Posts Tagged joy

Gratitude Two: Family

Both of my children, Suzanne and Michael, were here this past weekend. As the banter bounced back and forth it took me back to years ago when their mother worried that if something happened to the two of us, those two would never speak to each other again. If only she knew how wrong she was and she was never wrong.

Christmas 2015 - Raven, Christopher, Carol, Suzanne, Joel, Mitch, Michael, Colin, Nancy, Christina

Christmas 2015 – Raven, Christopher, Carol, Suzanne, Joel, Mitch, Michael, Colin, Nancy, Christina

I know that when the two of them are together my life hangs in the balance. How many mothers can one guy have? On the other hand, how blessed can one father be? Their mother raised them well. They could not have had a better example. She was the light of our world. Still, the teenager in them manages to show itself.

Suzanne cooked and froze dinners for me. Michael changed light bulbs, moved furniture, etc. His own two children, now adults, engaged in the same behaviors as my two did as teenagers. Not to be outdone was Maggie, Nancy and Michael’s dog, who made herself right at home.

Suzanne’s son, Christopher, and wife Raven were here to make the circle complete almost. He was on his way back to Seattle where he is a submariner.

This house was filled with joy and laughter. For a little while we were able to forget the COVID pandemic and how it has devastated our world. We are family.

Tags: , , ,

When Your Life Loses Its Luster, Become a Child Again – ethicsdaily.com

What a message he spread for all to see. “I am happy and well cared for. The world is a beautiful and exciting place. I know everything is OK. I’m loved. See, here’s my rainbow.”

Robert is too young to have been taught the religious symbolism of the rainbow. He hasn’t studied the archetypes of Carl Jung, and yet his joyful creation is that of a rainbow.

This 2-year-old has it over the rest of us. His world is pure joy.

He cries when he falls. He laughs at whatever is funny and then he lets it go. He lets it go and then he is off on his next adventure. He is excited about everything. His walk around our block is awe-inspiring.

Robert’s world is pure joy. He has not studied at the foot of Richard Rohr to learn to be in the moment. He is in the moment – the here and now.

I would like to take a class with Robert, but I am too uptight to let loose and experience pure awe.

What if someone sees me drawing a rainbow in her or his driveway? She or he would call the nearest assisted living facility.

What if I stopped to marvel at a pebble or jumped for pure joy into a mud puddle? What if I giggled and ran after every neighborhood squirrel? What if I believed everything you said because you are all grown-up?

Robert doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know what color I am or what country I came from. He doesn’t know if I am a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew. I may be an atheist. He doesn’t know whether I am gay or straight.

Robert doesn’t know and he doesn’t care, but he gave me a present. He drew a rainbow for all my neighbors and me.

This is what Jesus said in my translation. “Look at Robert. Unless you have the faith that Robert has, you can never share my world of splendor and awe. You can never know peace. You will never be able to live in a state of pure joy.”

I can remember when the world was an exciting place. I can remember being overcome with awe. I remember getting up early to watch the sun peek over the horizon of the ocean.

I remember joy, but that was before I became jaded, suspicious, cautious, skeptical and wise. That was before I grew up and lost sight of what is important. That was before I let the world take it away.

I want to be Robert again. I want to feel so overwhelmingly joyful I give you a present without knowing or caring who you are.

I want to be Robert and accept you the way you are. I want to live in the moment and let it go when it has gone.

Thank you, Robert.

Tags: , , ,

Comic and Preacher Pens How-To Book on Sermon Prep  

Susan Sparks reflects on humor that is joyful and therapeutic in her book, “Preaching Punchlines.”

She is not speaking of humor that is scornful, rude, hateful or judgmental, but humor that lifts us up and honors. She quickly banishes any thoughts that she is advocating delivering sermons that are theologically light.

Sparks, who is pastor of Madison Avenue Baptist Church in New York City, knew that her calling was to be a pastor at age 6.

Yet, her dreams were ridiculed and squelched by religious leaders in her native Southern Baptist upbringing, and so she delayed that dream until mid-career after becoming a successful attorney.

She delights in being a pastor, and this book stresses the hard work that delivering a sermon, speech or comedy routine requires. She is part of a standup comedy troupe that includes a rabbi and an imam.

The heart of the book is the fifth chapter, in which she demonstrates the humor of Jesus in example after example.

Sparks is enthusiastic about how Jesus uses ordinary circumstances to connect with his audience.

He uses every technique available: exaggeration, humor, voice, irony, timing, silence, parables and repetition to capture his listener’s attention.

Follow Jesus’ example, she urges. Use every means possible including humor. This is important because the audience will remember only 10% of what you say.

Providing step-by-step instructions on sermon preparation, she emphasizes always keeping your congregation in mind. What are members of your congregation interested in? What keeps them awake at night? What’s going on around you?

Observe people and listen to them, she advises. Always keep a notebook or recording device with you. Make a note about your observations. Develop a file system that will let you find illustrations that you have experienced, observed or read about. Talk about the hard stuff.

She stresses that congregations need more than they can Google. They need to be given real food by someone they trust.

“A sermon is bigger than us,” she writes. “In its purest form, a sermon should be a message inspired from a higher power given through you to a congregation. God is the power source. If we don’t feel the power, it’s not God.”

Learn to write like a comedian, Sparks says. Build your scenario. The punch line comes last. Wait a moment to let it sink in before you start talking again.

Boil your sermon down to your core message. Put that at the top of your page. Read your sermon out loud at least twice. This will help you weed out unnecessary words or extraneous material.

Narrow your sermon to what is direct and necessary for your one-line summary. Reserve the rest for another time.

Finally, she follows and recommends the practice of praying your sermon out loud.

One commandment Sparks gives is the one many ministers ignore, but its observance is essential: “Thou shalt not be exhausted by the Sabbath.” Rest and sleep are essential.

Sparks believes that being given an opportunity to preach before a community of faith is one of the highest honors one can receive. If one is to perform at her or his best, time apart, rest and reflection are mandatory.

So, she emphasizes that ministers must take a day off. Get away. At least stay away from the church once in a while. She and her husband take motorcycle trips.

Always remember why you are doing what you are doing, she says. Tap into the source. Always keep a copy of your sermons. Review them, taking note of common themes. What excites you? What do you preach about most often?

Her final commandment is my favorite, “Thou shalt have joyous communication.” This is true for comedians, motivational speakers and preachers. “No matter how we feel, we must radiate joyous communication into the rafters and far corners of the sanctuary.”

As I travel around and hear sermons from preachers in various denominations, this element most often is missing. Where is the joy of living the Christian life?

I already know my failures. If the joy is lacking in your speeches or sermons, Spark’s book will lift your spirits and help you rekindle your zest for preaching.

She reminds us that we are enough, and that God always has our back.

“Preaching Punchlines” contains ample references and numerous QR codes that allow you to scan even more. This book is pure gold for anyone who wishes to improve her or his sermons.

Tags: , , ,

On the Pathway of Jesus, Can Life Be a Joy Ride? Dr. Molly Marshall

I remember summer evenings riding around my hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma, in my older brother’s very old car. A ’39 Oldsmobile, complete with running boards, was an inheritance from our grandmother Marshall. Thankfully, our parents did not know how many times I rode on the outside of the car, precariously perched on those running boards. We careened around neighborhoods and various haunts visiting friends and seeing who else was out on the town. At 25 cents a gallon, why not drive that lumbering vehicle all over? Not surprising, we did not have a specific destination; it was improvisation at its best. Looking back, I can truly say it was a joyride.

The Center for Faith and Culture at Yale University recently convened about 150 persons from all over the world to talk about joy as an expression of faith and work.  Willie James Jennings, professor of systematic theology and Africana studies at Yale Divinity School, stressed that joy is a work, not a sentiment. It is a work of resistance against fear and death. He said he learned this from his ancestors who were sharecropping “people of the earth.” His family decided to “work hard at joy” as a way of renouncing despair, expressing their faith by “dancing just above the line of surviving.”

Other scholars shared their reflection on joy as virtue, as fruit of the spirit, as journey rather than destiny, as something one receives rather than achieves, although intent matters. We probed the question of whether joy can be isolated from suffering; it is far from giddy. Joy often has proximity to sorrow, and grace allows the two to co-exist. Hebrews describes the life of Jesus as having the telos of joy: “who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame . . .” (12:2b). Joy was the fruit of faithfulness, not the focus of his pursuit.

“Gratitude – even in the exigencies of life – becomes the fuel for joy.”

Gratitude – even in the exigencies of life – becomes the fuel for joy. When we stop focusing on our own performance and relinquish control, joy may surprise us.  Gratitude, like other virtues, is a habit acquired across time through intentional practices. Set in a transcendent narrative, giving thanks is a constructive way to find coordinates to navigate life toward the joy God grants each of us.

The work of joy is communal, as Jesus taught us. What he had learned from his Abba, he shared. His own life became the demonstration plot for how we are to live. His chief desire was for his joy to be in us “and that [our] joy may be complete” (John 15:11).  This would only happen through the thick ties of relationship. It is the Spirit who makes it possible to feel the depths of our human experience. The Spirit makes us present to one another and to ourselves.

A peloton is a pack of bicycle riders who make the journey together, similar to birds that fly in formation. They draft off one another while the leader takes the brunt of the wind.  The riders must be exquisitely attuned to one another as they ride closely together to conserve energy; they exchange places as needed, and all benefit from this communal enterprise. Human thriving occurs as we accompany one another toward our eschatological future.

“A joyful life opens up the human imagination to what God desires for the world.”

Joy is available in the good gifts of God’s creation and, as Mary Oliver writes, “joy is not made to be a crumb.” Rather it is a lavish gift that draws us toward our true home in God. Joy makes us more human and more holy, a “response to what should be, offering an alternative vision,” in the words of Pam Ebstyne King of Fuller Seminary. Not surprising, joy and justice are closely related.

When we genuinely pursue the common good with all the energy and vision we can summon, not only is a community transformed, but so are those who give themselves to the joyful work of justice. It is not only good for humanity, but God as well! As the beloved hymn For Everyone Born, A Place at the Table intones

and God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!

A joyful life opens up the human imagination to what God desires for the world. No wonder it is a wellspring for human flourishing. Joy occurs as we seek to follow the pathway of Jesus, one who embraced the ultimate joy ride.

Tags: , , ,