Monday, January 22, 2007

It's Just A Game

"It's just a game." That's often heard after an athletic competition. And it's usually uttered morosely by fans of the losing team. I thought a lot about that phrase this past week as our beloved Colts were heading into the AFC championship to meet their dreaded nemesis, the New England Patriots. In the Indianapolis environs, the game took on almost mythic overtones. People wore Colts blue to work, attended pep rallies, and asked questions. Could the Colts beat the Patriots in the playoffs? They never had before. And the Patriots often seemed to rise up like a phoenix out of the ashes of almost certain defeat in earlier games only to win. Could the nice Midwesterners finish first? Was it our time? And that was the real question -- "our time." As if we were going out their on the field to lay our bodies on the goal line. Or would we be saying, come Monday morning, "Well, it's just a game."

But the Colts did win. They did what had never been done before and came from 18 points down to win the game in the last minute. Suddenly they were headed for the Super Bowl. And we wouldn't have to mope and call our friends in New England and mumble, "It's only a game." At least that's how I felt until -- until the post-game press conference.

While meeting with the press, the Colt's coach Tony Dungy, in response to a question, replied that "The Lord has been testing us." He didn't just say it once. The subtle implication was that God must have been on the Colts side. That caused me to sit up and mumble, "It's just a game." It was a great game, to be sure. Thrilling with all sorts of crazy goings-on (linemen scoring three touchdowns?!), but I doubt that God was really on anybody's side. Because it's just a game -- it's not Darfur, the Mideast, Iraq, the slums of a major city, a ramshackle hut in Appalachia, or any place else where life is no game, it's a battle for survival, where God's beloved are hurting and dying. Could God really care about the outcome of a football game more than these other things?

Now I know Tony Dungy is a man of deep faith. And I think he meant that God was teaching the Colts some important lessons through the difficulties that life had handed them. At least that's what I chose to think he meant. And I would concur. God can teach us through all the stuff of life -- good, bad, ugly, beautiful.

It's just a game -- but, boy, am I glad the Colts won!


Saturday, January 20, 2007

All The Nose That's Fit to Print

I love getting mail. And the other day I received package -- the best kind of mail! From Oregon! I opened it up and it was a nice presentation box containing a booklet entitled "The Red Nose Training Manual" and two red foam clown noses. Now I've rarely been accused of being too serious (usually it's the reverse), but this Red Nose humor called for a different slant on things than my usual sly, sarcastic, smart-aleck self is used to. While I have no trouble making the joke on me, the instructions in the "training manual" made it obvious to me that the joke was on the joke. The nose is about being in a spirit of fun. So I popped it on the end of my nose for the rest of that day and here's what I found.

1) It's hard to read a computer screen with a big red out of focus blob moving around the text;
2) It's hard to drink water wearing a big red nose;
3) It's hard to act like work decisions are life and death while discussing them with colleagues when you're wearing a big red nose;
4) People you think would stop in their tracks when they see you wearing a big red nose often don't miss a beat and a walk on by (often whilst muttering some comment like "I always knew you were a Bozo") while others just can't get by it;
5) Strangers on the street want to look at you, but won't (at least here in the Midwest -- that politeness thing, I guess) and so are really obvious about looking elsewhere;
6) Clothes don't make the man -- the nose makes the man. A fine, grey window-pane wool-cashmere suit and shirt and tie become invisible if you're wearing a clown nose;
7) Nothing you wear or do surprises your spouse;
8) Wearing a clown nose, after the initial self-consciousness wears off, is actually very freeing and relaxing.

I discovered that last item while wearing the nose through rush hour traffic on the way home. It's normally a very uptight time for me -- people getting in my way (how dare them!), going slow in the speed lane, cutting in front of me, tailgating me, me pushing the speedlimit. But, with the clown nose on, I found myself slowing down, allowing people to zoom by, cut in, change lanes without signalling, and various other crap without getting all bent by it. It's hard to get bent out of shape when your face is already out of shape! It's hard to glare at somebody while wearing a big red nose. In fact, the nose enlarged my soul for that period that I wore it. That sounds silly, I know, but I think that's the point. The silly shows us our true place in this life -- we are not the center of the universe, though, as the "Red Nose Training Manual" say, we can see it from where we are. The silly says, "Slow down, enjoy, be kind, be caring, be not-caring about yourself, and smile on the outside and the inside."

And that's all the nose from my hometown.


Thursday, January 11, 2007

Touching Jesus

I was in my usual in the car hurry this morning on the way to the office when I spied a big, black SUV sitting in the curb lane. The no parking lane. The lane I use. The light I was approaching turned red and I stopped and glared at the back end of the SUV, brake lights gleaming a half a block ahead. Just sitting there. What a doofus, I thought. Now, I'll either have to race ahead of the guy next to me and get in front of him or creep through the light, wait for the line of cars on my right to pass me and then fall in behind them and probably not make it through the lights. One nice thing about downtown Indianapolis is that the lights are synchronized. If you make one, you make them all. One bad thing about downtown Indianapolis is that the lights are synchronized. If you miss one, you miss them all. Sitting there I got more and more upset with this person who was blocking my way -- my important way -- down the street.

Then just as the light changed, the big, black evil SUV took a hard right across all four lanes of traffic and pulled into a parking spot. A man climbed out of the driver's side and bounded up the steps of St. Mary Catholic Church where he stood in front of the church's statue of Jesus. He reached up and began touching its face, its hair, the folds of the robe. My anger drained. Embarrased, I turned at the light heading for my parking lot. I looked in the rearview mirror. The man was still standing there, touching, caressing Jesus. I felt like a fool. I also felt humbled. I rush by that statue everyday. Sometimes I see it; sometimes not. But here was a man who stopped just to touch Jesus. I don't know his story. Perhaps he just wanted to see how the sculptor had formed the statue. But something tells me he had some deeper reason for stopping for that touch.

As I turned into the parking lot, I was reminded of the biblical story of the woman who was ill and felt she would be healed if she could just touch the hem of Jesus' robe. And that touch did heal her. Perhaps this man needed some healing -- a cure that came from a caress. I need that, too. A healing from my need to hurry. A cure for conditions that nobody but Jesus knows. A touch. It seems so simple and yet so hard to remember. Thank you, Mr. Big Black SUV for teaching me today.

-- Brent

Monday, January 08, 2007

Laughing Pilgrims: Humor and the Spiritual Journey -- A Book Recommendation

“Walk cheerfully over the world answering that of God in everyone,” urged George Fox. We Friends are pretty good at the second part of that suggestion, but often could use some work on the first. Which is good reason to give thanks for Howard Macy’s new book. Laughing Pilgrims is a much needed reminder that, while the life of the spirit is often serious, it’s not something to be undertaken in grim earnestness. Macy, Professor of Religion and Biblical Studies at George Fox, has given us a book that is less a study of spirituality and humor than it is a “how-to” for holy humor.

In a book filled with humor (subtle and not so), Macy does present some wonderfully accessible analyses of the uses of humor in the Bible, a book we rarely think of as funny. These helpful examples remind us that the biblical stories are about, and meant for, people like us. “The Bible is often funny, just as we should expect it to be,” writes Macy, “if it truly reflects the full range of faith and life.” He goes on to point out the jokes, riddles, comic stories, satire, and word play.

The truly helpful parts of the book, though, are those that show us ways to walk cheerfully. He urges us to remember that our spiritual journeys have “to do with all of life, not just with consecrated chunks set of in a corner… if Brother Lawrence could experience God fully while peeling potatoes, perhaps we can learn to love God amid peals of laughter.” The book encourages readers to discover ourselves through laughter (the Klutz Factor chapter is especially delightful) and then provides instruction in “walking cheerfully day to day.” Macy is careful to offer up advice for making sure our holy humor is just that – and not harmful, hateful humor. He gives guidance for how to live in a spirit of fun and how to cultivate a joyful attitude in the midst of family, work, and our other personal experiences. The book concludes, not with a list a jokes or compendium of funny stories, but with questions and activities that can be used to help us walk cheerfully. All in all the book is geared toward learning to enjoy a “life of holy hilarity.”

Say, did you hear the one about the two Quakers who…

Laughing Pilgrims: Humor and the Spiritual Journey
Howard M. Macy
Paternoster, 2006, 133 pages, paperback, $14.99

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Very Tall Boy -- A Children's Story?

The very tall boy was having a very bad day. It started when his mom made him get out of beds before he wanted to. Then, after breakfast, his dad asked him if he was going to just sit around the house all day. And finally his sister told him to get lost.

He’d have liked to do that. But he couldn’t. Because the very tall boy was so very tall that no matter where he went, he could always see his house.

It was hard being a very tall boy.

He hadn’t always been a very tall boy. Once he was a very small boy. He’d been the smallest boy in town. Which meant he was always picked last for sports. And that he could barely see the 4th of July parade through town. And that kids made fun of him and called him names. “Shorty.” “PeeWee.” “Baby.”

So every night when he went to bed he wished the same wish. He wished he’d wake up in the morning as a very tall boy. One morning his wish came true.

He was sound asleep and dreaming. It wasn’t a good dream. He dreamed that his sister was pouring water on his feet. She kept pouring and pouring and pouring … And then he opened his eyes. He couldn’t believe what he saw. His feet were wet – because it was raining and his feet were sticking out the windows at the other end of the bedroom. His head was up against one wall and his shoulders were wedged between the other two walls.

“Help!” he hollered, blowing his bedroom ceiling off. Now he was getting wet all over. His mom and dad came running. His dad said, “Oh my” and fainted. His mother just stood there and cried. His sister couldn’t think of anything to say for once. And he began to find out that being a very tall boy wasn’t any better than being a very small boy.

He was still picked last for sports – because now he was too tall. And he could see the 4th of July parade but it looked like a parade of ants. And the kids still called him names – “King Kong.” “Cloudscaper.” “Skyboy.”

So on the day the very tall boy was having a very bad day, he decided to do what his sister wanted him to do. He’d get lost. Or at least he’d try. The very tall boy took very long steps and soon he was very far from home. He walked by two cities, over three rivers, and right into a forest. He turned around and looked back the way he walked. He could still see his house. He sighed. But then he found he could see other things, too. Things that normal sized people didn’t often see. He saw how the farmers’ fields were laid out in squares of corn and beans and hay. They looked like the quilt on his grandma’s bed. His heart started to smile just a little bit. He heard chirping and looked down. That’s when he saw a bird’s nest. The mommy bird was sitting on a limb feeding the baby birds inside. It was like when he was little and his mom had feed him. His smile started to spread from his heart. He looked around and saw a cloud floating by. He stuck his head inside it. It swirled softly all around him and smelled fresh and clean. He remembered how his dad used to give him a bath and wrap him in a clean towel. His smile started making its way to his mouth.

He looked around and saw the river winding away to the sea and the trees in the forest waving in the wind. It was peaceful and quiet where he stood. His smile went to his eyes. So he decided to not be lost. He went home. And told his mom and dad and sister about the neat things he had seen. His smile was so big that it wrapped around his mom and dad. And his sister, too.

That night, when he went to beds, he didn’t wish to be a very small boy, a very normal sized boy, or a very tall boy. He just fell asleep happy to be who he was.