An Open Letter to the President of the United States after Charlottesville

Downtown Charlottesville 201708

Downtown Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 14, 2017. Her name was Heather Heyer. Photo by Bob Mical. Used by permission under Creative Commons license.

The President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mister President,

I listened to your words on Saturday, August 12th, responding to the racist and white supremacist rally and riot in Charlottesville, Virginia. I heard you lament the violence and I heard you cast blame on “many sides. On many sides.”

Mister President, you must choose a side.

On the one side, there are those marchers: all white, mostly men. These are the ones shouting, “You will not replace us,” and “Blood and soil.” Do you recognize those words, sir? Do you recognize that the latter was a slogan of the Nazi Party in Germany? Do you recognize that the former implies a race-based rivalry between American citizens?

Do you recognize that you have fed both of these?

On the other side, there were the other marchers. Their skins were white, and brown, and deep brown. They were men and women. Many of them stood with arms linked wearing the vestments of religious leaders. Those people sang songs of peace as those others, carrying clubs and guns, shouted their slogans of division and hate.

These are the people mowed down by a speeding car, driven into them in an act of terror.

Do you recognize that you have failed to heed these voices of justice and peace?

The white supremacists know. They heard your words. They recognize that you have not condemned their false doctrines or their belligerent slogans or their evil purposes.

Until you condemn their ideals, until you condemn their goals, until you condemn their actions, they will know. We will all know.

I call upon you now to fulfill your oath. Be President to the United States to the entire United States. Repudiate the voices of white supremacy; reject their affirmation of racism. Make it clear. Make it certain. Make it forceful.

If you do not: the citizens of this country are listening. And we will know which side you have chosen. So will all the world.

I await your repentance and your amendment.

Sincerely yours,

Eric S. Anderson
Pastor, Church of the Holy Cross United Church of Christ
Hilo, Hawai’i

Ego without Wisdom

I sent this letter on Sunday, August 13th. I had not yet decided whether to post this after the President’s statement on August 14th condemning racism and white supremacy. His return to rhetoric blaming counter-protesters on August 15th, however, prompted me to make this letter public.

Don’t Feed the Ego of the Ruler

Recently, a pastor of a large church on the mainland — the Rev. Dr. Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church (SBC) of Dallas, Texas — wrote this to the Christian Broadcast Network News:

“When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary — including war — to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un.”

The passage to which he refers is Romans 13:1-7. I’ll include it in full at the close. He’s given us a very shallow reading of the text, and considered absolutely none of its context. In Romans 8, for example, the apostle Paul (the writer) notes that there are other powers in the world that are clearly unauthorized by God. Paul urges people to bless those who persecute them in Romans 12, maintaining a theme found elsewhere in the letter that suggests the Christian community in the imperial capital was under stress. Lots of stress.

Dr. Jeffress also ignores the context of Paul’s life and death. He was executed by the rulers whose “God-given authority” Paul so blithely commends in Romans 13. Does Dr. Jeffress really mean to say that Roman persecution of the early Church, which claimed the lives of so many of its earliest leaders, was God-driven? Does he mean to imply that their arrests, detentions, and executions were the result of their “bad conduct”?

Dr. Jeffress, were he to look, could find abundant Biblical examples of good conduct being rewarded with bad treatment at the hands of authorities. The people of Israel enslaved by Egypt… The prophet Elijah pursued by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel… The prophet Jeremiah imprisoned by King Zedekiah… Jesus…

Paul was simply wrong. Authority is no indicator of God’s favor, endorsement, or direction. As I read this text, I actually hear Paul trying to restrain a burgeoning movement toward violent rebellion. He’s attempting to restrain a violent response to an increasingly violent persecution by the governing authorities. Governing authorities, I note once more for Dr. Jeffress’ sake, that took his own life unjustly.

But truthfully, I didn’t need to do much Biblical research to know that Dr. Jeffress was wrong, because his public statement giving Divine approval to authority applies both to the U.S. President and to the Supreme Leader of North Korea.

Most troubling for a servant of Christ, the public statement serves only to inflate the ego of the President. It provides no new information about the situation. It gives no moral guidance. It offers no alternatives to death and destruction.

Dr. Jeffress, Jesus is not about inflating the ego of rulers.

Dr. Jeffress, Jesus is not about uncritical moral decision-making.

Dr. Jeffress, Jesus is not about death and destruction.

Hear me when I say this:

If you are feeding the ego of the ruler, and you are not feeding the ruler with wisdom, then you are a stranger to the heart and mind of Christ.

I’ll say it again:

If you are feeding the ego of the ruler, and you are not feeding the ruler with wisdom, then you are a stranger to the heart and mind of Christ.

Dr. Jeffress: Repent.

Ego without Wisdom

Romans 13:1-7

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, busy with this very thing.

Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.

The Patient Honu

Honu swimmingThere are plenty of things to like about being a honu, a sea turtle. Just to start, there’s the joy of swimming in warm tropical waters, and of dipping down deep for the refreshing coolness, and rising to the surface again for a breath of air. Oh, yes, that’s something to like.

Swimming will also bring you down to the beds of sea grass, where you can nibble the tips from their shoots. Well, yes, I expect the honu would enjoy that more than you would, or than I would, for that matter. But we’d all enjoy doing acrobatics in the water, and when you’re ready for a rest, I know we share with the honu a huge affection for naps in the warm sun on the beach.

A young honu had done all this and more. Born on a beach on this island, he’d actually made a swim all the way around, and further, he’d taken a little expedition over to Maui. He’d seen different kinds of fish, watched seabirds float on the air, and tasted different sorts of seaweed. He’d sunned himself on white sand beaches, gray sand beaches, black sand beaches, and even a green sand beach. He rather thought he’d seen it all.

But he found one older honu rather puzzling.

He found her one day after she’d pulled herself up on a beach for a nap in the sun. The trouble was, there wasn’t any sun. It was clouds from one edge of the sky to the other. She appeared to take no notice as she lay there placidly on the beach, just as still and calm as if the sun were beaming down.

The younger one hauled himself up close to her and asked her what she was doing.

Then he asked again. And again. He had to tap her flippers once or twice to catch her attention. When this honu napped, she took her naps seriously. Finally she was awake enough to hear his question.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m napping in the sun,” she said.

He took another look about to make sure of his facts. No, he didn’t see any sun.

“But it’s cloudy,” he told her.

“I know,” she said.

“There’s no sun,” he said.

“That’s true,” she replied. “At least not now.”

“Then what…?”

“There are things in life that only come along once or twice,” she told him. “There are some kinds of fish you’ll see only once, or maybe even never, that your elders can tell you about. There are seaweeds that only grow in special places. There are friends who’ll decide to move about and you may not see them for years.”

“But there are other things,” she went on, “that come and go all the time. The kohola (humpback whale) visits in the winter, and swims away in the spring, and comes back the next year. You eat the tips of the sea grass, and they grow more. The tides roll up and roll back on the island shores.

“Sunshine is like that. It’s waiting behind those clouds. There will be sun on the beach.”

Sure enough, the clouds parted and a sunbeam glistened on the beach and on the water. Just for a moment, as it happened. And not where the two honu were talking. In fact, it disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared.

“It will be back,” the older honu sighed. “For some things — sea grass, rain, waves, tides, and sun — all you have to do is wait.”

And she laid her head back down on the sand, closed her eyes, and resumed her nap in the sun — the sun which would come as she waited.

Honu on beach

The Puzzled Nene

20170729 NeneThere was a young nene — that’s the Hawaiian goose, by the way, and did you know that it’s Hawai’i’s state bird? Good!

There was a young nene who lived on the slopes of Kilauea. Sometimes he’d be high up on the mountain, flying in search of ripe ‘ohelo or grass seeds or naupaka berries. Sometimes he’d fly makai, down to the rocky shoreline, where the other naupaka might be ripe.

It was on one of those days — when he was happily swallowing down the white ripe naupaka berries with some friends — when something unexpected appeared. A tall creature, standing easily five or six times his own height, came around a rock and stopped abruptly, standing on two legs. Three or four others appeared as well, stepping up onto rocks and coming into view.

The nene gave a small honk of greeting, but the creatures made no such understandable sound back. They did seem to be calling to each other.

They didn’t approach; in fact, they drew back some after the initial encounter. The nene found that puzzling. He was surprised that they didn’t come near.

Even more puzzling, they each produced flat rectangular objects that they held between themselves and the little group of nene. That made no sense at all to young bird, or to any of his friends. Did these creatures not want to look at them?

Most puzzling of all, after a time of box-holding, non-sensical noise-making, and back-drawing, the creatures turned on their two heels and walked away. Without eating a single naupaka berry.

To a hungry nene, that was the most puzzling thing of all.

If the nene ever learned what it was all about, I never heard about it. There were many things he didn’t know. He didn’t know that he and his friends were rather rare, and that humans had come to care about them. He didn’t know that humans aren’t supposed to approach nene, and if they do, they’re supposed to step away without troubling them. He didn’t know that humans are supposed to leave their food alone, so that the nene have enough to eat. He didn’t know any of that.

He didn’t know that there were people watching over him and his cousins, to see that they had every chance to live a good and healthy nene life.

Unlike the nene, we do know that God watches over us. We may not know precise how God is caring for us at any given moment, but we do know that God care at every single moment.

We know that God is always there.

Photo by Eric Anderson, taken with a flat rectangular object that shielded his face from the nene.

The Hungry Kohola

humpback calfShe was born in the waters that lie between Maui and the Kohala Peninsula of Hawai’i Island. At birth, she was already about twenty feet long.

Were any of you twenty feet long when you were born? No? Hm. I guess none of us are twenty feet long now, either.

She was, in fact, a whale. A humpback whale, a kohola. As she grew, she’d swim with her mother in the warm Pacific Ocean. She learned to eat the food that her mother and father and myriad cousins ate: She dive into the deeps, and open her mouth wide. As the water swirled in, it carried fish and shrimp and squid (it helps if you think of it as calamari) and tiny animals and floating plants. Then she’d close her mouth, push the water out, and sweeps everything else from her baleen plates with her tongue, and swallow.

Ah, now that’s a meal! If you’re a kohola, anyway.

But then her mother said it was time to leave Hawai’i and swim north to the Bering Sea. Away they went.

As they swam, the water got colder. The young kohola started to worry. The cool water felt fine to her, but what about the other creatures of the sea? More to the point, what about the ones she liked to eat? What if they didn’t like cold water? Would they still be there when she dove and opened her mouth wide?

What if there wasn’t any food in cold water?

But she’d follow her mother and the rest of the pod as they dove, and every time they did, they found fish and shrimp and squid (sorry, calamari) and everything else she liked to eat. They never had trouble keeping her growing belly full.

She rose to the surface to breathe, and sang, “They’re everywhere!”

Well, she was young. Fish and shrimp and squid (calamari) aren’t everywhere in the ocean, though it may seem so. What is everywhere, though, is the love of God. It always surrounds us, always feeds us, always sustains us, even when we don’t know.

The love of God is everywhere. You’ve nothing to worry about there.

The image of a kohola mother and calf was taken in the waters off Maui, and comes from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration collection. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79963

All the Way

The Bible is filled with stories about people who traveled a lot. There’s Abraham (just for starters), and there’s Jacob, and King David, and the prophet Elijah. There’s Moses and Joshua, the Apostle Paul, and, of course, there’s Jesus.

Once upon a time God’s friend — have I mentioned God’s friend to you? God’s friend likes to hang out with God, and ask God questions, and sometimes even poke a little fun at God. A lot of my friends like to pick on me a little bit. How about your friends? Do they tease you sometimes?

No? Really? Well, what about the adults in here?

Ah, yes. We’ve got some people who’ll answer a question honestly.

In any case, God has a friend who likes to tease.

Anyway, God’s friend found God watching a person’s journey. The journey, I must say, was not going well. God had a notion about where the person should go, but the person was struggling to get there.

God would put up signs along the way to show the direction. Sometimes the person would look at them, check the arrow, and go off in the right direction. More often, though, the person simply didn’t look, and would turn or go straight more or less at random. Sometimes that had the person going the right way, but more often than not it was a side road.

When the journey came to a traffic circle, like the one in Pahoa, that’s when things got really interesting. The person came to the traffic circle no less than four times. After six turns around the circle the first time, the person headed off in the wrong direction. On another circle around, the person actually started back the way they’d come in the first place.

All told, the journey wasn’t going smoothly.

God’s friend watched God watching all this. And God showed not a sign, not an inkling, not a tremor of frustration or impatience during it all. God simply watched, and put up more signs, and from time to time God smiled.

God’s friend has less patience.

“This is taking forever,” God’s friend said. “I don’t know that this person will ever get where You want them to go. How long are you going to stay with them on this journey?”

God smiled. And then God said:

“All the way. I’ll be with them all the way.”

Which is, of course, how God stays with us, my friends. All the way.

All the way.

2016 Rainbow over road

A rainbow over the road in Waimea, Hawai’i, November 14, 2016. Photo by Eric Anderson.

The Kind Peacock

Peacock_Quinn DembrowskiThis story is more about a peahen than it is about a peacock. Well, it’s about a choice she wanted to make.

She was looking for someone to share her life with. Not everyone wants to, and not everyone can, but she could and did and so she was taking a look at all the peacocks around her to see who would make a good life companion. It turned out to be a problem, not because there too few (there were plenty), and not because there were too few nice peacocks (there were plenty of those, too), but, well…

There were too many to choose from. And frankly, they were very much alike. How do you choose when they’re all so similar?

They all had glorious fans of tailfeathers, with the bright emerald eyes glinting in the sunlight whenever they displayed them. They all had a very similar grace in the way they moved about, nearly dancing as they moved the fan left, and right, and forward, and back. They bowed their gleaming azure heads and necks with politeness and respect. They were even able to talk the good talk to her and the other peahens.

Well, all right. They were able to squawk the good squawk. It comes to the same thing.

With so many options, how was she to choose?

As it happened, it was the chickens that helped her decide.

No, they weren’t offering advice. They were sharing their living grounds and feeding area. There were nearly always chickens about.

Most of the peacocks ignored them most of the time. They didn’t say “Hello,” and they didn’t ask about their day. They’d readjust their fans so it faced a peacock, not a chicken.

There were other times when they stopped ignoring them, and it turned out to be a Bad Thing. They’d scream at them to go away, and they’d rush them with their wings batting away, and they’d even start pecking them with their sharp beaks.

One peacock, however, didn’t act that way. When the chickens showed up at break of day, he’d squawk a polite “Good morning.” When other peacocks started chasing chickens about, he’d stand between them and glare until they stopped. When he found a particularly good bunch of seed, he’d call out an invitation to everyone to come and share: peacocks and chickens alike.

That, decided the peahen, is the peacock for me. This is somebody who can care for creatures other than those like himself. If he’s kind to chickens, he’ll be kind to me.

Are you ready for the ending? Are you?

They lived happily ever after.

Photo by Quinn Dombrowski. Used by permission under Creative Commons license.