Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hold on Loosely

Ok, so I was going to wait until Epiphany to post again, but I ran across two related editorials that just inspired to me to weigh in on the topic of protecting our children. The first editorial took aim at a recent segment on Sesame Street.

The basic argument is that:
Kids need images of trustworthy grown-ups, especially as they're relaxing at bedtime. If this skit were made for adults, then maybe we'd find it funny. But as entertainment for children, it's just kind of weird.

You missed the boat on this one, Sesame Street.
Personally, I remember watching The Muppet Show as well as Sesame Street when I was a child, and I found such silliness as loud lullabies extremely funny. The again, my two favorite Muppets back then were Robin the Frog and Crazy Harry. So go figure. In any case, I think taking Sesame Street to task over that segment is probably a little much. I think most children recognize it as a joke... unless their parents decide to sing that lullaby at night—as opposed to 10am, when Sesame Street is on the air!

And I'm afraid that I'm not joking—well, not joking that much anyway—about parents doing something like that to their children. Because there's the second editorial, which takes solid aim at videos like this one:

Yes, the child is cute, and I don't entirely disagree with the idea of using "you got stuck" as a learning moment for "don't climb behind the couch." The child, however, probably did not deserve to be called "full of bologna" and clearly didn't deserve to be laughed at. Add in the fact that these parents made the poor child wait for them to go get their camera so they could put the frightening predicament on YouTube for everyone to see... I don't know, for a child to say "I need help" and for that help to be withheld and conditional just seems wrong to me. I worry that the child learned not to climb behind the couch—because the adults in my life might not help me if I get stuck.

Our society sits in this weird place where we over-protect our children—and laugh at their pain. No, worse, we laugh at their pain and broadcast it over the internet so everyone else in the world can laugh at it, too. As usual, I think there's a balance to be had that we as a society are completely lacking.

Protect your children just enough,
Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Be good to each other
Merry Christmas
Rev. Josh

Thursday, December 24, 2009

One More Sleep...

I know that it's easier to portray a world that's filled with cynicism and anger, where problems are solved with violence. That's titillating. It's an easy out. What's a whole lot tougher is to offer alternatives, to present other ways conflicts can be resolved, and to show that you can have a positive impact on your world. To do that, you have to put yourself out on a limb, take chances, and run the risk of being called a do-gooder.

Jim Henson
Anyone who's taken a little time looking around my office might discern that I'm a huge Jim Henson fan. It probably isn't too strong a thing to say that he's my hero. As we enter into Christmas Eve, I'd like for you to consider the quote from Jim that you find at the top of the page. I don't know if he had the Incarnation in mind when he said those words, but what he is talking about is a big part of what Jesus preached and taught.

The miracle of Christmas is that God came to earth as a human baby boy who went on to teach us that there are other ways conflicts can be resolved, to show that you can have a positive impact on your world, and that not one human being is expendable. Not even the "different" ones, the "useless" ones or the "really bad" ones.

If God became human and showed us these things, and we were all made in God's image, then we can show others these things as well. Jim Henson did, and you can too.

Present other ways conflicts can be resolved.
You can have a positive impact on your world.
Run the risk of being called a do-gooder.
Rev. Josh

Monday, December 21, 2009

Geek Christmas

I know folk who look at games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band and think, "Well that's stupid, if you're going to put that kind of time in, why not learn to play the guitar for real? And to those people I say... well, actually, they have a point. Not that I think that those games are bad—quite the opposite, they're shining examples of fun cooperative nonviolent video games. Even Stevie Wonder had some great things to say about these kinds of games at the Video Game Awards this year—and he challenged the video game industry to make games that blind folk can enjoy too! More on that some other day, maybe. Today, I don't really have an earth-shattering point. I just thought that it was really cool and creative what this kid has done with Christmas lights and Guitar Hero. Enjoy!

Be good to each other.
Rev. Josh

Friday, December 18, 2009

Behind the Counter

Let's pause for a moment and consider the folk who work behind counters and run registers for us, the consumers. Because, quite frankly, if you get a genuine smile from someone behind the counter when you approach, you're either very attractive or they are a saint. I'm leaning towards the sainthood thing, not because I doubt that you're attractive—I'm sure you're gorgeous—but I've seen the kinds of things that retail employees go through on a daily basis—especially during Christmas—and, well, if they're still smiling then they must be incredibly good folk.

In another life, a long time ago, I worked behind the counter for a small video rental place—we only rented out VHS tapes, if that give you any idea! Anyway, every night someone would yell at me because they returned a tape late and was charged a fee. Not only was this clearly not my fault, but I also didn't have the authority to actually do anything about it—except collect the late fee.

I know someone who used to work for a shop in Olde Mystick Village—and I have to tell you that tourists have a horrifying sense of entitlement that... *shudders* Anyway, if I told you even half of her stories of working behind the counter, your brain would shut down. The horrible things people would say to her, the folk who would cough and/or sneeze on their money and then hand it to her, and the sheer stupidity in general would just cause your synapses to stop firing.

I've never worked in a fast food restaurant, but I bet this isn't too far from the truth...

All kidding aside, these folk have to deal with people behaving badly and with a high degree of stupidity every day. They are on a short list of professions that I automatically give the benefit of the doubt to when I'm dealing with them—nursing staff are at the top of that list, by the way. I encourage you to do the same!

Also, check out the Not Always Right site, which gives real life examples of the stupid and frustrating things people do to folk working behind the counter. I'm considering linking it under Daily Dose of Joy in my sidebar!

Oh, and one more thing that I learned from my time behind the counter. One night, when someone had been particularly unpleasant to me concerning their late fee, the very next person in line smiled at me and said something like, "Wow, they were hard to deal with, huh?" It really made my day to know that someone noticed and cared that my job wasn't all that easy. Even just a smile can make a very big difference! So next time you get to the head of the line, give the person behind the counter a genuinely thankful smile, ok?

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Asplody

So, it finally happened. It happens at least once a year, during the Christmas rush. As I was running around town yesterday at about eleven o'clock in the morning to do some shopping for The Journey of Homage—well, I started out thinking, "The middle of the day on a Monday, at least I picked a time when it won't be so busy."


As I decided that maybe I wouldn't check out Wal-Mart's prices after all because the lot was full, dodged horrifying traffic in the parking lot, and then watched someone pass me cut me off and then honk at the person who had been in front of me because they were going the speed limit in the right hand lane... it finally happened. I found myself thinking, "I hate Christmastime."

It happens at least once every year, that thought, and it makes me sad for a moment, because I really don't hate Christmastime. I hate the way people treat each other on the road and in parking lots and I am not overly fond of crowds. Christmas, I like.

So I've decided to share something with you that just makes me happy. I don't know why, but apparently I'm not the only one who has watched this moment over and over again on dvd, because I found a YouTube video that not only repeats the moment, but does so in varying speeds! If you find yourself thinking, "I hate Christmastime," please watch GIR asploding until you can't stop smiling.

It works for me!

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Friday, December 11, 2009

Things He Do

It's Friday. And I feel a little bit like I might have whatever Dib's problem is...

Things he do!
Rev. Josh

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Friend Leslie.
Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Spirit of Xmas

More and more I see and hear people who are incensed at the ever common practice of saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" this time of year. I have even seen it referred to as a "war on Christmas" as if it were an attempt to do away with your rights to buy huge strings of lights, stampede Wal-Mart on Black Friday, and bake your own weight in sugar cookies.

Ok, so that was a little sarcastic, but I did it to make a point. Most Christians I know still feel free to say "Merry Christmas" wherever they feel like. It's often in the commercial context that I see and hear "Happy Holidays." And to be perfectly frank, Christians aren't the only people celebrating chrismasolstikwanzika this time of year—how can we blame the commercial sector for not wanting to offend the non-Christian folk and their money?

The other place I hear "Happy Holidays" is from myself, and others who think like me, when I do not know the religious affiliation of the person I'm speaking to. Emmi has a friend who once said... well, I can't repeat what he said. Let's just say that he colorfully exhibited his frustration at being a Hindu and being told to have a "Merry Christmas" everywhere he went.

I guess the latest chapter in the whole war on Christianity saga is completely askew. An article I recently found on-line says that people are doing away with the common abbreviation "Xmas" because it clearly is an attempt to take "Christ" out of "Christmas." The article also says that most of us aren't Greek scholars. And here's where I get frustrated, because if you know an ordained minister (and I hope if you're Christian "enough" to be mad about taking the Christ out of Christmas, you do) then you know someone who has enough Greek to set you straight on this. The "X" is not an attempt to cross out the word "Christ." It is, in fact, a Chi the Greek letter that begins the word "Christ" in it's original Greek form.

Incidentally, the last time I said "Happy Holidays" to someone I knew for a fact was not Christian (she's a rabbi) she said "Merry Christmas" to me! So, I don't see any war here. If you really want to say "Merry Christmas," to folk, go ahead and do it. If you prefer to say "Happy Holidays" to be inclusive, go right ahead. There's enough business and stress involved in this season without getting upset about a non-existent war on Christmas!

Happy Holidays
Merry Xmas
Rev. Josh

Monday, December 07, 2009

Just Silly

I've been saying for years that if our children or youth want to dye their hair purple or shave their heads or grow just one lock of hair really, really long, that we should let them do it. I don't see what it hurts for a teenager to have purple hair, unless they're old enough to be job hunting—which brings me to the point I'm trying to make. Once you're in the job hunt, the days of wearing mohawks are probably over. Let your children get it out of their system before being "presentable" becomes a necessity.

Now, there are limits, of course. I'd suggest that shaving a swastika into the back of the head should probably be a "no." I'm sure there are other symbols that we need to be aware of, too. I suspect that there may be some school dress codes that include sections on hair. And I'd never suggest that parents shouldn't be involved in the decision!

It just seems to me that our society has gotten just plain silly about being "presentable." Take this news item, for example:

Maybe there's something I'm missing there. Please tell me if I am. But the whole thing just seems... silly and overbearing.

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Odd Ends

Just a few little things, some important, some maybe not as much. First of all, please notice that I've started to archive my sermons in a blog which is linked in my sidebar.

Secondly, I ran across an important piece of news. Apparently a major drugstore chain is in trouble with the law for selling over the counter drugs, baby formula, and foods as much as two years past their expiration date! The article I read breaks it down in terms of cost-effectiveness... and the sad truth is that it costs the chain less money in fines than it does to employ someone to remove (and therefore not sell) expired items. If that's true of one chain, it'll be true of others, so...

Buyer Beware: Always check the expiration date on over the counter drugs, baby formula, and food before you buy!

Finally, I've added something to my list of things all pastors she be ready for... just in case:

Be good to each other,
Rev. Josh

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Evil Empire

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to lead worship and preach while the Senior Pastor was traveling for Thanksgiving. I always love to preach, not just because I love to write and otherwise play with language, not even because the Word is at the center of Congregational worship, but mostly because there's a wonderful space between what I think I've said and what people actually hear. While that could be a frightening idea for most, I have consistently experienced God working in amazing ways within that space. I've lost count of how many times I've felt like I'd delivered a real stink-bomb of a sermon, only to have someone tell me afterwords that it was just what they needed to hear. And just as often as not, they go on to say that they heard something that I don't remember saying. In an earlier post I told a story about my friend Amory and Mr. Rogers concerning God working in that space, so I won't retell it here.

Anyway, I really enjoyed giving the sermon last Sunday. It was the first Sunday of Advent and I talked about Legos and Charlie Brown, and all kinds of happy fluffy things.

Which works just fine if you ignore the lectionary.
[Jesus said:] “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Luke 21:25-36
Whew. Kinda dark for the Christmas season, huh? But that's actually appropriate, because we aren't in the Christmas season yet, liturgically speaking. We're in Advent—we're getting ready for Christmas. The Christmas season starts on Christmas day and runs to Epiphany. You know the song, The 12 Days of Christmas? Those twelve days start on Christmas day and work their way forward!

As for the scripture lesson from last Sunday, you have to understand the darkness involved in order to see the light that it offers. You have to understand a little bit about the Roman Empire to understand what Jesus is doing here. He is standing in Jerusalem, at the Temple, foretelling the overthrow of both. And if you look at the history of the Roman Empire as it relates to Jerusalem, it wouldn't have been hard at all for his disciples to believe. Pompey had already taken Jerusalem and successfully laid siege to the Temple during the time of Julius Ceasar. After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Caesar Augustus eventually rose to power. Augustus' rise to power was complicated—laced with war, bloodshed and intrigue. Once in power he completely neutered the Senate—they knew very well that he held command of the majority of Rome's legions and could take power through sheer force.

It was during this rise to power that Herod the Great became the Roman client king of Judea. In fact, the Senate voted Herod into the position... and Judea had no choice in the matter, because Herod conquered Jerusalem with the aid of the Roman army! And he kept the throne through sheer, ruthless bloodshed. It was under the command of Herod the Great that Slaughter of the Innocents takes place. This is the political climate in which Jesus grew up.
Herod the Great's successor, Herod Antipas wasn't any better. Herod Antipas is the one who beheaded John the Baptist. In the face of such impressive violence and bloodshed, is it no wonder that Jesus preaches of a coming apocalypse which is even mightier? I mean, Rome was bad, but Jesus is talking about the destruction of the very heavens!

Now, this illustration did not fit into my sermon, but I thought it would be fun to share it here. Now think for a moment. What other story has an evil Emperor rise to power through war and intrigue? What other story has a useless and neutered Senate? What other story has an equally evil and violent Lord who does the Emperor's bidding?

On the UCC website there's a section that lists the lectionary texts for the day and provides some commentary. In the commentary for last Sunday's Gospel text, Kate Huey writes:
When we recall that the sun was the symbol of Rome itself, while the moon and the stars represented the empire's client kings clustered around it, we can better understand that, when Luke is talking about the "powers of the heavens" being shaken, it's a kind of code: "It is not the end of the cosmos, as Mark has it, but the shaking of the earthly principalities and powers that is referenced here," William Herzog writes in New Proclamation 2006. I wonder if young adults might relate this in a way to the destruction of the Death Star in their own epic, the Star Wars trilogy. The language of empire was also used in that series to describe the terrible might of the evil power that oppressed planets and galaxies. Empires come and empires go, but they rarely come or go gently, or quietly.
The answer is yes, yes we do.

And so the best way for me to explain the hope inherent in Jesus' apocalyptic talk of the heavens coming down is this:

May the Force be with you.
Rev. Josh