Cry Me a River

standinglove

It has been a day for tears

For weeping

A day unimagined

For most of my life

Has actually come

And I am reminded

That hope can surprise us

That from hard work and pain

Beauty can arise

And love sometimes can win

So I cry for joy.

And I sob for all who have been lost

Before this day

For the struggle has been long

And I cry for those who will still die

Along the way

For the journey is not done.

There is always a backlash

As we know all too well

Black churches are still burning

Even as a song of grace

Flows up from the grief

For those lost in Charleston

Cry me a river

Spirit of life

Hold us and heal us

Make our hearts larger

As joy and pain overflow.

Help us to rise

And stand once again

And always

On the side of love.

Mountain

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Sometimes the mountain is hidden

Clouds surround the dream

The foggy breath of the disenchanted

Obscures the majesty

Then in a flash of sunlight

The snowy peak is revealed

Climb with me to the summit

And, oh, what sights we’ll see.

Blood in the Water

It is hard to see the sunlight

Beneath such a murky sea

Blood in the water

And blood on our hands

We have suffered the shark too long.

4 little girls in Birmingham

9 prayerful souls this week

Our hearts can’t break again

Ride the waves, drain the swamps

Speak the truth, call the racists out.

Follow the light

Swim to the shore

Find some air to breathe.

The River

Water for the river

Is born inside the earth

Oozing up in a muddy spring

Or falling from the sky

In drops the size of pearls.

In the cold clear nights

It frosts the blades of grass

And gathers in the dew.

The river can’t flow uphill

So don’t even try

But please beware

You can get trapped

In stagnant ponds

Providing food

Only for mosquitos.

You can be frozen

In an icy glacier

Cold and lonely.

Does your river rage

Over the banks and levees

That would hold it back?

Does it wander lost

In a flooded plain

No hope in sight?

Keep your river flowing clear

Sparkling like a mountain stream

The current strong enough

To smooth the stones

That fall across your path

Let children play

Along your shore

That they too might learn

The river’s ways.

Retiring

I have never been retiring

Shy sometimes
Lazy even
Fearful before courage comes

But never retiring
Even in that brief year
When I was technically retired.

The prophet Jeremiah
Spent much of his life
At the bottom of a well
I have been much luckier.

Speak now
Silence does not equal
Peace.

Old House

An old house knows

What time can do

And how to survive

The storms, the rain, the wind

Timbers creak

The roof is patched

Termites have nibbled where they would

Ah, but in basement

Memories are stored

Wisdom is in the attic

And courage waits

Behind a closet door

Banshees

The banshees scream

In rage and despair

Talons ready to rend

Your soul

Wings open in the night

Turning dreams to fear

Walk boldly

Love the banshees

It is not their fault

But keep your distance

There are other hills

To climb

Garbage Day

Packer-truck

Garbage day is coming

The refuse trucks are rolling

Down every street in town

Disrupting our dreams

With the sound of breaking glass

Put out your trash

Plie it high

Recycle what you can

What might be useful still

But send the rest away.

It is a new day

Leave the past behind.

Shooting Stars

A quick flash in the sky

A shooting star, a dream

Blink and it is gone

The vision carried away

Somewhere else, beyond

But wait.

Meteors hit the earth

Carving a place

For themselves

So our dreams can

When they land

When we take them home

A Minister Not a Martyr

Ministers can refuse to be martyrs.  They can refuse to sacrifice themselves on behalf of people or institutions who either ignore them or who toss their help rather rudely back into their faces.

I am not talking about social justice work.  There, although the odds of success may be low, the effort has its own rewards.  Without many peoples’ efforts, the arc of the universe will never roll the way we all need it to go.   It is an arc, not a wheel, and it often needs a push to bend it toward justice.

Throughout the centuries, many people of faith have been martyrs.  They have put their bodies and their lives on the line for what they believed.  From Michael Servetus who was burned at the stake by John Calvin in 1553 to the Rev. James Reeb and Viola Luizzo who were murdered in Selma, Alabama in 1965 , more than a few Unitarians, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists have given their lives and their livelihoods for this faith.  Today, Unitarian Universalists have stood and marched for justice wherever human dignity has been at stake, risking beatings, arrest, prison, deportation, and also death.

I am not talking about that kind of martyrdom.  That kind of martyrdom makes a difference.  It is a risk well worth taking if you have the courage.

No, I am talking about the more mundane martyrdom of sticking too long with congregations that use ministers as punching bags, launching personal attacks with regularity.  There are reasons congregations get that way, and it isn’t because the people are inherently evil.  They often have a lived history of boundary violations, sometimes committed by religious professionals.  They haven’t learned how to set their own healthy boundaries, and rarely limit the destructive activities of church bullies.  They fear authority of all kinds and don’t really understand congregational polity and representative democracy.  It is a sad system, and like in all forms of healing, they have to understand that they have a problem before they can even begin to heal.

All congregations are not like that, of course.  All groups of people have issues, and all behave badly at times, but the truly problematic congregations have long established behavior patterns and are well known for being difficult.  Thankfully they also are relatively rare.

Ministers go to such congregations for a variety of reasons.  Some are fresh out of seminary, geographically limited, and desperate for a job.  Many a promising career in ministry has been cut short for the new ministers that make that unwise choice.  Many ministers also think they can do what no one else has been able to do.  That is simply hubris, and even strong egos will wind up taking a beating as old patterns simply continue to play out.

Ministers also stay too long in those congregations because they see some improvement.  They think things will get better, and in fact, sometimes they do, but how much better is really good enough? They also get attached to the people, ministry is about love after all, and their heartstrings wrap firmly around the tender souls of the majority of the membership.  “How can I leave these people?”

But in the end, the other question must be asked, as Mary Oliver did, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

There are other places to serve, other people to love, other ministries to do, and other places where it will be easier to make an actual difference.  As Kenny Rodgers sang, “You got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them.”

There comes a time when even ministers need to walk away.

And not that we need scriptural permission, but even the Bible advises us to do so.

“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.”

Matthew 10:14

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