Holy Week 2020: Monday

It’s all right, Jesus.
You don’t have to look.
We know what’s in the Temple –
our temples, not the one
in Jerusalem –
just the same thing you saw
that overwhelmed your soul
with rage and summoned you
to drive the money changers out.

We know what’s in the temple.
The demons that will place
economy ahead of life.
The devils that will hoard
the PPEs until they get
a higher price.
The monsters who once profited
from home foreclosures now
have charge of the nation’s wealth.

You warned us, Jesus, and we…
We have learned nothing.
People will die for others’ wealth.
People will die for others’ hubris.
People will die for others’ greed.
People will die for others’ faith,
a faith you long ago rejected.
People will die, and die, and die.
For God’s sake, Jesus, drive them all away.

The image is Christ Driving the Money-Changers from the Temple by Gaetano Previati – https://www.dorotheum.com/en/auctions/current-auctions/kataloge/list-lots-detail/auktion/12991-19th-century-paintings-and-watercolours/lotID/146/lot/2337326-gaetano-previati.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=65830821.

These were my thoughts last year… Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose…

Go into the Village

Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied…”

Send me into the village, Jesus.
I’d really like something useful to do.
Hanging around you lately
has been something of a strain.

First we had those children bugging you –
well, us – and then you missed
the perfect chance to call a
wealthy ruler as disciple.

You might have promised we would have
a seat of power in glory, but…
we’re mighty low on dinners, Lord.
I’d even eat a camel.

I’m also less than charmed to hear
that God is like the sorriest
employer ever known, who pays
all workers just the same.

And then, sweet Jesus, you would go
and say that we are on our way
into this city so that we can watch
you die. I just can’t even.

So give me something useful I can do.
Amidst the cheers and hollers,
above the leafy carpet,
I still hear your words to James and John:

“You will indeed drink my cup.”

Ah, Jesus.

You didn’t mean a royal chalice, did you?

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 21:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Palm Sunday.

Painting by Lars Wikström/Ryttare (1800–1865) – Biblia Dalecarlica 1965, målat av Lars Ryttare 1830., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6823191.

Prophesy to the Bones

Ezekiel once stood upon the city wall.
He stood, he gazed. I’m sure he wept.
For on that day he saw an army
terrible and merciless. It filled the valley,
all the valleys, that encircle Zion.
He stood. He gazed. I’m sure he wept.

When You showed him all those desiccated bones,
O God, what fashion did the valley take
in his imagination? Kidron?
The Outer Valley? Or Gehenna?
Or had You mercy enough to make it look
like a Babylonian valley spanned with gardens?

I doubt it mattered. Ezekiel wept, I’m sure,
upon the wall. I’m sure he wept the see
even an unfamiliar valley overflowing
with the dead. Bones so dry, dry as dust,
unmoistened even by the flood of tears
of a priest and prophet’s grief.

Command me, Holy One, to prophesy
and promise to the dusty bones that they
shall live again. Command me, Holy One,
to summon up the spirit breath to bind
with sinew all these bones. For then shall I
appreciate the salt of joyful tears.

A poem/prayer based on Ezekiel 37:1-14, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Fifth Sunday in Lent.

Photo of a detail of the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem by Deror avi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4085158.

The Cost of Calling it a War

In some places in the world – Wuhan, northern Italy, New York City, to name three – the spread of COVID-19 has greatly resembled the impact of war. The virus has brought terrible suffering. It has taken lives. It has left thousands grieving. It has overwhelmed medical facilities and professionals. It has forced horrible decisions. It has exacted a stiff toll on the economic lives of cities, provinces, states, and nations.

Wars do that.

In response, governments have summoned organizational resources in a very similar manner to those required in war. They have issued orders restricting the freedoms of their citizens. They have sought to create supplies that had not previously existed, and direct them in unusual quantities to the places they are needed. They have recruited additional personnel to meet the needs. They have intervened in the economic processes of the world.

Wars do all that, too.

Further, governmental leaders have urged their citizens, out of a sense of patriotism and the good of the nation, to take on new tasks (while old ones cannot be done). Sewing masks for medical staff reminds me of the bandage preparation groups of the American Civil War. They have asked for sacrifices among the population for the good of all.

These things, too, happen in war.

It is not, however, a war, and there are steep costs to thinking about it as one.

This week, some business and political leaders came to the conclusion that the public health response to the spreading contagion came at too high a price. Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas, offered that he and those of his generation might offer to sacrifice their lives “in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren.” Fox News commentator Brit Hume endorsed the idea, saying, “The utter collapse of the country’s economy — which many think will happen if this goes on much longer — is an intolerable result.” The President of the United States, without any medical advice at all, suggested that Easter – April 12 – would be a good day to return to normal activity again.

It’s a war, they say, not on a virus, but in defense of an economy. They are summoning a patriotic fervor to defend the wealth of a nation, wealth that is held by a startlingly small portion of its population. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Saint Louis, in 2016 the richest 10% of Americans possessed 77% of its wealth, up from 67% in 1989. 1% of American assets were (unevenly) divided between fully half of the population.

In other words, the sacrifices of war are being urged on a generation of Americans who have not benefited from the wealth they are being called upon to defend. It is true, I’m afraid, that in war a generation, generally of young adults, is called upon to sacrifice itself in defense of rights and privileges they frequently have not enjoyed.

That is why we must not call it a “war.”

We are engaged in a massive effort, yes. We are trying to preserve the public health from a spreading pathogen which can cause terribly acute illness and has a high rate of mortality. That is not, however, a war. A virus does not select targets. It makes no decisions based on strategy or in keeping with some “law of war.” It jumps from host to host as best it can without regard for anything except opportunity. Admirals and generals have no tactics for this response. Those trained in public health do.

We are engaged in promoting the healing of those infected by the virus. The number of people who require advanced care because of COVID-19 disease is stunning. Our hospitals are built for the number of people who are usually sick, not for this. Mobilizing the equipment and the personnel to care for the acutely ill is a herculean task, but it is a task of healing, not of death.

We are also trying to maintain the daily life of human beings. Some of that gets measured and described by economists: growing things, transporting things, making things, selling things, bringing things home to continue the life of the household. Other things rarely get measured by economists: conversations between friends that lift the heart, the acknowledgement of the sales clerk’s shared humanity, the sweetness of common prayer. All of these things are being stressed by the pandemic, and all of them will need help and healing to recover.

None of them will be aided by the language of war.

None of them will be strengthened by the guiding assumptions of war. “War is cruelty,” said William Tecumseh Sherman, and he demonstrated it. Cruelty will not help us.

We face pain, anguish, illness, death, and loss.

We must face it without cruelty.

As for those summoning us to sacrifice our kupuna for the wealth of some: The answer has to be a firm and unequivocal, “No.” May they ashamed of their callousness. Let their cruelty find no place in policy, in the hearts of the people, and especially not in a rising tide of tears for the sick and the dead.

It is not a war.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

No Explanation; No Blame

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)

All you need do, Redeemer, is explain.
Explain the suffering, the illness, the
dis-ease. Explain the disabilities,
ill fortunes, and abuse. Explain it all
so we may know the cause, the source, the blame.

In truth, we are less interested to see
the sufferer healed. We gain a measure of
self-satisfaction in our judgments, yes?
And leave the sad afflicted in the sad
result of “their own failed and sorry lives.”

But you, Redeemer, will not settle for
the sadness of our satisfaction. You
insist that we lay down our judgment, hear
the voices we would silence. You insist
we act as healers in the suffering world.

May we take your direction in this time:

[Jesus said] to him, “Go, wash…” (from John 9:7)

A poem/prayer based on John 9:1-41, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Fourth Sunday in Lent.

The image is Le aveugle-né se lave à la piscine de Siloë (The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam) by James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.173_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10957455.

Prayer Amidst Pandemic

O Holy One,

We’re frightened. Simply and honestly, we’re frightened. We can summon up our courage, but we must summon it amidst our fear.

We fear the thing we cannot see.

For some, this fear has led us into frenzy. Look, see the empty shelves where frozen foods and sanitizing lotion and toilet paper rolls were stocked. Look, see the calls and visits rising at the doctors’ offices, the urgent cares, the hospitals’ emergency rooms. Look, see the frenzy.

For some, this fear has led us into flat denial. Look, see the false-faced reassurances. Look, see the failures to anticipate. Look, see the bald refusal to take ownership of errors.

For some, this fear has led to false bravado. Look, see the gatherings still scheduled, defiant and unwise. Look, see the accusations leveled against “foreign” carriers of illness. Look, see the quest for blame replace the quest for health.

Look and see, O God. Look and see.

Now help us see, we pray, the actions of compassion. May we care for one another in our caution, less concerned with how this virus might affect “my” health than how it might bring harm to “yours.” May we keep our sickness to ourselves (for once, and if only this once, then at least this once). May we bring our groceries to share, our voices over telephones or video streams, our prayers…

Our prayers to you.

Grant strength to those who struggle to breathe. Grant protection to those who labor in healing. Grant compassion to those who share their ability to move about with those who must stay home. Grant connections of hearts between those who must refrain, for now, from touching hands.

In the name of the Healing Christ,

Amen.

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Lessons from a Slow Motion Disaster

June 11, 2018, Pahoa, Hawai’i

In a conversation with a friend and colleague today, as we shared our fears about the COVID-19 pandemic, the approaches we were taking or considering, and the wide expanse of potential futures, I mentioned that I had been looking forward to a time with less stress in my ministry. In each of the last three years, natural disasters and community conflicts have shaken my neighbors (sometimes literally), my colleagues in faith leadership, and our institutions. I had truly hoped that 2020 would bring some relief.

It has not.

In 2018, lava erupted from the lower slopes of Kilauea, spilling across farms, roads, and houses. Half of the Leilani Estates subdivision vanished and all of Kapoho. Places of great beauty are no more. The molten rock flowed for four months. Sometimes it chose new channels, displacing new people. Sometimes it simply flowed in a well-bounded river. Residents scrambled to evacuate, and sometimes returned to recover additional possessions. Some of them have been able to return home. Some never can.

As we observed that the pandemic was not a one day and done event, my friend asked me, “What have you learned about a slow motion disaster?”

I learned that community connection and collaboration are vital. The faith groups of Hawai’i dithered briefly (we must admit that) and organized quickly. We built on existing relationships among clergy and lay leaders. Then we strengthened them. We created brand-new relationships with one another. We strengthened those, too. The “Faith Hui,” as we came to be known, was not unique. Collaborations sprang up between newly formed groups such as the Pu’uhonua of Puna and the Bodacious Women of Pahoa formed in 2013.

Nobody worked alone – or if they did, they didn’t do it effectively, or they didn’t do it for long.

We learned to conserve our strength as leaders and as congregations. We took on tasks, and we handed tasks along. We recruited people from outside our congregations or organizations to help. Some partnerships lasted only a few days, others persisted. Since the lava stopped flowing, new partnerships have evolved to aid in recovery, or to adapt programs built for one purpose to serve a new and similar one.

Sometimes leaders had to step back. Other leaders stepped forward.

We learned that sometimes we had to attend to our own needs. Spiritual care for people in the Red Cross shelter in Pahoa never reached the levels we’d hoped or anticipated. Some couldn’t take the atmosphere, which, just a few miles away from the fissures, was laden with sulfur. I myself had to step away for a few weeks because my father died, nor was I the only faith leader in that period to suffer the loss of a loved one.

The heart may yearn to be in more than one place, but the body can only be in one.

We learned to stay out of the way of other efforts. As someone who had done event photography for so many years, and as someone who loves to capture the power of nature in images, I yearned to visit the area with a camera. But… that would have added almost nothing to the assistance needed by those affected. It would have done little to tell the story that was not already being done by others. My camera and I stayed home. The photo above, taken from three miles away in the village of Pahoa, was as close as was sensible and as close as I came.

We didn’t have to do everything. There were things we simply should not do.

As I lead a study series on Wisdom this Lenten season, I hope this brief meditation reflects some wisdom for this crisis, for this pandemic. We must not work alone. We must be ready to step back as needed and step forward as needed. We must meet our own needs.

We do not have to do everything.

There are things we simply should not do.

Photo by Eric Anderson.