Baby in the Grass

Moses Laid Amid the FlagsOK! Who’d like to guess what kind of creature today’s story is about?

People? Well, yes, that’s exactly right. Today’s story is about people. You’re very smart.

Parents, I need to let you know this, you’re raising very bright children. Well done!

Today’s story, in fact, comes from the Bible. I’m going to tell it a little differently, but if you’re curious about how it goes, you’ll find it in the first and second chapters of Exodus. OK?

Right. Well, the people of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, had lived in Egypt for quite some time. They’d been really helpful many years before, when they’d helped Egypt survive a terrible famine, when very little would grow, but along came a king who didn’t care to remember that any longer. In fact, he looked around and saw how many Israelites there were, and he decided that he’d make them into slaves. So he did.

That’s pretty horrible.

Then he decided something even more horrible. He was frightened that they would try to find their freedom, or even rebel against him, so he told the Egyptians that they should take every boy born to the Israelites and throw him into the river.

Now, let’s take a test of your sense of right and wrong. Does anyone here think that sounds like a good things to do?

OK. I’m really glad to hear that.

Well, an Israelite woman had a baby boy, and she decided that she didn’t want him killed, even if the king did say so. So she kept him hidden for three months, and that was hard. Babies are noisy. Have any of you ever noticed that? Yes, I thought you had.

So the mother made a basket, and she coated it with tar so it would keep water out, and float. Then she took it to the river with the baby, and floated it on the water where she knew people would find it soon. Just to be sure, she had her daughter keep an eye on it.

Pretty soon, along came one of the king’s daughters. She found the basket, and she knew it was wrong to throw babies in the river. So so adopted this little boy, and took him into her own home, into the very house of the Egyptian king.

This boy’s name was Moses, and he would go on to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, ending their slavery and establishing their freedom.

Now, I expect that from time to time, people will encourage you to do something that you think is wrong. Maybe it will be offering to help you cheat on a test, or it will be to ask you to do something mean to somebody. Maybe people will tell you that you should be cruel to someone because of the way they look, or talk, or the things they can do, or the things they can’t do.

When that happens, I hope you’ll remember these women: Moses’ mother and sister, and the daughter of the Pharaoh. They knew what they’d been told to do, and they knew what was right. They did what was right.

When it made all the difference, they did what was right. And I hope you will, too.

The image shows Miriam placing the basket with Moses in the reeds. The painting (in the public domain) is by Jacques Joseph Tissot.

Fireworks

In my youth (as I recall through mists of swirling memory),

A fireworks show strolled at the pace of, oh, a baseball game. 

The pitch! A single rocket soars into the night

Its firey trail to mark ascension to the heights,

A swing! A hit! A long fly ball, or rather,

Globes of glowing color flash across the night. 

Then, pause: await the next deliberate pitch,

The next delightful glory in the sky. 

And now, as I survey the skies of Baltimore,

Where rockets climb in pageantry

Around the Inner Harbor, I see that we have changed

Our sport. Baseball has lost place to football

(Soccer to Americans) in the rapid pace 

Of these ascending spectacles.

Indeed, this fireworks show has paused not once,

As if the referee had never called offsides, 

That neither team had scored a goal,

That every track the ball had traced

Above the emerald turf had swerved,

Approaching not the boundary of play,

And summoning the players to chase it

Once again. 

I sigh. Is it just simple, pure nostalgia that

I find that I prefer my (granted, poor)

Old memories of fireworks shows “of yore?”

Or is it that I’ve come to value pauses,

And anticipation, and the poignant joy

Of wondering just where upon the rainbow

This next starburst will have found its flame?

Well, both, I’m sure, and more. 

For I have come to live much of my life

Uncertain of the rainbow’s hue ahead,

Of rocket’s shape, and whether it will sigh, or pop,

Or boom. 

Yes, I’ll watch this grand, frenetic fireworks show,

Appreciate it,

Glad that in the climb and soar of life,

I have the grace to pause from time to time

And breathe. 

Ahi Afloat

Yellowfin_tuna_nurpAs far as this one newly hatched ahi was concerned, it all happened very quickly. One moment he was floating, newly hatched, in a sea filled with eggs. The next moment he was surrounded by newly hatched ahi, a cloud of silvery motion.

As ahi do, he grew quickly, and with the others he swam with the school of larger adults. They taught him what fishes were good to eat, and they taught him what fishes were good to swim away from, and they taught him how to swim very very fast when other fishes thought he might be good to eat. He learned a lot.

After all, he was in school.

(Moans from the congregation)

Now, really. You knew I was telling a story about a schooling fish and thought I wouldn’t make that pun?

(Rueful laughter. The children, by the way, were not impressed with the pun.)

There was one other thing they taught him. They told him not to swim too deep. They probably didn’t have to, because when he looked down, he saw the water get darker and darker, and it seemed pretty threatening to him. He had no interest in falling into the depths.

But he did start wondering how he would keep from doing so.

You see, that was something of a mystery to him. He saw other things descending from above, and sinking down into the murky depths.

No, not rocks. There aren’t a lot of rocks coming down from the surface in the middle of the ocean. Just take it from me there’s stuff that goes down.

He didn’t want to go down with it. And he couldn’t figure out why he didn’t.

Because he could swim? Well, yes. That was part of it. But mostly, it was because he was surrounded by water. He didn’t even think about it, it was so much a part of his life. You and I, we move pretty easily through the air and don’t think much about it. He was pushing against the water all the time with his tail to get himself moving, and with his flippers to change direction, and never thought about the water being there to push against at all.

It was the very water whose depths frightened him that held him up.

Now, the love is God is not like the water. But just as the water surrounded him so much that he stopped being aware of it, God’s love is around us all the time, so that we might not be aware of it. It’s around us, and even inside us.

And because it’s there all the time, it’s easy to forget God’s love is there. Yet there it is.

Oh, yes: there it is.

Easter Sunday, 4:00 AM

Moon - 1Dear rooster, if you mean to greet the dawn
You are two hours early. Rest your head
And wait for light. I grant you that the lamps
Above the streets, the passing beams of cars,
The rumble from the airport, these could cause
Confusion. Still, if on the other hand
Your purpose is to summon sleepy me
From out my bed to be a herald of
The Easter dawn that lies ahead I grant
You that your timing cannot be improved.

Or do you crow, remembering that Christ
Did not await a dawn to rise, but made
His hidden resurrection while the shades
Of night obscured his newly living steps
Into the yet-unknowing world? Quite right,
Dear rooster, you are right, to crow at this
Un-lightened hour, praising God who loves
At dawn, at noon, at close of day, and night.

A Happy Easter to you, rooster. Crow!

Dust Prayer

kileaua-iki-sand-20161010“Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

I’m not complaining, God, but I don’t feel like dust.
Sensations far more liquid dominate my body.
Perspiration trickles in the hollows of my spine.
I cannot count the instances of swallowing saliva.
I cannot count the welling tears of sadness,
Or joy, or simply yawning (wetly) at the close of day.
No, I don’t feel like dust. Like mud, perhaps, or clay
Unfired,
Unglazed,
Unfinished,
Unrefined.

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

Liquid, then, or solid;
Dust and ashes, then, or dripping clay,
On this day of dust and ashes I recall
That none of this accreted star-stuff of my frame
Assembled to my own design or plan.
Yes, even though I eat and drink, sustaining skin and bone,
I do not, need not, supervise the flowing pathways
Which disperse the building blocks of me
To make
Me
Me.

Yes, I am dust, Your dust, O God:
Fearfully,
And wonderfully,
(And humbly)
Made.

Amen.

Another Day that Should Live in Infamy

internmentIt’s called Remembrance Day. I only became aware of it a couple of years ago. And, I shamefacedly confess, I am all too subject to forget it. To forget Remembrance Day is not just a terribly irony – it’s a social, moral, and spiritual travesty.

On February 19, 1942, President Frankly Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the detention and imprisonment of Japanese Americans in the United States without due process of law. Today is the 75th anniversary of that order, and it is a day that should live in infamy.

The irony that the US should imprison citizens in concentration camps – Roosevelt’s word – and condemn Germany for it, is chilling, to say the least. Mercifully, Americans did not seek a “final solution” and begin wholesale murder as the Germans did, but that comes as cold comfort.

Today, the scandal receives little attention. Actor George Takei and a number of theatrical professionals brought the story to Broadway in 2012 in the musical Allegiance, which I saw in a wonderful stage-to-film event a couple months ago. Congress voted restitution payments to survivors in 1988, and included a formal apology in the legislation. The most recent reference I’ve heard to it in national news, however, was author Carl Higbie’s assertion that Order 9066 provided a legal framework for a registry of Muslims.

His Fox News interviewer, Megyn Kelly, was horrified. But it is true that the federal courts upheld Order 9066 during the war – though these decisions were reversed in the 1980s when newly discovered documents revealed that evidence had been withheld, and false evidence presented, during the legal proceedings of the 1940s.

I will not forget.

I may forget the date – I’m not good with dates – but I will not forget the injustice, the suffering, and the evil. Why?

I will remember because many of the parents and grandparents of the people I serve endured the unjust suspicion, prejudice, and oppression of the US military during the Second World War. Two of the people at whose funerals I have officiated were forced into internment camps. And I know members of East Hawai’i’s Muslim community, and they know the history.

They wonder if they are next.

I will remember in order that no one will be next. 

Today in worship, we joined in a litany for Remembrance Day. Written by Ellen Godbey Carson of Church of the Crossroads UCC in Honolulu, it concludes with these words:

Loving God, help us be your hands in the world.
Give us the courage to stand up, speak out,
and protect the dignity and rights of all of your children.
Help us learn to celebrate our differences rather than fear them.
Help us learn to love the whole of Your diverse creation!

Photo by Russell Lee.

What I’m Doing on Inauguration Day

20160908-pmp1_-9What should I do on Inauguration Day?

I thought and thought about this question. It was not an easy or comfortable debate. Close to my core is a deep love for the democratic forms of this country. The fact that we change policy through the application of the vote, and not through the advances of armies, makes this nation precious to me more than the coincidence of my birth into it. I value the peaceful transfer of power (a phrase I’ve heard several times this past week). I honor it.

Does that mean I need to watch it?

Yes, it would be virtuous of me as a citizen to celebrate the peaceful transfer of power. Yes, it would be virtuous of me as a political creature (i.e., human being) to listen carefully to his words, and assess my appropriate response of support or resistance to particular policies or proposals. Yes, I probably should watch the inauguration.

I don’t want to.

It could be sour grapes. It could be a petulant reaction to a political disappointment.

It could be solidarity. As a candidate, the man who will be inaugurated tomorrow insulted broad swathes of human beings in ways I thought should doom his candidacy. His political senses are better than mine; he won the office. But he left great numbers of people in great anxiety that their economic well-being, their physical health, and their liberties were at risk. They’ve called for a boycott of his inauguration, and as I believe that they should retain their economic well-being, their physical health, and their liberties, I would be proud to stand in solidarity.

Yet I think that will probably wait for another day (most likely the next day, if I can get to the Hilo edition of the Women’s March on time).

Because in truth, I just don’t care to be lied to. I need to spend the day with some truth.

“All politicians lie,” I hear you say, and as generalizations go, this one has more to support it than most. The man who will take the oath of office tomorrow, however, gets caught in falsehoods all the time and it makes no difference to him. He contradicts himself on matters of fact, on assertions of causation, and on predictions of policy with no apparent concern.

He never apologizes. He never says, “I had that wrong, and now I’ve come to a new conclusion.” He simply says the new thing, denies he ever said the old thing (for heaven’s sake, hasn’t a reality television star heard of recordings?) and moves on.

To me, that means that there’s no point to what he says tomorrow. His views on those topics could change by Sunday – or the end of the day Friday. Or they could be the guiding principles for his decisions for months. Who knows? I don’t. I wonder if he does…

Originally, I’d planned to simply say, “I’m working; I don’t have time to watch the inauguration. Oh. Darn,” and go on. I’ve found myself with a day off, however, after working over the weekend. So. Now I’ve had to make the choice.

As it happens, I’ve got a gathering to go to for lunch, but when it’s over, I’ll point my car toward the summit of Kilauea and drive. Rather than listen to lies, I’ll spend the afternoon in contemplation of Truth.

Truth that human beings are, after all, very small creatures on a very powerful planet.

Truth that the world is building itself, and reshaping itself, and reforming itself. It has done so before; it will do so again.

Truth that the world is also fragile. The ground can open in great rifts; the air can be poisoned; the water can blast forth in gushes of steam to scald all those about. It can be molded, and molded badly, by human hands.

Truth that I, though small, and frequently reshaped, and sharing the fragility of my home, can also choose.

Who knows? I may learn some new Truths up there.

With this Truth, I will stand to watch the orange glow from the crater, with its promise, and its peril, and its power.