Given at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church of Houston on June 28, 2015
Working from a place of playfulness, we had sermon bingo cards with fabulous prizes, choose your own adventure hymns, a time for all ages to share their childhood lovies, and our readings included Hyperbole and a Half's This Is Why I'll Never Be an Adult and Shel Silverstein's Listen to the Mustn'ts.
The aisle signs in grocery stores can be helpful--and existential. I saw one that said Adult Cereal.
I wondered --Is this cereal X-, or just R-rated? What shape are those puffs? Maybe it just has adult themes like… cannibalism or estate planning.
And yes, Kids Cereal was also an option. Careful investigation revealed that Kids Cereal means sugar and prizes and fun shapes and colors. Adult Cereal means… fiber.
Growing up is supposed to be Good For You. Make the sensible multigrain choice and don’t let it bother you that it’s beige and boring and an awful lot to chew.
Answer your email. Go to the bank and the grocery store. Clean all the things. Work. Pay the bills. Run the errands.
And do it all again tomorrow.
Above all, be mature. Mature is black slacks, polished shoes, matching socks. Mature is always on task, and serious all the time.
Who wants to sign up for all of that?? Truly, if it’s about drudgery and misery and never-ending responsibility, I Can’t Adult.
I am a proud member of Generation X. Born from the early 60s to the early 80s, we are stereotyped as disaffected slackers with a propensity toward flannel. Our generation came of age between wars and our parents were more likely to be dual income or even divorced. We were called the latch-key kids.
At this point, the youngest GenXers are in their thirties, and my oldest compatriots have hit their fifties. We’re old enough that our music shows up on Classic Rock stations. Heck, I am getting to the point where I’m looking forward to IHOP Senior Specials. And yet…
I used to think that I would wake up one morning and adulthood would make sense. Somehow I would have downloaded some sort of Competence program and instantly, I would be able to DEAL WITH IT.
In the meantime, a lot of us feel like we are faking it at being grown-ups. That at any second someone will discover us for the quivering frauds we are.
And here’s the secret—this isn’t just my generation. Many people older than I am have admitted to these same feelings…maybe not as loudly, and with a little less flannel.
Paul, in a letter to the Corinthians, says,
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.Every time I read Paul’s letters, I find myself arguing with him. In this case, why is childish such a bad thing?
Let’s start with the childish things we shared at the beginning of the service—our comfort objects. The stuffed animals and favorite pillows and blankets—these things serve a real purpose when life is hard. When you are terrified by illness and chaos, mourning losses both personal and global, you need some comfort. Something soft is a sweet start.Our culture tells us to deny ourselves comfort—that’s ridiculous. The Inherent Worth of Oneself gets lost in the to-do lists, the laundry, the needs of the baby the job the bills the struggle.
Yes, we must be careful that our comfort does not abuse another or ourselves, but it is also abusive to stick to stoicism, and to a rugged individualism that says you must handle it all yourself.
What if what we set aside was the Mythology of Grown-up and instead embrace some of these childish things?
As we reflect, know that I’m do not mean Misplaced Nostalgia—we’re not going back to an ‘easier time’—life is always challenging at all ages and stages, and childhood is not always happy. But what do we abandon when we leave childhood? What is dismissed as unimportant that might actually be a strength?
Edwin Friedman, a rabbi and therapist, was a real expert on how people tick and the various illusions that many of us believe to be true. One of these myths is that seriousness is deeper than playfulness.
Being playful is important. It is creative and freeing and welcoming. And as Friedman puts it, “playfulness can get you out of a rut more successfully than seriousness.”
So we have this Sunday service with bingo cards. A webcomic as a reading. Heck- there’s a word scramble in your order of service, and coloring pages to take home.
Playfulness opens us to JOY. How often do we let ourselves be really and truly happy, even if in tiny doses. There should be no waiting for someday when it comes to joy. Celebrate whatever you can. Children celebrate their birthday, their half-birthday, new shoes, pancakes, puddles, caterpillars.
And joy often accompanies Wonder.
<excerpt from Clark Dewey Wells's You Be Glad At That Star>
As Unitarian Universalists, we hold that revelation is ongoing—new truths are always being revealed. When we throw on blinders, when we declare ourselves to be done learning, we hold in our very humanity.
Ours is a faith of Lifespan Learning-book clubs and adult religious education, and so many of us are reading or taking classes or discovering a new hobby. Most of our Sunday school teachers tell me that they sign up not because they feel obligated, but because they always learn something from the experience—from the curriculum and from the children and youth in the room.
Life will always have uncertainty. A spirit of curiosity keeps us vibrant and gives us hope.
And boy howdy, but we need hope.
Our five-year old selves knew that we could sing and dance and paint and be astronaut cowboy doctor unicorn-riding rock stars.
Somehow, over the years, many of us give these things up—pared away by scarcity of time but also by criticism and self-doubt.
We are continuously chastised for being Too Much and Not Enough
Have you ever been told that you are too loud?
Not talented enough?
Not ambitious enough?
Not happy enough?
Not attractive enough?
And the lower your prestige and privilege, the more you get these messages. Stay in your place. Keep your head down. Do not cause trouble.
Dear ones—you are not too much. You are you and that is good and that is more than enough. And yes, I will write you that as a note if you need it, for your mirror or your wallet or your Facebook wall.
In the 1976 film Network, newscaster Howard Beale delivers that iconic line-
“I’m as MAD AS HELL and I’m not going to take it anymore!”
That, my friends, is the default setting of a young child. As little ones, we throw tantrums when we are angry, we wail when we are sad or hurt or afraid.
Over the years, our culture socializes us to tone it down. Be polite. Keep the peace. Girls, especially, are told they cannot show anger...or people won't like you. Boys are told that tears are an unacceptable show of weakness—Man Up.
Are any of us allowed an honest expression of our emotions? Can we say what we think, or must we carefully couch our terms and remain so reasonable? Be polite. It is a calmer existence, but it values the status quo over change, manners over justice.
Children are passionate beings and fairness is critically important to them. Yes, this starts with the personal—Mom, he got a bigger piece of cake than me! But they pay careful attention to wider issues—they notice how people are treated, and they are so very disturbed to see injustice. They do not minimize or reason it, pointing out the complexity of the situation. They see that it is wrong, and they want to know why, and how it might be fixed.
Using this passionate eye to justice, let’s return to that Network quote with a bit more context.
That’s a 1976 film. A whole lot of it still applies. What else comes to mind?
*Black Lives Matter – the extrajudicial executions of people of color by police, the burning of six African American churches in the past week, the assassination of an African American senator minister and eight other souls in an AME church in Charleston and still the Confederate Flag flies?
*While the Obergefell decision brings marriage equality across the land, many LGBTQ people are still denied basic rights of fair employment, life, and dignity. Trans folk, especially trans women, are being killed for who they are, then misgendered in police reports and the news. Nearly half of homeless teenagers are homeless because their parents kicked them out when they came out.
*Americans are increasingly financially insecure. Laid off when oil prices drop or industry moves elsewhere, buried in spiraling student debt, caught in stagnant wages. The minimum wage in 1976 went up to $2.30 …adjusted for inflation, that’s a little over $9/hr today. Better than our current $7.25.
When faced with the hurts and seemingly insurmountable problems of the world today, it is so very easy to flail, and to curl up in a ball in our safe living rooms. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel powerless and oh so small—I Can’t Adult! What can one person do?
This despair comes when I believe the lie of independence, a myth both pernicious and paralyzing. We all need help. We all need connection—to be part of an endeavor, to have friends, and to be held in circles of caring.
And big goals need many hands and many hearts and many minds. On the front of every order of service, on our website, our newsletter, you will find Emerson UU Church’s statement of identity— Our beloved community of faith, reason, and affection welcomes all to grow in mind and spirit as we build a better world.
Cindy Beal, one of my wise colleagues, reminds us that
The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, and usually it's because we bend it….Can you imagine a world where we set goals based on the healthy embodied joy of every person?
The goal of justice has to be all of us, my people. And what if our goal was to create a society in which no one ever had to say "Stop killing us."
Every single person deserves dignity, respect, and physical, mental, and even emotional and spiritual safety and embodied joy. Yes, joy. We can set goals that are based on healthy embodied joy. That's what I'm aiming for.
Embracing the strengths of childhood, of playfulness and joy, wonder, and authentic emotion, honoring our passion for justice, how might we build that better world? What do our five-year old selves call us to do?
One, of course, is our upcoming LGBTQ Wedding Day—around the church you’ll find these gray panels of paper. Before you leave today, please draw a happy picture or write your congratulations to the couples who will be married here two weeks from yesterday. The papers will become the window coverings in rooms upstairs where these couples will make the final preparations for their long awaited ceremonies.
Out in the Gathering Place we’ve got a sign-up table for volunteers, with opportunities before and during the event, a chance to use your favorite or long-neglected talents and passions to bring joy to others.
And next Sunday, the Reverend Chuck Freeman will be in this pulpit, to share the uniquely Texan story of Mary and James Billings, Universalists who spread their message of justice over a hundred years ago, and more on our Texas Unitarian Universalist Justice Ministry, working with state legislators to bring about equality, peace, and compassion in this vast and complicated state.
In the meantime, dream big and talk with others here—what makes your heart sing with possibility? How will you share your joy and wonder with a world that needs it?