Dear Hyde Park Family,
With my 43rd birthday just around the corner, I’ve been spending time over the last week reminiscing over all the significant people, places, and moments that have marked my path. As I turned my attention to this Sunday’s sermon, one particularly poignant memory came to mind, represented by a certain household item:
A yellow Tupperware water pitcher.
Until the age of twenty-two years, I had never lived more than thirty minutes from my childhood home in St. Petersburg. I attended grade school and college in that city and even moved back to live with my parents for a year as I discerned a call into the ministry. Then, in 1995, my family loaded up my belongings in a cargo van and drove me nearly 1,000 miles to my new residence for the next three years: United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
After my parents and two brothers helped me unpack my boxes and settle into my on-campus apartment, I felt a pit in my gut as I watched them drive away for their long trek back to Florida. My first year in seminary was a time of rapid, jarring adjustment: a mixture of personal maturation, theological development, career discernment and of course, profound homesickness.
Soon after my family left, I noticed they left in my refrigerator a water pitcher that my mother had filled with kitchen tap water from our house for us to drink along the way. It was water from Florida, water from my family, water from home.
So do you know what I did?
I’m still sheepish to admit this now, but given that I turn 43 on Saturday, I’m a bit less reluctant to admit some of the more childish things I believed and did when I was younger. For a whole year, I refused to drink the water from that pitcher. It stayed in the back of my refrigerator, right where my mother left it. It was my singular connection to home, to my roots and to my identity. So, I chose to cherish it, preserve it and let it remind me of who I was. Whenever I was homesick, I merely had to open the refrigerator and know that despite all the traumatic change happening around me and within me, I always had a bit of home right there with me.
Our journey through life is an arc, not a straight line. The older we get, the more we realize that life is not a succession of past-present-future, but of growing up at home, leaving home, and eventually longing for home. For some of us, that home is a return to a physical place, with loved ones who have always been part of our journey. For others of us, even most of us, home is the experience of discovering who we really are, who we are meant to be, and who we have been all along.
For us people of faith, those moments of epiphany are symbolized by another kind of water. Not that which is contained in a yellow Tupperware pitcher, but that which is given freely to us as an outward and visible sign of our membership in God’s family.
Whenever we are homesick, longing to return to an experience of unconditional love, we need only remember our baptism. Whenever we struggle with our identity – who we are and why we are here – we need only remember our baptism. Whenever we feel lost along a wayward course, feeling alone and discouraged by life’s challenges, we need only remember our baptism. Whenever we wonder if there is a God and where that God is in the midst of our hardship, we need only remember our baptism. When we feel stretched by the pressure to please everyone around us, including our harshest inner critics that never seems to cease, we need only remember the baptismal words of God: “You are my child, my beloved, and in you I am well pleased.”
Join me this Sunday for a service in which we will remember our baptism and reaffirm our baptismal vows. Together, let’s head for home.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist
Re-posted from the Mid-Week message originally posted 1/7/16 here.
Dear Advent Pilgrims,
“Hail Mary, full of grace…now stop me if you’ve heard this one…”
My older daughter Grace has an interesting few days ahead of her. She is memorizing two rather long–and very different–pieces of literature. The first is for her theater class at Plant High School, where she is auditioning for a role in an upcoming production. Auditioners are required to memorize and perform a one-minute comedic selection from a stage play, movie, television show, or stand-up comedy routine. She has been pouring over lots of possibilities, unable to determine which one to choose.
At the same time, she has been asked by the church storytelling team to learn and perform the famous words of Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55 for this Sunday. She will be doing it in the 11 Magnolia service, and she has been hard at work memorizing it.
A few days ago, while still unable to figure out which comedic monologue to perform for school, and as she was memorizing the Magnificat, she came up with a hilarious idea. She turned to me, sighed, and said, “Dad, how about if I just memorize the one and perform it for both? You know…perform the Magnificat for my theater audition, except do it comically?”
We couldn’t contain our laughter at the idea. I began to imagine Mary in some darkly lit, crowded comedy club, holding a microphone, rattling off punch lines, and keeping the audience in stitches. “No,” I said, still chuckling, “I’m afraid that won’t work.”
But then I really began to think about it. No, Mary’s song is not a knee-slapper, but it certainly has aspects that make it ridiculous, if not absurd. Here are two women, Mary and Elizabeth, who have no logical business being pregnant. One is way too young, the other one way too old. One is too young to drive, and the other one really shouldn’t. One just got her student ID card, the other one has her AARP card.
And here they are, both pregnant.
The absurdity of it all made the emotion hard to contain. It’s why Elizabeth burst with a loud voice, and why her baby turned her womb into a bouncy castle. And I have to imagine there was lots of laughter. The kind of laughter that bubbled from Sarah in Genesis, when Abraham told her to get busy knitting baby caps. The kind of absurdity of a talking donkey, like Balaam heard in Numbers. And the kind of joke that God pulled on the devil with the resurrection, traditionally observed the Sunday after Easter as the Risus Paschalis, or “Easter Laugh.”
I am reminded of the definition of humor by Peter McGraw, author of a book I read years ago called The Humor Code. McGraw defines “humor” as that which meets the following three criteria:
- It violates an expectation,
- It does so in a benign way, and
- It does so simultaneously.
In other words, we find something funny when something is wrong, unsettling, or threatening, but is at the same time seems okay, safe, acceptable.
Consider these examples:
- You watch a person fall down the stairs (violation), but is unhurt (benign).
- Someone tells you a joke: “Why don’t you ever see elephants hiding in trees? Because they’re really good at it.” (A violation, because it tricks you with a twist. But it’s benign, because it deals with an absurd scenario).
- Or this joke: “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?” (A violation to the monkey) Answer: “Because it was dead.” (Benign, because no actual monkeys were harmed in the telling of this joke.)
But McGraw takes it one step further, and says that humor is essential to our survival as a species. Our ancestors developed humor as a way of signaling that potential threats are indeed okay, and that imminent danger need not be of concern. McGraw believes that laughter emerged as an instinctual way to show us that a perceived hazard is actually a false alarm – for example, that a rustle in the bushes was not a sabre-toothed tiger, but just the wind. “Organisms that could separate benign violations from real threats benefited greatly,” he says.
So maybe laughter is not a bad response to the Advent story. After all, the incarnation is itself a significant violation of an expectation: An infinite, holy, and divine God has been self-emptied into the limited confines of human existence. But the incarnation of Jesus proclaims to the world that not only is this violation okay, it also packs a punch. The good news of Christ is transformative and salvific; and it is so overwhelmingly joyous that when you think of the absurdity of how great God’s grace and love is, all you can do is laugh.
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist
Re-posted from the Mid-Week message originally posted 12/10/15 here.