Mister Rogers’ Guide to Loving Thy (challenging) Neighbor

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Reflections

 

Many of us come from very divergent ethnic backgrounds.  Within our own lives and bodies we become a mini melting pot.

Such is the case for my siblings and I.   My father had primarily German roots, and my mother is 100% Sicilian.

Very different family trees in the forest of humanity emerged from those roots.

We were raised living around my dad’s relatives, so the German influence is what I grew up with.

And one of the aspects I that I clearly remember from my upbringing is the glorification of work.

Being considered a hard worker had an unspoken likeness to godliness.      There wasn’t a more esteemed attribution.

I say this to you unequivocally….never once in my entire childhood or adolescence did a family member of an older generation speak positively about rest, vacation, or prioritizing fun, whimsy, or anything across the great divide of the work/play spectrum.

I remember, even as a kid, thinking, why was work so glorified?  Necessary, yeah, I got that.  But heralded as the be-all, end-all?

I had a sense even then that finding a balance somewhere in the middle seemed best, and clearly the author of our reading a minute ago grappled with finding that balance.

I think he’s right that we tend to forget about finding that balance, because of preoccupation in one direction or the other, and how striking that sweet spot between working and enjoying is what makes us whole.

Another writer, E.B. White, spoke to this when he said:

 It’s hard to know when to respond to the seductiveness of the world and when to respond to its challenge. If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

 

I think it’s clear to us that, at least theoretically, all work and no play does make Jack a dull boy.  Conversely, we also get it that all play and no work – on our own behalf or on behalf of our neighbors- is also not good in life…

Not pragmatically certainly, but also not spiritually.

Not good in life.  And we like the idea of life being good.

 

So much so that that we’ve been making millionaires out of the owners of a company called “Life is Good” since 1994.  Started by brothers Bert and John Jacobs, Life is Good has been wildly successful, selling over 900 items in 30 countries.

They’ve built their entire company on the premise that the delights, the enjoyments of life, are what make life good.

And although an ad says “Simple words from Jake and Rocket” (Jake is the smiling character and Rocket is his faithful, fun-loving dog) it’s the images that accompany the simple “Life is good” adage that carry the message.

Check out these images to see what I mean….

[SLIDE 5] Kicking back in an Adirondack chair,

[SLIDE 6] Hanging in a hammock,

[SLIDE 7] Hiking in a beautiful natural setting at sunset,

[SLIDE 8] Eating ice cream,

[SLIDE 9] Strumming your gee-tar with your best bud in tow.

I had to chuckle, wondering how much my paternal labor-loving relatives would’ve loved them.

It’s obvious that the Life is Good brand is elevating the savor part of the save the world versus savor it question.

I get that.  They’d be long since bankrupt if the images that accompany their slogan were of distress and dismay and down-heartedness, instead of delight.

The fact of the matter is, life turns out to be not only good, but even better (dare I say best) when we live in the middle ground of balance between the        challenges of saving and the cheeriness of savoring.

That’s why, despite it not being as creative or colorful, this next image [“life is good” etched out in the sand of a beach] best captures the making of a good, balanced life.

I like this photo because it underscores that life is good with the ebbs and flows, with the changing of tide, with the yin and yang known as work and play.

In a nutshell, Life is Good because…we open ourselves to our own and others’ travails, and to the treats…to the fullness of life’s offerings.

A billionaire who gave the commencement speech at the University of Massachusetts last week (whose name is Rob Hale) understands all of this.

Did you hear about it?

Following his speech he briefly left the stage, and then returned with two cash-stuffed duffel bags, announcing that he would give each graduate that day two envelopes.

So, as each student crossed the stage they were handed their two envelopes… one labeled GIFT which contained $500 which they were invited to keep and enjoy for themselves, and the other labeled GIVE, which had an additional $500 which they were asked to donate to any good cause of their choosing.

Hale told the story of how he has never forgotten the experience of losing everything, when the first company he built went bankrupt 20 years ago, costing him no less than a billion dollars.

He said that since then he and his wife have found deep joy and satisfaction in giving their money away, and wanted to plant the seed of that experience in those graduates.

Hale noted that “In America and the world, these are times of turmoil, and the more we help each other, the better off we’ll be.”

A gift to enjoy, and an invitation to help.   Savor and save.

This seemingly dichotomous discernment/calling, is not news to any of us.   Certainly not the helping/ saving/ working on behalf of your neighbor part.

It’s a part of our DNA as Christians, and is everywhere in our sacred text…

From 1 Timothy: “If anyone does not provide for others, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

From Philippians: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

There were no less that 100 verses in this particular listing that speaks to the saving part of save vs. savor.

And as progressive Christians we are exceptionally adept at the saving stuff.

The fact of the matter is, we run rich on that side of this whole.

Social justice is our middle name.

I can’t tell you the number of times in Louisville and here that congregants have approached me to speak of their personal distress and dismay and down-heartedness at the need and suffering in the world.

Without exception, these conversations are void of delight, of savoring.                I understand.

When you truly love, when your heart is laid wide open in love for the other, and the other suffers, it makes it hard to not only plan your day, but to experience much of anything beyond distress (and maybe sometimes even despair) in that day.  I get it.

And yet it’s imperative that we not lose sight of delight, either out of down-hearted-ness or out of distracted-ness from the activities of saving.

Because of its importance, we’ll devote the entirety of our remaining attention to the bright side this morning.

Yes, we’re now putting on our turn signal here at the intersection of saving and savoring, of effort and effervescence, and heading toward the delightful side of town.

Now, you may be wondering if that is more of a saccharin selection.  Afterall, you may be thinking, everyone knows the word ‘delight’ derives from the Latin word delectare, meaning “to charm,” from which we get “delectable” and “delicious.”

Hardly stellar concepts for the not-trivial aspirations of spiritual pursuits!

If you are thinking that, I humbly and heartily disagree.

The WASP influences of many of our upbringings might have us raise our brow, but I submit this to you:

If Jesus was such a magnetic presence in his time, he had to have exercised this balance of saving the world with and joy and laughter and delight.

We just don’t do a very good job of underscoring the light side of his moon.

Consequently, I think we tend to do a disservice to understanding his life and how to emulate it.

Do you remember some months back when, right after the service we played and danced to the O’Jays “Love Train,” making our own love train right here in Grace Hall?

Afterward our dear Mark came up to me and said, “I don’t know if people will take us seriously if we keep doing this.”

To which I responded that church can and should be fun, there should be play and joy, and yes, delightfulness.

Anyone who knows of Mary Oliver knows that her church wouldn’t be in a sanctuary or a Grace Hall, but was the great outdoors.

Here’s what she says about the delightfulness of sacred places…

She called this piece Mindful (but could just as easily be called Delightful).

Every day I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight,

that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light.

It was what I was born for – to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world –

to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation.

Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant –

but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these –

the untrimm-able light of the world, the ocean’s shine, the prayers that are made out of grass?

 

Delights, each of them, however ordinary

 

Ordinary delights came up in a conversation I recently had with someone who works in Hospice.  This person said that she often sees this toward the end of many people’s lives,

when everything within them fights to stay alive, for a few more kisses, a few more tastes of their favorite cookies, or a few more hours with those they love.

In other words, savoring their life’s simple delights.

Why do we wait until the end, always thinking there’s more time for the sweet stuff.. we’ll get to it.   Until we recognize that our days are numbered, and opportunities for that which we savor most have become countable.

So, beginning today, let us not only count our blessings, but relish in them!  Our concerns are still there, and should be…. the work, the saving remains.

But let our blessed delights be an offset -not a distraction- but a balance of those concerns.   Let our bliss align with our blessings.

And in a spirit of celebration of them, let us now share some of them with each other.

I’ll share a few of the delights I have or have had in my life to get us going.  And then we’ll hear a song that could have just as easily been called “What a Delightful World.”

While you listen to this beautiful song about some of the delights this world has to offer, I invite you to consider what some of yours are.   And perhaps the majority of our reflections afterward can be centered on sharing what your delights are.

Some of my delights are:

-Doing donuts in empty snow-covered parking lots when my kids were young

-A warm bath when I’m chilled to the bone

-The unabashed glee of my dogs when I return home at the end of a day

-The unexpected touch of my partner’s hand under a restaurant table

I look forward to hearing some of yours.  Think about what some are as we listen to this delightful song…

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