that reminds me of an old joke


    Over the past several weeks I’ve had to learn how to send text messages because it is my boss’ preferred way of mobile communication. By accident one day, I pressed a button on my phone that read, “T9word,” and discovered my choice enabled my phone to anticipate the word I was typing, thus speeding up the process. When I finish a word, my phone automatically throws up the word that followed it the last time, assuming (it seems to me) that I am a man of very few sentences, or at least amazingly predictable. What began as a convenience has become quite claustrophobic.

    As the election draws near and the volume continues to rise from all directions (though, I suppose, in our polarized culture that should read both directions), it seems we are living in a T9 world. When one side speaks, the other fills in the words before they are finished, not because they are listening but because they are readying their response. For all the rallies, press conferences, punditry, analyses, interviews, and whatever else fills up our twenty-four hour news cycle, it’s been a long time since anyone said something that mattered – even longer since anyone listened.

    In the introduction to her sermon this morning, Ginger talked about the twenty-five years her mother ran a day care in her home. Rachel has an amazing way with wee ones. One of my favorite stories is one Ginger told this morning. Rachel went to the group playing outside and said, “OK, people, it’s time for lunch.”

    One three-year old turned to another and said, “Her called us people.” Even at three, the little girl understood what it felt like to be respected, regarded, and taken seriously as a human being.

    Over the quarter century, every child who came through that house learned this verse, almost before anything else:


    Ginger then turned to the old joke about the preacher who preached his first Sunday before his new congregation and was well received. When he preached the same sermon the second Sunday, the deacons were a bit befuddled, but cut him some slack since he was still getting settled. When he preached the exact same sermon a third time, they confronted him.

    “I’ll be happy to move on,” he said, “as soon as you get this one right.”

    Her words took me back to one of her sermons that has hung with me for almost two years, in which she quoted Philo of Alexandria:


    When I wrote about it then, I was working for an erratic and eccentric man who seemed to thrive on making the people around him miserable. Taking her words to heart was a challenging spiritual journey for me. I would love to say I have mastered the art of kindness and have moved on, but it is not so. I need to hear the same sermon again and again, as I did this morning.

    Our NPR station was having their fundraiser this week, so I changed stations just to hear something other than the appeals for money. I landed on the local talk radio station, which is a world into which I seldom venture. I felt as though I had crossed into a parallel universe. That they presented a view farther to the right of NPR or me was not a surprise; the level of volume and vitriol was, however. These are guys who command huge audiences across the country, or at least that’s my perception. How can anger that severe be so popular?

    My question is not an ideological one. I’m not asking why those right wing talk show hosts can’t be as thoughtful and quiet as their liberal counterparts. My impression is there is plenty of anger on both sides to go around. I’m not looking for an Us vs. Them scenario, either, though that seems to be the most American of perspectives. We cannot afford, however, to let ourselves see it as the Christian perspective.

    When they asked Jesus what mattered most, he leaned back into the old joke Ginger told and preached the same sermon:


    Regardless of our political preferences, our fundamental allegiances are to God and to one another. Not to country. Not to party. Not to ideology. Not to personality. Not to stock portfolio or hedge fund. Not to class or race or even religion.

    To God.
    And to one another.

    As we sang in our service today:

    We are called to be God’s people,
    showing by our lives God’s grace,
    one in heart and one in spirit,
    sign of hope for all the race.
    Let us show how God has changed us,
    and remade us as God’s own,
    let us share our life together
    as we shall around God’s throne.

    We are all wonderfully and uniquely created in the image of God and we are all wounded. What was said of Rachel by the little one can be said of God: “Her called us people.” May we bear the grace given to us in a way that shows kindness to one another.

    And may I keep the old joke close because I’m going to need to hear this again.