Face to Face

Never since…

There has been no one like Moses, but then really,
has there ever been another like, well, anyone?
In all the majesty of wonder, the greatest wonder yet
may be: that I am I, and you are you, and though we share
some ninety-odd percent of our genetic code
with cats (though Moses might not like to hear it) we
are one and yet distinct, unique and ever linked.

…whom the LORD knew face to face…

Of whom is that not true? Oh, You who knew
me long before I breathed the air, You to whom
the streams of time are not a straightforward
cascade, who dances on the river-foam of years,
for You, the face is less effective than a mask
in hiding what we in delusion think is “privacy.”
You know us soul to soul – soul to soul.

He was unequaled…

Ah, yes. Now there, I must confess and so agree,
I am no Moses. What soul has found release
from bondage or captivity though my essay?
Perhaps, at best, a mind has passed an obstacle,
a heart found comfort or a soul relief.
No Moses I, nor many (any?) of Your people.
May one and all take up the staff to set Your people free.

A poem/prayer based on Deuteronomy 34:1-12, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Proper 25 (30).

The image is “The Death of Moses” by Phillip Medhurst. Digital image by Philip De Vere – https://www.flickr.com/groups/the_phillip_medhurst_collection_of_bible_prints/pool/phillip_medhurst_bible_pictures, Philip De Vere is owner and curator of the prints in the User:Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations. Medhurst’s purchase and collation of prints illustrating the Bible (“The Phillip Medhurst Collection”), now housed at Belgrave Hall Leicester, was made possible by (and was within the terms of) the Kevin Victor Freestone Bequest. See https://www.flickr.com/groups/the_phillip_medhurst_collection_of_bible_prints and https://www.flickr.com/groups/phillip_medhurst_bible, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44942429.

You Want to Know Where I’m Staying?

Well, no. I don’t.
Well actually I do. Because it’s heaven, right?
But no. Not now. It doesn’t really matter because
what I really want to know is:

Who you are.

He said to them, “Come and see.” (John 1:39a)

A poem/prayer based on John 1:29-42, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year A, Second Sunday after Epiphany.

The image is The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew by Caravaggio – Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1734712.

I Wrote a Thing: Stories for the UCC’s 2019 General Synod

Hawai’i Conference delegates present lei to the officers of the United Church of Christ

This is not the first time I’ve written (and photographed, and even shot video) for the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, the denomination’s biennial deliberative meeting. I first wrote about the 1999 Synod in Providence, Rhode Island. Since the 2007 Synod in Hartford, Connecticut, I have reported for various bodies of the UCC, including United Church News beginning in 2011.

This year, I filed stories with both the Hawai’i Conference and United Church News. Here they are, organized by date:

A vision of endless possibilities for changing the world (June 22, United Church News)

  • The Rev. Dr. Karen Georgia Thompson, nominee for Associate General Minister for Global Engagement, addressed the Synod on the first night.

General Synod Opens its Celebration of Light (June 22, Hawai’i Conference)

  • The General Synod themes, taken from the Gospel of Matthew, took center place during the opening day and its evening worship service.

The challenging choice of workshops (June 23, United Church News)

  • Summarizing the wide range of workshop choices is, shall we say somewhere between a challenge and impossible. I confess that only one of the workshops during the second block received any attention at all. That may have had something to do with who the presenter was…

Repudiating ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ is life’s work for Ho Chunk church member (June 23, United Church News)

  • Sometimes stories get handed to you. I’d been interviewing Hawai’i Conference delegates for the summary just below and a delegate overheard me saying that I was a reporter. He spoke to me on the street, telling me that there was somebody I needed to talk to – and a moment later, spotted Larry Littlegeorge and put us together.

Learning at General Synod (June 23, Hawai’i Conference)

  • “Learning” refers both to the emphasis of the schedule – lots of workshops on Sunday – and also to the experience of the delegates that day.

Two United Church of Christ national officers elected Monday morning in Milwaukee (June 24, United Church News)

  • This was supposed to be a simple story. But when the debate gets complicated, so does the reporting. The editors and I worked hard to make it clear and accurate – and still had to make changes later when people had questions.

General Synod Delegates Work and Worship Through Sunday (June 24, Hawai’i Conference)

  • Sundays at Synod are given to delegates’ work on committees, and to the major worship service of the day, which is open to anyone. There were very few empty seats for that service.

Pacific and Asian voices praise the light amidst the darkness (June 25, United Church News)

  • Monday night’s service really caught my heart and soul. Usually, I can’t both cover worship and participate in it. This time, I could. I was so glad I’d been assigned to write about it.

From East and West, father and daughter come to Synod (June 25, United Church News)

  • The original purpose of this story was to explain why I spent all my time covering one workshop. It took on its own life, of course.

Synod calls U.S. to pull back from brink of nuclear war (June 25, United Church News)

  • A last-minute assignment as we headed off to cover committee work, this reconfirms long-time views of the UCC.

Synod Recognizes Mental Health Network as Historically Underrepresented Group (June 25, United Church News)

  • And yes, I did quote my daughter in this story. For, um, the third time this Synod.

Colectivo de UCC Latinx Ministries becomes Historically Underrepresented Group (June 25, United Church News)

  • This was an interesting story to follow, as the changes in emphasis with the new way to organize Latinx ministries aren’t easy to distinguish.

General Synod Elects Officers and Calls for Justice (June 25, Hawai’i Conference

  • There probably should have been a summary story on June 26, but I was traveling, so…

The Skirt of Your Robe

Curtain-939464Flying creatures, bedecked with wings,
their voices ringing, singing, praising,
Quaking the very doorposts with their adulation.
Smoke billows, yet not smothering
the winged choristers of heaven.
Above it all, a mighty figure looms,
the face so high and smoke-obscured
I cannot see its features. Nor can I see
the shoulders, chest, or torso,
hips, thighs, knees are lost in smoke.
Yes, all that I can see of You
within Your very temple
is the falling drapery of Your robe.

For this moment, let my ears be deaf
to all the ecstasies of angels.
Let my mouth, though wide a-gape,
breathe freely in the smoke.
For this moment, let my lips
be numb to absolution’s burn.
For this moment, let the scent
of incense fade from my awareness.
Let me see the flowing hemline of Your robe.
Let me see the skirt of Your robe.

It billows like the smoke.
It flutters like the wings of seraphs.
It sweeps along the flagstones,
cleansing just as surely as
the burning coal upon my lips,
echoing the zephyrs of the mountaintop
as hem and floor caress.

Sweep me, LORD, into the skirt of Your robe,
for a moment, at least, before you ask Your question,
and I, in arrogance and foolishness,
declare that I will leave its soft embrace
and bear your ne’er-to-be-accepted Word
into the world, and to Your people.
You know your people care far more
for power than kindness, greed than grace,
self-righteousness than righteousness.

For just a moment, LORD, embrace me
in the loving softness of Your robe.

A prayer based on Isaiah 6:1-8.

Photo by tommybuddy – https://pixabay.com/en/curtain-red-stage-theater-939464/, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5924658 

What Sounds Do Angels Hear?

What sounds do angels hear?

The soft deep moan of rolling stone,
sand crunched to sand beneath,
softly sighing air drawn through
the widening portal. 

What sounds do angels hear?

Did these working tones obsure
the insects’ songs, the chattering leaves,
the scrape of claws, the murmuring brook
around the corner of the hill?

What sounds do angels hear?

The night-bound stillness
of the sleeping city,
stones sighing as they settle,
a thousand dreaming murmurs?

What sounds do angels hear?

The sudden inhaled breath,
the heartbeat strong beyond all hope,
cloth scraping over stone and skin,
the sudden thud of feet upon the floor?

What sounds do angels hear?

The splash of tears on dust?
A meditative humming? Deep-drawn breaths?
Or, after a silence to encompass all the world,
a gale of laughter from the deepest wells of joy?

What sounds do angels hear? 

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.


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

“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

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