Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”
― E.E. Cummings

“Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.”
― Dr. Seuss

I think that laughter is a mark of joy.  I encountered joy the other day at work and there was a lot of laughter.  A work mate had just returned from a walk and was lamenting about the fact that she was hot . . . in fact, she stated, “I’m hot!”  My reaction and works, “My . . . you have a mighty high opinion of yourself!”  It was the best laugh I had had in weeks . . . a real belly shaker.  It was complete joy as we both laughed.

I love the picture above . . . I can hear the laughter of the child as she plays with the dog . . . I can feel the excitement of the dog as it runs along . . . both oblivious to the world around them . . . pure joy.  We need more joy in the world and in our lives . . . we need more laughter.

Each and every church that I have served as a pastor I have always told them, “It ain’t worship unless there is laughter.”  In each and every church I have served I have attempted to bring a little laughter into the worship.  Hey, it isn’t difficult . . . afterall, I am the minister . . . who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?  I have laughed my way through the ministry now for nearly thirty years and it has been nice to have a few laugh with me too.

I think that joy is defined by laughter—at least for me . . . laughter is a huge part of joy.  Nothing beats sitting around a table with friends and family, breaking the bread, sharing stories, and laughing.  Even as an introvert, I love a good gathering around the table.  In the church—especially the denomination I belong to—the “table” carries a central place in our faith.  It is around the table that Jesus gathered his disciples for the last meal that he would have with all of them.  Often this scene is painted with a melancholy—a sadness—that marks the things that are to come . . . primarily the crucifixion; but, I disagree with this image.  I like the image from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar in which everyone is gathered around the table, there are stories being shared, food and wine being drank, and lots of laughter . . . there is joy despite the impending tragedy.  Whatever the case, the table is central to the story . . . it is there that joy is found.

You’ve got to laugh at the table . . . my favorite communion joke goes like this: What were the last words Jesus spoke at the table?  “All you guys who want in the picture need to get on this side of the table.”  Think about it . . . do you get it now?  You have to laugh . . . you have to experience the joy.  Laughter marks the joy.

Because of laughter I can find joy in life . . . in the good and the bad.  I even find laughter in myself and all of the silly, stupid things that I do . . . once I let myself off the hook.  Hindsight might be 20/20, but it is also quite funny too.  I think of the time that I decided to see if all those cartoon about someone stepping on a rake and smacking themselves in the face were true . . . yeah, they are.  It hurt, but now it is funny.  Next time I will take Bugs Bunny’s word for it.  I think about how frustrated I was on a recent conference call and wanted to mute the other people, pushed the first red button I saw, and hung up on everyone much to the shock of the others in the room.  But, you know what, it worked . . . it shut everyone else up!  It will be several weeks before we quit laughing about that one.  Even in the goof ups of life, there is room for joy because there is laughter.

Norman Cousins write about the role of laughter and joy in his struggles with cancer.  He called laughter spiritual jogging.  He credited laughter and joy as helping in his battle against the cancer that was ravishing his body.  The man was smart . . . a good laugh seems to add life.  If that is true, I’ll probably live to be a million and one!  Laughter . . . joy . . . is a gift from God given to all of us.  The key is in accepting the gift . . . can we . . . will we?

I don’t know, but God knows we need more of it in our world and lives today.  We take ourselves way, way too seriously . . . we need to laugh . . . we need to experience joy.  We need to laugh until the tears roll from our eyes, we bend over in joy, and we experience the holy.  Holy laughter . . . there is nothing better than that.  We all need to run with exuberance with our dogs . . . to feel the wind in our hair (at least those of you who still have, the rest of us . . . well, we will take a breeze across the forehead) . . . and to let loose with a real belly laugh.  How much closer to the Holy . . . to God can we get?  Think about that the next time you gather around the table . . . and, the minister cracks a joke.

Evil Empire or . . .

. . . damn Yankees.  In a recent court case judges have ruled that the phrase “Evil Empire” belongs to the New York Yankees.  The so-called “Evil Empire” moniker started out as an insult by their archrivals’ team president, Boston Red Sox president Larry Lucchino in 2002.  Trademark judges ruled that an entrepreneur cannot register the phrase for business purposes as it belongs to the Yankees . . . by default.  The judges confirmed, once and for all, that . . . “The record shows that there is only one EVIL EMPIRE in baseball and it is the New York Yankees.”

Duh!  I have been a lifetime fan of the Baltimore Orioles—a league mate of the Yankees, and have known that this designation of their team was appropriate.  Apologies to the Star Wars franchise.  The term, widely used by fans and the media, to describe the Yankees and their stockpiling of superstars and dominance in the sport fits.  No one is arguing that . . . especially anyone who roots for any team but the Yankees in the American League East Division.  This one is a gimme!

Being a Baltimore Orioles fan I have never really thought of the Yankees as being the “Evil Empire” . . . nope, they have always been those “damn Yankees” . . . always.  I cannot stand the Yankees, and that is putting it mildly.  I’ll even root for the National League representative in the World Series before I root for the Yankees.  I think that my sentiments are held by many American League fans.  In fact, I blame those damn Yankees for the years of futility that my beloved Birds endured when the owner of the Orioles decided to try a Steinbrenner and buy a team to be competitive with those damn Yankees.  That was nearly two decades ago and the Orioles are finally pulling themselves out of the basement with good ol’ fashion Birds baseball—using the farm system.  Damn Yankees!

For me, they will always be the “damn Yankees”.  Maybe it is a generational thing, but one thing that every generation of Yankee hater will tell you . . . they are evil.  There have only been two Yankee players that I have ever appreciated . . . Thurman Munson and Yogi Berra . . . both catchers.  Thurman was the anti-Yankee Yankee player who died way too young.  Yogi . . . well, he speaks in such a way that I understand him . . . he makes sense and doesn’t take himself too seriously.  I like catchers and these were two of the best . . . it is just too bad they were damn Yankees!

It is good that the courts finally confirmed what the rest of us already knew . . . the damn Yankees are the Evil Empire.  We can all rest assured that what we assumed is true . . . Accordingly to the papers, the Yankees declined to comment on the case.  There has been a disturbance in the “force” . . . where is Luke Skywalker and Hans Solo when need them?  Damn . . . Yankees!

Ain’t Got No Rhythm

I don’t want to perpetuate a racism myth or stereotype, but when it comes to rhythmic activities—like dancing, I can’t dance . . . and, I am white, male, and over the age of fifty.  But this post is not about dancing . . . it is about rhythm . . . the rhythm of life.  Life has a certain rhythm . . . a certain pace . . . a certain way that we all expect it to play out on a daily basis.  It is sort of life dance and I have lost my rhythm.

Life has rhythm . . . really.  In the Old Testament the writer of Ecclesiastes speaks about everything having a “time” . . . that there is a time for everything.  That screams of rhythm to me.  We live our lives to a sort of rhythm by the way that we pace ourselves through the day . . . the routines that we have from the time we get up, go to work, and come home.  Our lives have a pattern . . . rhythm is a pattern.  When things don’t quite work out the way that we expect, our rhythm gets messed up . . . our dance goes awry.  When that happens we feel out of synch . . . frustrated . . . and like a white guy who can’t dance.

My dance has been messed up for quite a while . . . ever since the prodigal son’s schedule changed and messed up the rhythm of my dancing.  As the prodigal continues to get his feet back on the ground and his life in order, he still relies upon the wife and I to help get him around . . . especially to work.  Once his training was over they gave him his schedule . . . it is a schedule that has him getting off of work at 7:30PM.  The wife and I are usually done with our work at 5:00PM . . . we were usually home by 6:00PM.  In the evenings we usually had time to sit around and talk . . . I got to write and relax.  Now, I usually wait in the big city until the prodigal is off, drive home and it is close to 8:30PM.  Slurp down a hasty meal (which my body lets me know about all night long), relax for about thirty minutes, pack a lunch for work the next day, and go to bed . . . all in an hour and a half.  The rhythm of the dance is all screwed up . . . my body is all screwed up . . . and, my soul is wondering what in the world is happening.  It is screaming, “I can’t dance!”

It has been said that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks.  I am an old dog . . . or at least a stubborn one.  This new rhythm of dancing is not working real well with me.  I am out of whack . . . I miss the relaxing evenings of being able to sit at the computer writing some meaningless drabble about my life.  I miss having the chance to read a book.  I miss just being able to check out and be an introvert in my own little world.  I probably miss that the most as I am not getting enough alone time to center myself in me.  We introverts need that time . . . it is hard being an introvert in an extroverted world.  In the meantime the soul just keeps grumbling.

We all need a rhythm in our lives.  This rhythm serves as a sort of means of getting us from the start to the finish . . . for some of us it is quite flashy, for others of us it is functional.  Mine was functional.  I miss that dance because I was good at it and it worked for me.  Since then I have been working real hard to get a handle on this new rhythm . . . it ain’t working.  Not yet, anyways.  I feel like I am back in college and one of my dates told me to relax and loosen up when I danced . . . embarrassed me to death.  I thought I was loose and relaxed . . . thought I was dancing really well . . . but, then again, it might have been the beer.  As you know, beer has been helping white guys dance since 1842!

Maybe it is my age . . . maybe it is my race . . . and, maybe it is just me, but this new rhythm has not been easy to learn.  Maybe I need more beer.  Whatever the case that is the way that it goes . . . the dance of life changes.  We grow older . . . we move . . . we change jobs . . . relationships change . . . people die . . . or prodigals come home.  Whatever the case, the dance changes . . . the rhythm changes . . . but the dance goes on.  It has to go on, especially if we want dance with the Lord of the Dance.  

If you ask anyone who knows me they can tell you two things about me: one, I do not sing even though I love to sing; two, I cannot dance . . . even with beer.  But I try . . . I try all of the time.  I sing in the car where no one can hear me . . . I dance where no one can see me . . . and, in those private moments, it is pure ecstasy as I discover that rhythm.  It is a rhythm that gets me through the day . . . God leads, I follow.  I think that maybe that is my problem . . . I am not letting God lead.  I miss that . . . Yeah, I can’t dance . . . or sing, but watch out if no one is looking.  God likes it when I let loose and let God.  The rhythm will come back and watch out when it does . . . I’ll be a dancing fool.

“Dance as though no one is watching you. Love as though you have never been hurt before. Sing as though no one can hear you. Live as though heaven is on earth.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Lately I have been thinking about church . . . not the church where I serve as a pastor . . . but, the church.  It seems that there has been a lot of upheaval in the church for the past couple of decades.  The mainline denominations have seen drastic decline in membership . . . which now seems to also be hitting the more independent and charismatic movement with declining membership.  Polls and research show that there is an increase in those who see themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”.  This group is being called the “nones”.  Research is showing that the religious climate is changing and that what is now known as “church” isn’t going to be “church” in a couple of more decades or maybe even years.  This, of course, has brought lots of divisiveness into the remaining churches as they struggle with getting a grip on declining membership and mere survival.  It is not a fun time being the “church”.

In times of upheaval there always seems to be those who want to offer solutions to the issues and problems . . . even within the realm of the dying “church”.  There is a movement called the Emergent Church . . . there is Missional Church . . . there is church transformation . . . contemporary worship . . . blended worship . . . and, even a movement for what is being called the flipped church (look it up on the Internet).  Amazingly these solutions are just as controversial as the issues and problems they are attempting to remedy.  As I stated earlier, it is not a fun time in the world of “church”.

The saddest thing I have witness from this transitional period in the life of the “church” are those who have been wounded by all of this divisiveness.  All of the divisiveness has ripped the church apart and strewn it far, far from what it supposedly represents (at least according to New Testament understanding) as being the body of Christ in the world.  The wounded have fled the “church” and are witness to those on the outside that the “church” is not a safe place to be.  The “church” I have known and loved, trained to serve in, is no longer there . . . but, at the same time I am not sure that where it is at right now is much better.  The goal, I think, is to survive the transition and see what is born.

So . . . I have been thinking about “church”.  In particular, I have been thinking about what a “church” should be for me.  I cannot state that what I share is correct . . . it is just my thoughts and opinions . . . and, I am sure that there will be those who disagree with me.  There may be some who agree.  These words are not the definitive answer either . . . they are just the ramblings emanating from the rock garden between my ears.  For better or worse, it is a place to begin a conversation.  Maybe, somewhere, in the conversation the “church” can be found again.

Foremost, in my thoughts, the “church” needs to be a safe haven.  The “church” needs to be a place where people can go, be accepted, feel safe, and be who God created them to be.  I know that this is almost a statement of heresy as most churches are the most homogeneous places in the world . . . everyone is basically the same.  The same income levels, education, race, hobbies, politics . . . cookie cutter congregations.  If a person does not fit the mold, that person is not going to feel accepted or safe.  God created humans as unique and diverse individuals with no two similar . . . just like snowflakes.  A church should be the place where none of that makes any difference . . . where diversity is embraced . . . and people are accepted for they are since all were created in the image of God.  People go where they feel accepted and safe . . .

Reminds me of what I call Cheers theology.  Well, not so much the show itself, but its opening theme song.  Remember the words to that song?

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.
You wanna go where people know,
people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows
your name.

Yeah, I think the “church” should be a safe haven . . . a place where everyone knows my name and accepts me for who I was created to be.

I also think that the “church” should be a place where people can come to explore the “call” of God upon their lives.  To be able to discover the gifts and talents that God has blessed them . . . to test out their spiritual gifts . . . to test their wings.  In a safe haven there would be support and encouragement, discussion and discernment.  It would be a place where it is okay to fall down . . . to fall short, but to always have someone there willing to pick up those fallen down and let them try again. 

And, in such a setting the “church” would also be a place of challenge.  Herein lies another thing that I think the “church” should be . . . a place of challenge.  I do not believe that the “church” can be the body of Christ in the world if it never leaves the confines of its structure . . . the “church” cannot hide its light under a bushel.  No, the “church” also has to be a place where those who have found safety, found themselves, found their gifts and talents are challenged by one another to use these for the world around them and beyond them . . . to go out and be the body of Christ . . . to help others discover themselves in relation to the God who created them as God’s children.  The “church” must be a place of challenge too.

I could get excited about a church that functioned in such a manner . . . and, at times, I think that I have stumbled upon this “church” in my journey of faith.  I realize that these are pretty simple ideas . . . probably nothing original . . . and, a wealth of fodder for those who want to take be out behind the shed and wail on me.  I am also certain that my thoughts are bits and pieces of many of the solutions that are being offered right now as there is nothing new under the sun.  But, I like the idea of a place where everyone knows my name and I feel safe to be me.

It is not a fun time to be the “church”, but it is an exciting time.  It is a time of exploration and opportunity.  Exploration to see who God truly created us to be . . . opportunity to grow into what we were created to be.  It is silly to think that at any point in the journey of the “church” that it had fulfilled its destiny—I don’t see the kingdom yet!  Growth is not easy . . . sometimes it hurts . . . but it is always a process.  A process that should take place in a community where people feel safe to be themselves, to explore their gifts and talents, and to be challenged to share with those on the so-called outside.  A process that will someday take us to a place where everyone knows our name . . . “church”.