Nicknaming Hive Disorder

August 10, 2014

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

I have a problem. Maybe you have some version of it too. The problem is that there is an increasing number of matters on which I have no comment. Worse, I have nothing to say. Not just nothing to say that hasn’t been said. The problem is worse. It is a kind of spiritual and conversational isolationism. Let’s nickname it quietistic quiet. The topic of Gaza comes up. I go quiet. The topic of police violence comes up. I go quiet. The topic of Colony Collapse disorder, fondly nicknamed CCD, so you don’t have to hear the word collapse, comes up. I go quiet. I go into horrified quietly. You see, I have a habit of speech. Problem? Solution. Trouble. Fix it. Quietistic quiet is breaking my habit. (Take the Q train?)

In my family we really can’t talk about Israel or the Gaza strip. My son and daughter spend most of their time fighting about it. This summer has been all about the two state solution and the way Israel is destroying Judaism. Yup. You may think Israel is thousands of miles away. It is not. It is in my car, at my table and in my emails, many of which start with what are you going to do about her? Or him? Or them? Instead of the two state solution, I want to discuss the two sibling solution. But I don’t and I can’t.

I return to New York after a lovely vacation in Italy, watching the world Frisbee tournament, replete with a male/female Israeli/Palestinian team which sports female athletes wearing scarves and otherwise the usual scanty, and find that once again Al Sharpton wants me to walk across a bridge to protest the habitual shooting of African American men in our city. I can at least name names. I know how to do that.


Eric Garner, July 17, 2014. Status undetermined of killers. Amadou Diallo, February 4, 1999. All four officers acquitted.. Kimani Gray , March 9, 2013. Neither officer indicted. One of the officers received a Cup of the year award from NYPD Tamon Robinson, April 12, 2013, no charges filed. Ramarley Graham, February 2, 2012, no indictment. James Powell, July 18, 1964, officer cleared of any wrongdoing.

Name: Sean Bell Date Killed: His wedding day - November 25, 2006 Disposition:

Three of the five detectives involved in the shooting went to trial on charges ranging from manslaughter to reckless endangerment, and were found not guilty.

The following appeared in the New York Daily News on Saturday, March 24, 2012: 

The cops that gunned down Sean Bell, the Queens man killed on his wedding day in a 50-shot fusillade, will be drummed out of the department, the NYPD said Friday.

Detective Gescard Isnora, who fired the shot that touched off the senseless 2006 killing, was found to have violated department guidelines by shooting his weapon while undercover. He will be fired and will not get a pension or health benefits. Three other officers involved, Detective Michael Oliver, Detective Marc Cooper and Lt. Gary Napoli cut plea deals with the department that allowed them to keep all or part of their pensions if they resign from the department.

They are expected to hand their paperwork over to the pension board on Monday, police sources said.


The number of things that I can’t speak about is growing. Rapidly. Colony Collapse disorder is pervasive. So is quietistic quiet.

Is there a theme? Has God broken God’s promises? Or am I just disobeying God’s orders? In my family, Palestine, Israel? Or in Queens?

The lyrical language of the psalm is full of promises, most of which God has not kept. Israel will be free of its enemies. Nope, not this week. The land will flow with Milk and honey. Nope, not this century. The moon will rise. Well, at least that happened last night. I know the names of many problems. I even have nicknames for some of them and real names for the rest. What I don’t know is what to say, how to fix, how to resolve. Moreover, I am not sure God wants me to fix or resolve. God wants me to sing outloud, to shout with joy. To raise a song.

Will you open your bulletin and walk through the psalm with me? It knows how to speak and it uses a pattern of speech which is not problem/solution. The word that helps me most in the psalm is the word “would.” God says, I would feed you with the finest of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.” The promise is colony thriving order. Not colony collapsing disorder. Even the nickname is wrong.

Because of this promise, I can dig my fork into the soil with new resolve. I can speak but not in the problem/solution way. I cannot use the speech of fix. I can use the speech of shouting and singing and listening. They are different. They receive the promise and then wait. They understand the threat and then restate the promise.

While in Italy the last two weeks, I have been newly impressed with the musicality of the Italian language. BerGAMo. Radicchio. Grazi, PREGO. Always speaking like they are so terribly excited about everything, even the fact that you just ordered a coffee. I have just returned from the World Frisbee Tournament in Lecco, Italy, where my son’s team, which was supposed to win lost. We lost by one point in the semi finals to the Japanese team. One lousy point. It was Jacob’s last tournament because he has aged out and off of his team. Your youngest son (1) is not supposed to turn 30 and (b) is not supposed to get cut from the team he used to be captain of. I am on my way to talking about much larger injuries here but needless to say I felt this one. And I couldn’t fix it either.

You may not know enough about the game of Frisbee. You know it is played with a round disc but you had no idea that some people actually take it terribly seriously. Did you know that it is the only sport where men and women, girls and boys can play on the same team? Did you know that there is an award given for “spirit” as well as for winning? The team that gets the spirit award gets it because they have played nicely with others and had a good spirit. Did you know that at worlds each game ends with a circle of the opponents, alternating members of the opposing team? For about 90 minutes the teams battle each other fiercely up and down the team. Then they hug and shake hands and give gifts and tell each other stories about their home country. We beat Prague, then Croatia, then Venezuela. Went on to beat Toronto and Moscow. Then along came the Japanese. Our men from Boston were about a foot taller than they were. The game has no referees and decisions about fouls and such are made by talking. Yup, talking on the field. Nobody gets to take a powder like I am doing. They get to speak, they get to play, then they hug, no matter who wins or loses. The game depends on turns. One team sends the disc down the field, the others score. The game stays even till someone makes a mistake, a “turn,” and then you have a chance to score two in a row. This conversation is often delightfully non-verbal at the international tournaments because yes, the Japanese seek Japanese and the Danes speak Danish. At the tournament, which is played in a polo field, it only rained two days, thus bringing up the delightful manure smell of the earth below our feet. 64 teams played on 32 fields. The flies were especially prominent in the big tent where we bought sandwiches and beers between games. There was always entertainment there in the big tent and it wasn’t just swatting flies. A chamber orchestra played most afternoons after lunch. Three women painted three other women, brush to body. The painters wore clothes, the models did not. Others thought they were mocking selfies which mock the portraiture of the rich. I think that was overthinking. I think it was some kind of joke about the Italians, the portraiture, the music, and the colors. We couldn’t stop staring. There are about a dozen groupies attached to each team, mostly parents. We stand out because we aren’t wearing uniforms or treaded shoes. And we are not twenty something and oddly not part of the twenty something culture. Thus when we took photos of the nude paintings, people thought we were weird. Perves. Toward the end of the week, the band changed to a Kletzmer band. All the players have nicknames – and it is quite endearing. Jacob’s is “Goldie,” and it took us a while to figure out who they were referring to when they said, “Go Goldie.”

Nicknaming players at a lighthearted Frisbee tournament is one thing. It’s quite endearing and meant to be so. But I wonder what happens when we nickname things that are actually quite frightening. Like calling Colony Collapse disorder “CCD” in a way that normalizes it and makes it sound like something that is supposed to happen. Or quietistic quiet as bees die. As most of you know in colony collapse disorder, the bees die. The honey is still there, the comb is still there, but you almost don’t want it because you know it can’t be reproduced. The consequences of CCD are significantly more than the loss of honey and not completely known yet at all. Bees are dying and the reasons are not yet clear. Milk and honey may be the promises of Almighty God but they are not going to continue as part of our experience much longer, unless something startling changes. Maybe if we stop trying to fix things? And sing outloud more about how beautiful a thing a world Frisbee tournament really is?

You may also be wondering about your tongue and how to use it well. Learn the Hebrew word for tongue; it is Lah.shon.rah. It appears over and over in the psalms and scriptures where there are multiple messages about not gossiping, not telling secrets, not going into triangulation. Interestingly, there is nowhere that we are told to go out into the world and fix it. Instead we are to listen God’s promise into being. The worst thing about the fix it pattern of speech is how distancing it is. How self-justifying it is. You can be sure you’re misusing your own tongue if most of your language is self-justifying, solution based, smarter than thou. Fix it speech distances you from other people’s trouble and from God. God WOULDS to walk with us in our mud, with our enemies, internal and external, and to hear our song of gladness over milk and honey, honey bees and combs.

Let me give you one example of different speech. The subject of climate collapse disorder came up at a party I was at last night. One of you was there. Instead of the morose silence of the quietistic Donna or the fix it tsk tsking, you said, “I saw a bee just yesterday, right here.” Hear the song in that? The promise in that? Speech is something we all use all the time. Pointing to the promise is better than fixing the pain. And sometimes the pain is fixed by a promise!

The poet Louise Bogan says that the surest way to still poetic talent is to substitute an external struggle for an internal one. Psalm 81 drives you to the internal struggle between you and God’s promises. It drives you there. God has a fix. You don’t. God has a promise. You don’t. God has a prayer. You don’t even have that if you are a self-justifying fix it machine. Get over it. Get on with it. Collapse the winning part of the hive that is you and get to the Spirit part. Then you can get back to the music of the game, where a nickname is just fine. Amen.

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