Playfulness: A Theological Quest

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Your’s Truly performing with “The Fabulous Edsels,” with John, one of the group. (Photo courtesy of Pam Atkins Photography)

Playfulness does not come naturally to me. To give you some background, I was voted “Most Responsible” in my senior class at Colerain High School in Cincinnati. Did you ever hear of such a category?? (One of our sons was voted “Best Legs for a Guy,” so it seems like the categories are wide-open!). Anyway, when I tell people I was voted “Most Responsible,” I then ask them if they know how to spell ‘responsible.’ I reply, “It’s spelled b-o-r-i-n-g!”

Part of my playfulness-deficit is my personality. I want to “get things right.” I like order, efficiency and effectiveness. I start a meeting on time, follow the agenda, and end on time. (Now you get it, right? Boring…). Of course, these characteristics are valuable and greatly appreciated—most of the time. But it’s just wrong to live every moment by an agenda!

In addition to my personal inclination, however, much of my seriousness has roots in my theology. I take very seriously (of course!) the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). I want to use the gifts and opportunities God has given me faithfully. I truly yearn to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). But I have failed to take into account Jesus’ humor in presenting the image of a camel passing through the eye of a needle. And the miracle of Jesus changing water into wine. And Jesus welcoming the children in spite of serious adult objections.

What I’m learning is that I need a theology of play. It’s right up there with the necessity of having a theology of rest. A better way to say this is that a truly biblical theology includes play and rest along with faithful stewardship (and many other topics).

Many of us lead driven lives. We are driven to do all we can; driven to make the most of every opportunity; driven to succeed. But following Jesus is about a “called life,” not a driven one. We are called to “maximize life” (to quote my personal two-word life mission). We are not called, however, to do so at the expense of our souls, our self-care and our relationships. Playfulness, enjoyment, and fun are part of life.

“There is a time for everything,

    and a season for every activity under the heavens…

   a time to weep and a time to laugh,

          a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4 NIV)

Or, as I would paraphrase it now, “a time to be serious and a time to have some fun!”

The photo above was taken this past weekend when I played in a “cover band” (a band that plays other artists’ songs) at our church’s “Fall Festival.” Our band’s name is “The Fabulous Edsels” (in contrast to a well-known band, “The Fabulous Thunderbirds”). The brothers in this band (my band of brothers!) are among those the Lord has brought into my life to help me learn to have fun.

As I look back, I can see that many people have taken me on as a sort of project to help me lighten up. My wife, Sarah, most of all! She is so playful. Her sense of wonder for life brings me joy daily. But the challenge has been my “bad” (inadequate) theology. My theology has not made enough room for fun, for relaxation, for “wasting time.” And I need to correct that.

I am breaking free from the “utilitarian spell” that everything I do has be useful, spiritual, significant. It’s not that usefulness and responsibility are inappropriate. It’s more about the proper proportion and perspective.

I don’t have time to develop my theology of playfulness in the post—but I’ve taken the first step: realizing playfulness is part of the grace-full life God provided in creation and promises in Christ.

(P.S. The ponytail is part of the hat!)

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