(c) Doug Slagle, Minister to the Gathering at Northern Hills, All Rights Reserved
Some of you may have read the Biblical stories about the life of King David. Whether the stories are myth or true, that doesn’t matter. What’s important are the remarkable lessons from his life. He was a young man who fell in love with his best friend Jonathon – the son of King Saul. It was a friendship that even the Bible describes as closer than that between a woman and man.
As a young teen, David was also precocious and cocky. He claimed to be able to take on the strongest soldier Israel’s enemy had – a warrior named Goliath. David was about 13 or 14, skinny and weighing probably 100 pounds. Goliath was about 25, muscular, 7 feet or more tall, and weighing perhaps 250 pounds. And David impetuously boasted he could fight him and win – which he did. He used his cunning to beat Goliath without hand to hand combat. After he beat Goliath, he became an instant hero who in his late teens was made King of Israel.
And with even greater cockiness, David then led an army to defeat all of Israel’s enemies – people who hated Jews. After the victory, David returned to Jerusalem for a huge parade. He was in his prime – lean, strong, handsome, successful, rich, and unmarried. He knew young women (and perhaps some young men) swooned over him.
And so instead of marching in the parade in his uniform, he stripped down to his tunic – a short linen garment that served as underwear – and he wore that. He then proceeded not to march but to dance, whirl, and spin along the streets of the Jerusalem. It goes without saying that people of the time were mesmerized by the heroic young king. David knew that and relished in it.
And so his arrogance continued. While his army went off to fight some more battles, David stayed behind. And he soon caught sight of a beautiful woman, Bathsheeba, who every evening went to her rooftop patio to bathe. One evening evening, David saw her bathing and he was immediately in lust. He went to her and even after finding out she was married, he had his way with her and fell in love. He then conspired to have her husband, a captain in his army, assigned to the front lines of battle where he was killed. David essentially murdered him so he could have Bathsheeba.
And then his troubles began. People soon caught on to his arrogance and treachery. Jewish political enemies began to conspire against him and raised armies to fight him. David was forced to flee with his army and he even ended up hiding in caves to avoid defeat. He remained King, but he was deeply affected by the change in his fame and fortune. He was now scorned instead idolized. Seeking redemption, David realized and admitted his selfish, arrogant and murderous ways. He began to search his soul and resolve to be a better man. In many ways, David finally grew up.
And it was after his change of ways that he supposedly wrote many of the Biblical Psalms which are about dealing with life challenges and changing one’s inner flaws and misdeeds. In a modern translation of Psalm 131, after David had changed his arrogant ways, he allegedly wrote:
I’m no longer trying to rule the roost,
I don’t want to be king of the mountain.
I haven’t meddled where I have no business
or fantasized grandiose plans.
I’ve kept my feet on the ground,
I’ve cultivated a quiet heart.
Like a baby content in its mother’s arms,
my soul is a baby content.
This Psalm, more than any other, indicates David’s awareness of his failures as a young man and King. He believed that many of the positive youthful qualities others admired in him – courage, playfulness, persistence, and imagination – allowed him to also be arrogant, impulsive, selfish and lacking in self-control. Ultimately, what Psalm 131 indicates is that David finally understood the difference between the good attributes of being childlike, and the negative attributes of being childish.
And that, in a nutshell, is my lesson for today with the message title “It’s OK to not to act our age.” For anyone aged 1 to 100, it’s good, healthy and fun to be childlike in ways that David was – curious, playful, and willing to take risks.
But for any person of any age, it’s almost never good, healthy or right to act childish in ways that David also was – selfish, cocky, and impetuous.
In other words, for any of us – young, middle aged, or a senior, it’s OK not to act our age. It’s healthy to live according to my theme this month to have fun. In other words, it’s good to be childlike. But it’s not good to be childish.
Last week, my message asked “Are We Having Fun Yet?” And I said we should! Being more fun loving is a necessary attitude for our survival. Yes, we deal with serious challenges in life and must address them responsibly. But the stress on our bodies and minds can be too much. Just this past Friday the New York Times highlighted a study indicating stress is the cause of a number of chronic and often deadly diseases. It’s essential we find ways to reduce stress. One way is that our brains are wired to help us reduce stress by occasionally flooding our bodies with a hormone, dopamine, to counteract anxiety, worry, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and elevated heart rates. Dopamine, however, is only released when we experience pleasure and that often comes when we laugh, play, recreate, goof-off and have plain old fun. We should not be so serious and instead be more playful.
And David lived a life that often exemplified that attitude. He had fun. He enjoyed dancing, romance, and good times with friends. He was, in many ways childlike, perhaps so he could handle the many serious responsibilities he faced as King.
The stories of David appear in the Old Testament, but the New Testament endorses the lessons of his life. Jesus admonished adults who who tried to banish children from his presence. The greatness of children, he taught, is that they are playful, full of wonder, and pure of heart – and adults should be much more like them.
But my message this week also points out the negative side of not acting in ways appropriate for any person, of any age. David was childish in thinking he could do and have whatever he wanted. He was an adult who had never grown out of being a spoiled brat.
That underlines my theme. It’s important for to be playful and have fun and not act our age. That’s both OK and good.
It may be surprising to hear, but as serious as I can often be, I enjoy occasionally letting my hair down and having what I think is childlike fun with Keith and friends. I occasionally go to a dance club in Florida where I let loose, dance with abandon, and sadly prove – without caring at all – that I have no rhythm.
Every month here in Cincinnati I also enjoy going to what is called a Sunday Tea Dance. Tea Dances originated in the 1970’s for the LGBTQ community to spend a few hours on Sunday afternoons dancing, having a drink or two, and feeling safe in a diverse assembly of straight, lesbian, gay, female, male, young, old, black, and white friends. Two Proctor and Gamble executives renewed that tradition here in Cincinnati about a year ago. The parties are now extremely popular, free of charge, open to everyone, and attracting between 400 and 1000 people each month. There is one today at 4:00 PM at the Freedom Center.
The sad thing for me is that a few well-meaning but judgmental people tsk-tsk what I, Keith, and my similarly aged friends do. “Act your age!” is what they tell me. “Nobody over thirty should be in a dance club rocking and rolling and acting silly.”
And that kind of ageism happens to many seniors. “You’re too old to do that job” or “You’re too old to go back to school” or “Slow down and act your age – and not your shoe size” or “You should retire and just fade away.”
Equally as concerning is what many young people are told in much the same – but opposite way. “You’re too young to drive” or “You’re too young to have responsibility” or “You’re not mature and wise enough to be taken seriously.”
There is in our culture a judgmental attitude towards people of any age that they should act according to a stereotype of how people their age supposedly should act. But the question is, just how should a 20, 40, 60 or 80 year old act?
Millennials are mocked for supposedly being immature and self-focused. Those over 60 are marginalized for supposedly being technologically inept, set in their ways, weak, infirm, and worst of all – living reminders that death awaits us all. Ageism – for people of any age – seems to be the one form of discrimination that is rarely rebuked.
What we need, as the title of my message suggests, is an attitude that it’s OK NOT to act our numerical age!
In that regard, I leave you with a few suggestions on how to be more childlike.
Be present and live in the moment – much like a child. Children don’t have much of a past and they don’t care about the future. They embrace the joy of right now.
Be creative and imaginative. We should each find something creative to do – draw, paint, sculpt, bake, write, cook, plant.
Get outdoors. I believe there is nothing so elemental, primal and youthful as exulting in a walk, a hike, a swim, or quietly observing and listening to nature.
Be in awe and ask lots and lots of questions. This should come easy for Unitarian Universalists. We admit we don’t have answers to life’s great questions and so we are open minded and accepting of all. Albert Einstein said it best, “Those who can no longer pause to wonder and stand in rapt awe are as good as dead…”
Take risks. Be vulnerable. Change yourself once in a while. I think it’s healthy to be adventurous, try new foods, change your hairstyle, or the clothing style you regularly wear.
Be romantic. I’ll elaborate on this next week, but adult physical intimacy and consensual touch is fun, healthy, and spiritual – no matter our age.
Most of all, we should heed the lesson of King David – the dangers of being childish, but the goodness of not acting our age and always being childlike.
As a follow-up, take a look at this video about never acting our age…