(May 11 - May 29)
May 29, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Every culture has its own customs when it comes funerals. And Hawaii was a great place to learn about them. I will never forget the first Buddhist funeral I attended for the mother of one of my parishioners. By now I knew to show up, sympathy card with a monetary gift inside. There was much Mandarin, and much incense. When the memorial service was over, those in attendance walked from the Diamond Head Memorial Park Chapel to the burial plot for the committal. After we had gathered around, there were more words in Mandarin, and then it was time to lower the casket into the grave. Everyone turned their backs on the casket, while I stood there watching it being lowered. The kind person standing next to me explained that I needed to turn around too, as the belief was that the spirit of the dead person might try to grab us and take us along. Turn around, I did, not out of fear of getting captured, but out of respect.
I had the honor of serving as officiant at a number of funerals at that cemetery, and most of the committals involved placing urns in niches in columbarium rather than graves. It was always interesting to see what was placed into the niches along with the urn, and at this particular cemetery, many of the niches had glass fronts, so you could see inside. I saw little stuffed toys, assorted photos of everything from graduations, to weddings, to people standing proudly next to huge fish still on the line, to bottles of liquor and beer. Each niche told a story about what was important to the departed loved one.
But the most incredible one I saw happened to be behind a memorial marker just below the niche that the cemetery staff had opened to receive the urn of the person whose committal I was officiating. I happened to glance down, and there, instead of an urn, sat a gallon paint can. What story did that one tell? Had the deceased been a painter in life? Had he promised his wife he'd get around to painting the living room, but never did get to it in life?
I've spent enough time walking in cemeteries, providing final words and prayers as loved ones remains are committed to a final place of rest, even living for three years next door to one, that I have no fear of being grabbed and taken along for an eternal ride. But I do wonder is what sort of items a loved one might want to leave for me? Would there be something I've put off too long, that is planted there as an eternal reminder? Would it be my cell phone - heaven knows I spend hours paying homage to it each day? Would it be Kiko's collar - we've walked hundreds of miles over the 10 ½ years he's been with us? Would it be my high school graduation photo, or our wedding photo, or a cup of my favorite drink at Starbucks? Who knows?
What I do know is that my life is a narrative still being written, and who I am as well as what I do, matters today, impacts tomorrow, and won't be confined to an urn or grave. I am, we are created for eternity.
Live each moment of this narrative awake to the presence of the Eternal One.
May 28, 2020
Dear St. Pauls Family,
Besides looking for the living among the dead in cemeteries, as I did back in Hana when checking on Bill, the homeless man with a penchant for sleeping there, Ive had some other surprising moments at cemeteries.
One day, I arrived at a cemetery in Honolulu to serve as the officiant at the inurnment of a beloved elderly church member who had died. Her urn was to be placed next to her deceased husband, in their family plot. It was immediately apparent that something was wrong. All parties were present, family, funeral director, pastor, and Mom in her urn. However, the cemetery staff had failed to prepare the site, hadnt even dug the hole. The staff informed us that it would take about two hours to do so, and after some discussion, the family decided to proceed to the Chinese restaurant to eat the traditional funeral meal and return for the burial after lunch. Mom, in her urn, had the honored place at the table. Her family got a good laugh in reflecting on how like Mom it was to be late even for her burial.
On another occasion, I was to officiate at the burial of a veteran, at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Punchbowl, as it was known locally, is an extinct volcanic crater that overlooks Honolulu. It is much like Arlington National Cemetery, beautiful, with a sense of solemnity and silence, and marked by thousands of crosses, as well as columbarium, large memorials to various battles, and flags everywhere.
I proceeded to the committal shelter, a lovely open-to-the-air shelter, and performed the normal Christian committal service. When I was done with that, the military honor guard marched from their posts at the curb to the pavilion. They presented arms, performed the unfurling and folding the flag, and presented the neatly folded flag to the widow. Then it was time for the playing of taps by the bugler standing off to the side. Taps was always the most moving part of this protocol, and never failed to bring tears to my eyes. Except this time. The Bugler put his lips to the horn, and made to play the first note, and nothing came out. There was an awkward moment of silence, and we were all frozen in place. Then the funeral director stepped forward, apologized for the inconvenience, and said that due to dead batteries in the bugle, there would be no taps. You could almost see the family members deflate.
According to the funeral director, there are not enough bugle players to cover all the military burials, and so most committal services use a bugle with a hidden battery-operated musical device inside. Committal services are scheduled on the hour, so there was no time to find and install a new battery without creating a burial back-up.
Ive thought about those two funerals, and how important planning ahead is. But even more than that, Ive wondered about how one family was able to adapt, taking Mom out to enjoy a great Chinese luncheon before her burial, and one family left with a bad taste in their mouths. Each family had expectations that were not fulfilled. Each responded differently, thinking in terms of gifts versus entitlements.
That feels like a lesson for this season in life, when so many of our expectations have not been met, when reopening our communities and our churches will be very different than we expected. I want to find the tasty morsels that lie outside of my expectations, rather than ruminate on the bad taste of disappointment.
Blessed in what is,
May 27, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
My comfort with cemeteries has spilled over into my work life. For a number of years the counseling office I worked out of was located about a block from a lovely cemetery. It provided a place to decompress from difficult sessions, a space to pray, and an every-changing backdrop for walking. It's a good thing I had that comfort, because the bedrooms in the hale kahu (house of the kahu, parsonage) in Hana, Maui, was about 15 yards from the cemetery that was the final resting place for generations of local people. I wasn't at all afraid of the cemetery, even at night, even living there alone, aside from weekends when Rod would drive in.
As the solo pastor, in a very small, rural, isolated community, "other tasks not otherwise specified in the job description" went along with the position. One unofficial task was checking on Bill (I'll call him that), a homeless man from California, who was an alcoholic. Bill (let's pretend that was his name) slept on a bed of leaves in the cemetery near the back door of the hale pule (house of prayer - church building). Bill had been a professional trumpet player, until drink got the worst of him. Like so many others, he made his way to Hawaii, and then to the end of the road in Hana, where he took up residence in our cemetery. I like cemeteries, but don't want to reside in one until I have taken my final breath!
It was part of my duty to open and close the doors of the hale pule each day, and so every day around 7 am, I would make my way past Bill's usual sleeping place, under the banyan tree where he sort of blended in with the leaves, to make sure he was breathing. He was the only person that I asked numerous times to leave the church cemetery when he and some itinerant friends decided to mellow out with beer and paka lolo (marijuana) while sitting in the shade on the bench near the grave of one of our beloved kupuna (elder). His often offended my sense of propriety, my sense of security, my sense of right and wrong.
One week he went missing. A couple of us noted that we hadn't seen Bill for a few days. We even went and searched under the banyan tree stepping carefully for fear we might find him dead. I asked people hanging out at the Ranch Store if they might have some idea where Bill was. One man with a long, bushy blond-mixed-with-white beard and a ponytail to match, in old military fatigues, said, "Bill who?" When I described him, this middle-aged hippy said, "Oh, you mean the town drunk?" Ouch, I thought, as I said, "yes, he's the one."
I even called the police who seemed to think I was crazy. That call went something like this:
"I'm Kahu Anne over at Wananalua Church, and I am wondering if you have any idea where Bill might be."
"Bill the man who lives in our cemetery."
"Bill the man who lives in your cemetery?"
"Yes, that's correct Well, he doesn't really live in the cemetery - at least we don't really want him living there, but he does nonetheless."
"What is Bill's last name?"
"Well, I don't actually know that. Gee, you must be wondering about me calling about someone who sort of lives in our cemetery, whose last name I do not know."
Dead silence. Then, "What does he look like?"
"Well, he looks like a homeless guy. Always in the same clothes, usually drunk, a haoli (Caucasian) pretty tall (this of course being relative compared to 5'2" me)." Then, finally, painfully, hoping that this might refresh the officer's memory, I said, "The town drunk."
"How old is Bill?"
"Well, I'm not really sure. Maybe in his mid-50's. It's sort of hard to tell with all the ravages of alcoholism"
"And you are who?"
"I AM THE MINISTER OF THE CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH ACROSS FROM THE HOTEL HANA MAUI. I AM KAHU ANNE."
"Well, I know you must think that I am crazy to be reporting a missing homeless person without a last name who isn't really homeless in one sense because he lives in our cemetery but we really don't like him living there, and besides, you really can't live in a cemetery, can you? He's known as the town drunk, but I am worried about him. Can you tell me if you have needed to send someone that meets that description to the hospital, or have you arrested someone like that in the past few days?"
"We haven't taken anyone to the hospital that I am aware of, and we haven't arrested anyone for 7 days." (Gee, should I feel relieved that the crime rate is so low in Hana that arrests happen only once a week, or concerned that maybe the police aren't on top of things?)
"Could you just promise to call me if you get any information about Bill?"
"Sure." (Probably thinking this is one crazy lady!)
I even had two prayer chains on the mainland alerted to pray about this person. And then one morning, when I went to unlock the hale pule he was back. Luke 15:1-10 includes two parables - one about God being like a shepherd looking for the one sheep out of 100 that is lost, and the other about God being like a housewife that has lost a silver coin and searches high and low for it. The text reports that when the missing one is found, there is great rejoicing - even as there will be more joy in heaven when one sinner repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance.
What I am not proud to report is that within one day of being back, I found myself annoyed, once again, at the irresponsible behavior and questionable friends hanging out nearby. How quickly I moved from concern to frustration - skipping quickly past the whole rejoicing part.
My moods change day-by-day, and hour-by-hour in this season, from feeling frustrated, worried, and afraid, to having moments of joy when it seems that for brief time I catch sight of our searching God who rejoices when we are found, who knows our first and last names, and has prepared a place for us.
Thankful for our God who never gives up on us!
May 26, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
After witnessing Memorial Day parades as a young child, it was my turn to participate in them when I entered High School. The Mechanicsburg Wildcats Marching Band always took part in the parade from the community park to the cemetery, and as one of the trumpet players, I was required to be present. A few blocks before the cemetery we would stop playing music, and the snare drums set the cadence for the rest of the journey. And then, as we entered the cemetery proper, they would change the reverberation on their drums so that they sounded muted. The somber sound was a reminder that we were entering a special place, a place not for upbeat marches like Stars and Stripes, but a prelude to something much deeper, the 24 notes of Taps, originally the military signal to extinguish the lights and now the call sounded for at military funerals. Taps always gave me goose bumps.
And as one of the lifeguards at the Municipal pool, the sounding of Taps also meant that it was time for me to hustle back to the park so that I could change out of my band uniform and into the swimsuit. That, too, gave me goose bumps, for another reason. Memorial Day might be opening day for swimming pools, and the unofficial start of summer, but the weather was never hot enough to warm water in the pool. Inevitably, crazy, daring younger children would line up just waiting for the guard's whistle to indicate that the pool was open.
There were two approaches to getting into the water. There were the jumpers, and the toe-touchers. The toe-touchers, on those first chilly days that the pool was open, after putting one big toe into the frigid water usually didn't get all the way in, choosing instead to play around the pool's edge. The jumpers would leap in and then let out screams as their heads came up. A few of them would egg on their friends, "the water's great, come on in." All of them would splash each other frenetically, getting me wet, only to climb out minutes later, their skinny little bodies shivering and their teeth chattering behind blue-tinged lips. Which one are you?
When it comes to getting into the water, my preferred technique is to jump on in, making sure I go all the way under. I think it's easier to get over the shock of the cold all at once. The toe technique often results in me heading back to my towel to warm up in the sun. I've learned this over decades of summers, working and playing near the water.
I've also learned that it is never a good idea to jump into the water if you can't see the bottom or don't know how deep it is, or if there are hazards to avoid. Or in the case of Hawaii, if there were shark sightings, Portuguese Man-of-War advisories, or rip currents, or dangerously high wave action.
From news reports and photographs of Memorial Day activities, it appears that lots of folks jumped right in. (See the photo from Indiana Dunes National Park in Indiana) It is easy to understand. The beaches looked lovely, the weather was perfect, from the look of nature all is well with the world, and those advisories to be safe are easy to miss over the crowds.
My prayer for all of us is taken from a hymn written by Harry Emmerson Fosdick in 1930. "Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour." He wrote these words in the midst of the Great Depression as a prayer for the church. It is still fitting today.
May 25, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
My comfort with cemeteries dates back to Memorial Day experiences growing up as a child near Pittsburgh, PA. There was an order, a kind of liturgy to the day. We would go to the Memorial Day parade, which was the exact opposite of a Macy's Thanksgiving Day extravaganza. These parades were more somber, with the color guard leading the way, followed by Veterans of Foreign Wars, with the drum and bugle corps bringing up the rear. Of course along the route to the cemetery, there was lots of flag waving, clapping and cheers.
Our family then visited three different cemeteries, within 20 minutes of each other, to clean up the gravesites of all our dear departed, plant fresh geraniums at the base of the headstones, and then stand in silence at each site for a few moments. I suppose that the adults were praying or remembering. I don't recall any tears being shed. Perhaps they'd been shed years earlier. I never had the chance to meet any of these folks, and I felt as if I'd missed out on some amazing relatives. My own personal acquaintance with the death of loved ones came later.
We always ended at Sewickley Cemetery where the ritual was repeated, followed by a picnic lunch, usually cream cheese and olive sandwiches, Wise potato chips, grapes, cookies and iced tea.
Although Memorial Day is a time to honor and mourn those who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces, the graves of all veterans were decorated with flags, including that of my grandfather Albrecht who served in the trenches in France, where he suffered permanent lung damage from mustard gas in the War to End All Wars (How I wish that were so). My grandmother referred to the day as Decoration Day. The name made some sort of logical sense to my young mind. We decorated the house for certain holidays, and graves for this holiday.
Death is hard anytime, and death in the midst of war, especially on the battlefield is horrendous. One of my ancestors died in a battle outside of Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War, and another died in the Battle of Gettysburg. These were young men who died far from home, without the comfort of family. Their families had to live with that for the rest of their lives, their own sort of emotional death.
In this season, people are going through the same, being felled without the comfort of family from a much more insidious foe. And an alarming number of others are dying at their own hands, overwhelmed by suffering.
According to history.com, a national moment of silence is to be observed each Memorial Day at 3:00 pm. local time. Somehow, the noise of all the picnics, parties, ball games, frolicking in the community pool or at the beach, that moment of silence has been drowned out. The Psalmist says, "Be still, and know that I am God," (Psalm 46:10). Perhaps today, at 3:00 pm, we can take a moment of silence to remember those who have died while serving in the Armed Forces, as well as those who are dying in battles, alone but for God.
Be safe this Memorial Day! Your life matters, and so do the lives around you!
May 22, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
"Toto, I have a feeling we aren't in Kansas anymore." (Dorothy to Toto in The Wizard of Oz). When Rod and I first moved to Hawaii, we would encounter something totally new, and one of us would quote Dorothy. The first time we drove up the Haleakala Highway from Kahului, passing field upon field of green plants waving in the breeze of the Trade Winds, and realized it wasn't corn or wheat, but sugar cane, we uttered it.
I think I was the only child who didn't enjoy The Wizard of Oz or Mary Poppins. Truth be told, I was bothered when the scenes shifted from one reality to an alternative reality. I didn't like the sense of reality shifting underneath me. Mary Poppins was the worst, because of the use of cartoon characters integrated into the real, live people on screen.
I've had that feeling often in the past 3 months, in so many ways. It's the same gas pump, but with prices unseen in decades. It's the same grocery store, only half the people wear masks. It's the same community, only home has become an office, a classroom, or an isolation ward for lonely, vulnerable people. It's the same children on my walk, but I politely refuse their request to come to my side of the road to pet Kiko.
At the end of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy had a better appreciation of her home, her family, and the people in her community. Mary Poppins' incursions into the family changed them forever in good ways. Dorothy had a longing that somewhere over the rainbow, there was a better place. In the end, her journey into the new reality brought her back home, wiser, kinder, more loving and accepting than before.
The narrative in the Bible takes some twists and turns as well. There are giants, angels, fires, floods, pestilence and disease, just off the top of my head. But it begins well, ends well, and there are moments of shining grace and goodness in between.
I have a hard time imagining the months ahead. Or perhaps it isn't a lack of imagination I have, as much as a lack of will to imagine the months ahead if they are radically different than what was. But then, like Dorothy, I have a little flash of radical and tenacious faith (mine is based not on a place over the rainbow, but in the God whose covenant was marked by a rainbow) that this, too, will bring us back to who we really are. In the meanwhile, click on the link below to see my all-time favorite rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World performed by Israel "IZ" Kamakawiwo?ole, who would have turned 61 last Wednesday. (Please fast forward through the ads) IZ, you died way too young!
May 21, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Something caught my eye, a movement to the left side as I was walking the other day. Curious, I stopped and looked. One small sparrow landed on a driveway, quickly followed by another, who seemed to nip at the first. Sparrow number one turned and nipped back then jumped a few feet away. Number two followed, nipping again, like a younger sibling following an elder one, doing everything it could to get attention, to join in the fun. They repeated this several more times. Then finally, a larger sparrow swooped down (I imagined this was a parent), and numbers one and two took flight.
I was immediately reminded of my two youngest granddaughters, ages 3 and 6, little birds playfully (at least at first) picking at each other. Since the Pandemic began, we've been meeting via WhatsApp almost every evening. Sometimes I tell a story about something that happened when I was a child, or their dad was a child. I've started making up an ongoing story about two princess and their magic powers. So far those powers are smiling and giggling, capable of melting monsters on the spot. Sometimes they "read" to me. Last night one of them learned to play a Kazoo while I listened. Most evenings, whatever one has, whether a particular book or toy, the other wants. Most often it is the younger who wants what the older has.
They remind me so much of my sons when they were kids, the younger desperately trying to get the attention, and the possessions, of the elder. Our older pair of grandchildren bore the same genetic trait which is now presenting in the younger pair.
Older apparently is cooler than younger. I can attest to this unfortunate fact as the youngest of three sisters. They are 8 and 10 years older than me, and simply due to the age advantage, they were cooler than me, try as I might to catch up!
I was tickled watching those little sparrows, so much so that their antics became the basis of the story I told that evening, without including princesses with superpowers, because getting along with each other doesn't require superpowers. It requires using our words, asking for the things we want, sharing, taking turns, telling the truth, being patient, being kind, in essence loving our neighbor as we love ourselves all based on loving God with our whole being.
Children aren't born knowing how to get along with others, they learn that lesson over and over until it becomes almost second nature. It was cute to see in sparrows, understandable in small children as a process of maturity. During this season of COVID 19, St. Paul's UCC Woodstock, VA offers these meditations as a service to the community. But what about us? In 1 Cor. 3:1-3, Paul says, "And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?" Lord, have mercy on us all!
May it be so!
May 20, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
One of the things I've been chewing on a lot lately is what church might look like when we resume in-person gatherings. I am reminded of something my best friend Elaine and I did one summer. There was an old crab apple tree in my back yard that e had provided shade for a log cabin "playhouse" my sisters had enjoyed. It became a "fort" for us. We decided that it would be really cool to create a tree house to be installed above it. So we borrowed some of my dad's tools, and scrounged around for material. We found an old rattan hamper, with a solid wood bottom that became the base for the tree house. We repurposed some old two-by-fours for the sides, working through the day. My dad stopped by several times to check on our progress, never saying a word, aside from asking us how it was going, and shaking his head. We even used some old green paint that we thought would help to camouflage the tree house, so we spent another day and painted it. Dad stopped by again, to shake his head.
Finally, when the paint was dry, we were ready to install the tree house. It was then that we discovered we had a problem. We had built it on the ground rather than trying to piece it together hanging from a limb, a reasonable precaution, after all. But what we hadn't thought about was how we would get that baby up in the tree. We tried lifting it up between the two branches that we were going to put it on, but it was too heavy. We tried levering it up using old clothesline slung around a branch as a pully to no avail. And my dad stopped by and shook his head.
We finally realized that we needed to tear the thing apart, and build it, piece by piece up in the branches, which we did. The end result was nothing as grand as we'd built on the ground. But we did it - and it was just fine. And my dad smiled.
Resuming in-person gathering for worship feels a bit like building that old tree house. We have lots of pieces of worship which we can use, but we aren't yet exactly sure how to get them into the tree. I image God shaking his head like my dad did, waiting for us to figure it all out, supporting us, encouraging us, patiently enjoying all the effort we are putting into the work, waiting to see what we end up with. We might need to take some of it apart, but in the end, we will figure it out. And God will smile.
Smiling at the memory - and the looking to the future.
May 19, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
The longest continually running Sunday school class at St. Paul's is the Kola Class, founded on October 19, 1933. Who could have imagined that a Sunday school class that is 87 years old, mostly composed of more mature women, would be thriving in the age of COVID 19? But thriving it is, and more people attend each week in our virtual gathering than when we met in person. Only God could have seen that one coming!
This past Sunday, we had terrible trouble making Zoom connections and getting everyone on-line. I could hear the others, but couldn't see them, they could see and hear each other could only hear me. One lady, who calls in by phone had her call dropped multiple times, and it took another about 45 minutes to successfully log on. In the midst of the technological challenges, one of the members said, "It must be all the other Sunday school classes and worship services using Zoom this morning." Wouldn't that be amazing? True to my personality, I figured I must have messed up somehow. Apparently, I was not alone, because some of the others thought they'd messed up as well.
After I ended the meeting my husband shared a screen shot of Zoom outages all over north America, especially along the East Coast. Apparently, there were outages all over Western Europe as well which interfered with virtual worship services on both sides of the Atlantic. Below is the screen shot:
I've wondered about the class name, Kola. As so often happens, the origin of the name has been lost to memory, other than a vague recollection that it is a word from an African language. I've done a bit of research, and found that there is a kola nut that is native to West Africa. In many West African cultures, it is chewed and believed to restore vitality and ease hunger pangs. It is also an important part of traditional spiritual practice of many cultures in the region. It is used in hospitality rituals, for divination, and considered sacred. I discovered one saying about the kola nut, "The one who brings Kola brings life."
That's a pretty good name for a Sunday school class, a place of hospitality, for discernment, a sacred space that brings life. It's done that for 87 years, and continues to do so in a new and challenging time. And that is another reason for hope!
May we each bring life to those we encounter today!
May 18, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
One of St. Paul's UCC graduating seniors, Stephen McCarthy, was asked what advice he would give to the children in our congregation. He said, "You can never put too much good out into the world." Wow!
I've been on the receiving end of "good" so many times in my life. One that comes to mind happened about 19 years ago, when we first moved from Wisconsin to Maui. We were church hunting, and attended Po`okela UCC one Sunday. An older gentleman, Bob Johnson, greeted us, and got our contact information. The very next day, he called and invited me to attend the Wednesday lunch time Bible study that met at his house. I knew no one, and I figured I had nothing to lose. I was finishing seminary on-line, so had free time on my hands. So that Wednesday I arrived at 11:30 for lunch. I was welcomed, we had a great time of Bible study and prayer, and I had one of my first introductions to some local food, including of all things, Spam Musubi (think Spam inside a sushi roll). Bob and all of that small group became dear friends.
We had visited a number of other churches, but this was the first one that had reached out personally. Bob Johnson, unbeknownst to him, was hugely influential in welcoming me not only to that congregation, but also to the denomination I now call home. Bob put good into the world, in many ways far beyond inviting a stranger to his home for a Bible study. But that one act of hospitality, of good, changed the direction of my life.
Stephen's words were both simple, and profound. They encourage me to be the good I want to see in this world, to pay attention to the good that I receive, to give thanks, and to pay it forward.
We never know what one act of kindness can do to change the world, one person at a time.
PS - I do not like green eggs and Spam. Anne, I am.
May 16, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
As our state is moving into Phase 1 of reopening, the possibility of resuming in-person gatherings is both enticing and frightening. Our Consistory is undertaking that task, considering what kinds of safety measures we need to have in place order to keep our faith community safe when we begin in-person gatherings. We are patiently and prayerfully, relying on the best information that our scientists and leaders can offer, while we recognize that we carry the responsibility for the task of loving one another safely.
Making plans in this time is difficult for me, as I like to have a sense of control from start to finish. I loved having a AAA Trip-Tik, each turn of a trip laid out on pages that I could flip ahead to see in detail from start to finish. Trying to plan ahead in this time seems more like following my GPS, one turn at a time, with the system frequently recalculating due to changing conditions. I feel a bit like Jamie B. Golden, who wrote, "I don't have a five-year plan. God's word is a lamp unto my feet, not my football field." I shared this quote with two of our virtual gathering groups that met yesterday.
After one of those gatherings, Making Sense in the Season, Jennifer Dalke shared the following from Sally Jewel, Interim CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Ms. Jewel wrote, "In a section that deeply resonated with me titled "A Mother's Work," Dr. Kimmerer recounts choosing and shaping a home in the backwoods of Upstate New York as a single mother with two young daughters, and her efforts to reclaim an overgrown pond so her girls could swim - a much longer project than anticipated, that was not finished until her youngest child was preparing to leave home" It is below:
"So it is my grandchildren who will swim in this pond, and others whom the years will bring. The circle of care grows larger and caregiving for my little pond spills over to caregiving for other waters. The outlet from my pond runs downhill to my good neighbor's pond. What I do here matters. Everybody lives downstream. My pond drains to the brook, to the creek, to a great and needful lake. The water net connects us all. I have shed tears into that flow when I thought that motherhood would end. But the pond has shown me that being a good mother doesn't end with creating a home where just my children can flourish. A good mother grows into a richly eutrophic old woman, knowing that her work doesn't end until she creates a home where all of life's beings can flourish. There are grandchildren to nurture, and frog children, nestlings, goslings, seedlings, and spores, and I still want to be a good mother." ~ by Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, botanist and author of Braiding Sweetgrass - Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.
What we do today matters. It affects not only today, not only our children, but our grandchildren. The ancient Hebrews knew that, and talked about the blessing of generations of those who followed the Lord. Jesus was all over it, with his messages about planting seeds and waiting for a harvest. Paul talked about it this way, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.
Plant seeds of hope today. Wait patiently. It's not all about us, it's about God's future.
May 15, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
My father would be 103 years old today! In my mind's eye, he is still 64, the age at which he died. Dad was not a singer, but he took seriously the Psalmist's command to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord." My mom, a former church organist, could carry a tune, and had the habit of closing her hymnal on the last verse of hymns, singing the final measures from memory. That, too, was rather embarrassing as a wanna-be-cool teen. I was stuck in the same pew with all that passion and enthusiasm.
But now I treasure those memories, and catch myself doing the same things in worship. St. Augustine (354-430 C.E.) said, "He who sings prays twice," (put an 's' in front of the 'he' to include women). No matter how you sing, your song is prayer magnified. The older I get, and the more confident in prayer, the more songs, even secular, have become a part of my prayer practice. I recall being on a retreat a number of years ago, walking through a beautiful forest when John Denver's "Annie's Song" came to mind. "You fill up my senses, like a night in forest, like the mountains in springtime, like a walk in the rain." Suddenly I found myself singing those words as a love song to God. I wonder, have you ever done the same?
Rod sent me a link to an elementary school music teacher, leading her virtual class in song. It expresses a prayer that I imagine many of us have prayed in this time of COVID 19. It is worth watching, so here is the link:
May the songs in this day become prayer for you,
PS - Happy birthday, Dad.
May 14, 2020
I've been battling roots lately, not the ones that could be easily taken care of by a box of L'OREAL. It started with the decision to replace two holly bushes in the front of our house. Nothing against holly in general. But these two had been planted too close to other bushes, and trimmed short and squat rather than given free rein to grow tall and proud.
I cut back branches until I got to the base, and then went at the roots with a pickaxe. It was not an easy task, but highly therapeutic. Swinging away at those old roots. I was swinging with all my might as if I were Jack going after the Giant's Beanstalk, or me, going after a virus. It felt strangely therapeutic. After cutting through the roots and pulling out as many smaller ones as I could, I got down to digging around the base, tossing soil aside to uncover additional roots. Multiple hacked roots later, I was able to get the shovel all the way under the plant, and lever it out.
Roots are amazing things, growing and spreading underground, supporting the plant, providing nutrition, breaking up the soil with the tiniest of little fingers. And once established, they are a piece of work to remove.
It's gotten me to thinking about roots, good and bad. Paul writes that, "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil," (1 Tim. 6:10). That's the kind of misplaced affection and love that needs to be rooted out. He also prays that we "will be rooted and grounded in love," (Ephesians 3:17).
This COVID19 time has laid so much bare, socially, politically, relationally, physically, and perhaps above all, spiritually. It certainly has put the ax to my crazy need for control. The toughest and most tenacious tentacles of impatience, of anxiety, of impatience are holding onto the deeper soil, and yanking them out is hard, painful work.
But it has also revealed the deep roots of faith and love, which somehow get intertwined with others, supporting a system of relationships that I hadn't known were so important and so life-giving.
Paul goes on the pray in Ephesians 3, "that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Rooting for you today!
May 13, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
The pandemic pushed our congregation and each of us through a ready-or-not, here-it-comes threshold. I marvel at how flexible and nimble our 272-year-old congregation has been in adapting. Adaptive change isn't easy, but in a matter of weeks, we figured out how to be community, to be church, without meeting together face-to-face. Rod and I adjusted by necessity to a new way of life, one that is centered on both living together and working together from our home, and aside from taking time to enjoy the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, a few visits to restaurants to carry out meals, and an occasional shopping excursion via curbside delivery.
But the past couple of mornings, I've awakened with a bit of a heavy heart. Not the kind of heaviness that comes from grief or depression. This is more the heaviness of anxiety about what comes next, when what comes next isn't going to be what was before COVID 19. It would be OK to keep some of the hidden blessings of this time, not travel as much as before, make less trips to the grocery store, or any store for that matter, and spend more time at home sans a virus. But what comes next feels more like a masked, distanced, sing-ing-less, still-dangerous parallel version of "before."
All I can think to do today, is to write a blessing for this day. Here goes:
Each day that we stand at the threshold of what's next
May 12, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Mother's Day is rather a mixed bag. I suspect that many holidays contain multiple layers of emotions, memories and thoughts, like a rich layer cake or triple scoop ice cream cone, each scoop a different flavor. Mother's Day, it seems, gets top billing over Father's Day, and that seems unfair to me. Mother's Day can feel like a scab that gets rubbed raw each year for women who aren't mothers, either by choice or by circumstance. Some have had relationships with mothers that are better not celebrated. Some have never known their mothers. This year I was reminded of the empty space in my heart that my mother used to fill, when Rod asked if I happened to have any extra Mother's Day cards in my treasure trove of cards for all occasions. Before I even realized the impact of my words, I commented "No, I don't. I haven't had need to send one for the past 10 years." That's how long its been since my mom died.
Jesus promises in John 14:18, "I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you." That is true. Somehow, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we adopted as children of God. We are not orphaned. And long before our mothers depart this life for heaven, women show up who "mother us," a gift, I believe, of God.
I discovered one such mother in a lady by the name of Mrs. Lambeck. I have no idea what her first name was, but she was my 5th grade Sunday School teacher. She was loving and kind, with high expectations for us students. All of us worked hard to memorize the verses she gave us, not out of fear of punishment, but because we didn't want to disappoint her. She told us that her door was always open and if we had a problem, we could come to see her.
It just so happens that a problem developed in my life. One of the neighbor boys started smoking cigarettes, which troubled me greatly. Remembering her invitation, I hopped on my bike one afternoon and showed up on her doorstep. She invited me in, and offered me cookies and lemonade, which I was more than happy to accept. I told her about my problem, and while I have no idea what she said, what I do remember was her kind presence, providing space and time to gently hold my troubles. That was all I needed. And mostly, that is what we all desire - space and time and presence to hold our troubles. Family in the best sense of that term.
For her, and all the women in my life who have "mothered" me, including some of you at St. Paul's UCC, I give God thanks today.
May 11, 2020
Dear St. Paul's Family,
Pick on someone dear to me, or someone who cannot defend themselves and my inner Mighty Mouse emerges, fierce as a mama bear whose cubs are in danger. That happened last week, and the dear one picked on was the capital "C" Church. Pick a fight with the Church, and you pick a fight with me.
I received an email as pastor of St. Paul's UCC from an organization inviting me, as pastor of St. Paul's UCC, Woodstock, "to join us with your church in returning to our God-given religious freedom and begin to assemble as the Bible says in Hebrews 10:24-25. We as members of the body of Christ have chosen to not assemble during the height of Covid-19; however, as we see the nation returning to normal the first thing we should do is return to our churches."
Perhaps a Hawaiian lesson is needed. There are two different words in the Hawaiian language for the English word "church." There is hale pule, house of prayer or meeting house, and ekalesia, the people who are the church. It is an important distinction. We might not be meeting in the hale pule, but the ekalesia is alive and well and doing the work of God in the midst of this pandemic. We are church, we have been, are and will be. These circumstances don't change that. In fact, I believe that how the church has responded in this time shows the strength, the agility, the creativity, and the nimbleness of the church. COVID19 has revealed the church at its finest.
What I've discovered during this time, is a reaffirmation of Jesus' promise in Matthew 18:20, "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them." Hebrews 10:24-25 (New Revised Standard Version) says this, "And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching." That has happened in spades in so many ways in the past two months, because of each and every one of us, being ekalesia, loving
neighbor as self as we love God, sharing our lives, our gifts, our riches, our hearts, even daring to meet and worship in creative ways that no virus can defeat. Growl!
E aloha ke Akua (Thanks be to God),
During this season of COVID 19, St. Paul's UCC Woodstock, VA
offers these meditations as a service to the community.