Mary Adamski

View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship

By Mary Adamski

Saturday, January 26, 2002

Tribute to King holds
surprises for attendees

There was a look of puzzlement, even disbelief, on the face of the youngish Hawaiian woman beside me when the congregation enthusiastically launched into "Down by the Riverside," which sounds like a decades-out-of-date barbershop quartet selection -- on its face.

She later evoked some squirming in adjacent seats when she rose to passionately denounce the idea of Hawaii being part of the United States in her role in a play about resistance to annexation in 1897 -- or was it?

There was irony in sitting in a Christian church setting to hear Martin Luther King Jr.'s chastising letter to smug Birmingham clergymen -- "Was not Jesus an extremist in teaching 'Love your enemies'?" -- and in the fact that reader Jim Howell was one of only six African Americans in the crowd of 200-plus people.

I would venture to say that virtually everyone who attended the Church of the Crossroads service Monday to honor King by awarding its Hawaii Peacemaker Award found something unexpected in the occasion.

It was an eye-opener to hear about the world-class status of the awardee, whom we may have thought we knew because of familiar roles as former chief executive of the Honolulu YMCA and funding campaigner for the Samaritan Counseling Center. Robert Dye was inducted into the YMCA Hall of Fame a couple of years ago for accomplishments beyond island limits.

His programs to address racial and economic problems in New York City and Los Angeles in the 1960s and '70s became models used in other youth projects. He worked in Geneva to coordinate the Y's global justice and peace efforts.

The audience was actually three separate crowds. There was the Crossroads congregation, which held to a Christian service format of Scriptures reading and hymn singing for this 16th annual award celebration.

The event, like others at the church known for its liberal orientation, also draws the peacenik crowd, faces familiar from demonstrations dating back to 1960s civil-rights and anti-war days and the current weekly peace vigil outside the federal building.

This was the crowd familiar with those "I ain't gonna study war no more" lyrics in "Down by the Riverside" and the Negro spiritual "Go Down, Moses."

Secondly, there was the Bob Dye fan club, including YMCA professionals and several family members from the mainland here to lovingly surround the ailing man and his wife, Esther, who accepted on his behalf.

And thirdly, there was a crowd clearly waiting for the second half of the program. The American Friends Service Committee Sovereignty Education Subcommittee staged a play, "Ka Lei Maile Ali'i," about the grass-roots effort to block the U.S. annexation of Hawaii.

The small cast of actors depicted a Hilo meeting during the 1897 petition drive, but the dramatization had its strongest impact when audience actors rose to decry Hawaii's loss. Here was the sovereignty movement very up close and, as is true for even sympathetic outsiders quite often these days, not very comfortable.

From the slain civil-rights leader and the honoree of the day, the focus shifted to Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii's last monarch. Nalani Olds read from "The Betrayal of Liliuokalani."

The choir sang an anthem by the queen, "He Mele Lahui Hawaii," and the crowd joined Olds in the Queen's Prayer "O Kou Aloha No."

A woman behind me expressed a little "tut tut" when that man in the front-row center seat, who wore his hat throughout the service and the standing ovation to Dye, finally was moved to remove it for "Hawaii Pono'i."

When we stood for the finale, the participation was resounding as all three audiences sang all the numerous and familiar verses.

I'd say there was material for a dozen scholarly dissertations -- sociology, political science, psychology, history, you name it -- in sorting out the memories, musings and intentions of those who sang "God will see us through ... We'll walk hand in hand ... We are not afraid ... Truth shall make us free ... We shall live in peace ... We shall overcome."


Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
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