Sunday, November 13, 2016
Twenty-Sixth Sunday After Pentecost
I saw them in the square block of a grassy field near my home in Wailuku earlier in the week – about five or six white egrets – some searching the ground for a meal of insects while others appeared to be simply grooming themselves. Two nēnē geese stood nearby dressed in their distinctive brown, black and white feathers. They are among the rarest geese in the world.
I had seen other nēnē geese around the parks of the neighborhood where I live. But that was some time ago.
Kiko, my dog, hardly took notice of the egrets and the geese. She seemed disinterested and more concerned about keeping her nose to the ground. So we moved along.
As we left the square I thought about the egrets and the nēnē and how complicated life is for them. The nēnē are birds native to Hawaiʻi. Scientists say that the nēnē migrated to Hawaiʻi over 500,000 years ago from what we now know as Canada.
The white egrets were introduced as bio-control agents to manage agricultural pests such as rodents and flies in the 1950s. Unfortunately, since their introduction into Hawaiʻi over 50 years ago their population has increased over 300 per cent.
The egrets are among one of the most aggressive of alien species that are known to prey upon our native Hawaiian waterbirds and seabirds. They have been observed eating the ducklings of the koloa, the rarest duck in the world; the aeʻo or Hawaiian stilt; the Hawaiian coot; and the chicks of the Hawaiian moorhen. They also prey upon the Hawaiian seabirds – including the endangered Hawaiian petrels; threatened Newell’s shearwaters and the Laysan and black-footed albatrosses.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is faced with the difficult decision about what to do when it comes to protecting the native Hawaiian birds from extinction. A proposal to eradicate the egrets has been met with resistance by some.
If the egrets stay, it is likely that all of the Hawaiian birds will become extinct sooner rather than later. But in order for the nēnē and other Hawaiian birds to survive, it will require some form of controlling the populaton of the egrets.
There is no easy solution. I see myself in the nēnē and I see myself in the egret. My Hawaiian ancestors are descendants of the Polynesian migration from the Marquesas between 300-600 BCE and from Tahiti in 1300 BCE. My Japanese and Portuguese forebears made the journey across two oceans – with the Japanese first arriving in 1865 and the Portuguese in 1878.
Critics of the proposal to eradicate the egrets argue that such an environmental policy would be tantamount to a policy that would ban immigrants from entering the U.S. But resolving what some see as the illegal immigration of others in to the country and the invasive threat of the egrets on the population of native Hawaiian birds is a bit more complicated.
That is the kind of world in which we live today. So many of us want easy solutions, easy answers to difficult problems, difficult questions.
Kiko and I returned to the grassy square the next morning. There were no egrets on the field and the geese were nowhere to be seen. But just as I began to feel my disappointment, I heard the honk of the two nēnē geese flying overhead. I looked up and saw their outstretched wings lift up, then down and up again as they moved gently across the morning sky.
The sight and sound of the nēnē was a welcome relief following a long and unprecedented year of political rhetoric and what was for all of us a stressful week. I was visiting with a couple earlier in the week. They were married here at Keawala’i in 1997. She is Filipino. He is Irish. They have two sons, ages 7 and 9.
We met to plan a memorial service for a friend who recently died. The service will be held here this afternoon. At some point during our visit, our conversation turned to the election.
“My nine year old son was watching television one day,” she said. “He asked if we were going to be sent away because of what was being said during the presidential campaign.”
“No,” she answered. “You are an American citizen.” That is a fact. But he is genuinely fearful of what will happen to him, to his brother and to his parents.
What are we to say in the church now that the election is over? What words of reassurance do we offer to a nine-year-old boy who wonders if there is a place for him in the only country he knows?
“You will be okay. It is others that may need to go.”
Some may contend that nothing should be said. After all, he is only a boy. After all, there is the separation of church and state and besides the church has no business in politics anyway.
Others may insist that something must be said. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that all is well in the land.
Perhaps coincidentally or providentially our lectionary readings for today come from The Book of Malachi and The Gospel According to Luke. If there is any doubt about saying anything, Jesus reassures those who come to him that they have “an opportunity to testify.” (Luke 21:13)
We know the spoken word carries great power. The Book of Proverbs contains a collection of sayings meant to be transmit insights whereby a young person might learn to cope with life. These sayings were gathered from the tradition of the Hebrew elders (Proverbs 4:1-4) and from their experiences and observations. (Proverbs 6:6-11) (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991, page 802)
Given all of the “talk” over the last year by political candidates, their surrogates, the press and the media, we are reminded of the power of the spoken word. It is written in The Book of Proverbs: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue . . . ” (Proverbs 18:21) “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)
In ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings, the late Mary Kawena Pukui, a Hawaiian scholar and linguist, compiled a collection of traditional Hawaiian insights handed down through generations through oral tradition.
The book is a treasure with its more than 3,000 proverbs and sayings, displaying the knowledge, compassion, foibles, humor, morality and beliefs of our Hawaiian ancestors. Among the ‘ōlelo no‘eau is a saying similar to what is found in The Book of Proverbs.
“I ka ‘ōlelo nō ke ola, i ka ‘ōlelo nō ka make. Life is in speech, death is in speech.” Or: “Words can heal. Words can destroy.” There is great, great power in the spoken word.
What can we say in the church now that the election is over? What is our testimony? What are our words of healing?
Our reading from The Gospel According to Luke opens with Jesus engaging people in a dialogue about the beautiful city of Jerusalem and the frightening and catastrophic news that the Temple will be destroyed. As he goes on, he presents a monologue about a time in the future when there will be false leadership, violence and suffering (Luke 21:8-11). Natural disasters will become prevalent. (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 309)
But before all these occur, there will be arrests and persecutions (Luke 21:12-19) then the end will come. Jesus assures them that everything will not happen all at once. Instead, he tells them not to preoccupy themselves with the turmoil that is to come and to see that “this will give you an opportunity to testify” – to speak up.
“There is no need to prepare your testimony in advance,” he tells them “for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” (Luke 21:15) He warns his listeners, “You will be betrayed by your parents and by your siblings, by your relatives and friends. Some of you will be put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.” (Luke 21:16-17)
But he also reassures them, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.”
What can we say in the church now that the election is over? What words of healing do we have to offer? We can offer a word of welcome to those who feel the brunt of the words meant to deny their worth and value as human beings.
So in this place and in our time, we will welcome the stranger and the friend. We will welcome the immigrant and the refugee. We will welcome the young and old. We will welcome men and women and children of every tongue and race. We will welcome those who share our faith and those who believe differently. We will welcome the outcast and disabled.
We will welcome those who are a part of the LGBTQ community. We will welcome the rich and the poor and families struggling to make ends meet. We will welcome those who are veterans and conscientious objectors. We will welcome liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and fundamentalists. We will welcome Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and Independents.
In this place, we will offer a pu‘uhonua – a place of refuge. In this place we will take the opportunity to testify that we believe in a God of aloha. In this place, we will choose our words wisely ... and out of our night of struggle, we will build a beautiful city, “slowly but surely mending brick by brick, heart by heart” and give thanks for the proclamation of the prophet Malachi - “ ... righteousness shall rise, with healing on its wings.” (Malachi 4:2a)
I heard the honk of two nēnē geese flying overhead. I looked up and saw their outstretched wings lift up, then down and up again as they moved gently across the morning the sky ... with healing on their wings.