isn’t in the prepared text.
The ‘apapane are known for their cheerful songs. Walk around in the ohi’a forests of Hawai’i Island and you will hear them. They produce all kinds of sounds, combining them together into a range of calls and melodies that make the forest ring.
But there was one ‘apapane that never learned to sing, and it happened in this way.
As young human beings, you learn a lot of things in schools, right? It’s somewhat the same for many kinds of fish, of course. A lot of them spend nearly their entire lifetime in schools, so they’re probably the best educated of the world’s creatures, don’t you think?
The ‘apapane don’t have schools. They have flocks, of course, and they have families. They learn to sing in choruses.
The year’s fledgling singers came together with one of the senior singers to form a new ‘apapane chorus and learn the basic melodies and sounds of ‘apapane song. They were excited and they were enthusiastic. Many of them had learned things from their parents and older family members, and they wanted to sing more and better and louder songs.
One ‘apapane turned up with so much eagerness that it just went running over. “Aren’t you excited?” he asked his fellow youngsters. “I’m really excited. What do you think they’ll teach us?”
The ‘apapane he asked opened her beak to answer the question, but he went right on to say something else to another bird that had just joined them. “I think singing is just the best part of being an ‘apapane. It’s like flying, but with your voice. Don’t you think so?”
The new ‘apapane started to reply, but before he got out a peep the excited ‘apapane had turned back to the first bird and continued, “I’m really looking forward to those really high sweeping calls. You know the ones? I’m sure you do. Do you think the instructor will know them? How could she not? Do you know who she is? Has she arrived yet?”
And it went on.
The instructor turned up and, for a moment, there was silence as she spoke to the new choristers. “Welcome, friends,” she said. “We’re here to learn the art of ‘apapane music. I hope you’ll all enjoy this. Let’s start with…”
“Oh, I will definitely enjoy this!” piped up our eager fledgling. “And so will he. And her. And that one over there. Are you going to teach us with the Kilauea method or do you use the Maui variant? Are there any specialty classes? How about song composition? And what about…?”
And it went on.
The instructor and the other students waited for a while to see if he would stop on his own. And… he didn’t. He just went on. Eventually the chorus teacher shrugged her feathers and went on to demonstrate some basic calls, and then some trills, and then some melodies. As the chorus grew in strength and confidence, there was this constant undercurrent of… well.
“I’ve been really interested in flycatching technique, you know? Sometimes that can improve the voice, right? And the different nectars produce different songs, I’m sure. I’d volunteer for that experiment. But really it’s the classic songs that impress me. Do they impress you? Of course they do, you’re here to teach them. Which one will you start with? I think it would be the Pali song, but perhaps you like the rising notes of the Pu’u Trill.”
And it went on. He never stopped. As a result, he never actually learned to sing.
Now, I know that not everyone is always interested in learning new things. I know that not everyone gets excited about learning to sing, or fly, or skip, or cook, or do any one of the many things that make up our lives. But there is something to learn from the ‘apapane that never learned to sing. The first step in learning is to stop talking for a moment and listen.
by Eric Anderson
Watch the Recorded Story
The story as told is different from the story as written. You’ll probably notice that if you listen.
Photo of an ‘apapane – one who learned to sing, as much as we can tell – by Eric Anderson.
“[Martha] had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.” – Luke 10:38-42
I’m listening, Jesus. Can’t you hear me listening?
I’m listening while I’m working. See how hard I’m working. All alone I’m working. Don’t you care? I’m working.
And I’m listening while I’m working. Have no fear about that, now. I’m listening.
I’m working because there’s work. So much need, so much work. Who else is working? Don’t you care I’m working?
Still listening; still working. Don’t worry about listening. I am listening.
The needs, they keep shifting. Some things I’ve done aren’t working. I’ll try something new. Don’t you care to share something new?
Let me get this done while I’m listening. Speak your peace, Jesus. I’m listening.
Yes, I’m listening, Jesus.
Can’t you hear me listening?
A poem/prayer based on Luke 10:38-42, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Proper 11 (16).
The story of Mary and Martha has often been used to praise contemplative spirituality and criticize engagement with others. I think that’s a misleading reading. Jesus commented on Martha’s worry and distraction, not her activity. What distinguished the two women was that Mary listened. Someone with a spirituality of involvement can be an active listener to Jesus, and a contemplative can certainly listen to self rather than to Christ.