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I Wish You Joy! (And Maybe Merry Christmas.)

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I wish you joy this Christmas day, whether or not you celebrate Christmas, whether or not you consider yourself a Christian, whether or not you get angry if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas.

Mind you, I am not wishing you a Merry Christmas, unless you would like me to, in which case, I wish you the merriest of Christmases! Otherwise, I wish you joy: big, robust, impossible-to-resist joy.

Of course, being a follower of Jesus, I consider the Christmas message and the state of joy very closely related. The bible says — and my experience is — that when you are truly connected to the spirit of God, you will experience complete joy, along with love and peace and patience all kinds of other good stuff that you can’t buy and wrap up in packages.

photo (28)

The Joy of Jesus

Throughout the Bible, Jesus brought joy wherever he went, beginning with the Christmas story. Angels heralded his arrival as tidings of great joy to all people, lowly shepherds celebrated, and the magi were overjoyed at the star over Bethlehem.

Later, Jesus hung out at big dinner parties with “undesirables,” celebrated at weddings, and cooked out on the beach with friends. He turned water into wine at a wedding party, and when faced with hungry crowds of thousands, he handed out endless bread and fish, showing that God’s abundance and capacity for celebration never runs out. His enemies even accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard! Despite being homeless and hated by many, Jesus surely knew how to bring joy.

laughing jesus

Imagine the joy that followed this guy as he healed people from every kind of brokenness and illness. He told them to leave their baggage behind, to go and be free from shame. He freed people bound by unhealthy exclusive religion, releasing them from legalistic rules and toxic preconceived notions about God.

The Non-Joy of Too Many “Christians”

That’s why it’s so sad that today, many people who consider themselves Christians (never mind that Jesus didn’t come to establish a religion) have lost their joy and put themselves back into bondage. They appear to believe it’s their job to judge other people in a serious, somber, and sometimes angry manner, constantly warning about the wages of sin. An Onward Christian Soldier attitude: life is a battle, suit up. Attack!

How is that reflecting Jesus? Even at Christmas, these people wage a campaign of negativity and victimhood and resentment: “There’s a war on Christmas, poor us!” Trust me, I know what it’s like to have your faith mocked, to have your beliefs attacked, to feel belittled by people you love, behind your back and on Facebook.

But Christians: get over it. You shouldn’t become part of this divisiveness. Pray that you would be filled with love and compassion and forgiveness, not pettiness. The peace of Jesus doesn’t come from this world, and our joy does not depend on other people.

Followers of Christ should be leading a counter-cultural campaign of joy against the darkness and division in the world, not an angry pity party.

I saw a bill-board in Pennsylvania yesterday: a big “Happy Holidays” crossed out and “Merry Christmas” written over the top of it. Really? REALLY?

Jesus-filled people should be wishing everyone joy in a way that brings joy, not in an aggressive way intended to make people angry. How dumb (or worse, mean-spirited) is that? The joy of Jesus is not an exclusive joy or a joy that creates divisions; it comes from love, not anger or fear.

love thy neighbor

Party On!

Here’s the thing: There’s a cosmic party going on, and everyone belongs! It’s a joyful place right here, right now, not just in some puffy, pink-clouded after-life, and it is much stronger than the dark side of the Force. Jesus called it the “Kingdom of God,” and he said that everyone is welcome.

That’s what I’m celebrating at Christmas: There’s an open door, come on in. Just ignore those misguided, cheerless “Christians” in the corner. Celebrate with the rest of us!

Joy to the world! And joy to you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey.

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Wild Goose Part One – Celebration & Sexuality

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My head swirls with images of sweaty hippies swaying inside a drumming circle, tattooed youth dancing beneath rainbow banners, and a parade of body-painted, trumpet-blowing, cymbal-crashing celebrants on their way to . . . church.

Just another hum-drum Christian weekend at the Wild Goose Festival, a “gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and the arts” in Hot Springs, North Carolina.

At the entrance to the festival, a poem by Mary Oliver

At the entrance to the festival, a poem by Mary Oliver

I’ll be writing more about the festival, I’m sure. It just takes some time to process the dozens of workshops and performances, everything from Mindful Sexuality to What Queers Bring to the Church to White Privilege.

This year’s theme was Living Liberation, and the gathering was most definitely liberated, much to the chagrin of the handful of demonstrators outside the gathering, half-heartedly waving signs saying things like REPENT. I felt kind of sorry for them — they had to act all sad and serious while thousands of joyful Christians celebrated Jesus right across the street. 

We invited the demonstrators in, but they declined. We were respectful — a couple of Wild Goosers brought them water and food and even held their signs when nature called the protestors away from their posts.

The REPENT people didn’t like the gay and lesbian Christians amongst us.

Why not celebrate who you are?

Why not celebrate who you are?

My heart broke for one protestor named Will who said that he used to be gay but he was fixed now. Oh. My. God. How confusing and upsetting for him to see all these free Jesus-loving souls celebrating the way they were made while he waved his little sign, unable to “live life to the full,” as Jesus called us to do. 

But here I go, writing about the Goose. I didn’t mean to get into it, I just wanted to share a few photos for fun. More to come.

Saturday night "Beer and Hymns"

Saturday night “Beer and Hymns” tent

DSCN4442

Sunday morning celebrations

 

Who doesn't love a parade?

Who doesn’t love a parade?

 

And God Said, “Let There Be Laughter!”

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What makes you laugh? I’m sometimes embarrassed by the things that strike me funny. My twisted sense of humor reveals to the world that I’m not a nice church lady after all.

I will never forget the time I was walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. with a bunch of friends. A marine jogged by looking all fit and spiffy in his crew cut, military shortie-shorts, and tight t-shirt. Then he ran right into a No Parking sign at the edge of the sidewalk.

I lost it, doubled over, tears running down my face – the whole bit. And then I realized that all of my friends were staring at me straight-faced. What can I say?

I Blame the Brits

Do you remember the 1970s TV show Laugh In? OK, maybe you’re not that old. In every episode, this bizarre character in a hooded raincoat would be tootling along on a tricycle and then just suddenly tip over. Sometimes he would run into something, but oftentimes the tricycle would just slowly roll onto its side.

This sent me into fits every time. As soon as Arte Johnson pedaled onto the screen, I would start laughing. Just stupid, I know.

I blame it on my British heritage — Monty Python, and the like.

I’m that person with the loud laugh who sits in the corner of the movie theater and guffaws when nobody else is laughing.

A Better Kind of Laughter

In my Easter post, I used the words, “Let there be laughter,” and a reader commented that he loved that phrase and wondered why the Creator had not spoken those words in Genesis.

That’s a great question.  My guess is that God did call forth laughter – it’s just that overly serious religious people weren’t channeling God’s sense of humor when they penned the scriptures.

Just imagine God creating the universe: you can’t help but laugh. Splashing colors here and there, making fireflies and galaxies and sunsets and stripes on zebras and trunks on elephants and snouts on aardvarks and tubular necks on spotted giraffes. I see God getting more and more excited, laughing and creating and saying, “It is good, it is good!” God’s throwing around beauty and abundance and letting Her/His creativity run wild, knowing that humans would share in the joy.

jeanette

Then religious folks came along and got all proper and started dressing up for church. Bummer.

I don’t care whether you think the creation story is fact, a lovely myth that points to profound universal truth, or a load of bunk created as a crutch by humans afraid of dying – you have to appreciate that laughter is a deep and healing part of who we are as a species. It can bring us together, mend mistrust, heal emotional wounds, and bring perspective to our losses and sadness. We were meant to laugh.

Lighten Up, Christians

I think we should all laugh more often. Church people especially. The Bible talks about joy repeatedly. Joy is called a “fruit of the Spirit,” an indication that one has the channels open for God. Jesus said many times that he came to bring joy, complete joy. Not guilt, shame, or judgment, but joy and love.

Let there be laughter!

Let there be laughter!

One central message of Christianity is that we are free from fear and shame and the need to perform and prove ourselves. Why wouldn’t we be laughing? We are living in grace and freedom. Yet most of the Christian preachers on television are promoting fear and shame and/or telling you to send money so that God will bring you lots more money for yourself. Laugh too much and you’re probably going to Hell.

Nonsense. Go forth and laugh! Just don’t laugh at other people’s misfortunes . . . I mean, what kind of person would do that?

Part II — In Which Grief is Surprised by Joy

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Let me begin by apologizing to my atheist and aggressively agnostic friends for using the word “gospel” in yesterday’s post. I try not to annoy you, but it’s going to get worse. I need to tell this story; Betsy would want it told.

Also, Betsy is the one who introduced me to the author Anne Lamott, and Anne Lamott is the one who showed me that a person can write about Jesus and faith without being obnoxious. And face it, trying to write a blog journal about grief without incorporating one’s beliefs about spirituality is downright silly.

Anne Lamott -- One of Betsy's Faves

Anne Lamott — One of Betsy’s Faves

So: Jesus alert. Keep reading or not, as you like.

When we left our hero yesterday (that’s me,) she had just realized that if Betsy’s spirit was so obviously hovering around, then perhaps her recently departed brother’s was as well. But she wasn’t so sure and told her journal: “Somehow that makes it almost possible to allow myself to believe that Biff’s spirit is also still with me. Almost. Too good to hope for in a way. Too good to be true. Do I believe in Jesus or not?”

It seemed relatively easy for me to accept the truth of Betsy’s living spirit because the risk was not great. She was not my flesh and blood. I have known her twenty years, not fifty-eight. Stitching together the rip in the fabric of my identity left by Biff’s passing is trickier work, and I don’t want to be knitting it together with yarn that won’t hold up.

I decided to take the risk: I’d seek out Biff’s spirit, too. More from my journal: “And so I told God that I am ready to accept Biff’s love, to welcome his spirit to accompany me, to live in me and through me. To let us have a continuing relationship, to not close the book, to let him speak to me and show me signs. I told God I knew it meant pain, but that I didn’t want to be without Biff. Ever. That I would open myself to his presence and his company, forever.”

Here comes the Jesus part . . .

And then it hit me: that is exactly what God asks us to do. To accept Jesus’s loving spirit and allow him to accompany us, to live in us and through us. To have a relationship, to let God show us signs through that living spirit.  Forever.

And yes, opening to that spirit does mean pain, because Jesus softens our hearts to the world’s pain and so we share his deep sadness about the brokenness in the world. That spirit also convicts us of our own brokenness, and that can be humbling and at times mortifying.

winter 2013 & Jesus pix 045.tear

But the pain encourages growth and makes us more loving people. And oh, the joy of being one with that spirit of love!

We get to say yes or no to allowing that eternal, loving spirit to accompany us. If you say yes, I believe you become more and more aligned with God’s perfectly loving spirit here in this physical world, the way Betsy did.

The famous prayer asks God to bring that kingdom of love and kindness “. . . on earth as it is in Heaven . . .” and that’s what Christians should be about. (I’m certainly the first to acknowledge that many Christian spokespeople in the public life do not appear to be living in that spirit.)

When we’re truly tapped into the wisdom and power of God’s eternal loving spirit, we can’t help but bring Heaven’s love to earth right here and now. And when we “die,” we get to leave behind the last traces of fear and live in that perfect love forever.

With Apologies to My Conservative Christian Friends

Now I have to apologize to my conservative Christian friends – heretic alert! (I may have lost my atheist readers by now, but I know that you’ll keep reading because you need to decide if I’m going to hell.)

If a person chooses not to accept God’s invitation to travel together, I don’t think that person is going to Hell. Gasp! In fact, I don’t even believe in the old concept of Hell, the I-love-you-so-much-that-I’m-going-to-fry-you-forever-if-you-don’t-love-me-back narrative. I don’t blame people for not believing in that God.

This is Love?

No — I think that you are traveling with God whether you know it or not, accept it or not. You are accompanied and loved and cared for, and you aren’t going to burn. God’s spirit lives in everyone and they get to open the channel or keep their heart closed.

When a person says, “No thanks, I don’t believe in you,” they don’t burn up. No, they just miss the joyful awareness, the signs, and the “nudges” that send us on God-inspired adventures that we might otherwise miss. They miss the spiritual guidance that helps us find our purpose and meaning in God’s larger story if we listen. Worst of all, if we don’t open to God’s spirit, we might miss the fact that we are all one, that there is nothing to fear, that there is no existential aloneness, and there is no death.

We come into this world connected by an umbilical cord of love and we leave this world connected to a cord of divine love that runs through all time and out of time. Biff and Betsy have followed that cord of love out of sight, but we are still connected. And that brings me joy, which makes me want to dye my hair pink like Betsy’s and celebrate life for all it’s worth.

I wish each of you love and connection and joy.

“God is love.”

Sermon done.

Joyful Betsy and her husband Eric

Joyful Betsy and her husband Eric

Connecting to “The Other” — A Daily Prompt

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“The happiest life has the greatest number of points of contact with the world, and it has the deepest feeling and sympathy with everything that is,” according to the father of modern horticulture. I have to share that with you, because I was told to do so.

The WordPress Daily Prompt asks:  “Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move you?”

Daily Prompt: Quote Me | The Daily Post.

DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO

I have mixed feelings about the WordPress Daily Prompts:

  • I don’t need new ideas to write about — my problem is that everything in the universe prompts me to write, and I have to pull myself away from the computer. I have enough I’d like to share without some amorphous power in the cloud-sky giving me suggestions.
  • This makes clear another issue I have with the Daily Prompts : I am not a fan of authority figures, and YOU CAN”T TELL ME WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT! I know this is my baggage, but there you have it.
  • I also don’t like following a crowd; I fancy myself a one-of-a-kind blogger, which is, of course, ridiculous. Not only that, but I also have a great need to belong that is diametrically opposed to what I just said about not being part of a crowd of Daily Prompt writers.

Anyway, enough of my stuff spilling out onto the page. I do love that quote from Liberty Hyde Bailey, so I thought I’d share.

Liberty Hyde Bailey
Photo: Wikipedia

PLANTS, HUMANS AND OTHER ANIMALS

“The happiest life has the greatest number of points of contact with the world, and it has the deepest feeling and sympathy with everything that is.”

I believe this to be absolutely true. Although the deep feeling and sympathy can sometimes lead to grief, I do not believe that this conflicts with happiness. Because grief and compassion make us more fully human, I think that it ultimately results in a deeper, more genuine happiness — joy.

It’s fabulous that a horticulturalist said this. I imagine he was talking, at least in part, about plants. Still, his sentiments have caused me to murder more plants because they drove my decision to become a vegetarian. I want to walk gently on the earth, and cause as little pain and suffering as I possibly can, beginning with sentient beings. (Sorry, zucchini.)

I once believed that I had “too many” friends because I was too busy. But God kept putting new people in my life that I found fascinating, beautiful, comforting, or fun. I once went on a retreat with a bunch of other people in their 30s and 40s, and one woman said to me, “Let’s pretend we’re Buddhist nuns, OK?” I mean, how could you NOT want to be friends with that person?

File:Taiwanese Buddhist Nun Black Robes.jpeg

Buddhist Nun
Photo: Creative Commons

I now realize that my particular personality is created to have a great number of points of contact. It is how I connect with the many aspects of the Divine. What a wonderful, diverse world we live in! I have had the incredible joy of swimming with dolphins and sea turtles, harvesting spring asparagus and peas, debating spiritual truths in my book group, and being deeply in love with a musician, a historian, and a woodworker. Seriously – I am uber-blessed and intend to keep experiencing as much of life as God cares to show me. I just pray that my eyes and my heart will remain open.

MAKING PEACE

Because I have signed on to be a Blogger for Peace, I will warn you that these points of contact complicate life immensely. Not only could you find yourself eschewing veal or factory-bred chicken, you might have to start paying attention to what your government is doing. For instance:

  • How do we choose between killing Palestinian children and Israeli children? Do we just adopt policies and produce weapons that will kill both, to even things out?
  • U.S. drones are murdering countless innocent children without Americans risking as much as the finger that pressed the launch button. How un-connected can one be? What percentage of your tax money goes towards building drones?
  • Abortion: wherever you are, has it occurred to you that the people on “the other side” care deeply about the life and well-being of others? Could you imagine really listening to them, instead of judging and condemning them?

~I wish you joy, peace, and connection in 2013~

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