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November 13, 2015


As I write this blog post, I am sitting in our kitchen.  Our Golden Retriever, a one-year-old puppy, is playing with three “squeaky” tennis balls.  She carries two in her mouth, and with every bite, another squeak fills the room.  With two balls in her mouth, she paws the third around the room like a skilled soccer player.  Her play appears to have no purpose other than the joy of playing.

Last weekend, 22 Grace Men found their way up to the Heartwood Retreat Center for our annual Grace Men’s Retreat. Our theme centered around play. In talking about our childhood, all of us remembered being “free range children”— on long summer days the only parental instruction was “come home for supper.” We were free to play, free to roam, free to create and build and imagine. We noted that even though there were some exceptions, most children today do not enjoy that kind of freedom.

The professional educators in our midst reflected on children and play and our educational systems, and we learned what was for most of us a new word, “neoteny.”  Kindergarten teacher Steve Abenth introduced us to Stuart Brown, the founder of the National Institute of Play, and to neoteny.  As Brown puts it, “You may not know this word, but it should be your biological first name and last name. Because neoteny means the retention of immature qualities into adulthood. And we are, by physical anthropologists, by many, many studies, the most neotenous, the most youthful, the most flexible, the most plastic of all creatures. And therefore, the most playful. And this gives us a leg up on adaptability.”  Of course, there can be some negative connotations to the “retention of immature qualities,” but the ability to play, to be adaptable, to experience the simple joy of playing for no other purpose than having fun, of experiencing the joy of 3-dimensional play, has all kinds of positive and creative implications for humanity.

The question, of course, is do we play?  We who are adults…do we play, or have we given away, have we lost, the ability to play?  And if we do experience the joy of play, is it reserved for a few hours in a few days of vacation? 

These questions about play and neoteny are in my brain as I read Lynne Twist’s book, “The Soul of Money,” our Grace Reads November book.  Twist believes that the most damaging myth to humanity and all of creation is the myth of scarcity, and scarcity’s toxic “sub-myths”: “there’s not enough, more is better, and that’s just the way it is.”  When we believe these lies, we find ways to justify deep economic disparities, we discount entire groups of people, and finally, we accept a posture of helplessness.

And so I wonder, is there a connection between our believing the myth of scarcity and our lack of play? 

When I think of my childhood, and playing with my friends in our 10 square mile playground on the prairie of North Dakota, we had all we needed.  We had the earth, the sky, the sun, each other…and the joy of simply being together, playing.  We experienced sufficiency, and life was good.  What are the connections?

And what is the connection between all of this, and our faith, our understanding of God?

What do you think?
Pastor Dan

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