14 Oct 2014

A Happy song in a minor key called Joy

I love being happy.

I am not always happy. In fact, many days, my children and spouse consider me rather crabby {somehow that happens alot at home}. But they are wrong; even if I was crabby; I was really en route to being happy. Sounds insane, or perhaps, you agree!

We believe our actions and choices and words are aimed at making us, others and the world better, happier. Sacrifices must be made on the way to bliss right?

Just one major flaw in this premise. Happiness has this habit of being elusive. We should all know.

We all have our boxes of 'nearly perfect dates', 'supposedly relaxing vacations' & 'amazing imagined and engineered outcomes' where we have tossed the moments and memories which we wouldn't post on Instagram or facebook about.

I should know - I speak about the subject of happiness.

But can I share honestly here? I'd rather speak on the subject of JOY. Now that's a different moniker.

Joy we've been told is a deeper thing that runs much further beneath the surface. At times it bubbles forth with delightful gurgles; but mostly it is subterranean. Maybe a picture can save me the thousand words I cannot find right now:

Here is a sudden burst of joy erupting forth when the wonder of fireflies buzz around one's little head!

Joy often catches us off guard. 

We are rushing around and suddenly our eye catches sight of the beauty of a flower
We are engrossed in our work when we hear a giggle in the next room
We are walking our usual route when we bump into a dear friend
We are lost in our thoughts when a gentle breeze comes and a playful bird offers us a enlivening distraction

Yet- in each of these instances, we need to choose Joy or we can miss it. We can fail to splash around the refreshing spring of joy that can nourish us. Henri Nouwen reminds us

But choosing Joy can be hard as life comes with many sombre minor notes when what we hoped for, worked for, prayed for, does not happen {soon enough}. Choosing Joy can be hard when our lives are so busy we don't have space . to . notice ...

I find that I forget to choose joy many days and rummage around for some scrap of happiness instead. It is most unsatisfactory!

I forget there is Joy. I am too impatient to wait for it. Every day as I read the news, I am faced with the reality that with all of our advances as a race, humanity continues to confront massive challenges: from Ebola to ISIS. These large issues and our own daily difficulties can easily cause us to mope and lose touch with the gift of Joy.

What we settle for then is happiness of this stripe:

Which is really good and necessary {thanks to all my baking friends for the yummies!}.

But -- we now live in a world where more of us are chronically unhappy. Why is this so? Could it be that seeking to be happy doesn't work; that we were made for Joy and a lesser substitute is like taken an artificial sweetener?

Studies show that happiness and unhappiness are actually two different clines. In other words, doing stuff you think will make you happy will not make you as happy as if you also at the same time deal with what makes you unhappy. Your unhappiness which may be caused by a totally different set of things can leak your happiness.

This is where Joy comes in.

While we muddle about to find out why we are happy or not; there is this gift called Joy.

Joy is built on something larger and bigger; indeed Someone larger and bigger.

For joy is about wonder, awe, grandeur, surprise, reversals, redemption.

Ask the mother who has reconciled with her son
Talk to the man embroiled in  lawsuit who has just received news that the suit has been dismissed
Look at the child who has just been given an ice-cream instead of the cane when he just failed his paper
Listen to someone who just returned from the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights

These are the big boxes of Joy. But daily, there are smaller parcels waiting for us to notice and unwrap too.

One of the most surprising places to find Joy is in Scripture! Listening to God speak to us is life-giving and adds to the quotient of joy in the depths of our soul; even if we do not immediately feel it.
Like a filled up petrol tank, we don't immediately go faster; but we soon know we can go on longer.

My son has just walked in. He is moping because his Math homework is making him think so hard. I read this verse in John 15 with him and I ask him,

Who is saying this?
Now, think, when you read your Bible or listened to God, did you hear something that put joy in you?
- Ya, when God tells me He loves me, I feel so full of joy inside. 

{his mood lifts! thank Goodness}

Perhaps you and I need to read and listen more consistently.

Indeed, this past week as I continue to Jeremiah the prophet, I also found myself drawn to those familiar words Jesus spoke about becoming like children. At once I know why my joy quotient is dipping. I am acting all grown-up again trying to figure out life instead of leaning into Everlasting Arms... Yes it's a paradox friends: we need to grow, we need to solve, we need to wrestle and at the same time, we need to let go, rest, trust.

Just imagine if it were only life on one end of the paradox: all strife and self-dependence! Good grief, then happiness and joy will be all hard-won battle scars. Ouch. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be so.

It's a crazy world, and you and I need Joy to find our song in it. For we do so much want to be happy. So how about these pictures for a start:

9 Oct 2014

because the rants tire us all..and the Word calls us to mind our words

When I saw the tag on facebook, honestly, I went "O no...".  There is this one-up-man-ship these days especially on the social media platforms. We challenge notions, question actions, and accuse so readily, and easily.

I enjoy learning and as a student and then a cleric I would raise questions. But I was always tentative, somewhat unsure... and even then, I was labeled a firebrand ! One generation later with a more learned populace we are assured of more lively debates and challenges. But somehow, the online exchanges leave me wary and weary.

It is a strange place in a way to find myself sounding like my elders of past, with thoughts such as -

I have eaten more salt than you
How much have you really experienced to qualify you to make such a judgment?

Yes, as youths, we felt asphyxiated when our elders threw such quick retorts back at us. We roll our eyes and count them lesser mortals for not being as exposed to ideas as we are. Youthful zeal and pride are often bedfellows I guess.

But is it just a function of growing older? Am I destined to calcify in my position and become impatient with the young uns?

So I did an exercise.

I took an area where strident voices have been heard and I tried to cross over to the other side. I imagined myself belonging to a misunderstood minority. I imagined struggling about which public toilet to use, how my head may turn and heart stop when certain words are overheard, how going to school, church, street can be constant reminders that I don't quite fit in....

 It turns out it wasn't altogether that difficult. Upon reflection, I realised why.

Firstly, in one sense, we all have experienced being on the outside. Rejection is almost universal a human experience. Granted, some experiences of rejection, name-calling, and worse lie beyond my scope of imagination and empathy. To read of abductions for the purpose of correcting behaviour is bizzare to me. But then, that's salt I haven't tasted. Would I order the abduction of my child if I was convinced she was so wrong she would end in eternal damnation and be ruined for life?

There are many things about ourselves, what we truly feel, think or will do, that we cannot be certain of. A religious commitment and outlook may proscribe some things; but then again, when crunch time comes, can we be so sure?

Further, I have chosen to live on the outside in some ways. The religious or spiritual person doesn't exactly square in a material-secular world. I have been called 'unreal, out-of-touch, holier-than-thou'... My gender has added to the mix too as leadership roles are not easily accorded to a woman (yes even today). 

Finally, I have been a victim before.

Is this why I am tired of the calling-out, standing-up, setting-right?

Listen, most of us have no idea and no business doing any of the above; because we are just going to walk away after a while. We go right back to our little lives filled with self-centred ambition and greed. Including me. This isn't to say we don't get into the fray at times. But here's the Word:

"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt..' ~ Colossians 4v6

This Word here about seasoned speech is not one of my favourites. It cuts too close for an extrovert with a gift of the gab (so they said). But it's in the Word, so it applies. It means simply, I must apply it. I am not always sure how; especially when I am tagged and I feel like I am expected to say something. As an older person I feel immense pressure to be wise and responsible - especially today!

So this online fracas is going to test how we apply this Word. Can we be polite? Can we look for what's good and throw that in the mix when we want to point out a weakness? Can we pull back from polarising and demonising? Surely for all the education, we can move away from the grandstanding?
After all, the truly learned are humble no?

May our hearts grow large with our minds while our mouths and keyboard skills be put to truly good use.

8 Oct 2014

how to keep believing in rainbows when they disappear so fast..

I believe we all live under His eternal arc of Goodness {click to read about it}. But there are days when all I can muster is this: I want to believe.

After all, the amazing confluence of vapors and light quickly disappear and our pretty bow of colours is lost to us.

Last night, I was part of a large team that was praying for the sick. When we opened the doors, the church filled up quickly. I turned around and see a young girl, about eight, sitting strapped to a special wheelchair. The straps would keep her upright. She was fair, pretty, unsmiling. Her mother was holding her hand while her father sat behind to keep a watch that her skinny frame is not slipping out from those straps and she is leaning on the tiny pillow stuffed around the backrest to cushion her neck.

When the singing started, I noticed that I was struggling to join the rousing chorus of voices. I feel deeply and often find myself burdened by such gaping needs. The common cold to me is no life trial. But the sight of that little girl got to me. I don't ask 'why' the same way I used to - all angsty, self-righteous and impatient; but I am of the band that still hates to see such seeming senselessness.

Later, what I would hear from nearly every person who stepped up to me for prayer was more than my few words could carry.

a woman who has had five surgeries and is expecting another for her recurrent hernia problem
 my mother has dementia and now I am getting sick; her medical bills are too much for me.." 
the weary mom who prodded her epileptic son forward, "recently also he has eczema:..and afterwards, is telling us she has three maladies and her kidneys may be failing

It felt so inadequate, the few minutes of summarizing needs and pains into a few lines; and the prayer.

After the prayers, we sang our last song, God is Good, all the time.

What does it take to honestly sing God's goodness in the face of such crushing life difficulties? How do we remember that as long as it is day and the water cycle of life goes on; the rainbow is always there - because the water is always there - just that we only glimpse it sometimes.

Sometimes it is cruel to make God sound so close; not that He isn't, but we are not so easily in tuned with Him. And at times, He does seem to disappear behind the clouds and everything seems just.plain.dark.

But this precisely is the walk of f a i t h . This is the hard, true stuff of it. You and I, somehow, are drawn to this strange place where we notice rainbows and get pelted by rain, often within the same day.

This is the hard real stuff God promises His people if we refuse to split the Word into bits we like and bits we don't:

Then shall the maidens rejoice in the dance,
and the young men and the old shall be merry.

Sounds like a bright-below-a-rainbow picnic of wild abandon!

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.
I will fest the soul of the priests with abundance,
and my people shall be satisfied with my goodness, says the LORD ~
Jeremiah 31v13f

And I am up on my feet ready to twist to this news until my eyes glance down and I notice there is more:

a voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not. ~ Jeremiah 31v15

This verse sits strangely among the many words of comfort and rainbow-promises.

I have gone back and read it, prayed, thought, and checked the commentaries. It's hard. Why such harrowing information right smack in the middle of the promises of return, vindication and joy?

We may not quite get it; this rainbow and thunder mix, this abundance and death deal all rolled in one.

But then I see it. Jeremiah is gaining traction here. The rainbow is glimpsed and for a closer look, one trudges and finds sometimes that a craggy large boulder is blocking our view; but the climb up that boulder, scraping hands and knees will reveal a vista  not yet seen.

Jeremiah is building up towards a crescendo: The New Covenant.

The terms of the New Covenant are ... new. If you were a Jew listening; it will sound strange, unfamiliar, preposterous. The exile was hard to stomach; the return is hard to conceive; the New Covenant is plain impossible.

A new king whose kingdom will not end.


But listen. This verse of wailing mothers is later used by Matthew. It happened.

There were inconsolable tears nearly two thousand years ago when baby boys where slaughtered by a nervous king. These tears, incomprehensible to us, were the context of God's great salvation plan to rescue us from all tears forever.

I wish it didn't have to happen this way. But it did. God came right into our messes. Jesus was subject to it until it killed him.

So if there's sound advice on how to stay right under the rainbow even when you cannot see it; it's what God told Jeremiah to do: buy land! (I don't mean invest in property folks). I mean lay down your stakes. Live deep. Dig right in. Embrace your now, your weakest and darkest. For God is working something out. 

This by the way is sheer madness. Jeremiah is asked to trust when everything appears contrary. His title deed is an act of defiance against how-things-appear. It is a statement that says, 'the game isn't over, the score hasn't been tallied, the results are not out yet'. This too is God's instruction to us: to live not by sight, but by faith.

In our days, this living by faith will be really tough sometimes. We will see stuff that blocks out the Son and makes the rainbow vaporize. To keep believing in rainbows when that happens, we must look at the definite work that demonstrates God's Goodness once for all: the Cross and the empty tomb. We don't deserve, wouldn't ask, couldn't conjure it - but there it is, historical fact and faith revelation. God is good to us and has sent us His Son, tore up His heart - that we may know while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

The rainbows appear to remind us they have always been there. 
They show up where there is light and where life continues.