Why Choose?

I can never really choose between the ocean and the mountain for grandeur. Some people can. I can’t.

Living in Hilo, I don’t have to. So, why choose?

The photos and video were taken on December 26, 2016, at Whittington Beach Park in Naalehu and on the Kilauea summit.

Christmas Eve 2016

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Photo of a mosaic in the Greek Catholic Church and monastery of the Basilian Friars in Warsaw by Loraine – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9656226

We have heard the stories. We have sung the songs. We have lit the candles. We have shared Christmas greetings. We have shared Christmas treats.

Now comes the silence which comes so rarely in this busy technological world. Gradually, the excited children will succumb to the fatigue excitement brings. The wide-eyed stares of anticipation will relax into dreams, whether there is snow outside to cushion the anticipated sleigh or not. Ears tuned to the clatter of reindeer will be disappointed, once again, to find that the miracle happened while they slumbered and could not warn their owners that the moment had arrived.

Two thousand years ago, there must have been such a moment. I doubt it lasted long, babies being babies, but there must have been a moment when the exhausted newly-christened mother dreamed, and when the wondering father slumbered, and when the infant made only the soft snuffling sounds that reassure anxious parents that their child breathes.

In that moment, God could appreciate the miracle new-wrought in Bethlehem, and make whatever cosmic sound we imitate with a contented sigh. The miracle new-wrought, alive, and growing.

Have a blessed Christmas.

Worst and Best

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday marks the 75th anniversary of the Japanese air and sea attack on the United States at its bases around Pearl Harbor. The day continues to fulfill President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s prophecy that it will “live in infamy” to Americans, and indeed to others around the world. Over 2,400 Americans died in the one-sided two hour battle, the first of some 419,000 who would perish before the war ended four years later.

Hundreds of survivors attended today’s observance at Pearl Harbor, according to news accounts. They honored the friends they lost seventy-five years ago for the dedication and valor they showed on the last day of their lives. War calls upon human beings to offer all they have to give – their talents, their freedom, and their very lives – on behalf of others. They offer it all for their nation, they offer it all for their families, and they offer it all for those beside them.

There is a greatness in that. It calls for the best.

Here in Hawai’i, however, I find it easier to see the price of that greatness. The commitment and the dedication and the valor (which can be found on both sides of the battle) preserve a nation, but also imperil its values. Martial law was imposed on the Territory of Hawai’i within hours, and would not be lifted until 1944. American citizens were detained and imprisoned without criminal charge or conviction. Military courts suspended the writ of habeaus corpus. In fear for their liberty, people buried or burned possessions that linked them to Japan: records, photographs, mementos.

The infamy of Pearl Harbor has company, lots of company: The Bataan Death March. The horrors of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The firebombing of London. The abduction and rape of thousands of women by Japanese soldiers. The murders of millions of military prisoners, gay men, Romani, and Jews in German death camps.

Lest we assume a virtue that is unwarranted, however, the infamy of Pearl Harbor has plenty of Allied company: The savage campaign on the Eastern Front. The firestorm of Dresden. More firestorms in too many Japanese cities to list. The atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Over 60 million people died in the fires of World War II.

We may, and should, honor the best. We dare not ignore the worst.

As 94-year-old World War II veteran Kenzo Kanemoto told Hawai’i News Now, “If you win, you still lose a lot.”

Let Pearl Harbor Day be one we honor for its summons to peace, for its warnings of the costs of war. Let it stand for the infamy of war itself, and its crushing weight upon humanity. Let it shine as a beacon for peace.

Photo credit: By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=668001

Other Veterans

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Internees at Tule Lake, California, in 1942.

Last Friday was Veterans’ Day in the United States, which is a day off for those of us who work for Church of the Holy Cross UCC in Hilo, Hawai’i. I wasn’t relaxing on a beach, however (which isn’t where I relax in any case). I was presiding at a funeral.

The funeral of a veteran. A different kind of veteran.

On Veterans’ Day we honor those who serve the country and defend it from war, “who stand between their loved homes and the war’s desolation” (Francis Scott Key). And as Abraham Lincoln observed at Gettysburg, it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. Yet there are others who endure the impact of the world’s and the nation’s conflict, and receive no honors, no recognition, no holy day. Evelyn was one of these.

Evelyn was a native-born American citizen interned by the United States Government during World War II.

Between 110,000 and 120,000 people whose parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents had been born in Japan, 62% of them U.S. citizens, were ordered from their homes in Pacific coastal states (though not Hawai’i, where it was simply impractical) and housed in camps from Louisiana to California. Evelyn, a college-age young woman, observed that disabled children received no schooling at the Tule Lake, California, camp where her family was sent. So she taught them.

Thinking about Evelyn led me to think about so many others who endure the stresses of war. Gold Star families endure terrible losses in each conflict. Parents, siblings, spouses, and children live each day with anxiety for those they love who go in harm’s way. Support people, some who wear the uniform and some who do not, labor to support those who return. Some they treat for wounds. Some they assuage the psyche. Some they help find housing, or to resume interrupted careers. Some they aid to understand the now-unfamiliar ways of civilian life.

There are other veterans, too. These are the people who live where the war occurs, where if somebody had stood between their homes and the war’s desolation, their efforts failed and desolation came. These are the ones we see bloodied in films and photographs from Syria. These are the ones who come weeping for their dead to shuttered government houses. These are the ones swimming desperately to shore from overcrowded boats, and mourning their drowned children who lie silently on the beach.

In many conflicts, more civilians die than soldiers. They die from bullets and grenades that come their way, they die from bombs and shells, and they die from malnutrition and disease. The catastrophe we call World War II claimed the lives of 21 to 25 million people in uniform. It slew 50 to 55 million civilians, including 19 to 28 million who died from contagion or hunger.

Today, I honor these civilian veterans: the refugees, the interned, the families, the supporters, and those who pray that the shooting and shelling around them will just stop.

Today I honor them, and for their sake, I pray that God’s children will learn the ways of peace, and make no new civilian veterans to endure the sorrows of war.

Committed

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Cry of Jeremiah by Repin.

The voters have spoken. They have chosen. They have selected the next President of the United States.

I have been cautious in my own political advocacy, at least about publicly supporting candidates. In the light of this day, with a President-elect who has espoused policies I condemn, I pledge here and now to advocate for what I believe to be good, and just, and right, and to resist what is evil, and oppressive, and wrong.

I expect that I will find a good deal to say over the next few years.

The President-elect has called publicly for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Amidst the horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State, I understand the fear. I understand it, but I will not be governed by it. Nearly a quarter of the world’s population, 1.6 billion people, lives and worships peacefully guided by the Muslim faith. I will resist an America that excludes or oppresses people because of their religion. I will do it for Muslim, I will do it for Jews, I will do it for Buddhists, I will do it for Christians, I will do it for those who espouse no faith.

No religious tests. Ever.

The President-elect has pledged to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He has announced no replacement plan. His party has sketched a plan, but it remains nebulous.

I have family members and friends who, without the ACA’s protections against denial of coverage, could become uninsurable because of pre-existing conditions. They, more than any, will have need of health care. They are now at much higher risk of losing access to it.

Health care should serve the health of our nation’s citizens, and not the financial interests of a few of its citizens.

The President-elect has pledged to appoint officials who will actively work to end the marriages of people I know and love. He would tell them that they are secondary citizens in the society, unworthy of full participation.

I say that love between people deserves the acclamation and support of its society. Commitment is hard. Love is hard. Family is hard. Making it harder is a rank injustice.

Marriage equality must remain the law of the land.

The President-elect has declared that global climate change is a myth perpetrated by a foreign nation. He defies the evidence of scientists from around the planet. People already suffer from sea level rise. It will get worse even if we make significant changes now. It will get much worse if we make no change at all – and much, much worse if we accelerate the transfer of carbon from earth to atmosphere.

We must change our ways.

I could go on. I should go on. And in the days ahead, I will go on. Because health care is important. Because #BlackLivesMatter. Because human dignity is worth defending. Because the seas rise.

For now, though, I return to the day of my ordination, when I asked to have these words read:

‘Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”’ (Jeremiah 1:4-10)

I was young, then, and that was part of what resonated with me. I admired the fierceness of the prophet, his willingness to challenge the powers of his time, and his insistence that the king’s faithlessness, follies, and faults would lead to national disaster. I did not think that I would be called to echo him.

I fear, however, that I shall have to do just that, and warn against the senselessness and sin of excluding some of our citizens from full participation in our society. I fear that I will have to warn against the senselessness and sin of favoring the powerful over the marginalized. I fear that I will have to warn against the senselessness and sin of proclaiming greatness in the absence of goodness.

I fear that, more often than not in these coming days, I will fail.

 

With a Grateful Heart

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The youth rejoice.

In company with many of my fellow citizens, I’ve felt a lot of sorrow this week, and a burden on my soul. The deaths of Alton Sterling, then Philandro Castile, then Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa, came as a relentless beat of violence. They laid bare once again how incomplete is America’s effort to eradicate racism from its society, and how overly ready we are to turn to force – deadly force – when fear and rage drive us.

 

On Saturday, I took the road south from Hilo to another UCC church, Kalapana Mauna Kea First Congregational Church, as they were celebrating their 193rd anniversary and holding a Ho ‘Ike, a musical celebration including musicians from a number of congregations around the island and a 90-person group of young people doing service projects at local churches across Hawai’i.

As I was watching liturgical hula for the first time (video below), I felt my soul rise. It was exactly what I needed.

Later on, I joined the kahu (pastors) and other church leaders in the house for an impromptu rendition of a Hawaiian song. Well, I’ve only been here three months, my Hawaiian can be generously described as minimal, and I simply didn’t grow up with the songs – but when you don’t know the melody, you can harmonize, and when you don’t know the words, you do your best with the vowels as they come along.

So thank you, Kalapana Mauna Kea, Kahu Mike Warren, and all the leadership and musicians of the day that made it so special. I’ve been richly blessed. May God bless you even more.