Joining Earth’s Gladness

February 26, 2014

Standing outside the small store at the edge of the coastal mountain, I suppose I chickened out. But when I saw the rugged man toss two twelve-packs of Bud into the pickup bed alongside his large chainsaws, I balked at asking about his bumper sticker: “Earth First – we’ll log the other planets later.” In the land where protecting spotted owls and clear-cut logging of forests compete, the conversation seemed risky at best.

I’ve already repented of some of the things I might have said. But I’ve been thinking of others, wiser I hope. And he might have listened. After all, one of the godliest men I know was a lumberjack, complete with tough denims, steel-toe, high-top boots, 60-inch bar chainsaws and all.

earthFor one thing, I might have told him about the earth’s deep gladness at the rule of God. It started with the morning stars singing joyfully as God laid the foundations of the earth, surveyed its dimensions, laid its cornerstone, and set clear boundaries for the sea. (Job 38:4-11) Earth’s gladness continues as all of its creatures – cedars and cypresses, storks and rock badgers, lions and people, too – live richly satisfied with God’s generous provision. (Psalm 104) When God sends rains that turn wilderness to pasture and wrap hillsides with blossoms, that clothe meadows with sheep and carpet valleys with grain, “they all shout and sing for joy!” (Psalm 65:10-13, NLT) In Isaac Watts’ hymn “Joy to the World,” based on Psalm 98, we are invited to sing along “while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.” God rules in faithfulness and love. No wonder the psalmists call all creation to sing. No wonder earth is glad.

Another thing I might have said is that we can join in earth’s deep gladness as fellow creatures. We can admire and wonder at the creation that God delighted to call “good … very good,” with its lavishness, practicality and playfulness, with its diversity, its riot of color and design. We can celebrate our own creatureliness, for example, when we enjoy watching the families of birds – sandhill cranes, yellow-headed blackbirds, bald and golden eagles, cinnamon teals, curlews, and avocets. We can relax into and marvel at God’s power when we explore the shape of the world from broad plains to mountains tilted high by tectonic plates crashing together, from cinder cones that wanted to be volcanoes to fertile tidelands.

Part of joining gladly with other creatures is to remind ourselves that we are not God. We’re just critters. As critters we must, like all of creation, come to rest in God’s goodness and to depend on God’s provision. One of the main reasons for keeping Sabbath is to act as if God can and will care for us, that we don’t have to push 24/7 to be sure we’re okay. With similar impact, Jesus challenged his followers to answer whether they thought that God, who generously tends wildflowers and sparrows, would also care for them. If we can say yes, we can more easily join the rest of creation in living in joy and freedom.

Finally, I think I might have said that we can wonder at and live out faithfully the special place in creation that we humans have. After marveling at the night sky the psalmist wonders that God should either notice or care for people. Even more remarkably, he says, God has given humans authority to govern creation. (Psalm 8, Genesis 1:28) The creation story in Genesis 2, though, tempers the temptation to get uppity about all this. It recounts that earth had no plants yet because there were no people to work the soil. (Genesis 2:5) You need farmers first. The Hebrew word typically translated “till” or “cultivate” has the general meaning “to serve,” which points us in a helpful direction. It suggests serving the earth rather than serving ourselves. Collaborating in God’s rule invites us to share in God’s manner, to emulate God’s right ordering, tenderness, delight, and generosity.

Humans have not always ruled faithfully. The ancient taunt song against the grandiose, fallen king of Babylon describes how “finally the earth is at rest and quiet. Now it can sing again.” The cypresses and cedars of Lebanon, relentlessly over-harvested to build distant palaces, now sing to the king. “Since you have been cut down, no one will come now to cut us down!” (Isaiah 14:7-8, NLT) Of course, despite their song of liberation, today the creation still groans to be set free from the effects of human rule that is not like God’s.

In contrast, the vision of the Peaceable Kingdom which we love in Isaiah 11 and in the powerful images of artists Edward Hicks and Fritz Eichenberg, is only realized in the wake of a just and loving ruler, guided by God’s Spirit and delighting in God’s ways. So as creatures still dependent on God, we can seek God’s guidance to govern our fellow creatures wisely and humbly. Perhaps we can discover better ways to cultivate, grow, and harvest. Maybe we could use our creative powers to develop hardier, more fruitful plants. We could learn to live in ways to do less harm, that strengthen rather than weaken. We can applaud and join individuals and groups who are seeking practical ways of sustaining the creation. We can work hard to provide pure water and clean environments that give life and health to people and lands.

We ordinary people, as unlikely as it seems, have been invited by the Creator to share in God’s rule. In choices large and small, may we live in ways that share the world’s love for God and share God’s love for the world.


[This essay was originally published in Quaker Life magazine in 2008, but I just rediscovered it and wanted to share it with blog readers who would not have seen it.]


What the Bleep?!

February 13, 2014

Recently I heard, again, about a newscaster who abruptly lost his job when he dropped an “f-bomb” (and other colorful words) while his mike was still live. But that’s hardly news anymore. All kinds of people get embarrassed, at least, or canned because they can’t keep their ast***erisks, @*X&!, and “what the bleeps?” together.

I haven’t heard of a pulpit f-bomb firing yet. Could have happened. But I have read a blog post arguing that it s fine for Christians to drop one now and again. Frankly, that seemed odd to me. I admit that I grew up among Christian folks who both avoided coarse, vulgar, or profane language and urged me to avoid it, too. My grandfather, I learned, would only occasionally let out a “Horsefeathers!” when his team of horses would make trouble. Or maybe less fiercely, “Pshaw.” I don’t think my father-in-law actually knew any words for such moments. One good friend, who actually knows how to play basketball, would sometimes give a vigorous, almost-a-whisper “Shshugar!” when he missed a lay-up or when one of us (like me) would forget (again) how to run a pick-and-roll. My mentors even warned about “minced oaths,” though now I admit to letting a “golly” or “darn” slip once in a while. I’m still embarrassed by, but almost proud of, the moment that my two young children stared wide-eyed at each other and exclaimed, “Did you hear what Dad said?!” Almost. I’m glad it seemed out of the ordinary.

Well, bother! (Thanks, Winnie). I think my mentors were right. Crude-and-rude, profane language does not reflect our new way of life as Children of the Light. (For example, reflect on Ephesians 5.) Speech that is clean, courteous, and kind is more fitting for folks under transformation. So is choosing not to trivialize God’s name by using it as slang. This may seem a bit countercultural, but then Christians are not supposed to be widgets stamped out by our cultural molds.

Note that I follow Paul at this point, “The rest is from me and not from the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:12, JB. What a fine proof-text.) A lot of this comes down to habit, habits we choose and develop. On the one hand, I’m convinced that some folks use coarse language so habitually that they don’t even know what the ***** bleep they’re saying. On the other, we can choose richer and more suitable uses of language. Even if we low-ball the number of English words at one quarter of a million, we have lots of great words to choose from. If you leave out the dozen or two most common crude and profane words (it’s really a boring, limited vocabulary), you can still find a way to say what you want.

And, frankly, it’s simpler, sort of like the habit of telling the truth. If we make a habit of gracious speech, then we don’t have to think about how we have to clean it up for particular listeners. And we don’t have to worry about whether the mike is live.


Laughter and Imperfection

February 4, 2014

The first thing I did after I fell over my mower and splattered myself on the ground was to look around to see if any of my neighbors had watched my graceful self-planting. I must have made an ugly sound, too, since while I was still scanning for neighbors, my wife came running out and was the first to discover the gash on my knee. Rushing to the emergency room rescued me from cul-de-sac view and put me in the hands of medical folk who routinely witness frailty at its finest.

My first response, of course, was to see whether anyone had seen my awkward folly instead of my very together, capable, perfect self. Not that my neighbors hadn’t already seen past that. Laughing would have been better, even while I was fertilizing the lawn with my precious hemoglobin. For one thing, I would have beaten everyone else to it and freed them to laugh out loud. And by laughing I could both confess and remind myself that I am just an ordinary human – limited, imperfect, sometimes clumsy.

We often distinguish “laughing at” from “laughing with” to help us avoid humor that hurts others and to embrace humor that reminds us that we’re all in the same boat. Sometimes, though, we need to laugh at ourselves so we’ll know that we’re “with” others, that we’re as human as anybody. Self-deprecatory humor can be helpful and charming, of course. But we need to guard against it becoming self-derogatory and hurtful. Consider the following suggestions.

First, be kind to yourself. Embrace your folly and imperfection, but don’t let laughing turn into shaming, demeaning, or despising. Good humor should free you from that and even show self-compassion. Don’t trash yourself with angry thoughts or phrases like, “You idiot! You’re just a screw-up! You’ll never get it right! You always (fill in the blank).” Joking that undercuts your worth as a person might get a good laugh, but it leaves wounds. Perhaps you wince, as I do, when you hear people cut themselves deeply with humor and you know they’re not kidding.

Let your laughter be truthful. Don’t use humor to hide or deflect, still trying to protect the illusion of being superhuman. Instead, let it show the wonder of our sometimes stumbling-bumbling humanity. When we show up and are vulnerable enough to be real, even with mismatched socks, awkward words, clumsy moves, or spinach stuck in our teeth, it frees us from pretense and embraces the folks around us, all of whom struggle as we do. As we live in imperfection, laughter can do us a lot of good.


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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