In a commentary posted March 24 on Religion News Service, writer Jonathan Merritt boils down the focus of Christian author/professor Leonard Sweet’s new book: “pleasing God doesn’t have to be such hard work. It should be fun.”
For Merritt’s review of “The Well-Played Life,” he interviewed Sweet about the arguments he makes about how Christianity has gotten way off track. According to Sweet, he reports, “the faithful should unclench our teeth, loosen our grips, and actually experience God’s pleasure in us.”
Sweet says that Christians today are better followers of the Pharisees than Christ. Our guiding principle these days, he explains, is more like “Come unto me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you….more work.” He even goes so far as to say that being a Christian disciple in today’s world is almost like being “sentenced to hard labor,” since we’ve totally lost sight of the Hebrew understanding of life as “Shabbat Shalom.”
Speaking of Hebrew understandings, if one goes back to the original Creation stories, Sweet says, “the first time we meet God, God is down and dirty, playing in the dirt, making mud pies, getting God’s hands dirty and wet, [while] fashioning us in the divine image for the sheer pleasure of our company.” In other words, God’s “mud pies” ultimately become the human race, for out of dust we came!
“Creation is not God at work,” Sweet adds, “but God at play.”
Sweet is not the first to advocate a more joyous approach to the faith. The Fellowship of Merry Christians has been doing it for years! They’ve even tried to spread the understanding of the Easter resurrection as God’s greatest practical joke of all time, conquering fear and raising Jesus from the dead. (To go along with that philosophy, they also promote the week following Easter as “holy humor week,” akin to the Russian Christian tradition, in which parishioners even play jokes on one another.)
Sweet sums it all up when he says, “We need to learn to play at life again. All beauty, artistry, and excellence comes out of a play paradigm, not a work paradigm. When you work at something, whether it be life or relationships, sports or art, you’re forcing something to be rigid and mechanical that should be natural and pleasurable.”
“When you’re forced to work at the piano you never want to do it,” Sweet explains. “It becomes an annoyance in your life. [But] when you discover the joy of playing the piano, your practice becomes your passion, and you never want to stop.”
So becoming more like a child, a joyful and playful child, is how Sweet envisions the church reclaiming its original direction.
There was a reason those earliest Christian followers were often described as joyous. “Look at those Christians,” people would say. “They’re always happy!” That’s certainly what’s missing in today’s faith, in this Examiner writer’s opinion.