Posts Tagged hear

The Shiny Side Up from Rev. Susan Sparks – Laughter

“God is silent.   Now if only man would shut up.”    -Woody Allen
Hi y’all, welcome to the Shiny Side Up! A journal of infectious inspiration that will lift you up, make you smile and leave you stronger!

I am a spiritual seeker and a Leo. As such, I prefer chatty, outgoing deities. I want a God that wants to talk about the same things I do, i.e. me; a God that tells me when I wake up each morning that I look gorgeous; a God that says, “I love you” every five seconds and “You are so fabulous” every ten.

I didn’t ask to be born in August. I didn’t even ask to be a Leo. But since someone or something chose to put me on this earth during that particular planetary grade, one would think that he, she or it would take the time to ensure that my royal Leo requirements were met. Unfortunately, the deity responsible was, I believe, a Scorpio: a private, quiet sign that hates lengthy conversations.

You don’t have to be a fiery lioness to feel the weight of holy silence. We’ve all had that moment when we look around expectantly for some divine response — any response — and there appears to be none. Why does God sometimes appear silent? And why do those times seem to be the ones we most need holy assistance?

One thing I have learned over the years about Scorpios is that while sometimes quiet, they are loyal beyond imagination. Often found in the background, they are nonetheless always there — a bit like Forrest Gump. In the movie, Forrest magically materializes out of the background in some of the major historical moments of the time. Oh, here is Forrest with President John F. Kennedy! Oh, here he is with Elvis Presley! Oh, look Forrest is standing beside John Lennon! You had to look closely to see him, but he was always there.

The ancient Celts apparently agreed with my assessment that God is a Scorpio. In Celtic spirituality, in order to find God, you had to look pretty hard. But if you looked in the right places, God was always there. One of those places was what the Celts deemed “thin places”; places where the boundary between human and holy was so thin, so transparent, you could almost break through. These were the spaces where secular and holy, earth and heaven, ordinary and sacred came together. As the theologian, Marcus Borg explained: “Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts, and we behold God.”

Thin places can take many forms. Some might be geographical, like the desert, where all things are stripped away and life is down to its bare essentials. Others might be found in music, poetry, literature or art. Another thin place we don’t often think of is laughter. Laughter is the ultimate act of letting go. It clears our hearts of insecurity, neediness and stale expectations. It opens it anew to the words or songs or silence we were meant to receive.

With laughter, our hearts are laid bare before God. And in this place where all is released, all becomes possible.

One other thing I have learned is that Leos never believe anything is their fault. That is why it has taken me years to realize that God is silent through no fault of God, but because of my own baggage — my own inability to hear. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton explained: “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time. This is not just a fable or a nice story. It is true. [And] if we abandon ourselves to God and forget ourselves, we see it sometimes.”

In the end, I still see myself as a Leo with a Scorpio creator. But through laughter, I’ve found a thin place where even Leos and Scorpios are compatible; a point where we let go and stop trying to make God into something; a place of repose where, resting in the mystery, we simply await God to reveal God’s self in God’s own time. No expectations. No disappointments. Just faith that what comes is holy and right and meant to be … Scorpio, Leo or whatever.

(This post is an excerpt from my book, “Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor.” Permission granted by SkyLight Paths Publishing.)

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Stir the pot, make trouble, to change what has always been done

Morning Worship:

Jesus said in Luke 12:51: “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”

“Isn’t that just what you want to hear at Chautauqua?” said the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli. “Jesus isn’t messing around; there is no smooth talk here.”

She was preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.  Her sermon title was “Disturbing the Peace,” and the Scripture readings were Isaiah 30:8-18 and Luke 12:49-56.

“These words sound familiar in a time we find ourselves so divided, with violence, exclusion and rancor in our public discourse and interpersonal relationships,” she said. “The last thing we expect to hear is that Jesus is a proponent of division and fiery destruction.”

For some scholars, the only way out of this dilemma is to say that Jesus did not say these words. But, she said, the problem is that “words like these are found in Matthew, Mark, Luke and the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas. So we need to pay attention, to sit with any discomfort and listen.”

As editor of the CEB Women’s Bible, Gaines-Cirelli sat and read through the Gospel of Luke and began to hear its story as a story. There were themes and details that emerged when she read it that way that did not appear when just reading little chunks.

The theme of disruption begins in Luke with the “Magnificat,” Mary’s song of praise to God. She says: “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Simeon the prophet greets Mary, telling her that her baby son, “is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.”

“In Chapter 4 of Luke, Jesus is run out of his hometown, and in Chapter 5 the religious rulers began to take issue with what he was saying, and by Chapter 6 they were looking for ways to accuse him and get rid of him,” Gaines-Cirelli said.

How can we call him the Prince of Peace, she asked. How does this vision of conflict, division and opposition fit with a faith of love, reconciliation and peace? Have we gotten it wrong?

“I don’t think we have gotten it wrong because love and peace are at the heart of the good news that Jesus embodies,” she said. “But there is an inherent conflict that following Jesus necessarily entails.”

There are some people who enjoy conflict for the sake of conflict, but most of us avoid conflict.

“The church is good at being conflict-averse, of taking the path of least resistance,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “We don’t take risks for fear of losing people, making them uncomfortable and angry. The church is good at smooth things as in ‘the way we’ve always done it.’ Following Jesus is about disrupting the way we have always done it.”

The lengths to which people and institutions go to keep the peace can be self-destructive. Conflict is painful, emotionally and physically. It means the loss of friends and family and can bring about changes to situations that were life-giving.

“Our tradition says blessed are the peacemakers, but it also says blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,” she said. “The truth is that Jesus created conflict, not simply for the sake of conflict, but for righteousness’ sake.”

Jesus came to be the just ruler that Isaiah preached about; he did not come into a peaceful, whole and just world.

“Jesus came to disturb the injustice of an unjust world, to disrupt the things that are not resonant with the Kingdom of God, things like love, respect, compassion and equality for the sake of the other,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “This is not eye for an eye retributive justice, but restorative justice that is gracious but challenging for us.”

She quoted biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, who said, “Justice is to sort out what belongs to whom and to return it to them.” In the kingdom of God, Gaines-Cirelli said, this is good news for those who had what belongs to them taken away.

“If we choose to follow Jesus, we will find ourselves in trouble,” she said. “We don’t go looking for trouble or stir the pot for no good reason. Jesus came to change what is wrong and we get into trouble to make things better. Conflict is the result, but we are stirring the pot to bring about change.”

Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, answered the question of why he was taking nonviolent direct action. He called it creative tension, and it caused a crisis for people so they could no longer ignore the issue of racism.

“This is what we are experiencing all over the country right now,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “People are marching to dramatize that police brutality and racism will no longer be ignored. Pride parades for LGBT justice dramatize that inequality will no longer be ignored. The parades and rallies in Washington, D.C., all disturb the peace for the sake of love and the cause of right.”

She acknowledged that the tension this has caused for people with family and friends might not necessarily be called creative, and she has heard some “pretty wild and painful stories about these relationships.”

When you have, in faith and humility, interpreted the tradition, “you choose where you stand and with whom. You create conflict for what is loving and just,” she said.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus is telling his listeners to put energy into discerning what matters and do accordingly.

“When people challenge you, or unfriend you on Facebook, or treat you like you are ridiculous or sinful because of where you stand, remember you are in good company,” she said. “As preacher William Sloane Coffin said, ‘Jesus knew that to love your enemies didn’t mean don’t make any.’ ”

Gaines-Cirelli described herself as a “pleaser.”

“I know what people want and expect, and I provide it,” she said. “That was my role in the family. I am the master of smooth talk, and I have an allergy to anger and rage. None of that prepared me for the work of disturbing the peace for the sake of God’s kingdom.”

What did prepare her was prayer, Scripture, living in God’s presence, and more prayer and more prayer and more prayer.

“I know that I walk humbly with Jesus, that the Spirit has my back and God holds me in love,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “That prepares me for the hard work of disappointing people and losing people from the congregation.”

She was asked to grow the church and found it a temptation to use “smooth talk,” but God prepared her to “do the hard thing, risking losing people I care about and making them angry.”

“I hate it!” she said. “I don’t want to do it!”

No one wants to do it, she said, but no one thinks that the world is as God would have it be. Things need to change and conflict will be required, but the good news is that conflict can make things more gentle so that the world stands with God.

“God will give us the grace to persevere, to stand on the side of justice, to find peace from truth-telling and sacrificial love,” she said. “God will grant us a reality better than the way we have always done it.”

She paused.

“If we are willing,” she said. “If we are willing.”

The Rev. Susan McKee presided. Jim Babcock read the Scripture. Jim is the husband of Sherra Babcock, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. His great-grandfather and grandfather accompanied former President Ulysses S. Grant on his visit to Chautauqua in 1876, and Jim stands proudly at attention when the Marine Corp Hymn is played at the Fourth of July concert. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir in singing “If Ye Love Me,” by Philip Webley. The Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy and the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund provide support for this week’s services.


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Morning Worship: God is holding you and all this beautiful, broken world  o

by MARY LEE TALBOT on   The Chautauqua Daily


The Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli Presents Her Sermon During Sunday Morning Worship In The Amp On Sunday, July 23, 2017. ERIN CLARK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

When the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli was serving as a youth minister, she was asked to preach one Sunday. One of the youth, Phil, wanted to see her before the service.

“I knew Phil liked me and he had been on mission trips and retreats and was aloof, as fitted a 16-year-old,” she said. “He asked if I was preaching and I said yes. He said, ‘Make it interesting.’ ”

Gaines-Cirelli was preaching at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Hear and See,” and the Scripture reading was Isaiah 30:8-18.

“That is such good counsel if you have ears to hear,” she said. “To invite people to receive God’s love and liberating grace, to share God’s life.”

This message has always been a challenge to be truly received.

Hearing is more than physical; it is not just intellectual assent or an emotional response. To truly hear “adjusts the core of our being and we are changed from the inside out.” Gaines-Cirelli said the most difficult journey is from the head to the heart and it is a round trip — a quote she attributed to 20th-century preacher William Sloane Coffin.

The prophet Isaiah had fully received God’s message and a vision had taken root in his heart of a community living in covenant faithfulness. It would be a community that rescued the oppressed, beat swords into ploughshares; it would be the vision of the peaceable kingdom.

“This vision of peaceful living and interdependence guided all he did; it was his grounding and he invited others to live it,” Gaines-Cirelli said of Isaiah. “He looked at Judah in crisis and saw it rejecting the vision and turning toward oppression and cunning that brought increased suffering and the presumed necessity of violence.”

It is only in quiet and trust that Judah could remember who was able to liberate them.

“In response to this blessed assurance, they said, ‘No thanks, we are good with oppression and cunning,’ ” Gaines-Cirelli said.

Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, calling it the city that killed the prophets and stoned those sent to it. Jesus longed to gather the people of Jerusalem under his wings like a mother hen, but they were not willing.

“Why? Why did they reject the words of God’s prophets?” she asked. “They were unwilling or unable to receive the word and change course.”

The prophet could see the writing on the wall if things did not change, but his announcement of destruction made no impact. The people told Isaiah to stop telling the truth, to quit speaking of God all together and “tell us what we want to hear.”

“Why?” Gaines-Cirelli said. “What is your answer?”

She imagined that for some, in a message-saturated culture, they want to keep their illusions because they are tired. People just want to get through the day; they have enough to do and are not interested in doing more, or learning more or caring more. They are on information overload.

Others “prefer to keep their illusions about their life, relationships, country, world or culture because the truth is too painful, too overwhelming.”

“They grow complacent and think things aren’t so bad and that it will all work out,” she said.

This is only possible, she continued, for those who live in relative safety or ease.

“They will resent those who threaten their relative comfort,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “This is called privilege, and it works overtime to prove those who are suffering wrong, even in the face of data. What would be required of the privileged would be too costly if the vision took root.”

Prophets tell inconvenient truths that require real change.

“There are things in my life I need to change, that if left uncared for will have negative consequences,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “I know I need more rest and exercise, so I decided to do ‘vigorous sitting.’ I don’t have a primary care physician because I don’t want to deal with the insurance company.”

She said that there are difficult conversations she needs to have, and her husband tells her to do what needs to be done.

“I could kill him, metaphorically,” she said. “But exhaustion, guilt and regret are things that keep me from doing what needs to be done and when I don’t want to see, I lash out.”

Smart, accomplished people who care can inadvertently miss what God is trying to do or say, she said, because “they think they understand the situation and can handle it themselves, with no assistance from God, because they know what the problem is and it is up to them to solve it.”

She gave the example of the statue of Atlas in front of Rockefeller Center, holding up the world on his shoulders.

“He is the most powerfully built man in the world, and he can barely stand,” she said. “That is one way to live.”

Across the street, in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, is a statue of Jesus as a boy holding the world up with one hand.

“We have a choice,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “We can try to carry all the injustices, hurts, doubts, confusions, fears and anxiety — that is, it is up to us, we know best — or we can let God help us. I can just see Atlas saying ‘no thanks’ to God’s offer of help.”

She told the congregation “our overactive sense of knowledge keeps us from seeing God’s saving love and mercy.”

“The prophets made the message interesting and painful to get our attention,” she said. “We have heard God’s call to love, serve, give, live with the creation. We know this stuff, right?”

We cannot do it by ourselves, she continued. It is one thing to know something intellectually and “another to change our lives. Where are you on the round trip journey from head to heart? God is with you on that journey and holding you and all this beautiful, broken world.”

God’s love is at work in, through and all around you in quietness and trust, she said.

“God is waiting to help grant you mercy and grace in what work is yours to do in the living of these days,” she said. “Hear. See. Receive. God bless you, amen.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr. presided. The Rev. Susan McKee, founder and executive director of Knitting4Peace, read the Scripture. She is a United Church of Christ minister, working on interfaith relations in Denver. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir, which sang “We Shall Walk Through the Valley,” arranged by Undine Smith Moore. The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund and the Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy provide support for this week’s services.

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Random Acts of Kindness – 16

Someone needs to hear your praise. Praise her or him. You will be glad that you did.

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