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Saturday, October 01, 2011

Let us now praise silliness.

Megan Sanders, silly old moi, and Jon Richardson (Photo: Sharon Sheridan)

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines silly in this way:
1 archaic : helpless, weak

2 a : rustic, plain b obsolete : lowly in station : humble

3 a : weak in intellect : foolish b : exhibiting or indicative of a lack of common sense or sound judgment c : trifling, frivolous

4 : being stunned or dazed (scared silly) (knocked me silly)

Examples of SILLY

I hope I didn't make any silly mistakes.
The idea does seem a bit silly.
That's the silliest thing I've ever heard.
You drove in this weather? What a silly thing to do!
Silly me. I locked myself out of the car again.
Ask a silly question, and you get a silly answer.
“I can't ask you to do that.” “Don't be silly. It is my pleasure.”
What a silly little purse. It looks too small to hold everything that I'd need to carry.
I'm tired of watching silly movies.
The book was a silly waste of time.

Origin of SILLY Middle English sely, silly happy, innocent, pitiable, feeble, from Old English sǣlig, from sǣl happiness; akin to Old High German sālig happy
First Known Use: 14th century
Related to SILLY Synonyms: birdbrained, ditzy (or ditsy), dizzy, featherbrained, flighty, frivolous, frothy, futile, goofy, harebrained, light-headed, light-minded, puerile, scatterbrained, giddy, yeasty
Antonyms: earnest, serious, serious-minded, sober, unfrivolous
If there were a pictorial dictionary online, I suspect the above picture would be right next to the definition. Especially the third one about being ". . . . foolish b : exhibiting or indicative of a lack of common sense or sound judgment c : trifling, frivolous".

the Rev'd Cynthia Black (Sheridan photo)
That's a picture of Megan Sanders and Jon Richardson with me at the reception following the Celebration of New Ministry at Church of the Redeemer in Morristown, NJ last Thursday evening.

The Rev'd Dr. Cynthia Black was installed as rector in the midst of wonderful, originally composed music and prayers, three fine preachers, and much rejoicing, celebrating and other completely unnecessary but perfectly appropriate frivolity. 

Things are just that way at Redeemer.

You can read the story and even see a video highlight of the event by clicking on this link.

Megan and Jon were my seminary interns for two years at St. Paul's, Chatham. Megan was a seminarian at General Theological Seminary in NYC and Jon was at the Theological School at Drew in NJ.

Both are now graduated and are priests in the Diocese of Newark. Megan works as a Chaplain at Seamen's Church Institute and Jon is Priest-In-Charge at St. Paul's, Jersey City.

They now consider me one of their mentors, a title I am both pleased and proud, if not essentially unworthy to bear.

I'm so proud of them both I could simply burst.

They are both smart and insightful and passionate and committed disciples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And, two sillier people you would probably never meet.

They always make me laugh. Well, when we're not occasionally weeping over the institutional church, various personal relationships and the state of the world.

Which is why it's so important to be silly from time to time.

Life is absurd. If you don't understand that essential truth about the enterprise of being human, you've missed an important point and will probably spend waste a great deal of your time on earth perfectly miserable.

Misery does, in fact, love company but silliness attracts friends who will be with you your whole life long - even when misery rears its ugly head.

The work I was privileged to do in the early days of the AIDS epidemic - when I was a brandy-new priest - shaped and formed my perspective on ministry.

What I learned through it all is that laughter is, perhaps, the most authentic expression of faith.  If you can laugh in the face of an evil like AIDS you clearly believe in God or else you would never have the courage to laugh.

It's all about perspective, isn't it?

And, choice.

We do have a choice about how we view the world. We can look at all the brokenness and see despair. Or, we can tilt the lens and see opportunity.

We can look at all that needs to be done in the world and lament and weep. Or, we can look through the lens of the Gospel and see possibility.

I submit to you for your consideration that an attitude and posture of of silliness changes your perspective on life and the world and relationships.

Yes, it can be very annoying - especially to those who are Very Serious about the world and the church.  You know. Those folks who are living antonyms of silly, who are best described as "earnest, serious, sober, unfrivolous".

And yes, there are times when silliness is absolutely uncalled for, when it's important to be somber and serious. I want to suggest to you that those time in life are far fewer than the opportunities to be silly.

I think St Paul had something to say in praise of The Silly - although he didn't express it in quite that way and was, himself, a pretty "earnest, serious, sober, unfrivolous" kind guy.

In his second letter to the ancient church in Corinth, he tells a strange little story about a man (who knows who he was, really? God knows) who was caught up into heaven (whatever that means) and, besides revelations,  received a "thorn in his flesh" in order to keep him from "being conceited".

This man (whom Paul now describes in the first person singular, silly man!) pleaded with God to remove this thorn - this "messenger of Satan" - but Paul reports that God responded in a most strange and almost bizarre way. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

Paul then says,
"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
Well, there it is, then.

If silliness is a sign of weakness, all the more opportunity to delight in it, that Christ's power may rest upon us.

In his sermon (well, for him it was a 'sermonette"), Louie Crew said a remarkable thing to the folks at Redeemer. He said,
“You are prophets – not the kind who foretell the future, but the kind who prepare us for it. Prophets, unite!" he said, "Go tell it on the mountain and everywhere: Grace is amazing still.”
Do that, and the world will most certainly think you quite silly.

So, let us now praise silliness.

In the midst of wars and rumors of wars, and terror and anti-terrorism, and corporate greed and political corruption, and unemployment and grinding poverty, the best medicine may well be a large dose of silliness, administered several times a day.

I am convinced that silliness, like those powder milk biscuits of Lake Wobegon fame, gives shy people the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.

It's not powder milk biscuits, though.  That's just plain silly.

It's just Christ's power, resting on you.


gerry said...

I've just resolved to be silly in some way more often.

I love the banana genes silly sign!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

YAY! Sillies of the world, unite! (I love the banana sign, too. It's my favorite.)