April 2018

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Happy Easter! Ann and I love Easter at our church. We don't wear Easter dresses (neither of us owns a dress), but today we dressed in Easter egg colors: (me deep purple and bright green and Ann light pink and strong lavender.)  When we entered the sanctuary, the Jesus window had been revealed from behind the rough brown cloth that's been covering it for the six weeks of Lent, and the choir sang "Allelujuah!" Pastor Ann's sermon was about dancing, and we all sang "Lord of the Dance." There was joy, a sustaining emotion in this church seriously dedicated to figuring out how to include as many people as possible instead of trying to figure out whom to exclude. 

We have to feel the joy, celebrate delight, if we are to continue in our work for justice. 

This most significant holiday in the Christian religion doesn't get all the Christmas hype (thank heavens, so to speak), but the holiday does have a few odd traditions. My favorite Easter story is from the writer David Sedaris, who grew up in my home town. (We even went to the same elementary school for first grade, though he was at Sanderson High School when I entered school.) 

In the personal essay, published in Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris remembers a French class when he was first living in France. People in the class, with an international mix of languages and traditions, try to explain Easter to a Moroccan student who knows nothing about the holiday.

I love to laugh, and I laugh easily, but Sedaris is the only writer who consistently makes me guffaw, and this piece is plain hilarious. 

With a lively mix of basic grammar mistakes and basic vocabulary that tries to get at ideas like crucifixion and resurrection, Sedaris laughs at himself, the absurdity of some traditions, and the difficulty of speaking in a new language. 

The students' explanations of Easter begin with two Polish students trying to explain the crucifixion. One helps the first when she gets stuck. As Sedaris writes: 

The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is,” said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus…”. 

She faltered and her fellow country-man came to her aid. “He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two…morsels of…lumber.”

Explanations continue until the class gets into traditions: a rabbit (if you're in America) brings chocolate...or if you're in France the chocolate comes from a bell that flies in from Rome. Part of what is hilarious is how clear Sedaris is that the night wandering, chocolate-bearing rabbit makes a lot more sense than a flying bell. 

Sometimes, the point seems to be, language isn't the only barrier in cross-cultural communication.The main point is essentially, as Sedaris writes, about faith: " If I could believe in myself, why not give other improbabilties the benefit of the doubt?"

An e-notes writer explains the history of the bunny and the chocolate, and it's interesting, partly because the history is neither so funny nor absurd. It makes sense.

I guess that's the thing about faith. You just can't explain faith or its traditions logically, and if you explain them historically, you might take away the joy. 

Perhaps religion of so many sorts gets a bad rap because some people take even the absurd details so literally. They forget that God likes people such as Sarah who laugh. 

I remember well a story from a friend in a Salvadoran pueblo who recalled a volunteer who had worked to help them when they lived in Honduran refugee camps. "We knew she wasn't going to be with us long," he said. "She always worked. She never stopped to laugh."

If you're in a time when it's hard to laugh, I wish you healing laughter...or whatever it takes to heal. Because laughter is contagious, so you might try laughing with others. You might laugh with me at David Sedaris's piece, or you might enjoy singing along with the Mary Poppins' song, "I Love to Laugh." (I have no idea how Julia Andrews managed to keep a sour face through that song.)

My partner Ann tells the story of her Aunt Mabel who loved to laugh and her uncle Homer, who'd aged out of understanding humor. When someone would tell a joke, Mabel would instruct, "Laugh, Homer. Laugh!"

Years ago, I took students and teachers from a school near SeaTac to see the spiritual leader, The Dalai Lama, who was speaking at Seattle's Key Arena. I was serious about spirituality and about the wise things this Dalai Lama might say that would motivate my students, but he seemed to giggle through the whole thing. This irritated me. What was I supposed to do with that?

Laugh, Mary, Laugh.

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