R U M O R S # 593
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
March 14th, 2010
"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
THE END OF RUMORS
“To everything there is a season,” said the ancient preacher. And the season has now come when Rumors must end.
The weight of age presses more heavily on me than I often want to admit, and the mental energy needed to do this newsletter each week becomes harder to find. We’re approaching 600 issues and a dozen years, and I have always maintained that I wanted to stop doing this when it was still hard to stop, and when people still wanted me to continue. As P.T. Barnum has said, “Always leave ‘em wanting more.”
So Easter will be the last issue. The last lectionary commentary will be the one for Easter Sunday.
It’s a hard thing to say and a hard thing to do, and I will miss it. Most of all I’ll miss the delightful notes I get from so many of you each week.
But the time is right and it must be done. There are other things I need to say to you all, but I’ll save those for that last issue on Easter Sunday.
The Story – different details but a common theme
Rumors – writing from the heart
Soft Edges – inevitable progressions
Bloopers – discretionary fun
We Get Letters – a special note to non-Canadians
Mirabile Dictu! – holy lightning
Bottom of the Barrel – a sermon illustration
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 12:1-8
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)
Rib Tickler – Alex was trying to say some words of comfort to his friend Bernie. “I hear you buried your wife last week,” said Alex. “Dreadfully sorry.”
“Had to,” said Bernie. “Dead, you know.”
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, March 21st, which is the 5th Sunday in Lent.
* Isaiah 43:16-21
* Psalm 126
* Philippians 3:4b-14
* John 12:1-8
The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – John 12:1-8
Ralph says –
As it has been this Lent and will be for the next while, the story is in the gospel. It’s a story that has been argued and fussed over by biblical scholars all over the world, and sometimes in doing so, they missed the point.
That’s because the story occurs in different versions with different details in all four gospels. But comparing and fussing and arguing can lead us away from the core of the story which is there in all four accounts. It’s a very tender story of Jesus being deeply moved by the tender ministrations of a hurting, caring woman.
We lost our son Lloyd a number of years ago. Not long after his death, I found myself in a group of people singing the tender and beautiful song by John Ylvisaker, “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry.” The song touched the deep and painful parts of my soul and dissolved me completely.
Several years later, at another gathering this time of several hundred people, they stood and sang that song, and the pain of Lloyd’s death came flooding back into me. I was the theme speaker at that gathering, presumably the one imparting strength and wisdom.
But at that moment, I knew only weakness and confusion. I almost fell into my seat as I listened to the people around me sing that song. None of them knew the pain I felt, and somehow that added anger to my hurt.
Then I felt warm hands on my shoulders, gently rubbing my neck and the back of my head. The hands didn’t leave and I didn’t look up until the song had finished. It was a woman who had been at that first gathering. A very small and frail woman who I knew to have suffered deeply in her life. I reached up and touched her hand. She smiled and walked back to her seat.
That’s the story that came to me as I read this scripture. Jesus was keenly aware that he faced great suffering and probably death. This woman, who knew what suffering was about, reached out in tenderness. And he responded.
And that, I believe, is what this story is about.
Jim says –
I agree with Ralph – the gospel lection tells us a lovely story, that can too easily get sidetracked into nitpicking.
I could, for example, waste an entire sermon on how easy it is to read motives back into a story after the fact (like the prejudiced description of Judas). Or I could rant against narrow proof-texting (“the poor you will always have with you”) while missing the larger point.
But the far more important story is the number of ways that people try to show their love. Joan and I have been on the receiving end of that love a number of times. After our son’s death, almost a procession of people coming up our driveway bearing gifts. Today, people don’t bring rare perfumes, they bring casseroles. Or the regular arrivals of a fully prepared meal on the days when Joan had chemotherapy. Or the supportive phone calls when I’ve come under attack for something I’ve written...
Don’t use my examples; find your own.
How do people show their love? Do they knit shawls? Serve at soup kitchens? Organize Amnesty International letter-writing sessions? Scribe handwritten notes? Make charitable donations?
Mary expended costly ointment; Martha served a meal; Lazarus provided company. We need to recognize that there are many ways of demonstrating love.
Isaiah 43:16-21 – It’s really hard to look toward the future with eager anticipation when all the signs around you seem to be negative. In many churches, membership is declining, there are fewer and fewer children, and givings are way down.
So it’s hard to believe Isaiah’s prophecy. But the people who first heard that prophecy also had very little in the way of positive signs to hang on to. So Isaiah invites us to give our heads a good shake and believe that God can and does do new things. If we can develop a positive attitude, we might even notice some of them.
Psalm 126 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 When the gates of our prisons opened, we could not believe it.
2 Stone walls sank behind us;
the sky opened above us;
we did cartwheels for joy.
Those who gathered to celebrate our release said to themselves,
"God has been good to them."
3 Indeed, we could not have set ourselves free;
God must have had a hand in it.
4 Now we must rebuild our broken lives,
like piecing together shards of shattered pottery.
5 May we find as much joy in putting the pieces together
as we had sorrow in their shattering.
6 These new lives were born in pain and suffering;
with God's help, they can still blossom into a second spring.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com
Philippians 3:4b-14 – Paul’s comment, “as to righteousness under the law, blameless,” reminds me of a story told to me recently by a clergy friend. She had been leading worship at a senior’s residence. When she declared, “Now let us confess our sins,” a very elderly woman struggled to raise her head. “I don’t have any!” she said.
And certainly, if sins are defined as the things we do, she was right. The worst she could manage might be sinful thoughts, and even those are few and far between the older you get.
There are two children’s stories for this Sunday in “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C.” They are on page 102 and 103, and they are based on the Psalm and the Gospel. “A Song of Happiness,” and “Something Beautiful for Jesus.”
There are children’s stories for every Sunday in the Revised Common 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. 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.”
Or, if you live in Canada or the US, simply pick up the phone and dial 1 800 663 2775.
Rumors – When I was 13 or 14 years old, I decided I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. In middle age, I concluded I was too ordinary to be a writer. Now at a somewhat frailer 75 I realize that ordinariness is the essential quality of a writer.
When I first took up this craft, I didn’t realize how much time you have to spend alone. And that’s exactly how it has to be, because it takes a long, long, time to discipline promiscuous words into an approximation of what you have in your head.
Or what’s in your heart. And that’s where the best writing always comes from. And it often involves intense emotion.
On one occasion Bev came into my office to locate a book. “Why are you crying?” she wanted to know.
It was a reasonable question, but I didn’t really have a reasonable answer. The particular tears on that occasion came when I was trying to capture in words the picture in my heart of Bev and Zoë, in the middle of a quiet afternoon.
Bev was sitting way back in an easy chair. Zoë was on her lap sitting way back into her grandma. And the two of them were singing, one song after another, quietly, unconsciously, simply being there with each other, their eyes half closed.
And as they sang “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” I finally understood the difference between religious music and non-religious music. It has nothing to do with the music at all. It has to do with who is singing what to whom and why.
“Mary Had a Little Lamb” can be a far more powerful hymn of praise and beauty than anything Luther or Wesley or Wren ever penned.
So I sat in the glory and the beauty of that holiness, and tried not to blow my nose too loudly.
At one of the interminable book-signings authors have to endure, a young man asked me, “What are the essential characteristics of a writer?”
I have no idea. All I could say to the young man is that noticing God in the ordinary stuff is what makes me want to write. If I don’t write about it, the wonder and the glory of those ordinary moments disappear. When I write I remember them and sometimes learn their sacred secrets.
The power of the ordinary almost overwhelm me sometimes when I read stories such as that of the woman who poured oil over Jesus’ feet. Somebody who was there saw what happened, heard Jesus’ reply, and recognized it as a holy moment.
The story got told over and over in the early church, and people understood the holiness of that moment, even though they got all mixed up in the details and argued about whether it was Mary of Bethany, or Mary of Magdala, or some other Mary who did the pouring. And what Judas said and why he said it.
But there was someone there the time it first happened – someone who could see the holiness in the ordinary – who had the soul of a writer. Or better yet, the soul of a story teller.
And for that someone, I thank God.
Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Among the bigger B.C. lakes, Okanagan Lake is unique. It has no major river feeding it.
Perhaps for the same reason, it has no deep bays. When sudden storms lash the lake, boaters have few natural places to seek shelter.
So regional authorities built a “safe harbour” in Okanagan Centre, just south of my home.
When I first saw it, it had a breakwater, and not much else. Boaters launched fishing skiffs and light runabouts by backing their trailers down the gravel slope into the water.
As time passed, the regional government rebuilt the breakwater with bigger pilings. They installed a concrete launching ramp. They paved the roadway. Regimented parking spaces replaced anarchy.
And last summer, a commissionaire began locking the harbour’s gates at 11:00 each night, and re-opening them at 5:00 a.m. Overnight parkers got tickets, or had their vehicles towed.
I’m not objecting to that change. Local residents had long lobbied for a means of controlling late-night parties and abuse of a free facility.
But I also see a kind of inevitable progression taking place.
I see the development of our little harbour as symbolic of all institutions. They evolve from practical simplicity towards a juggernaut that generates its own momentum.
My unease came into sharper focus during a chance conversation with a university professor. Universities don’t produce educated persons any more, he lamented. They produce members of professions. The prerequisites and regulations for a course are now often twice as long as the course description itself.
Students who want to broaden their perspectives, who want to take courses outside their professional assembly line, find themselves constantly running into bureaucratic roadblocks.
Similarly, in the civil service, administrative concerns tend to replace service -- let alone civility.
Parks intended to connect people with wildlife start protecting the wildlife from the people.
Libraries keep valuable collections under lock and key. Museums move artifacts behind glass.
Every major religion -- except perhaps Hinduism -- started as a reformation of some previous tradition. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i, Sikhism -- all slashed away an accumulation of doctrine and dogma to reduce the distinctions between men and women, clerics and laity.
And then they started building a new hierarchy of authority and doctrine...
Shortly before his death Jack Lakavitch attended a conference of churches in India, representing Canadian churches. Colonial India used to have a plethora of denominations cloned from European and American parents. After Independence, many of these denominations combined, seeking a structure that better reflected their belief about unity in Christ.
It was a noble experiment. But over some 50 years, it too evolved -- at least, in Jack’s perception -- into structures as rigid as its mission antecedents.
Jack lamented, “Why do all churches become more patriarchal as they age?”
It could be argued, I suppose, that things move this direction because that’s the way they should be. Reformations and revolutions are the aberration; hierarchy is the norm.
I prefer to think of reformations as recurring attempts to restore what we know intuitively is right.
But history shows it’s much harder to sustain a reformation than to launch one.
Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Maria Nightingale of Burlington, Ontario says, “One of the line items in our church budget was listed as the ‘Rector's Discretionary Fun.’
That’s good, Mary. Don’t change it. I think every Rector should have such a line item.
Joe Harrington of Ringgold, Georgia got a note from the choir director to the effect that the opening hymn would be “Lift Every Vice and Sing.”
Do you have a problem with that, Joe?
Terry Fletcher “couldn't help grinning at the typo” in Rumors. "We were a couple of pretty tied puppies."
Terry wonders if “you'd been through the Duty Free?”
Kathryn Eddy of Stephenville, Newfoundland says her brain and her tongue were acting independently one Sunday when she was to lead the “Prayer for Transformation.” What came out was the “Prayer for transportation.” Her husband, who was in the choir, very quickly indicated, “I'd like a Cadillac."
Mary Sweet of Atlanta, Georgia reports that on a bulletin cover for the sermon series "When Christians Get it Wrong", “that Sunday's focus was on Sexuality, and the Sermon was entitled ‘On Human Sexuality;’” But it read, "On Hyman Sexuality."
Rev. Sue Channen of Grimsby, Ontario tells us that in the newsletter from their Member of Parliament, he refers to “Pre-Budget consolations with our Minister of Finance.”
Sue, sometimes people are more accurate than they intend to be.
If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me. ralphmilton at shaw.ca (change the “at to the symbol and remove the spaces.)
Wish I’d Said That! – Live simply, love generously, care deeply, speak kindly.
Mary ( in Oman)
I do not at all understand the mystery of grace -- only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.
Anne Lamott via Jim Taylor
I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center
Kurt Vonnegut via Jim Taylor
The individuals of most species live long enough to reproduce and that's it. Humans live longer. As if there were some human survival value to grandparents. Ron McCreary via Carl Chamberlain
We Get Letters – Rene Wilbur reports: “During the children's sermon, one little guy spotted the offering plates on a nearby table, ran over to them and said, ‘What're these?’ Trying to regain control of the situation, I explained that they were plates that were going to be passed around the congregation later. The boy's eyes grew really big as he asked, ‘Are they going to have donuts and cookies on them?’"
This letter came from Dave Towers before the Olympic hockey game.
“Our Father, who art in GM Place, hockey be thy game, thy will be done, GOLD to be WON on ice as well as in the stands, give us this day our hockey sticks, and forgive us our penalties, as we forgive those who crosscheck against us. Lead us not into elimination but deliver us to victory, in the name of the fans, CANADA and the holy puck. AMEN! GO CANADA GO!”
So Dave. A word to non-Canadians seems in order.
Our team winning the Gold in Olympic hockey (both women’s and men’s) was to us a moral and spiritual victory. No, not all Canucks are hockey fans. In fact, most of us are not, especially NHL hockey which is a different thing entirely. But hockey has been printed into our national psyche on a million ponds and back-yard rinks and frozen toes thawing in front of oil-drum heaters. We invented it. It’s ours.
So it really has nothing at all to do with superior skill. Beating us at our game is a form of larceny. Losing a hockey game to any team from any other country is just downright indecent. It’s immoral. To say nothing of embarrassing.
The same is true of curling, though that’s more of a prairie phenomenon. The Scotts invented curling, but it grew and flourished in the long, cold winters in every small town between the Great Lakes and the Rockies. Us prairie chickens even think it’s immoral and indecent for an Ontario rink to win at curling, though we’re getting used to it.
But when a women’s rink from China comes along and threatens to beat us at our own game we get more than a little upset. Especially when we have to admit there’s a bit of latent racism involved.
So. Just thought all you poor non-Canadians should really understand what’s going on here.
Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “holy lightning!”)
All the Christian denominations were having a big ecumenical meeting in a church. Suddenly, lightning struck and the church caught on fire!
* The Methodists gathered in a corner and prayed for the fire to go out.
* The Baptists gathered in a different corner and prayed for rain.
* The Quakers gathered for silent meditation on the many benefits of fire.
* The Lutherans nailed a list of the ninety-five evils of fire to the church door.
* The Catholics passed the collection plate a second and third time to pay for the damage.
* The Episcopalians gathered up their incense and formed a dignified processional out the door.
* The Fundamentalists declared that the fire was God’s just wrath on everybody else.
* The Presbyterians elected a chairperson to appoint a committee to study the problem.
* And the United Church people shouted “Everyone for themselves!” and ran for the doors.
Bottom of the Barrel – This from Stephani Keer who claims she got the story from her uncle. It’s not exactly religious humor, but I’m sure there’s a sermon illustration or at least a moral to be squeezed out of it.
“I was driving happily along when I saw the flash of a traffic camera. I figured that my picture had been taken for exceeding the limit even though I knew that I was not speeding.
“Just to be sure, I went around the block and passed the same spot, driving even more slowly, but again the camera flashed.
“Now I began to think that this was quite funny, so I drove even slower as I passed the area once more, but the traffic camera again flashed. I tried a fourth and fifth time with the same results and was now laughing as the camera flashed while I rolled past at a snail's pace.
“Two weeks later, I got five tickets in the mail for driving without a seat belt.”
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 12:1-8
Reader 1: I have a question.
Reader 2: Shoot! I know everything.
1: And the moon is made of green cheese. Yeah, I know. Seriously though. The story we are going to read today is in all four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But they all tell it differently.
2: Actually, the moon is made of a white mozzarella that’s going kinda moldy.
1:As I said. You know everything. Seriously, why are there four versions of one story?
2: Don’t look at the differences. Look at what all four stories have in common.
1: Well, it’s a woman who washes Jesus’ feet with perfume and Jesus is moved by her kindness.
2: Exactly. That’s the story. Obviously the people who were there at the time were moved by what happened, and so the story got passed around in the early church. And in the process, details got changed and the story was told in different ways. They forgot some of the details and so made them up as they went along. But they all kept the core of the story. An incident that moved them deeply.
1: So that’s what we listen for.
2: Exactly. The center. Never mind the details.
1: OK. Let’s read it. It’s from the Gospel of John.
2: Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.
1: Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
2: But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), was annoyed.
1: "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?"
2: Judas said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief. He kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.
Then Jesus spoke.
1: "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."
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 ralphmilton at shaw.ca. (change the “at” to the “at” sign – you know the “a” with the circle around it. I’m trying to slow down the spammers.) Then 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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