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

Tags: , , ,

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

———————-

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

Tags: , , ,

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like Good Fried Chicken: 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.

Recently in Atlanta, Georgia, I discovered that the Kingdom of Heaven is like great fried chicken. This realization came after a dinner with my roommate from college.

Atlanta, if you don’t know, is a foodie heaven. Every major chef — every James Beard award winner is down there. So I was excited about what new edgy restaurant we might explore!

My friend picks me up from my hotel and after a bit of a drive, we turn into the parking lot of a sketchy motel with a neon flashing sign across the street advertising “The Onxy Strip Club.”  Nestled in the middle of all this glory was the Colonnade Restaurant, circa 1927.

I wanted to turn to my friend and say “you have GOT to be kidding me.” But like the good southerner I said, “well how lovely” (still thinking you have GOT to be kidding).

Here’s where the lesson shows up. About a half an hour later, the waitress arrives with our food. Brothers and sisters I kid you not – the heavens opened up, and a flock of angels came down with the keys to the kingdom because there in front of me was a big ole plate of fried chicken that was so good it’d make your tongue jump out and lick the eyebrows off your head.

That evening I learned that the Kingdom of Heaven is like good fried chicken because often times we find it in places we might not otherwise choose to go.

Appearances are fooling – whether it’s a building, or a neighborhood, or a nation or a person, you can never judge based on how something or someone looks. The book of John 7:24 says, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”

Besides the fact that judging is wrong, it’s also dumb. We miss the best things in life by focusing only on what’s shiny and beautiful, popular and hip. Had we gotten scared off by the sketchy motel and the Onyx Strip Club, we would have missed experiencing the Kingdom through that fried chicken. And the same is true for all of us.

Right now, today, something or someone around you is offering YOU a beautiful gift. The question is: will you judge the appearance of the giver or will you accept and enjoy the gift?

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

Tags: , , ,

Give your tongue a rest and listen with your heart, Sparks says

“Is there anywhere in the Bible that shows Jesus laughing?” asked the Rev. Susan Sparks at the beginning of the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Chautauquan Susan Hughes had stopped Sparks after her presentation at the Interfaith Lecture Tuesday and asked the question.

“The short answer is no, not in the Gospels; there is nothing about joy,” Sparks said. “But in the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, there is a phrase used several times, ‘and the Savior laughed.’ ”

Sparks took a short diversion from her sermon topic, “Check Your Weapons at the Door.” The theme was angry words and the Scripture readings were James 3:3-5, Proverbs 18:21 and Psalm 141:3.

Sparks and her husband were on a motorcycle trip near Yellowstone. She was wearing an open face helmet and momentarily took off her glasses, and a bug hit her in the eye. It hit her eyelid, but “it felt like a meteor coming at me. I was not pleased and I am sure the bug was not happy either,” she said.

They stopped at a Cody, Wyoming, hospital to get her eye looked at and she noticed a large sign at the front door: “Check Your Weapons at the Door.”

“Is that sign for real?” she asked the nurse looking after her,

“Honey, this is Wyoming,” the nurse said. “You have no idea what people come in packing.”

The sign was important to keep people safe in the hospital, Sparks said.

“There is a lot of talk about weapons today — nukes, drones, WMDs, AK-47s — that we need to seriously consider checking at the door,” she said. “But there is a more dangerous and equally scary one that each of us has. We are all packing heat with our personal WMD — the human tongue.”

In Proverbs 12:18 it says “rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” We are all familiar with the damaging power of words, Sparks said, that can sting like bugs at 70 mph. They tear apart families, cause jealousy and anger, and lead to prejudice and racial slurs.

“Fifty-two percent of young people have been bullied online,” she said. “These words are spoken and written because the fingers are the extension of the mouth. Hurt-filled words that are spoken, written, texted or tweeted are part of an arms race that must stop.”

In the letter of James, he tells his readers that a bridle in the mouth of a horse can control it, and that a great ship is guided by a small rudder.

“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits,” Sparks added. “There has to be a way to bridle the tongue, to check our weapon at the door along with other, dangerous, human-made weapons.”

The first way she suggested to check the weapons is to take responsibility for what you say or write.

“I know that pasta is done when I throw it against the wall and it sticks,” she said. “When we treat words like that, they always stick. I wish we had autocorrect for the tongue.”

One day Sparks was texting a parishioner and thought she had sent: “Our prayers are with you. You have family in NYC.” When she checked the message, it read, “Our prayers are with me, you have family here not.”

The parishioner had a sense of humor and wrote back, “I pray my pastor will master autocorrect.”

There is no autocorrect in life; we can’t take things back and we will be held accountable, Sparks said. As baseball player Willie Davis said, if you step on people in this life, you are likely to come back as a cockroach.

The second way to check our tongues, Sparks said, is realizing there is power in shutting up.

“We need to take a Shabbat, a rest, for our mouths and listen,” she said. “We think by the inch, talk by the yard and show people the door by the foot.”

Author Stephen Covey said that we don’t listen to understand, we listen to reply.

“I know that from my training as a trial lawyer, I was always looking for something to say that was sparkly, intelligent or would win the argument,” Sparks said. “But we do this naturally in our own lives.”

If we only listen to reply, we are only listening with our mouth, she said. If we listen to learn, we are listening from the heart.

“Let’s give our mouths a Shabbat,” she said.

The third suggestion was that words can change the world for better or worse. As an example, Sparks told a story of being in a pre-operating room with her husband, who was awaiting back surgery. A doctor entered the cubicle of the patient next door who was waiting for surgery and said: “You are going to hate me after this operation. This is the most painful surgery I do.”

In contrast, her husband’s surgeon came in and said: “Let’s do this. You will be taller and stronger because of me.”

She also shared the story of a father playing catch with his son in a local park. The small son had a glove about the size of his head. The dad would throw the ball and it would drop to the ground. The father kept moving closer and throwing the ball, and it kept dropping to the ground. Finally, he walked up and put the ball in the glove.

“That was great, good for you,” he said to his son.

“What an indelible footprint that dad made on the flexible psyche of his son,” Sparks said.

People are hungry for love and affirmation and every word has an impact on them. We can change them and the entire world with our words, she said.

“Do your words lift up and leave people better than you found them or are they WMDs?” Sparks asked. “We can get all worked up packing heat, making the tongue a destructive weapon, or we can make it a tool for healing and change the world for the better. Check your weapons at the door.”

Tags: , , ,