Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why Is the Sky Blue (and other unanswerable questions)

A persistent encyclopedia "hawker" at a long-ago Kansas State Fair asked me an important question: "How will you answer your child's question, 'Why is the sky blue?' "

At the time, I was a reporter and editor at The Hutchinson News. I was responsible for state fair coverage, so I was wandering the fair, looking for stories. Besides being a reporter, I was also a mom to a toddler. So the question did make me think - then and throughout the years as both Jill and Brent asked their share of difficult questions.

Thankfully, I resisted the urge to pony up the big bucks for an enormous set of encyclopedias, which would have become an expensive set of paperweights and flower pressers in this day of push-button technology and information.

But I again remembered that salesman's question about the blue sky when riding with our inquisitive 3-year-old granddaughter this weekend. We were on our way to a Topeka cemetery to put flowers on the graves of Randy's maternal grandparents, Laura and Alvin Ritts.
Alvin Ritts was a Methodist pastor. He died when my mother-in-law was in grade school.
Kinley hasn't had a lot of encounters with death - and that's a good thing. But she had plenty of questions:

"Did she die on a cross?" (Jesus' crucifixion is the death she's heard about the most.)
"Where is she?"
"Is she under the ground?"
"Is she under the grass?"
"Why is her soul in heaven?"
"Why? Why? Why? Why? WHY?"

A man who was decorating graves nearby was also the target of questions:

"Is he a grandpa?" (We were looking for a grandma, you know.)

We did the best we could with hard questions, and Jill finally diverted attention to another subject. (Kinley has lots of questions about everything. She reminds me of another little girl I knew long ago. Payback is a wonderful thing.) 

Kinley just couldn't grasp the concept of "visiting" grandparents who weren't actually there to see with her two eyes. It's kind of like trying to "see" the wind.
We probably were as inept at explaining that concept while at the Discovery Center in Topeka Friday afternoon, though there were a couple of experiments that helped.
Our encounters with Kinley and hard questions came back to both Randy and me during Sunday's worship service. We celebrated Pentecost, the "birthday" of the church. In Acts 2, it says:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Acts 2: 1-4
Our historic sanctuary is beautiful anyway, but thanks to Pastor Ben & Britt Bradley for their work in transforming it for Pentecost.
Just like Kinley's search for a grandma she couldn't see, I search for a Holy Spirit described as rushing wind and tongues of fire. Those aren't exactly stagnant images, are they? God's presence and the Holy Spirit should change me. It can happen slowly. Sometimes it's in an instant. But it's moving, not stagnant.

We Kansans know wind. It can be a pleasant breeze on a hot summer day or a howling gale that thunders through trees and brings down heavy branches during a storm.

Pentecost isn't just a "story" that happened long ago. God isn't finished "moving" us and doing new things even today. The Holy Spirit comes to open our eyes and show us how to be more connected, have mercy, offer forgiveness and transform the world with justice and love.

But it requires movement. I have to leave a beautifully appointed sanctuary and go out into a messy, noisy, complicated world. As Pastor Ben says, "We have inherited the work."
Sometimes, the work takes us out of our comfort zones. That was aptly illustrated by our choir song Sunday. Mac Knight is in his first year directing our little church choir. When he handed out "Baba Yetu" at a Wednesday night rehearsal several months ago, we had our doubts.

He knew it would take months to teach us the foreign words and help us figure out the rapid-fire rhythms. He had it scheduled for the choir's "swan song" before our summer hiatus. At the time, I don't think he realized the scheduled Sunday happened to coincide with Pentecost.

But how appropriate that the two converged! On a day when we read about the Holy Spirit coming and each person hearing the message in their native language (Acts 2: 5-21), our choir sang "The Lord's Prayer" in Swahili. God is still speaking today - no matter the language!
Photo by Arlene Lickiss
To hear "Baba Yetu," click on this link. (You can also "like" Stafford First United Methodist Church on Facebook to hear the anthem.)