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Published: Saturday, 11/23/2002

Saturday essay: But seriously, folks, let's lighten up a little

BY DAVID W. ANDERSEN

She said to me, “I don't normally give advice, but I think you should write something frivolous.”

Her statement has haunted me. She gave the advice not simply to suggest a topic, but because she thought I was too ponderous, too serious in everything I did, and she was right. I can't seem to look at anything without searching for its hidden meaning or reflecting on its deeper significance. I can ruin a comic pratfall by trying to analyze why we laugh at such things.

For me, life is serious. We may be heading off to war. People's savings have been devastated by the decline in the stock market. Global tension is rampant. The AIDS epidemic threatens an entire continent. Some areas of our country have experienced the worst drought since the period of the Dust Bowl. Many nations teeter constantly on the brink of bankruptcy.

Is it any wonder with my brain so filled with such thoughts I have a hard time thinking of anything frivolous I could write about?

The dictionary defines frivolous as “of little or no weight, worth, or importance.” There is no room in my brain for such thoughts.

Yet, intuitively, I know the advice of my compadre was right. I need a little frivolity. We all do. There is worth in the worthless. I can sense it.

At the end of the summer my wife and I visited good friends of ours at their cottage. For part of the afternoon the four of us sat in their boat anchored at the dock and did nothing but talk and occasionally dip our hands in the lake and feel the refreshing coolness of the water. It was such a frivolous way to spend an afternoon - doing nothing. Maybe I am not as lost as I thought I was.

Today I am sitting in my study at church. It is a Saturday morning. I have come over here from my house to prepare a Bible study I am to lead next week. The subject is the book of Job. Was there ever a more serious book ever written, contemplating the nature and purpose of suffering?

Instead of getting right to work, however, I am behaving the opposite of Job. I am thinking about things “of little or no weight, worth, or importance.”

The problem is I am so much like Job I almost have to put as much effort into thinking about these things as Job did about suffering.

I look over at the bookshelves lining one wall of my study. Every book on these shelves is of a serious nature. There are volumes on theology, philosophy, psychology, and sociology.

But, standing on one of the shelves is a ceramic figurine of Goofy, the bumbling, amenable Disney character. I bought him on our one and only trip to Disney World several years ago.

I think to myself: Why, whatever possessed me to purchase Goofy as my one and only souvenir? Maybe subconsciously he connected to a part of me that was in me but a stranger to me. Maybe there is a frivolous side to me.

Maybe I am Goofy. The thought almost paralyzes me with fear. A prayer immediately forms in my mind: “Please, God, don't let this thought be true.” But I like Goofy. He has always been my favorite Disney character. I just don't want to be Goofy yet, though I have never thought about it before, I think the Goofy statue is appropriately placed among all my books on theology and psychology.

He cautions me against the temptation toward the desire for ultimate certainty and absolutism. He says to me, “Hold these ideas lightly. Don't let all the great thoughts in these books weigh you down or entrap you in a system of thought where there can never be again a fresh insight or new idea.”

“Write something frivolous,” she said. I know I am still not doing it. I am writing about being frivolous, but I am not being frivolous. If I were writing something totally frivolous, I wouldn't at the same time be thinking, “I hope I can write something people will remember.”

The fact that I would like people to remember what I have written, at least for a day or two, is a kind of Holy Grail to this frivolous activity, and maybe the wanting it to be remembered is frivolous in itself.

Oh, how hard it is to be, do, act, or write something frivolous. I have new admiration to those who know how to do it. I think they bring something bright and vital to our lives. They make us laugh. They help us see the lighter side of life. They help, if only for a moment, to lessen the tension in a high-strung world that always seems on the brink of falling apart.

A few weeks ago my wife and I attended a concert of the Toledo Symphony featuring Debbie Reynolds. Ms. Reynolds spent an hour singing, dancing, and most of all poking fun at herself, including her age, her marriages, and her financial disasters. The matronly woman next to me was enraptured and delighted by the entire performance. At the end, this woman stood, leaned on her cane, and began the slow exit up the aisle, obviously in some pain but with the smile still on her face.

I thought to myself: “Wow, I wish I could do that for people, give them a smile in the midst of their pain.”

What a gift! I preach every Sunday, but I wonder how many times I have ever helped lighten the burdens of the many pain life bestows on people.

God bless the people who have not lost touch with what can be seen as so silly and in the end so frivolous.

Well, here I am at the end of what was to be a frivolous activity. I don't think I reached the mark. I might be the only person that can turn something frivolous into something ponderous.

I probably have wasted my time. I still have my study of Job to do. I still have my sermon to review for tomorrow. I still have two phone calls to make.

Hey, wait a minute. Did I say I have just wasted my time? Hallelujah! I think what I just did was frivolous, which means what I wrote must have been frivolous. I did it!

And tonight, to celebrate, I think we will go to the movies, and I know the perfect movie: My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

David W. Andersen is senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Greater Toledo. He lives in Holland.



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