Unfinished Joy

THE SECRET: THE LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS

UNFINISHED JOY

PHILIPPIANS 1:1-18

Daniel Tiger

Due to Technical difficulties we don’t have any audio for this sermon

In the youtube video Tigger and Eeyore the Minnie adventures of Winnie the Pooh , the famous children’s book characters Tigger and Eeyore  are wandering deep in the hundred acre woods. They are trying to capture a mysterious creature called the Baxon. Tigger, a happy orange Tiger, who bounces around on his spring loaded tail, has the idea that having two of him would be far better for catching the Baxon than just one of him. So he bounces up to his friend Eeyore, a slow moving and low energy donkey with a fake tale that is tacked on with a nail. Tigger says to Eeyore, “Buddy if you are going to pounce you got to have some bounce! We just got to get you tiggerized!” In the next scene we see Tigger bouncing around with Eeyore on his shoulders. Eeyore is clearly not amused. Tigger is singing, “By the time were through I am going to be Tigger one you’ll be Tigger two. It’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be great.” Tigger drops Eeyore off at a tree house and then proceeds to get a can full of paint and a paint brush so he can paint Eeyore with Tigger stripes. As he is painting Eeyore it is clear from Eeyore’s expression that he is not enjoying the experience. But Tigger is oblivious to the fact that his friend is not having any fun. He is too wrapped up in himself. As Tigger paints Eeyore he continues to sing, “ We’re going to be two palls hunting in the woods. We’re going to show that Baxon we got the goods. It’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be great!!!!” As he is being painted with Tigger stripes Eeyore mumbles, “ well I’m not sure….” Tigger interrupts Eeyore before he can finish what he is saying. Tigger finds a Jake in the box lying around the tree house. He tears it apart to find the spring in the toy. Tigger takes the spring over to Eeyore and sticks the spring on Eeyore’s but to give Eeyore a spring tale like himself. All the while he is singing, “ Stop that gloomy rumination all you need is a little bit of tiggerization!” Tigger tries to teach Eeyore to bounce with his new spring tale. Contrary to Tigger’s predictions things don’t go that great. Eeyore falls down a hill, hits several trees, and gets beat up when Tigger pretends to be the Baxon and challenges Eeyore to a wrestling match. In the commotion Eeyore and Tigger end up bouncing into a deep, dark, and dirty, hole in the ground, that piglet has dug to catch the Baxon.  At the end of the video Eeyore declares, “ I rather stay an Eeyore.” Tigger replies, “ I thought you like being a Tigger?” Eeyore replies, “ The most wonderful thing about Tiggers is you’re the only one.” Tigger replies, “oh shucks I am speechless!”. He proceeds to hug Eeyore. The narrator of the story chimes in, “ And for the first time anyone could remember Tigger was in fact speechless.  That wouldn’t last long. Nor would his friends want it to. All in this took place in a place called the hundred acre wood.”

Conflict between Tigger and Eeyore personality types are common in our world. Gretchen Rubbin, author of The Happiness Project, says this about the conflict between Tigger and Eeyore personality types in a 2010 Psychology today article,Happiness has a surprisingly mixed reputation. Some people believe — wrongly — that happiness correlates with stupidity or self-absorption. Some people believe — wrongly — that others are generally attracted to unhappiness in others. When I talk to people about these assumptions about happiness, I sometimes get a response that puzzles me. People say, “True, it’s no fun to be around someone who’s in the dumps all the time. But it’s also annoying to be around someone who’s unfailingly cheerful and chirpy, a Pollyanna who refuses ever to acknowledge that the glass is half-empty or to be realistic about things.”

Rubbin, in thinking about the Tigger/ Eeyore dynamic had a bit of an epiphany which I found insightful. Rubbin says this, “Then, it dawned on me — and here’s what may be a big insight — perhaps the Tigger emerges in response to the Eeyore, and vice versa. To offset the Eeyore’s complaining, downbeat, and pessimistic attitude, the Tigger becomes ever more bouncy and insistently cheery. And of course, in a frustrating cycle, the Eeyore feels the need to interject some realism and bite into the situation. Which drives the Tigger to take an ever more upbeat attitude.”

Rubbin suggests some ways to resolve this negative cycle. To quote Rubbin, “This dynamics demonstrates the importance of the resolution to Acknowledge the reality of other people’s feelings. If Tiggers insist, “Hey, it’s not that bad,” or “There’s no point in worrying about it,” or “Look on the bright side!” Eeyores feel all the more emphatic on insisting on the correctness of their attitude. The more Eeyores say, “Life isn’t fair,” “It’s best to be prepared for the worst,” and “You’re not facing reality,” the more frantically Tiggers act as cheerleaders. Tigger and Eeyore feel increasingly frustrated by the one-sided attitude of the other — and increasingly determined to offset it. If Eeyore and Tigger could acknowledge the truth of each other’s feelings, they might slacken the tension.”

How do we move past this Tigger and Eeyore conflict? How do we move past unrealistic cheerfulness and uninspiring depression to receive abiding joy both for tiggers and eeyore’s?

 

The Good News. When we realize that we are an unfinished people we will appreciate unfinished joy. We become an unfinished people by;

  1. Praying that Love would abound with knowledge and discernment
  2. Knowing that we will be complete at the coming of Jesus Christ

 

First, we become an unfinished people by praying that love, knowledge, and discernment would abound. The Bible describes God as a good Father who can answer our prayers. He will not give us a scorpion if we ask for bread. But like any good parent God has veto power in answering our requests. But Paul tells us there is a prayer that God will always answer. That love would abound with knowledge and discernment. God is more than willing to increase the amount of love in our hearts and in our communities.

In explaining this prayer for the church at Philippi I found Robert G. Gromacki’s commentary, Standing United in Joy: An Exposition of Philippians to be helpful. To quote Gromacki, “ The imagery behind this verse is a river overflowing its banks during a flood. Love is the river, and its two banks which form its channel and direction are “knowledge” and “Judgment. Christian love must not be a stagnant pool or a slow moving trickle; rather it must be a ragging torrent.” ( Gromacki, 44).

Gromacki, goes on to say how knowledge and discernment work together to guide the ragging rapids of Christian love. To quote Gromacki, “ Even a raging river is moving toward a destination within  certain bounds. The two guidelines of genuine biblical love are now enumerated. First, it must be expressed in “knowledge”. This refers to a thorough, mental grasp of spiritual truth. He must” be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col 1:9). True love does not act in ignorance. A believer must know what and whom to love. Second, it must be in the “judgment”. True love must discriminate between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14), between important and unimportant issues (1 Cor 3:13-23). A believer must know how to love. Such love must reveal spiritual perception of divine beauty and worth.” (Gromacki, 45.) I am still a fairly young man but I have enough experience to know that the common phrase, “the heart wants what it wants” lacks knowledge and discernment. Christian love may overflow the banks, we may not allows color between the lines, but that doesn’t mean there are not lines. Those lines are spiritual knowledge, knowledge of the scriptures, and discernment, how to apply that knowledge in particular circumstances.

Second, we see that God will complete the work he began in us at the coming of Jesus Christ. While Paul tells us that God can do exceedingly, abundantly, more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21) he also says God will complete his work in us at the return of Christ. Since Christ has not returned we will always be in this life an unfinished sketch, an unfinished work. God does not promise us our best life now. He promises us that we can get better in this life and our best life in eternity. Thus part of having unfinished joy is managing our expectations. Often we expect too much of people and too little of God. We expect people to do the work that only God can do and we think God is not able to do what he says he can do. But even when we have high expectations of God we must acknowledge that the work he began in us may not be complete in this life.

As I was thinking of a story that demonstrated being an unfinished people who accept unfinished joy I thought of the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor. Won’t you be my neighbor tells the story of Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, and founder of the children’s T.V show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

 

The film opens up with Fred Rogers, as a young man playing a piano. He stops playing the piano and turns to the camera. “Come over a minute. I just had some ideas that I have been thinking about for quite a while about modulation. It seems to me that there are different themes in life. And one of my main jobs, it seems to me, is to help, through the mass media, for children, to help children through some of the difficult modulations of life. Because it is easy for instance to go from C to F. But there are some modulations that are not so easy. For instance to go from F to F sharp you have to weave through all sorts of things. And it seems to me if you got someone to help you as you weave…” Fred goes off onto a tangent. But the point is some transitions are hard to learn for children. I would say the same is true for adults as well, emotional skills can be hard for us to learn.

In my opinion Fred Rogers was a great example of love abounding with knowledge and discernment. To quote Fred in the film, “ Let’s take the gauntlet and make goodness attractive in this so called next millennium. That is the real job we have. I am not talking about pollyannaish sort of stuff. I am talking about down to earth actual goodness. People caring for each other. In a myriad of ways. Rather than people knocking each other off all the time. I don’t find that funny at all. What changes the world? The only thing that really changes the world is when someone gets the idea that love can abound and can be shared.”  Fred Rogers didn’t set out to change the world. He didn’t even start out with much of a plan for his T.V show. To quote Margie Whitmer, one of the producers of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, “ we had a director who once said to me if you take all of the elements that make good television and do the opposite you have Mr. Roger’s neighborhood. Low production values, simple set, an unlikely star. Yet, it worked, because he was saying something really important.” Fred presented his ministry, an unfinished product, full of unfinished joy, and that vision resonated with people.

I believe that Fred Rogers presented a vision of how to get past our Tigger and Eeyore conflicts and embrace unfinished joy with his tiger puppet character, Daniel Tiger.  When Fred first began his children’s television show they used free education films for children. The problem was the films were old. During one program the film broke. To fill the air time Fred took a Tiger puppet a friend had given him, popped it through the set background, and introduced the world to Daniel Tiger. As Fred’s wife pointed out in the documentary Daniel Tiger was pretty much Fred’s way of talking about his inner child. Fred was a very sick child and he was also overweight as a child. Daniel Tiger was a way for Fred to talk about the insecurities that had not really left him as an adult.  In one particularly memorable scene Daniel Tiger admits to Ms. Aberlin, one of his guests, that he feels too tame, that he feels like a fake, that he feels like a mistake. Lady Evelyn begins to sing a song about how Daniel is her friend and how she likes him just the way his is. But Daniel continues to express his doubt. They begin to sing a duet, Ms. Evelyn encouraging Daniel, Daniel expressing his doubt. One of the commentators in the film says this when she remembered that scene, “ thank you Fred for reminding us that it is not so easy to quiet a doubt. But make it a duet so it is not just your fears but you’ll hear my support.”  I find it amazing that Fred’s favorite phrase, “I like you just the way you are,” provoked such change in the children Fred worked with, with the adults Fred worked, and in my heart as I watched the film. Fred saw beauty in unfinished people and unfinished joy. People didn’t have to change. They didn’t have to do anything around him to be loved. And in this atmosphere of love hearts could be shaped to understand to receive knowledge and discernment so people could change if the wanted to.

If we can accept a T.V show with low production values can change the lives of children, who are unfinished people, perhaps we can accept that we the children of God are unfinished people as well. And when we accept that we are unfinished people love will abound in us and we will come to appreciate unfinished joy.

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