By Susan Sparks
Note: This piece was published on the website Baptist News Global and is reprinted here with their permission. Susan Sparks preached at the recent Evergreen Association meeting at Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle.
In addition to being an ordained minister, I am also a standup comedian. One thing I’ve always wanted to do at the end of my set (and my sermons) was a mic drop — that moment when a comedian hits their last punchline, holds the mic out, drops it on the floor with a loud thud, and walks away.
The comedian Eddie Murphy was first credited with it in the 1980s. Even President Obama got into the act in his 2016 White House Correspondents’ Dinner speechwhen he ended with, “Obama out,” dropped the mic, and walked off the stage.
Now that’s a president.
Recently, I came across a Christmas version of a mic drop in the beloved television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas. It happens towards the end of the program when Charlie Brown yells, “Can anyone explain the meaning of Christmas to me?” A second later, a tiny voice says, “I can.” It is Linus, the little boy who drags his security blanket with him at all times.
Linus begins to recite the Christmas story from the book of Luke, and when he reaches the words, “And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not,’” he drops the blanket. His beloved security blanket that has protected him from all harm, he drops it on the floor! Like a mic drop — but with deeper significance.
We could all use a blanket drop, a moment where we find the courage to let go of our security blanket, let go of our fears, drop them on the floor, and walk away.
We need it more than ever today for this is a fearful time. We have the daily stresses weighing on us like money, jobs, aging, and family. There are the existential fears harbored by a significant percentage of our global population, like the 780 million people who can’t find access to clean water, or the almost 800 million people who don’t have enough food.
It is also a fearful time in our nation. We fear for the civil rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We fear for the safety and dignity of our brothers and sisters of color. We fear for the immigrants of this country, for our Muslim brothers and sisters, and for all those who are in the crosshairs of our “towers of power.”
It is a fearful time. So, we grab our security blankets and pull them tight. We build emotional fortresses around our hearts so no one can hurt us, and raise the walls around our country so no one can get in. We tighten our grip on our pocketbook so no one can take from us. We narrow our vision so all we see is black and white. Ultimately, those security blankets get wrapped so tightly that we cut ourselves off emotionally and spiritually from our fellow human beings, transforming them, in our minds, from brother to “other.”
That leaves us with two choices. We can stay wrapped in our proverbial security blanket, isolated, fearful, suspicious, and full of dread. Or, we can believe the angel when she says, “Fear not,” and we can drop the blanket.
Now, I know, dropping the security blanket is hard. Life can be a fearful place, a scary place, a place with overwhelming obstacles and difficulties. But as the old saying goes, “Life is full of breathtaking opportunities disguised as unsolvable problems.” Let me give you two examples.
Recently, I had dinner with a new friend from Haifa, Israel who shared stories about the wild fires burning out of control. Tragically, there was simultaneous rhetoric from political leaders who suggested that the fires were set by the Arabs (“arson terror” as they called it), which fueled the fires of fear even more than the real fires. But in the midst of that place where people were tightly wrapped in their security blankets — isolated, fearful, suspicious, and full of dread — there were a few brave souls who opened their hearts and did a blanket drop.
First, there were the firefighters from Egypt and Jordan and Syria — Arab people — who came to Haifa’s aid to help put out the Israeli fires. My friend also told me a story about Arab contractors who came to the region to help rebuild. None of the Israelis would hire them, until one group dropped their fears and hired the contractors to rebuild a burned synagogue. When the Arab contractors found out the job was to rebuild a synagogue, they rebuilt it for free.
That never made the news. It was not divisive or contentious enough. But it happened. And something magical and wonderful transpired in that moment.
Let me give you a second example, one that is set much earlier but in the same location. A young woman finds herself pregnant and unmarried in Palestine in the early first century, something for which she could be stoned to death, a place of excruciating fear.
A breathtaking opportunity disguised as an unsolvable problem.
And, like any of us in a place of fear, Mary had two choices: she could stay wrapped in her proverbial security blanket, isolated, fearful, suspicious, and full of dread. Or, she could believe the words of the angel Gabriel who said to her, “Fear not,” and she could drop the blanket, walk away from the fears, and change the world.
This holiday season, I challenge all of us to do a blanket drop.
To let go of the security blankets we have tightly wrapped around our hearts.
To let go of the corrosive, divisive fears we harbor.
To let go of our unbelief, and truly hear the angel when she says …
“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
[Mic drops with a thud.]
By Bill Malcomson
My purpose in these blogs is to encourage us to feel free to be who we are in terms of our stated beliefs, our experience of truth, and in our interrelationships. It can take a long time to be free.
My Dad encouraged me to doubt, to be true to myself in terms of my beliefs. That is fine, as long as you go to a liberal college, a liberal seminary, and a liberal university. It is not so easy when you become pastor of a church, a teacher in an evangelical seminary, a representative of a denomination. At least this was my experience. There were many times when I was very careful about what I said or didn't say in terms of what I thought of as my faith. My profession might be at risk. If I used the right words, I was accepted, if I didn't, I was a bit suspect. However, I also was not always sure of what I believed or didn't believe. This was true even into my 50's.
In 1987 I left the Deanship of a seminary in Berkeley, CA. There were a variety of reasons for this, but the main one was that I could not be a person of real integrity in that setting. I could not honestly be who I had become, particularly in terms of my religious faith.
In 1993 I became the Interim Senior Pastor at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village in New York City. For a year and a half, I preached, taught, and counseled with total honesty. Not everyone agreed with what I said, but we had open dialogue. It was a terrific time for me.
When we returned to Seattle I became involved in the developing of the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University, also teaching there, and then teaching adults in Skagit County and finally at Seattle First Baptist Church. I could be radical (or not), even heretical, but, always completely honest. Free at last!
Many of you who have commented on my blogs have said how much you appreciate being able to share how you feel with me. From time to time, some of you have come over to Port Ludlow to visit with us and we have talked honestly about our faith. Truth and wisdom can happen, even if it takes a long time.
In a very strange and uncertain time in this nation's history, let us be unafraid to say what we believe, to stand for truth, to be who you and I have been called to be. We shall not be overcome by fake news, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, or false prophets. Too much is at stake. Our lives are on the line.
May each of us experience new birth at Christmas.
By Rodney Romney, from the book Wilderness Spirituality - Finding Your Way in an Unsettled World
Note: This is an extract from the last book that Rod Romney published while he was pastor at Seattle First Baptist. It's theme of Wilderness resonates with us this Advent.
Veteran explorers of natural wilderness quickly learn the markers the wilderness provides. These markers offer a kind of road map through uncharted territories... I believe these markers can help all of us explore our unsettled worlds with greater safety and allow us to continue on this extraordinary venture of life with deeper joy.
Beatitudes for the New Wilderness
Blessed are those who remember who they are, for they shall come home to a truth of their own being.
Blessed are those who treasure the sacred trust of life, for they shall be the inheritors of everlasting riches.
Blessed are those who attend to the inner places of solitude pulsating in their own souls, for they shall know God.
Blessed are those who confess their pain and brokenness, for they shall take hold of their healing.
Blessed are those who connect to all things and refuse all sense of separation, for they shall become one with God.
Blessed are those who wrestle with their own darkness, for they shall touch again the light from which they came.
Blessed are those who wait upon God, for they shall renew their strength and deepen their faith.
Blessed are those who give compassion to the world, for they shall burst the bonds of suffering and death.
Blessed are those who forgive life for not being all they wanted it to be, for they shall create a new beginning for themselves.
Blessed are those who accept every person as holy and who do not burden anyone with narrow judgments or stifled love, for they shall point to that mysterious road that leads back to God.
Blessed are those who realize they have been created by love and for love, for they shall live in love all the days of their lives.
Blessed are those who rejoice at all times and in all circumstances, knowing that God is in everything with eternal joy. Through them the seed of love will be eternally resown and they shall stand tiptoe in the bright kingdom of the moment, awakening the universe with their astonishing smile.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist