Sermon at Valley Mills Friends Meeting.
Reading Ecclesiastes 7:15-23
When I last visited with you, I was able to visit the adult Sunday school class. That week, we spoke of the power of words, and how important it is for us to control our speech so that we can protect others. I also learned that this week, the class would look into the importance of not giving words undue power over our own lives. While I was considering what to share with you, I realized that Ecclesiastes offers this very advice.
Ecclesiastes is not exactly your sermon `go-to’ book. When I look up hymns that go with passages, there are none to be found. Perhaps, this is because I can summarize the whole book as follows: If you seek meaning in life through wealth, you will find disappointment. If you seek meaning in life through power, you will find disappointment. If you seek meaning in life through the approval of others, you will find disappointment. No matter what you accomplish, none of it will matter when you are dead.
This is not the message people want to hear in our society: That the things we work so hard for do not really matter in the end. Even our Christian culture too often wants to put a positive spin on everything. We avoid the whole book of Ecclesiastes. We also avoid the 1/3 of the Psalms which are Psalms of utter despair. Thing is disappointment is part of scripture just as it is part of our human life.
I want to focus on the disappointment we get when we try to find meaning through the acceptance and praise of others. Words hurt us because we care what others think. Caring is good, letting someone else determine our personal value is not. This is easy to say, yet I seriously doubt if we follow this advice. I propose that one reason we face disappointment in life is that we are like Charlie Brown listening to Lucy.
When we think of Charlie Brown, the words we might remember are “Wishy-washy” and “Blockhead”. We may remember how he is depicted as losing yet another baseball game or failing to gather enough courage to even speak to the cute red-headed girl. In the musical “You’re a good man Charlie Brown“, Lucy describes Charlie Brown to her brother Linus this way:
Now Linus, I want you to take a good look at Charlie Brown’s face. Would you please hold still a minute, Charlie Brown, I want Linus to study your face. Now, this is what you call a Failure Face, Linus. Notice how it has failure written all over it. Study it carefully, Linus. You rarely see such a good example. Notice the deep lines, the dull, vacant look in the eyes. Yes, I would say this is one of the finest examples of a Failure Face that you’re liable to see for a long while.
These words describe the Charlie Brown we all see. These words are repeated by other members of Charlie Brown’s social circle, and they are repeated by Charlie Brown himself. Perhaps the loudest voice that he hears when he is alone with his thoughts is the words of disapproval from his friend Lucy. Charlie Brown works very hard to win her approval, and is disappointed day after day.
The thing is, I don’t personally think that Charlie Brown had any reason to feel like he was a loser. I feel like the comics, the productions, and the animated features depicted a greatly distorted view of what has happened. Everything is shown through the lens of disappointment. Failures are exaggerated, and the numerous successes required to get to this point occur off screen.
Case and point is the utter failure of the baseball team. There are many occasions where the team is described as being “this one game from the championship”. “You are a good man Charlie Brown” depicts Charlie Brown leading the team to the championship, only to lose by a single run. The baseball team had to be better than any team I had played on to preform so well, yet second place is not enough to make Lucy happy. Losing the championship is by one run is the same, emotionally as losing every single game.
In the 1969 animated movie, “A boy named Charlie Brown“, Charlie Brown manages, with much hard work, to win his school spelling bee, and advance through regional and state, until he travels to Washington D.C. to compete in the national spelling bee. He then manages to get 2nd place, misspelling the word: “Beagle” on national television.
We see, over the 50 years Peanuts has been with us (1950-2000) that Charlie Brown is depicted as a musician, as the person consistently chosen to plan and organize events. He is, for some reason, selected as his team’s manager. His peer group may see him as a loser, yet he’s the only one who seems to compete beyond his peer group. Honestly, his peer group seems to know enough to consistently choose him for positions that require actual leadership as opposed to an empty charisma. He proves he is not the best, just competitive. Like all who are competitive, he just competes until he’s competing with people who are better. (If you never lose, its because you never compete.)
As far as I can tell, the only power Lucy has is to make other people feel inferior. Charlie Brown works hard, and does well, but never well enough to impress Lucy. I fear that she finds her self worth by bringing others down below her. Charlie Brown gets the worst from her, because she is jealous. Unlike Charlie Brown, Lucy has never been in a position to get second place — unless, being the worst player on their baseball team counts. Lucy’s power is that she managed to take joy out of any accomplishment by turning it into another opportunity to fail.
Imagine how much different Peanuts would be if Charlie Brown took the advice in in Ecclesiastes: “Do not pay attention to everything people say, or you might hear your servant cursing you.” Imagine Peanuts where you see a jealous and crabby Lucy, but you see Charlie Brown and his friend Linus celebrating all the won baseball games that lead to the chance to play in the championship game. Imagine if they could get excited, rather than angry about a strong personal showing at the spelling bee. What would it be if Charlie Brown found joy in the effort, and his accomplishments rather than trying so hard to please a person who would never stoop to saying something nice?
Here is the disappointment: When we look for our self worth in the opinions of another person, we are inviting a feeling of worthlessness. Charlie Brown will never know the level of accomplishments he achieves, because the thing that he tries hardest to achieve — Lucy’s approval is never going to be given. The failure face was painted onto Charlie Brown’s face as he listened to Lucy’s words.
Now as we enter our traditional period of silence, I’d like to leave you with two questions to consider:
- How do I keep my Lucy from stealing my joy, and writing my story?
- Am I careful to avoid being Lucy to somebody else?