Holy Week 2019: Monday

Where the Gold Lies

I wrote this song in the fall of 2018, when a number of conversations turned to a wish for Jesus to come along and start to flip some tables. I expected it to be a rousing, even raucous anthem: but it turned to lament.

They’re changing money in the temple, Jesus.
They’re not giving full value for each coin.
They’re changing money in the temple, Jesus.
They’ve turned a house of prayer…
Into a house of thieves…

[Chorus]

What are you going to do about it, Jesus?
The gold is piled high…
What are you going to do about it, Jesus?
Do you see where the gold… lies?

They’re piling money in the towers, Jesus.
They won’t even pay the builders their full coin.
They’re piling money in the towers, Jesus.
They’ve given all that power…
Into the hands of thieves…

[Chorus]
Listen… to the gold lies.
Listen… to the golden lies.

We’ve exchanged our priests for tycoons, Jesus.
We’ve given our worship to the coin.
We’ve traded priests for tycoons, Jesus.
We’ve given our allegiance…
To generations of thieves…

[Final Chorus]

What are you going to do about it, Jesus?
The gold is piled high…
What are you going to do about it, Jesus?
Or the tables, where the gold… lies?

Flip the tables: the gold… flies!
Toss the tables, Jesus. Make the gold… fly!

© 2018 by Eric Anderson

Memories of an Ethical Missionary

I originally wrote this reflection in April 2011, shortly after I’d shared my most successful April Fool’s Day gag ever: a claim to have been summoned as an “ethical missionary” at a major American corporation. I’ve slightly changed the essay to reflect the fact that since then, I’ve moved from my work with the Connecticut Conference UCC to Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo, Hawai’i. I’ve also inserted a video of the song I wrote about the event, performed in April 2012.

Bear with me a moment, for I must begin this blog post with an apology.

To my friends on Facebook: I sincerely apologize for distressing you with my April Fool’s Day prank last week. I’d never actually intended it to deceive, only to amuse: but it was harder than I thought to create a gag that was both plausible and transparently impossible. Or in other words, I failed to create a fiction that was stranger than truth, and so I deceived, and so I distressed. I’m very sorry.

So what did I do?

I posted a note that I’d be moving to a new job — I hasten once more to say this is NOT TRUE — as the UCC’s first “Ethical Missionary” to a major American corporation. The note included more spurious details, many intended to reveal the joke for what it was, but that’s the summary. A number of my friends responded, and a startling (to me) number took it seriously. I learned a great deal.

I learned again that I have wonderful friends. I’d posited a move across the country, and without exception people expressed two heart-warming things: that they were very happy for my exciting new challenge, and very sad that I’d be so far away. Holding that sense of joy for another with that feeling of loss is, I think, a very deep mark of friendship.

And let us not ignore as well the fact that (so far) all have forgiven me for deceiving them!

I learned again that reality is much stranger than the human imagination — or at least my human imagination. I honestly believed I’d weighted the note with too many impossibilities to be credible. I hadn’t. Let’s face it, on a planet in which both the duck-billed platypus and the giraffe exist, I hadn’t much chance of doing so.

More striking, however, than these two reminders was the revelation of a sudden hunger. My friends sincerely wanted to believe in an ethical missionary, and in a major corporation willing to accept such a person. A friend who is ordained in another denomination praised the forward thinking of the UCC. Another called it “the coolest job EVER.”

It makes me think: maybe it’s a crazy idea, but maybe it’s not such a bad idea.

An ethical missionary to a big corporation faces an enormous challenge, because corporations already have an ethical code which has the advantage of being both clear and compelling. It’s about “the bottom line.”

The bottom line refers to the last line of a particular financial report in a corporation, the line which describes the return to shareholders, the company’s owners. The company’s managers, who may not be among the owners, see it as their duty to keep that number healthy (growing, increasing, certainly above zero). There are plenty of other ethical touchstones as well, about transparency and such, but many of those function to serve the primary goal of returning value to the stockholders.

Jesus, of course, told a story about precisely this situation. We call it the ‘parable of the talents:’ a master going on a journey assigns three servants to steward portions of his fortune while he is away. The two who successfully increase his wealth receive commendation; the one who fails (though without suffering loss) receives condemnation. Ethical managers of a corporation emulate those two faithful stewards.

I think, however, that that model is no longer sufficient (and possibly never was). The group of shareholders, however large, is not an adequate community to consider in making ethical choices. The owners’ interest is served by keeping finances transparent within the management team, but they are also served by making them opaque to customers, employees, and the general public. We have laws to prevent fraud in those interactions, but the laws that exist actively conflict with the primary ethic which guides business decisions day-to-day.

The great theologian and ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr noted this problem nearly eighty years ago in Moral Man, Immoral Society. His brother H. Richard Niebuhr considered the problem of inadequate circles of concern in The Responsible Self, published posthumously in 1962. People in groups act strongly in their own interest; they fail over and over to consider their impact on those around them: the customer, the neighbor, the public.

The financial crisis that erupted in 2008 illustrates this truth over and over and over again. It rose from a game of “pass-the-risk,” one marked by layer after layer of deception, justified by the interests of the shareholders (and not unmarked by the interests of the managers, too). As one might notice from the lack of public prosecutions, it seems to have been legal.

But ethical? Is it ethical to place the global economic system at risk in order to bring maximum return to your shareholders?

I will not, anytime soon, become an ethical missionary to the world of corporate America (or corporate multi-national). If such a job exists, I haven’t heard about it, and though I’ve shifted my ministry from the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ to Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo, Hawai’i, I’m fully committed to ministry in the church setting. It’s a crazy idea.

It wasn’t such a bad idea, though, was it?

I Don’t Want to Light Another Candle

IMG_4784

I wrote this song in October 2017 after fifty-nine people died, slain by a lone gunman in Las Vegas. Interfaith Communities in Action sponsored a prayer service at Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo. We read every name. We lit a candle for every life taken.

Just last week we held a similar service, remembering eleven killed at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. And today, twelve have died in Thousand Oaks, California.

I don’t want to light another candle.

I Don’t Want to Light Another Candle

I don’t want to light another candle.
I don’t want to spark another flame.
I don’t want to curse the crushing darkness
remembering another body slain.

[Chorus]
For the world is all aglow with candles
as bright as the noonday sun appears,
and we can see the swelling of the ocean
overflowing with the rivers of our tears.

I don’t want to light another candle.
I don’t want to read another name.
I don’t want to shout into the halls
of magnificence and power,
“Why must it always be the same?”

[Chorus]

I don’t want to light another candle.
I tell that my grieving days are done.
I don’t want to count the dead and injured
when the number that’s too high…
is one.

[Chorus]

Let me look up and see
God’s rainbow sailing through the sky:
a promise made of rain and sunshine
that all will be well by and by,
all will be well by and by.
Oh, God, may all be well…
by and by.

Copyright © 2017 by Eric Anderson

Give Me a Song to Sing

DSC_0435These are the lyrics. The recording below comes from a live performance at Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo, Hawai’i, on August 25, 2018.

When my heart is heavy as the leaden sky,
When my vision fails because of clouded eye,
When my courage strains
Against obstacles so high:
Give me a song to sing.

[Chorus]

Give me a song to sing
When dawn is breaking.
Give me a song to sing
When my heart is cold.
Give me a song… to sing…
When the heavens flash with glory!
Give me a song.
Let love unfold.

When my neighbors strain to live a life of trial,
When my nation turns to courses that are vile,
When righteousness calls
And hears only denial:
Give me a song to sing.

[Chorus]

When the birds sing out their melodies so free,
When the waves and wind keep time in company,
When all Creation’s voices
Rise in harmony:
Give me a song to sing.
Then I’ve been given a song to sing!

[Chorus]

[Final Ending]

Give me a song.
Let love unfold.
Give me a song.
Let God’s love unfold.
Give me a song.
Let God’s love unfold.

Copyright © 2018 by Eric S. Anderson

This song was performed to conclude a sermon on August 19, 2018, at Church of the Holy Cross UCC, Hilo. There is audio of the complete sermon, “This May Need a Song,” including the performance.

Christmas Prayer 2016

img_1767When Christmas falls on Sunday, it’s not just any service. It’s not just any Sunday service, and it’s also not just any Christmas service. Though every worship experience should connect with the heart and soul, Christmas truly demands it, and it also demands that we step outside the “usual” – since God did precisely that by coming to Earth in Jesus.

Thus this song, which was the pastoral prayer this morning. Mele Kalikimaka – Merry Christmas!

[Chorus]
Come to us, Christ Child
With the wailings of a newborn
Interrupt our sleep with an infant’s shrill demands.
Let us clothe your flailing arms with hope for all tomorrows.
Let us feed your hungers for deep peace around the world.
Let our arms enfold with the tender love of mother.
Let us sing a lullaby of joy
As our Christmas prayer:
As our Christmas prayer.

Your family fled from Herod
So we pray for refugees
May the ones oppressed by rage and fear
Soon shout that they are free.
You were given gifts by magi
So we pray we might be wise.
When we turn away from suffering
Redirect our eyes.

[Chorus]

As you grew from child to teacher
So we pray for all to learn
The depth of your compassion
And the love for which we yearn.
From your first hours in the manger
To your triumph over the grave,
Give us hope and confidence
You were born on Earth to save!

[Chorus]

Let us sing a lullaby of joy
As our Christmas prayer,
As our Christmas prayer,
As our Christmas prayer

A Musical Prayer

On November 13, 2016, Church of the Holy Cross UCC celebrated “Sing Praise Sunday,” a service with very little speaking and plenty of music. Children sang, the choirs sang, the people sang (their favorite hymns, so they sang right out!), and the pastor couldn’t quite see speaking a pastoral prayer, so, there was this:

 

Here are the lyrics:

Creator God be with us.
Send us rain and shine upon us all.
In steadfast love incline our hearts to justice.
Raise us when our weary spirits fall.
Raise us when our weary spirits fall.

Savior Christ be with us.
Heal all those suffer, those who sigh.
Forgive us when we serve ourselves, not justice.
Raise us to eternal life on high.
Raise us to eternal life on high.

(Chorus)

God, hear our prayer.
Christ, hear our prayer.
Holy Spirit, hear our prayer.
Bring your grace
To your world.

Holy Spirit be with us.
Guide us as we find our way.
Fill us with the fire of your compassion.
Inspire your children as we pray.
Inspire your children as we pray.

(Chorus, repeat third verse)

Song: “Holy Cross at 125”

hilo-japanes-christian-church-1891Author’s Note: I wrote this song for the celebration lunch of the Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo, Hawai’i, which was founded in 1891 to serve newly arriving immigrants from Japan. Most of them came as contract workers, spending 3 years on a sugar plantation and returning home (or staying and making the Big Island their home). Originally known as the “Japanese Christian Church,” the congregation took a new name in 1942.

I wrote and perform this song on ukulele, by the way.

They followed the summons of a man across the sea
To plant and to weed and to cut
Some returned to their homelands, some stayed in Hawai’i
And with them, the cultures of Japan.

When Jiro Okabe came to serve in Hilo Bay
He led a new church from his home.
He gathered the Workers Mutual Aid Society
To bring good works to the town.

[Chorus]

They had a vision
To bring good news to the poor
They had a mission
To bring good news to the poor
Poor in substance. Poor in spirit.
Poor in hope. Poor in dreams.
They had a vision.
They brought good news.

The sands of time flowed and the Christian Church grew
They took as their name Holy Cross
Through war and tsunami they lived out their hope
To raise up the lowly and lost.

[Chorus]

We march to remember those whom illness forgets
We help the poor build new homes.
We care for the dying and for the hungry
We worship the God of All.

As each era offers its challenges and change
We look ahead in awe:
A world beckons there both familiar and strange.
There we hear Christ’s call.

To have a vision
To bring good news to the poor
To have a mission
To bring good news to the poor
Poor in justice. Poor in freedom.
Poor in faith. Poor in deeds.
We need a vision…

Let’s seize a vision
To bring good news to the poor
Let’s seize a mission
To bring good news to the poor
Poor in substance. Poor in spirit.
Poor in hope. Poor in dreams.
Let’s seize the vision.
Let’s bring good news.