I went out to mow again last night, this time no requirement to run – I just save that for Maundy Thursday late afternoons. Anyway, I’m a few swipes through the front yard and I hear this piercing whistle. I pause and look around and don’t spot an officer directing traffic or a referee at the pick-up game down the street, so I keep mowing. In another swipe around the yard, the piercing whistle happens again, so I stop the mower this time and I hear a giggle. I look across the street and there’s my 4 year old neighbor looking at me and giggling. He puts the whistle to his mouth again and blows as hard as he can and it pierces the air between us to a point I fear my windows, let alone my eardrums might break, and he gets the hoped-for response: I put my hands over my ears and begin to howl like my dog is doing from the backyard.
His dad comes out of the garage as I walk over to say hey and shares that their “formerly favorite” grandparents sent the whistle in his son’s Easter basket. He then apologizes and says that his wife invited him to take their son out into the yard to let him blow the whistle as much and loudly as he could because it is NOT to be used in the house ever again if he wants to stay married and not put the child up for adoption. It was his parents that sent the gift, with a short note that said “Happy Easter, what goes around comes around.” Evidently he may have been a bit ornery and a bit of a challenge when he was four as well. I said that my parents might be able to relate and made my way back across the street to pick up my mowing and the whistle continued to blow intermittently for most of the time it took me to finish.
And I started thinking – I know, go figure. Are the grandparents right? I know they were just joking… mostly, but are they right? Does what goes around come around? Some might call it karma, others simply say you get what’s coming to you. Every once in a while, when some kind of technology breaks around here – the copy machine gets jammed, the projector in the sanctuary won’t turn on for worship, the Riso refuses to run the bulletins we need for a weekend full of services (when they were called mimeograph machines with purple ink that you cycled by hand, we didn’t have these problems) – I call it my aura. These machines pick up on my low tolerance for and expectations of their actually working, and fulfill them. Any of you ever tune in to watch your favorite sports team and they immediately begin making mistakes and falling behind, so you either turn off the TV or at least leave the room, somehow believing that your eyes on a screen often hundreds of miles away are what’s making the difference in the performance of people you most likely will never meet?
Luck… fate… destiny… serendipity… coincidence… right place at the right time/wrong place at the wrong time… and if that’s how life happens, why are we working so diligently to learn and grow and teach and serve and hopefully make decisions that create a better world for us and for all of those who come after us? Somehow all of this has to do with the heart of our faith, doesn’t it? But we’re not quite sure how. So for as long as there have been humans, there have been discussions and disagreements and arguments and debates about how to make sense of things that happen outside our ability to completely explain. And oh how we try, because it is simply our way. We consciously or subconsciously think that if we can explain the inexplicable, it will, well… What? Comfort us? Defeat our insecurities? Enhance our life experience? Or maybe, dare I say it, make us God? Is that finally what it’s about? That if we can figure out how everything happens, then we don’t have to take that leap that is our faith, i.e., we don’t have to try “to believe where we do not see” to loosely quote St. Augustine.
And what if we could explain everything? Why bad things happen to good people. Why good things happen to bad people. Why bad things happen to bad people. Why good things happen to good people. All that’s the case, you know, all of those are true. We simply only focus or hear about the first phrase most often – when bad things happen to good people, because it simply seems unfair. And while all that seems unfair in life doesn’t hit home, you know, why were we born and live here and not Syria, that arbitrariness/unfairness doesn’t seem to rest in our souls on an hourly basis. But when something unexpectedly happens to someone we love and they clearly didn’t deserve it, most particularly something negative, we struggle with the lack of reasonableness or “sense” so we try to find/explain/create answers.
Hmmmm, maybe I’m not quite done with the whole Easter deal. Sunday afternoon I would have told you to stick a fork in me, I was D-U-N, done. But this complexity is really the heart of Holy Week and Easter. Isn’t it? I know, I know, when you’re a hammer, everything in the world looks like a nail. When you’re a pastor, everything in the world relates to Jesus. But seriously… the heart of goodness and grace and non-violence is nailed to a cross – pretty much the definition of when bad things happen to good people. But then… but then the worst that could happen is overcome. Death and destruction and hate and violence do NOT have the last word – Living and loving and grace and peace do.
So then… what goes around, comes around? Nope. Karma? Nope. They get what’s coming to them? Nope. Just wait til your father gets home? Okay, that’s a whole different deal. Negative aura? Nope. Lucky rabbit’s foot? Nope. Horseshoe over the door? Nope. Black cat crosses your path? Nope. Breaking a mirror? Nope.
Do things happen outside our ability to explain? Yes. Are they always bad? No. Do we notice those the most? Probably so. Does believing in the resurrection stop bad things from happening? NOPE… Sorry. Does not believing in the resurrection stop bad things from happening? NOPE… Sorry. Here’s the deal. We’re never going to be able to explain all the bad and good things that happen through the course of our lives; we simply aren’t. The question becomes, as we live into the ambiguity, can we find peace in the understanding that somehow, we’re not alone in facing the expected and the unexpected? Often inexplicably, the power we call God is beside us, behind us, in front of us, around us, and living within us. In that presence, the destructive becomes face-able (yes, former English teachers are allowed to make up words when it suits them). Actually not only face-able, but survive-able and even thrive-able in ways we might not have dreamed.
Yup, the formerly favorite grandparents sent a piercing whistle to their four-year-old grandson who proceeded to blow it with all his might on a post-Easter Tuesday evening in his front yard. And it connected a couple neighbors working in their garage and yard respectively. One a pastor, the other a “none” on the religious chart of boxes to check; one a parent, the other a great-aunt to some ornery little boys who live across the state; one in his 30’s, the other not so much; and I suspect both equal in caring about trying to create a world where four-year-olds can grow and survive and thrive and laugh and play and learn and maybe one day, receive an Easter basket from a grandparent, or maybe from an old adopted aunt from across the street, with a whistle… or maybe a drumset. Not because what goes around comes around, but because old people simply like to laugh.