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Sermon on Human Flourishing

 In telling the story of his awakening Confucius said, and I paraphrase, “At 15, I set my heart on learning.  At 30, I planted my feet firmly in day to day living.  At 40, I no longer suffered from uncertainty.  At 50, I knew what made my heart sing.  At 60, I knew equanimity.  At 70, I became an authentic person of no fixed position.”

Confucius lived masterfully.  In sitting down to tell the story of my life, I discovered that there were six spiritual disciplines of human flourishing that had guided me to my own awakening.  Like Confucius I could say at 15, I set my heart on learning.  At 30, I planted my feet firmly in day to day living.   At 40, I far less often suffered from uncertainty.  At 50, I knew what made my heart sing.  At 60, I finally discovered equanimity.  So now I seek to grow in wisdom and understanding into my seventies.

For me, the first and foundational spiritual discipline was resiliency.  Let me tell you a story about how I developed resiliency at the age of six:

Ranger Elementary School was a small, aging brick building that served kids from the poorer side of Tiverton. It faced Stafford Road, the main street on that side of town, with a parking lot on one side and a large, grassy playground on the other side and behind the school. Written in stone over the main entrance door, the school motto said: “We do things because they are right, not because we are being watched.” And that was the spirit of the place, with a proud claim to righteousness and relatively little monitoring of each child’s behavior.

The teachers were not particularly well educated, and most had similarly low expectations for their students. However, it played a major role in our socialization process. Behaving appropriately was generally held in higher esteem than displays of intelligence. Being respectable was far more important than being good.

Beginning in first grade, I discovered the boys played marbles at recess. I didn’t know how to play. Marbles cost money. No one was allowed to play unless you played for keepsies, where the loser must give his marbles to the winner. This felt like a form of gambling. And even if you won, you could still lose your marbles. If they spilled onto the floor, the teacher would confiscate them and give them to the janitor.

Accumulating marbles was a risk, but having no marbles was a disaster. Many boys bought bags of fifty shiny marbles for one dollar per bag at the local variety store. For those who didn’t have that kind of money or couldn’t get it from their allowance or their parents, it was possible to buy three shiny new marbles for a dime. As a last resort for the truly destitute six-year-old, the janitor was willing to resell any used marbles gathered from the classroom floor for a penny apiece.

So everybody could afford to play, except me. I was still in debt due to that broken egg timer, [but that’s another story] so no marbles for me. I had no money, not even a penny, and knew better than to ask my mom or dad for gambling money. I couldn’t afford to play marbles. Yet I had to play! I knew I could be good at it. If only I could find a way to escape my poverty long enough to accumulate some marbles!

I didn’t want poverty to define me. At Ranger Elementary, everyone looked down on the Sherblom kids as poor. Our house was always dirty, overcrowded, and in a state of disrepair, with six-inch nails protruding from unfinished interior walls. As the fifth child in this large family, my clothes were mostly hand-me-downs. Many of these were cheap clothes when they were new, and all of them showed signs of wear and tear. Marbles felt like my destiny. My older brothers were too focused on other things to play marbles. This would be my proving ground and would become my domain. I became absurdly focused on this quest.

One day coming out to recess, I found a marble lying at the edge of the grass. Someone had forgotten it or dropped it running for the bell. Now I had my chance. I chose to play one of the smaller boys, Paul. Paul shot his marble and won. Again I felt doomed to no money and no marbles. But Paul lent me a marble to keep playing. This time, I won.

By the end of recess, I had played dozens of games and miraculously had won more than I lost. I went triumphantly back to class with two warm marbles nestled in my pocket.Every recess thereafter, I played, and every recess, I got better. I brought an intensity and focus few could bring to marbles. By spring, I was the best marble player on the playground. This is my earliest remembered experience of being in the zone, concentrating completely, and everything feeling right. I loved it! This sense of mastering the universe is highly addictive.

My marble collection grew to several hundred marbles. I began to sell them back to the other boys at two marbles for a penny, undercutting the janitor by half and virtually eliminating any competition from the variety store. Because my prices were the best in town, everybody bought marbles from me. Most days after school, my pockets bulged with marbles and increasingly with money. Now I had some spending money, so I began to buy my own used books at a nickel or dime each. I no longer thought of myself as poor. [Because] I had resources.

By the end of third grade, it was no longer cool to play marbles at recess. But by then, I’d spent some of my newfound wealth buying social status, tithed 10 percent to the church, opened a bank account with $18 from marble sales, plus gave over three thousand marbles to my younger brothers. My sense of the possible skyrocketed! I was an entrepreneur. I had a facility for money making, understanding how money works, and making my way in the world. In short, I had a facility for success.

Much I would later accomplish in life took root in those playground victories. I would never underestimate the power of focused intent and awareness [ever again].

For the rest of the sermon follow this link:

This entry was posted in: Audacity


Rev. Dr. Jim Sherblom is a transcendentalist, author, mystic, theologian, entrepreneur, social impact investor, company creator and spiritual seeker. Jim holds a BA from Yale, an MBA from Harvard, and Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Andover Newton.

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