Posts Tagged Sparks

Too Loud? Too Bad! – Shiny Side Up – Susan Sparks

The Shiny Side Up from Rev. Susan Sparks

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.

Before I start, I want to offer an apology to all Honda motorcycle riders who may be offended by this message. God loves you. And I try.
Many years ago, before I bought my first bike, my husband Toby took me to a biker rally in Connecticut (an oxymoron if there ever was one). Like most rallies, the bikes were parked in rows with admirers walking up and down, comparing motorcycles and sharing stories.

Of all the gathered horsepower, for me, one bike stood out. It was hard to miss: red flames on a jet-black gas tank, fringed ape-hanger handlebars that you had to reach high above your head to hold, pipes that looked like two huge corn silos laid sideways, and a sticker on the back bumper that read: “Vietnam: We were winning when I left.”

Standing by the bike was the owner (again, who was hard to miss). Straight out of Road Warrior, he donned dirt encrusted black leather chaps, a leather vest (worn shirtless – and shouldn’t have been), and a giant tattoo on his left arm that was something akin to the naked woman silhouette on a tractor-trailer mud flap.

As we watched, he took the last inhale off his cigarette, ground it under his harness boot and swung his leg over the bike preparing to crank up and leave.

“This should be good,” I said to Toby, pointing at the pipes.

“Don’t count on it,” he replied, rolling his eyes.

The road warrior pulled the bike up off the kickstand, straightened the front wheel, pushed the kill switch to run, then turned to the gathered crowd with a Jacki Nicholson type grin, and pressed the start button.

The sound that came out made me gasp. It was like a grasshopper in puberty – breathy, high pitched, even a bit annoying.

“What is that?” I exclaimed. “How could something that big and bad sound so wimpy?”

Toby laughed. “It’s a Honda. That’s how they sound.”

“But what about all the badass leather stuff?”

“Hype,” he said, shaking his head.

I stood there in shock for a few more moments until another sound exploded out over the grasshopper noise. It was a sound that combined the threatening rumble of an approaching thunderstorm with the subtle “potato-potato-potato” rhythm chugged out by the exhaust stacks of my Uncle’s 1960 John Deere. I turned, and there behind us, gleaming in the sun, was a giant Harley Davidson.

“Oh, I love that sound!” I blurted out.

“Yup, I figured you would,” Toby nodded. Then he added the words that have stuck with me until this day: “Hey if it don’t roar, what’s the point?”  (I’ve been a Harley rider ever since.)

If it don’t roar, what’s the point?

Amen to that. It’s true for motorcycles and it’s true for us. We can live life with a whimper or we can live it with a roar. We’re going to be riding down life’s road either way. Why choose anything but living life loud and proud.

This is especially good advice now given our headlines. So many people are offering a voice that sounds more like a grasshopper, than a roar — veiled concerns, passive good wishes, the ubiquitous “thoughts and prayers.” But if you don’t back these passive words up with action – with a roar – it’s only hype.

And a roar is exactly what it’s going to take. We are facing gun violence, racism, mass murders, sexual attacks, natural disasters, and rampant terrorism. We have to dosomething. As the book of James says, “What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” (James 2:14).

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of prayer. But prayer alone is not enough. As God told the Apostle Paul, “Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Maybe this means calling your government officials, or speaking out against gun violence, or offering a kind word to guests at a food bank or manning the phones at a battered women’s shelter.

Whatever it is, we must take a stand. We must speak out. We must not live our lives with a whimper. Because in the end, if we don’t roar, what’s the point?

If you want more, tune into my sermon HERE this Sunday at 11 am EST entitled “If It Don’t Roar, What’s the Point?”

Below you will find more inspiration via photos, articles, and sermons. Until next time, keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down!   –Susan

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Personalizing Suffering – Paul Lambert

I want to share a powerful essay from my dear friend Paul Lambert, Co-Producer of The First Wives Club The Musical. It is entitled, “Personalizing ‘Suffering.” Susan Sparks

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The events in Puerto Rico exhibit suffering and misfortune in a way that impacts us all.

Suffering, whether personal or seen from afar, has consequences — it causes us to pause, to lose our edge, and impairs our confidence and momentum. Because of these consequences suffering can make us feel literally stuck and paralyzed until things get better.

“When suffering knocks at your door and you say there’s no seat for you, it tells you not to worry because it’s brought its own stool.” 

People in Puerto Rico have our attention right now, but without a doubt, someone near you is probably suffering, too.

It may be a family member, a relative, a good friend or a co-worker. It may be that they are feeling unconnected or unheard, experiencing an emptiness inside, suffering extreme financial pressure, or suffering from a physical condition they aren’t openly sharing.

Many Americans have been marginalized while they suffer. Let’s start our week this week by committing to being more aware of those suffering (especially those we know). Let’s be more active in comforting them, befriending them, and doing our part in addressing the source of their suffering.

I believe “suffering” is at the center of today’s political friction and discord, because at the heart of the American “value system” is caring for those less fortunate or shamed by unintended circumstances. There is a raging fight between the villains and victims in our society, today. Both political parties have decided it’s time to apply a wrecking ball to what’s going on.

You may be suffering — yourself — today, too. Right where you are. Right now.

The Psalmist has said “My soul is filled with troubles … I am like a warrior without strength … I feel caged in, I cannot escape“ (Psalm 88).

Take a moment and examine your situation. Have you ever thought there may be an upside to suffering? I believe there is.  Discovering things thru suffering may be an important part of preparing for what’s next in your life. While suffering we are open to discoveries that otherwise we wouldn’t be, discoveries that may have a direct effect on our future.

Two great verses for us to keep in mind at times like these are: “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11)  and, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” (Phil 1:6).

Suffering comes wrapped in many different packages — but in the midst of struggling, feeling defeated, or dealing with unbearable stress and pain — remember God is working.
Corrie ten Boom has some wonderful thoughts on these subjects:

“Don’t bother to give God instructions, just report for duty”
“Make sure that prayer is your steering wheel, not your spare tire
Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

I hope you will reread this blog often to strengthen your faith and be reminded that God is present and at work during your times of suffering. Always remember you are not alone, you are loved and forgiven, and you are meant to move on and get beyond situations that seem intolerable.

Wishing you a courageous week. Your friend, Paul

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The Right Time and Place

One of the surprises that came with writing my book, Our Father: Discovering Family,* was getting to revisit at least in memory with some of the saints that inhabit my world. Some of them I wrote about others are still unsung. Most of these remembrances brought a smile to my face and a deep sense of joy and gratitude.

I also realize that my small home town of Woodruff, South Carolina was the ideal place to encounter people whose values would guide my life. Yes, it was the segregated South and yes these people were prisoners of their place and time. Never-the-less, I did not see or experience the meanness that is so evident today. I did not hear the harsh rhetoric toward public officials that is so pervasive today.

I got a head start on race relations. While we lived in the Abney Mill Village and in a company house. The company sent crews to do regular maintenance. One day the two person crew at our house consisted of two Black men. They were repairing a bedroom window and I was watching them from the inside. I had not yet learned how to tell time. When one of them asked me the time, I simply threw the alarm clock out the window to him. They loved it. From then on when we met on the street they greeted me loudly and recited the story to their companions. This incident set the tone for my life. Everyone enjoys a good laugh. Laughter is a healing force.

Pink Robinson was the custodian at Woodruff High School. He had a laugh that was unmistakable. And contagious. When the windows were open, you could hear his laughter as he returned from an errand on Main Street roughly two blocks away. Smiles spread across the classroom no matter which class you were in when his laughter rang out. It is not a stretch to say that everyone loved Pink.

Rev. Susan Sparks, a Baptist pastor in New York City, a lawyer and a standup comedian, has written a wonderful book, Laugh Your Way to Grace. She contends that Christians have forgotten how to laugh in church. She maintains that laughter is a gift that needs to be nourished. She’s right. Some of my best memories are of Northside Baptist Church and the saints and sinners that I met there.

*Our Father: Discovering Family. Wipf and Stock. 2016.

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Take No Bitterness into the New Year

Many people regard New Year’s Resolutions with the same disdain they attribute to the much-maligned fruitcake. I am a proponent of both. For several years now I have made the same New Year’s resolution and I do my best to keep it. I will take no bitterness into the New Year. Whatever has happened during the past twelve months that tends to sour my disposition, cause me pain and create separation, I resolve to let go. Whatever offenses I have suffered will not be dragged into the New Year. As the years pile up, keeping my resolution doesn’t get any easier.

Forgiveness is not as easy as it might sound. Partly it requires developing a thicker skin and realizing that I take far too many things personally. I need to lighten up. This is one of the concepts my friend, Dr. Monty Knight, discusses in his book, Balanced Living; Don’t Let Your Strengths Become Your Weaknesses. Continuing with Monty’s philosophy, I don’t have to go to every fight to which I am invited. That is a major concept. Let it go. Tom Newboult, a minister of religious education, once told me that sin is giving more importance to the moment than it is worth. In other words, don’t dwell in the negative. I think Tom hit the nail on the head. What a great concept!

Turning a negative into a positive is another methodology for dealing with difficult situations. Since I administered a not-for-profit agency for most of my career, I am often attacked with, “Well, Mitch, you are just an idealist.” My reply is, “Thank you. I hope so.” The main thing about forgiveness for those of us who are Christian to remember is that we are able to forgive because we have been forgiven.

Susan Sparks in her book, Laugh Your Way to Grace, suggests that we rediscover the power of humor. She maintains that we take ourselves far too seriously. We need to repackage some of the comments that cause us pain.

Bitterness is a terrible task master. It will ruin your life and suck all the goodness you receive into a dark hole. I recommend a proactive approach. Go on an active campaign to make those around you glad that you are there. Build them up by helping them feel good about themselves. Say something nice. Compliment her or him in a real genuine way. Call the person by name. Offer a specific compliment about a real accomplishment. On the other hand, when you receive a compliment acknowledge it graciously with a simple “thank you.” In my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, I discuss the power of words, but I am by no means the first to come to that conclusion. The psalmist said, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto thee, oh God, my strength and my redeemer.”

Dr. Arthur Caliandro gets right to the heart of the matter with a three-word solution. “Life is now.” That statement is stunning in its simplicity. Live in the present. Don’t drag past hurts into today. I was part of a vivid demonstration of this principle. We were planning one of the annual John Hamrick Lectures while Dr. John was still living. A potential speaker was being considered. I called the speaker to extend an invitation. He told me that because he and Dr. Hamrick had been involved on opposite sides of a controversy, he would only come if Dr. Hamrick approved. When I told Dr. Hamrick of my conversation he didn’t hesitate. “That was then. This is now.” Wow!

I make no claim that getting rid of bitterness is an easy task. You and I have experienced great hurts. Unfortunately, we have also inflicted great hurts. I know that I am in the process of becoming and that God is not finished with me. Practicing my resolution of taking no bitterness into the New Year has helped me live a more productive, less stressful life. I believe you will experience the same happy results if you give it a try.

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