Friday, October 26, 2007

Wiener Dogs and Polka

Another favorite word of mine is "entendre." A cousin of the pun, another low brow figure of speech, the entendre relies on innuendo (yet another cool word) as a way to to express oneself in a playfully risque manner. Now, appealing to my base sense of humor, while immensely gratifying, is not enough to warrant entry in the pizzatorium. Oh, no. Pizzas are all about combinations of tastes and textures. So, the truly effective double entendre must be couched within a framework of aburdity to merit attention.

We have a radio show here in Pittsburgh every Friday on Carnegie Mellon University's station (WRCT). DJ Zombo, tends to play bizarre and silly music from all eras. A recent favorite is a song called the Wiener Dog Polka. Not only is this a "roll on the floor laughing" piece, loaded with double entendres, but it is performed by a group called Polkacide. Here is where the surreality steps up a notch.

Polkacide (the band's logo is a skull and crossed kielbasas) was originally organized to play a one-night stand for the Deaf Club in San Francisco in 1985. The Deaf Club (an actual club for deaf people) had been hiring punk bands to perform. When it was suggested that some did not want a punk band, founder Ward Abronski, along with his long term girlfriend and Polkacide's first drummer, formed a "really loud polka band" to play. When the gig was cancelled (ironically for noise abatement), Ward realized it was too good of an idea with too many great musicians, to let it die. I love synchronicity.

The challenge, of course, for a minister, especially a somewhat irreverent reverend. Is to find some "appropriate" way to insert such wonderful snippets of human creativity into a sermon. I find such reflections entertaining, as well as challenging. And, no, doing a "Humor in Religion" service doesn't count. That is low hanging fruit.

I have yet to think of a good spot for this little tidbit, yet. But, I firmly believe that every dog has its day (so to speak), so the opportunity will arise sometime. That is one way to get people to read their church newsletters.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Irreverent (but Respectful of Boundaries)

Certain words delight me. They find their way into my speech and writing, partly because they have deep meaning. But, they also usually possess something interesting as words in either a visual or auditory sense. For instance, I love the word "paradigm." Ever since I read Joel Barker's book on the subject years ago, the concept (and that silent 'g') have given me immense joy.

I was reminded of another delightful word recently. In closing an email, a friend signed off with "Yes at times irreverent, but respectful of boundaries." What an absolutely wonderful expression! Of course, now that I travel the path toward a life of ministry, the word "irreverent" has new meaning. How exactly does a minister act irreverently? Can a "reverend" be irreverent?

Well, I certainly intend to explore irreverence as a "reverend" in my ministry. For one, I strongly encourage people to challenge assumptions in their lives and to facilitate paradigm shifts. My most commonly asked question is "Why?" Why do we follow certain rules and behave in certain ways? And, please, never expect me to accept as a valid answer, "Because we have always done it that way," unless you are able to substantiate the tradition with detailed justification.

Another favorite form of irreverence is humor, particularly satire. My ministry is as informed by the "sermons" of George Carlin as it is by any theologian past or present. Humor gives us permission to lower our guard, so that we can examine ourselves safely and with an open spirit. The act of laughing relaxes our bodies and eases tensions that might make us less open to insight and sharing.

Perhaps my favorite form of irreverence is the use of popular culture as religious metaphor. I frequently infuse imagery from movies, television, and so-called "lower" art forms into my sermons. This summer, I delivered a sermon on the Gospel According to Ed Wood, and I am currently writing a paper on Themes of Religious Humanism in the films of George A. Romero. If someone had not already written them, I would have composed religious education curricula on the Simpsons, Star Trek, and Dr. Seuss.

Irreverence, however, should be wielded with a substantial degree of precision. Like any tool in the arsenal of the minister, irreverence can hammer a point home, or smash its intended target indiscriminately. Sometimes, paradigms exist for legitimate reasons. Sometimes, making light of a topic is simply not appropriate. And, sometimes, we need to appeal to a "higher" state of intellect, emotion, and being to achieve a desired affect. So, I shall strive to always maintain a healthy irreverence, while remaining mindful and respectful of boundaries.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

New Orleans Trip: Afterword

The past week seemed to be immensely rewarding for each of the participants. It is hard to assess the impact one short week of effort by our little group had on this city still recovering two years later from the trauma of Katrina. In some ways, our presence alone appeared to have as significant an effect on the residents as did the weeds we pulled, the nails we hammered, or the food we sorted. And, even though we paid Hands On New Orleans for room and board for the week, we brought to the trip additional financial resources by purchasing a good deal of food, drink, and souvenirs, and through charitable donations.

For me, the experience was an interesting contrast of the close quarters and strenuous effort for six days among adults with my many past weekends spent at weekend district youth conferences. As the week progressed, we learned a good deal about each other and many friendships developed. We spent much time in the common lounge area at Hands On talking and sharing. At the same time, the living quarters presented unfamiliar challenges that created moments of modest tension. Living in bunk beds in a room with 8 to 16 people, and sleeping in the Southern heat and humidity, fosters forces that bind folks together in shared intimate exploit, but also produces strains that accentuate the differences that can separate us.

A lesson that this week strongly reinforced for me was the importance of assuming the good intention of others. Affirming and promotion the inherent worth and dignity of every person entails an appreciation of the very different personalities we all possess. When these personalities clash, we can avail ourselves of many tools to resolve conflicts and reunite in common purpose - a caring thought, humor, a gentle touch or a hug. But, most important, I believe, is the discipline of walking in another's shoes just long enough to see the world from their perspective, and hopefully understanding the influences that produced the person as they are today. Just a moment of reflection can help all of us see the basic goodness that lies in each person.

Living in a human society, our lives intersect which each other on a daily basis. At school, at work, and at church, our interactions can create moments of shared joy and wonder. But, crossing paths can also generate friction. When that happens, before we look for the hurtful cause, or the evil in another, it helps to first assume the good intention of others. Finding the good in others may also help us intensify the good within ourselves.