Thursday, January 27, 2011

Share the Laughter; Bare the Pain

Ric Masten’s song, “Let it be a dance” in our hymnbook includes these words – “Share the laughter, bear the pain.” And the word in “bear” in the hymnal is spelled – “b-e-a-r.” But in Ric’s other publications of his song – the word is spelled “b-a-r-e.” I was in communication with Ric back when I was in seminary, and he told me what happened. He decided to make it “b-a-r-e” rather than “b-e-a-r” after hearing one of his earlier listeners to the song, say: “We must learn not to bear (b-e-a-r) the pain – not to keep it bottled up inside. Rather we should bare (b-a-r-e) it – share it, unburden our selves of the sorrow and pain that comes along with life." When the UU hymnal committee asked if they could use his song – with some revisions in the rhythm to make it a little easier to sing, he agreed. And he sent them a copy of it from an earlier publication that had obviously been proofed – but he didn’t comment or call attention to the word “bare”—and he didn’t do that on purpose just to see what would happen. Sure enough, when the proofs came back to him, they had “corrected” his spelling and it was “bear.” Because he had a playful nature – he decided not to correct it. He wrote to me, “That typo has given me the punch line for every concert and reading I've done since then. I even use the “bear/bare” spelling difference when I officiate weddings -- counseling the couple about how the word must be spelled in a successful marriage.”

So that’s the story of the two bears. But you know – I think in the last couple of sermons that I did – we bared and beared enough pain, so “enough said” about that phrase. Today – we are going to “share the laughter.”

I told my son John that I was going to attempt to focus on laughter today and he said – “Mama – how are you going to tell jokes in a UU church – any joke you tell about anything is going to be offensive to SOME one at a UU church.”

And I said --- “I’ll talk about myself and about Unitarian Universalists. That should be funny enough. And in any case – the main point is too laugh – whether anything funny is going on or not!”

Now you may not believe this – but it’s true, that the very ACT of laughing can heal you. I’m not going to share all this research with you – email me, or google it yourself. Instead, I’m going to demonstrate a little laughing yoga with you. We did this one time before here at church – but this is the kind of activity that you should do often, so if you were here before when we did this – be glad that you are here again. Here’s how you do laughing yoga. You just laugh. You don’t have to hear a funny story. You just laugh --- and you will begin to feel the healing. Now I will attempt to facilitate this by at least giving you some stimulation – and demonstrating various ways of laughing and encourage you to join me. Fortunately, laughter is rather catching, – like yawning, so glance around at your neighbors and share the laughter! So relax, shake your hands and let go of your inhibitions – and let’s warm up a little with this laughing yoga. Just repeat after me. (And if you are reading this --- please do these exercises out loud too)
Ha! / Ha, Ha, / etc.

Now, let’s remember back to the days when we were children – or if we can’t remember our own childhoods – we can at least remember seeing children and children laugh – and it’s especially joyful to watch a baby laugh.
Can you laugh like a baby? – just let yourself go, and try it.

Now let’s go to the other end – and laugh like a really old person – and old geezer laugh.

And how about the wicked witch laugh?

Now we need to stand as you are comfortable and take a deep breath, -- so that we can laugh like Santa Claus!

Now imagine someone is tickling you!

Ah, that’s invigorating!

I’ve always enjoyed laughing myself and facilitating laughter with others, too. Well – I say always. My mom says I wasn’t always an outgoing extravert. She says I was extremely shy as a young child. She attributes – or perhaps blames – my personality change on the fact that I was run over by a car when I was three and a half and suffered from a head injury. It did something to me, she said. And yes, since that time, if there is something I can’t do or do differently, she attributes it to that accident. Even now, her friends may say, “Christine – why in the world did Jane write that letter to the editor. How come she turned so liberal?” And Mama says – “well you know she was in that accident when she was 3 and a half.”

Maybe that is what happened to me. In any case, like many of you, I was blessed (or some may say cursed) with a questioning mind.

I’ve shared with you the story before of my dad standing in the “white’s only” line with me at the Dairy Queen when I was about 5. And I asked him why we were in that line and the colored people were in the other line. Well my dad says – “Well, you see Jane – we’re white. So we stand in this line and get vanilla ice cream. And the colored people stand in the other line and get chocolate ice cream.” -- Well you know – I was in that accident --- so I said – “Well, I want chocolate.” And my dad said, “No, you’re white – so you have to have vanilla. That’s just the way it is.” I’d like to think my dad was teaching me a lesson about acceptance of difficult situations – but in reality, I know he was trying to aggravate me – because he licked the curl off of my cone. What kind of dad licks the curl off his little girl’s cone. The same kind that says to her, “Jane, be ashamed – you’ve got ancestors, yes, you do, lots of them.” And when I’d protest, he’d say: “Go ask your mama.” Another one was: “Oh my goodness, Jane – just look at you, you’re covered with garments. You’ve got garments all over you.” And the worst was: “Mmm Mnnnn (wrinkling his nose) – you slumbered in the bed last night.” At least he improved my vocabulary.

And my curiosity and questioning led me to some other things as a child. I wondered what it looked like from the steeple of First Baptist Church. There were no steps. But, I heard that some boys had found out how the custodian got up there once a year to clean the windows and they were going to go. There was a panel in the ceiling of a room behind the baptistery – where they baptized you – at the other end of the sanctuary up on the top floor of the church. And to get to the steeple, you had to go through that panel and then cross over the whole sanctuary to the steeple. Now the attic over the sanctuary wasn’t floored – so you had to walk on a narrow catwalk -- -and they warned that if you fell through the sheetrock – you would fall to your death on the pews below, and wouldn’t that be a sight – so since I was a girl, I could not go with them. And I didn’t go with them…. I went with Jamie Sue, Maureen, and Aris. I also went up into the clock tower of the courthouse and stood behind the clock faces and saw the old big bell. Hey—it was Statesboro in the 1950’s and we had to entertain ourselves someway.

Now, I also became curious about the Bible. And when I was about 12 – I decided to really study it, not just the parts the Sunday school teachers taught us – but all of us. Have you folks read the Bible? If you haven’t – I’ll go ahead and tell you that the main character dies about ¾ of the way through it. So – I found some strange things in that book, things like a donkey that talked (and he spoke English in the Bible that I was reading), and gods that came down and had sex with women (oh god) – and then they gave birth to giants (OH GOD!). Strange stuff indeed. And not just in the Old Testament, in the New Testament there were folks that were dead and came alive – and not just the ones who had just died recently, like Jesus or Lazurus After the crucifixion of Jesus, it said that the graves opened up and the folks came out of them and walked around. Well, I undertook this study at about the time that young folks also begin to think a little more rationally. And it sure didn’t make sense to me. However, I closeted my doubts and disbeliefs enough to get along okay – then finally had the freedom in my late 40’s to come out and be free. And I became a Unitarian Universalist. Hallelujah!

Of course, some of my relatives were worried about me – and one asked, “But are UU’s saved? To which I responded, “We are not LOST – we’re exploring.” Of course that’s a UU joke. And although I’ve studied Unitarian, Universalists, and Unitarian Universalists for many years now – I’ve found that there is much truth and understanding that can be found through the jokes made by them and about them. They are not all true – but they hold a glimmer of the truth that we can see in ourselves. So – especially for our new folks who are just learning about UU – I’m going to share some of those jokes and stories with you today.

First for our new folks – just what is this Unitarian – and Universalist – that became Unitarian Universalists? Well, these were originally two different denominations. Rev. Starr King provided a classic explanation of the two back in the 1800s when he said something like: “The difference between Universalists and Unitarians is that Universalists believe that God is too good to damn men, and Unitarians believe that Man is too good to be dammed.”

So – how does a Universalist make holy water? They boil the hell out of it.

As you may know, the Universalists were the ones who preached salvation for all and were therefore none as the “no hell” church. There are actually some little Universalist churches in the rural south – because they did send missionaries with this good news. There was one little town that just had two churches – a Baptist church and a Universalist church. And a visitor ask why two churches were needed in such a small town. A resident replied: That church says, “There ain’t no hell. The other church says, “The hell there ain’t.”

Now the Unitarians were the ones who believed in One God – more or less. The Unitarians were not so much interested in getting people into heaven as they were in getting heaven into people. Anyway – these churches evolved so much that when they decided to join together in 1961, they decided not to have any creed!

One visitor to a UU church asked, “What do you mean, it’s a creedless religion? That means you don’t believe in anything, right?”
“No,” replied the member, “that’s not what it means.”
“So what do you believe in?”
“Well, for one thing, we believe in creedless religion.”

We have to constantly correct folks on these kinds of misunderstandings. One fundamentalist Christian said to her UU neighbor, “I hear you UUs deny the divinity of Jesus Christ.”
The UU responded, “No that’s not true. We don’t deny the divinity of anybody.”

It’s true that we have a diversity of beliefs and ideas within Unitarian Universalism. And that’s okay with us. Like Francis David said, “we do not have to think alike to Love alike.” But it’s problematic for others. A person from one of the mainline churches Christian churches in Stateboro asked, “I hear that you have all sorts of weirdoes in your church, …Atheists, Buddhists, Pagans,….
To which I replied: “Oh yes, we even allow Christians – we’re very open minded.” (That’s a joke – didn’t happen, but I’ll be ready if it does.)

Now after finding Unitarian Universalism, many folks say – “Oh I was a Unitarian Universalist and didn’t even know it.” So maybe we need to put an ad in the paper to help folks find out if they are UUs… kind of like that Jeff Foxworthy fellow who helped folks understand whether or not they were rednecks.

For example,
If you are unsure about the gender of God,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you begin your prayers with “To whom it may concern,”
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you read ahead in the hymnal to see if you agree with the words before singing them:
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you gave up pot in the 70’s because no one could guarantee it was organic,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If the vanity plate on your hybrid car reads “Thoreau”
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
Likewise, if you name your child Walden,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If your teens rebel by becoming more conservative,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If when you dress for a formal evening out, you wear Birkenstocks,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you get Newt Gingrich confused with the Grinch who Stole Christmas,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you approach every subject with an open mouth,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If you’ve ever been in an argument over whether or not breast milk is vegan,
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.
If your children think the holy trinity is “Reduce, reuse, and recycle.”
You might be a Unitarian Universalist.

Yes, our children get a different view of things than those in more conservative religions.
The older neighbor, trying to be helpful, said to one of our little UU girls, “I know you’re sad, but right now your kitty cat is with Jesus.”
To which the child replied, “What would Jesus want with a dead cat?”

And you may have heard the one about the little kid trying to give the kittens away. On the first day, her sign by the box on the road said: “Adorable kittens – Free.” The next day, the child had her box in front of the Methodist Church saying, “Adorable Methodist kittens – Free.” Then she had it in front of the synagogue with a sign that said, “Adorable Jewish Kittens Free. “ And the following Sunday she had them in front of the UU church with a sign saying, “Adorable Unitarian Universalists Kittens. And the minister, questioning her advertising ethics asked her, “Why do you think I’ll believe that all these are UU kittens now, all of a sudden?” “Well,” said the child, “Now they have their eyes opened.”

And here’s a few more:
What do you get when you cross a UU with a Jehovah’s Witness? Somebody who knocks on your door but doesn’t know why she’s there.

Why is Jeapardy the favorite tv game show of UUs? Because you get to guess the QUESTIONS to the answers.

Why did the UU cross the road?
To support the chicken in its search for its own path.

How many UU does it take to screw in a light bulb? I have two answers – one provided by a mature adult UU who said:
“We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your journey, you have found that light bulbs work for you, that is fine. You are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your personal relationship with your light bulb. Present it next month at our annual Light Bulb Sunday Service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life, and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.”

And the other response was written by an eighteen year old boy in a rather unsupervised youth group in another city – who responded, “UU’s don’t screw in light bulbs – but check out the sleeping bags in the church basement.”

Okay – I probably went too far with that one, so I’m going to sing a song I found on the internet to make amends. Rebekah is going to help me with this one. You know I mentioned earlier that we are very differing beliefs here at UU. So Rebekah is going to sing the part of Ruby, a young energetic theist, and I are going to sing the part of Betty, a aging humanist.

Use recorded accompaniment of “You are sixteen, I am seventeen” from the Sound of Music.

(Jane Sings)
You are theist I am humanist
I think that you're naive
You have no proof to offer as truth,
You simply say "I believe"

New age bubbles get you in trouble
Lost in a feel-good fluff
True understanding is quite demanding
Praying is not enough.

Totally unprepared are you
To make a case that's plain
Maybe the incense, chants, and drums
Have ruined your poor brain.

You need someone older and wiser
Telling you what to do,
You are theist, I am humanist
I--will think--for you!

(Rebekah Sings)
I am theist, you are humanist
You're locked inside your head.
You're existential, self-referential
Claiming that God is dead,

Occam's razor, Pascal's wager
empty tautology
Wisdom, traditions, not erudition
Make much more sense to me.

Totally unprepared are you
To let go of your mind.
How 'bout a leap of faith, my friend
You might like what you find.

When you find that you're out of answers
You won't know what to do
I am theist, you are humanist,
I -- will pray -- for you.


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