The Secret O’ Life

Call to worship

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something.  If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand Utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

– Howard Zinn

Reading – The Optimists Creed by Christian D Larson

Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.



A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the TV was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist. Just to see what would happen, at Christmas time their father loaded the pessimist’s room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist’s room he loaded with horse manure. That night the father passed by the pessimist’s room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly. “Why are you crying?” the father asked. “Because my friends will be jealous, I’ll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I’ll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken.” answered the pessimist twin. Passing the optimist twin’s room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. “What are you so happy about?” he asked. To which his optimist twin replied, “There’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

On the wall in my office I have a beautiful plaque with the Optimists Creed on it.  It was presented to my great grandfather C.H. Chapman who was at one point named National Optimist of the year.  I read the creed all the time and I always think, “there’s a service in there.” Then on a road trip with my wife I heard the James Taylor song, “The Secret ‘o Life” and I had the same thought, so I combined the ideas.

This morning I’ll talk to you briefly about optimism and share this choice that I made years ago.  It is a choice, optimism; and not an easy choice.  We live in the same world, we read the same news.  Pessimism is the easy choice, it’s easy to see the wrong in everything, to gloss over the good and stare at the bad. To walk out of a music service and say, “I really liked all the songs but we sure don’t pay that guy to give sermons.”

We all know these people, right?  People who say “I just saw one of the best movies I’ve seen in years but you’ll never believe how terrible this girl’s haircut was.” or “I went to a wedding this weekend, it was really beautiful but, can you believe it, cash bar! ugh”  or tell you Les Mis was the best filmed musical of all time and then spend 25 minutes talking about Russel Crowe.

Optimists will say things like, “I saw a movie and it was ok, but the acting was great.”  “The wedding as a whole was a mess but the couple was really happy and in love.”  It’s not what we see, it’s what we focus on AND what we choose to share with those around us.

I like the line in the Creed “To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.”

Optimism is for me, it makes me feel good, but a big part of that is that it makes those around me feel good.  Some days I smile when I don’t really feel like it and on that day, maybe somebody needs that smile.

There’s a certain vulnerability in optimism.  You have to be willing to open your heart and try things and sometimes they fail. But we can choose to see failure differently.  You can be crushed and retreat or you can spread your arms wide and say, “how fascinating!” and then either try it again or try something else, equipped with new knowledge.

Writer Vera Nazerian said this:

“People who are too optimistic seem annoying. This is an unfortunate misinterpretation of what an optimist really is.

An optimist is neither naive, nor blind to the facts, nor in denial of grim reality. An optimist believes in the optimal usage of all options available, no matter how limited. As such, an optimist always sees the big picture. How else to keep track of all the great stuff that’s out there? An optimist is simply a proactive realist.

An idealist focuses only on the best aspects of all things (sometimes in detriment to reality); an optimist strives to find an effective solution. A pessimist sees limited or no choices in dark times; an optimist makes choices.

When bobbing for apples, an idealist endlessly reaches for the best apple, a pessimist settles for the first one within reach, while an optimist drains the barrel, fishes out all the apples and makes pie.

Annoying? Yes. But, oh-so tasty!”

In January both choirs went up to the mountain and I gave a little homily called “Big Stupid Crazy Ideas.”  This homily in a nutshell explained why we were preparing a 75 minute major work in German with orchestra that, at the time, felt way beyond our capabilities.

The sermon boiled down to big stupid ideas aren’t so stupid if you really believe in them.  Then they become a road to growth and a road to something magnificent.  Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”

I love the optimists creed and I fail at it every day.  I’m not always strong enough that nothing can disturb my peace of mind.  I’m not always too large for worry, too noble for anger or too strong for fear, but I try.  I really try.  It’s a high bar and I don’t cross it but striving for it feels good.

You heard in the Howard Zinn quote earlier, “The future is an infinite succession of presents,”  In every present moment there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of things to focus on.  Optimism is not a grand formula or a “secret”  it’s just a choice.

Choosing to focus on the good little things instead of the bad little things.  Choosing to promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.  Choosing Kindness over Cynicism and hope over fear.  Sharing a smile, sharing your sunshine. Enjoying golden moments.  That, I believe, is the secret of life.