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.

The Persistent Cloud

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These clouds want to rain on Hilo, too.

There was a cloud who wanted to rain on Hilo.

Living here, you wouldn’t think that would be so difficult, but from the cloud’s point of view, it’s a lot harder. You see, as far as anyone can tell, all clouds want to rain on Hilo. I guess it’s because they love us so much.

With every other cloud also trying to rain on Hilo, it got pretty difficult. This cloud was rather younger and smaller than the other clouds, and I’m afraid that, just like people, there were bigger clouds who would tend to ignore, or jostle, or push away the smaller clouds. So the cloud would try to get in line for Hilo, and get blocked and nudged and shoved away off the the north, where it found itself raining on Honomu.

That’s a perfectly nice place, but it’s not Hilo.

So the cloud circled around to try again.

(I know, I know, I know: clouds don’t “circle around,” they follow the wind. And since Hilo gets the easterly trade winds, clouds just go west. But… This is a story. So the clouds can circle back and try again. It’s my story and I said so.)

The next time it tried to get the Hilo, the other clouds crowded it further and further to the south. So it ended up raining on Kalapana. Which is, once again, a very nice place to be (and to rain on), but still, it wasn’t Hilo.

The cloud tried again and again, circling back and joining the group, and getting shoved off to one side or the other. Most of the time it made steady gains, but one very bad day it ended up raining way off in Waimea. Which is, I emphasize, a wonderful community, but it’s a long way from Hilo.

The cloud was beginning to feel just a little bit like the Chicago Cubs trying to win the World Series.

(My apologies to Chicago fans, but it must be said that with the headquarters of the United Church of Christ located in Cleveland, there are a lot of fervent prayers being said for Cleveland right now. Just saying. And… Back to our story.)

The cloud kept at it, trying new things, new techniques, studying what the other clouds did who made it to Hilo. And so there came a day when it found its rhythm. It fell in behind a medium-sized cloud, then filled a quick gap when it opened to one side. It ducked beneath the ponderous bulk of a big cloud, then scooted in ahead of another.

At last, like a basketball player who’s made it to the top of the key with an easy layup in sight (Congratulations, Cleveland!), it was squarely over Hilo. And the rain fell.

Did you notice, as I did, that there were some moments in the rain this past week when it just came down really hard? Buckets of rain.

I think that might have been our friend the cloud, giving us some extra love for the pure joy of visiting us.

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.

Root and Branch

Kilauea Iki

 

An ‘ohi’a seed fell into the soil, and it found good soil, soil it liked immediately. So it did what seeds do: it sprouted. Two shoots emerged and began to grow.

One said, “I’m going up to see if I can touch the sky!”

The other said, “I’m going down to explore the rich earth.”

And so the two shoots separated. The lower shoot indeed explored that rich soil (and even some hard rocks it found). It became the root, and it spread smaller roots through the soil and around the rocks. 

It had little notion of what had happened to the shoot rising up, but the root would collect water and minerals from the soil, and send them up that rising shoot, which called for them. The root was glad to have food and energy come back down from above, but that was all it knew.

Sometimes everything would shudder, and the root wondered what was happening above even as it gripped more tightly to the earth to keep everything from falling.

One day, a heavy rain came through, and rushing winds, and suddenly the root found that a portion of itself was no longer sheltered in the earth. The flowing water had washed its soil covering away. It looked around in wonder at the surface world that it had never seen, and then it looked up. 

Soaring high above, it found that the upper shoot had become a grand tree, festooned with branches, bearing upon some of their tips the scarlet flowers of the ‘ohi’a. It was nothing like the tiny shoot that it remembered.

“You look wonderful,” said the root. “Did you find the sun?”

“It shines on me almost every day,” said the tree.

“I’m sure you’ve forgotten me,” said the root, “as grand as you’ve become.”

“Not for a moment,” said the tree above. “I’ve grown and changed, but you’re my root. You hold me fast when the winds would blow me down. You send me food and water from the ground that I could never find. You’re where I’ve come from, and where I am, and together we approach the sun.”

That’s what our families, our ancestors, do for us. They are the root. We grow and change, and they sustain us through the high winds of life’s troubles. They feed us as we stretch toward the people we’ll become. They give us what we need so we can grow.

We will blossom and flower because we have our roots.