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First Unitarian Church's minister imparts wisdom of faith with poetry


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POSTED: Saturday, January 31, 2009

Other ministers who know him were not surprised to hear the Rev. Mike Young of First Unitarian Church of Honolulu quote poet Robert Frost at a prayer-and-politics rally Tuesday at Kukui Gardens.

; It was a familiar line—“;Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”;—that has been used in songs and appropriated by various causes.

Young followed it up with the sentiment that in Hawaii a home is a place where you have to have a half-million dollars to get one. That's an ineloquent paraphrase. It was a sentiment that summed up the cause joined by several faith organizations trying to get government and banks to support housing for low-income citizens at the downtown Kukui Gardens project and in our society in general.

Quoting from other writers, be they biblical or classical or modern expressions, is stock in trade for ministers who, at their best, go on to develop the thought in their own words.

Young has the enviable distinction of being a resource that others quote. He writes sermons and mediations for services, and a column in the Unitarian church's monthly newsletter. He is a frequent contributor to the “;On Faith”; column on this page.

He tells of using his poem “;My Father Wept”; in a talk at a ministers conference. A colleague asked him where he had heard it. When Young said he had written it 25 years earlier, the other pastor pulled out a tattered clipping from his pocket. It was the poem that moved him so much that he carried it with him for years.

Praxis International, a Pennsylvania publishing house, has just released “;A Preacher's Poems,”; a collection from Young's 40 years as a minister. The slim paperback volume is available from the publisher and at Amazon.com.

Praxis Vice President Greg Gore found Young's sermons on the church Web page and used some on the “;Zen for the Rest of Us”; Web site. When Gore found Young's poetry, he suggested publishing the book.

Praxis has already had a request from a college to use one meditation, “;The Human Touch Who Needs It.”; It is a philosophical exploration of how people need, but fear and limit, touch as a way to communicate with each other. Young wrote the piece as a sermon in 1965. He said it has been reprinted in five books, including a psychology textbook and a Disciples of Christ religious education curriculum.

The compositions—what a poetry-phobic newswriter would describe as philosophical musings or lyrical meditations rather than poems—started as seeds of sermons. “;I work on an idea, and sometimes part of it works sermonically and another part becomes a poem,”; he said.

The body of work is mostly celebratory, with themes of love and understanding and awe, but also questioning death and facing loss and facing personal flaws. There are reflections of Young's dedication to social justice causes and his advocacy for interfaith understanding. Another poem that has been widely borrowed and quoted is “;Friends and Enemies, Half a Dialogue,”; a potent peace message written in a voice that seems to praise distrust and hate.

Taking time to write and reflect on life is in the job description, he said. “;That is what a minister, at least in my tradition, is expected to do: He is supposed to have a contemplative life of his own.”; He said he has the extra stimulus of having “;a wife who is also a fine poet.”; Nancy Young's work has been published in the Bamboo Ridge literary journal.

He said, “;My best compliment came when a member introduced me as 'our minister and resident poet.'”;