In the Disney movie Moana, Moana grows up on a Pacific Island, and she loves the water. She longs to go out and explore what’s out beyond what she can see. But from when she is a tiny child, Moana is told that there is only danger out beyond the reef; there is only heartache to be found if she leaves the island; that her people need her to stay and to lead them— that her people are island people, not water people. It is not until Moana knows she needs to leave the island in order to save her people, that her grandmother shares with her another part of her peoples’ story— that they were once adventurers, voyagers. Her grandmother reveals to Moana huge boats, boats only made to go way past the reef, and it is in discovering this part of her peoples’ story, that Moana is able to make sense of her own desire for adventure and is able to leave the island in order to save her people. It is only when she is able to connect herself to a bigger story that makes sense of who she is, that she is able to trust herself and do what needs to be done.
Stories are how we find meaning. Ever since the time of enlightenment, we like to think of ourselves as making decisions based on facts, but the truth is, that everything we learn we adapt into a story of some sort in order to make sense of it. In 1944, at Smith College, 35 students were shown a movie of two triangles, a circle, and a square. The shapes moved around the screen, and no words were spoken at all. But at the end of the movie, 34 of those students, when asked what it was about, described a narrative— how the big triangle was angry and frustrated; the little triangle was innocent; the circle was worried. Only one person said all they saw were shapes. Read More
There’s a lot of fruit mentioned in our Scriptures this morning. In Deuteronomy the people bring their fruits fruits to God in worship. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that a good tree produces good fruit. And with a little imagination, we can imagine what it was like for the Israelites who grew grapes and grain; who tended livestock; that their first fruits were ones of joy and relief. Like most farmers, they understood that their livelihood was tied to the earth and to the whims of weather, and so being able to finally see their crop would be a natural time of gratitude and relief— a brilliant time to worship and give their first fruits to God.
Today most of us live quite a bit further from the earth than that. We may have zucchini in abundance in our backyards if we did enough weeding this summer, but if your tomatoes looked like mine this year, which is to say miserable, I am just out a few bucks buying tomatoes. Most of us work and get a paycheck that seems at least one step removed— we can’t eat what we’re producing; instead we trade hours of work for the numbers in our bank account to go up. And so at some point we have to ask ourselves, what do those numbers mean to us? Read More
Benjamin Zander had been teaching at the New England Music Conservatory for twenty five years when he decided to change things up. Over the years he had noticed a trend— that even though he was offering to his students everything they needed to play their best, to look at what was holding them back and work through it, to come together as a community and make great music together, their chronic anxiety about their performance was keeping them from taking the risks that they needed in order to be really great musicians. So Zander came up with a plan. On the first day of class he gave everyone an assignment. He told them they already had an A for the year. All they had to do was write a letter to him, postdated for May, and tell him exactly what they had done to get their A. They weren’t allowed to use words like “I hope” or “I plan,” they had to write it as though they had already done it and share with him the breakthroughs that they made that year to get their A.
A few weeks into the semester, Mr. Zander asked the class how it felt to start with an A. What difference it was making to have what they wanted before they proved themselves worthy. One Taiwanese student raised his hand immediately. He said, “In Taiwan I was number 68 out of 70 students. I came here to Boston and you told me that I have an A. I was very confused. I walked around for three weeks, very confused. I am number 68, but Mr. Zander says I am an A student. I am number 68, but Mr. Zander says I am an A. One day I discovered that I am much happier being an A than number 68. So I decide I am an A.” Read More
“Sabbath” is an old word. It’s a Hebrew word. It’s a word that may conjure up all kinds of images for you. For those of you who are Boomers or older, it may conjure up memories of blue laws, shops being closed on Sundays, big family dinners that are rare these days. If you’ve lived elsewhere, you may have known of synagogues that are full on Friday night as Sabbath begins, and families that stay home on Saturday. If you ever had to memorize the Ten Commandments, you may even remember that keeping the sabbath is one of the ten— right up there with do not murder, do not steal, do not take the Lord’s name in vain. But while the word Sabbath may bring up for you all the things you shouldn’t do, it’s really not a list at all— it’s about relationship.
When the Hebrew people escaped out of slavery, choosing instead to follow God, the people were used to being slaves. Freedom was not something they had known for generations. And so the practice of Sabbath was extremely important. Having one day off a week— a designation that came from the creation story in which God rests on the seventh day— gave them time to remember that they were no longer slaves. It re-orient them and reminded them that they were no longer owned by Pharoah. It gave them time to center themselves in being loved by God and loving their family. Later, it even became well known that married couples should make time to make love on the Sabbath. That this is a day of delight and connection and renewal with one another and with God. Read More