5-star Ratings, Canada Geese, and Diet Dr. Pepper
I've been reading a book called "The Anthropocene Review" by John Green. You may know John for his wonderful novels: "Turtles all the way Down" and "The Fault in our Stars". In the beginning of this book John talks about the history of the 5-star review, a relatively new phenomenon largely due to Amazon. In reading this book, I don't think John is a big fan. He and his brother like to cruise the Amazon website for some of the more outrageous reviews. For instance, someone gave The Badlands of South Dakota just 1 star. Why? "Not enough mountain!" One of John's books was made into a movie and in the movie, there is a simple bench that appears in one or two scenes. In scouring the internet, his brother found over 100 reviews of, get this, the bench! One gave it 3 stars. Why not 5? "It's just a bench"!
On his podcast with the same name, John pokes fun of our obsession to put everything into a 5-star rating system by writing some reviews of his own...done with a gentle peppering of sarcasm. Two of my favorites are his review of the Canada goose, and diet Dr. Pepper. You can listen to them on here, on this podcast. Each is about 6 minutes long, but incredibly interesting. For instance, did you know that the Canada goose (not Canadian) was almost extinct in the early 20th century? And that Dr. Pepper is made of combining 24 different flavors of soda?
What I think John is getting at is that this new obsession to "rate" everything, in some ways gets in the way of actually living and experiencing life. When we are rating it, or videoing it, or vlogging it, we, in some ways, aren't really living it. When Jesus came by the Sea of Galilee and invited James and John to come follow him, they didn't have an app to check his ratings...they learned instead by following...by using their feet and hands and heart and actually doing it.
In the intro to this book, John shares this: "At the end of his life, the great picture book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak said on the NPR show Fresh Air, ‘I cry a lot because I miss people. I cry a lot because they die, and I can't stop them. They leave me, and I love them more." He said, "I'm finding out as I'm aging that I'm in love with the world." Green goes on to reflect upon Sendak's wisdom:
It has taken me all my life up to now to fall in love with the world, but I've started to feel it the last couple of years. To fall in love with the world isn't to ignore or overlook suffering, both human and otherwise. For me anyway, to fall in love with the world is to look up at the night sky and feel your mind swim before the beauty and the distance of the stars. It is to hold your children while they cry, to watch as the sycamore tree’s leaf out in June. When my breastbone starts to hurt, and my throat tightens, and tears well in my eyes, I want to look away from feeling. I want to deflect with irony, or anything else that will keep me from feeling directly. We all know how loving ends. But I want to fall in love with the world anyway, to let it crack me open. I want to feel what there is to feel while I am here. Sendak ended that interview with the last words he ever said in public: "Live your life. Live your life. Live your life." Here is my attempt to do so.
In the Christian year the new year begins not on January 1st, but on the first Sunday of Advent… November 28th this year. As we enter this new year, I wonder what our lives might be like if we put away our 5-star ratings, our public opinion polls, and our obsessive need for "critical review", and instead spent our time paying attention to the child crying in our arms, and the sycamore tree leafing out in June? What would happen if we stopped pointing our finger at and comparing everybody else's lives and things, and, instead, vowed to live, to follow the Christ in our heart? What would happen if we decided to live our life fully present to both the joys and sorrows that come our way.
And so, I start with the earliest new year’s resolution I’ve ever made: "This year I vow to live my life; to pay attention to what I pay attention to."
Your pastor and friend, giving this one a 3.7 (oops), Brook