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Psalm 1, John 17:6-19 and Excerpts from The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers

Sunday May 16th, 2021

Good morning and thank you again for worshiping with us today, on what is in our tradition the seventh Sunday of Easter and a big huge day for us as a church. As of today, we are ready for the imperfect and perfect experience of coming together again in person outside on our site each week, while still reaching all of you on Zoom and on our livestream. With a monitor showing the livestream, sound on the Terrace, a lovely cover to minimize the sun.. That just seems miraculous on its own! And I feel deep gratitude for each and every one of you who have helped make this possible.

As we come to this time in the service, I invite you to let yourself breathe in, breathe out, to notice your heartbeat. As you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“Children’s play is not just kids’ stuff. Children’s play is rather the stuff of most future inventions.” Mr. Rogers was onto something it turns out because Albert Einstein is reported to have argued something similar when he said, “Play is the highest form of research.”

Play is not just fun. It is research.

The1962 journal called, “Childhood Education” published an article titled “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe where he argued that “All play is associated with intense thought activity and rapid intellectual growth.”

Play is a scientifically verified way to grow and to let our synapses make new connections. Some of you know that my husband, the Rev. Jeremy Nickel, a Unitarian Universalist minister and also founder and CEO of EvolVR has led the way in the creation of the world’s first sangha and spiritual community in virtual reality. I have been in awe of the process and how people have been hungry to find spiritual things in this new digital realm. To be clear, these are people from all over the world, with all different abilities and backgrounds, connecting in small groups and meditations and events, like dance parties and seminars, but in headsets and as avatars.

Separate from what Jeremy is doing, a big part of the virtual reality world I am now learning is games and new ones come out all of the time. The same game can be experienced on different kinds of headsets, at all different price points, but the game itself has to be modified to work in each format. And this process is called a playtest.

This is one of Jeremy’s favorite fun pastimes and for most of them, it is cool to receive an invitation to play. Because the playtest process is for those who are willing to help figure it out, before the final beautiful product is done. The playtest is the process by which a game designer tests out a new game for flaws or bugs in the design before releasing it to a bigger group and to the public market.

And there are different kinds of playtests. They can be "open" or "closed" or "beta", or something else. And they happen with all kinds of games- board games, collectible card games, video games and now virtual reality games. Play has become an essential part of not just quality control, but getting to something better, something more fun, something beyond even maybe what the game designer could have envisioned.

So if play is research, if play is inventing and is a scientifically verified way to grow and to let our synapses make new connections, then I think perhaps we are in a time where each of us are called to be playtesters. That’s what an individual involved in testing a game is referred to as. What I mean is that it seems we are in a new phase with the pandemic and we have invested a lot to have you who want to gather here, outside and we are renovating part of our building and starting the process of renovating our website and our vision statement and we are building the foundation for a new justice movement to reduce gun violence and the foundation for a new worship service and a new donation garden. What might be needed most right now is play, as if we are signing up to be playtesters for the sake of love, community, justice and joy. Play is about a lightness of spirit and fun, an openness to experimentation and failure, a willingness to play together and enjoy our way to new things.

This worship service itself is also in yet another experimental phase. Now that we are aiming to create a meaningful worship and fellowship experience for people off site and on site, we are experimenting with how to do that. For me, I found when I started to think about this and our other current endeavors, not as trying to figure out a plan that would work and more like an invitation to be a playtester, it made me smile instead of feel stressed. It made me curious instead of cautious. It made me eager to explore with all of you what fun we might have.

“Children’s play is not just kids’ stuff. Children’s play is rather the stuff of most future inventions.”

We will be hosting some chances to play after worship today and in worship this summer and I can’t wait to do that with you who are so moved. And as I reflect on the movement with our work on a gun buyback here in Boulder, and last night as Joyce and I joined the CO Poor People’s Campaign for a picnic and organizing, it is clear to me that sometimes the way to where we are going is fun anyway, joy, a lightness, a willingness to experiment and fail. This does mean taking risks and getting it wrong and trying things that don’t work. But that is how we find the flaws and remove the bugs.

How does the world look different if we are playtesters instead of strategizers? Of course there is time for both in life, but with so much uncertainty, it seems to me that playing could likely be more useful. And one thing is for sure, the first one sounds more filled with joy. And it seems to me that we could all use a little more joy right now.

I have always loved this one line from the Gospel of John. I am coming to you, and I say all of this to the world so that all may have my joy made complete. Joy made complete. Complete joy made. Complete joy. I think much of Christianity has prioritized judgment over joy, but we are meant to have joy!

How does the world look different if we are playtesters? Maybe more fun? I also think it means being more intentional about learning from our children and youth and allowing them to lead us. It means making space for the silly and the setbacks, for the disconnections and the interruptions that lead somewhere new.

As Mr. Rogers wrote, “Often when you think you're at the end of something, you're at the beginning of something else.” “I encourage you to look for the good where you are and embrace it.” Children’s play is the stuff of future inventions.”

Beloved of God, this is a season to let yourself play, to let that be a way for us to begin a new season together and maybe we will find our way to something beyond even maybe what the Great Game Designer could have envisioned. Play! May it be so. Amen.

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