A Time to…Play?

a photo of Chaplain, Captain Philip Stewart

A Time to…Play?

DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --

It’s Spring, the weather is turning warmer, and its Resiliency season, so it’s the time of year to get out and do fun things. We have a lot of opportunities here in the Southwest, and a lot of organized things here through our units and base programs. But why is the Chaplain writing this month about getting people out, together, and having fun? Building community and doing things together are usually connected – because play is actually one of the fundamental things that makes culture happen. Getting together with your friends, your flight, or your whole squadron to do something fun isn’t something extra to waste time, and in fact, it’s the opposite – without meaningful play together, we won’t have a shared culture.

Playing, having fun, stepping outside of the daily reality and engaging each other, is what links together the identity of the individual and our openness to the world of possibility with the shared space of meaning that we enter into with others. You can’t play the game if you don’t follow the rules, but you also can’t be forced to play – it is a voluntary step into another type of space. So when we agree to step outside of the normal way of life and follow the rules of a game together, we engage imaginatively with each other and are “set apart” from everyday life. Dutch historian Johann Huizinga writes that “the feeling of being ‘apart together’ in an exceptional situation, of sharing something important…retains its magic beyond the duration of the individual game.”

We see this everywhere that the “daily rules” don’t apply – the playground, the judge in the courtroom in robes, the ceremony and rite with special movements and uniforms, the priest or rabbi or other leader in their ceremonial gear. Belonging to a community, making a community, is about taking time to be distinct, connected to one another and apart from the rest of the everyday world. Connecting to each other happens due to shared experiences, and shared experiences happen when we share a world of meaning and value. When we enter into that shared world, and agree on values, we build the basis of a shared world of values that we live every day – that what we do is worthwhile, that we as members of this community matter, and that we matter to each other.

The theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg writes that “…play is the organizing center of the shared human world and of its unity.” Taking the opportunity to get to know each other in having fun together, well, that’s a whole lot more than “not working.” Play, then, is intensely spiritual as well as social and mental (and depending on what you’re doing, physical). This is true for your family board game night, your squadron event, your game of cards with friends, and you basketball or football league. Humans build culture, and build community, by meaningful play-interactions with each other. We build community by stepping out of the everyday and into the shared world of the playground, the field, the ceremony, or the place of worship. 

So get out there and build some community with your family and loved ones, with your friends, and yes, even at work. Get out there, and have some fun.