Hunting empathy in my backyard

In the last year, since we hung the feeder,
I have become so full of joy
watching the birds come and go, their antics,
the brave defense by sparrows
against blue jay incursion.

But it hangs empty now,
as we abide by guidance
to stop spread of the songbird epidemic.
I have enjoyed all the flowers
in my non-organized
rambling bit of garden,
and wait for them to come each year.

But the liatris has taken over
the sedum’s place,
shoved the daylilies aside,
and we do not cut it back,
because, favorite of all pollinators,
it gives itself to butterflies.

If I love so much my birds of the air
and flowers of the field,
which give me moments of backyard joy

how much more (ah what a Jesus-y phrase)
will those who have become rich
from the oil industry, coal,
corporations of deforestation.
production endless plastic waste,
hate to let go
their pleasures and profits
for the sake of the life of the world.

To them it is just butterflies.

It was hard for me to decide
to let the songbirds leave their perch,
outside my very own window,

so they may keep singing

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WINTER – guest post by Heather Kelly of Aotearoa, New Zealand

In the midst of Winter –
seasonal, S.A.D. and dark soul like,
God painted an interactive picture
of His glory edging the clouds
with gold;
Filling the middle foreground
with small birds feeding, flocking
A sight to encourage, console
and comfort.

Balm for my soul.

Here is my question for my readers …

Some of you live in the southern hemisphere like Heather … Australia, Zimbabwe, Argentina and other places as well, all with very distinct climates but still southern hemisphere. Now it is winter. At Christmas it will be high summer and at Easter autumn. How do you feel about the pervasive snowy imagery for the first and new flowers for the second? I can tell you that many worship leaders in the north feel they have done their duty if they sing one Shirley Erena Murray carol.

But mostly I am thinking about Northern hemisphere readers. Can you read a winter poem in the summer? Summer is so short, you say, and I say, too – let me enjoy it. And in winter we don’t want to read about the beauties of summer – it only makes us jealous.

But mostly the question is about empathy. If we insist on reading, celebrating a holiday, in the way that matches our seasonal experience, then how can we even begin to take a moment to dwell with (it’s never really “understand”) another racial experience, another gender identity or sexual orientation, another cognitive or physical or mental appreciation of the world than our own?

We have different seasons. Begin there. Thank you Heather.


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Honoring Juanita Helphrey

(In 2022 Cleveland’s Major League Baseball team will have a new name: Guardians. My denomination, the United Church of Christ, has repeatedly asked for the name and branding pictures to change from the “Indians,” since General Synod 1991. The team will be the Guardians after the Guardians of Traffic, eight 43-foot-tall Art Deco statues lining the Hope Memorial Bridge leading up to the stadium at Progressive Field designed by sculptor Henry Hering and architect Frank Walker).

I remember General Synod,
and the stand that was taken there.
I remember courageous young people
who presented street theatre
that both frightened and inspired people.

I was glad the resolution passed,
and sorry the youth had to apologize.

Most of all I remember Juanita Helphrey,
member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation,
who was the heart of this,
and grieve that she did not see this day.

Many, many others have been a part
of this changing of words, images,
for the sake of all children,
in the long unfinished work of reconciliation,
but sometimes we need to say a name.

Today I honor Juanita Helphrey,
who was a bridge-woman,
a maker of teams with strange members,
and a guardian of things that matter
words that span hope.

Juanita wrote this prayer for me.

God is
a cloud forming ,
an eagle soaring,
a voice from the wilderness,
echoing through your ear.
Whispering, encouraging –
keep going, seek My glory,
don’t worry, I’ll keep
your fears.  *

*published in “Gifts of Many Cultures,” (ed. Tirabassi and Eddy), Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, 1995.

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Beatitudes for this Week

Jesus felt the prayers and came out of the clouds, sat down to listen to deep cries of this world, this week.Then Jesus taught us, not to hunt for where we fit into receiving a blessing but for whom and how we should bless.

Bless those like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka who name the mental impact of spirit on body, changing athletics forever.

Bless comfortless parents of kidnapped children in Nigeria not returned this week.

Bless Afghans desperate and waiting to be re-homed in safety.

Bless those who hunger in Tigray, Ethiopia.

Bless the mudslide-ful of India, those crying and coping because of the Asian cyclone, the European floods, the American wildfires.

Bless those with Covid, with the Delta variant, with no access to vaccines, and all who struggle against the spread of disease.

Bless the weary peace-needers of Yemen, of Myanmar.

Bless LGBT+ people in Ghana who fear persecution, new prison sentences, death, for being themselves.

Rejoice, my friends, for every week, every day, every hour, there are those who need blessing, some far away, some in your own community, some in your own home.

Pray a blessing for them, the first half of a beatitude, for they need to be named. Always remember that the second half of a beatitude is held in human hands, your hands.

TOKYO, JAPAN – JULY 27: Simone Biles of Team United States supports her team mates by carrying their chalk after pulling out after the vault during the Women’s Team Final on day four on day four of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Ariake Gymnastics Centre on July 27, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images. Public domain.
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God created heavens, oceans and earth –
with aardvarks, clown frogfish
and everyone’s adolescence.
God sent us an ancestor named “Laughter”
and a prophet like Jonah.
God so loved the world,
that God didn’t send a committee …

May your tight places be loosened,
your heavy burdens lightened,
and may healing come
through salt tears and occasional chuckles
so Sabbath may be a time you play
(even if you are more comfortable
with six-plus days of work)
because you let God show you how!


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Holy Communion Liturgy for August 1, 2021

I have been sharing Communion liturgy since April of 2020 (myself or someone who has donated a service to me). This liturgy is shared freely to churches. Please use any pieces of this service helpful to you, and abridge, adapt, or add language, music, gestures, and practices familiar to your congregation or clarifying to strangers as you may anticipate guests.

,The focus had been on shaping liturgy for a virtual congregation worshiping online. For many congregations that is not or soon will not be true. Some have limited indoor attendance with a virtual additional congregation, others are outdoors which returns to streaming when it rains. Most have restrictions about the form of the Communion elements or the way that it is served. Some like my friend Barbara Messner, Associate Priest in the Anglican Parish of Stirling, South Australia, have been abruptly shut down for two weeks. She writes this as the last stanza of a poem.

Now what have I to share to meet this need
that few acknowledge even in this hour
when illness spreads abroad with frightening speed
despite all these restrictions? Luck can sour
as swiftly as new strains of virus flower.

She admits in her post “Feeding those who do not Gather,” on her wonderful blog “Barb, Poet, Priest,” there are always, always, always many missing from our church tables, and, if they can be quietly present to share the meal because they hear the words, we must never shut our doors on those who do not share our comfy physical space.

Celebration of Holy Communion  (For those in person and those online)

Photo: Larry and George’s table. Please pray for them … and may your table, at church or at home, shine through this photograph for you, however small or large it is and remind you you are held in prayer as well.

Invitation to Communion

We invite you, though this meal
is far more than any of us can understand.

We welcome you, whether you are a six-foot away
“pod” of one or more God-lovers,
or wireless as the Holy Spirit.

We want to offer you this good news,
whether you long for church
or have been damaged
by some church-experience in the past.

This is Communion. We don’t deserve it;
we don’t define it; we don’t own it;
but it is the greatest gift we have to give
and we want to share it with you.

Prayer of Remembrance and Consecration

Christ, at our table we remember.
We remember your “tabling”
at Martha’s kitchen and the beach fish-fry
at homes of the self-righteous,
or the disrespected.

We remember a wedding made more festive
and we pray for every human relationship.


We remember loaves and fish
and pray for places where there is no food.


We remember Passover, when you washed feet,
shared gravy with a betrayer, and sang a hymn,
and we pray for all who need to learn
how to serve or be served,
how to turn away from temptation
or open up to a song
not only vocalized but heart music.


We remember all tables,
from cathedrals to campgrounds —
where your children have gathered
to eat bread or tortilla, rice cake or cassava,
and we lift into your love
five-star churches
and down-on-their luck holy-diners.


We communion the remembrance of saints
in all times and places,
and lift before you
those we have loved from the past,
our saints who need healing, comfort for loss,
guidance in decisions, peace in living,
and many others in whom the yeast has not yet risen,
though they may feel punched down.


Christ, yours is the wheat and yours the grape,
yours is the leaven and the love.
rest your Spirit on this place
of prayer and party, in-person and online,
shine your blessing on every face,
now and whenever food is offered.

This is the feast your heart rehearsed,
eating this bread we break each curse,
drinking this cup, we do not thirst. Amen

Sharing of the Elements
(as is the tradition in silence or with music playing – breaking, touching or lifting the bread, pouring, touching or lifting the cup)

Leader:           The Bread on our tables is blessed and broken.
Unison:           Sharing love, we will never be hungry.
Leader:           The Cup on our tables is blessed and shared
                        like the overflowing of tears and joy.            
Unison:           Even a sip is drinking deeply.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

We give you thanks, O Christ, for gathering us at all our tables for word of life and sacred banquet. As we part from one another with the leftovers of your love, turn our being fed and blessed into holy takeout, as share all we have received, slowly, sweetly and surely with all of your children. Amen.

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Prayer for Indonesia in the midst of Covid

God, I pray for my friends in Indonesia,
where the Delta strain of the virus
has killed so many,
it is the most deadly place in the world.

I pray for those who grieve,
for those who struggle for a vaccine,
any vaccine, even Sinovac,
for those who are hungry, out of work,
and for those who offer food to them.

I pray for every island
and for every faith.

I pray for health care workers,
who risk so much to care for others,
and for the families
of one-hundred eighty
who died in their work this month.

I pray for my friends
who’ve been deported to Indonesia,
and my friends here,
waiting for news
about faraway people they love.

I know that you are in all places
where there is suffering.

Tuhan Allah kasihanilah.
Kirim kesembuhan dan harapan.

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Prayer for Firefighters in the US West

God, known and named
by the fire that did not consume,
just a bright image of holy
in Moses heart,

I have reminded myself with parables,
lifting up my face
in the pouring Northeastern rain,
removing the church candles
so today they will not be lit,

of seventy fires raging in eleven states,
of the immensity of Bootleg,
of losses so early in this wildfire season,
and especially of red flag warnings
in three states, meaning
all the firefighters are working,
none can come to a new fire.

I pray for firefighters, exhausted,
struggling against the new blazes,
the winds, the high heat.

I pray for those who have seen
friends’ ranches or homes destroyed,
cows and horses,
wild creatures of the forest die,
homeless children crying.

I pray for firefighters flying low,
digging, cutting, evacuating
those who stay too late.

I pray for those discouraged, injured,
just so tired they can barely stand,
lonely for their own homes,
their own families and beds,
and for a shower.

I pray for them signs of hope
that will not be consumed,
and for all of us, deep gratitude.

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Prayers for the flooding in Western Europe

God who always walks across water,
come to the people of Germany,
Luxembourg, Belgium,
Switzerland, the Netherlands,

Tenderly reach out a hand
for those who grieve
so that they do not sink.

Get into the small boats of fear
of those who wait for 1300 missing.

Become the shoreline of hope
for those who work through the night
rescuing, searching,
providing shelter, food,
fresh water, medical supplies.

For those in evacuation shelters
seeing nothing a future of cloud,
give peace-be-still to anxiety,
and grow faith large enough
to find a sun in tomorrow.


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Prayer for Penelakut Tribe

Creator, we pray for the memory
of one hundred sixty children
found in British Columbia’s
Southern Gulf Island,
near Kuper Island Residential School,

who were not unloved,
but whose graves were unmarked,

who were not without tender family,
proud tradition, and deep history,
but whose graves were unmarked,

who could have offered
indescribable gifts to Canada
but whose graves were unmarked,

who were not ungrieved then,
with the twisting grief of question marks,
who are not ungrieved now,
even when families are not found,
for all of your creation
are their relations …
but whose graves were unmarked.

May all who live and breathe,
grow, lift up to the sun,
dwell in the seas, glide on the wind,
nest in the small spaces,

all human beings, near and far,
those of the Penelakut Tribe,
and those who now commit to this work
in other places,
mark well their passing.

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