Laughter Road

Monday, April 23, 2007


I used to have priest who found a lot of wisdom in children’s books. So much wisdom, in fact, that he would usually recite one during each sermon he preached. Over the course of the 4-5 months that I heard him preach, we got stories from Beatrix Potter, the woman who wrote the Peter Cottontail stories, Dr. Seuss, a particular favorite of this priest’s, and Shel Silverstein, who wrote the famous story about the Giving Tree. I actually never heard him preach a sermon without hearing him recite a story (sometimes just the pertinent passages, but often we’d get the whole thing), though I heard him preach far less times than others that knew him.

I think this priest had discovered that some of the most important life lessons can be found in the stories we read to children. One of my favorite stories is one by an author named Sandra Boynton… “Consider Love, Its Moods and Many Ways.” I could love the book just for its illustrations of hippos and tigers, penguins and polar bears, but the text tells about the different types of love that we encounter every day…passionate love, when we’re so wrapped up in another person that we have trouble noticing the world around us…narcissistic love, when we’re really more interested in ourselves than others, love that is simple, love that is serious and complicated, love that makes sense and love that doesn’t, love that is quiet and love that is extravagant.

But the biggest lesson that Boynton presents in this story is the power of the kind of love that comes as a gift…love that has no strings attached. Love given just because someone else was thinking about you and wanted you to know it. Love that encourages the giver and the receiver. It encourage the giver with the excitement of finding something or doing something that you know someone will like and appreciate, and then having the means to actually do it, and not just think about it. The receiver of the gift is encouraged by the understanding that they matter to someone—they are important to someone. This kind of love is called Agape. It seeks the good in other people and tries to point it out—to say, “I noticed that you are amazing and I just wanted you to know!” It willingly makes sacrifices, and it seeks to give something rather than receive something. It keeps loving even when the other person does not respond; it loves without asking for anything in return.

Before Consider Love became popular as a Valentine’s Day present, it wasn’t so easy to find. For about 2 years I would buy extra copies whenever I could find them, because I gave them away as fast as I accumulated them. Not just because the book was clever and funny and sweet, but because it managed to sum up what I didn’t always remember to say to the people I loved—that I think about you daily, that you are special to me, even if I sometimes forget to say it.

Agape love is a love of action—it requires more than just thought and intention. Shel Silverstein’s book “The Giving Tree” describes a love of action. As the child of former hippie parents, I heard this story a lot as I grew up. The story is about a tree who loved a boy, and tried to supply what he needed…when he was a child, the tree supplied a place to play and a shady place to rest. When the boy grew into a teenager and wanted money, the tree gave him her apples to sell. When he wanted to build a house she gave him her branches for boards. When he wanted a boat she gave him her trunk for the mast. Each gift made the boy happy, but it also made the tree happy. At the end of the story the boy comes back, but by now he is an old man. The tree tells him that she has nothing left to give him, she is only a stump, but it turns out this is exactly what the old man needs—a place to rest. In the same way, we can never be sure what someone else may need at a particular moment. We offer agape in the hope that it will make someone happy, but there is always the possibility that it means much more to them than we could ever imagine. Sometimes an act of agape may take that very form—providing a safe place for someone to rest, to collect themselves, to get away from the noise of the world. This weekend, we hope that we, as a staff, have provided not only good food and music and laughter until your sides hurt, but also a safe place to rest—to be yourself, to open up, to retreat from the world. A safe place to say those things that you may be afraid to say anywhere else. Hopefully, you can go back to your busy lives refreshed and encouraged, with the knowledge that you can rely on all of us to continue to provide that safe place for you.

Most of you have only been thinking about Vocare for a couple of weeks, but the staff has been preparing for this weekend for much longer. We have been thinking about you and praying for you, even before we knew who you were. When we did learn your names, we began preparing in other ways. We made nametags and decorated tables and cooked a lot of food. And we prepared tokens for each of you, to show you how much you mean to us. Receive these things with the knowledge of the love behind them.

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