R U M O R S #595
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor
March 28, 2010
THE PENULITMATE EDITION
"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)
Just in case you missed the announcement, this is the second-to-last issue of Rumors. It’s the last issue with lectionary commentary. On Easter Sunday morning, I’ll try to gather up some of the thoughts and feelings that are floating through my consciousness.
Two questions have come up in your many wonderful letters.
Yes, you can still receive Jim Taylor’s “Soft Edges.” He writes that column for a wider group than Rumors, and would be happy to put you on the list to receive it each Wednesday.
There are two columns. Both are based on, but not identical to, columns that Jim writes for a couple of local newspapers.
Soft Edges deals fairly gently with issues of life and faith. Sharp Edges, which goes out on Sundays, is more likely to focus on current social and justice issues. As its name implies, it's a little more cutting,
Both columns are free. To subscribe to them, send a note to email@example.com. To unsubscribe, follow the same procedure – send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you wish, you can do it yourself by sending a blank e-mail (no subject, no message) to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
(For Sharp Edges, substitute "sharpedges" for "softedges".)
Many of you have asked about back issues of Rumors. Not all of them, but about 3½ years worth, are available on the Wood Lake Publications website. Go there and click on “Newsletters.”
Or copy this address into your browser and it’ll take you there directly.
The Story – through our tears
Rumors – Mary’s story
Soft Edges – Lent, the season for apologies
Bloopers – your presents
We Get Letters – what can I say besides thanks
Mirabile Dictu! – the king lives
Bottom of the Barrel – just one good deed
Anyone living on Maui??? – a quest for information
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 20:1-18
Rib Tickler – Note: This limerick is about the wild inconsistencies of English spelling, so needs to be written out, not read out loud.
There was a young girl in the choir
Whose voice rose hoir and hoir.
Till it reached such a height
It was clear out of seight,
And they found it next day in the spoir.
Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, April 4th, which is Easter Sunday, the most important day on the Christian calendar.
* Acts 10:34-43 (or Isaiah 65:17-25)
* Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
* 1 Corinthians 15:19-26 (or Acts 10:34-43)
* John 20:1-18 (or Luke 24:1-12)
The Story (from the Revised Common Lectionary) – John 20:1-18
Ralph says –
This reading from John’s gospel is for me, the most powerful story in the Bible. And I am so glad it is the last story I’ll be commenting on for Rumors, because it encapsulates so much of what I believe – it tells the story of my faith. It’s the Easter reading for all three years in the lectionary cycle, for which I give the lectionary builders full marks.
We don’t know a lot about Mary of Magdala except that she was something of an unusual person – perhaps with a somewhat checkered background. The alternate Luke reading tells us of the dry-eyed men who refused to believe what the women told them – obviously women’s over-active imagination.
But in John’s account, Peter and the mysterious “disciple whom Jesus loved” went to the grave, and saw the empty tomb and “believed,” (whatever that may mean). But Mary stays behind. She has grieving to do, and she knows it. She has tears to shed, and she knows it.
And it is through those tears that she sees the risen Jesus. That is what moves me so deeply and touches my own experience. So often it is through our tears that we experience the risen Christ.
Frederick Buechner says somewhere, “It is not the absence of Jesus from the empty tomb that moves us. It is his presence in our empty hearts.”
Jim says –
In a recent Bible study session, we looked at 1 Corinthians 3:3-9, where Paul instructs the Greek church about Christ’s appearances. First, Paul says, Christ appeared to Peter, then to the twelve, then to 500 brothers, then to James, then to all the apostles, and finally to Paul himself.
And yet all four gospels agree that Christ appeared first to the women!
In Matthew, to Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary.” Mark names the “other” Mary as the mother of James, and adds Salome. Luke replaces Salome with Joanna. John writes specifically of Mary Magdalene, and more generically of “the women who had come with him from Galilee.” No matter – without exception, the women were the first witnesses to the risen Christ.
Of all these stories, John's story of Mary Magdalene’s encounter is by far the most moving.
But the women’s testimony seemed to the disciples like “idle talk” (Luke 24:11).
I find myself getting angry. I should be proclaiming the Resurrection which, with its antecedent the Crucifixion, is the foundational narrative of the Christian church. But I want to rail against the patriarchalism that has made that church a male bastion.
Jesus was male, yes. But he chose to make himself evident, after his death, first to the women. By what right do a bunch of faint-hearted men, cowering behind locked doors, override their Lord’s intentions and banish those women to what author Carol Schleuter called “the forgotten followers”?
It’s probably a good thing I’m not preaching on Easter Sunday.
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
1 God, you give to life its goodness;
your love bursts the bounds of time.
2 You renew our confidence in you.
14 With you beside us, we can face anything.
15 We have no fears when you stand among us.
16 A whisper runs through the opponents' minds:
"God has chosen a cause; no one can conquer God."
17 But I am not obsessed with winning;
Winning or losing, living or dying,
I want to be with God;
I want to celebrate God's goodness to me.
18 God has tested me. God has put me through hell.
But God has never abandoned me.
19 Now I have the confidence to go anywhere, to try anything.
20 Whatever it takes, I know I'm worth it.
21 Once, I had no confidence in myself,
And I had no confidence in you, God.
I quivered with insecurities;
I was a raw wound, flinching from everything.
22 Now the ugly duckling has become the golden egg.
You hold me in your hands, and I shine.
23 Only you could do this.
24 A new day has dawned for me, a new life has begun.
Is it any wonder that I'm happy?
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to www.woodlakebooks.com
Acts 10:34-43 – This account is really about Peter justifying the admission of Gentiles into the early community, but for our purposes here, it is a very succinct summary of the Christian story. Peter gives them this 20 second sound bite, and tells the folks that’s all they need to know.
Maybe so, but to me if feels like offering people a bouillon cube when they want a steak.
1 Corinthians 15:19-26 – This seems like an eschatological mine field to me. I have trouble with anyone, even Paul, predicting the future or telling us what God is going to do. So I think I’ll leave this one alone and, coward that I am, and tip-toe away hoping nobody will ask me any questions about it.
The story of Mary of Magdala and the risen Christ is the Easter Sunday choice for all three years, so you will find it in the Lectionary Story Bible, Year A, on page 98. You can find a story based on the Luke account in Year C, on page 112 and it is called, “Jesus is Alive.”
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 – I have shared this story before on Rumors, but it seems right, in this pen-ultimate issue, to share it again. Of the many biblical stories I have written, this one is among those that are closest to my heart.
Mary stumbled and fell in the dark. Her hand and elbow scraped against the ugly rocks and though she couldn't see it, she knew she was bleeding. No matter. She had bled before.
On she stumbled through the clutching darkness, along a half remembered path. She felt her way up to the garden tomb. Gradually, the cold gray light of early dawn outlined the naked rock that should have sealed the tomb, the place where they had buried her best friend.
The reality, the horror hit her instantly. Even in his death they could not give him peace. This kind and gentle friend had died the cruel death of criminals, and now to add to all the insult, someone had stolen Jesus' body.
Screaming, she crashed back down the path back to the house where she’d been mourning Jesus death since that horror filled Friday. Screaming, she yelled for Peter. For the others. "They've taken him away. Damn them anyway. They couldn't let him rest. Peter, come, they've stolen Jesus' body. Oh my God! How can people be so brutal?"
Now again, with Peter, she scrabbled up the path toward the tomb. Her rage carried her now. Her unfocused anger at this outrage carried her through the bitter morning darkness up the broken path, rocks and bushes scratched and tore her skin until she stood, chest heaving, beside Peter at the open tomb. Then she and Peter forced themselves to believe the unbelievable.
"He's gone, Mary." There was stunned, deadness in his voice. "All they left us was a corpse. Now they've got that too." And Peter stumbled off, going nowhere but away from this revolting desecration.
Mary stayed. She had nowhere to go. She had nothing left. The power of her rage was spent. She was exhausted. She slumped her deadened body on a rock.
Head in hands she sat. Her mind shut down. She felt nothing. Not even the will to die.
Then memories. Memories of terror. Memories of despair. The pain of life in home-town Magdala came back – back in all its horrors. The darkness of that other life in that small town where she was beaten, starved and raped. Where people called her "slut" and "whore" though she was neither. Where she was called "possessed of seven demons." It wasn't till she remembered overhearing rumors of a healer, just down the lakeside at Capernaum, that a sense of feeling returned, and with the feeling, tears – tears that slowly washed her dry, red, angry eyes, tears that moved to moans, then into body heaving sobs – great gasping, screaming cries that found their way from the bottom of her wounded soul.
Through the prism of tears she saw the light of dawn slanting through the rocks into the garden. And there, in that golden light, a figure, a man, it could be any man, it must be the gardener, who else would it be here in this place so early. "Look, if you took his body, tell me where, please, just tell me where, so I can go and get him and give him a decent, human burial. Tell me, for God sake tell me."
"Mary." The voice was gentle. It seemed to come from another world. It took some moments to move its way through her sobs and into her consciousness. She heard it a second time. "Mary."
Through her tears – through her salted tears of pain and anger and rejection, Mary saw him. "Rabbi," she whispered, and then shouted, "Rabbi!" Springing to her feet to embrace him, the light of morning sparkling through her tears, Mary rushed toward her Jesus.
"Please don't touch me, Mary," he said. "There are reasons. Don’t be afraid, Mary. But go and tell our friends that death has been transformed to life and that despair has turned to hope."
This time the path unrolled beneath her dancing feet. This time the amber rocks and greening bushes sparkled in the morning light. This time she shouted hope to all her friends.
"I have seen him. He's alive. It's true. All that he said is true. God loves us. All of us. And death and pain are not the end of life."
Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Lent – The Season for Apologies
Maybe it’s just the season of Lent, the period before Easter traditionally dedicated to repentance and preparation for renewal. Whatever the reason, it seems, suddenly everyone’s apologizing for something.
Golf great Tiger Woods went on television to apologize for letting his fans and his family down by a series of extra-marital affairs.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized for the Child Migrant program that shipped children from London slums to the colonies – theoretically for a better life under adoption, but more often as something close to slave labour.
Halifax Mayor Peter Kelly apologized for the prejudice that banished black people to impoverished communities outside the city limits – like Africville – and then, when the land suddenly became valuable, forcibly evicted them.
Warren Chant, CEO of Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital in Windsor, Ont., apologized – twice – for surgery by Dr. Barbara Heartwell that mistakenly removed women’s breasts that did not have malignant cancer after all.
Toyota president Akio Toyoda repeatedly apologized to the U.S. Congress and millions of worried car-owners for defects in cars produced by his company, which once enjoyed an unrivalled reputation for quality.
BC Liberal MLA Jane Thornthwaite apologized for impaired driving: "My actions were inexcusable. Drinking and driving is dangerous and completely unacceptable; I know that and make no excuses for what I did," Thornthwaite told the media.
And not one but two federal cabinet ministers had to apologize for temper tantrums in airports. Helena Guergis apparently threw shoes, yelled at Air Canada attendants, and called Prince Edward Island a “hell hole.” Four days later, Veteran’s Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn quarrelled publicly with security guards at the Ottawa airport over a bottle of tequila.
And finally, the Pope himself, Benedict XVI, apologized to the victims of childhood abuse by Irish Roman Catholic priests and leaders.
I’d like to think that my church, the United Church of Canada, might have helped to kick-start this process back in 1986 when it offered a formal apology to Canada’s native peoples for misunderstanding and mistreating them.
Its example has since been followed by the Anglican, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic churches of Canada. And eventually, by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on behalf of the government of Canada, in June 2008.
But what does an apology mean?
The native people gathered for the United Church apology, in 1986, said, in effect, “Let’s wait and see.”
Because an apology does not automatically generate forgiveness. An apology expresses regret, but not necessarily repentance.
Compensation – for the Japanese deported from the Pacific coast or the First Nations children incarcerated in residential schools – is only a short-term solution. It hopes to buy off an injustice with a windfall handout. But it offers no assurance that the social mindset that caused the problem in the first place has learned anything from past experience, or is prepared to change in future.
Without change, an apology by itself is merely a confession, an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Repentance calls for something more – a commitment NOT to do the same again.
That’s when we can be sure that the apologies were sincere.
Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – from the file
* Diana and Don request your presents at their wedding.
* Don’t let worry kill you. Let the church help.
* Doxology: “Praise God all preachers here below.”
* During the absence of our Pastor, we enjoyed the rare privilege of hearing a good sermon when J.F. Stubbs supplied our pulpit.
Wish I’d Said That! – There is no illness worse than desire; no foe fiercer than attachment; no fire so ravenous as anger; no ally so reliable as wisdom.
Sathya Sai baba via Don Sandin
A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.
A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.
All decisions are made on insufficient evidence.
Rita Mae Brown
We Get Letters – Oh yes, there have been letters. They keep tumbling in through my e-mail and I keep telling myself I should respond to each one individually, knowing full well that I can’t. And besides, what could I say, besides “Thanks!”
Leaving Rumors is hard to do. Harder than I expected. But it is right and necessary, and I do thank you all for your affirmation of my ministry.
Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “The King Lives!”) Note: This delightful piece first appeared many years ago in the print version of Rumors. See footnote #1. I’ve been looking for an excuse to run it – but not finding any, I’m running it anyway because it’s my last chance.
By the way, Elvis was born in 1934 (the same year as I was born), which would have made him 75 or 76 years old at the time of this writing. If you spot him in the grocery check-out, he should have gray hair and a white beard.
DOES THE KING LIVE? (Headline Nat’l Enquirer)(1)
by Prof. Herman Newt(1)
It is worth drawing attention to the significance of recent “Elvis sightings” (die Elvischegeschten) and the source of its credo: “The King Lives.”(2)
At the outset, we must always critically distinguish between evidence of the historical Elvis event and those traditions which reflect the kerygmatic Presley. Hence, any serious scholar begins with the critical distinction between the original Elvischegescheten and the later Preslischereignis. Only later may we inquire about the proper relation between the Elvis of History and the Presley of Faith.
THE QUEST FOR THE HISTORICAL ELVIS
How are we to identify the authentic sayings of Elvis? The assured results of critical scholarship have shown the true Elvischesprecht is marked by the absence of grammar, i.e. “Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog” (missing subject), “Love me Tender, Love Me True” (missing adverbs), or “Lay offa Them Blue Suede Shoes” (missing intelligibility). Later works like “Will you Love Me Tonight?” and “In the Ghetto” lack this formal element and must be discarded by the serious scholar as the work of an emerging Preslischegemeinde.
Why have we so little early Elvis material? We know that the original Elvis sayings were written down on white spandex, a material notoriously difficult to preserve in the American Southeast. Other early materials were lost when devotees wept on them or had them bronzed.(3) Instead we must work with Elvis sayings as they were taken up by the community and shaped to speak to the needs of the growing Presley cultus.
The conviction that Elvis was alive and still speaking to them, shaped the original Elvis sayings into an authoritative word to the generations who had not seen Elvis for themselves. Already we can see that the “Elvis” must live on in the Presley of the Faithful Fan.
THE DEATH OF ELVIS
Attention must turn to the hermeneutical crisis of August 1977 when the Elvis of history could no longer support the Presley of Faith.(4) Now only the “death” of Elvis could assure “life” for the Presley. Some believe that his closest followers chose to fabricate an account of his “death” from an overdose.(5) The risk was great. His death might have undone the community but by now the kerygmatic Elvis lived in the millions of records and tacky posters cherished by his people.
Did the historical Elvis really die? We cannot know but, of course, it does not matter: “What had died in Nashville had risen in the proclamation of his fans.” It was the kerygmatic Presley of Faith, not the actual Elvis of History who evoked the acclamation found even in the earliest post-overdose traditions: “The King Lives.”
WHERE IS ELVIS TODAY?
It is not the number but the form of recent Elvischegesichten that interest critical scholarship. To be sure, the usual Elvisbericht falls into the form critical category of later community traditions: “Elvis Speaks to Me Ev’ry Nite” or “The King paid my Gas-Bill in Kalamazoo”; likewise the classic “Elvis is the Father of My Unborn Child” et al. But a few reports, judged by the criterion of dissimilarity may be taken as authentic.
These witnesses reflect a consistent and, what is most important, an unPresliche tradition: “Elvis is older now, balding with a gray beard. He’s still heavy set and walks with a cane.” Here is the historical Elvis, in his fifties, like us, among us, and probably teaching in one of our seminaries.
1. Translated by Michael Farris who got really tired of writing his dissertation on 19th century interpretation one Friday and watched Oprah Winfrey instead. In more responsible moments he is a Lecturer in Old Testament Studies at Knox College in Toronto.
2. The earliest discernible form of this confession is “Oh Elvis, Elvis, Baby, Baby.” Note poetic structure.
3. Cited in “Kitsch-kritik und der Geschichtliche Elvis” p.199
4. See the seminal “Der Elvis-scheinen oder der Elvis-schweinen?” In Teen Throb(15) 1976.
5. See the recent book by Jim Morison “Who Moved the ‘Stoned’?” Sadly Morison’s work loses credibility over his insistence that Jimi Hendrix and Mama Cass run a small accounting firm in Seattle, and that Karen Carpenter is Immelda Marcos.
Bottom of the Barrel – A man appeared before St. Peter at the pearly gates. “Have you ever done anything of particular merit?” St. Peter asked.
“Well, I can think of one thing,” the man offered. “Once, at a highway rest stop, I came upon a gang of high-testosterone bikers who were threatening a young woman. I directed them to leave her alone, but they wouldn’t listen.
“So, I approached the largest and most heavily tattooed biker and smacked him on the head, kicked his bike over, ripped out his nose ring, and threw it on the ground. ‘Now, back off!!’ I yelled ‘Or you’ll answer to me!’”
St. Peter was impressed: “When did this happen?”
“Just a couple of minutes ago.”
A special request to anyone living on Maui in Hawai’i – We hope to spend January in Maui to get Bev the sunshine she so badly needs in winter. Is there a Rumors reader there who might help us with some church information? The tourist info says nothing at all about churches.
Please send me an e-mail. ralph milton at shaw.ca (please remove the spaces and change the word “at” to an @). Thank you!
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – John 20:1-18
Note: This reader’s Theatre needs three readers: The narrator, Mary and Jesus.
Narr: Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved.
Mary: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."Narr: Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes. But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They asked her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"
Mary: "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."Narr: When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.Jesus: "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?"
Narr: Mary thought this must be the gardener.
Mary: "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."Jesus: "Mary!"
Mary: "Rabbouni!....my teacher!
Jesus: "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"Narr: Mary Magdalene went and called out to the disciples.
Mary: "I have seen the Lord!"
Narr: And Mary told them that Jesus had said these things to her.