Wednesday, October 17, 2007

October 21, 2007, with preaching materials for October 28th

R U M O R S #472
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

October 21, 2007



"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)

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Next Week’s Readings – the warm smile of God
Rumors – don’t get too self-righteous
Soft Edges – attributes worth avoiding
Good Stuff – barbers don’t exist
Bloopers – much appreciated
We Get Letters – was it only Henry?
Mirabile Dictu! – ordaining men
Bottom of the Barrel – a black cat in dark room
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This from Robert Moore.
A pastor in a large city church announced that he had been elected bishop and would be leaving the church. But he assured the congregation that his successor would be a very good pastor for the congregation.
An older member lamented that no one could be as good as he had been. He assured her that she would be very pleased with her new pastor.
She became agitated and said, "But you don't understand. I've been here many years and I've seen many pastors and each one has been worse than the one before."

Robert, on a semi-serious note, what that woman said is probably true. It has been well demonstrated that as we age, we edit our memories, and usually toward the good side. So the pastors we remember tend to get better and better as the years go by. Which is a bit tough on alive and current pastors.

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, October 28th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary.

Joel 2:23-32 – Poor little Joel only gets one crack in the regular Sunday readings of the lectionary, but I always enjoy him when he comes by. In my particular printing of the NRSV there’s a delightful typo in verse 28. Instead of “your old men shall dream dreams,” my book says, “your old men shall dream reams.”
Being now certifiably old and very much a dreamer, I’ve come to see that little error as a gift.
But I don’t know what to do with this passage. It was written for the people of Israel after a plague of grasshoppers which ate everything. The people were literally starving. So how can we, who are experiencing an unprecedented standard of living, possibly understand that? I doubt there will be anyone in most of our congregations who has ever known what desperate need or real starvation is really like. I know I’ve never had such an experience.
Which is not to say that such desperation is absent from our world. Does it mean that this promise of hope is there for people in some parts of Africa but not for us?

Psalm 65:1-13 paraphrased by Jim Taylor – Remembering to Give Thanks

1 We can't put it off any longer, God.
2 We come crawling to you, because we have all fallen short of your expectations.
3 We have all missed the mark.
But you have not held our failures against us.
5 We stumbled, and you picked us up;
we were sinking, and you helped us swim.
4 You treat us with honor and respect.
You make us welcome.
It is more than we dare ask, more than we could ever expect.
6 We have no right to such kindness.
You are the creator of the world.
You push mountains into ranges;
you calm the raging oceans;
7 you spin the earth on its axis.
Before you, we are as insignificant as ants, parading our puny armies.
8 If you stamp your feet, we will be squashed.
9 We boast of our science and technology,
but by ourselves we cannot make even one seed sprout;
we cannot shape a single raindrop.
10 We destroy, but only you bring life.
11 Through the cycle of the seasons, with reckless generosity, you share the wealth of the earth.
12 As tiny drops of dew gather into rushing streams,
so our small thoughts gather into a torrent of gratitude.
13 The whole world celebrates your goodness.
Like dolphins dancing through the waves,
like antelope leaping through long grass,
the earth jumps in a shout of joy.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 – I saw a lapel button once that said, “I don’t get mad. I get even.” It didn’t particularly warm me to the person wearing it. In some of his letters, Paul doesn’t talk revenge, but he does get a bit heavy-handed.
Not here. Paul is feeling his age a bit, and he feels his life slipping away. “I’ve done what I could,” he seems to be saying, and he’s sure that God will give him his reward. If he ever had thoughts of getting even with the folks who showed their backs when he was in trouble (and it would be very surprising if he hadn’t entertained such thoughts), he’s finished with that. So there are blessings that come with getting older.
Or at least that’s my experience. One blessing is that there are not nearly as many things you think are important. But for the convictions that are at the centre of your life, you are ready to go to the wall.

Luke 18:9-14 – There’s a problem word in this passage. “Justified.” In normal English, it has to do with making an idea or an action reasonable. Self-justification is a long-standing human pastime.
But here the writer of Luke uses the word in the sense of being “made right with God,” or “accepted by God.”
It was the Pharisee who was having a go at the self-justification game. He’s listing all his virtues – all his noble actions – and almost demanding a spot at the heavenly banquet table.
The tax collector has nothing to offer. All he can do is beg for mercy. And it’s that humility that brings to him the warm smile of God.
But don’t kick the tax collector too hard. See below.

There’s a bundle of great resources on the Wood Lake Books website, including “Seasons of the Spirit” curriculum – which has material for all ages in the church. A few moments poking around on that site could be very fruitful.


Rumors – Remember old Tevya in “Fiddler on the Roof?” As he walked along, talking to himself or talking to God he would say, “On the one hand,” and “on the other hand.”
That’s how I feel about the latest rash of apologies we have been involved in as a church and as a nation. It has become very common for official apologies to be made to those we’ve abused or misused in the past.
On the one hand, I think that’s a good idea. It helps us understand that the wounds inflicted by our forebears have not yet healed, and in some cases, we are living on the benefits of those wounds.
On the other hand, I get a bit squirmy. These apologies sometimes sound as self-serving as the Pharisee’s prayer in this week’s gospel reading. Is there not an element of self-righteousness if I apologize for the errors committed by someone else – someone now long gone who cannot repent and apologize on their own?
Are we not saying, “We have reached a level of enlightenment you didn’t have. Out of our morally superior position we are apologizing to for you. You didn’t know better, but we do.”
And doesn’t the apology of our churches seem a little thin when we realize it is only a small core of the leadership that is really apologizing – that most of the folks in the denomination are not even whispering, much less shouting, “Amen?”
We come down hard on that Pharisee because from our vantage point, we can see what he is doing. But he is living by the righteousness code of the Judaism of his day. He is doing what he was taught – what he thought God wanted.
According to that code, he had every right to feel superior to the tax collector. He knew he had followed the law and that it was the meticulous following of the law that made him right with God. He was honestly doing what he felt – what the “church” had taught him – was right. I think he got a bum rap.
Jesus comes along and proclaims that it is not works but faith that justifies us. But it was only the small circle of followers around Jesus who believed that then, and only a small part of the early church that really believed that. A works-based theology of righteousness came through into Christianity, untouched from first century Judaism.
Luther was still fighting that battle, and we still struggle against it today. In our churches, the folks who serve on most of the committees, or who volunteer the most and who give the most money, get the most honor and attention. We talk a theology of grace from the pulpit, but we live a theology of works in our church culture.
So let’s not get too self-righteous when we read this story. We have found the Pharisee and he is us.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Attributes Worth Avoiding
Last week I suggested that the bond between humans and dogs might serve as an example for the bond that God wants with humans.
“Not that dogs are perfect,” I ended.
Even in their imperfections, though, dogs can remind us of some human qualities we might benefit from avoiding.
Jesus condensed a multitude of biblical instructions to two – to love God “with all your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength,” and “to love your neighbour as yourself.”
Dogs, as I suggested last week, offer a model for the first of those commands. They don’t do as well on the second.
For example, most dogs would rather poop on a neighbour’s lawn than on their own.
But don’t we do the same? Some of our garbage goes out in trucks, to a distant landfill site; some goes down sewer pipes. Either way, we too prefer to soil someone else’s territory.
Phoebe will roll in anything that is dead, decaying, or disgusting. Whenever I see her lying on her back, legs in the air, wriggling ecstatically, I know I will find something malodorous underneath her.
Just like her, some humans wallow in things I find offensive. Like pornography, for example. Judging by the spam e-mails that flood my inbox, there must be lots of people who welcome this stuff, or the spammers wouldn’t bother sending it.
If Phoebe doesn’t roll in it, she eats it. The other night, she woke us with the sounds of vomiting. She threw up an entire peach. Including the pit.
I’m told that all members of the Labrador Retriever family act like eating machines.
Obesity is now a major health risk in North America. The main road in almost any town today is a promenade of fast-food joints. We know that a diet of greasy hamburgers, french fries, and sugary cola is not good for us. But we keep A&W, Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s and their ilk in business anyway.
Travel writer Paul Theroux wrote a devastating critique of the Chinese addiction to eating rare and endangered species. The rarer it is, the greater the delicacy. When the last living example of some rare species slithers down a Chinese throat, Theroux suggested, the diner will look surprised and say, “But it tasted so good!”
Phoebe greets all humans with joy. She defers to those she considers her superiors. But she shows no compassion at all towards lesser creatures like field mice and chipmunks.
She’s as prejudiced as some of us.
Perhaps we can’t expect dogs to practice the Golden Rule, “to treat others as you would want them to treat you.” But dogs might encourage us to take seriously the alternate version found in a least six other world religions. Confucius, in his Analects, put it, “Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you.”
When we find dog behavior objectionable, we might examine ourselves, to see if we’re doing anything similar.

If you have comments or questions about Jim’s column, write to him directly at Jim also does another weekly column called “Sharp Edges” which is published in our daily newspaper. It has a stronger political-social justice content. If you’d like to receive Sharp Edges, send Jim a note at the address above. Or go to Jim’s web page at: . Click on Sharp Edges or Soft Edges or whatever else you might like to read.


Good Stuff – This from Dave Towers who got it from Allan Shaw. It’s been attributed to Robin Williams, no less, but I don’t think so. It’s been around longer than Williams.

A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. The barber began to work. They talked about so many things and various subjects.
When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: "I don't believe that God exists."
"Why do you say that?" asked the customer.
"Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn't exist. If God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can't imagine loving a God who would allow all of these things."
The customer thought for a moment, but didn't respond. The barber finished his job and the customer left. Out on the street, the customer saw a man with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and un-kept.
The customer rushed back into the shop. "You know what? Barbers don't exist."
"How can you say that?" asked the surprised barber. "I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!"
"Barbers don't exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside."
"Ah, but barbers do exist! What happens is, people do not come to me."
"Exactly!" said the customer. "That's the point! God, too, does exist! But people don’t go to God – they don’t look for God. That's why there's so much pain and suffering in the world."


Rained Out – The big book launch for “The Spirituality of Grandparenting” that was to happen last Tuesday, was rained out. The sun came out at noon but by then the media people had all gone somewhere else. They’re not a patient lot.
I’m looking forward to the Western Women’s Conference which is November 2-4 at the Delta Kananaskis Lodge. Bev will be there too signing books with me. She didn’t write the book but she most certainly was a full partner in the grandparenting that gave rise to it.
So we look forward to seeing some of you there.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff
* The bishop will preach here next Sunday and his wife will open our annual garden fête on the following Sunday. On both occasions I hope to be away on holiday.
* The vicar wishes it to be known that since the flock is quite scattered in many parts of the city, it will be sometime before he can visit them all. This will no doubt be appreciated by them.
* On our dedication Sunday, the procession in the churchyard will take place in the afternoon. If it rains in the afternoon, the procession will be held in the morning.

If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me.

Wish I’d Said That –We are still family by God, and that is something no one can take away.
Carl Chamberlain

What’s the good of accomplishing anything if you have no altar on which to place it.
Fred Craddock via Allan Saunders

If only we could stop trying to be happy, we could have a good time.
Edith Wharton


We Get Letters – Surely he wasn’t the only one that noticed, but as of this moment (Wednesday morning) he’s the only one to write. Henry Passenger pointed out that I ran almost identical articles in Mirabile Dictu the last two weeks.
I’ve been searching my brain for a good excuse. I think I’ve found it. Henry, I ran the same stuff twice because I didn’t think people would get it with just one go-round.

Larry Claus writes: “Our priest, Father Wayne, went to a local nursing home for a communion service. At the end of the service, our priest noted a new resident sitting at the back crying. He recognized them as tears of joy.
"Oh Father" she said in a Dutch accent" imagine Catholics and Protestants worshipping and taking communion together. Isn't it wonderful. And thank you for serving real wine. Jesus should never be watered down!"

Elwyn Hunt of New Zealand writes: “You wrote in last weeks ‘Rumours’ – ‘Remember the old philosopher's puzzle? If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?’ I just want to add another interpretation of the same saying. ‘If a man speaks in the forest and there is no woman to hear him, is he still wrong?’"

Marie Zettler of Westmeath, Ontario writes: “This story was sent by my niece who works at a northern nursing station.
One funeral here was especially long, all in Cree. The minister talked on and on. Finally the procession made it to the graveside. The coffin was lowered into the grave but the preacher kept preaching. Finally he paused.
The whispered voice of a grave digger carried loud and clear through the silence: "Quick! Start throwing the dirt in before he starts preaching again!"

Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Ordaining Men!”)
Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained
1. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as picking turnips or dehorning cattle. It would indeed be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work. How can we argue with the intended order that is instituted and enforced by nature?
2. For men who have children, their duties as ministers might detract from their responsibilities as parents. Instead of teaching their children important life skills like how to make a wiener-roasting stick, they would be off at some committee meeting or preparing a sermon. Thus these unfortunate children of ordained men would almost certainly receive less attention from their male parent. Some couples might even go so far as to put their children into secular daycare centers to permit the man to fulfill his duties as a minister.
3. According to the Genesis account, men were created before women, presumably as a prototype. It is thus obvious that men represent an experiment, rather than the crowning achievement of creation.
4. Men are overly prone to violence. They are responsible for the vast majority of crime in our country, especially violent crime. Thus they would be poor role models, as well as being dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.
5. In the New Testament account, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. Thus his lack of faith and ensuing punishment stands as a symbol of the subordinate position that all men should take. The story also illustrates the natural tendency of all men to be either unwilling or unable to take a stand. From the Garden of Gethsemane to football locker rooms, men still have this habit of buckling under the weight of the lowest common denominator. It is expected that even ordained men would still embarrass themselves with their natural tendency toward a pack mentality.
6. Jesus didn’t ordain men. He didn’t ordain any women either, but two wrongs don’t make a right.
7. If men got ordained, then they wouldn’t be satisfied with that; they’d want more and more power. Next thing most of the Conference leaders would be men and then where would we be? No. The line must be drawn clearly now before it’s too late.
8. Many, if not most men who seek to be ordained, have been influenced by the radical “men’s movement” (or “masculist movement”). How can they be good leaders if their loyalties are divided between leading a church and championing the masculist drive for men’s rights? The tract writers haven’t pronounced on it yet, but the masculist movement is probably profoundly un-Christian.
9. To be an ordained pastor is to nurture and strengthen a whole congregation. But these are not traditional male roles. Rather, throughout the history of Christianity, women have been considered to be not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. Women, the myth goes, are fulfilled and completed only by their service to others. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination. But if men try to fit into this nurturing role, our young people might grow up with Role Confusion Syndrome, which could lead to such terrible traumas as the Questioning Tradition Syndrome.
10. Men can still be involved in Church activities, without having to be ordained. They can still take up the offering, shovel the sidewalk, and maybe even lead the singing on Fathers’ Day. In other words, by confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the Church. Why should they feel left out?


Bottom of the Barrel – You may need to think about this one for a bit.
A philosopher and a theologian were having an argument about the value of their respective disciplines.
Said the theologian, “A philosopher is just like a blind man, in a dark room looking for a cat that isn’t there.”
“Yes,” said the philosopher. “And the theologian would find it!”

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