In 1986, Robert Fulghum, a minister and author, published a book of short essays entitled All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten. The title of the book is taken from the first essay in the volume and perhaps familiar to many of you, in which Fulghum lists lessons normally learned in kindergarten, simply explaining how the world would be a better place if adults just followed the same basic rules as children – sharing, being kind, saying “I’m Sorry,” living “a balanced life,” and learning.
In fact, when I was a principal, both at the middle school and high school level, I would tell students that I had just a few basic rules – rules which were not dissimilar to Fulghum’s edict: be kind in what you say an do, keep your hands to yourself, and if you have a problem, ask for help.
Over the past few months, it has become evident to me that we have failed to heed those simple lessons. There is certainly a harshness and meanness in the tone and tenor we see and hear every day. And perhaps that harshness, at least for me, was made even more pronounced when viewed against the backdrop of George H. W. Bush’s death and the examination of his legacy.
Jon Meacham, in eulogizing President Bush said, “His life code, as he said, was ‘Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course.’ And that was and is the most American of creeds. Abraham Lincoln’s ‘better angels of our nature’ and George H.W. Bush’s ‘thousand points of light”’ are companion verses in America’s national hymn. For Lincoln and Bush both called on us to choose the right over the convenient, to hope rather than to fear, and to heed not our worst impulses, but our best instincts.”
Fulghum’s kindergarten edict, Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature,” and Bush’s code obviously share a moral foundation, and I believe that foundation is Biblical in nature. We read in Luke 3, when John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing, “10 The crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” (Luke 3: 10 – CEB)
John the Baptist’s response and instructions were quite ordinary: share; be fair; do not be mean; be happy with what you have – enjoy the integrity in the ordinary things (an aspect of life Michelle DuBarry calls “the comfort of sturdy, unglamorous things . . .”).
As I get older and as I read the Bible more and more, I become so very convinced that the gospel message of love and redemption not only gives salvation but provides the answer, that when it comes to how we should live, all we really need to know is found in God’s word.
Consider Micah 6: 8 (KJV) – 8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
Consider the text of Christ’s sermon in his hometown of Nazareth as he began his public ministry: “The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me. He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken, announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners. God sent me to announce the year of his grace. . .” Isaiah 61: 1 – 2a (MSG)
Abraham Lincoln spoke of the better angels of our nature;” George H.W. Bush longed for a “kinder, gentler nation;” in my senior year in high school, Jackie DeShannon sang, “Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand. Put a little love in your heart . . . And the world will be a better place;” and Robert Fulghum urged us to be caring, but ultimately what I really know, what we really know, is the Spirit of God compels us to love.