Blog Pic

Blog Pic

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Blessing of Sarcasm (No, Seriously!)

Like so many people I was particularly shocked by the massacre last week at the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. The idea that people would be so enraged by cartoons that they would kill someone, much less go on a mass murder spree, is stunning to me.

Obviously, murder does not reflect anything about God in any religious expression. But to kill in the name of God for the purpose of stamping out free expression is particularly revolting to me. As I have reflected on the repulsive nature of the event, I thought about how many times historically creativity has been stamped out in the name of religion, under the pretext of disrespect. Now, I want to be careful and not make any comparison – there is no comparison whatsoever between people who would murder large numbers of people and people who are just Debbie Downers.

But it does seem like we have a lot of Debbie Downers in the Church, doesn’t it? And it doesn’t matter from which side of the aisle you stand. I grew up spiritually rooted in conservative evangelicalism and man, if I had a dollar for every time someone was offended by a joke or comment I made I could build a new Crystal Cathedral! I used to beat myself up for it, promising I would rein myself in next time, get control of my mouth; not be so damned offensive. I was given lots (and I mean LOTS) of verses from offended fellow Christians about my need for self-control, my need to consider the “weaker” sisters and brothers who might be hurt in their faith by something I did or said, and my need to only say those things that are edifying to the Body of Christ. I tried to be speak only encouragement, but it only lasted as long as I didn’t see the blatant, hypocrisy so present in the church. In other words, it never lasted long. Now, I want to give my evangelical friends the benefit of the doubt and say that most meant well – they didn’t mean to stifle me, only to mature me. But no matter how they tried to “encourage” me, it always felt like a straightjacket; just too stifling.

And so when my job changed and I was hanging out with a whole lot more liberals and progressives I thought, “Hey, now it’s time for me to let it all hang out!” Boy was I wrong. And I am not talking about political correctness – I don’t feel the need to make racist statements. But I have felt, at times, as shut down by liberals as I ever was by conservatives. I am told quite a bit that there are just things that cannot be joked about and that list seems to be quite long. There are some folks – change that, there are a lot of folks, I just don’t joke with. And I know you are thinking, “lucky them!”

And let’s be serious. In the end, who really cares if I make some stupid jokes or not? No one. But I bring this up now because I am concerned for a church that is always so serious, that is always so offended at sarcasm or humor. A church that cannot laugh is a church that cannot breathe and a church that cannot breathe is certainly a church that will die.

No doubt, there are indeed somber moments in life. But the key word there is “moments.” Not years, not decades, not generations. Moments. There are times to be silent, times to be in awe of God’s beauty or wonder. And there are times to cut up, times to question the stupidity and mindlessness of the traditions we are handed down, times to mock the most serious of moments and ideas, times for sarcasm to remind us that what we believe is most holy might be only the most sacred of cows. Sarcasm can expose false gods and bring about much needed perspective. We need more sarcasm, more humor in the church, not less.

There is something particularly Pharisaical about shushing sarcasm and humor. There is something ungodly about drowning out laughter for the false sense of self-designed holiness. So I thank God for the souls at Charlie Hebdo. I Thank God that the idiots who hoped to crush satire have pushed a magazine that sells 60,000 copies to now sell 3 million. Let the laughter be lifted up to Heaven because I am sure in hell they are too busy telling everyone to shut up.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

My Final Update on my Sabbatical

I have come to the end of my time of sabbatical and as I wrote at the midway point in October, I have LOVED my sabbatical time. It has been a gift and I am deeply grateful to my office and especially the wonderful people who covered for me while I was away.

Sabbath is often characterized as a time to step away and gain new perspective as well as much-needed rest. I don’t see my Sabbath as a step back as much as it was a step forward into a direction I hadn’t experienced in a while; a step toward greater presence and creativity.

As I wrote in October, I have been able to be present for my two wonderful boys, Eli and Isaiah, as well as for my beautiful partner in life, Marti. I take my boys to school, I am home when they get home from school and I run everyone on endless errands, but I have loved every minute of it. I felt like I knew my sons fairly well before, and I won’t embarrass them and say everything that I learned and never knew here, but one of the things that I was surprised at was how much they genuinely love one another. I didn’t grow up in a close family so it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life to see my two boys really love each other. They share things, they encourage one another and they can make each other laugh like no one else. I have been able to be present when school stories become side-splitting, laugh-til-you-cry episodes. I love to make people laugh, but I have never laughed so much myself until this time of Sabbath – thanks to my two amazing boys.

Presence has also been something I have been able to give to my church. In the almost nine years I have been at GBCS my family has attended Culmore UMC and we love it. It is a multi-cultural, multi-socioeconomic  Body that truly loves and serves Jesus. But throughout my time at Culmore I have always felt like I am half there, if even that. I travel a lot with my work and so one of the things I am pulled away from is being present at my church. It has been during my Sabbath that I have been able to step into greater presence in my local church and in leadership as we, like so many other churches, struggle with knowing exactly how we are called to serve. I love my church more than I did before and it is a commitment I plan on continuing to live out.

And that is what Sabbath is all about isn’t it? Having a time of rest not to simply pick up where we once left off and continue to do the same thing we did prior to our Sabbath. God forbid! Sabbath is meant to gain wisdom so that we can be even more effective in the work we are called to. The one thing that I haven’t learned as much as it has been even more deeply embedded in me is that THE locus of mission and transformation is the local church. No other place can match the local church for where personal transformation can occur. No other place can match even the political impact that is felt when local churches opt for incarnation among people who are marginalized and abused through systems of injustice. In short, the local church is where the action is and nothing else comes close.

Though those and good and faithful souls at the general church level can mistakenly fool ourselves through endless meetings and thousands of emails into believing that we are the source of change and missional movement, it is actually the local church where it all begins and ends. Therefore, all we do should be focused on supporting, empowering, and unleashing the work of our local churches.

And while I return to work with renewed determination to no longer work 12-15 hour days, to no longer allow work to crowd me out of being present for my family and my church, I also return with a passion to see that all I am doing is to support the life-changing, society-changing, politically-impactful work that is happening in so many United Methodist churches.

I will remain present and engaged in my church as well. I will cut down on my travel – especially on trips that have nothing to do with supporting the work of local churches and on trips that carry into Sundays. I will continue to pour myself into reconnecting the general church with the local church in ways that are meaningful and helpful to those doing the amazing incarnational work among those being crushed by injustice. And I will continue to pour myself into my family and my church for nothing can match the power that is found when a vision for mission is collective and life is shared. I am blessed beyond measure and I am so grateful for it.