Reflections on Life and Jesus
Life can be characterized in so many ways. For example: “it’s what happens to you when you are making other plans.” Or, “life is an onion we peel crying.” Another quote which is rather somber is: “life never gives like it takes away.” I’m sure there is a truth in each one of these sayings. However, I want to suggest that “while there are no dress rehearsals in life”; life is really improvisation. It’s how we react to what we are given or what we face.
I’m reminded of this again when I saw the commencement address to the graduates of North Western University by the comedian/satirical newscaster, Stephen Cobert. He (a Roman Catholic) made an interesting point when he said, “life is an improvisation.” I’ve had the pleasure of going to various theaters that deal with improvisation. For example, in San Francisco there used to be an improvisation group called “The Committee.” In Chicago, there was “Second City” where of course a lot of famous people got their start and then graduated to Saturday Night Live.
Improvisation is an interesting term. It basically means that you have to make up things as you go along. This is another way to characterize life. The following is a quote from Cobert’s speech:
After I graduated from here, I moved down to Chicago and did improv. Now there are very few rules to improvisation, but one of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is. And if they are the most important people in the scene, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them . . . . You cannot “win” improv.
And life is an improvisation. You have no idea what’s going to happen next, and you are mostly just making things up as you go along. And like improv, you cannot win your life.
The more I thought about what he said, the more I began to agree that there is much of life that comes at us and we have to react to it. Even when we aggressively pursue things, we enter into situations that require us to respond to people, places and circumstances. The secret is knowing how to respond. This is where our faith gives us a lot of guidance. Whatever you are trying to achieve, the whole picture of life is not about you – it’s about how you respond to others. Cobert’s point about making others look good has a lot of validity. Successful lives are lives where we park our ego at the door and begin to see a bigger picture – the lives of our family, our friends and our community/world.
While we don’t know what is always ahead of us – a marriage, a baby, a change in careers, moving to a new community or even issues that involve health, we are called upon to respond.
Faith puts us on the road and hope keeps us there. Cobert borrowed a page from Jesus’ gospel that talked about service. Jesus once said, “no one can serve two masters.” He also said to his disciples, “I’m among you as one who serves.” Cobert interprets it this way:
In my experience, you will truly serve only what you love, because, as the prophet says, service is love made visible.
If you love friends, you will serve your friends.If you love community, you will serve your community.If you love money, you will serve your money. And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself. And you will have only yourself. So no more winning. Instead, try to love others and serve others, and hopefully find those who love and serve you in return.
This is not bad advice. In fact it is good advice not just for graduates of North Western or any college. It’s good advice for us too – Cobert isn’t fooling anyone when he gives this advice. It’s straight out of the New Testament and it’s the life that Jesus modeled for all of us.
Not all of life is improvisation, but much of it involves making the right choices and trying to serve others along the way. However in the end, we can agree with Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa who says, “I’ve read the book and I know how it ends.” By this he means, for the Christian in the end there is resurrection. There is good news from the graveyard and death doesn’t have the final word. This part of life is not improvised, it is there for us in faith to trust!