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Archives for August 2014 | Laughing Pilgrims

Keeping Busy

August 18, 2014

“How ya’ doin’?” “Keeping busy.” Noting how often we hear and say this, a visiting friend and I explored how easily we let busyness pose as virtue. Being busy means you’re doing well, maybe even doing good. But, even leaving out busy people who are up to no good, busyness may not gauge how we’re doing.

busyIf it did, we could invent devices to measure how fast we’re spinning our wheels or how much we’re cramming into our lives. Maybe a Cram-o-Meter. Or a Spindex. If “keeping busy” misses the mark, though, we might think of ways to avoid falling into its trap. I’ve been thinking about three ideas that might help.

The first idea is “margin.” I first learned this term from Richard Swenson’s book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives. He writes in part from what he has seen as a physician and argues that we all need some margin between ourselves and our limits. That margin creates space for emergencies, for surprises, or for Murphy’s Law, “whatever can go wrong will go wrong.” (I’ve checked and can confidently declare that this is not named after our Bruce Murphy.) Margin also breathes in availability to follow God’s unexpected nudges.

The second idea comes from Richard Foster at Northwest Yearly Meeting sessions last summer. Annoyingly enough to me, he spoke of sleep as a “discipline.” It’s a way of noting our limitations, he said, a way of recognizing that we can never get it all done. Obviously that’s quite meddlesome even beyond calling some of us to better habits in sleep. Who says we can’t get it all done? But I think about it.

The third idea is keeping Sabbath. I’ve thought about this very old idea for a long time and have experimented with it in a variety of ways. Simply put, Sabbath is taking a day each week to celebrate God and God’s steady presence in our world and our lives. It’s a day to step back and relish the gift of life, of love, of family and friends, and of our wondrous world. It’s a day to live our trust in God. Abraham Heschel calls it a “sanctification of time,” a time set apart, a holy time. In contrast, it’s not a “day off” when we rush around doing personal chores, shopping, cleaning, and managing all of the personal work we have to do. That’s not Sabbath rest.

Of course, Christians widely neglect Sabbath and sometimes churches schedule so many Sunday meetings that it nearly wears you out. Our larger culture pressures us in many ways to live in 24/7 compulsive ways, pursuing consumption, achievement, fame and fortune, etc., or at least lots of gadgets and trinkets for body, home, and hovel. This is one of the reasons I like Walter Brueggemann’s recent book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. The key word is “resistance.” Sabbath resists the lies of culture.

I connect this particularly with the version of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. In verses 12-15 God requires keeping Sabbath as a way of remembering the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt where they had to work as slaves 24/7. But it’s not just remembering; it’s living in the reality of a wonderful gift. God rescued them from Egypt with God’s “strong hand and outstretched arm,” and they are now to live boldly, knowing that God will continue to deliver them and provide for them.

The challenge of Sabbath is to learn to rest and rejoice in God. It is to act like we believe that God can and will care for us. It is to imagine that God might capably manage the world even if we’re not working 24/7 to make sure it all runs right. This will challenge many of us who are “keeping busy,” but I believe we can find creative and joyful ways forward to enjoy the freedom that God offers us.

 

[This essay first appeared in Your NFC, the newsletter of Newberg Friends Church, Newberg, Oregon, on August 8, 2014. I’ve included it here since I have a couple of readers who aren’t part of my home church. Of course, you’d all be welcome.]

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Humor in Job?

August 13, 2014

When I tease at the possibility that the Book of Job uses humor, some folks fire back, “How could Job be funny? It’s such a tragic story!” It is, of course. But sometimes writers use humor in very dark places. Flannery O’Connor uses it in her short stories. The Bible uses it, too. Darkness covers the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing from Isaac, but the goatskins on Jacob’s arms to help him pose as his hairy brother add comic relief. Wisdom literature from the Ancient Near East, such as “The Dialogue of Pessimism,” which explores similar themes as Job, often uses humor. So I suggest that in Job, sometimes humor and tragedy mingle.

The story needs to show Job right away as the best person in the history of the cosmos. It starts abruptly: “Job was a man who lived in Uz. He was honest inside and out, a man of his word, who was totally devoted to God and hated evil with a passion.” (Job 1:1, The Message) The author not only states the premise of the story, Job’s integrity and devotion to God, but also exaggerates it, makes it bigger than life. This is caricature, an oversized way of making a point and making people smile.

Job loves God so much that he even tries to be devoted to God on behalf of his kids. Apparently his adult children, seven sons and three daughters, liked to party, feasting and boozing at each other’s homes. And after every late night party, Job would get up in the early morning to offer top-of-the-line sacrifices for each of his children, worrying that, partied out, they might have “cursed God in their hearts.” Job did this regularly. Most of us know this guy and shake our heads as we laugh and cry.

Between his impeccable integrity and his impressive wealth, Job was the best man in the whole territory. As God points out to the “Adversary,” “There isn’t anyone like him.”

The scene shifts to God holding court with the various courtiers (“divine beings,” “angels”) gathered, including the “Adversary” (or the “Designated Accuser,” or “the Satan”). This is not the Satan figure we find later in the Bible, but a courtier who has the role of saying, “Yes, but,” or challenging God. Medieval courts had jokers who did this, though, as tempting as it is, I suppose it’s not a clean comparison. Still we can read both courtroom scenes (see also Job 2:1-6) as banter between God and the Adversary. God brags on Job, “Have you noticed Job? There’s nobody like him, full of integrity…” The Adversary replies, “Yes, but he’s not good for nothing, you know.” Even in the awful challenge of these two scenes, we may still find witty telling.

The Adversary brings calamity on Job, on his wealth and his family. But the suddenness and scale of the four disasters, and the pile-up of each one’s breathless, only-survivor messengers continue the outsized storytelling. The train wreck of messengers both heightens the catastrophe and prompts a smile. As one messenger is stammering out, “I alone escaped to tell you,” the next one rushes in, blurting out even worse news.

Even Job’s response to all of this might invite both amazement and a smile. He dramatically expresses his grief, then falls face down to worship, no complaints. It doesn’t quite pass our “Is-that-normal?” humor test.  In the story Job demonstrates his best-in-the-cosmos character, but then, what an odd, unusual character!

I invite you to try seeing humor in the dark, scene-setting story that opens Job. It will be easier when we get to Job’s trash-talking friends. But as the book begins, I wonder whether you might see some grins in the gloom, perhaps even some that I’ve missed.

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Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

Fun Nooks and Crannies

There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

Sometimes I’ll brag on some of the friends I’ve been given or share some photos I’ve enjoyed taking. Maybe you’ll laugh, maybe not, but they’ve brought joy in my journey.

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