R U M O R S # 517
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
August 31, 2008
WHAT’S REALLY MOST IMPORTANT
"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
The Story – eat standing up
Rumors – ten minutes to decide
Soft Edges – text messaging
Good Stuff – how to handle telemarketers
Bloopers – prayers for continence
We Get Letters – I’ll eat my hat”
Mirabile Dictu! – Herman Newticks
Bottom of the Barrel – only funny in the USA
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 Evelyn McLachlan who got it from her brother.
A tough old cowboy counseled his grandson that if he wanted to live a long life, the secret was to sprinkle a pinch of gun-power on his oatmeal every morning.
The grandson did this religiously to the age of 103, when he died.
He left behind 14 children, 30 grandchildren, 45 great grandchildren and a deep hole in the ground where the crematorium used to be.
The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, September 7th, which is Proper 18 .
Exodus 12:1-14 – Last week we told the story of Moses and the burning bush and his commission to go and liberate the Hebrews. This week he’s leading them out of Egypt. I think it’s only decent to give the folks a summary of what happened in-between.
This passage is really the instructions on how to celebrate the Passover, which is the central observance for all Jews. It has lots of elements of primitive religion showing through, such as the business of the lamb and blood on the doorposts. In this story, God is still a tribal god who is ready to rain death on those outside the tribe, i.e. the Egyptians.
This is also the core passage for the central story of Judaism. We were slaves in Egypt. God made a covenant with us in the giving of the law, and led us through the wilderness to a promised land.
And that theme is there in the Christian tradition. We were slaves to sin. God made a new covenant with us in the death and resurrection of Christ and we will be welcomed into the promised land of heaven.
It all sounds really pagan and self-serving when described that way. Perhaps that’s why the Jews, in their wisdom, didn’t describe it very much. They told the story every year to their children at home and in the synagogue. Such legends can’t withstand a lot of analysis.
So why not tell the two stories – parallel stories. And I wish I knew the Islamic story well enough to see if it parallels these two as well. What little I do know is that all three of the great world religions tell a story of God’s intimate and loving participation on the human journey.
On the other hand, there’s urgency about the story. You eat standing up. You take only what you can carry. No time to stop and think. It’s time! Now! (See “Rumors” below.)
For some reason, when I was younger, I thought that “Passover” referred to “passing over/through” the Red Sea to freedom. I still remember my sense of shock, in a Bible study group, when I discovered that it actually referred to the destroying angel passing over the homes of those who had daubed their doors with sacrificial blood.
It seemed so pagan!
And yet there’s an obvious connection to Jesus’ comment about new covenant being marked by his blood.
As I re-read this passage now, I wonder what happened to chapters 4-11 – Moses’ confrontations with his stepfather, the ten plagues, the misery of the population... Because the Passover actually marks the final plague, which was, in modern terms, an act of genocide, of “ethnic cleansing.” Exodus 11:9 makes that genocide deliberate – “so that you may know the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”
Ralph suggests talking about the urgency of packing up. It's a good illustration. But I also like his comment about the Hebrew people eating standing up, so that they’re ready to go at any moment. I’d probably invite the congregation to stand through the sermon, so that they can’t doze off, and thus experience for just a few minutes the tension and pressure of the original Passover.
Perhaps only people who have escaped from some form of genocide themselves can fully understand the urgency of getting out NOW!!!! But perhaps, with a bit of empathizing, we can understand why this experience was seared into the collective memory of Jews.
Psalm 149 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
In recent years, many autocratic governments have been overthrown – not by force or power, but by the accumulative energy of ordinary people, the communion of saints.
1 Familiar words aren't enough.
New times call for new ways to praise God.
2 So dance. Sing.
Show you love God with your bodies as well as your words.
3 Use every means you have
–your music, your work, your social systems–
to demonstrate your love for God.
4 God will not shun you because you show your emotions.
Love is not limited to important positions or plummy accents.
5 So join together with others.
Link your hands and link your lives.
Clap your hands and sing;
Raise the roof in praise of God.
6 Let the vigor of your voices overflow into your living.
Seize each challenge as an opportunity
7 to promote justice among all the people,
to bring to judgment to those who cause pain and suffering.
8 Even ruthless dictators cannot resist the surge of popular pressure.
The longer they try to withstand the tide, the deeper they drown.
9 That is how to give God praise.
Let us praise God!
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com
Romans 13:8-14 – My Jewish friends tell me that Paul is not saying anything uniquely Christian here, that verses 8 to 10 are there in the Torah. And his exhortation to a spiritual and moral life-style is as necessary now as ever, though I think I might differ with him on some of the details, particularly that business of gratifying the flesh.
Matthew 18:15-20 – Matthew’s formula for solving church problems works. Or so I’m told by my evangelical friends. But it’s the last verse of this passage that interests me. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Clearly Matthew means the Christ here, but last summer I heard a rabbi, an Islamic scholar, and Christian laymen invoke the presence of God and talk to each other for a week. Listening to their conversation, I am convinced God was there.
For a children’s version of the Exodus story see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year A,” page 198. The Matthew passage called, “How to Fix a Problem” is on page 200.
If you don’t already own this book, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at www.woodlakebooks.com, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.” Both Year A and Year B are now available.
Rumors – The weather has cooled in the last week or so and we’ve had a fair bit of rain. And all of us in this valley are breathing a bit more easily.
We live in the Okanagan, a valley that stretches from the interior of Washington State up into British Columbia. We’re in the rain shadow of the Coast Range of mountains so it’s relatively dry. A semi-desert in the area where we live.
A few years ago we had a disastrous fire storm that destroyed hundreds of home in the city of Kelowna and elsewhere. I’m sure you heard about it in your news broadcasts or read about it in your newspaper. A fire storm is such a large fire that it develops its own climate and there’s almost nothing that can stop it.
And now, the devastation of the pine beetle. Because of global warming, the winter frosts have not kept them in check, and they have killed pine trees over hundreds of thousands of acres. When an electrical storm moved through our valley, every one of us worried. If another fire-storm got going, it could be worse than the last one. But the fire-fighters were ready, and we’ve survived to worry another year.
The summer of the great fire, Bev and I (like most other people) had a small stack of boxes by our front door. We would only be able to take what we could pack in our car. Some of our friends had ten minutes to do that. Ten minutes to decide what was most precious. Reflecting back on that experience, they realized their choices said a lot of about them. What is most important in your life? What is most valuable? Their answers were revealing – sometimes inspiring – sometimes depressing.
That’s the sense of the Exodus story. This is not a leisurely trip with a huge moving van. This is picking up what you can carry. No more. So the question is – what is most important. What do you want to carry on your back as you leave the relative security of Egypt for the unknown wilderness?
Last Tuesday, I spoke at a memorial service for a friend of many years, John Hole. When I visited John the last time, I think he knew he was dying, though he wasn’t able to say much. And his last gift to me was a joke about his bowels and a kind of a blessing. “Take care of yourself, Ralph.”
Friends who volunteer at the hospice tell me that when people are dying, they often do something very similar to packing up your car when the air is full of smoke. As they reflect on their final journey, they think deeply about what is most important to them, and who is most important to them.
We don’t need to wait until there’s a fire, or till we’re dying, or until there’s a national disaster or mass evacuation. The process of sorting through our real priorities, and then living our lives in the light of those priorities, can happen any time. As Bev and I get older – as we attend more and more services for friends, colleagues and family – the need to do that sorting gets stronger.
It’s a wonderfully liberating experience, as it turns out. When through prayer, meditation, conversation and experience, we can discover what is most important to us, we can begin to let go of all the stuff – material and otherwise – that doesn’t matter any more. Life becomes easier and richer because we’re not flying off in all directions trying to do everything and be everything.
We know who we are and whose we are.
Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
A few years back, I saw a cartoon strip about a teenager facing his final English exam.
“Why aren’t you studying for it?” Mom asks.
“Aw, Mom,” he reassures her, “English is like a second language for me!”
It was, in hindsight, a prophetic cartoon. English – classical English, with well-turned phrases and carefully chosen words – is becoming as foreign to many speakers as Swahili or Urdu.
In Scotland, according to the usually reliable Guardian newspaper, school boards have instructed teachers to accept the abbreviations of text-messaging in essays and exam answers.
Indeed, one enterprising 13-year-old student apparently wrote an entire paper describing her summer holidays in textspeak.
We tend to think of technology as a tool of communication. On the surface, at least, the typewriter and telephone simply enhanced speed without altering content.
But cell-phones demonstrate a different phenomenon. The tool is changing the way we communicate, the language we use, the words we understand.
Brevity matters, when you’re tapping out messages with just your thumb on a cell-phone’s keypad. Some thumbs get blindingly fast. I read somewhere that a Japanese author has written several best-selling novels on her cell-phone, while riding the Tokyo subway.
“Texting” has become a new verb.
An Internet page invited readers to identify the 50 most common text abbreviations. They included BTW – By The Way, FWIW – For What It's Worth, IMHO – In My Humble Opinion, ISTM – It Seems to Me, LOL – Laughing Out Loud, TIA – Thanks in Advance, TTYL – Talk To You Later
This new vocabulary does not come naturally. You have to learn it. Sometimes you have to sound it out. BCNU becomes “Be Seeing You,” and 2MORO turns into “tomorrow.” Or else you have to guess the familiar phrase that the letters might refer to – PIR apparently means “Parent In Room”; GTG stands for “Got To Go”; and TFL, “Thanks For Listening.”
We’ve always used abbreviations. Almost everyone knows ASAP, PS, and NB. Some still remember SNAFU.
And all bureaucracies abound in TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).
A professor in Coventry suggests text-messaging may actually improve language skills. A speech therapist praises the “ability to code-switch,” in the same way that fluency in multiple languages is known to enhance thinking and communication.
OTOH, texting is not another language.
To go slightly OT (off topic), English is difficult enough to learn – what with irregular verbs, even more irregular spellings, borrowed words, contradictory idioms, and enough rules about commas to induce a coma – without adding the complexity of guessing the words that a bunch of letters might be replacing.
Textspeak is, IMHO, a sub-level of English, a layer as incomprehensible to the outsider as Cockney rhyming slang.
What, for example, would a Chinese speaker, already struggling to learn English idiosyncrasies, make of DILLIGAS?
If you must know, it stands for “Do I Look Like I Give A S..t?”
Instead of encouraging communication, ISTM, textspeak becomes a barrier. It excludes those who don’t already know the lingo.
Anyway, GTG. BFN & TFL. TTYL.
Good Stuff – Jan Greene sent along “Andy Rooney's Tips for Handling Telemarketers.” The ideas are creatively subversive. I don’t think we should insult or inconvenience the person who phones. They are not the ones to blame. One of my children had a job as a telemarketer for short while because she badly needed a job. She would come from work feeling emotionally bruised and battered by the insults people threw at her.
Here’s a summary of what Rooney suggests.
1) Say politely, “Hold on, please.” Or if it’s a recording, just set the phone down but don’t hang up. Then leave the phone off the hook until it starts beeping. It gums up the phone system, and not the feelings of the person who called.2) If it’s a recorded message, hit your # button a dozen times or so. Apparently this confuses the machine that called and kicks your number out of the system.
3) Junk Mail Help: When you get "ads" enclosed with your phone or utility bill, return these "ads" with your payment. Let the sending companies throw their own junk mail away4) When you get those "pre-approved" letters in the mail for everything from credit cards to second mortgages, do not throw away the return envelope. At least not if it has postage-paid return on the envelope. Just stuff the ads back in the envelope and send it back. It costs the sender more to receive that mail. For an extra bit of fun, you can add bits of junk mail from other sources. Send a Master Card or Visa ad to American Express!
Jan says this kind of creative ecological subversiveness is catching on. So pass the word around. Maybe if enough people do this, this kind of marketing will stop.
We can always dream!
Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Bob Warrick in Australia picked up a couple of bloopers for us:
* The words projected onto the screen '.... mailed him to the cross'
* A printed baptism order included the Aaronic blessing including; 'The Lord lift up his continence upon you'
Bob, as an aging males, we appreciate those prayers for continence. And the blooper reminds me of a person who was described as “mentally incontinent.”
Evelyn McLachlan was talking to the children at church, showing them the Interfaith Gold Rule from the Seasons of the Spirit curriculum, and telling the youngsters that we are all created equal in the sight of God. “Jews, Christians Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus. . .”
“And the Irish!” said one of the youngsters.
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! – Never wrestle with a pig. You will both get dirty – and the pig likes it.
Worry is the interest we pay on tomorrow's troubles.
E. Stanley Jones via Evelyn McLachlan
A saint is one who makes goodness attractive.
We Get Letters – Son-in-law Don McNair wasn’t too impressed with one of our quotes last week, namely:
By serving others and putting others' needs before oneself, only then can we truly impact the world with change. Abraham Lincoln via Roger Smith
Says Don: “If Lincoln ever used "impact" as a verb, I will eat my hat, and your vest, Grandpa.”
Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Herman Newticks!”)
Suppose you’re traveling to work and see a stop sign. What should you do?
Well, that depends on how you exegete the stop sign:
* Knocking the sign over with her car, a post-modernist deconstructs the sign, ending forever the tyranny of the north-south traffic over the east-west traffic.
* Similarly, a Marxist refuses to stop because he sees the stop sign as an instrument of class conflict, concluding that when the bourgeois use the north-south road, they obstruct the progress of the workers on the east-west road.
* A serious and educated Catholic rolls through the intersection because she believes she cannot understand the stop sign apart from its interpretive community and tradition. Observing that the interpretive community doesn’t take it too seriously, she doesn’t feel obligated to take it too seriously, either.
* A fundamentalist, taking the text very literally, stops at the stop sign and waits for it to tell him he can go.
* A seminary-educated evangelical preacher looks up “stop” in his English lexicon and discovers that it can mean: i) something which prevents motion, such as a plug for a drain, or a block of wood that prevents a door from closing; or ii) a location where a train or bus lets off passengers. The main point of his sermon on this text the following Sunday is: “When you see a stop sign, it is a place where traffic is naturally clogged, so it is a good place to let off passengers from your car.”
* A scholar from the Jesus Seminar concludes that the passage “STOP” undoubtedly was never uttered by Jesus himself, because being the progressive Jew that he was, he would never have wanted to stifle people’s progress. Therefore, STOP must be a textual insertion belonging entirely to Stage III of the gospel tradition, when the church was first confronted by traffic in its parking lot.
* A New Testament scholar notices that while there is no stop sign on Mark Street, signs are found on Matthew and Luke Streets. He concludes that the signs on Luke and Matthew Streets were both copied from a sign on a street no one has ever seen called “Q Street.” In the scholar’s commentary on the passage, there is an excellent 300-page doctoral dissertation on the origin of these stop signs, and on the differences between stop signs on Matthew and Luke Streets. There is an unfortunate omission in the dissertation, however. It doesn’t explain the meaning of the text!
* An Old Testament scholar points out that there are a number of stylistic differences between the first and second halves of the “STOP” passage. For example, “ST” contains no enclosed areas and five line endings, whereas “OP” contains two enclosed areas and only one line termination. She concludes that the author of the second part is different from the author of the first part and probably lived hundreds of years later. Later scholars determine that stylistic differences between the “O” and the “P” show that the second half was itself actually written by two separate authors.
* Because of the difficulties in interpretation, another Old Testament scholar amends the text, changing the “T” to “H.” Because of the multiplicity of stores in the area, “SHOP” is much easier to understand in context than “STOP.” The textual corruption probably occurred because “SHOP” is so similar to “STOP” on the sign several streets back. It is a natural mistake for a scribe to make. Thus the sign should be interpreted as announcing the existence of a shopping area. But then perhaps both meanings are valid, with the full thrust of the message being “STOP (AND) SHOP.”
Two Tylenol and a brisk walk will help you recover from the above.
Bottom of the Barrel – This story is really only funny in the US.
Three doctors die and go to heaven. “Why should I admit you into heaven?” St Peter asks the first one.
“Because I was the leading podiatrist in England,” says the doctor.
“Welcome to heaven,” says St. Peter. “And what about you?” he says to the second doctor.
“I was the most respected cardiologist in Belgium,” says the second doctor.
“Welcome to heaven,” says St. Peter. “And what about you?” he says to the third doctor.
“I was the most eminent brain surgeon in Canada,” says the third doctor.
“Welcome to heaven,” says St. Peter.
Just then another person appears. “Why should I admit you to heaven?” St. Peter demands.
“Because I was head of the biggest HMO in the United States,” he says proudly.
“You may come into heaven,” says St. Peter. “But you can only stay for three days.”
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