My Facebook sermon for the week (not that I preach, except about getting your expense reports and timesheets done on time. And cleaning up the kitchen, to some family members.):
“Fun is Good.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about an old boss of mine, Mike Veeck, lately. In fact, I had a dream last night about telling his story to an Uber driver and how it shaped mine (since I wouldn’t be here, were it not for his zaniness). For those who don’t know him, I’ll post an old story from SI in the comments that is about him – in many ways my creative hero – written by Gary Smith, the best writer I’ve ever read. (And I’m a Gen Xer, so I’m not prone to hyperbole.)
Anyway, Mike’s mantra was and is “Fun is Good,” and that has stuck with me in a couple of ways. Directly, it reminded me that play – whimsy – fun – is an essential part of human flourishing, and thus part of my five-fold formula for well-being. But indirectly, it reminds me that it’s easy to lose the key point.
At work, when we’re mapping out a project or campaign, we invariably get tempted to jump straight to the tactics – the stuff, the work, the action items, and when we do that, we skip over the WHY of things – the goal of a campaign, or the desired result of a project, or the vision and purpose that drives a plan. If you jump straight to tactics, you drift away from the point, and you get so focused on the action items and to-dos that, even if you act on them perfectly and get them, well, to-done, I guess, you still find yourself far from where you wanted to be. I experienced this, like, Tuesday. All the time.
Matthew 23 (and, I would argue, Matthew 24) is a LONG diatribe by Jesus against people who do the same kind of thing. (You knew I was going to bend this back toward my slow walk through the Bible, right?) If you’re Catholic, the daily mass readings this week have been Luke’s version of this same rant by Jesus against the Pharisees and scholars of the law. I think I may have made the point last week that they are very much with us Christians today, under different labels. Jesus goes to great length to point out how they have lost the forest for the trees and the purpose for the to-dos, and he underscores how messed up that is, especially among those who would claim to lead others to God through their words and examples. (Matthew 24, BTW, is focused on the obsession over knowing when the end is coming. I’ll argue that that’s another example of missing the point of life and focusing on deliverables, sort of like asking a teacher if something is going to be “on the test.”) We think of God as a Rubik’s Cube we have to memorize the pattern to solve and forget that God is the ultimate relationship we’re invited to join. And that’s probably 90% of how religions get messed up and focused on the wrong stuff.
Mike’s mantra is simple: Fun is Good.
God’s mantra is simple, too: God is Love.
The author of the Gospel of John and the little letters at the end of the Christian Bible get credit for saying this – while Paul is heavy for his dense grammar and marathon sentences, John is heavy for his sparse language, pregnant with meaning. God is Love.
But the other Gospel writers get this point, too: when Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, it breaks down to essentially “God is Love:” Love God with all you have and everyone else (especially the outcast) like you love yourself.
The tactics and deliverables and to-dos are important. Love in this context isn’t mushy sentiment or raging hormones but actively choosing to put the beloved first and choose their good over your own. Jesus doesn’t say not to do the stuff the Pharisees say, and for all the tied-in-knots nature of religious practice, it has helped a lot of people train their hearts to love.
But (and Paul gets to this in I Corinthians 13), you can do all the “right” things until the end of time, but if it’s not coming from the wellspring of the purpose – Love – then it’s really a waste of time at best and a distraction and barrier at worst.
How do we train ourselves to keep the main thing the main thing?
One of the things I picked up on my pilgrimage trip to Assisi (did you see that coming?) was from St. Clare, who was one of St. Francis’ first followers and in many ways a groundbreaking woman in the 13th century. I have tried, much less successfully, to pick up her discipline of praying with a crucifix using her four-part formula (which I still struggle to grasp): gaze, consider, contemplate, imitate.
Imitating Jesus, that’s the tactical approach. Clare, a really holy woman of her time, gets it right. She spent time just being with the image of Jesus on the cross (gazing), engaging her focus. Then she moved to considering the reality that the image represents (considering), engaging her intellect. Then she opened herself up in contemplation to hear what God had to say to her (contemplating). And from that, she expressed the desire to be formed by God in a way that imitated Christ’s love.
So maybe if we focus on the mantra (God is Love), and let our intellect work on what it means, and listen to what that says to us, we’ll find ourselves shaped to imitate love in a way that jumping to a list of rules or laws or practices can never, ever replicate otherwise.
God is Love. Anyone who tells you different is selling something.
(Fun really is good, too.)
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