Rev Jeff       where are you when I need you
the Reverend Geoffrey Lough
curate of St. George’s in Gloucester England
it used to be we could tell you what alarmed us
what angered or perplexed us
you would offer words that soothed
as when I told you I hated my neighbor
throwing pebbles at Topsy my cat
sometimes drawing blood
you took me by the shoulders and whispered
thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself

words for me to unwind on my own

               a pastor I met friendly on the street
               opens our kitchen door uninvited
               steps inside decked out in military threads
               on his way to serve as chaplain for the soldiers in Iraq
               visiting us on a mission to talk about God

                           I do not want to listen
                                             to what I think he’ll say

               how we must abolish a government
                             that caters to thundering leftwingers
               how I must converse with God
                             hear Him sanction the use of guns
                             to protect the world He created for us

                I stop our visitor before he can start
                on my feet to tell him

                            my relationship with God
                            is personal       intense
                            and no one’s business but my own

for a moment still and staring
then a nod of the head
he opens the door and disappears

                 the Mayflower pilgrims
                 arrived on their leaky ship in 1610
                 running away from religious torment
                 the Church of England writing rules to pray by
                 the Inquisition still slaughtering Spain

                 in America’s forests
                 freedom       written into law
                 freedom       from religious communions
                       that dictate where and how to worship
                 freedom.      from the threat of persecution and death
                 freedom       to follow personal wishes of the soul

when I arrived in Cleveland
Rev Jeff       you told me in our good-bye moment
to look for something called “Episcopal”
and there it was in the telephone yellow pages
along with mosques synagogues and temples
St. Luke’s Episcopal neighbored by Catholic churches
25th Street       refugees from Slavic lands

but       without a resident vicar
a married couple wearing imaginary haloes
in charge of the church’s existence
every Sunday I had to hear
their seething contempt for the crowds
flowing into those Catholic churches

Rev Jeff       what is it makes religion so lacerating
I left St. Luke’s Episcopal behind

                             I think often about the pilgrims
                             their urge to touch the sacred with their own fingers
                             a heritage that has been chipped and chiseled
                             evangelicals nowadays telling me what I must believe
                             reciting how I must behave
                             insisting I must not tolerate my son’s marriage
                                                                                 to my son-in-law

                             echoing the self-righteous behavior
                             that sent the pilgrims sailing

                             Rev Jeff       where can I find your love thy neighbor?

Tony Howarth, age 89, editor for dramatic writing with The Westchester Review, is a playwright, director, former journalist, retired in 1991 after 28 years as a high school and college teacher of English and theatre, author of two books, Wild Man of the Mountain and A Hand to Hold, published by Broadstone books.