29 September 2013

How To Find Rest

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-26, 28-30)

These words are water to a thirsty heart. Everyone, young or old, rich or poor, weak or strong, has a burden. And Jesus says ‘Come, and I will give you rest’. Those who draw near to Jesus discover that neither age, nor position, nor privilege determine ultimate status. In the company of Jesus all are simply “the weary, the burdened”.   Yes, everyone is the same here, even in our many differences.

So, in this ‘coming to Jesus’ we find solidarity. We are not alone anymore. This is so because the person we come to is gentle and humble. This is so because in his gentleness he offers rest to all. This is so because he takes away all heavy burdens. What an offer he makes!

And how do we accept it? By being a child. The wise will not accept it. They are too clever, supposedly. The learned will not accept it. They are too busy reading their books so they can talk about the latest ideas. Only children will see the offer, hear it and accept it. If they think about it, they will only do so long enough to see almost instantly that anyone who rejects such an offer has to be an imbecile. Who would reject it? No one in their right mind.

But, how do we know if the offer is real, valid? “You’ll only know if you try it,” says the child. Something tells me it’s a safe bet.

And what’s to lose? If it’s all a sham, you’ll be no worse off than you are now: burdened and weary. But, if it’s all true…well, then…you’ll find rest, rest, never-ending rest.

Happy Sabbath, friends! Here’s to rest. Here’s to the faith of a child.

28 September 2013

Good For Every Soul

In my work as a minister to children at our church, we use a particular approach to ministry which I personally believe is good for everyone—young and old. Let me introduce you to some of the big ideas embodied in this method. As you read these principles, I invite you to consider applying them as you tend to your own growth in faith and mission—or as you serve in nurturing the growth of others.

1. Synergy:

Everything takes two. We grow by relationship. There is “give-and-take” involved as well as “take-and-give”.  

Our relationship with God is synergistic. God comes close to us and we can draw near to God.

Our relationship with others is synergistic. We exchange listening and speaking, expressing and contemplating.

The process of working-together is itself an impetus towards maturity. Our growth depends, then, on how we respond to what faces us and whether we embrace or marginalize those we encounter. Hence, the second principle…

2. Readiness:

There are habits (both internal and external) we can cultivate to put us in a state of “readiness” for genuine encounter. Some of these habits include:

a. Stillness.
It is impossible to encounter the fullness of another person, idea or object when our minds and hearts are preoccupied with other matters. This is why the psalmist wrote: “…give me an undivided heart.” To love another is to fully attend to them. God makes us the “apple of his eye”—that is, he (The Center) has chosen to make us the center upon which he fixes his attention and love. Sounds almost heretical, I know. But, it’s true!

The law of synergy above suggests that God does this so we may return the favor freely. So, God invites us to make him the apple of our eye by stilling our soul, putting to rest anything that would distract us from the object of our love.  The same is true in human relationship.

“Be still and know…”

b. Preparing space.
The practice of stillness represents the preparation of internal space towards genuine encounter.  Sometimes this internal shift leads to a rearrangement of the room around us. Sometimes, however, preparing external space is what helps create this internal space.

A big example: at the top of my street the city tore down an old library so they could build a new one. Why? So neighborhood residents could have a space more conducive to learning.

A small example: This morning, before reading my Bible, I lit a scented candle and put it on a table I could see. I did this so that, if my attention wandered, I would have a visual focus to lead me back to stillness again.

Keep in mind, however, that sometimes the preparation of space serves as no more than a distraction to genuine encounter. Sometimes we get so busy “preparing a space” that we have no time and energy left to engage in that for which we prepared the space in the first place! This is something only you can know for yourself. Strive for balance in this.

Keep in mind, also: preparing space involves getting your body ready for what is to come. You can put yourself in a “posture” of readiness. Kneeling in prayer sometimes helps me embrace a spirit of prayer. Sitting in a position that leans towards someone often helps me be a better listener.

That said, here are some questions you might consider:  How do you prepare space? What kind of surroundings do you like to be in when meeting with a friend or having time with just you and God? When you meet with someone else or with God do you do so with a sense of “ready anticipation”?

c. Preparing time.
I am learning that if I do not take time to meet with God or with a friend (or even with my family), it will not happen. I have to set aside the time.

This is because, with each passing year, the world and its demands grow more and more complex. There are more people to keep in touch with, there are more possessions to steward, more books to read, more things to say. There is more, more, more.

Except time. That is the only thing I will never have more of.

So, it is up to me to steward the time well. This involves a critical choice. Will I take time for others? Will I take time to be with God?

But no sooner do I choose to “take time” than I become aware how counter-cultural it is to do so. It feels strange, this “setting aside of time”! It feels wasteful and slow. It feels inefficient and unproductive. It feels childish and I ask myself, “Is it really necessary to go this slow?”

In my work as a storyteller, I sometimes relate the story slowly and I find that we quickly become fidgety at such slowness—myself included! We incorporate silent moments into the story so we may have time to think or hear something we never heard before.

In almost every instance, we feel compelled to “speed it up, whydon’tchya?” Surely, we know this story already!

But, if we are going to meet with God and others we can only do so in time. So, take time. Set it aside and go slow. You’ll thank yourself.

d. Silence.
The best way to get ready to listen is to be silent and wait. There is no short-cut for this; there are no other alternatives. We cannot listen and speak at the same time. To listen, we must shut our mouth and silence the words in our head—and listen.

But we have so much to say! Yes, this is true.

And that is our problem. For there is far more that we have to receive than what we have to give. We are not the be-all and end-all of it all, after all.

So, we still ourselves,
we prepare space,
we prepare time,
and we practice silence.

Now, we are ready.

3. Tell stories and wonder.

Stories are more complex than propositions—unless we can see the story behind the proposition! There is a story behind Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.” In fact, there are many stories behind that command. The words invite us to live into the proposition. When we live into it, the proposition becomes a story—and in the story we encounter Truth—which is living, personal, and filled with beauty, mystery.

What’s more, there is no exhausting the Truth. We can learn all there is to learn about facts. I heard someone once who memorized the whole Gospel of Mark; he knew it word for word without error. But what impressed me more was that this man seemed to cherish the words he learned. There was a Person behind the words that he grew to love dearly.

That is the difference between true and Truth. Something may be true objectively but when we experience it first-hand (subjectively) it becomes Truth. Stories take true things and relate them to us in such a way that they become Truth. By engaging stories, we also have the chance to explore countless questions that arise. There is always something more to be discovered because our mind and heart cannot hold it all at one point in time. That is why stories are so crucial to one’s process of maturing. They provide occasion to wonder.

There is much more that could be said, but I suppose that is enough to chew on for now. Until later, I invite you to consider how you might appropriate some of these principles in your own life.

I hope this helps you in some way!


PlayFull offers training in a unique approach to children's ministry. Write Troy if you'd like to know more or if you're interested in exploring what a training event could look like for you. In the meantime, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. And thanks for spreading the word, friends! 

27 September 2013

In Passing A Cemetery This Morning

mark the mist—
how gently
nature lays
her pale hand
on the
bent grass
the dead

she is poised
to touch
the soul’s
on the cusp
of burial

we will
whisper in
reverent remembrance
when she
kisses each
heart of
stone made flesh

mark the mist
breathing life
into dry bones


in passing a cemetery this morning
by troy cady

25 September 2013

Doggie IQ Test

Does your dog have a high IQ? Give them these ten questions from a doggie IQ test to find out!

Hump Day is Humor Day at PlayFull! Remember to laugh, folks! Keep smiling: follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook for daily positive content.

23 September 2013

It Takes Time

Some years ago I had the privilege of coming alongside a friend who was struggling with an addiction. I was his sponsor. We didn’t call it that—and our friendship did, in fact, go beyond such a formal arrangement—but that is basically what I was for a season.  We decided it’d be good for him to check in with me every day for three months for purposes of accountability.

Yes, every day. We decided the best time to do this would be in the morning, before the craziness of each day’s activities would begin to creep in. This would enable me to pray with him each morning for strength to face the day and it would help him be prayerfully mindful of the issue for which he was seeking accountability. Since he lived some distance away from me, it was not practical to see each other face-to-face every day so we agreed that a daily phone call would suffice.

About five days into this arrangement we began to grow tired of it, partly because it seemed like our daily check-ins were nothing more than a silly formality. He’d ring me at a certain time, we’d say good morning to each other, and then I’d ask him how the previous day went. Was there anything he needed to share?

He’d say, “No, it was a good day” and then he’d add a few details that were unique to that day.

I’d say, “Okay, that’s great.” We’d pray and I’d remind him:  “I’ll keep praying for you today, buddy. Call me if you need to talk with someone or have someone pray with you, okay?”

“Okay, sure thing.”

I can’t remember the exact day this happened, but on about day six, seven or eight, he let out a little chuckle when he called and we started our small verbal interchange.

I said, “This seems silly, doesn’t it?”


“Well, that’s okay, but you better get used to it because I gave you my word that I’d touch base with you every morning for three months and I intend to keep it. So, you can think it’s silly and routine and meaningless but that doesn’t matter because, come hell or high water, I will be faithful to this. I’m not going away, I’m not stopping, I’m not giving up, no matter how you feel about it. And don’t look for some tingly life-altering epiphanies every day, either. That’s not what this is. It isn’t sexy, it won’t be profound and you won’t feel thrilled every day. It’s just about keeping our word. That’s it.”

The rub of faithfulness is that it cannot be completed in five days. Faithfulness takes a long time. But somehow we expect we should get it down more quickly. Some things in life just take time. You don’t get the beauty of a 63-year-marriage in the space of 15 years. That never happens. Houses are not built out of cards.  

Have you ever noticed the best things in life take time and hard work? The things most worth having are worth fighting for. We are more prone to throw things away when there is no sacrifice involved in getting them.

And we should never expect to do great things when we grow discontent with faithfully doing small things. No adult has ever reached maturity by skipping childhood. Some things take time. Faithfulness is one of those things. If we try to tie her up neatly, nice and tight, we’ll only discover we’ve bound her ankles—and she will lead us nowhere but flat on our face.

Don’t try to finish that work all-in-a-day. Take time to be faithful. It’s worth it!


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22 September 2013

There is Nothing You Can Do

I do not know why but I find myself in this second half of life thinking a lot about Sabbath. I have an inkling this is normal. I suppose we don’t put much stock in Sabbath until we have seen enough and done enough to learn that our incessant seeing and doing does not get us all that far.

When we start to learn this, we think: “Well, maybe if I took a break, I’d be able to get farther and do more in the long-run.” So, we start practicing rest for utilitarian reasons. We think that rest will help us accomplish more.

I suppose that is a step in the right direction. But that’s more like marrying someone because you’re in love with the idea of love without actually loving the other Person. We want what “being in love” will get us without the scandal of “being loved”. One experiences the first type as a state of control while the second case is something that lies beyond one’s control.

Sabbath is not something we can manipulate. “If I do this, she will do that.” The ancients personified Sabbath for this reason. They called her Queen Sabbath—and she will not be controlled. But, she is good. Under her rule, we live in love—a love that is granted by divine fiat, not earned—just because the King that comes with her is himself love.

By its own virtue and character such a sovereign act reminds us: “There is nothing you can do to earn this love. There is nothing you can do to earn this love. There is nothing you can do to earn this love.”*

The only way to cherish, honor and love Sabbath is to stop “doing” in heart, mind and body. As soon as we start “doing” we stop loving her.

This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. (See? I still can’t escape that word “do”!)

I do know one thing, though: if practicing Sabbath is something we do, it is more like play—for in play we rest while doing.

(*The words in the quote above are adapted from Frederick Buechner)

21 September 2013

PlayBook: Generation to Generation

Non-anxious presence. I have heard people use this phrase many times over the past four years but I cannot recall hearing it even once before then. The first time I encountered this rock-bed idea (articulated with those particular words) was in a book by Edwin Friedman entitled Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. I am not sure if Dr. Friedman coined the phrase, but I am inclined to think that its prominent usage today is due largely to his teaching and writing. The book was first published in 1985 so, of course, Friedman’s use of the expression has been working its way through hearts and minds for at least three decades now—slowly transforming the way we think about agencies of change in various relationship systems.

Among his many hats, the late Edwin Friedman was both a rabbi and a psychologist. Regarding the latter, he ascribed to a particular field known as family systems therapy. Perhaps chief among the features that distinguish family systems therapy from other approaches is the conviction that whole systems should be taken into account when providing therapy for individuals.

For example, if a child is suddenly having trouble at school, acting up, becoming depressed, rebellious, or careless—or if they adopt any other number of behaviors that provide occasion for concern—the traditional therapeutic approach places the focus of therapy on the child.

But family systems therapy takes a step back from this and considers those features of the system in which the child lives that may have encouraged and produced this “trouble” in the first place. The system—the characteristics of that web of relationship itself—may be what needs to be changed if the child is ever going to lead a healthy life.

So, family systems therapy prioritizes process over content. A content-approach asks, “What is the issue and how can we resolve it?” A process-approach asks, “Are there features of the system itself that gave rise to this issue? How can we change the way the relationship-process is set up so this issue becomes, in effect, a non-issue?” Family systems therapists see the traditional approach as akin to beating a dead horse. No matter what short-term “progress” one makes with a “patient” the same issues (albeit in different disguises) will keep popping up in the long-term—because the system itself which gave rise to the issue has remained the same!

For example, among ministerial leaders it is common to encounter the problem of burnout and chronic anxiety or depression. The traditional approach treats the leader: “How can we help the leader rest, worry less, and/or take a vacation?”

So, the leader finally takes a vacation or, even better, goes on a sabbatical. They are given four months to rest. And they return. One year later: they are back in the same situation they were in prior to the rest period. This is why family systems therapy asks: “What is it about the system that nurtures burnout, anxiety and depression in our leaders?”  If we can change “the dance we do” in this environment, we will change the fruit borne of it. 

One key, then, to nurturing healthy relationship systems is healthy leadership. And the core of healthy leadership, Friedman asserts, consists of non-anxious presence. Healthy leaders embody non-anxious presence which, in turn, fosters non-anxious environments—which, in turn, provides a context in which people can thrive.

Sounds simple, right? “If we can practice this so-called non-anxious presence, we’ll all be okay.” It isn’t easy to do this, however. Here’s why:

Everyone is different. And those differences make us nervous, especially when it means those differences in people equate to change in our systems.

See, we prefer things to stay the same. That is where we feel most comfortable. Even our bio-systems prefer this. The precise term for this preference-for-things-to-stay-the-same is homeostasis. When a change is introduced in one part of a given system, other parts of that same system adjust/react in an effort to restore the system to its previous state. Think of it as a desire for balance and stability.

“But, what’s wrong with stability? I thought that is what we were after in all this. Nurturing healthy, stable people.”

Sort of. Healthy and “stable” are two different things. See, healthy things grow and change. And there is no change or growth without “stretching”, discomfort. As long as we are content with the same-old, same-old we will never be truly healthy.

So, we need to kick our homeostatic habits in the rear. We need to make our peace with change, to befriend "difference". This is precisely where the tension lies.

An example: I am married to a woman who is…well, let’s just say…very different from me. And her differences challenge me.  Since I am a self-centered individual, I naturally think she should be more like me. 

But, my wife is a strong, healthy person so she is very well differentiated from me. She is her own person. And there is nothing I can do to manipulate that in my favor. But it makes me uncomfortable because seeing that she, in effect, does not need me means she could leave me if she wanted—and be perfectly fine.  Her identity is not dependent on mine. So, if I am to put it bluntly, our relationship—if it is going to be an authentic one—is truly out of my control.

The tension of all authentic relationship arises, then, out of the choice to remain together knowing we are two entirely different people. The question is: How do we go about being “different-together”? It is, of course, easier to be “different-apart”. In that scenario I would feel no tension. Conversely, it is also easier to be “the same-together”. In that scenario, too, I would feel no tension. The difficult part involves putting “different” and “together” in the same room.

Every day.

For about a quarter of a century now.

The key to doing this well is to make my peace with it. In essence, to “let her go” and trust she will not entirely “go” but will choose to remain “together”.

The irony is: if I do not “let her go” she will feel inclined to “go” anyway. And I could inadvertently drive her away by my insistence to “hold on.” See, she will continue to be her own person. And no insistence on my part to “keep her close” or “make her more like me” will change the fact that she is, indeed, her own person. Identity is so impressed in her, it is bound to show its face. If not, any oppressive control I introduce into the system will yield all manner of dysfunction in the whole system (including among my children).

So, this “making peace with difference” involves being “non-anxious”.

This is where Friedman’s train of thought really caught me. He cites “playfulness” as a way to foster “non-anxious environments.”

He writes: “…anxiety’s major tone is seriousness, often an affliction in itself. It is always content-oriented. Its major antidote is playfulness, especially with those for whom we feel too responsible.” (209)

He provides an interesting example of playfulness at work in a situation that seemed beyond remedy: “A good husband and dedicated father found that his wife had chronically been having affairs. He took her once to a marriage counselor, but she refused to go again. He continued for two years, desperately trying to make her see the light. He showed anger. He threatened. He tried making her jealous. At his wit’s end, ready to throw in the towel, he heard a discussion at church about how families never teach their members to push one another away. We are trained to hang onto others, or to withdraw (pull away). Pushing people we care about at others, or into activities we don’t care about, is almost inconceivable. When a relationship is caught in a skid, we almost never think to turn the wheel the other way.

“The next day, when the husband came home, he found his wife on the phone. Predictably, she hung up quickly. Resisting the urge to berate her, he said, ‘Listen, honey, I know you want some privacy. I’ll go for a walk around the block.’ Predictably, the wife’s behavior escalated. At the end of the week, she informed him she was going to Miami to visit an old boyfriend. He went to a travel agency and got her brochures on places to have fun in southern Florida, adding some suggestions based on his own experience. She took them without comment and flew off, returned within three days, and announced that she had had a terrible time. The following week she joined him in counseling and continued long after he dropped out.” (51)

Friedman points out that this is not an example of “reverse psychology”, as most of us would be prone to describe it. Rather, he says, it was precisely the husband’s playful disposition that effected the change. Had he used “reverse psychology” in a “serious” way (as is often the case) the effect would have been the same as before. This is because our penchant for using “reverse psychology” arises out of the inclination to “diagnose” the other person. Diagnostic thinking itself, says Friedman, is a “serious” mindset and, ironically, perpetuates the “problem” that is being diagnosed.

He explains: “The exact opposite of playful functioning, that which is most likely to heighten the seriousness in a system, is diagnostic thinking…Diagnostic categories are inherently antisystemic. They tend to increase polarization…Diagnosis intensifies anxiety, and is its natural manifestation as well.’”

So, playfulness is a mindset, not a method. If we can learn to approach life with a playful posture, we will be able to lead a healthy life ourselves and nurture life-giving environments around us.

Friedman explains: “The seriousness with which families approach their problems can be more the cause of their difficulties than the effect of the problems. Efforts directed at the seriousness itself often will eliminate the problem.

“Seriousness presents a paradox. If family members are not serious about their responsibilities, the family may become unstable and chaotic. But seriousness can also be destructive. Seriousness is more than an attitude; it is a total orientation, a way of thinking embedded in constant, chronic anxiety. It is characterized by lack of flexibility in response, a narrow repertoire of approaches, persistent efforts to try harder, an inability to change direction, and a loss of perspective and concentrated focus.

“Families that evidence such seriousness are as if surrounded by volatile fumes of anxiety, and any small incident can cause a flare-up. They will always assume that it was the incident that created the problem, but it is the way they relate and think that gives any incident its inflammatory power. The family, thus, tends to overlook the cause of its misery by focusing on the object of its discontent. On the other hand, if changes can be made in such a noxious atmosphere then the fumes of anxiety disperse, and the sparking incidents of life (that are necessary for creative existence) lose their explosive potential.

“The antidote to seriousness is the capacity to be playful, which is not to be equated with making jokes. Some of the world’s greatest humorists led personally tragic lives; and it is not unusual for the office wit to lose his timing in the presence of his wife. What gives to any playful response its remedial power is its relational affect and not its cleverness. This notion of playfulness has less to do with ‘one-liners’ than with the concept of flexible distance; it has less to do with good ‘come-backs’ than with the ability to distinguish process from content. Ultimately, it is more connected with responsibility for others than with being light-hearted. When playfulness is introduced into a ‘serious’ relationship system, family or congregation, it can break the vicious feedback cycle that is keeping a problem chronic. In the family field, it is often called ‘paradoxical intervention.’ If we assume that any chronic condition that we are persistently trying to change will, perversely, be supported not to change by our serious efforts to bring about change, then it is logical to consider the possibility that one way out of this paradox is to be paradoxical.” (50-51)

These concepts have far-reaching implications. In Generation to Generation Friedman demonstrated the application of these ideas in extended family fields as well as various faith-community systems. After writing this book, however, Friedman went on to help others apply these principles in both business and governmental contexts.

For my part, these concepts changed my life. The book was given to me by a member of a church I was pastoring in 2009. (Thanks, Lydia!) She told me I might find it interesting. Well, “interesting” is too mild a word to describe my response. Yes, “life-changing” is a better expression to use. It is largely because of what I learned in this book that I felt an inkling to begin PlayFull. Reading this helped me articulate the belief that playful people are healthy people and playful systems are healthy systems. And it is because of this belief that I sincerely hope I have the joy of dedicating the rest of my days “helping people play from the inside-out”. More than an activity-we-do, play is a way-of-being that can truly make the world a better place.


Citations above are from:
-Friedman, Edwin H. Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue (New York, NY: The Guilford Press, 1985)

Visit our PlayBook page to find more reviews on books that can help you live more playfully. 

20 September 2013

Wild Marriage

5 years ago today I had the privilege of officiating a wedding ceremony for some dear, dear friends. The theme of my homily was "Wild Marriage." It was a PlayFull sort of theme, so I thought I'd share it here today by way of celebrating with them. I hope folks enjoy reading it and that it helps you in some way. 

Paul and Kelly: Happy anniversary! Congratulations on five years of never-bored marriage. :) 



I want to begin with a warning: this is the part of the wedding that isn’t very organized. I meant it to be that way, however, because life is not organized. (Paul and Kelly: you both know this by experience. A year ago, neither of you would have put the words “wedding ceremony” on the slot in your agenda labeled “September 20, 2008.”) Yes, life is wild. And that’s good because the most beautiful things (like the beauty of creation) are untamed, yet true. Vibrant marriage, like all things made by God, reflects the beauty of the untamed Creator. In encountering the beauty of God through marriage, therefore, you will learn truth and gain wisdom (which is wild compared to knowledge).

Because true marriage is untamed, this is my prediction: you’ll never be bored. Incidentally, there are more reasons I could give as to why I’m confident of this. For starters, anyone that thinks eleventy billion is a number and purple is an odor will never be bored. Any couple that thinks of rent as a musical rather than money owed will never be bored. When a man goes on his first date with a woman and he says to her “So, do you want to be my girlfriend now or later?” you can be sure they will not be bored. And you’re both…artistes: you will never be bored.

You will awaken 37 years and 49 days from now, thinking you will know what the day will bring and you will end the day feeling blind-sided by joy or sadness, take your pick.

You will love each other well and you will hurt each other well. The good news is: you will not do this alone. Solitary perseverance you will have done with because today you shall speak to one another in tones even you have yet to discover that, come what may, you shall be together. And whether these vows are spoken loud or soft matters little, for they shall be spoken in reverence, as before your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And, so, you shall be together.

When even sitting become excruciating, you shall be together. When you laugh, you will do so together. And when your next washer breaks, you shall be together. You shall dream together and when tears are screaming in your chest, you shall be together.

You will never be bored and you will always be together. You will love each other well and you will hurt each other well. This latter statement is why you will learn to be forgiven and to forgive. And, yes, it does happen in that order. Forgiveness is an essential habit for any thriving marriage, but you cannot learn to forgive if you don’t first learn to be “the forgiven”. You cannot give away what you don’t have. So, here’s a cheeky tip that may ignite your passion even now. Here, in the presence of everyone, I charge each of you to beat each other to the words “I’m sorry. I was wrong.” We often think that offering forgiveness is harder than receiving forgiveness, but that is rarely the case. It takes humility and courage to admit wrong-doing and the need for forgiveness. In fact, offering forgiveness can be a mechanism of control, but to receive forgiveness you must open your hands so that you can receive it. Open-handedness is a vulnerable posture, a trusting posture. Giving in and letting go are equally courageous. This is why marriage takes courage and trust, a breaking down of walls we erect. By contrast, self-defense and self-justification are two kinds of cages; one is made of glass, while the other consists of a simple mote, dug out of the ground, separating heart from heart. Either way, both are easily made and both appear invisible. But both kill the spirit, in the same way that wild lions are tamed by mere diminished space.

Marriage is wild. Don’t try to tame it. Simply cherish it for its untamed beauty. Paul, Kelly is wild. Don’t try to tame her. Simply love her for who she is. Kelly, Paul is wild. Don’t try to tame him. Simply love him for who he is. You guys are truly a wild pair!

With that, here are a few more connected, yet disconnected, untamed thoughts. They are not organized because life is not organized and you two stand here today on the edge of what will probably be the wildest and greatest adventure of your life, so I’ll not hesitate in hastily handing you, in random order, some supplies you’ll need for the journey. When you’re weary or hungry or frustrated, or even when you’re resting by the stream or dry and content, apply these, as needed.

Listen before you speak and really listen. When you feel emotionally flooded, stop the argument and take some time to settle down. Say please to each other. Cook for each other. Be flexible. Pray with each other. Give in. Sing together. Clean the toilet when it’s not your turn to clean the toilet. Remember, it’s okay to cry. Say thank you. Hold the door open for each other. Play games together. Compliment each other. Defend each other. Say “you’re welcome”. Wonder about each other. Ask, “How was your day?”. Share your thoughts. Hold hands. Kiss and make up.

You stand here, as the poet e.e. cummings puts it, on “forever’s very now.” Beauty is wild and the continuous present is a gateway to eternity. You stand on “forever’s very now.” So, it is with the wild words of cummings I’d like to close. I could think of no better words to express the wildly unique nature of your relationship, Paul and Kelly. These untamed words express the sufficiency of loving freedom and the mystery of tangled grace. These words are written as if you are speaking to each other. Look in each other’s eyes now, as I read what e.e. cummings has written:

the great advantage of being alive
(instead of undying) is not so much
that mind no more can disprove than prove
what heart may feel and soul may touch
--the great (my darling) happens to be
that love are in we, that love are in we

and here is a secret they never will share
for whom create is less than have
or one times one than when times where—
that we are in love, that we are in love:
with us they’ve nothing times nothing to do
(for love are in we am in i are in you)

this world (as timorous itsters all
to call their cowardice quite agree)
shall never discover our touch and feel
--for love are in we are in love are in we;
for you are and i am and we are (above
and under all possible worlds) in love

a billion brains may coax undeath
from fancied fact and spaceful time—
no heart can leap, no soul can breathe
but by the sizeless truth of a dream
whose sleep is the sky and the earth and the sea.
For love are in you am in i are in we

So be it. Amen.

19 September 2013

"If It Smells Like Hope"

God, thank you that I don’t need to be perfect to pray. You take me just as I am. No acting, no lying smiles, no need to say, “I’m fine, just fine, fine, fine, fine, thank you, Lord.”

You already know what's in the center of my thoughts even though I am unable to discern it. I think: “What is this feeling I have, Lord? Is it hope or fear because the two feel very similar to me right now. Why is that?”

You don’t answer that ‘why’ question. And I wonder: Why is that?

I know, I know, you won’t tell me why.

Instead, you ask me a different question by way of reply. I would discover later that when you ask me questions it does not mean you don’t know the answer already. It’s simply because you love me to talk to you, bring you my ideas, my thoughts, my dreams--so that you can tell me, “I put those dreams there and I will certainly finish what I started.”

“The fragrance of Jesus is hope,” you say. “So, if it smells like hope, it’s me.”

“But, I’m afraid, Lord.”

“I know. Put on my disguise, child. My love is the only way out.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Just wear grace around your neck.”

“I thought I was supposed to wear wisdom around my neck.”

“Is there a difference?”

“Oh. That’s right.”

“Now put it on.”

“You mean, really?”


“But, there’s nothing there.”

“Yes, there is.”

“I don’t see it.”

“Things exist without seeing, right?”


“Then, put it on.”


“How do you put anything on?”

“I reach out and, uh, put it on.”

“Then, do that.”

"You mean, really?"

"Yes, really reach out and really do it."

“But, don’t I need to say something?”

"The act of reaching is itself prayer."

"Yes, but, I feel like I should say something."

“Like what?”

“Uh…a special prayer or something.”

“Please no! Pretend you’re a toddler, if you feel you must say something. Just drool and smile and maybe speak a little playful gibberish. Then, pretend you grab a macaroni necklace and put it on as if it’s made of diamonds. Then, pretend you’re a princess.”

“But, I’m a guy.”

“You can still pretend, can’t you? Don’t take yourself so seriously. Remember: come to me like a child. Can you do that?”

“I suppose so. I mean, I hope so. I hope it isn’t too late. I hope I haven’t gotten too set in my ways.”

“What was that you just said?”

“I said, ‘I hope—‘”

“Stop. That’s enough. That’s good, that’s good.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Of course it is.”

18 September 2013

Funny Stuff!

Hump Day Humor with comedian Michael Jr! Have a great day, friends!

Hey, you! Flike PlayFull on Facebook and Twitter. Flike is a compound word. Or fracture of the brain. Either way, do it.

17 September 2013

Never Leave The Playground

Stephen Jepson has an interesting motto: "Never leave the playground." At over 70 years old he is living proof that simple play is good for both body and mind.

You might think he's a little "off his rocker" for taking play so seriously, but this much is true: no one could ever accuse him of wasting his life away in front of the television! He wants to live life to the fullest!

Watch this video for some smiles and laughs.  My favorite line? "I wanna help people be not so fally downy."

Here's to play!

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14 September 2013

A Million Different Kinds of Play

A great reminder: there are a million different kinds of play! We couldn't agree more.

Yes, this video is a commercial, but it has a great message and is sure to put a smile on your face. Enjoy...

Did this make you smile? If so, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook so you can find your smile again in the future should it go missing.

13 September 2013

PlayDate with Step Up To Help!

Step Up To Help is an organization that is unique in that it represents a diverse and a truly collective work.

Lizzy Wagner leads Project I See You, an initiative of compassion for women who are all-but-forgotten. Over the years, they have worked with women in the Dominican Republic where last year a group of 20 people travelled to install a well for the impoverished town of La Victoria. 

That gives you just a slice of what they do. Their broader vision is “to create cross-cultural experiences that invest in women’s worth and value, ultimately leading to change in our lives and communities.” Those who contribute time, talents and financial gifts to Project I See You understand that “to see and be seen”—truly, deeply—is the biggest gift we can give one another.

Another project in Step Up is called Brain Pain. Among other things, Brain Pain helps communities of faith be places of joy, peace, love and acceptance for those who have bipolar disorder. How wonderful! (I told you they were a unique group…)

Meanwhile, Brian Newman leads The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative. Their purpose? “The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative exists to be part of tearing down the walls of hostility between the descendants of  Abraham’s two sons – Isaac and Ishmael – who will be reunited in the Kingdom of God.”  Yes, there are many “peace initiatives” going on these days—yet the sad truth is: Muslims, Jews and Christians remain at war. The Isaac-Ishmael Initiative creates space where relationships can be built and, hopefully, trust can be established.

I just got off a call with Brian and Lizzy earlier today because they’ve asked PlayFull to come out to Denver in early October to put on a PlayDate for them. I couldn’t be more thrilled and honored!

We have some good stuff planned and I’ll be sure to let you all know how it went when it’s over. My prayer and hope is that all those who have been serving in these various initiatives will come away from our PlayDate with a fresh sense of joy, vision and purpose. We’ll engage in some interactive exercises that will help them understand one another better and celebrate each other. And, we’ll look at how God keeps creating new life in and through them and what they do. There is light, sky, sea and land. He gives direction by the stars and he infuses the void with living, moving creatures of all shapes and colors. Finally, he does all this…for Sabbath, shalom, his very Name.  

I am really looking forward to being with them soon and just wanted to share with you a little slice of what makes PlayFull tick.  



Yes, we can tailor a PlayDate just for you! Each one is unique. If you’d like to know more and have an inkling (“we could use that!”), contact me and we’ll play with some ideas. 

12 September 2013

Cloudburst by Eric Whitacre

Yes, choral music can be playful, surprising, inventive. At 5:45 it starts raining in this piece and by the 6:45 mark, the clouds burst. I HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMEND TURNING THE VOLUME UP ON THIS! Allow yourself some time to just sit and be with it. It is simply beautiful. Presenting: "Cloudburst" by Eric Whitacre.

If you liked this, consider liking PlayFull on Facebook or following us on Twitter. And spread the word!

11 September 2013

Even Cruel Simon Had Nothing But Praise For This Young Man

Truly heart-warming and funny. Jack Caroll is 14 years old and has cerebral palsy. Watch his comedy performance on Britain's Got Talent for some uplifting entertainment.

Happy Hump Day, friends!

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10 September 2013

Hope and Children

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to present the first story in our PlayFull Faith series with a group of upper elementary age children at our church. To be sure, I hope the PlayFull Faith series will help people of all ages—adults and children—but one of the tests I have for it is the “child-friendly” test. I want the story to engage kids and help them interact meaningfully with the content.

Here’s why this matters to me: I believe in a God of hope. In fact, I believe that, though love is the greatest of the three cardinal virtues, it is impossible to love when one has no hope. Hope is a spring from which faith and love become possible.

To hope is to live now in what-is-to-come. It is a posture that relinquishes regret concerning the past and embraces courage in the present because “greater things have yet to come” in the future.

Hope is so foundational a whole theological system has arisen out of it. This “theology of hope” is one that truly embodies the “now-and-not-yet” aspect of the kingdom of God of which Jesus spoke. Faith in this Jesus-of-hope orients one in the present according to “what-will-be”—redemption, joy, beauty, shalom. A true theology of hope enables one to act in love today through a joy-filled vision of the future.

I agree with that much.

But here’s my problem with many of our so-called theologies. They fail to take children into account—not merely as objects of theology but as subjects—or rather, as authors. Yet, what better resource is there to develop a theology of hope than children?  Children have the best chance of living out hope since their future is greater than their past. “The future” is what they have. “The past” is what they will have, in time.

Because of this, PlayFull Faith is intended for all—both young and old—to discover what it means to live in hope. The stories in the series are derived from The Story, as told in the Bible. That Big Story reminds us we are destined for things that spring from Someone “who was and is and is to come.”  If these stories are not for children, they cannot be for any of us—because, before our Father, we are all children.

Be on the lookout—especially for this first story in the series. I expect it will be used in all kinds of settings to help folks dream about the future. Yes, the creation story is not just about something that happened in the past. It is a story about the future.

And thank you for all the encouragement so many of you have given thus far! You truly give the folks at PlayFull “hope to carry on.”



P.S. Like PlayFull on Facebook, why don't ya?! 

09 September 2013

Tragedy and Comedy

In college, I was active in theater. And I was fascinated with tragedy. If I had a choice between tragedy and comedy, I would choose tragedy every day of the week and twice on Fridays.  The first play I chose to direct was Oedipus Rex. I did not choose it because it was a fine display of the three unities of time, place and action.  I chose it because I was intrigued by the descent of a man of nobility. What madness would drive a king to gouge out his own eyes?

My beloved drama director, Patsy Miller, was of a different persuasion. Once we were discussing potential plays that could be produced the following season. Of course, I suggested all kinds of tragedy, both modern and classic. But she repeatedly rejected my suggestions. “Ugh,” she said, “that is such a dark, dark play. I think the world needs more beauty and light. There are so many ugly, dark things being produced these days. Let’s do something beautiful.”

Her words stuck with me but did not persuade me right off. For some reason, I continued to prefer tragedy.

In graduate school, I studied theology and I ran across an idea of Martin Luther’s. He talked about the “two sides” of the gospel.  Before we could grasp the “proper work of the gospel”, he taught, we needed to understand the “alien work of the gospel.” That is, before there is good news, there is bad news.

“Aha!” I thought. I finally had my rationale as to why tragedy was necessary and good for us. So, I was quite happy to put Patsy’s comments away in a closet in my mind and heart. Subconsciously, I do believe I labeled that box “superficial”, while “tragedy” in my mind was more “real”. “We should keep it out on display,” I thought. “It reminds us we are frail and prone to error.” (Happy stuff, eh?)

Over the years, however, Patsy’s observation kept nagging at me. Hers was a script I could not change and could not forget.  Somewhere, somehow--I suspected--she was right.  It is better for us to meditate on beauty, goodness and light; there is enough darkness to go around.

I am now in my forties and I am embarrassed to confess: it has only been in the past, say, three or four years that I have begun to “take on board” the thought that the God I follow is first and foremost about beauty, joy, freedom, peace, and rest.

To be sure, I heard whispers of this when we were living in Madrid. Some friends who just happened to be co-workers taught me about grace. Whenever I felt tempted to play my punishment card, they reminded me to rise to redemption. I thank God for them.

That said, I look back on it now and I can remember resisting the idea that beauty and goodness is something I can really stake my life on. “It’s too good to be true!”

I recognized myself in a friend who told me once that she was “always waiting for ‘the other shoe’ to drop.”

“There is no other shoe waiting to drop,” I reminder her—which is to say, I reminded me, myself and I.

I spoke the words but still struggled to believe it.

This morning, it occurred to me: it is easier to despair than hope. The path of tragedy is the path of least resistance. Believing in beauty, joy and goodness sometimes feels like a battle.  It is a choice.

This is to say: I began PlayFull because I’m done acquiescing to despair. Joy is worth the sweat. Grace may be a harder way, but she is worth dying for.

I sincerely hope and pray that PlayFull will be the kind of initiative that helps many, many people discover the goodness of this life.


08 September 2013

Let Nothing Disturb You

I don’t know why and I can’t say how this is so, but there's one thing I have discovered: when I’m discouraged and worried, prayer always seems to help.

Here’s an old prayer that has brought me great comfort, time and time again. It’s a prayer by St. Teresa de Avila. I find it helps me immeasurably to meditate slowly on the simple truth of this short prayer. I invite you to do the same.

Let nothing disturb you,
nothing affright you;
all things are passing—
God never changes.
Patient endurance attains to all things.
Whom God possesses in nothing is wanting;
alone God suffices.


07 September 2013

"God is Playful." Ben said it, not me.

Dave Marmion, a friend and a soon-to-be board member of PlayFull, shared this quote on PlayFull's facebook page yesterday. I thought it was so good I wanted to post it here today so more folks could see it. Here goes:

"Since God is a self-sufficient being, creating the universe was not necessary. Similarly...one can exist without play. But human beings were not made to merely exist. They were made in God's image to worship God and to emulate his actions, and in 'play' we do emulate God's actions. We create games and play a game that has a universe of its own, its own rules, its own gravitational pull...If we ask the cosmic question - Why is there something instead of nothing? One answer is - Because God is playful. God enjoys creating and playing."

-Ben Witherington III, The Rest of Life

This is why we do what we do. 

Dave wrote: “Play on, friends.” I add, “Amen to that.”  Thanks, Dave, for sharing this with us.


06 September 2013

Developing the Creation Story

I have been working quite a bit lately on creating the objects and script for the first story in our PlayFull Faith series: the story of creation. The series can be used in many settings, including children’s ministry, but the idea originally came to me out of a desire to create content that could be used in intergenerational small groups—that is, PlayFull Faith is intended to capture the imagination of children and adults alike.

I’ve had the idea to develop this series for many months now, but what prompted my recent burst of work on it was, quite frankly, a deadline. I have to test out the first story this week with a group of upper elementary age children at our church. Over the next three weeks, I hope to test it out with two other groups of children before (possibly) using the materials for a PlayDate with adults I’ll be facilitating in Denver come October.

Working on this project has not been easy. I have an idea and start to move forward with it, only to be confronted with certain “obstacles”. The flow of creativity will stop, or I will be at a loss as to how to tie certain aspects together. So, I’ve had to trust the wisdom of rest when my artistic self feels tired. Resting, I’ve discovered, invariably unlocks small bursts of inspiration. So, the whole experience has been…well, the word that comes to mind is…“captivating”.

As I finalize the first edition of the script this weekend, I thought I’d share with you some of the ideas that inform this particular telling of this primal story:

1. The story is rhythmic. Looking at the biblical text closely, we discover the story of creation comes to us in three sets of three cadences. Like so…


It has the feel of music, with “seven” as a grand finale.

2.  “God dances. Before the world was made, God was dancing.”

3.  The creation story continues.

4. Men and women are royal; they are different and the same. Humans display God’s glory, especially when we “hold hands”. When we divide, it is harder for us to see God’s glory.

5. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all involved in creating.

6. “God created light in color and there is color because of light. Without light, we would have no color; and without color there would be no light.”

7. Some of the objects are painted; some are made of chalkboard—we add the color to them.

8. “We do not rest one day in order to work six days; we work six days so we can rest One Day.”

9. adam means “from the ground”.

10. The story is related through a balance of word, silence, gesture, and participative action. Multiple methods of communication will enable different kinds of people to enter into the story.

11. Certain visual patterns are repeated in this telling of the story so as to help those viewing the story make links we don’t usually make when simply reading the biblical text.

12.  Everything that has been created is in God.

There is much more to write, but this gives you a flavor for what’s in store—and the above thoughts are still “rough drafts”.  There will be more polishing to come! That said, I am convinced there is something in this story for everyone, whether young or old. And I am convinced it will help us live into the play of God. I’m absolutely thrilled to unveil it this weekend.

Feel free to write me if you are interested to find out more. As I develop the materials, I am making them in such a way that I can duplicate them so others can have the stories, too.


05 September 2013

Learning From Failure?

I’m keenly interested in how people change and grow, how we learn—how ever-new ideas pop into our heads and nudge us to meaningful action.

As I think back over my forty-three years of life so far, I can point to specific instances when I can identify: “I learned _____________ at that time.”

Some of the events that proved formative were situations of failure. It has been said, “We learn more by our failures than by our successes.”

Hm. I’m not so sure about that. Though learning from my failings has played a role in my own formation, I would not go so far to say that failure has been the chief learning catalyst. I suppose what one does with failure—how one responds to failure—has more to do with learning than with the failure itself. At PlayFull, we believe the openness to learn is more formative than the “given circumstances” that provide the opportunity for learning. Think of openness as a context we create that trumps the context of failure. It is this kind of openness that enables one to laugh at oneself, to not take oneself too seriously. If we can “get over ourselves”, we can more easily learn. This attitude forms the crux of a life lived playfully.

One of my mentors, Jay Sensenig, and his wife Carolyn say this is “why smart people are sometimes the slowest learners.” If we think we already know it all, we close ourselves off to innumerable possibilities for growth and change.

Laugh at yourself now and then. It’s good for you!


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04 September 2013

It's Football Season!

Hilarious Hump Day Humor: it's our tradition at PlayFull. Enjoy...(With thanks to PlayFull Lekker Liker Victoria Stembokas Davis for passing this along)

Admit it, you laughed. So give us a like on Facebook, yo!

03 September 2013

How To Survive The First Day Of School

For many kids in the United States, today is THE DAY: the much-anticipated dreaded first day of school. No matter where you're from the many feelings that accompany the start of a new school year seem to be universal. In this short video, some Italian children offer playful advice on what it takes to get the new school year off to a great start.

Some of my favorites:
-A boy on relating to teachers: "To become a teacher's friend, you need to be fun."

-A girl on...boys: "I had two worksheets left to glue and I had finished my glue. I asked a boy if I could borrow his, and what did he do? He put it into his mouth."

-A boy on making friends: "To comfort a child, first of all you need to ask him if he wants to play with you, if he needs help."

Wise words. Enjoy!

To keep up with daily, uplifting content like PlayFull on Facebook.

02 September 2013

01 September 2013

Sabbath: "A Palace In Time"

I have something in mind
or, rather, in my mind’s eye.

It’s a place, I’m told, of perfection
or, rather, a time

when nothing more is needed
because everything is given

and never fades.

In the past, I have thought
of this idea as a place—

like a building, or room; a tree or a meadow;
the river’s edge or front porch.

I have come close
to finding it in space

but then it fades.

When It becomes She
and I look for Her in time (not space)

I find Her in the future—
which is to say, in hope

 when laws change to lyrics
and singers rest in songs

that never fade.

Sabbath: "A Palace in Time"
By Troy Cady