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.

Hidden Things

Pacific_Golden_Plover_hawaii_RWDAs I invited the young people to come forward, I gathered my notes and brought them down front with me. 

I don’t usually bring notes with me for these stories, but I’ve managed to get the name of this bird wrong five times this morning, and I want to get it right. Because this story is about a kolea.

There are a lot of kolea about this island these days. In English, they’re called the [look at notes] the Pacific Golden Plover (the Hawaiian name is easier, isn’t it?). They’re all born in Alaska, which is a long way from here, and they have the good sense to fly here to Hawai’i to spend the winter. That’s where they are now, but they’re all getting ready to go back to Alaska. There they’ll look to find mates, and build nests, and lay eggs, and hatch chicks, and raise the young birds.

And then they’ll fly three or four days, flying without landing, to come back to this island again.

Well, this one young kolea had only made one of those long flights: the time she flew here after her birth in Alaska. That had been a grueling four days, but she made it, and she had enjoyed her stay here on Hawai’i. The time is coming for her to make the trip to Alaska for the first time.

Which means that she eats pretty much anything she can find, so she’ll have the strength. But she’s also wondering what will happen back in Alaska.

Will she find someone to build a nest with, and raise a family with? Will she find love? And how will she know?

The older birds have been telling her not to worry. Male kolea fly and dive about to show their territory. There are calls and hops and ways to hold their wings.

One older female took her to a grassy place, maybe a little bit like our lanai, and said, “Look there. Is there anything to eat in that grassy place?”

The kolea looked, and quickly counted eight bugs and two slugs.

Yes, kolea like slugs. I’m glad something does. I’m really glad that something isn’t me!

“Yes,” she said, “I count eight bugs and two slugs.”

Why are you making that face? Oh. You don’t like thinking about eating slugs. Well, I don’t either. We’ll think about something else, then.

The older kolea said, “Look again. Now tell me, how many of those do you actually see?’

“Well,” said the younger one. “Just two, actually.”

“How do you know the other ones are there?”

“I can see that they must be there. It’s how the grass moves, or doesn’t move when the wind is blowing.”

“That’s right,” said the older bird. “We learn about what is hidden by how it changes what we see.

“So don’t worry. There will be a bird who loves you. And he’ll show it. You’ll know how he feels by how he acts toward you. You’ll see more than enough signs to know.”

I’m sure she will.

And it’s true of us, too. We learn about what is hidden by the way it influences what we can see. So we can see that others love us by how they act toward us, how they care for us, how they listen to us and talk to us.

So that when somebody loves and care about you, you will know.

Photo is by Dick Daniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18649090. Used by permission.

Of Love and Kites

two-kitesToday’s story features the same little girl from last week’s story. You remember her, right?

You don’t?

Well, she was the one who wanted to fly a kite and wanted to know how she’d know when she was loved. Does that sound familiar? No?

Well, it’s on the Internet. You can look it up.

Anyway, this same little girl got up one morning and, once again, she had two things that she wanted to do with her day.

The first one was that she wanted to spend time playing with her neighbor, a boy just a little younger than she was, and a good friend.

The second thing was that she wanted to know how she’d know when she was being loving to someone else. You really have to admit that she liked to ask the Big Questions.

Since she knew it was a Big Question, too, she decided to start with the easier one, so off she went to her friend’s house and knocked on the door. He was perfectly willing to play with her that day, which meant she’d already accomplished one of her goals.

In fact, he wanted to fly his brand new kite, which was even better, because now she knew how to get a kite in the air, since she had been in last week’s story.

And it was nice and windy that day.

So they carried the package with his new kite to a nice open space, and she set out to get it unpacked. She’d done this in the last story, so she knew how it went. She laid out all the pieces, and got the spars together, and got the fabric tight over everything. She attached the tail, and fastened the string to the kite with a good strong knot. Everything was ready to go.

She handed him the assembled kite and told him to stand off a few feet, and when she started running, to toss the kite into the air. Sure enough, when she took off, the kite leaped into the air like it was meant to fly (which, of course, it was) and danced higher and higher into the sky.

He came over and reached for the string, but she said, “No, no, let me show you how to do it,” and that’s when he burst into tears and ran home.

Leaving her all alone in the open field with his kite in the air.

Well, she brought it down to the ground, and wound up the string, and walked it back to his house. She could still hear the crying from outside, so she left the kite on the porch, and went to find her Grandfather.

She cried a few tears of her own as she told him the story.

“Just to make sure I understand,” said Grandfather when she was through, “Did he ask you to put his kite together?”

Well, no, he hadn’t.

“Did he ask you to show him how to fly it?”

No, he hadn’t done that either.

“Did you ask him at all what he needed from you, or what he wanted you to do?”

Well, no.

“When you do the things that people really want or really need,” Grandfather told her gently, “that’s how they know you’re being really loving. So the only way for you to know whether you’re being truly loving is to ask.”

Oh.

She went back to her friend’s house, and this time she knocked on the door. When he came to see her (it must be said that his mother had to tell him to do it), she apologized for doing everything he wanted to do with his kite, and humbly asked, “What do you want to do?”

“I’d like to fly the kite with my own hand on the string,” he said, somewhat cautiously, because he wasn’t sure what she’d say.

“Then let’s do that. I’ll hold the kite while you run and get it into the air,” she said, and that’s just what they did.

The next day, there was wind again, so they both brought their kites, and soon there were two of them aloft. As they watched the two kites dance in the sky, both of them knew this:

They’d been loving to each other.

Love Like the Wind

dsc_0871

Kite in flight

A little girl set out one day with two things on her mind; two things she was determined to do.

The first looked pretty simple: she wanted to fly a kite.

The second looked more difficult: she wanted to know how she’d know when somebody loved her. She was pretty sure that this was the more awkward question.

That meant that the kite came first.

She got it out of its package, and she put the sticks in their places. She stretched the fabric over it, and attached a streamer tail to the end. She got out the kite string, and attached it to the kite with a good knot. She was all set to fly.

Unfortunately, she’d chosen to go out on a day which lacked one critical ingredient: wind.

Wind is usually plentiful here in East Hawai’i, but not that day. It was one of the hot, still, and muggy days of summer. I guess there was a storm offshore that blocked the trade winds from blowing, and the storm’s winds hadn’t reached Hilo yet.

Whatever the cause, there simply wasn’t a breeze to be felt.

She gave it her all, though. She raced back and forth across her chosen field, letting the kite string out behind her, and gasping each time the kite seemed to take leap skyward on her leg-driven wind.

Each time she came to stop, though, the kite would sag in mid-air, and fall gracelessly to the ground. Sometimes it would plunge to earth even as she ran. All in all, it was really frustrating.

Nothing she tried would get the kite to fly.

Grumbling, she went to see her grandfather, hoping that he would have some wisdom that would get the kite to fly. She poured out her troubles as he listened, and he cast a glance at the trees, where the immobile leaves confirmed the problem.

“I’m sorry,” he gently said when her sad tale had ended, “but without any wind a kite won’t fly.”

Some tears later (she’d been counting on this, after all), she remembered her other question for the day. Rather hopelessly, given how the kite flying had turned out, she raised her other question.

“Grandfather,” she asked, “how do I know when someone loves me?”

Grandfather considered this for a few moments, and smiled.

“Think about your kite for a moment. Without wind, what does it do?”

“Nothing,” pouted the granddaughter. “It falls to the ground.”

“Love is like the wind that lifts the kite,” said Grandfather. “If you feel like somebody is lifting you up; if you feel like somebody is supporting you; if you feel like somebody has helped you to fly, that’s somebody loving you. That’s how you know.”

As she listened, the girl realized that, despite the sorrows that had brought her to her grandfather, she now felt lifted up. She now felt supported. She now felt like her soul had taken flight – a low, short flight (it must be confessed), but flying nevertheless.

So she gave her grandfather and big hug, and said to him, “You mean like right now?”

Grandfather looked at her, and inside he, too, felt like he was being lifted up, like he was being supported. He felt his soul flying. So he smiled his widest as he said:

“Yes, granddaughter. Just like right now.”

There may not have been a kite flying that day, but two souls soared on the wind of love.

Addendum: It was at this point that one of the young people said to me, “Could you please tell us that she was able to fly the kite the next day?”

Why, yes. As it happened, the wind returned the next day, and she was able to fly her kite. Even better, though, it was also a day when she felt lifted up by love as well.

And that’s the best kind of day of all.

Magic Words

2mhane

Painting by Jacob Hane

‘Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the house,
The children were screaming –
And they’d frightened the mouse.

Well, I’m afraid that’s as far as my memory will let me get with rhyming. So I’ll have to tell you the rest as a story. OK?

Sometimes, when children are screaming, it’s good screaming. Sometimes you’re just so happy or full of energy or overflowing with good feelings that they come out at full voice. And if everybody else is doing the same thing, well, it just gets louder and louder, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, on this day, in this house, the screams weren’t happy screams. The kids were screaming with anger.

They’d reached the point – you’ve been there, right? – where they’d forgotten what they were mad about. It was all just yelling and name-calling and sorrow and rage now. Lots and lots of screaming.

One of the children went in search of the mother, who had sought a place at the far side of the house in the (forlorn) hope of escaping the screaming din. The child, with some difficulty because of the way tears and indignation combine to disrupt a coherent story, demanded that the mother come and stop all the rest of the children from being jerks.

“Well,” said the mother, “why don’t you just use the magic word?”

The child had some experience of this, however, and would not be put off by this ploy. With folded arms, a tossed head, and (I’m afraid) rolling eyes, the child informed the mother that “Please” had already been tried and the other children were still jerks.

“All right,” said the mother. “Why don’t you try this one?”

Leaning over, she whispered softly and briefly in the child’s ear. The child’s face went through the contortions of surprise and puzzlement, but recognizing that this step had to be taken before anything else happened, the child made the trip back to the other side of the house and the screaming room.

The screaming, I have to admit, continued.

But a few minutes later, one of the other children appeared before the mother with the same complaint. Once again, she whispered a few words into the ear, and the child exited her room, with a face filled with surprise and doubt.

The screaming continued, but with somewhat less volume.

One by one, all the children made their way to see the mother, and one by one returned with the same whispered instructions. Finally the last and littlest one seized her hand and would not let go until she, too, made her way to the surprisingly quiet screaming room.

The children were no longer screaming. They were repeating their magic words, sometimes one after another, sometimes overlapping each other, sometimes all at the same time. Their faces held the surprise that had overwhelmed them some time ago when the screaming faded away.

They were all saying, “I love you.”

I can’t promise that those words will magically end any of the screaming matches you find yourselves in. I can definitely tell you that it’s worth trying: It’s worth trying to say them, and it’s definitely worth trying to live up to them.

As for the mother, she smiled.

This story takes its inspiration from one told in my hearing some years ago by the Rev. Dr. Ronald Brown, senior pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Southington, Connecticut. I haven’t found that story available online, but you’ll find Ron’s wit, wonder, and wisdom on his blog.

“Breakfast” – Sermon for Apr. 10, 2016

Preached at
Church of the Holy Cross UCC
Hilo, Hawai’i
April 10, 2016

Text: John 21:1-19

Some of you have, I suspect, had a question on your mind for half hour or so:

Is he really going to wear a tie every Sunday?

Some of you may have followed this question with another, more personal one:

Is he going to expect me to wear a tie every Sunday?

I can answer the second question immediately: No. I have no intention of introducing a new dress code for worship at Church of the Holy Cross. That’s a mistake the early missionaries to Hawai’i made, and I don’t care to repeat it. The important thing is to worship God, and clothes should not be a barrier to that. Wear what makes you worshipful. That might be what makes you comfortable, but it might not. Wear what helps you focus on the love of God.

As for myself: that’s one of the things I’ll be learning as time goes on. I’ve worshiped wearing a jacket and tie, or a pastor’s robe and tie, for over forty years. I’m pretty sure that’s going to change now, but I’ll be frank: I don’t know what I’m going to look like in worship next week, let alone next year.

Which brings us to the disciples. Jesus had been crucified, which left them terrified and paralyzed. Then Jesus had been raised, which left them exalted and amazed. They hardly knew what to believe.

This week finds them not knowing what to do. When Jesus appeared to all his disciples, including Thomas, who must really have regretted missing that earlier gathering, he’s startlingly vague about what they’re to do next. They’re joyful, they’re exultant, they’ve renewed their courage – but they’re not committed to any particular direction. So they return to Galilee, which had been home for many of them, and the fishermen among them take up fishing again, with no great success until Jesus appears. This time he’s got a commission, and they won’t use nets to fish ever again.

Gathered for Thanksgiving in 2014

Gathered for Thanksgiving in 2014

They’re on the road to change.

So are we. You and I, the faith community of the Church of the Holy Cross in Hilo, and Eric Anderson born in Middletown, Connecticut. We have met, and we have committed to follow the leadership of Christ together. Christ will change us, and we will change each other. Just what we will look like, and how it will all happen, is still ahead. God knows, but I do not.

I do know that there are more of you than there are of me, and that means I’ll change more than you.

But this is where I come from:

Shirley Anderson

Rev. Shirley Anderson

Lynn Anderson

Rev. Lynn Anderson

This is my family gathered for Thanksgiving a couple years ago at my brother’s house in New Haven. My father, Lynn Anderson, worked as a public school educator for over 30 years, retired early, and entered the ministry. My mother died quite some time ago, and around twenty years ago, while in seminary, my father met and married Shirley Anderson. Both of them have served churches in New England, and they’ve both reached their second retirement. So there are three ordained ministers in my immediate family. I’m the youngest, and I’ve also been ordained the longest.

Rebekah and Brendan Anderson

Rebekah and Brendan Anderson

It was my cousins who bought this tie for me, in celebration of my call to Hawai’i. They made the selection for the bright colors, of course, which can be found in the aloha style, but I don’t think that a large paisley pattern is really Hawaiian – and, of course, it’s a tie. We don’t really know a great deal about Hawai’i back east. I come to this ministry aware that I have a lot to learn!

Incidentally, one of those things is how often to water the plants in the parsonage. They’re all new varieties to me, and I’d value some pointers!

These are my adult children. Brendan on the right is twenty-three, a graduate of the University of Vermont, and has been volunteering in a 3rd grade classroom in Boston this school year. Rebekah is in her third year at Hampshire College, and she wants to be a writer. They are simply two of the most wonderful people I know.

Glastonbury Choir

The choir at First Church in Glastonbury

Rev. Kate VanDerzee-Glidden and Rev. David Taylor

Rev. Kate VanDerzee-Glidden and Rev. David Taylor

David Taylor and Kate VanDerzee-Glidden are the pastors of First Church of Christ Congregational UCC in Glastonbury, Connecticut, where I’ve worshiped for the last ten years or so. They gathered people together to present me with this stole, which celebrates both New England and Hawai’i. On the back, church members and friends wrote their blessings and best wishes for me, and I’ve been reading them with tears in my eyes.

This is the choir at First Church in Glastonbury singing at the service the Connecticut Conference held to celebrate my ministry. You’ll notice that they all donned leis for the occasion – and had one for me. What you can’t see in the photo is the gift certificate they gave me for a music shop here in Hilo, to purchase an ukulele and start to learn to play it.

And I’ve even gone out to buy it!

Eric and Paul Bryant-Smith

Eric and Paul Bryant-Smith

And this is my friend Paul Bryant-Smith. He’s pastor of a church in Danbury, Connecticut, and also a hospital chaplain. The two of us have made music together for twenty years. In this picture, also from that farewell service, I’m playing him wearing heavy winter clothing, and he’s being me, playing ukulele. We are, of course, singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

And then there’s this photo. I took it at the Hilo airport. Because my flight was early, which I gather isn’t common, some of you who came to greet me hadn’t arrived yet when I took this picture. I think I was also wearing at least two more leis when I left the airport.

This picture has been liked 235 times on Facebook. I’m pretty sure that’s the most affection any photo has ever received on my Facebook account.

I’m showing you all this to make sure you know something very important about me: I know what it is to be loved. I have been blessed to live among loving people. In these smiles and waves and leis, I know that I am blessed to live among loving people again.

Church of the Holy Cross members welcome Eric Anderson to Hilo.

Church of the Holy Cross members welcome Eric Anderson to Hilo.

Jesus asked the impulsive, jump-into-the-water Peter this question: “Do you love me?”

It’s a tough question for him, and in fact Peter does some linguistic gymnastics with words for “love” that don’t translate from Greek to English.

That’s for another time. It doesn’t matter what kind of love Jesus asks about, and it doesn’t matter what kind of love Peter declares, because every time Jesus insists: “Feed my sheep.”

“Do you love me? You do? Feed my sheep.”

Or he might have put it this way: “Do you love me? You do? Love those around you.”

Feed my sheep.

There are a lot of ways to be hungry in the world: the hunger of the stomach, the hunger of the mind, the hunger of the soul.

The hunger of the stomach seems simple, doesn’t it? I get hungry. I eat. Problem solved. But the hunger of the stomach is not so simple, not by half. For one thing, food alone won’t do. I need to drink water as well, and my officemates back at the Connecticut Conference are still telling stories about my need for coffee.

Yet there’s another important question to ask: When people are hungry, why are they hungry? Why don’t they have access to food, or water, or work, or support? How can we prevent today’s hunger from becoming a pattern, or an apparently permanent condition?

Feed my sheep.

The hunger of the mind, likewise, may not be satisfied by the delivery of books or the establishment of schools. People learn differently, and techniques that work well for vast numbers of people may be utter failures with some others. You can see the frustration build when someone’s trying to learn in a way that doesn’t work well for them. If you’re trying to learn something from me, and it’s not working, let’s try it again, but this time, let’s try something different. And if I’m trying to learn something from you, and it’s not working, let’s try it again, and this time, we’ll try something different.

Pastor Eric in his tie and stole - and first Sunday lei.

Pastor Eric in his tie and stole – and first Sunday lei.

And there’s the hunger of the soul. When it comes right down to it, confronting this human need is my calling. My place among you is to help you satisfy the hungers of your soul.

Most of the time, I will not be able to meet that need myself. It would be lovely if I could do it in a sermon, but no. Not in one sermon, and most likely not in twenty years of sermons either. If I’m doing well, from time to time I’ll say something that feeds you just a little, and on the days when I don’t, hopefully I’ve said something to feed someone else.

The sermon isn’t the only source of spiritual food, however, and it’s my role to help you try things that might feed you. There are many different approaches to prayer, and some might bring you closer to God than others. Music has astonishing power to fill the soul. I’ll do my best, and work with the leadership, to lead worship that is authentic and engaged. We can study the Bible and other spiritual works. We can take retreats. We can engage in public service and public witness. We can sit together and talk about baseball, or your grandchildren, or your job. If your soul hungers, let’s work together, and find ways to fill your spirit.

The risk of having a satisfied soul is that Jesus summons them. He says, “Feed my sheep.” We’re not the only ones who hunger in body, mind, or spirit. There are others, near and far.

Our work together as the Church of the Holy Cross United Church of Christ in Hilo, Hawai’i, is to answer the call of Jesus, and labor to see that those who hunger – in body, mind, or spirit – are fed.