R U M O R S # 529
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
November 23, 2008
THE IMPOSSIBLE DREAM
"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
Do your Christmas shop-lifting early. Check out the deals on “The Spirituality of Grandparenting” and “The Lectionary Story Bible.” See below.
About those Advent readings – an alternate lectionary
The Story – an aching, yearning God
Rumors – are their pews padded?
Soft Edges – marching in step
Good Stuff – clean your windows
Bloopers – a world of lost winners
We Get Letters – to keep beer from freezing
Mirabile Dictu! – caskets found
Bottom of the Barrel – to hell on your buts
Readers’ Theatre – for unto us a child is born
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)
Rib Tickler – Max and Madge were walking down the street. It was a beautiful winter evening, and all the shopping centers and stores were festooned with light.
As Madge and Max came upon a church with a small, dimly lit crèche on its tiny lawn.
“Look at that!” says Max to Madge indignantly. “Now even the churches are trying to horn-in on Christmas.”
About those Advent readings – the unsuccessful attempt Jim and I made to devise an alternate, story-based lectionary began with a discussion about those apocalyptic passages in Advent. It seemed to us that they were irrelevant to today’s church, and misleading.
Irrelevant in that the mainline church is no longer talking about “end times” or the “second coming.” Misleading in that they give the impression the church is concerned with esoteric issues disconnected from everyday life. In the church we call it the Season o Advent, but everyone else calls it the Christmas season. If people do not hear the Christmas narrative in the season when Christmas is on their minds, they will gradually come to the conclusion that Christmas is no longer a Christian festival.
Or at least, that’s how I’ve come to see it after all these years of working with the Revised Common Lectionary. I know many will disagree, and that is as it should be.
Jim and I are simply offering an alternative – a different set of readings for Advent. One reading for each Sunday. As with a number of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary, the same four readings would happen every advent.
There will be a “Readers’ Theatre” version of the lections at the end of all four of the Advent Rumors beginning with this issue.
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, if you are following the Revised Common Lectionary.
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Ps. 80:1-7, 17-19 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
We prepare in hope
I've never been poor and homeless at Christmas. The ostentatious flaunting of wealth and family must be very painful for those who have neither.
1 Can't you hear us knocking on your door?
You stand inside, laughing in the firelight with your family;
You toy with your tinsel and your ornaments.
Can't you hear us?
2 We are the lost and the lonely, out in the cold.
3 We long for something to celebrate too.
4 How long can you ignore us?
How long can you close your eyes and ears to our situation?
5 Hunger gnaws on our bones;
we sip the salt of our tears.
6 We are an embarrassment. People turn away from us.
People laugh and joke; they don't even see us there.
We are invisible.
7 Let us live too.
17 We have nothing with which to thank you.
But God will reward you in ways you cannot imagine.
Through us, God will heal your blindness;
You will touch a world you have never imagined.
18 You will not want to go back to your old ways.
Respond to our pleas, and see for yourself.
19 Let us live too. Please, let us live.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com
The Alternate Advent Lectionary reading for next Sunday is: Isaiah 2:3b-4, 7:14, 9:6-7, 40:1-10, 11. We recommend only this one reading, which you can find in a Readers’ Theatre format at the end of this issue.
You can almost feel the ache in these passages from Isaiah.
He’s been watching the TV news and reading the newspapers, and he feels in his gut the daily litany of pain across the world. AIDS and starvation and war in Africa, sweatshops in Asia, global warming, the financial melt-down – these are not far-away “issues” to be discussed rationally and quietly. This is sin. This is evil. And it is to be raved at. Yelled at. Screamed at.
There must be a better way to live in a world community. The Isaiah in our souls cries out – not for better systems or better controls or better policies. Those will all be necessary, but first there needs to be a different way of thinking. A new way of being.
Is it possible? No and yes. Yes and no. For the answer to be “yes,” we must dream with Isaiah the dream of the season. The dream of a mother with child. The dream of the kind of love that flows between a mother and her child – a kind of love that is fulfilled when receiving and giving become one – the kind of living, breathing love God longs to have with us.
Isaiah’s aching poem puts words around a deep and visceral pain we all have – a longing and a hope that we only know – we only experience – when our pregnant souls swell with the graceful love of a God who shows us strength and power and goodness in the shape of an utterly helpless newborn baby.
The RCL calls for two apocalyptic readings today: Isaiah 64:1-9 and Mark 13:24-31. They’re a good reason why Ralph has selected other verses from Isaiah to focus on.
I simply don’t understand why a lectionary – any lectionary – would want to portray an angry and vengeful God during Advent. Perhaps I’m just getting old and curmudgeonly, but I no longer consider it worth expending energy to explain and defend biblical passages that offend me.
But the second half of the Mark reading (verses 32-37) offer a valuable antidote. When I go out, my dog doesn’t know when “her master” will come home. So she lies by the door and waits. Many of the biblical images of waiting are linked to fear – the unexpected thief in the night, the groom who censures the foolish bridesmaids, etc. My dog doesn’t wait in fear, but in joyous expectation. Soon, things will be set right again. Soon, the family will be whole. Soon...
Let’s set aside notions of a messianic figure coming to judge the quick and the dead. Instead, let’s offer images of grandchildren arriving, of spring returning, of preparing a festive table for old friends...
For my personality type, anticipation ranks high. Wouldn’t I be better looking forward with joy than with dread?
For children see “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 15 where you will find a children’s version of Psalm 80 titled “Where is God.” The RCL calls for Isaiah 40:1-11 to be read on the second Sunday in Advent. In our Alternate reading, that is incorporated in the reading for the first Sunday. Whatever route you choose, you will find that passage told for children on page 17.
Think about these books as useful Christmas gifts for anyone involved in church leadership. Especially those teaching Sunday School or preaching.
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.”
If you order on the web, you get 20% off. And if you order more than $50 worth of stuff, Wood Lake pays the shipping.
Rumors – I’m having an annoying attack of preachificationalism. That’s because Jim Taylor twisted my arm. They’re between clergy at his church, and Jim figured they were getting tired of his stuff and needed someone else to kvetch at.
I have heard of legendary preachers who could put together the requisite three points and a poem” in the ten minutes between hockey periods on Saturday night. There was even one who could inspire the masses by putting together a sermon during the second hymn – a very long hymn I’m guessing.
The story goes that the famed Harry Emerson Fosdick (brother of Fearless in Li’l Abner – only those over 50 will recognize that name) had an office in the tower at Riverside Church in New York. The number of people with heart and lungs capable of climbing up there was somewhat limited. So Fosdick – who had a large and supportive staff to do all the grunt work – could spend the requisite two hours for each minute of sermon time which he said it took to do a good sermon.
Or at least, that’s the story I heard. I worked for several years in another legendary tower across the street from Riverside. They called it “Heaven on the Hudson.” Or, “The Holy Sepulcher.” Among other things.
But I digress. Writing that Readers’ Theatre piece using Isaiah’s visions had me humming the theme from Man of La Mancha, based on Cervantes story of Don Quixote. “To dream the impossible dream – to try, when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star. . . to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause. . .”
I thought maybe I’d tell a succession of stories. Stories of people who dreamed impossible dreams. Visionaries. Pie in the sky people. Like Isaiah, Jesus, Julian of Norwich, Joan of Arc, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and most recently Brach Obama. There are lots of others, of course, and if I tell all their stories the morning service in Winfield will morph into the afternoon and evening service and we can end with “The Day Thou Gavest.” When you only preach once in awhile you have to put all your stuff into one sermon. I wonder if their pews are padded.
To end the sermon, maybe I could bring in those three singing priests from Ireland to sing, “The Impossible Dream.”
I’d sing it myself, but I think they take the offering after the sermon. You can do or say almost anything in my denomination, but if you mess with the offering, you will be boiled in double virgin olive oil which will be recycled and used to drive busses somewhere.
Or maybe I’ll just crib something from Fred Craddock and have done with it.
Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Marching in Step
Last week, the wonders of television portrayed several Remembrance Day parades – Memorial Day in the U.S.
Legionnaires marched in blazers adorned with ribbons and medals. Masonic Lodges marched in fezzes and aprons, Knights of Columbus in cocked hats and lace, school bands in slacks and miniskirts, RCMP in scarlet jackets and Stetsons, bagpipers in kilts and sporrans...
And I found myself wondering about the rationale for getting all dressed up in fancy duds that you’d probably feel embarrassed wearing if you were the only person doing it.
Of course, Remembrance Day is a special occasion. People gather to honour those who served and died – and who continue to serve and die today in places like Afghanistan.
The clothing makes a statement. But it does more.
It’s a little like a masquerade party. Wearing a mask or costume permits people to release inhibitions, to act out a role.
To some extent, the clothing defines the role. When I was younger, clergy always wore clerical collars. I used to play volleyball with a man who always wore his collar on the court. Collars and vestments set them apart, reminded them that they marched to a different drummer.
In the same way, many clergy wore albs and robes and Geneva gowns in the chancel. It distinguished those designated as worship leaders from those who simply received.
By no coincidence, I sense, the use of special garments has declined as worship became increasingly understood as something done by the whole people of God, not just by a select few.
I wonder if the regalia worn in Remembrance Day parades sets up a similar distinction. It defines “us” and “them.” The in-group visibly demonstrates a uniformity, a solidarity – we wear the same outfits, we march in step, we play in tune. The rest, the others, the folks out there, do not have that same sense of common purpose.
Which is fine, I suppose, as long as it doesn’t lead to the “either/or” trap. It’s a trap I often fall into – the assumption that alternatives must be mutually exclusive. If we’re right, they must be wrong. Or worse, if they’re not with us, they must be against us.
It’s harder to think “both/and” – that both our way and theirs may have virtue. That our way – Christianity, capitalism, democracy – may not have a hammerlock on truth. That Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and First Nations faiths may also enable their followers to grow (as was said of the boy named Jesus) “in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and humanity.”
And to recognize that you don’t have to blow bagpipes, be a veteran, or march in a parade, to respect those who sacrificed their health, their families, or their lives in an effort to restore some justice to an often unjust world. The effort may have been flawed, even misguided – but they were willing to try.
The question is not whether special uniforms are right or wrong. The question is only how the uniform influences the person wearing it.
Such a bargain! How about an autographed copy of “The Spirituality of Grandparenting”? And at a discount!
OK, you have one week. Seven Days.
If you order from the website or by phone before the end of November, you will receive an autographed copy – both Bev and myself – of this colorful coffee table book.
No, the book is not a “how to” thing. It’s a celebration. Full of delightful photos and a text that’ll get you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.
Makes a great Christmas gift.
Go to www.woodlakebooks.com and order on the web. You get 20% off.
Or phone 1-800-663-2775
Good Stuff – Bernice Whaley sends this thought provoker.
Alice and Kevin moved into a new neighborhood. The next morning, while they were eating breakfast, Kevin sees the young woman next door hanging out the wash.
"That laundry isn’t very clean," said Kevin. “She must be using the wrong kind of soap.”
Alice said nothing.
Every time the neighbor would hang out her wash, Kevin would say the same thing.
Then one morning Kevin pointed out the window. “"Look! Her washing is clean. She must have discovered a new laundry soap.”
“Not really,” said Alice. “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows."
Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – John Willems of Medicine Hat, Alberta says it was projected onto the screen for all to see. The words to “The Old Rugged Cross.” “. . .where the dearest and best, for a world of lost winners was slain.”
Those are exactly the right words, John. People who win big in the lottery almost always find their personal lives ruined by all that money.
“In the spirit of Lynne Allin, I shall confess one of my own bloopers.” Chris Hayes was writing a stewardship letter to the folks in his parish. He intended to write: "Consider how you might offer the Church. . .” But Chris forgot the "-er" in "offer." So the letter read, "Consider how you might off the Church. . ."
Pat Beeman of Goldendale, Washington saw a newsletter announcing a new staff member. The announcement went on to promise, “a bull bio next week.”
Pat, you and I have both seen bios that were mostly bull. If you want to see a good example of that, check out my bio on the Wood Lake Books website.
Anne Camp of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania overheard this response to the bumper sticker that says, “Honk if you love Jesus.”
“If you love Jesus, tithe. Anybody can honk.”
Gordon Hunter saw an announcement about a moving sale – to be “hosed by John and Sylvia.”
I’m sure, Gordon, that John and Sylvia had no intention of hosing anyone, but I bought a power saw at a church yard sale a few years ago. Good price, but when I got it home, I knew I’d been hosed.
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! – The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.
Augustine of Hippo via Don Sandin
There's so much good in the worst of us and so much bad in the best of us that it hardly becomes any of us to talk about the rest of us.
Edward Wallis Hoch, attr. via Jim Taylor
Don't be so hard on yourself. Moses was a basket case too. Nicole Bourassa saw this on a church bulletin board
Grace... it's the name of a girl. It's also a thought that changed the world.
Bono (U2) via Chris Hayes
We Get Letters – Phil Gilman says that in Florida “it's d*mn cold! 30F at 7 a.m. in central Florida, and it's all you fault! Would you Canucks please shut your refrigerator doors!”
30F!!! Phil, you call that cold?? That’s only two degrees below freezing. Put on your shorts, slather on some sun block, and go outside to enjoy the sunshine.
You see, Phil, it’s all a matter of definitions. Call 30F warm and it is warm. As for those refrigerator doors, we’ll be closing them as soon as it’s winter. To keep the beer from freezing.
Linda McMullan writes: I can't help myself: I have the grammar gene, passed down from my English-teacher mother. When I read "I am me and your not,” I itched to get out my blue pencil to correct it to; “I am me and you're not.”
It reminded me of a Halloween joke.
Two nuns are driving in Transylvania, one dark and stormy night. They are traveling slowly because they don't know their way and visibility is nearly zero on the deserted country road.
All of a sudden, a vampire jumps out from behind a tree, directly in their path. They brake sharply.
"What should we do?" asked the first nun.
"Show him your cross".
The first nun jumps out of the car, runs up to the vampire, shakes her finger at him and says, "We're really ticked off at you!!"
Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “ caskets found!”) These wonderful, actual headlines courtesy of Randy Hall.
* Alton attorney accidentally sues himself.
* County to pay $250,000 to advertise lack of funds.
* Volunteers search for old Civil War planes.
* An Australian Army vehicle worth $74,000 has gone missing after being painted with camouflage.
* Caskets found as workers demolish mausoleum.
* Utah Poison Control Center reminds everyone not to take poison.
* Federal Agents Raid Gun Shop, Find Weapons.
* Statistics show that teen pregnancy drops significantly after age 25.
* One-armed man applauds the kindness of strangers.
Bottom of the Barrel – The minister was getting tired of all the gossip she heard during coffee hour after church.
“You need to listen to yourself,” she said in a sermon. “I hear one of the men saying, ‘George is a really nice guy, but ...’ and then I hear one of the women say, ‘I think Annabelle is a nice woman, but ...’ and ‘The Jones are a fine couple, but ...’
Well, you know something. You are all going to hell on your ‘buts.’”
Isaiah’s Dream – A Readers’ Theatre version of the alternate lectionary reading from Isaiah 2:3b-4, 7:14, 9:6-7, 40:1-10, 11. Yes, of course you have permission – we hope you’ll use it during your worship service.
Reader one: 700 years before the time of Christ, a dreamer walked among the villages of Judah and through the streets of Jerusalem. They called him a prophet. Isaiah was his name.
Reader two: Isaiah saw it every day – the pain, the conflict, the suffering, the anger, the warfare, the famine – Isaiah saw the injustice all around him, and knew there had to be a better way. In his heart and in his prayers, Isaiah heard the Holy One of Israel offer a dream of hope. And these are the words through which Isaiah expressed his dream.
Reader one: For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Reader two: Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Reader one: For unto us a child is born. Unto us, a son is given. All authority rests upon his shoulders; and these are his names.
Reader two: Wonderful Counselor!
Reader one: Mighty God!
Reader two: Everlasting Father!
Reader one: The Prince of Peace!
Reader two: His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.
Reader one: The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this!
Reader two: Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
Reader one: A voice cries out!
Reader two: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
Reader one: Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Reader two: A voice says, "Cry out!"
Reader one: What shall I cry?
Reader one: All people are grass. Their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers. The flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it.
Reader two: Yes, the people really like are grass. The grass withers. The flower fades. But the word of our God will stand forever.
Reader one: Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings. Lift up your voice with strength. O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"
Reader two: And he shall feed his flock like a shepherd. He will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother who carries a child in her womb.
Reader one: For unto us a child is born. Unto us, a son is given. All authority rests upon his shoulders; and these are his names.
Reader two: Wonderful Counselor!
Reader one: Mighty God!
Reader two: Everlasting Mother!
Reader one: The Voice of Peace!
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