Telling about the day

for Suzanne and her friend

He’s in a compression vest.
The ALS has taken so much away
he needs the help.
But he wants to tell her what had happened
to make today a precious day.

“A sparrow …”
and that was all he had.

“A sparrow came …” again he stops.

“A sparrow came to the …”
empty, he gasps and she wishes
he would just go on,
rather than starting all over again —
it takes so long.

He’s stronger now.
“A sparrow came to the feeder.”

“And then …”

He works to fill his chest,
“and then it flew …”

He plans it then, she can see,
the thought and holding on to that last
wisp of breath —

“And then it flew away.”

And I think —
there is an old hymn about such watching.

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Summer day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Summer defines itself by today —
sun shining but breeze that blows
the July humidity away.

I’ve come in from walking the dog
from a wide palette of day lilies,
columbine, morning glory, zinnia,
coneflower, brown-eyed susans
bright blue hydrangea,
as showy as a prom dress,
making up
for the loss of the dance this year.
Small blooms in the wood,
with butterflies around them,
have names I’ve never learned.

There was some rain last night
and it lit the colors —
even the bird wings are brighter

here in Portsmouth,

where the republican campaign rally
was cancelled for bad weather …

or poor attendance.

I am so very grateful
that beauty
is not on that candidate’s platform.

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Predator Sighting

Last night our neighbor across the street
came running to tell us
that a coyote was heading our way,
but my beagle already knew
and was howling
at the scent of danger in the wind.

“Ignore it! Stay in the house!”

Donald Trump comes tomorrow
to our town,
(staying on federal land
so the City Council can do nothing)
and he insists that rally attenders,
sign a paper
so when they get sick
they cannot sue his campaign.

(For once) I am not saying anything
about Trump’s politics —
after all coyotes
belong in their own habitat,
not backyards full of children and pets.

But bringing this kind of feral event
unasked, unmasked,
into our environment,
brings us to a great howling.

Do not threaten the children
of this nation,
or the elders of this small town.
Do not send gifted students away,
celebrate the statues of enslavers,
destroy international connections
to fight the virus —

sorry, maybe politics, but only this one week.

In Portsmouth, we stay in the house,
but we dare not ignore it.

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A Journey to Pride — Guest post Larry W. Trent

I am honored to be able to publish Larry Trent’s very personal and very challenging sermon, preached at Westwood Hills United Church of Christ in Los Angeles, CA, on Pride Sunday, June 28, 2020 where he serves as Minister to Migrants. Larry so often tells other people’s stories, lifting them into the light — I am thrilled that he is willing to share from his own.

“Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong.”

Probably, my earliest clear recollection is singing this song is as a 3 year old at Fairview Christian Church, Lynchburg, Virginia. I assure you I was the same loud, enthusiastic singer you know today. Or, at least the one you know when we are in the sanctuary.

Until I left Lynchburg for college, Fairview Christian was a huge part of my life. I was at the church every time the door was open. I sang in children’s choir and junior choir, and even as a soprano in the adult choir as a 10 and 11 year old! Of course there was Sunday School and Sunday worship. Youth Group. Summer Camp. It truly was my life!
For several years we had a dynamic young youth leader. Everyone adored him. He drove the church bus to take us to camp, to the church farm, Natural Bridge and many other outings.

One day he was no longer there. Just gone! No one would say anything about what happened to him.

My maternal grandparents were best friends with the minister and his wife. They sat at my Grandparents dining table many times and shared coffee together almost every Saturday morning. Thus, I knew the pastor well.

I approached him and asked what happened to our youth minister. “He was fired because he is a homosexual. Homosexuals are an abomination in the sight of God and will never enter into the kingdom of heaven. But, don’t you worry Larry. He will never minister in any church again. I will make sure of that.”

This was a 16 year old boy standing there in front of the minister I had known every day of my life. I was being told I was an abomination in the sight of God. No, my minister wasn’t talking about me, but he may as well have been. I had known since I was 5 years old that I was “different” from other boys. I had known since I was 9 years old that I was a queer, the word that was most often used. My father had already explained to me that there were men who loved men. So, I knew he was talking about me!

Something happened that day to my relationship with the church> I continued to attend just like before. However, I no longer felt as if I belonged there. In the Disciples of Christ (Christian) Church there is communion every Sunday. I had been a part of that ritual since I was 11. Suddenly, I felt like I should not be at that table on Sunday morning.

When I arrived at college in September of 1967, I started attending a Methodist Campus Ministry. My first Sunday there I heard the young minister talk about a God of love not the God of “hell, fire, and brimstone” that I had grown up with. He caught my attention. On about my third Sunday there, he read the scripture we read today, Psalm 139: 1-18. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me…. you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. I don’t remember exactly what the minister said that day, but I thought he was speaking directly to me. They were words I needed to hear. His words revived my soul. I came out to him later that week. His acceptance was a big step on the journey to Pride.

To give you an idea of what society was like in 1967. In 1967, two years before the Stonewall riots in New York City would bring gay rights to national prominence, CBS News aired a documentary hosted by Mike Wallace called “The Homosexuals.” It had been years in the making and was considered one of the most controversial issues a news division could touch. The report was filled with the tropes of the times: psychiatrists claiming homosexuality was a mental condition, provocative images of hustlers, and interviews with gay Americans in anonymity, including one man with his face behind a potted plant. Wallace could state without controversy that “most Americans are repelled by the mere notion of homosexuality.” He added, with a tone of journalistic certainty, “The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in, nor capable of, a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage. His sex life, his love life, consists of a series of chance encounters at the clubs and bars he inhabits.”

It was brave to even tackle the subject then, and the program also included sympathetic interviews with gay men talking publicly to a national audience for the first time. But the final product did not escape the deep prejudices of the times, and sadly, this ethos continued for years.

Dan Rather writes in his book, What Unites Us:
“If you had told us back in the 1960s and 1970s that there would be legal gay marriage in all fifty states, we would have been stunned. This was a notion that probably didn’t enter even the deepest reaches of our subconscious, let alone bubble to the level of an actual concrete thought we could put into words. You couldn’t ignore that there were women or African Americans in society, but you certainly could ignore the presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, who most often were closeted. That such people would one day be open members of society, living with pride and having children and legal marriages? It is impossible for me to adequately convey how utterly alien those notions would have seemed.

It may be difficult for some younger readers to imagine, but for most of my life the LGBTQ community was never discussed in “polite” company. Horrible epithets for gay people were bandied about without a second thought. The very theoretical idea of someone “like that” living in your neighborhood, let alone teaching your children, was seen as a perverted threat to society. It is hard now to think back to how much this malignant ideology crossed almost all political, religious, racial, and gender boundaries. If you had asked my younger self what I thought about gay rights, I am not sure exactly what I might have said, but I am sure I would not be proud of it today. The fact that most of my peers — and even many leading progressive voices at the time — felt the same way might explain, but does not excuse, my former perspective”.

Reading Dan Rather’s words are a step to Pride for me.

This year on June 1st, the beginning of Pride Month, the news was filled with protests over the murder of a black man in Minneapolis. In spite of the fact that Pride was barely mentioned in the news until well into the month, it was not lost on me that the origins of Pride are a protest, yes a riot, against police treatment of GLBTQ folks in New York City 51 years ago today. The first Pride parades were one year later in Chicago, New York and here in Los Angeles. In June of 1971, I attended my first Pride Parade there in New York City. I remember walking on Fifth Avenue with tears in my eyes. Another step on the way to Pride.

There have been many other steps along the way. I have been on this journey for almost 71 years.

Highlights include being a part of the Open and Affirming process at First Congregational in Santa Rosa, Ca. It was a two-year process culminating in a vote of 100 to 4 in favor. I remember sitting there in my seat listening to speakers. The four no votes had been in our home for dinner. In fact, almost everyone in the room that day had been in our home at least once. George and I had made it our goal to have the entire congregation over for a meal. The vote that day went a long, long ways to heal the wounds from my youth.

Over the next few years I traveled to churches all over northern California to speak in worship services of churches that were in the study process to be Open and Affirming. I believe I spoke at about a dozen churches over 2 years. All of them went on to become ONA. It is something I am proud of. And a step further along on my journey.

I was asked to join the Sonoma County Gay Pride Board. This group organized a Pride Parade and Festival in Santa Rosa. I was on that board for 5 years – two of them as President. Planning and being a part of those events helped me step out in more public ways. I spoke at Board of Supervisor meetings as well as City Council meetings. One thing I am particularly proud of is how, as a proud unapologetically Christian gay man, I was able to get many churches to participate in the parade and to have a table at our festival. Each year there were about 3,000 attendees at the festival. My role, as Board member and President was to go around and speak to everyone at the festival. To make sure they felt welcome. I guess this was a giant leap on the journey to Pride.

It is interesting that so many things aligned today. It is Gay Pride Sunday here today. There would normally be Pride Parade in New York and other places. Our National Body is celebrating ONA Sunday today. It was at General Synod in 1985 that the Synod urged UCC Congregations to become ONA.

And today, also happens to be the 42nd anniversary for George and me. We were legally married as soon as we could be….in La Jolla on a grassy knoll near the Cove. Out oldest friends, John and Janet Sage, were witnesses. My Pastor from Tucson, Rev. Delle McCormick, officiated. Part of her words that day were, “this was a long time coming”.
Maybe this would be a good place to end. As you all know, I am not really a preacher, but rather a storyteller. I tell the stories and you get to turn it into your own sermon. As you do, remember that we are all made in the image of God. God has known and loved us since before we were born. We are born to be proud of who we are. Let us all join together on a journey of Pride!

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On the proper use of a mask

The proper use of a mask
is to prevent respiratory droplets
from entering the air,
staying, staying, staying
and being breathed in or swallowed
or resting on someone’s open eye.

Then there is this:
The proper use of the mask
is to shut up words like these —

Well, they are over sixty …
have a condition …
black or Latinx …
in a memory care unit, not really a life.

Or some new ones —

well, they must have gone
to the beach or a bar …
probably voted for Trump …
I bet they weren’t even wearing a mask …
what do you expect from Texas?

I put on or pull up my mask
and that means
I care about someone
whose story I do not even know.

Protecting me?

If we are talking about
poison in the air,
I think I’ll take my chances
with the respiratory droplets.

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Prayer for Kumamoto and Kagoshima

God, we pray for rain-soaked Kyushu
and especially for the terrible flooding
in Kumamoto and Kagoshima.
Comfort those who grieve
those who have died
and be with those caring
for the many in cardiopulmonary arrest
rescued from an elder care home.

Walk as you once did across the water
and be in the shelters
with hundreds of thousands
evacuated from their homes,
with helicopter teams and search ships
hunting for those still missing.

And for those cut off by broken rail lines
and landslides across roads,
help them feel the prayers of friends
around the world reaching out
to hold them in peace
as they wait for rescue. amen

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What do I see by the dawn’s early light? July 4, 2020

My neighbor’s sign, surrounded by little flags,
says, “Black Lives Matter.”

The parade planned few streets away
organized by the folks who live on that block —
decorated bicycles and a kazoo band —
is advertised by door hanger fliers
“Please join us, but you must wear a mask.”

Chairs are set up at six foot distance in the park
for the reading of Frederick Douglass,
“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

Birds of every kind are in the bushes,
butterflies, too. I hate to call them pollinators
as if they are only important
for what they do for us.
Squirrels are checking for leftovers
under the grill on the deck,
though the chipmunks
and the ground hog are still sleeping.

What I want to see by the dawn’s early light
on the front page of the newspaper
I pick up and bring to my morning coffee
(in the midst of pandemic a lot like
most mornings’ coffee) …

Reparations for peoples
of many indigenous nations,
more with Middle Passage descendants,
meaning returned to the Statue of Liberty
in a welcome to all who come,
a new national anthem,

and — yes, children of Marston Street
a mask on everyone.

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In the Marketplace, a poem for Matthew 11:16-19 by Barbara Messer (and a bonus)

In the marketplace
we now have
social distancing:
we always had
soul distancing.

In the marketplace
Jesus lamented
unbridged distance
of industrious

In the marketplace
music dribbles,
no-one dances.
Mourners crying
find no sharing.

In the marketplace
John who is fasting
seems obsessive,
Jesus at table,

In the marketplace
busy cleverness
hangs up on wisdom;
only the child-like
have ears to listen.

In the marketplace,
weary and distant,
connection fraying,
we long for gentle
promise of resting.

Barbara also sent me (late to post here for the usefulness of last Sunday morning but not for the heart-changing that poetry always is) this beautiful piece about welcoming.

Welcome and welcoming
Matthew 10:40-42

Best welcome gives us space and lets us be.
“Whoever welcomes you so welcomes me,”
said Jesus. From experience he knew
that welcomers of Christians might be few.

So many now mis-read him, mistrust us –
not helped by slogan verses on a bus!
The checkout operators often say
with bright and practised interest: “How’s your day?”

“I wrote a sermon, and I offered prayer
for someone who was dying in Aged Care.”
It’s odd, but conversation after that
grows awkward and soon falls completely flat.

Mind you, to welcome prophets give us pause:
we know that what they say has fire and claws,
and profit motive claims a greater power
than all the warnings of a world gone sour.

And no-one gladly welcomes righteous ones –
too often the self-righteous carry guns.
We welcome strangers hoping to fill space
on lists of those who might maintain our place.

So welcoming and welcome need some work,
and feeling right at home is not a perk
that Jesus offered freely to his band
to keep them well contented and at hand.

Perhaps our welcoming might turn at first
to “little ones” who live with fear and thirst.
Perhaps we’d find ourselves most welcome there
with cups of water shared in mutual care.

Barbara Messner is the Associate Priest in the Parish of Stirling,
South Australia

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Guest post — You tube interview with Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Republic of Georgia

Bishop Malkhaz Songulashvili of the Republic of Georgia offers an interview sharing the powerful witness of the Baptist Church in the Republic of Georgia including its stands on interfaith connections, gender equality, and welcome for all, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. 

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The camels are the tipping point (Genesis 24)

Camels spit,
bite, and are generally unpleasant.

Because they go so long
without drinking water,
they can drink fifty-three gallons
in three minutes.

Eliezer told God,
the definition of true hospitality
would be to ask for himself
a drink of water,

and have someone offer
also to water his (ten) camels.

When Abraham’s friend,
who must have been Isaac’s as well,
wiped his mouth
and handed back her jar,
Rebekah emptied it in the trough
and simply said,

“I’ll draw for your camels,
until they are finished drinking.”

Damn that Eliezer — devising for us
down the ages
a definition for hospitality —

notice thirst,
give what’s not even asked
to the most cantankerous of recipients,
who, apparently insatiable,
need a lot,
and might bite.

The secret’s always been
that such a freely given long drink
is the only way
to get across a wilderness,
not just for the camel,
but also for the one so fortunate
as to carry a water jar.

David Young. Rebecca at the Well, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.jpg

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