R U M O R S # 482
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
December 30, 2007
Id quot circumiret, circumveniat.*
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Next Week’s Readings – preserving status and privilege
Rumors – the magi – we have seen the face of love
Soft Edges – acting in unison
Bloopers – more than a dram or two
Mirabile Dictu! – beery work
Bottom of the Barrel – reunion
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)
Rib Tickler – One of the joys of the Christmas season is that we have children coming to church who have not yet been totally indoctrinated.
Peggy Neufeld tells the story of a Sunday school teacher who said to her children, "We have been learning how powerful kings and queens were in Bible times. But, there is a higher power. Can anybody tell me what it is?"
A hand went up quickly. "Aces!"~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, January 6th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary. This is Epiphany Sunday.
Isaiah 60:1-6 – You see, the problem is that irrelevancies pop into my head long before anything else. I mean, how is “thick darkness” (v.2) different from “thin darkness”? And what would it smell like to be covered by a “multitude of camels” (v.6)? I mean, I’ve encountered those beasts, close up and personal!
The passage is in the lectionary because of the reference to “gold and frankincense” in verse 6 (right after those smelly camels) and therefore a connection to Matthew’s story of the Magi.
But the most useful phrase is probably in verse 4 – “Nations shall come to your light.” Is our light incandescent – in that it uses a lot of energy and burns out quickly, or florescent that burns long and brightly and cool? Which must a sermon illustration of some sort.
The passage seems to be telling me that my spirituality should be attractive and bright – a spirituality that people will notice and feel drawn to. But the line between that and spiritual exhibitionism is very fuzzy.
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
Politicians who get caught playing hanky-panky and businessmen who make bad investments that we (through our governments) bail out for billions of dollars – such people outrage us, because they fail to follow the standards they expect of us.
1 If only powerful people could be more like you, God.
2 They would apply the same standards to their own lives that they demand of those who depend on them.
3 Then office environments would help employees enjoy working;
press releases would tell the truth;
industrial wastes would not defile the world.
4 Powerful people would selflessly serve their constituencies;
they would not exploit for short term profit
those who have less money, less power, and less influence.
5 Such people would earn our long-term loyalty;
they would deserve to prosper.
7 Their radical example would make others reconsider their own attitudes.
10 All the world would recognize this remarkable approach;
11 all the world would come to see how it is done.
12 Amazing–people in positions of power
who do not manipulate events for their own benefit;
they do what they do for the least of their customers;
13 they treat single mothers, natives, immigrants, and teenagers
as people of worth,
not merely as potential consumers.
14 For them there are no mass markets;
every individual is precious as a person.
6 We need that kind of leadership.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com
Ephesians 3:1-12 – The book of Acts and Paul’s own writings tell us that he never saw Jesus in the flesh. Which is one of the reasons his writing is helpful to us, because neither have we.
Paul seems not at all interested in the life and teachings of Jesus. His one reference to the life of Jesus is his recounting of the origins of the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). I’m sure he must have heard some of the stories of Jesus from the other apostles, but he doesn’t mention them. It’s only Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection that interest him.
He addresses the central question – the question only humans can ask. “What’s it all about?” “Does our life have any meaning?”
Paul helps us get a small peek through the curtain of death to help us see what’s on the other side. It’s through Paul we can know that there is beauty and meaning and purpose and love on the other side. And it’s our job to live with that consciousness.
Matthew 2:1-12 – (See “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 42.)
The legend of the Magi has grown over the years to the point where our popular representation of it has only a lose connection to the story as Matthew told it.
Which is fine with me. Because the details, whether there is any historical basis to the story or not, are about people of the highest possible status coming to worship and bring expensive gifts to a low, low status baby. And we need to tell the story over and over again to get that fundamental idea into our heads.
But it’s also about the powers represented by Herod – people who are determined to preserve status and privilege at any cost. And just how far that power lust will go is there in the story of the slaughter of the innocents, which the lectionary had us reading last Sunday when it properly belongs after the visit of the magi. Go figure.
The Christmas story without that excruciatingly painful story becomes a sweet tale without much connection to reality. It is warm fuzzy story about poor but noble parents who had a beautiful baby who was born in a nice sanitary stable among contented beasts. The shepherds came to admire him and the magi came to bring him expensive gifts, and he lived happily ever after.
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Lectionary, in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” by yours truly. The marvellous illustrations are by Margaret Kyle. There’s at least one story for each Sunday, usually two, and occasionally three. Go to the main Wood Lake Publications website at www.woodlakebooks.com .
Or copy this address into your browser to get directly to the page about this book.:
RUMORS – I am writing this issue of Rumors on Boxing Day, December 26th, having just taken daughter Grace to the bus depot, and still basking in the warmth of the last few days.
I received three wonderful gifts this Christmas. The greatest was all my kids and grandkids together, being family. The big dinner was Christmas Eve, when Zoë and Jake traditionally chose the menu. For years it’s been Kraft Dinner, but this time it was hamburgers – a sign of creeping teenage-itis. Then we all went to church and worshipped together as we heard and sang that ancient tale.
The other two were gifts of kindness and thoughtfulness, symbolized by the gift of a donation made to Naramata Centre on my behalf. That’s a Christian training centre where Bev and I and our family have experienced much growth and joy over the years.
The other was a goat. From “one old goat to another” said the card. That was from Bev and it was the donation of the price of a goat to help a third-world family. This was done through the 10,000 Villages organization.
So here I am on the day after Christmas and nothing surfaces that I want to write to you about in this space.
Anyway, I’d much rather share my “Aggada” on the visit of the Magi.
The Magi – we have seen the face of love."
"I don't feel well."
"Breath deeply, Caspar, and keep your eye on the horizon. You'll feel better." There was a hint of impatience in the old man's voice. This conversation had been repeated every day for a month.
"It's all right for you, Melchior," the younger Caspar moaned. "You're used to these ghastly beasts. Why aren't we riding horses? They don't sway like camels and they don't stink like camels."
"Stop complaining," Balthasar joined the conversation. "Get down and walk for awhile, if you must. We're on a journey to find God's chosen one, and you can't talk about anything except your queasy insides."
Caspar was silenced but he wasn't convinced. He was the junior member of the trio of Magi, on a long journey of faith from their comfortable home in Persia to . . . Caspar had no idea where to.
Months before, he had stood with the older astrologers in the clear night of the desert, gazing at the stars, studying their movements, until one day they all agreed, there was a sign.
"Do you see it," Melchior said breathlessly. "Mesori, or Sirius, the dog star is rising with the sun. Do you see its brilliance?"
"Mesori!" Caspar said the words with excitement. "The name means 'birth of a prince.'"
"It is said by the wise ones of many nations that a king will be born in Judea."
"Then we must go and search for this king," said Balthasar. "We must go now and pay homage to this king of all kings."
So here they were, trekking across the desert on camels that gave Caspar motion sickness. They had been underway for a month now, and it seemed to Caspar that the only thing that kept them going was grim determination. Caspar would have turned and headed home long ago, but he didn't know the way back. Besides, alone in the wilderness, he would soon have been robbed and killed by a passing brigand. So Caspar commanded his camel to kneel, got off, and walked for awhile. It helped a little, but Caspar could think of a thousand things he would rather be doing.
Melchior's annoyance had melted into indulgent concern. "Patience, young Caspar," he said. "Tomorrow we will be in Jerusalem. There we will ask their sages for advice on where to search."
"I'm not looking forward to Jerusalem," said Balthasar. "We must be wary of King Herod. He is a sick and jealous tyrant. I have heard that in his jealousy, Herod killed two of his wives and three of his sons."
"Caesar Augusutus of Rome has said that it is safer to be Herod's pig than to be Herod's son." A disgusted smile crossed Melchior's face. Caspar shuddered a little, partly from the cold evening air, partly in anticipation of the visit to Jerusalem.
Oozing charm, Herod entertained the astrologers lavishly. He brought in his best astrologers as consultants, and determined that this new and great king was to be born in the city of David.
"Great David's greater son is to be born in Bethlehem, the least of the cities of Judah," one of the Jewish astrologers pronounced, after much consultation and searching of ancient texts.
"But there are no noble families in Bethlehem from which a king might be born," Herod protested.
"Some of the ancients have written that God's chosen one will be of humble birth," one of the sages replied.
Herod harrumphed a few times. "Well, sages have been mistaken before and may well be mistaken again." Herod was being elaborately indulgent. "So for tonight, rest awhile, and tomorrow go and find this young child that is born. And if...when you find the child, come and tell me so that I may go and worship him also."
A servant led the three astrologers to their quarters. As soon as the door was closed, Melchior whispered with fear and urgency. "We must go now. Tonight!. We will wait until deep in the night. Then we will go so that we reach Bethlehem at dawn."
"Why?" Caspar asked.
"Bethlehem is only one or two hours from here. We must go and find the child before Herod does." Caspar saw the fear and concern in the two older men. They had not been fooled by Herod's pretense.
It was several hours past midnight when they left Jerusalem – pushing, whipping their reluctant camels. "There must be many newborn children in Bethlehem," said Caspar. "How will we know which is God's chosen one?"
"Look!" Balthasar's whisper was almost a shout. A star had arisen in the east just as the first red glow of the sun brightened the sky. "And it's right over that house. There. That one on the hillside. Do you see it? It is Mesori leading us to the prince. To God's chosen one."
A few more whips against the camels flank and they were there. "Is anyone home?" Caspar called as he knocked on the door.
A frightened and somewhat pale man appeared at the door. "We have come in search of God's chosen one," said Melchior. "The sages, and God's star have led us here."
"A child has been born here," Joseph said cautiously. "He is a child like any child. But you may come and see him."
There was a long, full, silence as the wise and wealthy astrologers looked at the child that was any child and all children, at the mother who was any mother and all mothers, at Joseph who was any man and all men.
Caspar was the first to kneel. Before the child he placed a small bag of gold. "The gift of gold is for thee, O infant king."
Balthasar knelt beside him. "I bring thee frankincense, a sweet perfume, for thou art God's high priest."
Old Melchior was the last to kneel. His eyes filled with tears as he said, "And I must bring thee myrrh, to prepare thy body for burial. Because thou art chosen of God, many who fear and hate thee will seek to kill thee."
The look of fear crossed Joseph's face again. Melchior motioned him to follow. "Farewell, and God be with you," he said to Mary.
Outside the old man whispered urgently to Joseph, who them moved quickly back into the house. Balthasar was already on his mount. "On your camel, Caspar," Melchior commanded. "We must leave quickly."
"Couldn't we stay, just for an hour or so. I hardly got a look at the baby, and besides, I'm tired."
"Evil is strong, Caspar!" Melchior spoke with sadness. "Evil is strong and when God sends such a gift of love into the world, evil will try hard to destroy it. Evil lives in the hearts of the Herods and all like him who put their trust in wealth and power. Evil cannot live in the presence of love, and so always seeks to destroy it."
"But we have seen the face of God's love," said young Caspar. "I saw it in the face of that child. That child is God's chosen one, don't you think."
The old man smiled broadly through his fear. He reached out and gave the younger man a gentle hug.
(Yes, you are welcome to use this story in your church this Sunday. Change, adapt, fix – do what ever you need to do.)
Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Acting in Unison
It’s holiday time, and I’m visiting Sharon and Katherine in Edmonton. So I resorted to the “old column barrel” for this one, which first ran in January 2000.
A flock of Bohemian waxwings descended on our mountain ash tree. Though I’m not sure that “flock” is the right word. “Flock” sounds so pastoral, so placid, so sheep-like. These birds showed up more like sharks feeding. Or like tow trucks converging on a highway accident.
One minute, the tree was loaded with bright red berries. The next, it stood bare naked and shivering in the winter wind. The waxwings left two – count’em, two – berries on the whole tree.
And then, just as suddenly as they arrived, the waxwings lifted off en masse. They circled in the sky a couple times. And they were gone.
The strange thing, to me, was that they didn’t seem to have a leader. Granted, one Bohemian waxwing looks pretty much like another from a distance. And I didn’t have much chance to get into conversation with any of them. But it didn’t look as if one bird landed on the tree, and then called to the others, “Hey, come on, you guys! This stuff is good!” They all arrived at once; they all left at once, as if a single mind motivated them.
When they left, they swirled around in the sky, forming and re-forming the constantly changing patterns in a kaleidoscope. First one bird was in front, then another. But they all wheeled and turned together as if they weren’t thirty, or forty, or fifty separate birds at all, but one bird, governed by a single collective mind.
One of my favorite biblical passages comes in Paul’s letter to the Christian church at Philippi. “Let the same mind be in you,” he wrote, “that was in Jesus Christ.”
Put in more colloquial terms, he was saying, “If Jesus is the head of the church, then all his followers should be so much like him that you even think like him.” We would all be like-minded.
Paul might be a little dismayed if he could see today’s Christian churches squabbling with each other. Some battles involve actions that matter in people’s lives today. Others, unfortunately, simply rehash abstract points of theology from past centuries that make no difference to anyone standing in a line at the only grocery store cashier who’s open.
I don’t suggest that all members of a faith group should become little robots, mindlessly listening for instructions from their master’s voice (like the RCA terrier seen on old vinyl record labels). Bland uniformity can be as boring as vanilla pudding.
But think of the impact that a group could have on society if an entire group could act quickly, decisively, and consistently. Compare the effect of one person alone… with a congregation of a hundred people… with an entire denomination of a million… with an international body of a hundred million…
With a true collective consciousness, we could act more like that flock of waxwings. No, not stripping mountain ash trees. But sharing the same ideals, the same values. And then changing the world.
If you have comments or questions about Jim’s column, write to him directly at email@example.com. 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: http://edges.canadahomepage.net/index.php . Click on Sharp Edges or Soft Edges or whatever else you might like to read.
Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Somebody identified only as “db” writes: “Here's a blooper we caught just in time. Re Joseph:’and it came to him in a dram’.”
And I have it on reliable authority that a single letter in a word might have needed more than a dram or two, if it had made it past the proof-reading stage. It seems that a feature of the Christmas Eve service was to be “Panis Angelicus,” except that the typist has used an “e” rather than an “a” in the first word of that title.
Barry Groh of Salisbury, Maryland spotted a blooper right here in Rumors – a most unusual occurrence, I assure you. Barry says I wrote: “That takes me back to the second creation legend, Genesis 2:17, where Adam is told not to eat of the three ‘of the knowledge of good and evil’.”
So Barry wants to know, “What is the third?? If good and evil are two, what is the third?”
Well it’s obvious, Barry. There was Adam and Eve and the snake. That makes three. Right?
If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me. firstname.lastname@example.org
Wish I’d Said That! –
Some Methodist birds in the wood
Sang hymns whenever they could.
They were always in doubt
What the words were about,
But they thought it was doing them good.
Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
Idolatry is having anything as an ultimate concern other than the well-being of the whole universe.
Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “beery work!”) A delightful Yuletide gift from John Cameron who sent along a wild collection of “spoonerisms.” These are transpositional gaffes where the first letters of some of the words are swapped.
These delightful mix-ups are attributed to the Rev. William Archibald Spooner (1844-1930), even though the poor man was really responsible for only one or two. The only one the Reverend Doctor admitted to was in announcing the hymn, “Conquering Kings Their Titles Take.” He said, “Kinkering Congs . . .
The legend might have been contained except that Spooner taught at New College, Oxford. His occasional “clerical errors” got the rumors going, and soon the students started inventing them.
Here’s the list that John sent.
* The phrase "a well-oiled bicycle" sounds quite innocuous, when Rev. Spooner said it, the phrase came out "a well-boiled icicle"
* He reprimanded one student for "fighting a liar in the quadrangle"
instead of "lighting a fire in the quadrangle"
* Another student "hissed my mystery lecture." To the latter he added in disgust, "You have tasted two worms."
* One of his more famous phrases was when he raised a toast to Her Highness Victoria. Instead of toasting the "Dear old Queen" he said "Three cheers for our queer old dean!"
* During WWI he reassured his students, “When our boys come home from France, we will have the hags flung out.”
* And he lionized Britain's farmers as "noble tons of soil."
* His goofs at chapel were legendary. “Our Lord is a shoving leopard," he once intoned. * He quoted 1 Corinthians 13:12 as, "For now we see through a dark, glassly..."
* Officiating at a wedding, he prompted a hesitant bridegroom, “Son, it is now kisstomary to cuss the bride."
* And to a stranger seated in the wrong place: "I believe you're occupewing my pie. May I sew you to another sheet?"
* Did Spooner really say, “Which of us has not felt in his heart a half-warmed fish?" he certainly could have – he was trying to say half-formed wish.
* At a naval review Spooner marveled at “this vast display of cattle ships and bruisers."
* To a school official's secretary: “Is the bean dizzy?"
* Visiting a friend's country cottage: “You have a nosey little crook here."
John, my favorite spoonerism involves an announcer on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation at the end of a church service who may (or may not) have said, “Next week, the sermon will be titled, ‘Cast thy broad upon the waters. This is the Canadian Bread Corping Castration.”
Bottom of the Barrel – John Severson writes, “I think I've head this one before – but maybe not from Rumors.”
John, it has been on Rumors before, but it’s good enough to run again.
The Carpenter's Son
One day Jesus was out for a walk, strolling near the walls surrounding heaven, when he heard an old man's voice call from the other side.
"Who is it?" Jesus replied.
"Just a poor, old carpenter searching for his son," the old man replied.
Jesus' heart leapt with joy and he called out, "Joseph?"
The old voice answered back, "Pinocchio?"
* Translation: “What goes around, comes around.”
Why is that a motto for Rumors?
Because I knew how to spell all the words.
Information and Stuff – (Read this section only if you want to know about subscribing, unsubscribing or quoting stuff from Rumors.) It would be nice if you could give Rumors a plug in your bulletin or newsletter. Please invite your friends (and even your enemies) to subscribe. There's no charge: RUMORS is free and it comes to your e-mail box every Sunday morning. Just send your friends the instructions to subscribe [below], and include an invitation to join the list ... perhaps something like this: “There’s a lively and fun newsletter called RUMORS which is available at no cost on the net. It’s for ‘Christians with a sense of humor’.” Please add the instructions to subscribe [below]. If you have a friend you think would enjoy Rumors, and you’d rather not give them the subscribing instructions below, send me an e-mail at email@example.com and give me the e-mail address of your friend. If you are using something from Rumors in your sermon, give credit only as appropriate, without stopping the sermon dead in its tracks. I am delighted when Rumors is useful in the life and work of the church. As long as it is within your congregation or parish, you don’t need permission. You are welcome to use the stuff in church bulletins or newsletters. Please say where it came from, and please invite people to subscribe to RUMORS. An appropriate credit line would be; “From Ralph Milton's RUMORS, a free Internet ‘e-zine’ for Christians with a sense of humor." ... and please be sure to include these instructions to subscribe to RUMORS: To Subscribe:* Send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Who knows, I might quote you in a future issue of RUMORS.All material is copyright © Ralph Milton.~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*