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Tabernacle United Methodist Church

Thursday Thoughts

Well, another loved one has taken their leave of us. Wonderfully familiar cartoon voice, June Foray, age 99, has slipped away just in the last 24 hours. “Who’s that?” you may be asking. Think of Mel Blanc, the voice of so many beloved cartoon characters in the “Golden Age of TV,” in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. He “voiced” Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and almost every well-known and -beloved animated character. Mel Blanc passed a few years ago, and there’s an iconic sketch of his cartoon personalities, all standing in the shadow of a now forlorn microphone; they were speechless. Now, think of his female counterpart, who spoke the voice of both the evil Natasha (one half of the Soviet Spy duo, with Boris!) and Rocket (“Rocky”) J. (the Flying) Squirrel, Cindy Lou Who (of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”), the Aunt of Tweety Bird, and a great range of others. That was June Foray! And she was still working, and the Academy of Motion Pictures was preparing to honor her this fall with her own award, for her extraordinary addition to the craft.

It was a golden, wonderful voice, full of good humor and fun and life. Now, after 99 years, it’s quiet. I wonder, in what way(s) do we use our voices? Do we use them for truth telling and the pronouncement of the presence of good and right and just, or do we waste them, shouting out whatever comes to mind in a given moment? In early 1990, as I was the pastor of another Tabernacle UMC (it was in Virginia Beach, near Sandbridge), I had some surgery on my throat - to remove my tonsils and some “excess” tissue. The doctor promised it would eliminate my snoring, so I was “all in favor” of it! In the days after the surgery, I had lots of popsicles (they were colder than ice cream, and felt great!) and not much else! I was like a big kid in the grocery store, getting the cartoon-character-shaped, icy treats, learning that I preferred one size/shape/taste/character over another!

And, the doctor warned, “You must not talk for at least the two weeks afterward, so your voice can rest…. Not even to whisper!!” That was a l….o….n….g…. l….o….n….g 14 days! I had a sign to wear around my neck, “My doctor says I must not talk!” I took a lot of teasing and “grief,” as I recall! Phyllis, however, got a lot of rest for her ears! It was a challenge.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the new monk in the monastery, who was told that the Order to which he was trying to gain entry was one of silent prayerfulness. In his probationary period, he would be allowed to speak sparingly - in fact, hardly at all. He could only voice 2 words per year, and those were to be spoken to the Abbot, in privacy. At the end of the first year, he cleared his throat and said, “Food bad.” The older monk thought those were strange words, but accepted his pronouncement, and sent the younger back to his routines. At the end of the second year, the two words were “Bed hard!” Again, a curious expression, thought the Abbot, but those words were newcomer’s choice. By the third anniversary of his arrival, the monk was about to burst, and stormed into the elder’s presence, and shouted “I quit!” The response? “I’m not surprised; all you’ve done it complain, ever since you arrived!” If you were allowed only a word or two an hour, or per day, which would you choose?

When Jesus was born, there were angels singing over the crying of the new child. Some said it sounded as the joyful voice of the Creator in the vast expanse of the night-time sky over Bethlehem. When He was baptized by His cousin John in the Jordan River, some said that they heard God speak again, sounding like thunder…. And others said that they heard, as clear as a bell sounding, “This is my Son, my Beloved! Listen to Him!” (At least one of the gospel writers insists that only Jesus heard this affirmation. I don’t know; I would like to think the voice was widely heard and understood!). The same thing happened some time later, as He was atop the Mount of Transfiguration, along with Peter, James, and John….. same words and everything! And there was thunder as He hung on the cross atop the Hill of the Skull outside Jerusalem…. Some speculated it was God’s voice.

It wasn’t a new phenomenon; God’s voice had been heard by a great many, especially in the Old Testament stories. Sometimes, it was great and powerful, creative and life-giving. At others, it was quiet and soft, like it came to the prophet hiding in the “cleft of the rock” while the roaring wind and thunder roared along…. And then there was “a still small voice,” assuring him of His presence. A good many of us long, I believe, for that day when our names are called in eternity, and we hear the Almighty pronounce the benediction for our lives and ministries saying “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

I am so grateful for those who lend their voices to the leadership of our worship services - in the choir and praise band, as soloists and small groups, as lay readers and liturgists, and especially, as congregation members who speak as one in the words of the Psalms, the readings, and the responses. Except for private devotional times, it is our collective voice that constitutes and creates worship; have a look at the Psalms, if you need more examples of the importance of lay participation. One side of the congregation speaks, and then the other lifts its voice; or the leader and the congregation seem to carry on a conversation, or a “call and response” goes on between several speakers.

We were in the Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska a number of years ago, and just before the preacher was to speak, a young woman had sung a magnificent piece, her voice filling the place in praise of the Almighty! The congregation rose as one, full of applause and gratitude for the gift she had offered. As she accepted their appreciation, she took a small step backward and sat unexpectedly on the small platform that was to be put behind the pulpit for the short-stature preacher. It was an embarrassment, to be sure, but she quickly stood again, while the box was moved into its intended location. The preacher, in trying to deflect the attention from her unfortunate, unplanned “plop” said, “It’s long been my lot in life to follow people like this woman with a wonderful, beautiful voice…. And then come and stand here on this box, and sound like the wind blowing a splinter on a hollow log…. Not so pleasant to hear!” Dr. Fred Craddock, to whom you have heard me refer often, did not have a “traditional” baritone “preacher voice,” but rather it was somewhat unremarkable and every day. But he used it well, in the service of the gospel.

I wonder, how are you using your voice? Is it “full of sound and fury,” as Shakespeare suggested, “signifying nothing”? Or is it used to express love and comfort and forgiveness and grace and hope and the entire range of virtues? Perhaps you use it to teach and instruct and form others hearts and minds and lives. Maybe it’s most often employed in truth-telling, or singing, or offering a way forward in challenging, difficult matters. It could be that your voice sings, chants, hums… in public and/or private settings. Do you make others smile aloud with amusing anecdotes, or is yours the first lifted in mirth and laughter? Or is it wasted in criticism and complaint and constant carping about some matter, something destructive, something small, petty, and mean?

I hope that yours is a voice lifted in ways that build up and encourage and give life to all who hear and are touched by it. I hope that your voice uses the same words in private and in public witness, in truth-telling, and in bearing witness to what you saw, heard, and felt. If the Church has a role these days in the public sphere, it is in bearing no “false witness” to that which is true and honorable and good and just and Right. “Let your love be genuine,” said Paul, who sounded a lot like Jesus who enjoined, “Let your Yes be Yes, and your No be No.” And that’s enough. Let it be known that you belong to the Company of Those Who Speak the Truth. That’ll be enough.

Grace and peace to you,
Jim Earley, Pastor

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Last update: August 17, 2017 3:57 AM