The interview with Cooper Nelson was delightful, in that way that Lulu Garcia-Navarro has with almost everyone she talks with, and is worth listening to. What I liked the most, though, was the question she asked at the conclusion of the segment: “What advice do you have for other journalists?”
Nelson didn’t hesitate. “Don’t give up, try your hardest, and make it fun,” he said.
If I had to summarize the ideals I aim for in my ministry, in my work as a shepherd, and in fact in all of life, these three principles would be at the top. To hear them from the mouth of a nine-year-old certainly got my attention.
“Don’t give up.” In UCC speak this could be translated, “God is still speaking.” In my ministry and shepherding worlds, though, and probably in Nelson’s journalist world as well, it does not mean stubbornly insisting on pushing forward in the same direction no matter what. It means hanging in there when things don’t go as expected, staying faithful and flexible, sometimes stepping back and looking at the situation from a whole different perspective. “Don’t give up” might even, sooner or later, mean giving up. That is, giving up the “same old way” of doing a thing so I can actually get somewhere. Anyone who has tried to find a lost lamb on a rainy night, or to walk with a friend through a difficult time, gets the “don’t give up” part of Nelson’s advice. I would suggest that all of us dealing with this global pandemic year get it too.
“Try your hardest” This one actually sounds exhausting, until I remember that in UCC speak it is all about “grace.” I believe we’re each doing the best we can, and none of us is doing anything perfectly. I am not a perfect shepherd, I am not a perfect pastor, I am not a perfect person. But I do try. I try hard. And in the end, when my “try hard” strength gives out, I am always, always, met by God’s strength, God’s grace and God’s love.
“Have fun.” This has been a favorite principle of mine for most of my life. I remember about five years ago sitting in a circle with a dozen other west coast pastors, sharing what passions shape our ministries. I heard my colleagues talk about their work for justice, their love of people, their energy for preaching. When my turn came, I said “I am a pastor because it is fun.”
Everyone there was surprised, and one colleague in particular was aghast. “Come on,” she said. “You can’t be serious. I don’t think you’re that shallow.”
In retrospect, perhaps I should have used the word “joy.” I do what I do because it feels worthwhile, even when it is difficult. I do what I do because even at the end of the hardest days, there is a thread of contentment. As a shepherd, as a pastor, and as a person I delight in life. All of that is fun. All of that is joyful.
So there you go. Advice from a nine-year-old that resonates with a sixty-nine-year-old.
And then Nelson, good journalist that he is, asked the award winning Garcia-Navarro the same question back. “What advice would you give a young journalist?”
I don’t know her age, but it certainly she is somewhere in between nine and sixty nine. I think she, like me, was genuinely taken by the advice she had just heard. “Everything you’ve already said, Cooper.” Then she added, “Doing something that you really enjoy with people you like.”
And those words resonate too. It’s what I get to do every day.