Toorak Uniting Church

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The 3 Rs: Reflection, Relationships and Resilience

Rev. Dr Christopher Page
Pentecost 12
31 August 2014

To be nobody-but-yourself - in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else - means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. ~e.e. cummings

Are people here aware of the TV series called "Ted Talks: Ideas Worth Spreading"? (The acronym TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design.) They have both fascinating topics and captivating speakers. The presenters are experts in their particular area but speak to the lay person who may have little knowledge of the subject. I have mentioned that because I stole the title of the sermon from one of those TED talks.

Daniel Siegel is an expert on how the brain works and in particular the relationship between the mind, the emotions, our thoughts and how the brain produces these complex interactions. In the talk that I have referred to in the title, Siegel wants us to recognise that no one can call themselves educated by mastering the 3Rs, Reading, (W)riting and (A)rithmetic. I suspect there wouldn’t be too much argument about that. Learning to live in this complicated world calls for us to master a range of things, too many to mention in the short time we have here. So I have selected the 3Rs that Siegel suggests are imperatives to a whole and meaningful life and should be a part of our learning in the classroom, the home, the church and in all communities.

It seems strange but there is often little reflection on the information that comes into our lives. Some say that a closed mind is when I hear something and it fits my inner self and I then accept it. When it challenges me or calls for change I simply reject it. But the other way is to have an open mind. Remember the childhood imperative? Stop, look and listen. Children are natural reflectives. Their ideas and feelings about life and the world are being formed and shaped. They have a wide-eyed view of the world.

Did you know that a young child blinks about twice every minute and that an adult blinks 15 to 20 times a minute? There are several scientific theories as to why this is so, but I wonder if there is just so much to take in that they don’t want to miss anything. And the remarkable stare a baby gives you. They can gaze on a face or object for ages. By the time they are five or six, their mother or father tells them, "It is rude to stare!" Where did that come from?

Reflection is born in curiosity. It demonstrates a sense of wonder about the world and life. There is inquisitiveness in the child that we as adults often attempt to modify. And sometimes for good reason: to keep them safe and out of harm’s way, or to help them see a better way. But there is a negative form of this in both children and adults and that is where we stifle creativity and imagination in the service of conformity. When confronted with something new in yourself or your child, or perhaps a friend, just simply Stop, Look and Listen and you are in a reflective mode.

I started with reflection, but perhaps I should have begun with relationships. These can be understood in so many different ways. The most basic is the relationships we have with each other. We are tribal animals. Now that can have a negative sense. But what I mean is that we are in fact formed by each other. Some scholars have argued that there is no such thing as a person without a community. The self-made man (or woman) is at best a joke and at worst a lie. We are in fact made by each other. It is true that many have overcome great difficulties in their lives to achieve value and worth. But I suspect that, even there, others reached out a hand of kindness, or encouragement or, more powerfully, the act of love to assist that person on their journey. If you want some guidance on this area of relationships, then it is hard to go further than the passage Jill read earlier:

Be sincere in your love for others.
Abhor everything that is evil.
Hold tight to that which is good.
Love others as brothers and sisters.
Never give up on anyone.
Follow the Spirit’s leading and serve the Lord.
Let your hope make you glad.
Be patient in times of trouble and never stop praying.
Take care of God’s needy people and be willing to welcome strangers into your home.

Now I don’t think that means just those who are far away, it means how we treat those you love and are close to you. Erma Bombeck tells this story in one of her books. It goes like this:

Do I really talk to my friends like I talked to my children? Just suppose...our good friends, Fred and Eleanor, came to dinner one night and...

"Well it's about time you two got here! What have you been doing? Dawdling? Leave those shoes outside, Fred. They've got mud on them. And shut the door. Where were you born, in a barn?"

"So Eleanor, how have you been? I've been meaning to have you over for such a long time. Fred! Take it easy on the chip dip or you'll ruin your dinner. I didn't work over a hot stove all day long to have you nibble like some bird."

"Have you heard from the Martins lately? Yes, they're in Surfer’s Paradise again. They go every year to the same spot. What's the matter with you, Fred? You're fidgeting. Of course you have to go. It's down the hall, first door on the left. And I don't want to see the towel in the middle of the floor when you're finished."

"Did you wash your face before you came, Eleanor? I see a dark spot around your mouth. I guess it's a shadow. So how're your children? If you ask me I don't think summer school is great for them. Is everybody hungry? Then, why don't we go in to dinner? You all wash up and I'll take up the food. Don't tell me your hands are clean, Eleanor. I saw you playing with the dog."

"Fred, you sit over there and Eleanor you can sit with the half glass of wine. You know you're all elbows when it comes to wine.

"Fred, I don't see any cauliflower on your plate. Have you ever tried it? Well, try a spoonful. If you don't like it I won't make you finish it, but if you don't try it, you can just forget dessert. And sit up straight or your spine will grow that way. Now, what were we talking about? Oh yes, the Johnstones . They sold their house. I mean they took a beating, but……Eleanor, don't talk with food in your mouth. I can't understand a word you're saying. And please use your napkin."

At that moment in my fantasy, my son walked into the room. "How nice of you to come," I said pleasantly.

"Now what did I do," he sighed.

Sadly, we can treat those closest to us with less care and respect than those who are more distant from us.

Perhaps I have left the most important till last. Resilience is the capacity to get up when you have fallen down. But I think that resilience is not just getting up after you have fallen down. It is our capacity to reflect on why you fell in the first place, and even how you should get up and the bigger question why you need to get up after you have stumbled and fallen. That’s where relationships are so important.

I wonder if often we have a single tape playing in our mind that says, "This is the only way life should be! There is only one way and when I fall off the track I have to get back on that same track…." over and over again. But is that really resilience? Or is it just stubbornness or inflexibility? Have we really learned from reflection and have we looked at the valued relationships in our lives and then had the courage to say, "Maybe there is a different way." I like the way the Apostle Paul ends this passage to the community at Rome:

Please don’t be arrogant and feel that you are smarter than everyone else. Make friends with ordinary people. Don’t mistreat someone just because they mistreated you. Learn to earn the respect of everyone and do your best to live at peace with yourself and all people.

That’s the 3Rs Reflection, Relationships and Resilience. But know there are many more aspects to a hopeful and joyful life.

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2014

Comments or suggestions on this page appreciated by email, Thanks.