I’m not going to change my sermon topic this morning. But I do want to hold up, for our concern, the tragic events in Arizona yesterday. It seems to me that more and more people are so very unhappy and desperate in their lives that they are driven to act in irrational ways, lashing out to inflict as much hurt as they can in a kind of illogical justice. May we be humbled by the ease with which these things – the tragedies at both ends of the gun – can happen to any of us.
There are many serious problems in our world, and even in our own lives. But it is also true (and equally a part of life) that there are many beautiful, exciting, awesome, and joyful things in our lives as well. Life is a balance, but often it can seem as if we shouldn’t even mention the good things, what with all the suffering going on. But, in my opinion, how else are we to endure that suffering? Today’s topic is, unfortunate in its timing, a lighthearted look at how our attitudes can affect our lives.
So, I am going to change moods now, which is not to say that the tragedies of life are not still heavy on our hearts.
Today we are discussing the intriguing question “Are You a Juicy Person?” This does not have anything to do with being the source of juicy news or gossip. Just to put your minds at ease… And the newspaper will not be here to capture you in your somewhat unusual wardrobe accessories.
We all understand that as we have grown into adulthood life has become more involved with sorrow, disappointment, and constant messages to grow up and be responsible. As my mentor of the day, Loretta LaRoche, would say “We have lost the succulence of our youth in exchange for some of the withering ways of adulthood, and some of us have become terminally serious.” (Juicy Living, Juicy Aging, p. 4-5)
Did you know that children laugh hundreds of times a day, and adults only 15 times, on average? (from her lecture)
Just what is a juicy person supposed to be? And are you, or could you possible learn to be, one?
Loretta LaRoche defines juicy people as people who wake each morning saying things to themselves like
I will create a magnificent day filled with divine people and amazing activities.
I delight everyone who knows me with my brilliance and good fortune.
My body and my mind are juicy and delicious.
I am filled with exuberance!
My life is a dazzling array of remarkable happenings.
My brain flourishes with succulent thoughts. (p. 67)
Welcome to a day about one kind of cure for the things that ail us.
My daughter-in-law, my mother, my granddaughter and I sat together for Loretta LaRoche’s performance this summer – we laughed so hard we were scrounging in our pockets for tissues to wipe away the tears. The next day my daughter-in-law and I paid to attend a master class taught by Loretta LaRoche, which would delve even deeper into some of the wisdom (and more humor) that this woman had to offer.
I wish I could bring you Ms LaRoche herself so you could enjoy her in person because, despite the props, I will not be able to recreate her special brand of humor and wisdom. Nor could I keep up her rather squeaky voice for a whole service.
Loretta LaRoche has been a stress management consultant for 30 years. She advocates, through her hilarious commentary, for humor, optimism and resiliency as coping mechanisms. She helps people turn stress into strength, and see themselves as the survivors of their own lives – that is, [as she puts it] to find the “bless in the mess.”
(adapted from the Juicy Living, Juicy Aging book jacket)
You may have seen her on PBS. She has a bumper sticker on her car that says “Stop Global Whining.” Loretta LaRoche is the author of several books including Life is Short – Wear Your Party Pants.
We know, and perhaps especially as Unitarian Universalists, that wisdom comes in many forms. We find it in the sacred texts of ancient peoples, and in the poetry and writings of people just like us making their way through life. We have found wisdom, often, through the humorous side of life. Laughing at ourselves is more than just a good chuckle.
I struggle, often, with how to balance our services, and my sermon topics. Serious, helpful, personal, angry. They are all necessary if what we do here is to truly represent all those aspects of being human that are worthy of our attention, and our intention. But joy and beauty and wonder – and the downright funny - are also equally worthy. We are made to laugh just as we are made to cry. A full – and I might add, real – life has it all.
Victor Frankl wrote “Humor is another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.” (Juicy Living, Juicy Aging, p. 143-144)
So today, as we begin a new year together, I want to offer you some wisdom in the form of fun. I have been inspired by Loretta LaRoche. Much of what I am sharing with you today is from my notes from her talks this past summer.
In her characteristically creative way Loretta LaRoche bemoans that we humans spend an awful lot of our time “catastrophizing and awfulizing” our lives. We practice the three “p”s of the pessimist: “it’s personal, it’s pervasive, and it’s permanent.” It always happens to me. It always rains when I have a day off. It’s going to be like this forever…. There is no hope. I have been there – how about you?
But we have the power to make it otherwise. We are certainly capable of thinking in a way that literally withers our bodies and our spirit, or we can live with a different kind of attitude Loretta LaRoche calls “juicy.”
I remember, writes Loretta LaRoche in her book Juicy Living, Juicy Aging, going to the market with my grandmother and watching how she always had to squeeze the fruit, insisting that it was the only way to tell if it was ripe with flavor and juice. It if felt hard or scaly, she’d throw it back. Don’t we all love biting into a piece of fruit that spurts and squirts and may even spritz juice on those around us? (p. 4)
Since hearing her speak I have felt like Loretta LaRoche must be some kind of genetic relative because I resonate so much with what she says. I too want to spend my days with every cell in my body talking to every other cell saying “Whoopee!”
When someone asks you how you are, how do you answer? Most of us say something like “Fine” or “Not bad” or “Could be Better.” Our attitude is clearly “It is what it is.”
But what if we used language in our lives that brought forth other, more positive, emotions? Like “I feel exuberant” or “I am very remarkable today” or “I am moist and succulent.” “I am vibrant and endearing and delicious, and a beautiful person.” What a difference these words might make, to our own attitudes and maybe others’ too. Sure these words are a little exaggerated, or maybe not depending on the day, but you get the idea.
At some point in her talk, Loretta LaRoche has each person in the audience (congregation) look at someone next to them, and on the count of three say something positive about themselves to the other person. Like, “I feel succulent today,” for example. Let’s try it. Turn to someone next to you (let’s try to include everyone if we can) and think of something really juicy to say about yourself this morning. OK, 1,2,3.
Remember that old game “Made you laugh?” Gotcha.
So, I have another little exercise for us this morning. On the back of your order of service, some of you have a word that has been printed in the bottom corner. Some of these words are “withered” words and some of them are “juicy” words. I am pretty sure you will know which are which. If you have a word on your Order of Service could you please stand. Or give the job to someone else right around you if you would rather not have to stand or say your word out loud. I told my mother what I was going to have you do and she said she would immediately stuff her Order of Service under her chair.
Now, let’s start over here and just go around and say our words, making your body speak the same language as your word. “Used up.” “Exciting!” Let us know with your body language whether yours is a withering word or a juicy one?
Withered words: shriveled, desiccated, pruny, miserable, hopeless, pathetic, awful, gnarled, nasty, pitiful, senile, horrible, wrinkled, cranky, wasted, decrepit, stupid, dumb.
Juicy words: exuberance, flourishing, flaunt, flossy, moist, succulent, dewy, amazing, brilliant, charismatic, magnificent, divine, delicious, alluring, ardent, astronomical, decadent, delightful, dazzling, desirable, hearty, fortunate, flamboyant, flush, flounce, endear, vibrate, sumptuous, remarkable.
Just so you know – this was all done in a random manner, following on last week’s sermon, and there was absolutely no type casting.
About this list of words, LaRoche writes:
I realize that what I’m advocating isn’t a simple shift from ordinary language to a little over the top. I’m recommending way over the top because that might get you to the center. Why not give it a try? It’s definitely not easy since you’re accustomed to using a predictable vocabulary in everyday life, which relies on familiar, safe thoughts. But that doesn’t create new and exciting outcomes – it just generates the same old results.
Trust me, she says. This isn’t merely an exercise to make you appear [or feel] foolish or outrageous; instead it will not only beef up your emotional responses but will also increase your brainpower. As you age, continually challenge and engage yourself in new ways of being. Remember that you’re a veritable storehouse of thoughts, running 24 hours a day. You have the choice to use them or lose them. Isn’t that marvelous? (p. 68)
We have a choice about our attitude. Isn’t that marvelous? It’s scary too, since we know how hard it is to always keep our cool, or stay optimistic in the face of circumstances. But if we know what our intention is, Loretta LaRoche suggests that we try to remember to put our energy toward the direction of our intention.
Some of her pithy recommendations:
Smile before you pick up the phone.
Do not succumb to analysis paralysis.
Remember that scientists say even faking laughter gives our bodies the same good chemistry.
Fund research on joy. There is already too much being spent studying depression.
Tell your doctors that among all the questions they should be asking you should be “How often are you laughing?”
If love makes the world go ‘round, join the circle and dance.
We know that sometimes our genetics and our chemistry make it hard to be a consistently juicy person, or even a happy one. It often takes courage and a lot of self-love, and forgiveness, to be a happy person. But with practice, practice, practice, you might feel yourself changing into the person you would like to be.
May we try not to over analyze. May we try not to take ourselves too seriously.
Loretta LaRoche’s mother told her, as she began to get older, that she had “the furniture disease.” “What’s that, said Loretta. “The furniture disease? That’s when your chest falls into your drawers.”
Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery.
Today is a gift...that's why they call it the present.
This week, don't just have a good laugh...have a great one!