I mentioned a few weeks ago that we’re introducing our kids
to some classics of 80s cinema.
This week it was Throw Mama from the Train.
Do you remember that movie?
It stars Billy Crystal as Larry Donner,
a struggling author who teaches a writing class
at a local community college or something
and his ever more and more comically awful relationship with Owen,
played by Danny DeVito.
Owen struggles with his overbearing mother.
Larry struggles with his writing.
The movie starts with Larry fretting over his typewriter
This was before computers and word processors
So you see him trying to start his novel
The night was….
The night was…
He gets up, he paces the room, he makes some tea, he looks at the page.
The night was…
The night was hot. The night was sweltering,
it was very hot and very sweltering…
And he takes page after page out of the typewriter
and crumples it up into a ball
and throws it away in the trash can.
He can’t find the right word…. He just can’t.
And so he’s stuck, right there, on that first sentence
For what seems like eternity. Oh, the perils of writer’s block for an author!
The next day he goes to class, where students are reading their manuscripts
And they’re, well, not all that great
He takes another manuscript off the pile
And he reads the very beginning of the next piece
And it is exactly the sentence he had been struggling over:
“The night was humid”
Larry’s eyes grow big, the camera zooms in on his expression.
He can’t believe it. He’s going to be stuck here forever.
And he ends class for the day.
The movie has its animating force, right there
As Larry is driven by his struggles to find the right words
to have the story he’s trying to tell sound just right.
This is one of those weeks where I’ve felt like Larry.
I’ve started this Pentecost sermon three different times, at least.
It’s been a crazy, emotional, roller coaster of a week if there ever was one
And when that happens,
And you’re trying to listen for the word of God in the middle of a cacophony of news
Well, you find yourself starting over more than once.
The first sermon was going to invite you to listen to this:
What do you hear?! Yanny or Laurel pic.twitter.com/jvHhCbMc8I
— Cloe Feldman (@CloeCouture) May 15, 2018
This audio clip was all the rage this week.
It was on tv news programs and radio shows
And of course all over the internet.
It has been called the Laurel/Yanny debate.
What did you hear? Did you hear the word Laurel? Or the word Yanny?
CBS News noted that this short audio clip
Is “completely puzzling the world and pitting friend against friend.”
Apparently, the whole thing started when Katie Henzel
a high school freshman,
Had a question about one of her vocabulary words: laurel.[i]
Like any good, industrious, 21st century student, she looked it up
She went to Vocabulary.com, and played the audio file that pronounced it.
But instead of the word in front of her, laurel
Katie heard the audio say to her ‘yanny.’
“I asked my friends in my class” Katie said
“and we all heard mixed things.”
She posted the audio clip to her instragram
Another student published it as an online poll: Yanny or Laurel?
Then someone else put it up on reddit, and
The next thing you know Ellen is talking about on her program
And everyone is debating it around their dining room table.
This clip is an example of a physiological and linguistic phenomenon
That has to do with the way we hear different parts of the audio spectrum differently,
In part impacted by our age and the shape of our ears
And how with certain clues—
such as being told before hand what to listen for
or changing the base or treble output of the audio
we can hear something different in the same recording.
If you tend to hear the higher pitches more easily, you’re more likely to hear Yanny.
Otherwise, you might hear Laurel.
Me: I thought it said Lammy the first time I heard it. What do I know?
It reveals how we’re all put together just a bit differently, you and I.
And more than that, how this can change over time as our bodies change with age.
“If I [took your ears off] and put someone else’s [ears] on your head
sounds would sound different.”
Said Howard Nusbaum, from the University of Chicago.
Differently shaped ears focus sounds differently.
You might actually hear sounds differently than the person next to you.
But maybe the most interesting thing throughout all of this
was seeing how powerfully people reacted to this entire thing.
What you hear, you hear.
You hear Yanny, or you hear Laurel.
But people seem to get quite defensive about what they hear
And, more so, many people noted
They were growing incredulous, agitated
that the people around them
Heard something completely different.
For instance, on the morning show “CBS This Morning”
Co-hosts Norah O’Donell, John Dickerson, and Gayle King
Listened to the clip, and started talking about it.
O’Donell and Dickerson both heard Laurel
King heard Yanny.
The debate got animated rather quickly.
“I don’t know why I’m so personally offended by this” King said
during the rousing debate.
“It’s definitely, definitely, definitely Yanny.”
There was the heart of the first Pentecost sermon for this week
This huge debate over a silly internet audio file,
The power of hearing different things differently
What that does to us, between us.
A few years ago, there was a picture of a dress that did something similar
Some people looked at it, and saw a black-and-blue dress
Other people look and see a white-and-gold dress.
Our human bodies are such amazing things.
And we have this tendency to assume that
yours works the same way mine does, when they don’t always do that.
And when we realize that, it can lead us to question all sorts of things.
Sometimes we get a little bit…unsettled.
Coming to a realization that we see things, or hear things,
or process things differently can unsettle us, disrupt us.
And instead of taking the extra time to clarify those differences
Maybe seeing to try to understand them, and learn from them,
And have compassion for one another in the fact that we seem to process life
in our own little ways, with our own nuances and particularities
The tendency, for some of us, is to get defensive, and upset.
Or, to draw an image from this reading in the Acts
It makes us sneer at one another
Accusing one another of being filled with new wine
Or otherwise not-quite-functioning-at-full-speed
Not working with a full deck of cards.
So, maybe one take away from this story of Pentecost
Is our proclivity to distrust one another,
and what we say we are experiencing
particularly when that experience is different from our own.
Maybe that’s what you hear today when we read this ancient story
About the movement of the Holy Spirit.
I threw away that sermon
Sometime around the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas
A 17 year old took his father’s shotgun and handgun
And killed 10 classmates and teachers, wounding at least 13 others.
It happened almost exactly three months
After the Parkland, Florida shooting,
where 14 kids and three adults were killed.[ii]
I’ve preached about gun violence before
About how these mass shootings, while only a small portion
Of the 32,000 firearm fatalities every year in this country
Most of those suicides or accidents
How these mass shootings tear apart our communities and our sense of safety
Leading many people to go buy more and more guns
Even as violent crime in our country has significantly gone down over the last 20 years.
Its almost numbing any more
The way we keep going through this cycle of violence
The burst of a demand that something change
And then the realization that nothing is changing.
We’re stuck. Right there, we’re stuck.
We have forums and town hall meetings
There are facebook debates that too often bring out the worst in people
We talk past each other
Until the next mass shooting, the next trauma.
I’ve been praying a lot about Gun violence this year
For Parkland, for Santa Fe Texas, for Center Schools this week
When they had a shooting in the parking lot after high school graduation
Over at Church of the Resurrection—thankfully it looks like they’re going to be ok.[iii]
We’re not speaking the same language when it comes to this problem.
We’re not hearing one another when one person talks about the victims, the trauma
And another talks about the second amendment and so-called God-given rights
To open carry an AR-15 rifle to a rally that is protesting gun violence.
And if here were ever a time that I prayed for the Holy Spirit
To come and to help get us all on the same page
To help us hear one another, and, maybe more importantly,
To help us all hear God’s voice in the middle of all of this
It has been this week, watching kids file out of another broken High School.
That sermon got thrown away
Yesterday, because of, of all things, a wedding I wasn’t invited to
And, even though it was televised, a wedding I wasn’t even planning to watch.
Prince Harry met Meghan Markle on a blind date
Something remarkable in itself, for an aristocratic heir to the British throne
Who had plenty of people trying to set him up with just the right partner.
But Meghan, the American bi-racial once-divorced former actress
Was just the right partner for Harry. They are in love.
And it led to a royal wedding
with much pomp and much circumstance.
There had been a lot of talk about how this wedding was disrupting a lot of tradition.
Markle didn’t fit the mold.
She wasn’t British. She wasn’t from a noble family.
She wasn’t white. She was married once before.
Her family of origin, apparently, is contentious
With many of the British tabloids seeking the scoop of whether
her father would even be there. He wasn’t. She walked down the aisle by herself.
None of that made me start my thinking over this week, however.
That was all just Royal drama.
It was the testimony of the preacher Harry and Meghan invited that did that.
The Most Reverend Michael Curry
is the head bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
It made some sense for him to preach at this service
St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle is an Anglican church, after all
And there was some great symbolic power in having an American
Preach at this marriage, since it was a union of an Englishman and an American.
His sermon is going to be the most famous sermon of the year, I promise you that.
The eyes of the world were tuned into this wedding
And Curry started preaching to them about the Holy Spirit, the power of God
The power of love to turn this whole hurting world asunder
The power of love to make the wounded whole
The power of love to upend all of this division and to make us one again.
There’s power in love. Curry preached.[iv]
Don’t underestimate it.
Don’t even over-sentimentalize it.
There’s power – power in love.
If you don’t believe me,
think about a time when you first fell in love.
The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved.
Oh there’s power – power in love.
Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love.
There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it,
when someone cares for you, and you know it,
when you love and you show it – it actually feels right.
There’s something right about it.
And there’s a reason for it.
The reason has to do with the source.
We were made by a power of love,
and our lives were meant – and are meant – to be lived in that love.
That’s why we are here.
Ultimately, the source of love is God himself:
the source of all of our lives.
And for a moment, the entire world stood mesmerized and amazed by the Gospel
A word spoken
To those Brits, spoken in a strange American accent
But a word spoken that everyone watching could understand
A word that, for a moment, unified people from all over the world
Parthians, Medes, Elamites,
and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia,
Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene,
visitors from Rome, Cretans and Arabs[v]
For a moment, the whole world imagined what life would be like
If Love were at the heart of all we do
Where no child would go to bed hungry
Where justice would roll down like a mighty stream
Where poverty would be history and the earth a sanctuary
And all swords and shields would be laid down by the riverside
(That’s bible speak for firearms, in case you missed it…)
A world where there is good room –“plenty good room”—for all.
Curry called this love a ‘Fire’: the stuff that burns hot with power to transform lives
And to purify hearts and to set a community ablaze.
That redemptive love of God a fire that, if humanity can capture it, will change the world.
Its been that sort of week.
A cacophony of experiences, a babel of news.
Almost like trying to take a drink of water from a firehose.
In the lovely reading that Susan read for us
Paul puts good language to all of this
For those of us who sometimes struggle at the typewriter of life
Trying to understand what is going on
Trying to find the right words to say, or the right things to do
Something that will make it all better
Something that will heal the world.
The world is aching in travail, Paul says, preparing to give birth to something new.
A hope that is before us.
And even if its all too much for us right now,
So we do not know what to do or how to pray
Or what to say or how to make things better
That very Spirit of God intercedes for us
With sighs too deep for words.[vi]
With a love that passes all understanding
With a hope that catches our attention, and gives us a glimpse of a world
Where love is the way for all of us
Where all the different people of the world can hear it, and believe it, and hope in it
In their own wonderfully different and unique ways.
What do you hear?
If you listen, carefully, through the din of the worlds news
There is the still small voice of God
Weaving her way through our lives
With a persistence that sometimes shouts in staid wedding chapels
Or through the perseverance and resilience of a broken shot-up school community
that leans on one another and declares: no, hate will not win. Love will win.
There’s power in love. Love will win.
That’s the power of Pentecost.
The power to pull us together into the church, to be God’s people, to bear that witness.
The power to help us navigate this noisy world
The power to help us hear what is deep and abiding and true and beautiful
And to go make that our mission and our very way of life.
May we, my friends,
Be comforted by the lively, disrupting, loving presence of God
Even in the midst of our most hectic weeks
And may we let that Spirit blow through our lives, this day, and every day.
May it be so.
[i] More information, and quotes about this story, from the reporting of Caitlin O’Kane at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/yanny-or-laurel-what-do-you-hear-audio-clip-debate/ (accessed May 19, 2018). Also: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/15/science/yanny-laurel.html (accessed May 19, 2019)
[ii] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/18/us/school-shooting-santa-fe-texas.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=a-lede-package-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news (accessed May 19, 2018)
[iii] News available at https://www.kshb.com/news/crime/leawood-police-investigating-shooting-outside-church-of-the-resurrection (accessed May 19, 2018). I commend this commentary by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection: http://www.kansascity.com/opinion/readers-opinion/guest-commentary/article211503184.html (accessed May 19, 2018)
[iv] https://www.esquire.com/lifestyle/a20759188/royal-wedding-sermon-full-transcript/ (accessed May 19, 2018)
[v] Acts 2:9-11
[vi] Romans 8:26
Image Credit: “Football Stadium Highway” by user jplenio at https://pixabay.com/en/football-stadium-highway-3404535/ (accessed May 29, 2018), under Creative Commons License