That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Humor (page 1 of 2)

Imagining Tone of Voice: Sermon for RCL Proper 28, Track 1, Year C (17 November 2019)

While making a presentation at a conference about teaching English as a second language, an expert in the field remarked that one of the difficulties is that there are many instances in English when a double-negative renders positive meaning and this is confusing for non-English speakers. “It’s fortunate,” she said, “there’s no way in English that a double positive can convey negative meaning.”

From the back of the room a voice spoke up, “Yeah, right.”

Now when that story is written, the sarcasm of that double positive giving negative meaning is hard to indicate; in fact, it is impossible. And yet it will probably be understood by a native speaker. For the non-English speaker, however, discerning the sarcasm and humor is difficult. Inflection and tone of voice can and do drastically alter meaning and understanding.

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Lenten Journal 2019 (20 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 14

She was known to her friends as “Jo” or “Josie”. She was Josephina Magdalena Ekaterina von Binkerstaff-Wigglesbutt, Countess von Binkerstaff. Jo was a wealthy heiress (the Stilwell Wigglesbutts, you know) who, like Lady Grantham of Downton Abbey, had married into a failing aristocratic family (the Blaues Tel von Binkerstaffs) to prop up their fortunes. Widowed early, she became a patron of arts endowing several museums in her late husband’s memory.

She was also our first cocker spaniel, a stray we adopted while living in Blue Valley, Kansas (hence the “Blaues Tel” part of her story). We still remember Jo with considerable love and refer to her as “the best dog ever.” With Josephine began our tradition of inventing silly aristocratic names and outrageous histories for our canines.

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Lenten Journal 2019 (9 March)

Lenten Journal, Day 3

I have a morning ritual; I suppose everyone does. I get up in the darkness of 5 a.m. and carefully, quietly walk down the stairs from our bedroom to the den and kitchen (a combined “great room” as our house is laid out). I turn on the coffee maker which has been set up the night before, then I sit down in my recliner to await its task completion. My dog, Archbishop Dudley, a black cocker spaniel, rouses himself (he sleeps in the den) and comes to me; I lift him onto my lap and the two of us fall asleep.

When the coffee maker wakes me with its signal that the brew is ready, I put the dog to floor, slip a coat onto me and a leash onto him, and go for a short walk around our cul-de-sac. The dog does what he must and we return home; he gets his breakfast and I get my first cup of coffee along with a handful of pills. While I drink it, I read scan my online subscriptions of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and (occasionally) the Los Angeles Times, and read a few news reports and op-ed pieces. Then I check out Facebook.

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Christology & Ministry: Sermon for Pentecost 22, Proper 24B, 21 October 2018

Christology is one of those odd words of the Christian tradition that one doesn’t hear much in church but which one hears a lot in academic circles. Christology is defined as “the field of study within Christian theology which is primarily concerned with the ontology and person of Jesus as recorded in the canonical Gospels and the epistles of the New Testament.”[1] That’s really helpful, isn’t it? Begs the questions, “What is theology? What is ontology? What is a ‘canonical Gospel’?”

Christology in its basic form is just the attempt answer some deceptively simple questions: Who was Jesus? Who is Jesus? Who will Jesus be? What did he do? What is he doing now? What will he do in the future?

Today’s lessons from the Prophet Isaiah, the Letter to the Hebrews, and the Gospel according to Mark present us with three different Christologies: the suffering servant of Isaiah, the high priest following in the footsteps of the Old Testament character of Melchizedek, and the kingly messiah following in the line of David the Shepherd King of Israel. Jesus debunks the latter in his conversation with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, but it remains a prominent feature of Christian understanding. All three shape our understanding of who Jesus was, who he is today, and who he will be tomorrow.

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“Jesus Saves, Do Justice”: Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 6B (Track 2) – June 17, 2018

Our kids this week have been “Shipwrecked,” but they’ve also been “rescued by Jesus.”[1] They’ve been learning the truth of that promise emblazoned on neon crosses at innumerable inner-city rescue missions in nearly every English-speaking country in the world, “Jesus saves,” through the metaphor of being lost at sea and washed up on a deserted island. That’s something that happened to St. Paul at least three if not four times![2]

But, unfortunately, St. Paul’s experiences at sea are not in the lectionary this week. Our readings from the bible have nothing to do with ships or the ocean or being lost or getting rescued and aren’t really easy to tie to what the kids have been doing with all these shipwreck decorations in the church. Instead of shipwrecks, the readings this week give us trees. Ezekiel reminds us of one of God’s metaphors for Israel, the noble cedar planted on a mountaintop spreading its branches to provide homes for the birds and winged creatures of every kind (which represent all the nations of the world), producing mighty boughs and the plenteous fruit of righteousness and justice.[3]

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The Folly of God – Sermon for Easter Day, April 1, 2018

Before coming to Ohio, my wife and I lived in the Kansas City metroplex. For reasons that still remain mysterious, I was somehow added to the mailing list for the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kansas City, Kansas, which is called The Leaven. When we moved here, I expected that that would stop, but somehow they got my change of address, so I still get The Leaven. I suppose I could have asked to be taken off, but I enjoy reading some of the articles, especially a column written by the paper’s editor-in-chief Father Mark Goldasich. Fr. Goldasich often relates stories of people from around the archdiocese; some are funny, some are touching, and some, like this recently offered story, bring tears to your eyes:

One day a young man was shopping in a supermarket when he noticed an elderly lady who seemed to be following him. Whatever aisle he turned down, she turned down. Whenever he stopped, she stopped. He also had the distinct impression that she was staring at him.

As the man reached the checkout, sure enough, the lady was right there. Politely, he motioned for the woman to go ahead of him.

Turning around, the elderly lady said, “I hope I haven’t made you feel uncomfortable. It’s just that you look so much like my late son.”

Touched, the young man said, “Oh, no, that’s OK.”

“I know that it’s silly,” continued the lady, “but could I ask you to do something for me? Could you call out, ‘Goodbye, Mom,’ as I leave the store? It would make me feel so happy.”

The young man was glad to oblige. After the lady went through the checkout and was on her way out of the store, he called out, “Goodbye, Mom!”

The lady turned back, smiled and waved.

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The Work of Christ – Sermon at the Requiem for Elizabeth Scott Bres, January 28, 2018

You all know the truth of the statement, “You can’t take it with you.” What you may not know is that that sentiment is straight out of the New Testament! St. Paul, writing to the young new bishop Timothy, says, “We brought nothing into the world – it is certain that we can take nothing out of it.”[1] Once upon a time a man who died was given a dispensation from this truth. Before his death he was given a very special suitcase into which he could put one thing to bring with him to heaven. He gave it a lot of thought and over a period of years, as he led a successful life, he made his final decision and loaded up his suitcase. He put it under his bed waiting for that last day. When he finally died, he showed up at the Pearly Gates carrying his special suitcase with his one important thing. Word spread through heaven and all the angels gathered around him wanting to know what he had brought. So he knelt down and, with great flourish, opened the valise to reveal bright shining bricks of gold. The angels were stunned; they just stood there, staring silently at the man and at his suitcase. Finally, Michael Archangel, the commander of God’s army and spokesman for the angels, in a disappointed and incredulous tone of voice asked, “Pavement? You brought pavement?”

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Fatherhood and Laughter: Sermon for RCL Proper 6A (18 June 2017)

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A homily offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 18, 2017, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the service are from Proper 6A (Track 1) of the Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 18:1-15; Psalm 116:1,10-17; Romans 5:1-8; and St. Matthew 9:35-10:8. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)

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Our gospel lesson is the shortened version of Jesus’ commission to the twelve as he sends them out to do missionary work. As he continues with their instructions he tells them, “I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mat 10:16), and then he warns them that those who follow him are likely to face all sorts of terrible strife, including bitterness and enmity within families.

“Brother will betray brother to death,” he says, “and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mat 10:21-22).

It’s an odd lesson, I suppose, for Father’s Day, but of course Father’s Day isn’t on the church calendar and the Lectionary doesn’t take it into account. It’s simply a coincidence that this lesson about discord between fathers and sons should come up this morning, just as it’s a coincidence that the Old Testament lesson about the promise of a child to the elderly and barren couple Abraham and Sarah should be in the Lectionary rota today.

As that story continues, you know, Sarah laughs at the idea that she (at the age of 90) would become pregnant by Abraham (who was 100 and – as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says – “as good as dead” [Heb 11:12]). But that is exactly what does, indeed, happen. She gives birth to a son whom she and Abraham name Isaac because, as Sarah says, “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Gen 21:6). Isaac’s name in Hebrew, Yitschaq, means “he laughs.”

Lutheran seminary professor Kathryn Schifferdecker says of this episode that it proves there is humor and comedy in the bible,

. . . [not] comedy in the sense of stand-up routines or canned laugh tracks, but comedy as something so extraordinarily good that it’s hard to believe, something so out-of-the-ordinary that we laugh until the tears stream down. It’s what Frederick Buechner calls “high comedy”: “the high comedy of Christ that is as close to tears as the high comedy of Buster Keaton or Marcel Marceau or Edith Bunker is close to tears – but glad tears at last, not sad tears, tears at the hilarious unexpectedness of things rather than at their tragic expectedness.” (Working Preacher, citing Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, Harper & Row, 1977, p. 61.)

That is the very contrast these two lessons on Father’s Day present us: the “hilarious unexpectedness” and the “tragic expectedness” of life, both of which are so often present in the always serious, sometimes heartbreaking, and often uproarious business of parenthood.

A few weeks ago I mentioned the late essayist and poet Brian Doyle. A few years ago in The Christian Century magazine (July 22, 2014), Doyle published a poem entitled The poem about what it’s about:

Here’s my question. What if there was a poem
That didn’t know what it was about until it got
To the end of itself? So that the poet’s job isn’t
To play with imagery and cadence and metrical
Toys in order to make a point, but rather to just
Keep going in order to find out that the poem is
About how hard it is to watch your kids get hurt
By things they can’t manage and you cannot fix.
If I had been the boss of this poem I would have
Made it so they can manage things, or I could be
The quiet fixer I always wanted to be as a father;
But that’s not what the poem wanted to be about,
It turns out. This poem is just like your daughter:
No one knows what’s going to happen, and there
Will be pain, and you can’t fix everything, and it
Hurts to watch, and you are terrified even as you
Try to stay calm and cool and pretend to manage.
Some poems you can leave when they thrash too
Much but kids are not those sorts of poems. They
Have to keep writing themselves, and it turns out
You are not allowed to edit. You’re not in charge
At all—a major bummer. I guess there’s a lesson
Here about literature, about how you have to sing
Without knowing the score . . . something like that.
All you can do is sing wildly and hope it’ll finish
So joyous and refreshing that you gape with awe.

I have called that “the best poem about fatherhood . . . ever.” I know from personal experience how absolutely accurate Doyle is when he writes that in parenting (and in so many other aspects of life) there are times when “there will be pain, and you can’t fix” it and “it hurts . . . and you are terrified,” and all you can do is “try to stay calm and cool and pretend to manage.” Being a father, being a parent is the case-in-point that proves again and again how correct St. Paul was in writing that we accept our “sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us” (Rom 5:3-5). It is the case-in-point that proves Jesus’ words that even when there is strife between father and child, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mat 10:22).

This is why fatherhood is the primary Christian metaphor for God’s relationship to us. As Paul wrote to the Romans:

All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For . . . [we] have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ . . . .” (Rom 8:14-17)

And as John wrote:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. * * * Beloved, we are God’s children now. (1 John 3:1-2)

The Prophet Zephaniah wrote of God: “He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival” (Zeph 3:17-18). Just as our poet, Brian Doyle, said in his poem, “All [a father] can do is sing wildly and hope it’ll finish so joyous and refreshing that you gape with awe.” That is God’s hope and promise for us, that everything, all the hilarious unexpectedness and all the tragic expectedness, will “finish so joyous and refreshing” that we will all gape with awe. Those who endure to the end will be saved, and we will all laugh with Sarah. Amen.

(Note: The illustration is “Sarah Laughing,” a woodcut by Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld from Die Bibel in Bildern: 240 Darstellungen, erfunden und auf Holz gezeichnet published in 1899.)

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Five AM Walking the Dog – From the Daily Office – August 12, 2014

From the Psalter:

Clouds and darkness are round about him,
righteousness and justice are the foundations of his throne.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary [Morning Psalm] – Psalm 97:2 (BCP Version) – August 12, 2014)

Moon Behind Clouds

“Comedian Robin Williams, the Oscar and Grammy winner known for his rapid-fire delivery, was found dead in his home after an apparent suicide, authorities said.” — NBC News

Five AM Walking the Dog

The clown is silent; the laughter stilled.
The last mad improvisation was fatal;
Often wisdom behind silliness
but I cannot see any sense
hidden in this.

In desperation, the jester demanded
attention in a world whose madness
was crazier than his own; the clouds
and darkness hiding any glimpse,
any chance of righteousness, no
justice visible, no
hope perceived, no
more wrestling with the black dog

A world in need of jesters
is one poorer as I walk beside
my black dog and try to make sense.
Moon glows small silvery yellow
disc behind mist behind
clouds behind dark behind
chill beyond thought beyond
sense below perception below
knees kneeling on cold wet
grass weeping beneath
the silence of the jest
praying in the darkness beneath
the silence of the clouds.

“Mork, calling Orson;
Mork, calling Orson . . . .”

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Otherwise You’d Cry – From the Daily Office – March 26, 2014

From the Gospel of Mark:

Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Mark 6:27-29 (NRSV) – March 26, 2014.)

Salome by Giampetrino, c. 1510I have a hard time with the beheading thing . . . . I don’t know what it is, but there’s something about cutting someone’s head off that just appalls me.

When I was a student in Italy in 1969 (and again when I chaperoned 87 teenagers to Italy in the summer of 2000), I visited the cathedral in Siena where the head of the local medieval heroine, St. Catherine of Siena, is on display. It’s really quite creepy! Catherine wasn’t beheaded in life, however. Her head was separated from her body when the Sienese, upset that the corpse of their favorite hometown girl was in Rome, tried to steal it back. Unfortunately, they were only able to get the head and were only able to smuggle it out when the Roman guards were miraculously led to believe that the sack in which it was carried contained rose petals rather than a mummified skull.

There is a special class of saints who were martyred by beheading and are commonly depicted carrying their heads under their arms like a football in religious art. John is the first of them, but because of his importance in the Jesus story, he is not usually so represented. These saints, called the cephalophores (it means “head carriers” referring to their artistic portraits), are often said to have recited, scripture, preached, or even spoken to choose their own burial sites after decapitation. For example, St. Nicasius of Rheims att the moment of his decapitation was reciting Psalm 119. When he reached the verse “Adhaesit pavimento anima mea” (My soul cleaves to the dust, v. 25), he was executed. After his head had fallen to the ground, he spoke the rest of the verse, “vivifica me, Domine, secundum verbum tuum” (give me life according to your word).

St. John Chrysostom said of the cephalophores that the severed head of a martyr is more terrifying to the devil than when it was able to speak in life. I don’t know about that, but severed heads just present me with all sorts of problems. It presents a problem to artists, too. How do you handle the halo in a portrait of a beheaded saint? Some put the halo where the head used to be, others have the saint carrying the halo along with the head, but neither is a really adequate representation.

Anyway, I have to admit that I find very little in the way of spiritual uplift thinking about, contemplating, or viewing (in reality or in artistic depiction) the severed head of a martyr. These stories only speak to me of the depravity of human beings, which I suppose must be their point. I speak lightly of them and joke about them only because I would otherwise slip into despair. As my late mother used to say, “You have to laugh about, because otherwise you’d cry.”

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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