Plenty of Room… For the Devil

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. – Ephesians 4:26-27

Jesus, I’m banging my head against a wall here…
(Figuratively. I’m not banging it literally… yet…)
Truth and gracious words and tender hearts
are not winning the day.

In a global pandemic, governors forbid that schools
require that their students learn in masks.
For God’s sake, why?
Are we to be instructed by a flood of death?

Death of children, death of parents, death of uncles,
aunts, kupuna. An unmasked Masque of the Red Death,
a viral dance through classrooms, buses,
homes, cafes, churches, and… through mortuaries.

Oh, look, as patients struggle for a breath
and hospitals require more beds
and look, the dying count is rising, too,
and truth and gracious words don’t cut it.

How could we possibly grieve the Holy Spirit more
than with this wholesale exercise of folly,
denying the urgent summons of her wisdom,
favoring the clarion call of limitless greed?

For greed has won the day, mammon taken the prize,
to summon workers back to risky work,
their children back in virus-sharing schools,
so owners profit more than they will pay.

The cause of education? That’s a laugh.
We find that educators are not valued
for the things they teach our children – but
to keep them while their parents work.

Six hundred fourteen thousand dead
in this country alone; four and a quarter
million dead around the globe and some still claim
the danger and the cost are fiction.

A falsehood that belies that we are truly
members of one body, interwoven
over oceans, nations’ borders, and our
prejudicial, harmful acts,

Connected not just in pandemic
but in ordinary time, connected
because the suffering of one
will lead to suffering for all.

We do not imitate our God in truth.
Though Christ, in love, gave himself up,
we still insist on offering up more lives
for lives, for greed, for power, for evil.

A poem/prayer based on Ephesians 4:25-5:2, the Revised Common Lectionary Second Reading for Year B, Proper 14 (19).

The image is The angel of death striking a door during the plague of Rome. Engraving by Levasseur after J. Delaunay. https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/70/48/4b5c28e57609137dd2009ae490f2.jpg Gallery: https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/V0010664.html Wellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-03): https://wellcomecollection.org/works/p8gxfxrp CC-BY-4.0, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36456028.

Successful Complaint

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'” – Exodus 16:9

May I have the form, please? Thank you.

[Divine Complaint Form: Form 2, Revision 4,917,824,718]

[For Internal Use Only: Complaint Reference: Exodus 16]

Complainant: Hebrew Refugees

Complaint Date: Now

Complaint Received and Delivered by: Moses and Aaron

Complaint Type: [Checkbox] Hunger

Desired Timeframe for Response: [Checkbox] Immediate

Related Previous Complaints: Enslavement, legal murder, tasked with making bricks without straw, military pursuit, bitter water.

Disposition of Previous Complaints: Emancipation, murder now illegal, emancipation, military pursuers overthrown, water made drinkable.

Further Factors in Current Complaint:

While warned to provide ourselves with unleavened bread – there was not time for it to rise before fleeing Egypt – we did not have time to bake enough to provide for a journey which has now extended to forty-five days. The people are camped in a wilderness without bread ovens, with questionable amounts of firewood, with uncertain water sources, without adequate cooking oil, without flour, without mill stones, and without grain.

Further, we are unhappy with our leadership. They don’t seem to have plans for reliably obtaining food or water, and we are not confident in their ability to navigate through this wilderness to our destination in Canaan. It could take us forty years at this rate.

While the disposition of previous complaints tends toward confidence, the simple truth is that we will not survive without a reliable source of food. We do not accept that we are free only to starve.

[For Internal Use Only: Resolution of Complaint: Manna.]

[For Internal Use Only: Notes on Resolution of Complaint:]

[They didn’t know what it was.]

[For Internal Use Only: Notes for Future Planning:]

[Lay in a forty year supply.]

A (semi-)poem/prayer based on Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15, the Revised Common Lectionary First Alternate Reading for Year B, Proper 13 (18).

The image is Miracle of the Manna by Jacopo Tintoretto (ca. 1577) – http://www.laeditorialvirtual.com.ar/Pages/MartosDenes/LosDeicidas/Images/MilagroDelMana.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5182241

A Plea for Originality

Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. – John 6:11

A miraculous feeding? Really, Jesus.
Try something original instead.

Moses ate manna, and before him
Joseph’s dreams kept fed a nation.
Ruth ate and found a home.
David ate the sacred bread he shouldn’t.

Elijah and the widow ate from ever-flowing jars.
Later Elijah ate the bread baked by an angel.
Elisha fed his neighbors with the meat of oxen
That he left behind to follow Elijah’s call.

Oh, Elisha liked a party! Feeding people right and left.
Ever-flowing oil to sustain another widow.
Flour to nullify the poison in the stew.
A hundred men fed with the twenty barley loaves.

Miraculous feeding? Really, Jesus.
It’s like you copied out the words yourself.
Five thousand, I admit, is better numbers,
But I cannot say this miracle is new.

What’s that? I’ve missed the point?
Oh. Yes. I guess I did.
For, new or not, the people
Have been fed.

A poem/prayer based on 2 Kings 4:42-44 and John 6:1-21, the Revised Common Lectionary First Alternate Reading and Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 12 (17).

The image is Elisha Multiplies the Bread by Jacopo Tintoretto – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6893126.

What I’m Thinking: Pitching Our Tents

This is a crosspost from holycrosshilo.com.

I’m busy with the UCC’s General Synod this week, so I’m reading a poem that has just been published in Pitching Our Tents: Poetry of Hospitality. It’s a fundraiser for the Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Here’s a transcript:

The first thing I’m thinking is how grateful I am to the Rev. Jonathan Roach, who will be filling the pulpit at Church of the Holy Cross this coming Sunday. I’m grateful to Jonathan for his time, but even more for the wisdom and insight that he brings to the message that he’ll share this coming Sunday. I know I look forward to watching the recording.

The reason that I won’t be in the pulpit is that this week I am a delegate to the General Synod of the United Church of Christ. The last plenary, in fact, occurs during our worship service and I seriously can’t be in two places at the same time. General Synod this year is being held online, via the Internet, so I won’t actually be going anywhere further than, oh, this desk right behind me. Still, it does mean that I will be spending a number of hours in committee meetings and in plenary sessions, and so therefore, rather than try to share a Scriptural reflection this week, I’ve instead turned to a small book that recently arrived in the mail. It’s a chapbook, that means a short book (a new word for me). It’s called Pitching Our Tents. It’s edited by Maren Tirabassi and Maria Mankin.

The book is an effort to raise funds for the Peace Cathedral in Tbilisi, Georgia. That site dedicated to peace is attempting to expand, to provide a space for a Jewish synagogue and for a Muslim mosque, called respectively the Peace Synagogue and the Peace Mosque. It’s a book full of poetry, and among the poems is one of my own. I was so flattered when Maren Tirabassi extended me the invitation. 

Maren has been reading some of the poems from this chapbook on her Facebook page. She also read one of mine and if I can manage to find the link I’ll include it.

But I did want to read my own poem for you. The title is “August 28, 2017,” and it is based upon a real incident that occurred when an ecumenical – interfaith – group of people chose to witness for peace and love and justice for people of all races.

August 28, 2017

Grass glowing green, sky beaming blue.
Sun streaming down upon the figures
stretched along the sidewalk, bearing signs
inscribed upon their neon glow that
“Racism is sin.” “Justice for all.” “Aloha not hate.”

The same sun heats the sober sable garb
of Buddhist priests and Christian clergy,
glints from clerics’ collars, shines from smiles
of Latter Day Saints and Unitarians,
of Anglicans and followers of Amida.

The sun has blessed this gathering of witness
to the spectrum of embraced humanity
because another gathering beneath Virginia’s sun
had stormed, consumed a human life,
to magnify their power to oppress “the other.”

Does the sun see shaka signs displayed
as cars drive by, or hear the horns that sound
in affirmation? Does the sun hear voices
raised in rage against the signs of hope?
Does it hear the words of poison spat again?

UCC and MCC, Hongwanji and Quaker
hear the calls of violence and know:
until the fury fades, while race and faith 
are used as reason to oppress, the signs
must wave beneath the sun in witness

To another day,
when tents are pitched
beneath the oaks of Mamre
and the traveler and sojourner
find peace.

From Pitching Our Tents: Poetry of Hospitality, edited by Maren Tirabassi & Maria Mankin

You can purchase this book – and I have no problems in advertising it because I’m not actually benefitting financially from this in any way. It is fully a fundraiser for the Peace Cathedral and the Peace Synagogue and the Peace Mosque. Go the Alliance of Baptists website and look to donate there for the Pitching Our Tents: Poetry of Hospitality (Note: the suggested gift is $10). You can find it on Amazon to have it printed and mailed to you. But also you’ll find that you can get it electronically. If you’re looking at this at either the ordainedgeek.com or the holycrosshilo.com websites, there will be links in the text to help you find this book.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.


By the way, did you know I have a YouTube channel? I do. It’s where live stream worship from Church of the Holy Cross lives, as well as musical performances and occasional appreciations of the beauty around me. Oh, right: and a weekly Scriptural reflection called What I’m Thinking. Feel free to check it out!

Triumph

She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” – Mark 6:24a

What a triumph! What a dance!
The rumbles of applause! The smiles of delight!
The air is barely filling up my heaving lungs
as I give honors to the cheers.

Reward! A gift! My father wishes me to have a gift!
But what? My breathing has not slowed,
my mind is all a-whirl as surely as my limbs
where whirling just a moment past.

To mother then: “What shall I ask? What gift?”
She looks nonplussed. Then suddenly a smile,
hardly pleasant, but a smile resolute,
has shaken out the stillness of her face.

“Ask, daughter, for the head of John the Baptist.”
What? Can I believe my ears? My head
is twirling with a disbelief that my young life
has danced so joyfully for death.

I see no hesitation in her glance
that darts upon the king. His look of shock
has shaken quickly to a look of… power…
and a hint of admiration for the queen.

Well, then. I choose: “Bring me the head
of John the Baptist on a silver tray,”
I say in voice that only trembles with exertion.
The king my father nods and sends the man.

We watch our faces, back and forth, we three,
to see if one will blink, recall this fatal course.
None has. None does. None will. And so
the baptizer will take his bath of blood.

The head that lies before me is expressionless,
the platter spattered in carnelian.
Now king and queen regard no more their dancing daughter.
They nod once more. The deed is done.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 6:14-29, the Revised Common Lectionary Epistle Reading for Year B, Proper 10 (15).

The image is Herodias by Ivan Kramskoi – http://www.art-catalog.ru/picture.php?id_picture=16421, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73681655.

Boasting Fool

But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. – 2 Corinthians 12:6

Which is it, Paul? Which is it, God?
Foolish boasting from a boasting fool?
Or truth that, shared, inspires?
Truth that, shared, encourages?

I wish I knew.

I am, perhaps, more conscious of my weakness
than Paul was of his strength.
I doubt the exceptional character
of my revelations (let alone my self).

There is a hollowness inside
that hollers, “I am great!”
and echoes, “I am empty!”
and which is it, or both?

I wish I knew.

What can I do but echo the apostle
who expressed himself content with weakness
(I’m not sure I believe he was),
and begged the Holy Spirit then to fill

The empty spaces, tired places,
of the weary body,
of the weary mind,
of the weary soul.

A poem/prayer based on 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, the Revised Common Lectionary Epistle Reading for Year B, Proper 9 (14).

Photo by Eric Anderson

Urgent

“[Jairus] begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.'” – Mark 5:23

“Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?'” – Mark 5:30

It’s not complicated, Jesus, it’s urgent.
My daughter/son/companion/father/mother
needs You. Just You. Only You.
They need You now.

Here I am. I’m on my knees.
My friend/lover/spouse/inamorata
will not survive without You. Just You. Only You.
They need You now.

Don’t pause. Don’t dawdle. Don’t turn aside.
My grandson/granddaughter/neighbor/acquaintance
needs You to touch them. Just You. Only You.
They need You now.

Don’t stop. Don’t heal anyone else. Don’t ask questions.
My aunt/uncle/grandmother/grandfather/cousin
needs Your time. Just You. Only You.
They need You now.

Seriously, Jesus. How am I to wait for You
when someone I love
needs You. Just You. Only You.
They need You now.

Oh. Well, that’s all right then.
How was I to know that You
make Your
own time?

A poem/prayer based on Mark 5:21-43, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 8 (13).

The image is The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter by Ilya Repin (1871) – http://f.rodon.org/p/1/070901155909d.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=461972.

It’s Scary Out Here

“But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion…” – Mark 4:38

Yeah, absolutely. I’m going to wake him up.

You, Peter, have been shouting for a half an hour.
You, Andrew, have been shouting back.
James and John have been pulling on the same rope
in opposite directions. And you’re the experts.

I never thought I’d hear the Sons of Thunder
overmatched by screech of wind and wave.
Shout away, boys. I can’t hear you. You can’t hear you.
For sure the wind can’t hear you and it doesn’t care.

Thomas looks like he can’t believe what’s happening.
Philip, Bartholomew, and Judas all are seasick.
James son of Alphaeus is pretending to be a son of Zebedee,
but he knows nothing at all about boats.

Thaddeus and Matthew are praying beneath the thwarts.
I’m pulling on a rope when it’s handed to me,
and releasing it when Peter, Andrew, James, or John
snatches it away. At least two lines are streaming in the wind.

So, yes, I’m going to wake him up. I can’t believe
he’s not awake already. Peter’s stepped upon him twice,
and Philip tripped on him when making for the gunwale.
He’s soaked with spray amidst the pounding roar.

Maybe he can bring some order to this chaos.
Maybe he can heal the seasick.
Maybe he can bless us in the baptism of death.
Maybe he can just be with us as we drown.

That, at least, would be a comfort. It hasn’t been
a lengthy journey with the Teacher, and I wish
it wouldn’t end like this, but if we drown,
let’s drown together with the Master wide awake.

But man. That guy can sleep.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 4:35-41, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 7 (12).

The image is The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633 – www.gardnermuseum.org : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6812612. The painting is still missing after being stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990.

Of Itself

“The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.” – Mark 4:28

I am the seed, cradled in the loving embrace of God.
I am the seed, held in the richness of mercy.
I am the seed, surrounded by blessings.
I am the seed, cracking my shell to grow.

I am the stalk, stretching toward the heavens.
I am the stalk, nourished by my roots below.
I am the stalk, proudly waving in the wind.
I am the stalk, upheld by the ground divine.

I am the head, making space for the seeds.
I am the head, barely aware of the soil that feeds me.
I am the head, dancing among the grasses.
I am the head, confident of my own grace.

I am the grain, ripe and rich and precious.
I am the grain, and I have no memory of the Earth.
I am the grain, the fruit of my own growing.
I am the grain, flying out upon the wind.

I am the seed, fallen now to the dust.
I am the seed, fearing the burning sun.
I am the seed, praying for soil to cover me…
I am the seed, cradled in the loving embrace of God.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 4:26-34, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 6 (11).

The image is by Jim Padgett, an illustration for Read’n Grow Picture Bible Illustrations (Biblical illustrations by Jim Padgett, courtesy of Sweet Publishing, Ft. Worth, TX, and Gospel Light, Ventura, CA. Copyright 1984); used by courtesy of Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18886335.

Family

“…they could not even eat… …whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness… …’Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.'” – Mark 3:20, 29, 35

I can’t quite imagine such enthusiasm,
people so eager to see you, Jesus,
that they drive me away from my lunch.

Yet there was the crowd surrounding your house.
You were far from the lake, no boat for escape,
just skeptical critics and uncertain neighbors.

And family.

I have to admire the gaslighting lie for
its creativity, if not its morality.
“He casts out the demons by power of demons.”

We’d believe it today, you know, Jesus,
just like we believe all those scurrilous tales
about peace through war, about life through death,

About wisdom through folly, about greed is good,
about white wealth is righteous, about injustice is right,
about male is empowered, female is servant,

And family.

Those were harsh words, you know, Savior.
No forgiveness for those who blaspheme against
the Holy Spirit? No forgiveness at all?

Forgive us if we’re just a little bit lost.
We’re barely acquainted with God’s Holy Spirit,
not enough to prevent this unforgivable sin!

As harsh as it was (and it was) to identify you
with the overlord of evil and captain of lies,
could you not forgive their hubris? Their fear?

Did they leave no room for repentance?
Did they step so far from the acceptable
to lose their place among humanity?

And family?

Have I blasphemed against the Holy Spirit?
Have I denied the power of God, of Spirit, of You,
to expand the circle, to welcome the newcomers?

Have I explained blessings of the world as evils?
Have I declared that what is should be,
though you and I know well that it should not?

Have I accepted boundaries that separate
this person from that person, this people from that people?
Have I pronounced as strangers those you choose

As family?

Forgive me what is unforgivable, which is
to deny the power of divine forgiveness, and
restore me to the blessed community

That you have summoned, symbolized by twelve,
expanding with the centuries imperfectly,
yet still the Church, the Way, the Faith,

The family.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 3:20-35, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 5 (10).

Photo by Eric Anderson.