R U M O R S # 477
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
November 25, 2007
"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
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About using Rumors stuff. Jim and I are delighted when you can use anything from Rumors in the life and work of your church. As long as it is for non-profit purposes and in a local congregation, you are free to use it.
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Next Week’s Readings – wonder resistance
Rumors – utterly arrogant
Soft Edges – pushing or pulling
Good Stuff – the Zen of joy
Bloopers – true believers ruptured
We Get Letters – busting stereotypes
Mirabile Dictu! – ecclesiocide
Bottom of the Barrel – rescue the lost sheep
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)
Rib Tickler – Happy (slightly belated) Thanksgiving to all the US folks. Here’s an American Thanksgiving giggle from John Severson.
Thanksgiving Day was approaching and the family had received a Thanksgiving card with a painting of a pilgrim family on their way to church.
Grandma showed the card to her small grandchildren, observing: "The Pilgrim children liked to go to church with their mothers and fathers."
“Oh yeah?" her young grandson replied, "So why is their dad carrying that rifle?"
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, December 2nd, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary.
December 8th is the first day of Chanukah or Hanukkah (Judaism).
Isaiah 2:1-5 – “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares.”
Of course. Everybody wants that! It’s carved in stone right there at the front door of the United Nations building in New York.
I’m old enough to remember the Second World War, which was to be the “war to end all wars.” It demonstrated, if such demonstration was needed, that there are no winners in a war – everyone loses (with the exception of those who manufacture armaments). Since then we’ve had a whole series of deadly conflicts, and now we are up to our eyeballs in the eastern Mediterranean.
Again it’s Advent. And quite frankly, some of us are tired of singing about the “Prince of Peace” every year, when said Prince seems more and more to be a figment of pious imagination.
But last night I saw the future shining in the eyes of my almost-teenage grandchildren. They have not given up on the world. They have not given up on God. Their spiritual skin isn’t covered with tough, wonder-resistant scar tissue.
They still believe the promise.
And therefore, so do I.
Psalm 122 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 God calls people everywhere to a pilgrimage.
2 From all over the world, many feet beat a path to God's holy places.
3 They struggle through high mountain passes;
They shuffle across dusty deserts;
They crawl along the walls of river canyons.
4 The straggling lines of searchers converge in a fertile valley;
A great shout of joy goes up to the heavens.
5 Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus – the great religions discover a common cause;
They rise above doctrinal differences.
6 Pray for their unity; pray for their commitment.
7 May they not threaten each other; may they generate peace among their peoples.
8 God, watching over them, says, "They do not all call themselves my followers.
Yet they are brothers and sisters, meeting in harmony.
I will treat them as my own."
9 Because they do God's will, God will watch out for them.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com
Romans 13:11-14 – The “armor of light” is an interesting and powerful metaphor. Jim Taylor writes about being in a mineshaft a mile below ground. The guide turned out all the lights. “Darkness engulfed us. Our eyes strained to get used to it – and couldn’t. The darkness was as solid and impenetrable as concrete. It crushed us. And then our guide flicked on a lowly cigarette lighter. And the darkness slunk back into the corners. Even that tiny flame routed the darkness.”
I’ve had similar experiences in broadcasting studios designed to absorb all sound – to simulate the out of doors where there is no echo. Except in the outdoors, there is always sound. The absolute absence of sound, like the absolute absences of light, is crazy-making.
An absolute absence of light or sound is unnatural. But on a quiet, moonless light, far from noise and light pollution, you can see stars as you’ve never seen them before. And you can hear the sound of your own heart, and sometimes the heart of someone standing close to you.
Matthew 24:36-44 – Expect the unexpected. Be prepared for that for which you cannot prepare. “What you do while you wait depends on what you’re waiting for,” goes a Jim Strathdee song.
The folks in the church where I worship don’t think a lot about “end times” and “the rapture.” Neither do I. This passage doesn’t scratch where we itch.
If this passage is telling us to prepare ourselves for the coming again of the Christ into our presence – exactly what kind of preparation should we do? Christmas shopping and baking and decorating doesn’t seem to really fit the bill.
But what does?
Bev prepares an “Advent House” each year for the grandchildren. Each morning during Advent, they open a door and find a thought or an activity which helps them think a bit more about the gift of hope that Christmas brings.
I prod myself to be more thoughtful about the symbolism of Christmas – the meaning of the Advent candles, the significance of the wreath on the front door, the community we call our family.
And that fills me with a deep and visceral kind of knowledge that God is active in our bleeding world, and that I am called to be part of God’s action. God’s promise.
To live life as faithfully, creatively, openly as I can.
Which seems like so little. But it’s really everything.
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. Go to the website at:
Rumors – Jim and I had hoped to have our shiny new Story Lectionary up and running in time for Advent 1. We are not ready.
We are now aiming for Lent 1, which happens in mid-February, but because some well-organized folks work well ahead in sermon preparation, the stuff has got to be there on the web in mid-January.
Will we be ready? No. We will probably start then, even though we can’t really be ready because this is something none of us have done before. You can’t anticipate a problem if you don’t know what the problem is going to be. And there will be surprises.
Over the weekend I was conversing with a long-time friend who works in theological academia. “The whole thing sounds pretty audacious to me,” said the friend. And of course, he was right. Also impudent, cheeky and arrogant.
Especially arrogant. Utterly arrogant. Shamelessly arrogant.
It’ll be that and worse if the whole thing flops. If it succeeds, it will be visionary, far-sighted, imaginative, courageous, etc. etc. Not knowing which, it’s hard to prepare for either.
Most likely, it will be somewhere in-between. 35% arrogant, 35% visionary, and the other 20% a mixture of all those other epithets. How do you prepare for that?
Nancy Reeves has written a book on spiritual discernment titled, “I’d Say Yes, God, If I Knew What You Wanted” (Northstone, 2001). Which is the problem exactly.
Advent is the time of getting ready, but getting ready for what? We’d get ready God, if we knew what you wanted!
There’s the biblical legend which I suppose started with Moses, which says that if you see the face of God you will die. The whole reality of God is just way too much for a human to handle. It’s the same with God’s dream for us? If we suddenly saw the whole thing it would bring us down into a writhing ball of fear and insecurity. That’s why God lets us see ourselves just a little bit at a time.
Or maybe God’s dream for us is a little like my grandparent dream for my grandchildren. Whenever I’m with them, I see constant flashes of ability, charm, insight, creativity, and with each one there’s a voice inside of me that says, “Go with that, Zoë! Do that, Jake!” I don’t have – I wouldn’t want to have – plans for their lives. I simply pray they will unlock even a small part of the God-given potential within them.
So as of this moment (by the time you read this, it may well have changed) I think the getting ready for Christmas, getting ready for a new sense of God in our lives, is not about getting all your ducks in a row. It’s not about having our lives planned and organized.
It’s about unlocking the door from the inside. It’s about opening windows (not a great metaphor for Canada in winter), cleaning the goo from the lenses of your glasses, calling the friend you’ve been meaning to contact, signing up for course you’ve always wanted to take.
Preparing “the way of the Lord” is to “make straight in the desert” a way for us to become more of what God dreams for us. It means allowing impossible things to happen.
Preparing for Christmas is about opening up.
Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Pushing or Pulling?
I started this column a year ago, after Heidi Schlosser was diagnosed with terminal cancer. I couldn’t continue. I couldn’t write about a God who would bring a young woman into the world just so that she could die of cancer in her twenties.
I find it equally hard to believe in a God who willed the extermination of six million Jews in Germany. Or the destruction of the world’s oldest civilization in Iraq. Or the drowning of 200,000 people in the Indian Ocean.
But all those reactions depend on a presupposition that God, as Creator, works from the past. It treats God like a supernatural engineer who sets an infinitely complex machine in motion, knowing exactly how every tick will take place through all eternity.
The idea is called predestination. It’s been around a long time. Protestant reformer John Calvin refined it into a doctrine of the church – especially the Presbyterian Church – in the early 1500s. Predestination, in Calvin’s terms, meant that God decides in advance which individuals will get to heaven.
Double predestination means that God also decides in advance which ones will go to hell. Even before they’ve done anything wrong.
So why bother being good, if God determined my destiny before I was created? Why make the effort?
The answer is – are you ready for this? – that God gives you free-will to determine your own fate. But God already knows what you’ll choose.
Wow... some freedom!
Don’t assume this doctrine is universally believed in the Christian church. At least two great thinkers of the past, Pelagius and Abelard, insisted that each of us has individual responsibility. We shape our own fates, by what we think, say, and do.
They argued, in essence, that if God really gave us the freedom to make our own decisions, then God relinquished power to control the future. God has to wait and see what we choose to do, before knowing how the future might unfold.
Unfortunately, Pelagius and Abelard got outvoted by more influential theologians like Augustine and Aquinas.
In our scientific age, some factions of the Christian church expanded the idea of predestination into a belief that God must have pre-planned every leaf that falls in autumn, every rock that rolls down a hillside, every atom that vibrates...
And every cancer death...
I refuse to believe in that kind of God. I prefer to think of God calling us from the future, not pushing from the past.
Perhaps God is like a granny reaching with open arms towards a toddler. Or like sports fans, sending waves of energy to help a pole vaulter over the bar. Like me, whistling for my dog...
Granny doesn’t cause the child to stumble. It’s not the fans’ fault if the vaulter misses. And I can’t save my dog from burrs and brambles.
We lament when things go wrong; we rejoice when the one we encourage fulfills our hopes.
That kind of God, I can still believe in.
If you have comments or questions about Jim’s column, write to him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jim also does another weekly column called “Sharp Edges” which is published in our daily newspaper. It has 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: http://edges.canadahomepage.net/index.php . Click on Sharp Edges or Soft Edges or whatever else you might like to read.
Good Stuff – This from Don Sandin.
The Zen of Joy
Once upon a time, there was a well-known and beloved Zen Master who was famous for being happy and full of the joy of life every single day. Absolutely nothing could make him lose his contentment.
When the time came for him to depart this world, he seemed as cheerful as ever, for not even the specter of death, which even rich and powerful people fear, could disturb him in the slightest. In his own inimitable way, with the same natural smile with which he always lovingly greeted his students, he announced that they should assemble in his bedroom and say their farewells.
As he lay on his deathbed, his devoted disciples gathered around him. One asked him the question that was on all of their minds.
“Master, before you go, can you please tell us, what has been the secret of your constant happiness?”
“It is very easy, really,” the Master replied. “Every morning, the moment my eyes open and I awake, I ask myself the same simple question: ‘Do you want to be happy or sad today?’ And every day, I answer, ‘I want to be happy today!’ And once I have made the choice, I simply stick to my word.”
And with that, he left this life with the same smile on his lips that he lived it with.
And not a single tear was shed in that chamber, for on the face of each of his devotees was an inheritance greater than the wealthiest Kings of old had ever bequeathed their kin: the smile of someone who has decided to be happy.
From the folks who make Rumors possible – OK, so you’re tired of reading my self-serving plugs for my own books, most particularly “The Spirituality of Grandparenting.”
So instead I’ll put in a plug for the rest of the “Spirituality” series, all of which make really good Christmas gifts. There’s “Pets,” “Art,” “Bread,” “Wine,” “Mazes and Labyrinths.” And “Gardening.”
If the object of your affections isn’t interested in at least one of those, said object needs to go on a very long retreat to find a life.
No. Sorry. That’s much too harsh. You can make a life out of lots of things without touching any of those. Raising rare breeds of earthworms, for instance.
The thing about giving a book is this. You should read the book before you give it. Then you can say, “I gave you that book because. . .”
Go to this Wood Lake Publishing web address (www.woodlakebooks.com) for this and many other delightful and useful resources. Select “Search by Title, Author," at the top left column of the site. Or phone 1-800-663-2775.
Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Bob Lewis of Allentown, Pennsylvania saw this in a Sunday bulletin. "Remembering that we are broths and sisters in the Lord. . .”
Bob wonders if “a blooper like that has anything to do with eating one's words?”
Ray Grier of Port Townsend, Washington writes: “On the ‘email from readers’ page of a website discussing the ‘end times’ and the ‘rapture,’ one person wrote in asking how a loving God could let the true believers suffer the tribulation before they are taken to be with the Lord in the air. The answer, with one little typo came back: "Evidence from the Bible shows that the rapture will take place before the start of the tribulation, so, don't worry, when the tribulation starts, the true believers will have already been ruptured." (Ouch!)
Heidi Koschzeck “spotted this blooper on a web-page in reference to the Colossians passage for "Christ the King" Sunday:
"Paul takes off and sours to great heights of praise."
Heidi adds that they do that in their church choir sometimes too.
Hazel Peterson of Nipawin, Saskatchewan belongs to a very ambitious congregation. Recently they advertised an event at which there would be “knitting, quilting, car making and/or painting with skilled instructors.”
Ambitious, energetic folks – them there Saskatchwatchers.
If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me. email@example.com
Wish I’d Said That! – When you’re in deep water, the best thing to do is shut your mouth.
Author unknown via Evelyn McLachlan
Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.
If the rich could hire other people to die for them, the poor could make a wonderful living. Yiddish Proverb via Jim Taylor
We Get Letters – Velia Watts of Edmonton, Alberta found this story in “The Hump Day Humor-Gram” published by Michael Kerr.
Busting Stereotypes by Busting a Gut
A Jewish rabbi and a Muslim lawyer/comedian have formed an "odd couple" comedy tour in hopes of breaking down some common stereotypes with the language of humor. Rabbi Bob Alper and Azhar Usman are succeeding in getting common laughs from some very mixed audiences.
Humor dealing with terrorism, racism, religion and even the 911 tragedy, is helping their audiences normalize and understand current events through a different lens. "When I sermonize, I hope I move people spiritually," says Rabbi Bob Alper, "but when I make them laugh, I know I move them spiritually."
This truly odd comedic couple is a great reminder of the power of humor to bridge cultures, unite people, and break down barriers with laughter. And as our workplaces become more diverse (both age-wise and culturally), healing, uniting, positive humor can play an increasingly important role.
Trevor Quinn of Regina, Saskatchewan raises a most important theological question. “If a rabbit is reincarnated, would that be a hare raising experience?”
Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Ecclesiocide!”)
How to Kill Your Church,
from “Brethren Family Almanac,” 1897
1. Don’t come.
2. If you do come, come late.
3. Try to make lots of noise.
4. Don’t imagine the front seats were meant for you; people might think you conceited.
5. Come bound to find fault.
6. Don’t for the world ever think of praying for the church.
7. Don’t sing.
8. Don’t take any part in the service.
9. Don’t encourage the pastor, but tell the pastor’s faults to others.
10. Visit other churches half the time.
11. If somebody said a good thing and it helped you, don’t tell them, it might make them vain.
12. If you see strangers in the audience, make them as uncomfortable as possible.
13. Never speak of the meetings to anyone.
14. Don’t believe in missions.
15. Don’t give much to benevolence.
16. Let the pastor do all the work.
17. See that the pastor bears the cross alone and you go free.
18. Don’t take your denominational paper.
19. Don’t give your preacher anything.
20. Try to run the church.
21. If you think everything is harmonious, try to do something to engender all the strife you can.
Bottom of the Barrel – Lost sheep get rescued in many ways.
A story is told of the great theologian and writer, William Barclay, when he was minister at a church in Glasgow. Barclay was deaf, and often didn’t hear comments, especially when the speaker was too far away for him to lip-read.
One Sunday, on the way out of church, a man came up and said, “Dr. Barclay, I want to thank you for saving my life.”
Barclay scratched his head. He couldn’t remember ever seeing the man before. “I’m sorry,” said Barclay, “but I don’t remember.”
“About a year ago, one evening, at dusk, I was sitting on the steps of the church feeling desperately dejected about my life. I called to you as you walked out of the church and I said, ‘Life is terrible. I’m going to throw myself into the river and drown myself.’ You waved to me very cheerily and said, ‘Well, the best of luck to you.’
That comment brought me back to reality, and today, life is good.”
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