The Joy List; Mourning to Dancing
Ever regret something you said? Have you wanted to avoid someone of pre-judge them before you knew them, but once you learned more about them, you regretted how you may have treated them or felt like you had missed an opportunity to know someone amazing? We all have lots of regrets. Worrying about the future causes anxiety, but ruminating about the past can often leads to either anger or depression.
While I certainly believe that God is close to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:8), God is with us through our heartaches, including, if not especially when we grieve the loss of someone important to us- it seems that Jesus wasn’t just talking about death and loss. He was explaining that some of the most joyful people are people with consciences.
Oh sure, sometimes it feels like it would be better not to feel. It seems like people without a conscience (sociopaths and narcissists) must have it pretty good. They don’t care about other people’s feelings, they just do and say whatever they want without caring about how it effects (or affects) others. I know I often wonder if I’d be more successful if I just didn’t care.
But how an anyone like that genuinely experience real joy, not just temporary happiness? What they think is contentment is really callousness. What’s worse than hatred? Indifference. These are people that use people and love things, instead of loving people and using things.
They aren’t reflective. They don’t reflect on the things they say and do or who. Maybe because they wouldn’t like what they see. In literature and mythology vampires are creatures that suck the life energy out of others. One of the ways to recognize a vampire, is that they don’t have reflections. Powerful, seductive, even seemingly impervious, but dead. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually dead.
Jesus is telling us that while it’s true that if we live our lives with empathy and compassion, we’re certain to get hurt sometimes, often because we’re selfish and short-sighted human beings so we end up hurting others. That’s called guilt.
It’s important to understand the difference between guilt and shame. Shame destroys but guilt drives us to rebuild. Guilt & shame both make us want to de-construct, but shame is hopeless & helpless, it’s fatalistic and doesn’t want to rebuild, it wants to burn it all down and abandon it. Guilt doesn’t have to be permanent- it’s regret, it’s willing to take responsibility so that you can rebuild, revise, reform, retro-fit and resume being useful.
As much as I hate being trite or cliché, maybe some corny, cheesy kitsch will help. On the one “hand, hurt people hurt people,” and we’ve all been hurt at sometime or another. And “you always hurt the ones you love, the ones you shouldn’t love at all.” Right? And as the Tin Woodsman said in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ “now I know I have a heart, because it’s breaking.”
Mourning over grief- hurting about hurt you’ve caused is proof that you both care about others and are reflective, responsible and mature. You’re not a vampire.
Having a conscience means that you care about people besides yourself and that you are reflective & aware. It means you have standards of decency & respect other people’s rights & boundaries. It doesn’t mean that you have to live in constant shame or self-hatred.
Apologizing or making amends restores relationship. Being humble enough to admit you were wrong builds trust, it doesn’t make you look weak or inferior. That’s universal, even secular. You might even call this “Restorative Justice” on the personal, individual level.
Saying you’re sorry and trying to make amends is a way to be kind. Kindness always brings joy.
Now, if you think of yourself as Christian, think about this- “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” I John 1:9.
Be honest about it when you hurt people and both you & they can heal.
Deny it and you’ll probably just keep hurting more people.
The Joy List; Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
I think the King James said “Blessed are the poor,” but I’ve tried hard to read through at least half of the versions of the Bible found on BibleGateway.com and pretty much most of them don’t just say “poor,” they say “poor in spirit.”
I remember that when I first heard a version in church say “poor in spirit,” I worried that some wealthy person had changed it or something. Since I’m not a member of the clergy and therefore can’t read Greek or Aramaic, I searched as many different translations as I could, including Eugene Petersen’s paraphrase, the Message, because I really wanted to dig into what Jesus was really getting at. RSV, NIV, NKJV, ESV, Oxford, New American- they all talk about being poor in spirit.
I knew God doesn’t dislike the poor. There are estimates that the Bible mentions the poor or poverty anywhere from at least 178, to 300, to as many as 2,000 times. Obviously God wants us to help the poor. After, the Beatitudes, later in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), Jesus says that if someone asks to borrow your coat, give them the coat of your back. And of course in Matthew 25 He tells us to feed the hungry, clothe the needy and visit those in prison.
So what the heck does it mean to be “poor-in-spirit” and why the hell would that be a GOOD thing?
I appreciated the way that the Amplified Bible clarifies things sometimes. It’s like reading with a dictionary and thesaurus by your side. Being “spiritually poor” is the opposite of having a “puffed-up spirit.” In Matt 16 Jesus warns his disciples about the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees and Sadducees. He seems to be really angry about their hypocrisy of wanting to be honored and treated special in Matt 23 and Luke 14.
This makes me think that to be poor in spirit simply means to be humble, to not go around thinking you’re the boss all the time. It’s sort of the opposite of being narcissistic. Is it just me, or have we been having to deal with a lot of narcissistic, sociopathic, self-centered, entitled and bossy selfish people in the world lately?
So how do we make sure we’re aren’t one of the artificially puffed-up people with inflated egos? How can we take a vow of spiritual poverty? How about if we try to connect with people instead of trying to control everyone. Choose a life about love, not about power. As John the Baptist said in John 3:30 “He must become greater; I must become less.” I believe that God is god and I am not.
Being “Christ like” is pretty antithetical to how many supposed “Christians” act these days.
Love, joy, peace, patience, & kindness aren’t just ends in themselves, they are means to the end of building community. What do you think? Is Jesus on to something?
When Jesus said that His kingdom is not of this world, He meant His way of doing things isn’t the way the world does things; Jesus does things through connection, rather than control. The power of love, as opposed to the love of power. Try it, I dare you. #beattitudes #sermononthemount #kingdomoflove #thejoylist #joy
The Joy List; Invitation
A “prosperity-theology” take on what I’l like to blog about this Summer might be to “manifest prosperity.” But that would be selfish and shallow. Another, maybe not churchy angle might be using the law of attraction to bring about happiness and contentment. But for me, that still seems kind of self-centered or immature.
I’d like to look at something anchored in love and that will build relationships and community, not just “actualize” personal peace. What I want to think about and maybe even begin a discussion about will involve wrestling and reflection and maybe even doubt and struggle and emotional and intellectual work- but I don’t want it to devolve into just a self-help practice for self improvement in a secular/philosophical sense or a new kind of piety and purity practice or “works-righteousness” in a theological/religious sense.
I want to keep it real, genuine, authentic, honest, and basically “raw.”
I want to talk to seekers and thinkers, people open to conversation and exploration of philosophy and “spirituality” and basically being human. But I don’t want to hide or water-down my background and faith tradition to do that. But I also don’t want to be judgy or preachy or bossy.
Meanwhile, I also really want to talk to my “fellow believers” in order to encourage them to reflect and reconsider and allow themselves to be vulnerable to conversation without being on the defensive, or rushing to correct every ambiguity or subjectivity.
Mahatma Gandhi lawyer, human rights activist and political founding father or modern India read from the Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5-7) nearly every morning and evening for over forty years. “Christ’s Sermon on the Mount fills me with bliss even today,” he said “Its sweet verses have even today the power to quench my agony of soul.”
Humorist and science fiction author Kurt Vonnegut, famously questioned why, if Americans so often talk about this being a “Christian nation,” so many courthouses and government buildings have monuments to the ten commandments (Exodus 20) and not the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12), after all, these are the very words of Jesus Christ, whereas the commandments come from the Mosaic books of the Jewish Bible.
We live in hard times. Inflation, high gas prices, political polarization, media saturation, school shootings, wars, international tension, the recent global pandemic, a resurgence of racism and antisemitism, stress, anxiety, depression, anger, drug abuse and suicide. Wouldn’t it be nice to find some bliss instead of so much angst?
To be honest, I don’t know whether the Sermon on the Mount is gonna be some kind of panacea. I’m cynical enough to bite my tongue when well meaning but perhaps inexperienced or just empathy-challenged Christians talk about how believing in Jesus made everything better.
Now, I’m also skeptical when non-Christians talk about the power of positive thinking or visualizing their goals or just making up their minds that they deserve better and that’s when things change.
But I also know that just “doom-scrolling” social media or channel surfing cable news (in or out of an echo chamber) certainly isn’t helping me cope or doing my mental health any good.
So, if you want to find out with me what this poor Palestinian preacher was telling people on a hillside why or how they can be blessed (religious jargon for happiness, health, joy, and/or good fortune), join me this Summer on a journey to (hopefully) bliss or beatification (or both?).
Talk to you soon.
I will try to post at least once a week, but I can get both impatient and busy (or lazy) so please be patient with me. Subscribe to this blog on WordPress if you want to be sure to be notified about updates. I hope you will participate in conversation in the comments, but please keep it civil, I reserve the right to delete, block or report trolls.
7 Dirtiest Words
UNPOPULAR OPINIONS? Call me hypersensitive or prude or soft or a “libtard” or any name you want.
I saw a stranger with an “F Your Feelings” sweatshirt in a convenience store today- actually it was kind of cleaned up because instead of the 4-letter interjection, it featured a stick figure thrusting it’s pelvis against the letter Y in the word “your.” You get the idea. I’m sorry, but this is why we’re so screwed as a society right now (pun totally intended).
Left or right, religious or secular- we’re selfish & insensitive. We don’t give an f-bomb about anyone but ourselves and our team/tribe anymore. I guess I’m an outlier because I believe in transformation rather than transaction. People over possessions, process over product and especially the power of love over a love of power. If this makes me radical or sinister, I guess I’ll have to live with that.
No One Listens
A secular 21st century American view on Luke 16 :19-31
There was this rich real estate developer with long red ties, who liked to have his name on everything and who loved decorating with gold. He even had a gold toilet. Meanwhile, down in the entrance plaza of one of his opulent resort hotels, was a homeless guy named Larry. Larry had eczema and rheumatoid arthritis.
Everyone assumed that he had mental illness, though no one knew for sure if he had PTSD and TBI since he was a veteran, or if he had something like Bipolar or Schizophrenia or just some personality disorder. Most people were afraid to ask. They assumed that he’d refused treatment or would be dangerous if they approached him.
Truthfully, most people figured that he’s be an emotional and financial burden if they took the trouble to get to know him anyway, and they all hoped to avoid being entrapped in a vortex of awkward and volatile responsibility and guilt. Anyway, plenty of people suspected that Larry was addicted to drugs or alcohol and shared the worldview that one’s predicament in life was your own fault and responsibility.
Basically, his only friends were stray dogs in the city, most of whom were a little less hungry than Larry and for the most part treated better by the average passers by, especially tourists.
As you can guess, long story short, Larry was constantly hungry and begging for money or food and ultimately died and his corpse wound up being in simple wooden coffin, loaded onto a ferry by city workers and lowered into an unmarked trench along with thousands of other unidentified corpses on Hart Island, south of the Bronx.
Larry’s soul, on the other hand was gently and compassionately carried by angelic beings to the “other side” where he enjoyed the company of the one and only Santa Clause himself. After all, if you have faith of a child, you get to spend eternity as as a child.
As it turns out, the mighty marketing mogul had a massive coronary around the same time. He was buried on one of his many estates, with an expansive monument with his name on it in gold, marking his grave, overlooking the ninth green of one of his golf courses.
His soul however, wasn’t delivered to “the good place,” but instead, he found himself in the middle of what looked and felt like a horrific Hieronymus Bosch painting. Was this Hell? Was it Purgatory? Limbo? Hades? The underworld? A terrible dream? Another dimension? Who knows? The rich resort and casino owner didn’t know, all he knew was in torment.
He looked up and saw Santa cuddling child Larry under his arm. So he shouted up and asked him, “Father Christmas, tell that Larry character to bring me a Diet Coke, or at least a bottle of water- I’m dying in this fire down here.”
But the old elf answered him, “Sorry Kiddo, you had it pretty good during your lifetime, didn’t you? But for poor Larry here, life was pretty much a living hell, so now he’s finally finding comfort and solace and you’re finding out what it was like for all the people you used, abused, or, like Larry here, just plainly took for granted.”
“Besides,” said Saint Nicholas, “between you and us is a gap, an abyss that can’t be crossed.”
“I’m begging, please,” said the rich man, “send Larry as a ghost to my family, have him warn them, so that they don’d end up here like me!”
“Well,” said Santa while several of your family members are facing indictment, there’s at least a couple who wrote tell-all books about you so they can’t be all bad… well, at least unless they’re just doing it for the money. “
“Say, look.” said Nicholas, looking the rich man straight in the eyes, “Didn’t any of them every watch ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ or how about ‘A Christmas Carol?’ Let them pull them up on Netflix. If those don’t make you reflect on shallow, crass consumerism, feel some empathy and compassion for the less fortunate and maybe even hit ya in the gut with a bit of good old fashioned guilt over your white privilege, I don’t know what will. That closing scene with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed chokes me up every time I see it.”
“No,” said the rich man, “this is a really busy time of year with parties and media appearances. I don’t think any of my kids watch anything older than 10 years, except maybe ‘Home Alone 2,’ that thing’s a classic.”
“So, not even ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’? Man, that kid Linus doesn’t pull any punches.”
“No, but look,” said the rich man, “a ghost would really do it, if somebody came back from the dead, that’ll really get them to change their ways.”
`”Dude, that Charles Dickens stuff has been around for almost a couple hundred years. It’s not like practically every TV sitcom hasn’t done a version of it. Heck, Bill Murray milked it for at least two movies! Love people, use things, not vice versa. How hard is that? Appreciate all the blessings you have instead of wanting what everyone else has and preventing everybody else from getting as much as you already have. Family and community and helping others is not just more important but more rewarding than power and prominence. It’s not rocket surgery.”
“Just one haunting,” begged the rich man, “maybe appear in a dream or two?”
“If they won’t listen to Frank Capra, Charles Schultz, or Bill Murray, what makes you think they’ll listen to the ghost of an unknown homeless guy?”
“Let’s face it, prophets, rabbis, sages and philosophers have been speaking and writing and writing songs and making art for millennia. They talk till they’re blue in the face and people still think that money, power, popularity and their own entertainment is more important than simple kindness and gentle patience.”
“Take it from an old Turk. People selling toy commercials have been using my likeness to preach faith, hope, family, community and generosity are more important than decorations or gifts.”
“If they haven’t listened to Doctor Seuss or Hallmark Channel rom coms, do you really think they’re going to listen to someone who raises from the dead?”
“Even people who say that they believe in people raising from the dead, don’t listen to them. Or hasn’t this past year made THAT painfully obvious?”
Coming Soon; Something Positive
I’m a hs cheerleading coach. A couple of years ago it dawned on me that just like the student athletes on our sports teams, our faculty and staff need occasional encouragement and morale boosts too.
Last year I sporadically emailed pithy quotes and inspirational wisdom to my fellow teachers. They seemed to like it, they even dubbed me “Doctor Joy,” their resident “Joyologist.”
Life got hectic that I haven’t kept it up. Lately I’ve noticed that morale has once again been faltering. So, I’ve decided to establish this blog as a place to post the positive. Feel free to copy & paste so that you can forward, or click whatever buttons you need to “share” any of these anywhere you like (in the interest of full-disclosure, that’s kind of how I find many of these anyway).
I totally dropped the ball. However, I also spent some time writing blog posts that were essentially a Bible study on the book of Philippians. Now… I’ve discovered self-publishing, so ‘Joyology’ will combine that Bible study with a variety of other reflections on gratitude, trying to nurture and support others, and struggling with depression and anxiety- which a lot of us can relate to these days.Watch this space for upcoming announcements about the book!
Don’t Look Down
Here’s something I wrote waaaay back in 2002. I keep it on my Cheer Coach’s Website. When I get negative or down, I need to remind myself of this.
Today’s lesson in church was from Hebrews 12:1-3 reminded me of the importance of focus and of allowing yourself to be encouraged by others.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
In other words, look straight ahead, keep your eye on the prize, trust your squad, and whatever you do, don’t look down.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, but cheerleaders learn it every year, usually in the searing heat and glare of the late summer sun at camp, long before the school year and the football season begin. The lesson is, Don’t look down. Put another way, attitude determines altitude.
Pilots know this. If you raise the aircraft’s nose up, the plane flies up. Cheerleaders have to learn this too; where your eyes go, your body tends to follow. If you look straight ahead at the crowd, you’ll keep your balance, look down, even for an instant, and your body will begin to lean.
Cheer is not the only sport in which this principle applies. A basketball shooter doesn’t watch the ball, to make a basket, they have to focus on the hoop. Golfers can try to follow their ball after they swing, but at that instant they follow through, they’d better be concentrating on where they want the ball to go if they want to avoid a wicked slice.
A few weeks ago PBS host Allan Alda talked to University of Arizona scientists about this on his show, Scientific American. It seems that whether it’s a tennis serve or a volleyball serve or a hunter after a pheasant, the principal is the same- where you look, there you go. Don’t look at the ball, look at where you want it to go, don’t look at the bird, aim at where you expect it to be the moment your shell reaches the same point in space.
If you don’t want to fall, don’t look down. Principles are things that can usually be applied in other areas of life. That’s why sports are good for kids, they learn valuable life lessons without even realizing it- a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.
Seems there have even been studies that suggest that while you’re walking down the street, if you tend to constantly be looking at the ground, your mood sours, whereas if you look up more, you’ll naturally become more upbeat, less tense, even happy. One theory is that when you look ahead or up, more light can make it into your eyes. In the fall and winter when days get short and clouds hide the sun or people stay inside all day, some people begin to suffer symptoms of what doctors call seasonal affective disorder (SAD). So looking up can literally, physiologically keep you “up.”
Let’s use our “don’t look down” principle as an analogy for other things.
Take people. If we expect the worse, they probably won’t disappoint us. If we’re critical of them or defensive toward them, they’ll treat us as we’ve treated them. If we look for even one good thing in them and appreciate it, we may even bring out the best in them.
Take politics. If a candidate focuses only on what’s wrong about his opponent, he or she only turns off the voter. America is fundamentally an optimistic place, voters want to know what the candidate’s hope and plans and qualifications are. Ever notice how when one person is looking up, everyone else starts looking up? We want to see what they see. “What is that? What are they looking at?” It’s compulsive. That’s leadership.
Take work. If you focus on how hard it is or how unpleasant, it only makes it more unpleasant. Time drags on when you watch the clock. If you focus on a goal or your accomplishments, it’s much easier.
Take business. If you focus on your obstacles, expenses or irate customers, you’re dooming yourself. If you focus on trying to build relationships, and on trying to provide your customers with what they want and need, you’re bound to succeed.
Take religion. There’s Law and Gospel, right? The Law shows us that this world is messed up because people are basically selfish and short sighted. What does that get us? It’s meant to humble us and make us realize that we need God. Great, but if we never stop focusing on how bad we are and how bad everybody is, we’ll never get on with living. The Gospel is the good news that God loves us even though we’re selfish and short-sighted. It shows us that He wants to have a relationship with us and He wants to help us be selfless and broaden our vision.
Take any problem we have or all of life for that matter. Take society in general. If we insist on always being critical or negative, where does that get us. Nowhere, stuck, stagnant, digging downward. But if we look forward or look up, guess what- we’ll at least stand firm and tall, at best, we’ll start moving forward.
Many a cheerleader who has the bruises to prove that “don’t look down” is one of the most important lessons anyone can ever learn.
Manifesto: Onward & Upward
“Look up, not down- Look out, not in- Look forward, not backward-
and lend a hand.”
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” -1 John 4:18
Which are you going to live by- control, top-down, authoritarian, law, secrecy, hierarchy, defensive, restrictive, reactive, critical, directive, etc.?
Or… community, bottom-up, open, progressive, egalitarian, transparent, proactive, positive, collaborative, inductive, supportive, encouraging?
I am tired of living with anxiety about disapproval. As a Christian, I want to live by Luther’s suggestion to “sin boldly.”
As an American I have an aversion to tyranny, but it’s not a selfish freedom from accountability and balance that I seek. I want a liberty that’s tempered by responsibility to others. The three-legged stool of democracy needs equality & justice too.
As an educator, I want to trust my students to Lenard and grow and fail. I want my classroom to be a safe place to take risks.
Hope must be vulnerable. Faith is not security. Love is not static, nor is it comfortable.
I will offend and threaten. I will make mistakes. I will be wrong.
But perseverance, tenacity, & resilience, indeed, character & faith, hope only develop through challenge.
Accuse me of reductionism or relativism if you want, but I choose joy over indignation, connection over control, humility over humiliation, hope over cynicism, pragmatism over pessimism, and above all love over fear.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” -FDR
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” -2 Timothy 1:7
Look for the best in others
“The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Goethe’s quote and Magritte’s painting, “Clairvoiance,” are really good reminders for teachers. In 1967 the New York Times reported on an experiment by Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal in which teachers were told before the year began that their (average) students were highly intelligent. Because of the teacher’s positive perceptions and higher expectations, their students performed better than they had in previous years and than other classes.
It’s not always easy to look past someone’s current appearance and behavior or their past, but a teacher’s job is to look for the best in every student. Like the artist in Magritte’s painting, we should see everyone for their potential. Frankly, if we all treated everyone this way, the world may just be a better place if we tried to see what people could be instead of seeing adversaries & obstacles.
How can we see our students for what they could be, not just for what they are or used to be? How can we see the wings inside the egg?
What would happen if you could see who your students could become, best case scenario? What if you kept that image in mind all school year? Even through their mistakes, failures, & challenging behaviors? Even on their bad days? What can you do to help yourself see them that way? How can you remind yourself to keep seeing them that way?