“Fun, Fun, Fun” by Mark W. Harris
June 5, 2016 – First Parish of Watertown
Call to Worship – Welcome Morning by Anne Sexton
There is joy
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
Reading – “Days” by Billy Collins
Each one is a gift, no doubt,
mysteriously placed in your waking hand
or set upon your forehead
moments before you open your eyes.
Today begins cold and bright,
the ground heavy with snow
and the thick masonry of ice,
the sun glinting off the turrets of clouds.
Through the calm eye of the window
everything is in its place
but so precariously
this day might be resting somehow
on the one before it,
all the days of the past stacked high
like the impossible tower of dishes
entertainers used to build on stage.
No wonder you find yourself
perched on the top of a tall ladder
hoping to add one more.
Just another Wednesday
then holding your breath,
place this cup on yesterday’s saucer
without the slightest clink.
2nd Reading – from Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard
Sermon – “Fun, Fun, Fun”
Each Day (with thanks to Rev. Cheryl Walker)
Twenty-three thousand, six hundred and twenty-nine. Twenty-three thousand, six hundred and twenty-nine. That is how many mornings I have known in my life. 23,629 sun rises; new days to wake up to, to breathe the sweet air of life. How many more mornings will I know? Do you ever think about that? How many more sounds like a counting down of time. Will I get to do everything I want to do before my time expires? How do I greet each day? Yesterday I conducted a funeral for a man who died in December. He was sixty-seven. These days where the average life span seems longer and longer, we may think sixty-seven is young. In fact, his widow said that some of her friends considered this death a tragedy. He was so young. And you had so many years to look forward to, they said. But she had more perspective on it. This was not a child’s death or some terrible accident, she said. He lived a full life. Older people get sick. Most people with his blood cancer have a good rate of survival. He was not in that positive percentage. She wanted more time with him. And she said, he wasn’t ready. It is sad, but once upon a time we would not think a death at sixty-seven was very unusual. We might be heart broken that we lost the one we cared for, but his death is part of the natural course of life.
Sometimes when my son Asher greets me he says, “Hey old man.” I am an old father. I knew this when I took on the task of starting another family. My older son will soon approach forty, and my younger three will all have finished high school in another year. I remember looking at my grandfather when I was about ten, and thinking when is he going to die. So one day, I blurted out, “when you are you going to die?” Part of me probably thought he should be in the grave already, but he replied with such honesty: “I don’t really know. I am enjoying every day I am given, that’s all I can say. I like watching the ball game. I like taking a little walk. I enjoy seeing you, my grandson.
I like beating you at cribbage.” I look at my own beautiful granddaughter, and suspect that soon she may drop the question on me, “hey Grampa, when you are you going to die?” Sooner or later we all are going to die. I hope I get to see you ride a bike, or run a race. Yes, we all can hope that the ones we care for will grow up a little before our eyes, or we even get to see them at all. We all hope we get to some of those places we long to see, or do things we hope to do. I just heard the country singers at the Grand Ole Opry melodically reminding me of “Riders on the Storm,” and this summer, I will trudge my way up Mt Katadhin. I won’t get a chance to do all those things I want to do. I will have to take what I am given in the time I have. I must accept with gratitude the gift of my life. I just hope I can be grateful, for what I have been given, and not resentful for what has been taken away.
Are you grateful for every day you are given? That would be a good goal. What if we greeted each day with a smile? Years ago, when I was minister in Sheffield, England, I lived with a widower named Nellie Newsome. I was there in the dead of winter, January, February and March, and spring never seemed to come. It was cold like spring here this year, and rainy, too. Nellie had some perspective on the weather after 75 or 80 years of cold, miserable English winters. One day she looked out on a mostly cloudy morning, where there was only a slight chance of rain, and said, what a beautiful day. What if we could see each day as beautiful? How miserable we New Englanders can act some times. We complain about the weather if it snows, and we complain if it doesn’t snow. If it is too hot, we want it cold, and too cold is miserable. Can we ever be happy? One of these days, we will not be greeting any day. Doesn’t that help make each day a miracle of life, a morning to behold with wonder. The number will be 23, 630 tomorrow.
Nellie could see the beautiful day even as the snow fell, and the pipes froze, and we huddled before a miserable smoky coke fireplace that emitted a miniscule amount of heat. We are given another day. This is it. Annie Dillard says each day is a God. It has all the possibilities of new life and creation. And it could end today, too. Each day is eternity. Each day kisses me awake, for the possibility of knowing the new. Each day is everything and more. We rejoice in its beauty. We are alive in this day. It is a good day. As Emerson once said, “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”
Fun, Fun, Fun
Many months ago I was driving somewhere, and a song came on the radio with the distinctive line, “I don’t want to be a preacher, cos a preacher can’t have no fun.”
Am I doomed to never having fun? That is the apparent lot of the minister. Traditionally the Puritans could not engage in sports or games, or dancing. I suppose that is where the stereotype of the minister not having fun originates. Fun seems to be associated with doing the sinful thing. These are activities like drinking to excess, smoking until you are high, or dancing provocatively. Ministers were the ones who had to uphold the moral conscience of a people. Fun? Think of how the Beach Boys defined it in the song, “Fun, Fun, Fun. “
Well she got her daddy’s car
And she cruised to the hamburger stand now
Seems she forgot all about the library
Like she told her old man now
And with the radio blasting
Goes cruising just as fast as she can now
And she’ll have fun, fun, fun
Till her daddy takes the t-bird away
When is the last time you had fun? Fun, the Beach Boys sang, means cruising to the hamburger stand to hang out. Fun means neglecting what you are supposed to be doing, which is going to the library to study. Fun means shirking your work. Fun is skipping school. It is “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Fun is being bad. She also has fun by defying her father, the old man. Fun means the radio must be played loud, and she must be driving fast. She continues to have fun, until the moment when the old man takes the car away. Then she will return to the life of oppression and drudgery. Fun is what you can get away with, or it is fleeting or foolish. If work is what we are always supposed to do, and fun is either defying work, or our parents, or testing the senses with loud sounds and high speeds, then no wonder fun is off limits.
Perhaps we learned that having fun was selfish or self-indulgent. It is a sin like Adam and Eve defying God, and eating the apple. Even if we know it is not a sin to have fun, we still feel guilty because it is not helpful or responsible. We may tell ourselves we can’t have fun because someone else is suffering or it might cost money, which we will save for another day. Julia Wise once allowed her boyfriend to spend $4 on a candied apple. She loves candied apples. But then she was overwhelmed with torturous thoughts. Her selfish desire meant she could not give this money for anti-malarial bedding or deworming medicine to save lives and reduce world wide suffering. She always wondered, am I doing enough? Is there no limit to this desire to help? When can she enjoy one little pleasure? Did it make her feel better about herself or the world? Is this person a kind of moral narcissist who could not accept her own faults? Does she have any fun?
She is looking for connections just like you and me. Perhaps she finds them in reaching out, or perhaps we find them in seeing that smile as we share the ride on the Ferris Wheel, with the child sitting next to us. Fun is for us, too. Some early Unitarians actually began to see virtue in having fun. In 1805, the year the Unitarians captured Harvard, and the dowdy Trinitarians went off to Andover, a monthly newspaper editorial said, “I don’t know why smoking a social segar (sic) should be severely blamed.” After all, they argued, tobacco was a gift of nature, and if it was being smoked in a social setting, it would help to grow friendship and mirth among people. Pleasures were good, especially if we did them as acts of fellowship. In fact, it was your duty to have fun. There’s a Protestant attitude for you.
So we often learn that fun is off limits. It is the forbidden, or the sinful, or not productive or helpful to someone else. Even if we define fun as that which is not work, we often find a way to make fun into work – that is, we measure how far or how fast we run or ride, or if we win, or look right, dressing the proper way. Yet we still want to have fun.. We spend so much of our waking hours just watching. Our electronic devices are our entertainment. Rather than laugh or converse together, or even eat together, we look at videos together on our computers. My ministerial study group met two weeks ago, and at one point in the evening, one of my colleagues asked, “so is this what we are going to do now instead of a social time?” Are we going to all get our computers out and say to each other, look at this! We will not move either, but instead will stare at our devices to find our entertainment, our fun. Isn’t it the most fun to go to new places, or eat new foods, or experience life directly and marvelously. We want to be together in good company, even without conversation, there is the fun of a new walking place, a vista we have never seen before, or a movement that stretches our bodies and souls in new and wondrous ways. When is worship fun? When do we make our bodies move or our senses stretch?
Let It Be a Dance
Do you try to have some fun each day? What do you do for fun? (Name some things) When can it be pure enjoyment? Sometimes spontaneous fun is easier for us when we are with a child. Yet even 70% of children quit sports by the age of thirteen because, they say, sports are no longer any fun by then. Would you go up in a swing if you were not with a child? Or ride on a carousel, or throw a ball back and forth? Would you fly a kite to see how high it could go? Kite Hill is an amazing grassy slope in Hampstead Heath in London. You can amble there to the top of the knoll and brisk winds will fill your kite, and the joy of watching and running with the tails floating above makes your head turn skyward, as the kite goes higher and higher yet. Or why not get out there on the dance floor, and have some fun.
The hymn “Simple Gifts” remind us of the Quaker sect who took up dancing as part of their worship services, and thus the shaking Quakers became forever known as Shakers. At 7:30 in the evening on days that were set apart as dancing days, the members retired to their separate rooms. They meditated in silence until they heard the chiming tone of a small tea ball, which gave them the signal to assemble in the large hall. Then in perfect silence, with their thin dancing shoes on their feet, they entered the door of the hall on tiptoe. Men and women faced each other in two lines, and then the signal came for all ages to worship God with all their might in the dance. Men removed their coats, and danced in their shirtsleeves. In the middle of the rows, the elders sang, and they all marched in double quick time, as they warmed up and then began to dance and dance until they tired. They did not speak, and then at the end they formed an oblong circle, around the room, and the elders asked if anyone had received a gift. Was anyone inspired? Then one or two would whirl like some dervish, with their eyes shut, continuing for several minutes. They danced in celebration of the gift of life from God.
Might life be better if we decided each day to set apart some time to just have fun? Summer will soon be upon us, and it provides the opportunity to have some fun, to express a joy for living in an activity that reminds us how lucky we are to be alive in this moment, in this uniquely beautiful day that has been given to us. What a gift this day is, to have some fun. Thoreau once said “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
Dancing Our Dance – with Susan Lind-Sinanian
*Hymn #311 “Let it Be a Dance”
Closing Words from Mary Oliver, “The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac” (Part 3)
I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you’re in it all the same.
So why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
You could live a hundred years, it’s happened.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be as urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.