R U M O R S # 553
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
May 17, 2009
DOWN AND DIRTY WITH THE DISCIPLES OR UP IN THE AIR WITH JESUS
"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
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I post each issue of Rumors on that blog so that you can access it any time. And if an issue of Rumors goes missing, you can go and find it there. And if you need back issues, that’s where to find ‘em.
The Story – election or ascension
Rumors – God’s grace and sense of humor
Soft Edges – the gospel according to spam
Bloopers – cancel the chancel
We Get Letters – faith lifts
Mirabile Dictu! – plough around the stump
Bottom of the Barrel – rain checks
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)
Rib Tickler – A four-year-old Catholic boy was playing with a four-year-old Protestant girl in a plastic wading pool in the backyard. They splashed a lot of water on each other; their clothes were soaking wet, so they decided to take off the wet clothes.
The little boy looked at the little girl and said, “Golly, I didn’t know there was that much difference between Catholics and Protestants.”
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, May 24th, which is the 7th (and last) Sunday of the Easter season. Or you might be celebrating the Ascension, in which case, see “Jim says –” below.
Ralph says –
The Story (Acts 1:15-17, 21-26) is again from the book of Acts – the story about choosing a successor to Judas. It’s a story that makes me sad – sometimes angry, because the most obvious choice for the position of apostle was Mary of Magdala. Among other credentials – she didn’t run away from the horror of the cross, and she was the first one to see the resurrected Christ.
But Mary lacked a certain dangling appendage which, in the minds of those who made the decisions in that group, was essential to the role. Given the culture of the time I suppose it was inevitable. Even in the culture of our time – even in our “progressive” western European culture – there’s still much work to be done before women find themselves on a level playing field.
There are signs of hope. The two most powerful positions in the world, that of President and Secretary of State of the US, are now occupied by an African American and a woman. Whatever they may or may not do in those offices, the very fact that they are there, is a sign of hope.
Jim says –
I would treat the day as Ascension Sunday. Theoretically, the Ascension should be celebrated May 21. But why skip a really provocative story for, as Ralph says, the flawed selection of a nobody who is never heard from again?
The Ascension readings recommended in the RCL are: Acts 1:1-11, Psalm 47 or Psalm 93, Ephesians 1:15-23 and Luke 24:44-53.
Luke, whoever he or she was, tells the story of the Ascension twice – in Luke 24 and Acts 1. Both narrate similar details. From Bethany, Jesus went up, as if he were riding an escalator.
I would use this story to attack biblical literalism. I would pair it with the worldwide celebration of the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s telescope. In April 1609, Galileo turned his rudimentary 32-power telescope at Jupiter. He was neither the first to create a telescope, nor the first to make observations of planetary motions. But by applying mathematics to what had been before the field of philosophy and theology, and by publishing his results widely, he turned our understanding of astronomy inside out.
He showed – as we now take for granted – that the earth revolved around the sun, not the sun around the earth. (A good source is
The rest is history. Including the virulent opposition of entrenched viewpoints.
So I would ask – no, I would demand – why we assume that new knowledge can displace old knowledge in every field except religion? We now know that heaven is not “up,” as hell is not “down.” Why then do some among us persist in treating the partial understandings of a former time as if the evolution of wisdom ended with them?
Psalm 1 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
In a cartoon, the ancient guru sits cross-legged at the top of a mountain while a visitor asks, breathlessly: "What is happiness?"
1. Do not pursue happiness; it cannot be captured.
Like a wild bird or a bouncing ball. it is always just beyond your grasp.
2. Happiness comes from immersing yourself in God. Instead of struggling to keep your head above water, yield yourself to the deep flow of God's universe.
3. You will not drown. You will be swept along by forces beyond your imagining.
4-5. Foam on the surface gets blown around;driftwood piles up on sandbars;people obsessed with themselves end up as rotting debris on the rocks.But the current rolls on.
6. So let yourself get carried away by something stronger than a social eddy.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com
1 John 5:9-13 – I think this passage has to do with the credibility of the evidence that Jesus is the Christ. The writer of 1 John is talking about those who accept and those who reject what God says. A person who trusts in Jesus has the word of God.
But the passage is a fair bit confusing.
John 17:6-19 – Jim Taylor is not only a skilled and thoughtful writer, he is a fine editor. As I read this passage, I wondered what he would do with a piece like this, if it came to him without the aura of biblical authority attached to it. There would certainly be some choice phrases in red ink up and down the margins.
I’ve struggled with this passage many times over the years. I’ve read the commentaries and I’ve had friends patiently explain it to me. But it still reads like an exercise in theological bafflegab. My eyes glaze over after the first few verses.
Nevertheless. Notwithstanding. Even so. There is a children’s version of this in the Lectionary Story Bible. Yes there is. With (like the Beatles) “a little help from my friends,” notably Cathie Talbot, Editor of “Seasons of the Spirit” curriculum.
Two possibilities. Looking at this passage with a child’s eyes, I found the core and was able to tell the story.
Or. Looking at this passage with a child’s eyes, I missed by a country mile and my story has nothing to do with the passage.
But you’ll need to buy the book to do it. (How’s that for some sneaky sales talk?)
You can find that story, “Jesus Prays for His Friends,” in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year B,” page 119. And the Acts reading, without any complicating questions about Mary of Magdala, is on page 120.
For those celebrating Ascension Day, there is a story based on Acts 1:6-14 in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” Year A, page 114.
By the way, there is a complete index of the stories in all three volumes in Year C.
I am hearing of more and more instances where worship leaders use a combination of these children’s stories, and the Reader’s Theatre readings, to help adults in worship and study groups get their heads around the lectionary readings. They read the story from the Lectionary Story Bible, first. They never tell the folks it’s as much for the adults as it is for the children. It’s a bit sneaky but it works.
And then when the younger ones leave, they do the Reader’s Theatre.
If you don’t yet own “The Lectionary Story Bible,” all three volumes are now out. You can order the whole set, which saves you a bit of cash. If you live in North America, you can order on-line from Wood Lake, get 20% off and they pay shipping and handling. A good deal.
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.”
In Australia and New Zealand you need to order from MediaCom www.mediacom.org.au.
If you live elsewhere, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org and ask.
Rumors – We drove 60km up the valley last Sunday and joined our children and grandchildren at their church. They were doing a play about Jesus taking the legion of demons out of a man and sending them into a herd of pigs which then promptly jumped over a cliff.
The play, written by son-in-law Don, told the story from the perspective of the poor pig-herder who lost all his livestock, and the Roman authorities who were trying to figure out what happened. Zoë was the Roman judge and she looked and sounded very authoritative. Jake was the demon who wore a nice suit and talked very gently and greasily.
My memory flipped back to their pre-school days, when Zoë might be directing and acting in a drama loosely based on Peter Pan, while Jake was being a snake or a dragon or some such awful thing attacking a knight in armor (me).
I often had trouble sorting out all the roles I was asked to play, especially when they kept shifting and I might be the fairy godmother one moment and prince charming the next while engaging in a sword-fight with Jake.
They are teenagers now and busy working on the roles they will play in life. I am a retired senior reflecting on the roles I have lived, and wondering where God is calling my now in my dotage. Am I grandpa, husband, father, friend, church member, citizen, writer, speaker, gardener?
The role I wear most uncomfortably is that of biblical interpreter, which is what I do when I write these blurbs for Rumors. It’s not the fact that, no matter what I write, somebody somewhere disagrees. That’s normal and that’s good. If nobody disagrees with you it’s probably because you haven’t said anything.
It’s fortunate that most of the almost 8,000 souls who read this already know that “the Emperor has no clothes.” Many of you are in the same situation. You are leaders who stand up on your hind legs and talk to people who think you know something. We take a flying run at truth – try to speak it as best we know how, and leave the rest up to the good humor and kindly judgment of God.
If there’s one thing that passage from John’s gospel tells us, it’s that Jesus is not a bit confident about the people he is leaving behind. It’s a bit like a parent lecturing a teenager about the grad party he or she is going to. It does not a bit of good and soon degenerates into parental jargon.
And when those apostles in the story from Acts elect a successor to Judas, they all know he’s the best of a bad lot. Even without a personnel expert who can give them personality and knowledge tests. None of them had the wit to know that the only half-way qualified person among them was Mary of Magdala and even she was there, suffering their sexist assumptions, not because of her head but her heart.
In fact, those people in that Acts story are not a church at all. Jim Taylor calls them “a memorial society for Jesus.” It isn't until next week’s story, the story of Pentecost, that they become anything that can be called a church.
And then they get such a shot of holy adrenaline, we’ve not been able to shut them up, or their successors, to this day. They knew what it meant to be called. And when you are called, you find yourself doing all kinds of stuff, for which you are neither qualified nor competent.
Paul had it right. We are fools for Christ. And it’s by God’s grace and God’s sense of humor – our own sense of humor – that we do what we do.
Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
The Gospel According to Spam
I hit a record of some kind the other day. In a single day, I received 328 spam e-mails.
My spam filter automatically moves them into a separate folder; I usually delete them all unread. But Thursday’s score was so high that I glanced at the subject lines.
It’s not the sheer number that disturbs me. I expect a certain amount of spam. Because I have a website and a subscription list, my address is out there for unscrupulous spammers to exploit.
Rather, it’s the content. Based on the subject lines, least two thirds dealt with -- dare I say this? -- the shortcomings of my sex life.
Add another 50 or so messages about diets that will make me more sexually attractive to women, and it’s clear -- I have been reduced to a penis.
Some messages are quite explicit about that. Others employ a euphemism -- they refer to my “manhood.”
I resent this. I resent it deeply. When did “manhood” equal sexual performance?
What happened to rescuing damsels in distress? Destroying dragons? Battling evil? In my youth, I read tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. I don’t recall Sir Galahad’s reputation depending on the length of his lance.
If sex is all that matters, it’s time to rewrite marriage vows. Instead of “...for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live,” those vows will be reduced to “... as long as you perform adequately in bed.”
What else matters?
Not the ability to carry on a literate conversation. Not a willingness to share responsibilities. Not the personality to be a loving parent. Not the commitment to be faithful in thought, word, and deed. Not the guts to hang in when the road gets rough, the rainbows fade, the euphoria slips away...
Nothing about shared interests, interesting hobbies, social involvement, a desire to learn, to grow, to develop...
By the gospel according to spam, the only thing that makes women like me is the thing in my pants. If my “manhood” is big enough, strong enough, enduring enough, women will find me irresistible.
Women are subjected to a similar denigrating mantra -- what matters is the size of their breasts, the flatness of their bellies, the absence of wrinkles. That certainly is the message of endless TV commercials and magazine covers -- I can’t know what arrives in their spam.
But I am appalled that this is becoming, or has become, unquestioned doctrine in our society. Women begin believing that anything less than a Barbie-doll figure makes them undesirable. Men start believing that the only thing they need to improve is their genitals. Otherwise, they might as well become bigger slobs.
Our society scorns the myths and legends of former generations -- anything from vampires and goblins to moons made of green cheese. We fail to realize we’re being marketed a new myth -- and it offers us even less truth than the discredited myths of the past.
Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Ken, who didn’t give his last name or where he is from, saw this note in a bulletin. “The service will be at 7.45 a.m. Tea and bikkies will be served fowling the half hour service.”
Ken wonders “if I should duck out before the end, but I chickened out and ended up making a goose of myself.”
Jennifer Anderson of Roseville, Minnesota who is the music director at her church noted an interesting typo on her last Sunday with a previous congregation. Instead of “Chancel Choir” the bulletin said “Cancel Choir.” Jennifer thought that was rather appropriate, since they’d not yet found her replacement.
Wayne Sawyer of Thomaston, Maine writes: “As I was putting the bulletin together this week, I intended to title the sermon, "Love's the Thing". But I typed, "Love's the Thong". Caught it before it got printed, but seriously thought of leaving it as it was. Might have given these Baptists something to think about.”
Wayne, I’m beginning to think it’s wrong to ever proof-read bulletins and newsletters. Robs the folks of much delight and the occasional insight.
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! – Accept your path, with its twists and turns. The adventure is in the journey, not the arriving.
Lisa Engelhardt via Mary in Oman
Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you!
Pericles (430 B.C.) via John Severson
When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?
Eleanor Roosevelt via Jim Taylor
We Get Letters – Ann Bews of Abbotsford, B.C. writes: “I saw this recently on a church sign in Lynden, Wash., ‘Need a new look? Free faith lifts inside.’"
Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “plough around the stump!”)
Dave Waters writes: “These are oldies but goodies. Seems to me there should be a good sermon or two in there somewhere!”An Old Farmer's Advice: * Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight, and bull-strong. * Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.* A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor. * Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled. * Forgive your enemies. It messes up their heads. * Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you. * It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge. * You cannot unsay a cruel word. * Every path has a few puddles. * When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty. * The best sermons are lived, not preached. * Most of the stuff people worry about ain't never gonna happen, anyway. * Don't judge folks by their relatives. * Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer. * Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time. * Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't botherin' you none. * Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a rain dance. * If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'. * Always drink upstream from the herd. * If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around. * Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly.
Bottom of the Barrel – Here’s a quickie you can insert into a conversation or sermon or whatever on the topic of global warming.
It seems they had a severe drought in Texas (or change that to whatever place suits you). It’s caused some significant changes. The Baptists have begun to sprinkle; the Methodists are using a wet towel; and the Presbyterians are issuing rain checks.
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Reader I: It took them awhile, didn’t it?
Reader II: Who?
I: Those early church folks. The little group of believers who gathered together after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It took them awhile to get their act together.
II: Well, they had some pretty tough things to deal with. There was the little matter of Judas. He had been one of the 12 apostles that Jesus hand-picked to start up the church.
I: Wasn’t Judas the guy who betrayed Jesus – who turned him in to the authorities?
II: Yes. And right after he did it, Judas realized what a terrible thing he had done. He tried to give back the money he had been paid for this, but they wouldn’t take it. So Judas killed himself.
I: The passage we’re supposed to read today – it talks about finding someone to replace Judas. But they don’t discuss qualifications – any trained personnel manager would have had a fit.
II: That’s true. If they had stopped to talk about qualifications, Mary of Magdala was by far the most qualified of the bunch. But she was a woman, and so they didn’t even consider her.
I: And in this story they talk about casting lots. Isn’t that gambling?
II: They didn’t think of it that way. They saw it as allowing God to make the decision.
I: Well, let’s get on with it.
II: We’re reading from the first chapter of the book of Acts.
I: In those days Peter stood up among the believers and spoke to them. Together the crowd numbered about one hundred twenty persons.
II: "Friends, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus. Judas was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry. So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection."
I: So the little gathering proposed two names, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus – and Matthias. Then they prayed together.
II: "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place."
I: And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was added to the eleven apostles.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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: email@example.com
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