Over the snark

snark_definitionI think I am done with the snark.

It occurred to me the other day as I read the thread of comments in a friend’s Facebook post, with a bit of voyeuristic abandon, that the snide remarks weren’t contributing to the common good or the common understanding and were maybe, just maybe, adding a little more ugliness to the world.

Let me be clear: I have LOVED a good snarky conversation.  I have participated in many, at presbytery meetings, watching tv, over coffee and wine.

Let me be clear:  There’s a talent in being able to make good snark, not unrelated to the talent of making a good pun, which is, of course, the lowest form of humor.

Let me be clear: My tearing someone else down – no matter how clever, witty, or insightful I am – does nothing to build up that person or to build up me.  And I think we are at a point in the world when we should all be doing something to build others up.

Then there’s this: if you want to make a cutting remark or observation, be witty.  Be satirical.  Be ironic.  Better yet, be self-deprecating even while deprecating someone else.  Better yet still, be direct.  If I am not willing to say something to someone’s face, does it really need to be said?  If I did say it, to what purpose?  To make myself feel good?  To be funny?  To show off in front of my friends?  To make the object of my comment change, or feel bad, or feel hurt?

When I was in sixth grade, there was a particular denim purse that was all the rage.  Denim, wood handles, and embroidered with the girl’s name or initials.  Well, I didn’t own such a purse.  It’s not that we couldn’t afford it, but my mom probably thought that this purse would be used for about three months and then lost in the closet.  And really, what does an eleven-year-old need with a purse?

But I had transfered to a new school in sixth grade, and I wanted to fit in, so I decided to make my own purse.  I took an old pair of blue jeans and cut them and hand sewed them.  I had sense enough not to attempt a monogram.  I took the purse to school.

Oh, the looks I got.  Oh, the whispers that suddenly stopped when I walked by.  One of the bolder girls said, in a voice dripping with daggers, “Oh, Beth, did you make that yourself?”

I never wore that purse again, and I never hand-made anything cool again.

It’s a good thing that most of us leave our junior-high selves behind. We grow up.  We hurt and get hurt and in the course of all that we mature.  But for me nowadays, every time I hear or read a snarky comment, I go back to junior high.

What if all the cleverness behind all those snide remarks was channeled differently?  What if we stopped showing off, and starting showing up with some kindness or compassion or grace?

A friend of mine died this week.  Another friend is getting married this weekend.  Some grandparents at church are anxiously awaiting the birth of their third grandchild.  And then there’s ISIS and Ebola and Ferguson and Ray Rice and everything else.

So I’m done with the snark.  Comment as you will.

Sunday afternoon: Breathing out stars

stars_1230_600x450This morning in Sunday School, we were talking about In the Beginning.  Mark, who knows the Bible better than any of us, said that he loves that beginning of John; it reminds him of Genesis, and it reminds him of Isaiah 40:25, “Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.”  And then Mark said something along the lines of “It’s like God was breathing out stars.”

Breathing out stars, Mark said.

We were all delighted-

imagine

the ominipotent ominscient Creator blowing out stars the way kids blow out bubbles, giggling, trying to pop them, trying to go so slow and steady to make a really, really BIG one

And then it pops.

Breathing out stars and then calling them together to sing; that would be cool.

Or it’s like God took a huge mouthful of Pop Rocks and spit them out and the Ruah turned them into stars.

Or God took a sparkler, swallowed it, and belched out the stars.

Or fireworks coming out instead of words.

The best I can manage is a little steam when I exhale on a cold day.  Nothing much shimmers, but then God is a lot shimmerier than I am.

Last week I said in Sunday School that I think of God as a loving mystery, loosely bound somewhere between the Milky Way and a breath.  And then Mark said that he thinks of God breathing out stars.

I don’t know what this God thing is all about, but I think it’s a mix of light and fire and gas and laughter.  At least I hope it is, the God thing.

 

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How do we remember?.

To remember something is to put words and actions to the thought “this was important; this mattered; this changed things, for better or worse.”  Remembering can honor, but can also rehash.  Remembering can heal and can re-open the wound.

I don’t think that there’s a formula in remembering that will make it a healing thing rather than a hurting thing.  It may be more about the state of one’s heart, or the freshness of the event.  It may be about the individual’s experience.  It may just be what happens that day.

Today I remember having lunch with a minister colleague, trying to make sense of horrific images on the news.  I remember I was between pastoral calls, and making a plan about where I would go to church the next Sunday.  I remember reaching out to my loved ones, to make sure they were ok, as if any of us could be ok after those planes crashed into those buildings.

But most of the time, I don’t think about September 11, 2001.  Most of the time I go about my life, and occasionally say prayers for first responders, and occasionally grieve with those who grieve.  A friend of mine works at the 9-11 museum in New York.  Because of her work (and, I would say, her calling) she remembers every single day.

The premise of the novel The Giver is that after a cataclysmic, unnamed event, a society endows one person to hold the communal memory.  Only one person remembers the sorrows and horrors and joys of that people.  It’s a dystopian world, as you might expect.  But I remember that day and we  remember that day. For some that is healing, a testament to an ideal of American fortitude and resourcefulness.  For some, that memory is excruciating, and gives birth to reawakened fears and to sorrows that will never end.

I won’t bake cookies for the local fire station today, although if you do, that’s a kind thing.  I also won’t watch the news, because I never watch the news and because I don’t find a recitation of bad things good for my soul.  But I will be intentional about some things today.  I will work to be kind and gentle.  I will not make great pronouncements about things I know nothing about.  I will say prayers.  That’s how I will remember today.

“That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already is; and God seeks out what has gone by.”          Ecclesiastes 3:15

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Always the  minister, never the bride

Always the minister, never the bride

bouquetThat was going to be the opening line of my stand-up routine, but I got married and never actually tried doing stand-up comedy, so now this great line is reduced to a blog title.

When I was in my first year of professional ordained ministry, I was visiting a parishioner in the hospital.  He was an irascible guy, and he was dying of lung cancer. Once when I went to see him, he was on his balcony smoking.  In those days at that hospital, if your room had a balcony you were allowed to go have a smoke.  I was appalled, but because I was still so wet behind the ears ministerially speaking, I pretended like that was normal and I saw it all the time.

Anyway, during one of our visits I mentioned that I was meeting with a couple to do premarital counseling with them.  He asked how I could be qualified to do that since I had never been married.  I replied, with no paucity of pastoral insensitivity and a general lack of human compassion, that I had never died but I was still qualified to do funerals.  He was taken aback, as I should have been.

Truth be told, when I was single, I hated conducting weddings.  Hated it.  Once in a while I would find the groom attractive and I would convince myself that the bride wasn’t nearly good enough for him.  Sometimes I was so jealous that these people had found love; why hadn’t I?  And then there was the huge klieg light that shone on me at rehearsal dinners, where I was usually seated with the grandparents and the weird bachelor uncle, and receptions, when I would excuse myself to the ladies’ room when it was time for all the single ladies to fight over the lousy bridal bouquet.

I imagine conducting weddings is also difficult for pastors who have been widowed or divorced.  Baptisms are painful for pastors who struggle with fertility issues or who have lost a child.  I dread my first funeral after my parents die.   The intention of the happy couple, or the joyful parents, or the bereaved family is not to rub salt in a wound they likely know nothing about.  Because we are professionals, we set our own feelings aside and appreciate the joy that others are having.  Sometimes.

Of course, pastors are not the only ones who are required to do things that rub salt in a wound; I don’t mean to imply that we are.  But for all of us in whatever walk of life we walk: how do we manage to “put on our big girls pants” (as a friend would say), fall into professional mode, get through it – whatever that ‘it’ is –  without bursting into tears, or get through ‘it’ with grace or aplomb?

Some would say their faith gets them through; others would say it’s a strong sense of self.  Still others would shrug and say they didn’t know.  But I do wonder the toll it takes if we’re not careful or aware of what’s going on in our own broken hearts while we engage with the breaking and healing hearts of others.  Did I go home from more than one wedding reception to greet my friends Ben  & Jerry?  Yes I did.  Sugar is my drug of choice, but I know others who cope with their hidden heartbreak with booze or porn or really mean behavior to strangers or beloveds.

I never cried “uncle”.  I always steeled myself through the wedding or the baptism or the Mother’s Day litany, for better or worse.  Most of my pastor friends do.  We do because it’s part of our calling.  Most of my pastor friends join me in detesting that phrase “God never gives you more than you can handle”.  We don’t steel ourselves through it with neat little memes. While I can’t speak for all of my pastor friends, getting through those things almost always gave me a reminder of grace and of hope.  Grace to get through that ceremony or that reception to then go home, put on my jammies, and watch Pride and Prejudice again.  And hope that maybe someday I would be up there facing the pastor and not the congregation; I would be in white and not black; I would be taking a ring instead of handing them out.

There’s a great clip out there right now from an episode of Louis CK when Joan Rivers was on.  (http://youtu.be/BnAIX7fWsdU)   Joan and Louis are talking, and she says something along these lines.  “Listen. I wish I could tell you it gets better, but it doesn’t get better.  You get better.”  Maybe that’s it.  We don’t all get married.  We don’t all have kids.  We don’t all stay married.  The people we love don’t live forever.  That stuff doesn’t get better.  But maybe, by the grace of God or by sheer will, we get better.  Our hearts heal a little, and the scar tissue is a little bit thicker than what was there before.  Maybe that’s the hope – we get better.