Monday, April 25, 2016

Sunday's Sermon - Stewardship of the Earth AND Care for one another.

Genesis 1:1-2:2
Acts 17:24-25

Today we are celebrating earth day, and the charge we have been given to be good stewards of the earth.  This has been planned for weeks, that today we would be talking about our relationship to the rest of creation.  And yet we’ve had events in our church community that also call for our attention this week.  So I’ve found myself with the interesting and dubious task that many pastors face of how to keep with the planned program but also speak to the current reality that we are living with.
But I found, as I reflected on this, that these two things DO tie intimately together.  Today’s passages, as with all passages, tell us many things, but there are two things that we will focus on today.  The first is that what God created is good.  And that includes creation, and it includes one another, people who are diverse and different in so many ways, blessed by those differences, blessed by that diversity.  God has created it all, as we are told in Acts.  And it is GOOD.  And the second thing that we are told by these passages, especially the Genesis passage, is that we are called to take care of that creation.  The word that we often translate “dominion” is better translated “stewardship”.  It is a word in Hebrew that implies care, not over something wild and distant, but over that which we know.  It is not a word that implies we must dominate or subdue (another mistranslation – better translated “cultivate”) an enemy or something chaotic, but instead, like a parent, like someone who loves and truly sees and understands the other, we are called to care for, tend to, bring out the best in, the world that God has given us.  It is very similar to the way God works with us.  God tends to us with love, with care, always working to bring out the best in us.  We are called to do the same towards the earth that God loves.
The same is also true for how Jesus calls us to care for each other.  The question, “am I my brother’s keeper” should actually always be answered with “yes”.  We are the keepers of each other, but again, not as enemies, not as guards, but as people we are called to look after, to approach with compassion, never to judge (as Jesus said again and again), but always to love with the same unconditional love God extends to us.

We have been given the charge as people of faith to care for God’s creation, including all of God’s people, to watch over creation and each other, to love, to tend, to care for.  We have been given the charge of loving rather than using the beauty that surrounds us.  Not always an easy charge, especially because we often have very little to hold us accountable.  It is easy to use and misuse that which won’t catch up with us.  It is easy to judge and condemn and even abuse others, especially when we are in a group of like-minded folk who support and encourage our fear, anger and hatred.  Like children who don’t think what they do is wrong unless they get caught, we have, for quite some time, been in a place where we could take what we wanted from the earth, use what we wanted of the earth, and frankly from certain groups of people, without consequence and without fear of recrimination. 
But more recently this has begun to change.  In the last century, we have started to become aware that even the way we care for, or fail to care for, the earth, and for each other, has consequences for us as a people, for humanity as a whole and for each of us as individuals as well. 
            In terms of the earth, one of those wake-up calls came for Cleveland On June 22, 1969. On August 1, 1969, Time magazine wrote this about the Cuyahoga River: 
Some River! Chocolate-brown, oily, bubbling with subsurface gases, it oozes rather than flows. "Anyone who falls into the Cuyahoga does not drown," Cleveland's citizens joke grimly, "He decays".  .. . The Federal Water Pollution Control Administration dryly notes: "The lower Cuyahoga has no visible signs of life, not even low forms such as leeches and sludge worms that usually thrive on wastes." It is also -- literally -- a fire hazard.

Because of this fire, Cleveland businesses became infamous for their pollution, a legacy of the city's booming manufacturing days during the late 1800s and the early 1900s, when limited government controls existed to protect the environment. Even following World War II, Cleveland businesses, especially steel mills, routinely polluted the river. Cleveland and its residents also became the butt of jokes across the United States, despite the fact that city officials had authorized 100 million dollars to improve the Cuyahoga River's water before the fire occurred.

And this fire in 1969 was not the first on the river.  The Cuyahoga had burned as early as 1868 and over the years about 13 more fires before 1952 had caused more than $1.5 million in damage.  Humans had begun to pay for not caring for the earth.  Still, until the 1969 fire, little attention had been paid to the river or the pollution. 

The 1969 river fire was different, though.  It attracted media attention like never before.  And the results were very positive.  Cleveland began to clean up the water.  But the fire also brought attention to other environmental problems across the country, helped spur the Environmental Movement, and helped lead to the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

The result was that the river has been and continues to be cleaned up.  “When they checked the river at the time, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found 10 sick gizzard chad. Period. More recently when checked they found 40 different fish species in the river, including steelhead trout, northern pike and other clean-water fish. Now, even the most polluted areas of the river generally meet aquatic life water quality standards.  There is still work to be done, but it continues to happen, thanks in large part to the fire in 1969."

What does this have to do with us, as people or as Christians?  Well, in many ways I see the fire of 1969 as a Good Friday in Cleveland’s environment, and in our care for the earth.  We had done such a poor job of looking out only for ourselves and not caring for the earth, that the earth itself was being destroyed through atrocities such as a river burning. 

But the resurrection is for all of creation.  The promise of new life and new birth is for all of creation.  Easter is for all of creation. 

And so today, as we celebrate earth day and the fifth Sunday in Easter, I want us to take some time to look at the resurrection of the earth as well.  We created Good Friday for the Cuyahoga river, just as we killed Jesus on the cross, and just as we harm our brothers and sisters with our judgments, anger and hatred.  But out of the death, we see God’s active hand, creating anew, bringing new life.

God created the resurrection.  But when it comes to the life around us, when it comes to the earth, we are invited to be part of ushering in the new era.  We are called to be part of the resurrection that is for all of creation and all people.  We are called to be part of the new creation that we celebrate at Easter.

The passages we read from Genesis and from Acts remind us that God has created everything and created it all beautiful, but has put it at our feet for us to care for, and to be stewards of. God created everything good, to be loved, to be enjoyed, to experience delight in.  When we abuse God’s creation, whether it be the earth or God’s people, we are insulting the creator, we are not honoring the God who delights in God’s creation.

We don’t actually have a lot of choice about it.  Either we are part of the new creation, or we are part of the Good Friday that precedes it.  Either we are part of destruction or we are part of creation and new life.

This applies to how we treat God’s earth, but it also applies to how we treat any of God’s people.  When we decide that any group of people are unacceptable, are expendable, are worthy of our judgment and condemnation, can be discounted and thrown off, we have failed to remember that it is only together that we are the creation God calls us to be.  When we leave people out, it is like trying to put together a puzzle with some of the pieces missing.  God calls us to be family to one another.  When we reject part of that family it is, very simply, failing to follow the call of Christ to love everyone, even your enemies, as yourself.  When we would alienate or leave out anyone, including our enemies, including those who would harm us, from love and forgiveness, we also are failing to do what God asks us to do, failing to tend to, care for, and be stewards of all of creation, which includes one another as well.

There is a story that I’m sure many of you have heard about the difference between heaven and hell.  In hell, there is a big feast spread out on the table, but the people sitting at the table have no elbows.  They desperately try to feed themselves, but are unable to get the food to their mouths because they cannot bend their arms.  In heaven the picture at first glance looks very similar.  There is a big feast spread out on the table, and again the people sitting around the table have no elbows and are still unable to feed themselves.  The difference, though, is that at the table in heaven, everyone is feeding each other. 

We cannot afford to fail to feed one another.  We cannot afford to house anger and fear and hatred in our bodies.  We cannot afford to be unloving or unkind to any of God’s people.

I am reminded of a story: 
A mouse looked through the crack in the wall
To see the farmer and his wife open a package.
"What food might this contain?"  The mouse wondered.
He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap.  (slide)
Retreating to the farmyard,
The mouse proclaimed this warning :
"There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The chicken clucked and scratched, (slide)
Raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse,
I can tell this is a grave concern to you,
But it is of no consequence to me.
I cannot be bothered by it."
The mouse turned to the pig and told him, (slide)
"There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The pig sympathized, but said,
"I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse,
But there is nothing I can do about it
But pray..
Be assured you are in my prayers."
The mouse turned to the cow and said, (slide)
"There is a mousetrap in the house!
There is a mousetrap in the house!"
The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you,
But it's no skin off my nose."
So, the mouse returned to the house,
Head down and dejected,
To face the farmer's mousetrap
. . . Alone.. . ...
That very night
A sound was heard throughout the house
-- the sound Of a mousetrap catching its prey.
The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught.
In the darkness, she did not see it.
It was a venomous snake (slide)
Whose tail was caught in the trap.
The snake bit the farmer's wife.
The farmer rushed her to the hospital.
When she returned home she still had a fever.
Everyone knows you treat a fever
With fresh chicken soup. (slide)
So the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard
For the soup's main ingredient:
But his wife's sickness continued.
Friends and neighbors
Came to sit  with her
Around the clock.
To feed them,
The farmer butchered the pig. (slide)
But, alas,
The farmer's wife did not get well...
She died.
So many people came for her funeral
That the farmer had the cow slaughtered (slide)
To provide enough meat for all of them
For the funeral luncheon.
 And the mouse looked upon it all
From his crack in the wall
With great sadness. (slide)
So, the next time you hear
Someone is facing a problem
And you think it doesn't concern you,
Remember ---
When one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.
We are all involved in this journey called life.
We must keep an eye out for one another
And make an extra effort
To encourage one another.

I am also reminded of a quote by Anne Lemott: "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."

            The bottom line is we are called to be stewards.  Stewards of creation, stewards of humanity, stewards of love and care for the earth and for each other. We walk that by caring in each moment about how are actions impact others.  We walk that by caring in each moment about who will be hurt and who will be lifted up by our actions.  We walk this by choosing to be kind to all we encounter and that includes the beautiful earth God has given us.  We walk this by living as Jesus taught us, with love, with generosity, with compassion, and with grace.  Amen.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sunday's Sermon - Some Plain Talk

Acts 9:36-43
John 10:22-30

       The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
  Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me.”  And then, “My sheep listen to my voice”.
I think this is an accurate reflection of many of our conversations with God.  “If you want me to do x, y or z just tell me!” we say to God.  And God does tell us.  God tells us through the love God gives us through the blessings that surround us every day – through the air, the breath, the wind, through the trees, the grass, the birds, through the water and food we take in, through community, through LIFE.  God tells us through the scriptures that describe what it is to follow Christ – giving up all we have to teach, to love, to serve God’s people.  God tells us through our hearts, through our souls, through our consciences.  God tells us in a hundred ways and yet we still demand, “Just tell me what you want me to do!”
       It reminds me of a scene from the movie Bruce Almighty.  Bruce is driving down a road after being fired from his job and he shouts out to God, “Okay God.  You want me to talk to you?  Then talk back!  Tell me what is going on!  What should I do?  Give me a signal!” and at that moment as he’s driving he passes a sign that is blinking “caution ahead” repeatedly.  But Bruce doesn’t see it.  He doesn’t listen.  He continues both in driving and in yelling at God, “Give me some guidance, Lord.  Please, send me a sign!”  And at that moment a truck pulls ahead of him that is carrying signs – signs that say “Stop” and “Wrong way!” “Dead end!” and even, “Do not enter!”  But again, he doesn’t see it, except as an inconvenience around which he swerves.  Then he begs for a miracle saying, “I’m desperate!  I need a miracle, Lord.  Please, reach into my life and…” At this point he gets distracted and crashes into a pole.  Still, he begs for a sign, a miracle, an event that will help him.  He yells at God, he shouts at God, declaring that God is not doing God’s job and should be fired.  Finally he shouts out to God, “ANSWER ME!!”  At that moment his pager starts beeping.  He looks at the number, doesn’t recognize it and he says, “Sorry, don’t know ya.  Wouldn’t call ya if I did.”  We all know it is God, again, calling, answering Bruce in so many, many ways.  But Bruce fails to recognize any one of the signs – even the most blatant ones - and instead he just continues to beg for a sign, to beg for an answer.
           But today’s question from those around Jesus is perhaps even more profound than simply asking God what to do.  In this case they are begging – Jesus, tell us if you are the Messiah.  Or, God, tell us who you really are!  Tell us who you are in relationship to us.
            I think about this with our human relationships.  How do we know who people really are?  How do we know what they really feel about us?  How do we know who they are in relationship to us?  There is a saying in 12 step programs.  That saying is, “it’s none of my business what you think about me or feel about me”.  What that saying is trying to communicate is that we can never know what is inside another person’s head, not really.  No matter what they say, what they try to communicate, we will never really know what they think or what they feel, and it is a waste of our time and efforts to worry about that.  So what IS our business is how we are treated.  What is our business is how others behavior affects us.  Are we treated with respect?  Are we treated with care?  Are we heard?  Are our thoughts and feelings valued and taken seriously?  It is through others’ actions that we come to know who they truly are in relation to us.
           Imagine two different friendships.  One is a friendship that developes slowly, cautiously.  When you meet, your friend always asks how you are, asks with genuine interest, not just saying “how are you?” as a greeting like many do.  Your friend may tease, but always in a gentle, subtle way. Your friend begins to stop by occasionally, sometimes with a small gift in hand - a flower, a mocha, just because.  Your friend listens to you, is there when you need him, is available when you just need to sit.  He never, ever, says the words “I care for you”, but he is always there, with an ear to listen or a smile to give, always there.  Then there is another friend.  And this one tells you all the time how much you are loved and cared for.  But this friend's teasing is humiliating, even when she is asked to stop.  She breaks confidences, sharing information told with the request of silence, in trust,  and she shares these private stories sometimes in publicly cruel ways. This friend continues to tell you how much you are valued, but she is not available when needed.  She doesn't return phone calls or emails, disappears for spells until your help is needed.  She asks for you to be available at the drop of a hat and is highly offended when you are not.  But when you have gatherings, she comes only if she likes the other people invited, if it suits her, if she feels like it. Both of these friends have  things to say about themselves, have things to say about who they are in relationship to you.  One says nothing, downplaying his care.  The other speaks regularly about how deep her care is.  But their actions speak much louder than their words.
              As I read through today’s scriptures I was reminded of Matthew 21:28-32.  Jesus said, “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.
Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.  For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.”
           Jesus told us through all that he said and all that he did who he was in relationship to us.  He told us clearly and plainly through his healings, through his words, through his compassion, through his sharing of food and wine, through his life who he was.  Still, sometimes it is hard to hear.  Other times we do not trust what we see or even experience and we demand more proof.  We ask again and again, “What do you want me to do?” “Do you love me?” “Are you the Messiah?”  “Are you there?”
We are called to do the same.  Jesus is clear throughout the gospels that those who follow him, who are his disciples will be known by our love.  We will be known as Christians, as people on the way, as people of faith, by our actions, by the love and kindness we show others.  Not by the words we say, not by the faith we profess, but by our love.  But what we see in the news are a lot of people who are claiming the name of Christian who are NOT showing the love of God.  They are acting with hate, with anger, with cruelty and sometimes with violence.  This is not the love God calls us to show.  We will be known by our love.  And so our job, always our job, is to learn how to love: better, more fully, more completely, each and every day.
            There are times when we will all ask God to show us a sign.  To show us who God is.  To prove to us that God is who God says God is.  But when we ask, we are reminded, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently that God, that Jesus, has already answered the question.  “Look around!  See what I have done!  Look at who I am in the world then and today!  See what love I have for you that I have done all that I have done through history and through your lives!  Am I the Messiah?  You know I am.  Do I love you?  You know that I do.  Through every breath you take, you experience that I AM.”  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Judging Character

I've been thinking about how we judge others' real characters.  I don't think we often do a very good job with this.  But the truth is that there really are ways to get at the core of who a person is.  There are clear indications of the innate nature of another person if we pay attention.  Here are some of the things I look for when I am looking for a partner or when I'm trying to really understand another person.  I'd love to hear your opinions and what you look for as well.

1. How does the person treat animals?  And maybe even more, how do animals react to and around the person?  This won't necessarily be universal.  Some animals just don't like people, for example. But when an animal who is usually cautious approaches, snuggles, purrs around a specific person and when I see that person react with joy, calm and steady presence, with sweetness and a total lack of fear or anger, I take that as a very good sign.
2.  How does he/she behave in their car?  Does he or she act with a sense of entitlement to the road and to the speed they choose and the path they are going without regard for others?  Or instead, are they able to recognize that other human beings, all with places to go and things on their hearts and minds, are actually driving the other cars that surround them?  Are they forgiving?  Patient? Compassionate in their cars?  Do they make room with their cars when folk are trying to change lanes or merge?  Are they kind in their cars?  To me this shows an awareness of others, even people we don't know and may never meet face to face.  It shows a choice to be compassionate for others, even when others make mistakes, recognizing that we all make mistakes.  Letting people in to one's lane shows a choice to be kind even when it will not be rewarded with recognition or a return in kindness.
3.  How do people treat other people who might be seen as their "inferiors"?  This begins with how they treat service people, waiters/waitresses, janitors.  But it extends to people who are often less privileged in one way or another: people of color, women, immigrants, refugees, people of different faith traditions. Are they able to see all of these people as real human beings, again with many things on their hearts and minds who are just trying to live, love and make their lives the best they can for themselves and their families?  Can they put aside differences and value each individual for who they are? It also extends to how they treat people who may not have the same social rank or personal social skills as others.  Are they kind and compassionate towards them as well, even when the connections might not "better" them socially? 
4.  How do they react to meanness from others?  Do they react with rage?  Or worse, with cruelty, vengeance, condemnation or even violence?  Are they able to remember that everyone has a bad day once in a while and that it is helpful to treat everyone with kindness, especially those who are acting badly. We can turn around another person's day by acting with compassion when they are misbehaving. We can often stop rageful behavior by reacting with quiet kindness in the face of another person's anger.  We can make a difference by being nice.  Meanness usually leads to more meanness.  Anger usually leads to more anger.  Hate and revenge lead to more and more hate and revenge.  It is an amazing person who can turn that around; a person I want to be like and a person I would choose any day for a friend.
5.  How do they express anger?  Do they talk directly about what has upset them or do they act in passive aggressive ways?  Do they speak about their own feelings and experiences or do they attack, verbally or in other ways, those with whom they are upset?  Do they try to understand the other person's experience or stick stubbornly to their own version of each story?  Can they listen, hear, be compassionate even when they are hurt or angry?
6.  How do they treat their relatives?  Are they respectful?  Are they kind?  Even when the relative is annoying or out of touch or less than brilliant, do they still work hard to be patient, understanding and caring?  It is hard to be around family sometimes.  But do they work to be gracious and polite even in those challenging situations?  Even around people who will love them no matter what?
7.  How do they treat those who work for them?  Are they grateful?  Do they express that gratitude?  Do they help to make the days of those who work for them positive and do they help them to feel appreciated and that their work is valuable?
8.  How do they treat those who are "invisible" - the homeless, the street folk, the mentally ill?  Do they acknowledge them, treat them with kindness, look them in the eye.  Do they treat them with respect?
9.  How do they talk about other people?  Are they demeaning in their language? Constantly finding fault with others?  Ridiculing others?  Humiliating others?  Or are they kind and respectful towards people even when they are not there, not present, not able to hear their words?
10.  Are they able to see their own part in a problem or conflict?  Or do they simply blame others for what has happened to them?  In the same way, can they be grateful for the help that others have given that has led them to be where they are, or do they claim sole credit for their achievements as much as blaming others for their failures?
11.  Once they have owned their part, are they able to apologize with sincerity and work hard to make amends for any way they may have contributed to another person's suffering?
12.  Are they able to learn new things, to grow, to move forward in their understanding and world views?  Or are they stubbornly stuck in a particular world view and unwilling to learn?
13.  Do they keep their promises?  And do they tell the truth?  Faithful, loyal, steadfast in their friendships and their commitments to others and to themselves?
14.  Do they work to make the world a better place?  Do they work to make themselves more loving? And to share that love with a world that sometimes seems to be lacking in love?
15.  Do they have a sense of humor?  Can they laugh at themselves and the world?  Can they be silly?
16.  Are they inclusive?  Ever widening circles of friendship, groups, acquaintanceships, etc.?  Or do they set up walls and barriers and keep some "out" and some "in".  Are they gate keepers who decide who is acceptable and who is not?
17.  Are they gentle in word and in deed, offering help to those who need it?
18.  Do they jump up when they see a need and address it?  Or do they wait for others to take care of what needs to be done?
19.  Are they generous with their time and talents?
20.  Do they smile at strangers?
  Two more since I wrote the above:  One from another person's suggestion and one of my own.
21.  How do they behave when they think others don't see them?  Are they still kind and generous even when their efforts will go completely unrecognized and unrewarded?  And on the other side, when someone thinks they can get away with selfishness or meanness without it being caught or noticed, do they take advantage of that?  Do they do "anonymous" behaviors that are unkind, destructive, damaging or just plain selfish?
22.  Do they stand up for those being treated unfairly?  Are they willing to speak up when they see unkindness?  Are they willing to step in when someone is being mistreated?  Do they risk harm to themselves in order to protect someone else who is being attacked in some way?

I may add to this list.  Again, I would love to hear what you see as the behavior that identifies another person's real character.  I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect in any of these areas.  But these are the things I look for and value in others.  And they are behavior goals I set for myself as well.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sundays' Sermon - Laughter as Resurrection

Genesis 17:15-19, 18:9-15, 21:1-7.  Luke 24:13-35

A mom wakes her son up on a Sunday morning telling him he has to get ready for church.  He fights her saying he just plain doesn't want to go.  She responds, "I'm sorry son by you have to go to church.  For one thing I'm your mom and I'm telling you you must go.  Second, you are forty years old and ought to know better.  And third, you are the pastor.  So get your butt out of bed and get moving!" 

A pastor runs into a kid who is looking to trade his lawn mower for a bicycle.  The pastor agrees to do this, but then is pulling and pulling on the mower cord and it isn't starting.  He turns to the boy and asks him how he is supposed to get the mower to start.  The boy responds, "oh, you just have to cuss at it and it will start right up."  The pastor is highly affronted and says, "I don't cuss!  I don't even know how to cuss!"  The boy responds, "You pull long enough on that cord, and I'm certain you will learn." 

A pastor declares that he is going to preach the following week on the sin of lying.  He says that in preparation for that sermon, he would like everyone to read Mark 17.  The following week he begins by asking the congregation, "how many of you remembered your homework and read Mark 17 in preparation for today?"  Everyone in the church raises their hands, to which the pastor responds, "Mark only has 16 chapters.  We will now proceed to my sermon on lying."

A man joins a monastery and is told he must remain in silence for six years.  He does so and at the end of the six years the head priest tells him he can say two words.  The monk says, “too cold”.  "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that!" declares the head priest.  We will surely take care of that for you!  And he gives the man additional blankets and then tells him he must go away into silence for another six years.  After another six years passes, the monk is called back again and told he can say two more words.  “Food bad” the monk declares.  Again, the head priest is very apologetic, promises to do something about it and does so, sending the monk away for another 6 years of silence.  This time when the monk appears and is told he can say two more words, he declares, “I quit”.  "Well," says the head priest, "that's a good thing!  You've done nothing but complain the whole time you've been here!"

A pastor comes across a group of kids surrounding a puppy and asks them what they are doing.  "Oh, pastor," says one of the kids, "We are seeing which one of us can tell the biggest lie!  Whichever one of us tells the biggest lie will get to keep this puppy that we found!"  The pastor is highly offended.  "That is outrageous!  You should not be practicing lying!  Why, when I was your age, I never would have told a lie!"  The kids become quiet for a few minutes until finally the one kid says, "Well, pastor.  You just won yourself the puppy!"

Christine Longhurst wrote, “Laughter Sunday (also known as Holy Humour Sunday, Hilarity Sunday, God’s Laughter Sunday, Bright Sunday or Holy Fools Sunday) has its roots in a number of different Christian traditions.  Churches in 15th century Bavaria used to celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Risus Paschalis (‘God’s Joke,’ or ‘the Easter laugh’). Priests would deliberately include amusing stories and jokes in their sermons in an attempt to make the faithful laugh. After the service, people would gather together to play practical jokes on one another and tell funny stories. It was their way of celebrating the resurrection of Christ – the supreme joke God played on Satan by raising Jesus from the dead.  However, the observance of Risus Paschalis was officially outlawed by Pope Clement X in the 17th century. Perhaps people were having too much fun.  In 1988, the Fellowship of Merry Christians began encouraging churches to resurrect some of these Christian traditions—to celebrate the grace and mercy of God through the gift of laughter and joy.  G.K. Chesterton once wrote: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. Never forget that the devil fell by force of gravity. He who has the faith has the fun.”
While the psalms we read encourage joy, and laughter is a good way to get there, it is more than that.  There is also humor in the Bible.  Some of the stories are joyful, but others are downright funny.  Professor Hershey Friedman says that the different types of humor we find in scripture include, sarcasm, irony, wordplay, humorous names, humorous imagery, and humorous situations.  A couple of examples, when the Israelites were fleeing Egypt, they used sarcasm in confronting Moses by saying, “was there a lack of graves in Egypt that you took us away to die in the wilderness?”  In Samuel, Achish said to David, “Why did you bring him to me? Do I lack lunatics that you have brought this one to carry on insanely in my presence?"  Jesus says, “"You are like a person who picks a fly out of his drink and then swallows a camel".  Additionally, God names Isaac “laughter” – the one who leads us forward, who is our ancestor in faith is named “laughter”.
Laughter is a gift from God in so many ways.  Research shows that laughing actually has pain-reducing capacities, and it raises our pain threshold so we can tolerate pain better and we experience it less when we are laughing and for some time after a full, strong laugh.  It helps us learn – we learn better after a good laugh.  And it boosts our immune-enhancing capacities.  When we laugh fully and completely, we are said to “lose” it.  What we actually “lose” in those moments is our distraction of everything else – our distraction of our self-consciousness, our distractions of the stresses in our lives, we stop fleeing our stressing out and instead are completely present in the moment – and that moment, the NOW is where God is.
I want to read you part of an article on “The hope of laughter” by Rev. A. Stephen Pieters: Article by Stephen Pieters

In the Genesis passages that we read for today, we hear that there are different kinds of laughter.  Abraham laughs out of disbelief, but it doesn’t feel bitter to me.  It just feels like someone has said something so surprising and so ridiculous that he can’t help but laugh.  Sarah’s laugh feels different.   Her laughter feels more like sarcasm – almost a bitter laughter, a “yeah right” kind of chuckle.  And this laughter God confronts, saying there is nothing that is beyond God, no matter how “absurd” it may seem.  But in the end, Sarah names her son laughter – and in this laughing it is delight.  It is the laughter of sarcasm and bitterness turned into the laughter of joy, of celebration.  Finally, we come to another story of Jesus’ resurrection.  And through it we are reminded that God has the final “laugh”.  And this time that laugh is on death itself.  Even that is overcome, to the surprise, to the JOY, to the delight of God’s people and the disciples in particular.  The joke is on “evil”.  Good wins.  It is hilarious and wondrous and wonderful that just when death seemed to win and grab even Christ, that even death was overcome.  It is not just something to celebrate, this is something to truly delight in, to laugh about!  God is the God of the amazing, of healing, of joy, of LAUGHTER.  And today we celebrate THAT gift – we honor THAT gift by laughing with God, by enjoying life WITH God, by remembering that God won!

AND, to end with a few more laughs:
After every flight, UPS pilots fill out a form, called a 'gripe sheet,' which tells mechanics about problems with the aircraft. The mechanics correct the problems, document their repairs on the form, and then pilots review the gripe sheets before the next flight.

Here are some actual maintenance complaints submitted by UPS pilots (marked with a P) and the solutions recorded (marked with an S) by maintenance engineers.
P: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.
 S: Almost replaced left inside main tire.

P: Test flight OK, except auto-land very rough.
 S: Auto-land not installed on this aircraft.

P: Something loose in cockpit.
 S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield.
 S: Live bugs on back-order.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200-feet-per-minute descent.
 S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear.
 S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud.
 S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick.
 S: That's what friction locks are for.

P: IFF inoperative in OFF mode.
 S: IFF is always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Suspected crack in windshield.
 S: Suspect you're right.

P: Number 3 engine missing.
 S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny. (I love this one!)
 S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right and be serious.

P: Target radar hums.
 S: Reprogrammed target radar with lyrics..

P: Mouse in cockpit.
 S: Cat installed.

P: Noise coming from under instrument panel. Sounds like a midget pounding on something with a hammer.
 S: Took hammer away from the midget

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Speaking up, offending and being offended, truth telling, and when to keep quiet.

I don't know why this is, but we seem to offend and hurt others and be offended and hurt by others on a fairly regular basis.  It seems to be part of the human condition and I've found myself wondering about this as I've experienced both this past week.  More, I've found myself wondering why we don't talk about it more openly.

This last week I've become more aware of a couple people who have "distanced" themselves, for lack of a better term. I can only assume that something I said or did has offended them or hurt them. Maybe there is another reason. Perhaps they are busy with other things, perhaps something has happened in their personal lives that makes this distance more necessary.  All of that could be possible. But given their demeanor and changed stance, I don't think that's what it is. Unfortunately, neither of them have told me what it is, so I am left in the dark.

By the same token, I've found myself personally hurt by a couple folk.  Did they mean to hurt me?  In one case, possibly; but in the other, I'm quite certain they did not. And I, too, have failed to say anything.  I tell myself I'm being oversensitive and therefore just need to deal with it.  I tell myself it's pointless to say anything because they wouldn't hear it or understand it anyway but would just be offended and they would step away. But instead, I end up putting distance there.  I, too, choose to step back rather than be seen as too "intense" or overly excitable.  I choose the position of "power", being the one to distance rather than being the one to speak my truth and risk being hurt by the other person stepping away.

My church received an annonymous nasty note stuck into our door over the week I was gone in response to the rainbow flag we fly in front of our property.  It contained the usual comment of people who actually haven't read anything Jesus said. It said that God hates certain people and that if we don't hate those people too, then God hates us and will send us to hell. The point, though, is that it was annonymous. So I guess there are people who do speak up when they are hurt or offended.  But they choose to do it annonymously.

I have seen two posts on facebook in the last couple weeks that were both expressing the decision to not speak up.  In one a person was very angry at an injustice but chose not to speak.  The other was a meme that basically said that it is wisdom to walk away when someone has a stupid opinion rather than confronting it.

I have found myself reflecting on all of these situations.  And I have come to the conclusion that we all have one thing in common.  And that is a lack of courage.  Why is it so hard to claim our position, to state our feelings, our opinions, directly, openly, honestly, and in ways that do not do further damage and do not injure the other with name-calling, accusations, and demeaning words but instead just say, "Ouch. That hurts. And here is why." or with "I really disagree with that and here is why."? It feels incredibly risky to just own our feelings and our own opinions.  It feels vulnerable to choose to be honest about our hurt or our thoughts and risk the other person being mean, disagreeing, or walking away from us.  It feels more powerful to be angry and silent, or to be in control as we choose to step back rather than say what we think.  I get that. I get it again and again because I, too, lack the courage in the face of hurt or disagreement sometimes to just say, "I disagree" or "that hurts."  I'm not good on my feet, so when someone is angry at me and expresses that in mean words, I often can't think of the best thing to say.  I usually can only think of the best response hours or days later.  So instead I choose silence.  I choose to let the relationship be damaged rather than to take the risk of being vulnerable and admitting I am hurt or that I disagree.

I've been telling others to speak their truth.  From the position of being the one who has been walked away from, I keep telling others to speak rather than stay silent. "Don't give up on people like me!" I plead. "Some of us are trying and we need your help to be the people we want to be!  Please don't see me as beyond redemption, as beyond learning, as beyond understanding.  Give me a chance to hear, to learn, and to grow.  Tell me when I have hurt you so I can understand. Tell me when you disagree so I can hear a new perspective. Don't walk away, but give our relationship a real chance by speaking, by talking, by taking the risk of telling me what may be uncomfortable for both of us. And then stay with me and don't quit 'us'. Please."

I say it.  I mean it.  But I struggle to practice it. And I have to own that. It is hard to speak our truth to people who don't listen or who seem unable to understand. It is hard to take the risk of admitting when we are hurting. It is hard to choose to be vulnerable.

So I write this for myself and to myself once again: I believe with all my heart that loving, truly loving, is hard. It is hard. And we are called to keep doing it, again and again, and again and again. Loving our enemies, loving our friends, loving all those around us means taking risks.  It is risky.  It is scary. And it involves being real, speaking the truth, and being vulnerable.

I will say what I have said before: I am beyond grateful to those people who have been brave with me, who took the time to speak their truth to me, to tell me when I messed up, to tell me when I hurt them, to tell me that they disagree. I've learned and grown only because people took chances and risks and were willing to take the time to talk without assuming I could never learn or grow. So I pray for the courage to be the one to do the same and to speak. And I pray for the wisdom to see that if they don't hear me in this moment that that is okay.  They may hear it down the road.  They may never hear it.  They may walk away, or they may even become angry.  But that is not my responsibility.  What they do with what they are given is up to them.  The only thing that is my responsibility is to speak, to be fully present, fully honest, fully open - to give what I have been gifted to pass on.  That is all I am called to do.  God, grant me the courage to do it.