“Live well, laugh often, love much.” I have a long, narrow decorative board on which that is painted that sits on the windowsill right behind my computer desk in my office at Grace. It’s one of those things that has been there so long that I stop noticing it and don’t really think about until I do. For some reason I’ve been noticing it nearly everyday for the past couple of weeks. Noticing it on purpose perhaps as a re-membering of what I believe are important and foundational parts of the kind of life I want to live. It’s one of those sayings that seems simple enough at the outset, but in the midst of the complexities and ups and downs and pushes and pulls and who’s right and who’s wrong in the world we inhabit, I sometimes lose the deeper sense of what it truly means to live well, to laugh often and to love much.
What’s your go-to in moments that are difficult, in days that seem overwhelming and times when there are more questions than answers and more ambiguity than clarity? Do you have a go-to, an underlying mission or vision or focus statement that you bring to mind in moments of stress and struggle? I suppose for a pastor one might appropriately expect a scripture to come first, and I have go-to scriptures that I love and that can certainly bring calm in the midst of storms. I also have others that I love to use when asked in a group setting what my favorite is with the expectation of a grand view of God’s creative power and I say, “Jesus wept.” I have a friend who, when asked in group settings who is your favorite biblical character would say Jael which would bring a rather stunned silence. Jael was the one who drove a tent peg through Sisera’s, (an enemy of God’s people) head while Deborah was a judge over Israel and Barak was overcoming Sisera’s army. Deborah told Barak to go to battle, and he says he won’t go unless she goes with him. So Deborah says she will go with him but then says, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” (Judges 4:9, NRSV) I know, right? Those images tend to make folks nervous about women being in leadership and in the ministry. snort It also points out that what we sometimes do with scripture is “isogesis” – when we take a single scripture, in isolation if you will, out of context to use as we want as opposed to “exegesis” when we are faithful to where the scripture fits in the midst of the whole scriptural story; the period of history in which it is written; the social, political, and economic situation; and the literary understanding including translation from the original language, word and sentence origin and structure, and it’s type of writing from allegory, to metaphor, to poem, to hymn, to prose, etc. etc. Who wants to do all that work we might think. It simply complicates everything. Maybe we should set our intellect and reasoning aside when reading scripture?
My guess is whatever vocation or calling you live, continuous learning is a part of the expectation. Critical thinking, benchmarks, measured outcomes, are a part of the process. Do we wish our doctor would have stopped their understanding of biology and anatomy with 8th grade science? Is it enough for your cardiologist to know an aorta takes blood away from the heart and veins bring blood back to the heart? We want those folks to know a bit more about our insides than what remember from 8th grade science. Are we that clear about our expectations of knowing about scripture? Or are we really fine that our scriptural understanding stops at an 8th grade level and those pastors who want us to dig deeper and consider more aspects of the bible than a literal reading are simply making it all too complicated? Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (1 Cor. 13:11, NRSV) That statement is in the midst of his understanding and definition of love that we often use at weddings, you know the one, “love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable (Reeeeally? Ever??? snort) or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8, NRSV). And all of that is in the midst of a letter of instruction written in response to doctrinal and ethical challenges that were plaguing the church in Corinth likely written between 50-55 A.D. Is it important that we know Paul didn’t write these verses for a wedding? Is it important that we know he wrote to a church community as opposed to individuals? Is it important to consider that, “In attempting to help settle problems in a faith community, Paul has bequeathed to the Church universal some of the most exalted chapters in his correspondence, such as the Hymn on Christian love (ch. 13) and the teaching on Christ’s cross (ch. 1) and resurrection (ch.15)”? Are some of the “problems plaguing the church” in our current situation that we refuse to move from speaking, thinking, and reasoning like children, to speaking, thinking, and reasoning like adults which requires us to put and “end to childish ways”?
The saying to “live well, laugh often, and love much” rolls right off my tongue and simply doesn’t seem that complicated if I don’t think about it. But maybe thinking about it is what makes a difference. What does it mean “to live well”? To make more money than anyone else? To be thin and good-looking, by someone’s standard, and perpetually 28? To be married with 2.5 children, living in the suburbs, and in upper-management? There’s mostly nothing wrong with most of that. But is that ALL that living well means? Particularly for people of faith? Or would we add something in there about service to others, about generosity of heart and spirit, about gratitude for a grace-full God who wants good things for us and through us for others? Is “laughing often” always o.k., even if it’s at someone or some other group’s expense? Even if we know we don’t REALLY mean anything cruel by it – it’s just a joke. Yet if we are the person or the group that is the focus of what the joke is about, might we hear it differently? And doesn’t “love much” simply mean we love those around whom we live and who we understand and to whom we relate easily and well? Absolutely nothing wrong with that, AND there’s that whole Jesus thing about loving God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves without any limits on whom we define as neighbor – see that whole Good Samaritan story in Luke 10, particularly vs. 29+.
Maybe it’s time to put an end to childish, NOT child-LIKE, but childish ways. To do the hard work to be adults when we’d rather sorta stomp our intellectual feet and temper-tantrum around having to do our homework to learn more, and deal with the complexities of situations, and perhaps agree that not every situation is starkly right or wrong but may have some bits of both/and, including our reading and understanding of the scriptures.
I still want to “live well, laugh often, and love much”, and I want to do those things from a foundational understanding of the life of Jesus and the vision of God so that the gifts I receive from living in such ways become, perhaps, a minute of grace for those around me as well!