Thursday, May 22, 2014

Between the Laughing and Crying Jesus As I sit here behind the desk in my office I look up to my left and on the wall is a picture of “the laughing Jesus.” Many people who come to my office make comments about this picture which depicts Jesus with his head slightly tilted backward and his mouth wide open as he laughs. His eyes are closed and one might wonder why he is laughing. We do not know of course, but the picture can open the door of one’s imagination. Perhaps he is laughing in response to one of the religions leaders, who has just chastised Jesus because he healed a man on the Sabbath. “You are kidding aren’t you,” Jesus may have just uttered. “You are more concerned about a religious observance than you are about this man’s well being?!” Or maybe Jesus is laughing because one of the children he has just blessed despite the lecture by his disciples that it is inappropriate to be spending time dealing with children who after all should be seen and not heard; has just pulled at his beard. Just after Jesus closes his mouth and ends his laugh is when he looks at one of his serious minded disciples and says with a bit of a chuckle, “By the way if you want to really understand what this new kingdom I am bringing is like, you must become as one of these children that you seem to want nothing to do with.” We may never know why Jesus is laughing in my picture but to my left there hangs another image of him and we all know why he is crying. This Jesus is hanging on a cross. His head is again tilted slightly but this time it is titled downward. If you look close there are tears in his eyes. You say, “I have never seen tears in his eyes.” O, they are there. He is in the process of dying on that tree. As with questions that come up about his laughing one might ponder what the tears mean. Is he crying because of the physical pain he is enduring? Is the source of the tears the memory of words that pierce his soul; words like, “I will never deny you,” or “That’s him, the one over there” that were spoken by Judas? Maybe he is crying because he feels so all alone. Even his father seems absent. So I live my life between the laughing and the crying Jesus and so do you. He laughed for you and for me, and he cried for you and for me. I think he still does. He laughs at how we get tripped up on religious stuff when the big picture of helping God heal the world is so much more important. He laughs when we think we can hide our thoughts from him because we are ashamed of them and perhaps he whispers through a smile, “Come on you don’t have to do that, it’s me.” And I suppose he cries when we get so busy that we forget what it took to gain our attention. He still weeps when we ignore the people who are forgotten. He came so that no one would be forgotten. Thank you Jesus, for laughing with me and not at me. Thank you for the tears you shed because you loved me and us so much. I shall bow my head and say to you, “Keep me between your laugh and your tears.”

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Poem Night Sounds


Night Sounds




There was the sound that

seemed to them

like angels singing

but imaginations run deep

with shepherds

who spend long

nights waiting

for dawn



But this night dawn came

early, for the sounds

were accompanied by

dancing lights that seemed

like fire that

wanted to burn away

the fear that

filled them



“Do not be afraid,” the night sounds

proclaimed

and then spoke

of great joy that would

fill all the silences

that had been

waiting to be filled

including those

of lowly shepherds



And so they made their

own night sounds with

words that said

they would go down into

the sleepy town

that was so silent

but seemed to be

waiting on them

to come



And now the child waits

for you to listen

to the night sounds

because he wants to speak

into your fear

and say to you

that angels’ voices

spoke truth….



“Unto you is born a savior”



Jody Seymour

Christmas 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How Can Anyone Love Hate so Much? What God Might Have Said to the Hijackers.

How Can Anyone Love Hate so Much?




On this anniversary of 9-11 I still wonder how those who flew the planes into our buildings and our souls could love hate so much. When I see the haunting faces of those young men who piloted the planes I ponder where exactly was the crossroad where they stepped into the land of shadows; a place where they could only see reflections of an enemy that needed to be attacked simply because we were “the other.”

The way they lived among us and calculated their task in such a way as to inflict maximum pain in the most visible way possible reveals the depth of their love of hate for us. “What did we do to you that you wanted to hurt us so much,” I want to ask the faces on the TV screen? But there will be no answer because they took the questions with them along with the innocent lives of so many to the ashes that they longed to create.

“You will be martyrs for Allah as you fight this Jihad,” is what they were told and they believed it. Somehow they were going to be rewarded in Paradise for their hate.

As the famous Dr. Phil expression so goes, “How did that work out for you?” If Paradise is what I think it is and not what they imagined it to be there was quite a surprise waiting for these martyrs.

I can hear it now as they faced the God they longed to meet:

God: What in the hell were you thinking. Yes you heard me right. This was Hell

you created. Don’t go calling what you did anything to do with Heaven.

You see all those people coming from around the corner over there?

Those are the lives you took. Many of them are still wiping the sleep from

their eyes assuming that this must have been a bad dream. I’ll be spending

some time with them in a moment but for now sit down and listen.



Whoever told you that I was the one you did this for got lost a long time

ago. No religion owns me or has the right to use my name to justify their

cause. In a book they now call the Bible, some of the stories sound like I

like that kind of stuff but those folks got it wrong too. O I know they call

it the Word of God but it needs to be interpreted and studied for what it

is rather than trying to make it what it is not. If you listen between the

the lines of that book, I clearly say that no one or no religion has a

monopoly on me. You people just can’t get over trying to do that.



Now about your religion; Yes, I know you have your sacred book but

you have done the same thing with it that many Christians and Jews

do with their sacred text. You have made it conform to your narrow

view of life and of me. Now you know I am bigger than any word,

any book, or any religion.



What you think you did for me you actually did for you. Your religion led

you to hate my children and the hellish part of it is that you did it

in the my name. By the way I do not have a name. All your names

for me are more a reflection of you than of me. In all of your sacred

books you kept wanting to name me and I resisted all of your efforts.

The only reason I allowed you to use names for me is that you kept

wanting to claim me. I realize now that I should have not given you

even that privilege because you have misused it.



You have a lot to learn about me but there’s time now for you to

learn. For now, I want you to come over here and meet the people

whose lives you took. You did not know their stories but I did.

Now it is time for you to learn their stories. You got lost in your

own story and thought it was the only one. And when you claimed

me as the narrator of your story you were so very wrong.



So now it is no longer 9-11. It is 9-12 forever. I wish I could send

you back to tell others of your mistake. When will my people ever

learn?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Dirt and Dough

Dirt and Dough




His hands were in the dirt and hers were in the dough. Earl was a gravedigger and his wife May baked cakes for the upper crust of the delta Mississippi culture. They lived next door to my grandma and were like family.

Earl weighed all of 110 pounds soaking wet but May made up for it. She must have been kin to the Pillsbury doughboy or it could be that she loved her own product a little too much. She sort of wobbled when she walked but she sure could make a fine cake.

She made her living selling beautiful cake creations and Earl made a living in the dying business. As a young eager child I often watched May prepare her cakes. Her kitchen counters were often covered with dozens of pans filled with sweet recipes known only to her.

I also once was able to witness Earl do his handiwork. Just like May ended up most mornings covered with a light coating of confectioners’ sugar and dough so Earl came home most days covered in shades of Mississippi mud. He began his work with a backhoe but the fine tuning had to be done by hand. It was messy work but someone had to do it.

I always thought they made an interesting pair; thin and chunky, sweet and bitter, dirt and dough. One of their professions was necessary, the other was elective; but both were good at what they did.

Earl got a good laugh out of the reality that when I traveled down south my first summer of high school I told him that my summer job was digging graves and cutting grass for the Department of Cemeteries in my home town. I was now part of a strange brotherhood.

I often tell people some interesting stories that come from my four years of digging graves. We gravediggers have a certain code so I can’t tell you everything. Suffice it to say that I love sharing some of my cemetery stories which end with, “Yes, you might say that when it comes to the ministry I worked my way from the ground up.”

One perk that came from my days between the tombstones was that after a few days our orders were to either toss the flowers that surrounded a freshly covered grave or pile them on top of the site so that we could mow around it. After all, life must go on after death.

I would often glean some of the flowers that still had life in them and surprise my girlfriend at her cheerleading practice by presenting her with a bouquet of roses or even lilies. The other girls were impressed not only by my amazing tan but by the chivalry of the flower delivery. It must have worked because that cheerleader is now my dear wife.

May made many people happy with her cakes and Earl provided a necessary service for those whose cake eating days had come to a close. In my work now I love being present for the sweet times; baptizing babies, marrying starry eyed lovers, creating engaging worship experiences, and once in a while knowing that I nailed a good sermon. It is like being dusted with confectioners’ sugar.

And of course there are those end times that are not so sweet; doing the funeral of a stillborn infant, holding the hand of the person who just got the bad diagnosis, listening as someone shares the death of a dream or a relationship, and standing beside someone who just knows that God is dead.

Life is too short not to eat cake so eat cake. And yes there is a grave at the end of every life story but the grave is not the end; trust me I know.

I don’t work for the Cemetery Department anymore but the agency I work for now assures me that beyond the dirt there is the dough. The likes of May are preparing divine desserts. I’m sure of it.

So in the words of Jesus loosely translated: “Smell the wildflowers, pay attention to the birds of the air, notice children, offer grace every chance you get and don’t worry so much about the grave because May and I are preparing a place for you so save room for dessert. Earl’s work was honorable but his efforts were not the last word. Life is full of dirt and dough but in the end it will all be ok…trust me.”

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What if Jesus Had a Blog


If Jesus Had a Blog

 

            If Jesus had a blog I wonder what he would have written?  Maybe something like:

 

            I can’t believe it.  I made this wine the other day for a party after they ran out and still some people complained that there was not enough Merlot.  Then the Chardonnay crowd asked what year was the vintage? Speaking of fruit, I wanted to remind them of that story about that first couple who picked some fruit that they were supposed to leave on the tree. Those folks at the party needed to be made aware that even though Adam and Ever were not picking grapes it was then that the wrong questions started to be asked, but I decided just to let them enjoy the party.

            Then the other day I had to break up a fight between James and John.  They both wanted to be “number one.”  I tried to tell them that being number one on my team might mean being the water boy instead of the quarterback but they only looked at me like I had two heads.

            I guess the thing that surprises me most about people is how no one seems to be paying attention to life.  In the midst of some theological debate the other day between Peter and Thomas I put my hand up and told them to hush up.  Then I made the whole lot sit down right where they were standing.

            It happened to be in the middle of a field and I’m sure they wondered why I told them to sit.  I then asked them where it was that they were sitting.  Thomas said, “Well it’s a field Lord.”  “Yes but what’s in the field?”

            Finally Matthew said, “Uh flowers?”  I then picked one of the wild flowers and held it in front of Peter.  He always wants to be the leader so I thought I would give him a chance.

            “Peter, what is this?”  He looked at me as if he felt sorry for me and responded, “It’s a flower Lord.”  “Well ponder this flower for a while and you’ll start understanding that life is more than the worry all of you have about who is first and what we are going to eat tomorrow.”

            No one said anything for a while, which was good.  I need to teach this bunch how to be silent and listen.  There is going to come a time when they will need that skill.

            I had an interesting conversation the other day with a woman at a well.  I needed to be away by myself and besides I was thirsty.  This woman was there when I arrived and she started to hurry off knowing that she was not supposed to be seen alone with a man especially in the middle of the day.

            I stopped her and asked her if she could lower the bucket and get me a drink since she was getting ready to fill her water jug.  “I’m not supposed to even be talking to you.  Number one, I am a woman and you are a man; and number two I can see that you are a Jew and you obviously know I am a Samaritan.”

            “What if I told you I don’t care about number one or number two?  I care about you and besides I’m thirsty.  By the way what if I told you that I could give you the kind of water that would quench your thirst forever?”

            “The well’s not that deep sir.”

            “Maybe you ought to go ask your husband about all this.”

            “Well I don’t really have a husband at the moment.”

            “I see…then these guys you are hanging around, who are they.”

            “How did you know that?”

            “I know things.”

            “Are you some kind of prophet?”

            “You could say that.”

            “A lot of us have been looking for a really great prophet to come along and finally set thing right.”

            “What if I told you that I’m your guy?  How about a drink of that water; yours and mine…”

            It was an interesting conversation and unlike my dear thick headed disciples I think she understood what was going on.  I’m pretty sure her life will never be the same.

            Well this blogging thing is interesting.  I might keep it up but then things are getting rather hectic so hopefully some other folks will write down some of what I’m doing and what I’m trying to say.

            That’s all for now and if you’re reading this remember, “Blessed are those who have eyes to see and who really take the time to see.”

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reverend Will B. Done Finally Meets God

Reverend Will B Done Finally Meets God




I still remember the day I attended a seminar entitled, “The Scandal of the Gospel” led by Doug Marlette, the creator of the cartoon “Kudzu,” and Will Campbell who was known as a renegade preacher who made a name for himself championing the cause of civil rights. This was in a day when to do so was greatly unpopular in the South. I looked forward to seeing what these two “characters” were going to do with how the gospel was scandalous.

As I walked into the building where the seminar was to be held there before me was none other than Reverend Will B. Done. Wait a minute. How could a cartoon character be waking there in front of me? It was a few moments later when Doug Marlette introduce Will Campbell that I realized that the cartoon character was based on the real life “character” of Will Campbell.

Will, being the kind of “character” he was, dressed the part that day. He dawned a wide brimmed black hat and bow tie just like the one Will B. Done wore in the cartoon strip. As he leaned over the podium, his opening words were something like, “I just want you to know that I’m damned tired of being associated with some cartoon.”

Obviously just the opposite was true. The cartoon character Will B. Done was a figure who was always wondering what God was up to. Reverend Done had a ministry to “the fabulously rich and famous,” or at least he aspired to have one. The real Will Campbell had a ministry to the down and out, the bigot, and those who were not about to set foot in any church.

Will himself got to where he did not want to set foot in a church either because he figured from experience that the church of his day had lost its way. He desired to spend time with drunks, folks in the KKK, and as one reporter put it “bourbon drinking down home country boys” like him.

As I picked up the newspaper that would tell me of Will’s death, I noticed a dead dragon fly on the outdoor table that was on my deck. Its transparent wings were frozen and its flying days were over. It was then that I picked up the newspaper to discover the news of Will’s death.

Reverend Will B. Done would have considered the dead dragon fly a sign from God. After all, the real Will wrote a book entitled, “Brother to a Dragon Fly.” As I read the article I too considered the now departed dragon fly a sign.

Will Campbell was a rugged rebel. He was uncomfortable with comfortable religion. I think he understood and loved the real Jesus; not the Jesus that has been made up by the church. The real Jesus was also uncomfortable with the religion of his day; a religion that kept building walls to keep people out rather than doors and bridges to invite people in.

Will knew that authentic religion was not about creeds but about God reaching down to the places where people expressed great need. He marched with black folk in those early Civil Rights protests alongside Martin Luther King Jr, but he also later marched through the prison gates to visit the man who pulled the trigger that killed King.

Will B. Done may have been a caricature of religion but Will Campbell was the kind of man that shed light on how religion itself can become a caricature of the real thing. So now both Will B. Done and Will Campbell get to meet God face to face. What a day.

Since the creator of Will B. Done was tragically killed in an accident I suppose that there will now be another seminar of sorts. Doug can draw eternal glimpses of what can be since he was so good at making us laugh at what is. And Will…well…heaven is going to be a livelier place with Will B. Done there.

We need Will Campbell’s rugged version of the faith. I think we need Will’s Jesus who spent time with those on the edge of religion. I think we need Doug’s reminder that we sometimes need to laugh at how silly some of religion can be. Yep, they’re having quite a seminar in heaven.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Shall We Take the Darkness In?

Shall We Take the Darkness In?


(a response to the tragedy in Boston)



The darkness cuts into

our souls

like some switchblade

stuck into our gut

in the back alley

of doubt



Its hiddenness covers us

like a moldy blanket

cast over our heads-

the smell of it is

rank with crowded

grief and hate



We bleed and we gasp

for again

the darkness seems so

vast and deep and

we remember not

the light



And that is the victory

that must not be-

for light and life

are above and below

the lie that

is the darkness



We must tie off the wound

with torn rags

of love and compassion

and cast flowers over

the decay of the

wrong that wants to win



The darkness only wins if

we take it in-

Its desire is to have

our souls, but our

souls belong

to the light





The darkness cannot stand the flowers

that grow in the

ruin that becomes

the soil of new beginnings-

and

it cannot believe that

our scars are the

signs of our healing



The darkness cannot win

unless we take it in



Goodness is stronger

than evil



Jody Seymour

April 2013