Pastor Darian's Musings

Pastor Darian's Musings


The Gospel According to Phoebe: Telling the Truth

This is the second of a four-part series inspired by the TV show, Friends. While every character has their perks, the one who has taught me the most is Phoebe. Here is just one gospel lesson from her.

In the world of Friends, all you need are a guitar and an idea to become a musician. You don't really need to know how to play that guitar. And the songs you write don't have to make sense. If Phoebe Buffay can land a regular gig at a New York coffeehouse, you believe that all of us can, too.

Phoebe is the free-spirited massage therapist who keeps  patrons of Central Perk "entertained" with unconventional songs about smelly cats. In an episode that aired after the Super Bowl in 1996, Phoebe has a big break. A local librarian asks her to sing for a children's reading hour.

Phoebe composes some songs on kid-friendly topics: grandparents, making good choices, and barnyard animals. The music is catchy and simple, but the lyrics are more complex. The following song about a cow is a perfect example.

In Phoebe's world, songs about grandparents include aging and death. Songs about animals include what happens when they disappear from the farm. Songs about good choices include thoughts on dating and adult relationships.

The parents are not happy, and Phoebe finds herself back to the one gig at Central Perk. The forward-thinking and handsome librarian loves what Phoebe tries to do. He tells her that the kids love her because she tells them the truth. Of course, in the world of TV, he also kisses Phoebe and takes her on a date.

At the end of the episode, Phoebe steps up to a microphone when a little boy runs into the coffee shop. He yells, "Excuse me! Is this where the lady who tells the truth sings?" Phoebe waves and says, "Yes, that's me." The little boy runs back outside, whistles, and says, "She's in here! Come on!" All the kids from the library then run into Central Perk to listen to someone brave enough to tell them the truth in song.

Educating children is one of life's greatest challenges. We love their innocence, yet we don't want them to be naive. We want to protect them, yet we know that they sometimes have to learn life lessons the hard way.

I write to you, children,
Because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
Because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young people,
Because you are strong
And the word of God abides in you,
And you have overcome the evil one.

(I John 2:14, New Revised Standard Version)

The apostle, John, recognizes the different maturity levels of his readers. Some are more like children, some are more like parents, and some are more like young adults in the faith. He wants to teach all of them through this letter, but such instruction is a challenge. How much should he "water down," and how much should he say forthrightly?

In the Church, I think we're often guilty of watering down truth to the point of flooding. Like Phoebe's young listeners, we want to know more about the cow and the chicken than just what the song, "Old McDonald Had a Farm," taught. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut of reading the same Bible stories and talking about the same topics that we overlook deeper truths of God's Word.

If we listen closely to children, and if we truly pay attention to their questions, we may be able to gauge how much to say and when. There are no simple answers or timelines that work for everyone. Children often lead us in what to teach them and when--when we listen, when we pay attention.

Phoebe and the handsome librarian paid closer attention to the curiosity of her young fans than their parents. As a result, the children trusted her to tell them the truth in song. May our homes and churches be havens where children know they will both hear Truth and feel protected at the same time. May all of us as children of the Heavenly Father nurture a spirit of curiosity that keeps us learning and growing together in the Truth of his Word.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian


The Gospel According to Ross and Rachel: Waiting At the Gate

Dearly Beloved Readers: This is the first in a series of “gospel” reflections on the TV show, Friends. Even if you didn’t care for the show or have never seen it, I hope that you read along to seek the gospel in all kinds of media & art.

When I was a teenager, I would join thousands of other Americans at Central Perk every Thursday evening to learn from Ross, Monica, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe.

Twenty years after its premiere, and ten years after the series finale, the TV show, Friends, is one of those beloved worlds that many of us still enjoy visiting. I don’t remember if the friends ever went to church, but the Church could certainly learn a lot from them about community.

They laughed together and taught each other to laugh at their mistakes.

They got mad at each other.

They moved away from each other.

They reconciled with each other.

Friends reminded us that all relationships are complicated.

No matter how vehemently they disagreed with each other, they always returned to that one, rusty orange couch at Central Perk to recapture the unity of their community. They lived in a TV world where a waitress and an unemployed actor could amazingly afford expensive apartments in New York City. No matter how fictitious the circumstances, their community was real.

One of the best-known storylines was the relationship of Ross and Rachel. He liked her. She was oblivious. She liked him. He was oblivious. They finally start dating. They’re in love with each other. They break up. They’re still in love with each other. Repeat for multiple seasons.

One of my favorite scenes in that relationship is in the final episode of season 1. While Ross is on his way to China, Chandler accidentally tells Rachel that Ross is in love with her. After a lot of pacing, thinking, coffee drinking, and talking, Rachel heads to the airport to welcome Ross home. She pushes her way to the gate, and the show ends with her standing at the gate, holding a bouquet of flowers, and waiting for him.

That episode aired in 1995. In September of 2001, the way we greet one another at airports changed. After September 11, 2001, Rachel was no longer able to stand at the arrival gate to welcome Ross home. She had to join all of us on the outside of the security gates. We learned to live with new boundaries. We made changes for everyone’s safety.

Boundaries don’t cause us to love one another less. Rachel’s eagerness to see Ross would not have waned if she had to wait a few more minutes to see him. Boundaries are in place to protect us. Boundaries work for everyone’s well being.

When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:14-15, New Revised Standard Version)

Jesus was so present, so available, and so compassionate towards people that we overlook how wisely he set boundaries. In this story from John’s gospel, he knows that being made king was not the best plan for redeeming God’s people, so he pulled back. He protected himself, and he protected us. He didn’t love us less when he went “outside the gates” to pray. His love only increased.

Let us not be afraid of boundaries in our relationships. Instead, let us make health-full decisions in how we relate to one another. Let us learn from the example of Christ Jesus how to be the “friends” he called us to be.

all good things to each of you,
Pastor Darian