Joy, joy, joy, joy…
Slippery little devil. It has taken some time to write this one. Joy keeps getting away. Last year on the 6th of January, I sat down on the couch in front of the TV. Joy slipped under the couch and was gone for months. It showed up again later, playing cards with my kids. But was gone again the next day.
If you see it trying to slip off the side of your screen, stay focused on it. If you can keep an eye on just one of its 3 little letters, it can’t get away. It cant get out of your grasp. Take your eye off it though, and it’s gone.
Anyway, I couldnt very well finish this post without it, so please excuse the delay.
Sunday, January 16th, 2022
Like I mentioned, it has taken some time to finish this post. In fact, I started writing this part of my current series, All My Empty Spaces, before all the others. This perhaps has been the most difficult post for me to write in a long time. Given all that is happening and all that weighs heavy on my heart and soul, I began to suspect I might never finish it.
Joy. A small word. Just 3 little letters. J. O. Y. And yet, so difficult to discuss. Maybe joy should have been a longer word. Something like Hakuna Matata. Oh wait, that one is taken. My point is 3 letters doesn’t seem sufficient for a word that is so complex, so important. It may seem simple. But anyone who hasn’t been stuck on an island for the last 20 years knows that joy is becoming more and more difficult to find and hold on to. These days my personal search for joy has led me to speak more 4 letter words than anything else.
I am not a theologian, pastor, or even all that well versed on the bible. I am just a humble servant of God, follower of Christ. Again, I try to follow the simple code, the example that Christ has given, be love, be kind.
I claim no moral high ground, but I stand my ground. I claim no intellectual superiority, but I continually learn, continually teach, and I have little patience or compassion for stupidity and dishonesty.
So, it finally happened today. I suppose I reached a point of despair that gave me the push I needed to complete my thoughts on joy. Ironic, isn’t it. The last 2 days have been extraordinarily difficult. My body has been fighting my mind. I have tried to get up, get out, and get going. But my body has made it very clear, it is on strike. “Hey pal, where do you think you are going? Lay your ass back down!” Every movement requires everything in the tank. This morning in the shower I could barely even stay upright. My continued physical health obstacles don’t make my mental health any better. My depressive brothers and sisters will understand this easily, but I already start the day out with a deficit. Meaning it takes more work, more effort to reach the same state of mental awareness and mental ability as everyone else on any given day. Oh, I don’t want or need any pity. I have come to accept and appreciate my wiring for what it is. Believe it or not, I think chronic depressives have some unique qualities, powers if you will, if they can learn to control them. Empathy is one of those powers.
But here is the rub, I have recently begun to realize that my struggle with joy isn’t just directly linked to my depression or my chronic fatigue. It isn’t completely tied to the pain I endure or the guilt that comes with constantly feeling like a burden. See I can overcome all of that. I can find joy in depression. I can find joy in the most extreme physical challenges. And, I have. Just last night, I sat on the couch and played a game with my family. Have any of you played the online games through Jackbox.TV? The game is played through your computer or a gaming system like the PS4. So you watch the TV and it prompts you through a series of questions or challenges you must answer or complete via your personal device like your phone or tablet. Occasionally you get to choose which answer you like the best from the other players which makes for some hilarious moments. My children are all well versed and talented in the art of sarcasm, so this game never fails to entertain.
In that moment, I felt joy. It was wonderful. In the middle of the game, my body started going nuts like it often does. I was simply sitting on the couch with this very laptop in front of me, playing this game, and I began to sweat. I broke into an all out sweatfest. My head and face started dripping of the stuff. It was soaking through my shirt. My pain level started to spike and my head became hot, achy, and dizzy. I knew I needed to head to bed, get some meds in me. But it didn’t take away the joy I felt by sharing some precious moments with my loved ones. I wouldn’t let it.
Do you ever wonder if the tiniest moments of joy, perhaps from a memory of a loved one that passed away are the most valuable, the most precious? Does joy that is derived from great pain become more precious than the joy one might find on an average day? I mean, I have had some of the most profound moments of joy during or just after some of the most painful or challenging moments of life. Its like that little bit of joy just became priceless. Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting a joy barter system where you get incredible, powerful joy simply by enduring great pain. Yeah, that’s not a thing, at all. But I am saying that when you endure pain or loss, or life challenges, you develop a greater appreciation for the joyous experiences.
Back to the rub. The biggest challenge to find and keep joy is people. Because people suck.
⚠️ CONTENT WARNING ⚠️
CONTAINS anger, frustration, judgy mcjudgerson, some explicit language, occasional bad grammar… well probably more than occasional, if I am being honest. Oh, truthiness, pessimism and optimism in the same sentence, bad humor, and more anger.
There is a war on. It’s a war on truth. It’s a war on civility and mutual respect. Those waging it have no ability or inclination to give any of it. Have you noticed how widespread the phenomenon of never being wrong is? Well, I guess that means it isn’t so much a phenomenon as it is just a nom. Or would it be nomenon? I should maybe look that up but I am in complete free style rant mode write now (get it?) and don’t want to stop. It doesn’t matter anyway because I am probably not using the word correctly in the first place. My word skills aren’t very phenomenal. Maybe I should have used the plural participle in the first sentence?
Well, see? We are already off the tracks. So, hold onto your butts. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride from here on. But seriously, trying to talk sense into those “never wrong” folks is like feeding my dog her allergy med hidden in peanut butter and then she sneezes, leaving tiny little globs of peanut butter truthiness and little bits of medicine in the carpet, on the walls, my fresh clean shirt, and my incredibly handsome face. Her words, not mine…
Yes, the dog.
Ok. Time to change the mood lighting from bright and colorful crazy Christopher rant disco ball lazer show to a little more serious and focused. Let’s say a darkened room with a tactical red or green underlight, like in the cockpit of an airplane, or the bridge of a warship.
This war on truth, civility, and mutual respect is becoming more brutal everyday. It continues to spread and mutate just as Covid 19 has. And like the January 6th, 2021 attack and insurrection on the Capitol, it is championed by the most extreme idiology of hate, but it sucks in mobs of people who wouldn’t otherwise cross a certain line. Those people, at first, are innocent (kind of). They are very misguided and naive, but now they have succumbed to those darker forces. Now they are culpable. And now because they couldn’t possibly be wrong, they are no different than the ones who were telling the lies and calling the shots in the first place.
That leaves us with noone in the middle to hold onto both sides of our torn society. It squashes peace and hope. It conditions love. And it leaves no oxygen for joy. Kindness and “love thy neighbor” become weaponized or signs of weakness.
Christianity has been usurped. Much the same in other religions but as a Christian myself I am focusing my concerns within that demographic. The never wrong effect has found its way into more than just our politics or ideology. It has begun to affect our basic sense of care for each other regardless of our beliefs. We are just meaner and less willing to see each other as good people. If someone does something we don’t like, now we just go for the nuclear option instead of trying to work it out. It’s crazy!
I became naive enough to believe there were places, organizations, and churches that could rise above this. I felt like my own church was saying and doing the true work of a loving, inclusive, kind, and just God. I still do. But like any other church or body of organized religion, it is comprised of people. People are messy, self-serving creatures. And that truth has yielded its ugly head where I have lived, prayed, communed, and connected with God for the last 6 years.
Besides being disappointed by a few folks at my church, there is also a crisis in this country that kills joy.
Patriotic Depression and the search for joy in a deplorable world.
This Christian nationalism bullshit has truly broken me. I care deeply about the health of our nation. And it has never been more in peril. January 6th, 2021 was a day many of us watched in horror as the mob attacked the Capitol. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. In fact, I knew something like that was inevitable, but horrifying nonetheless.
Saturday, January 22nd, 2022
The anniversary of the insurrection was just a few weeks ago. Since then, I have been having the strangest dreams. Last night, for example, I dreamt I was at Willie Nelson’s funeral and it came under attack by the Captiol mob. That idiot with the horns on his head, waving a confederate flag was leading it.
First of all, the idea Willie Nelson’s death is scary and sad enough. So, long live Willie! But seriously, don’t you Trump loving idiots go after Willie! And stay out of my dreams!This is what can suck the joy right out of the day before the day even starts.
“You have a republic, if you can keep it.”
That has been a popular Ben Franklin quote as our nation struggles to find a path forward. But in full context, Franklin then said, “All it might take is a man on a fast horse (no, not that man) perpetuating a lie to lose it. Ok, I am going to France until the Constitutional ink is dry. Peace out.”
I might be paraphrasing…
We still feel the need to be better off than others. We still have have this burning desire to punish freeloaders, to hurt, imprison and starve other human beings for simply crossing a border without permission in an attempt to reach safety. We let greed and power rule our morality. Christianity has been infected, poisoned with that greed. And, we are never ever wrong or obligated to apologize to each other.
In the United States in particular, Jesus carries a cross in one hand and an assault rifle in the other. We apparently all get to choose which version of Christ we want. Yeah, I’ll take the 3rd Jesus on the right; the white one with the MAGA hat and lots of contempt for anyone who doesn’t look like me.
Stay angry, good people.
I am reading “If God Is Love, Don’t Be A Jerk by John Pavlovitz. He speaks very well about the current crisis of the Christian faith and of the troubled state of our nation. His words resonate with me and have helped me through this dark period. He has given me the focus I need to keep finding joy. I still lose it all the time anyway.
So about joy…
I am trying to fill these empty spaces with those connected heart and soul fillers of peace, hope, love, and joy. But more than my own demons, fellow Christians seem intent on keeping those empty spaces from being filled with anything that might give voice to my questioning their actions, or more importantly the motives behind their actions.
I know the calendar says we just started a new year. As a follower of Christ I have always felt more like Easter marks the start of a new chapter. Spring comes along with the resurrection so it just seems like a more natural transition. Not like January 1st in the dead of winter. Plus these days, January feels more like insurrection, not resurrection.
I have always been skeptical of organized religion. I have always believed in God and have reaffirmed my faith in Christ many times throughout my life. But Christianity is a huge let down, even in places I thought were immune to the hypocrisy and hate. Maybe its just me. Maybe I have given people way too much credit for doing the right thing. Because even now and even a place I have truly loved has offered more of the same hypocritical betrayal. Godly words on a wall inside what is supposed to be a place of love are only worth the actions of those who walk those halls. These days, people fail the tenets of Christianity and do so in the name of Christianity. Proving yet again, organized religion is a joke.
We no longer care enough about each other to standby and support each other in truly difficult times. We are hollow shells walking around hollowed hallowed halls with banners of hope peace love and joy but when tested, those are just slogans on a shirt, written on a wall and not in our hearts. We have become a society championed by hate. And, hate infects us all.
“Fools” said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silenceAnd the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
Then the sign said, “The words on the prophets are written on the subway walls
In tenement halls”
And whispered in the sound of silence
Think of our shared belief in God and in each other as a large 4 engine aircraft. The engines are named hope, peace, love and joy. The fuel comes from a mixture of kindness, compassion, truthfulness, respect, civility, and the simple understanding that we are ALL connected. We are ALL on this big plane together. But if we can’t produce enough fuel to feed those engines, one by one they start losing power and shutting down. That also means the other engines have to work even harder to keep us flying. It doesn’t matter which engines you wish to use for this analogy because whether you have lost hope, or joy, you, we, are still losing altitude.
Tuesday January 25th, 2022
I have continued to struggle with joy. I have continued to fill those empty spaces with anger, sorrow, disappointment, and confusion. I used to get those booster shots of faith in humanity by driving Uber and Lyft. Meeting people and hearing their stories was always a reminder that people are inherently good. The last two years have been a true struggle trying to find and hold joy. That, as it turns out, isn’t from my personal challenges. It certainly isn’t because I have lost faith in God. It is because I keep getting disappointed by people. Now, more than ever, I am forced to deal with lies, hatefulness, and incredibly selfish people. I am forced to confront those “never wrong” folks.
Oh, how I desperately long for a society that acts like the family it claims to value so much.
And yet, once again, God has seen fit to remind me that not all people are bad. Every time I fall down, doubt myself, or doubt the goodness in people, God smacks me on the back of the head and says, ‘Stop doing that!” He just did it again.
I have seen something I guess I didn’t expect. With the enormous stress and pain my family has endured recently, my negativity has peaked. I have felt bitter and wounded. I have watched people I love struggle with unecessary pain inflicted by others, the never wrongers. But my focus has shifted from anger and negativity. In the midst of all this drama, I have been shown a better path. I see good people rising up and trying harder to spread love and kindness in the face of those who have become misled by hate and fear, and self-serving actions. I see good people, stronger than me, practicing a little Kindness Kung-Fu, you might say. And that gives me hope. It brings peace. It amplifies love. And I am joyous again. Just like that. Have you ever noticed God gives us grace every day? He gives us just enough to make it through, so long as we open our hearts to it.
645pm, Wednesday January 26th, 2022.
As I sit in my car outside my church, waiting for my daughter to finish her Wednesday night youth meeting, I am finally listening to a song my friend, John shared earlier today. He is quite good at finding the right song for the moment. Today’s troubles are more significant than most by an order of magnitude. Yet, I am strangely at peace in this moment. I am hopeful. I love my friends and family. And I am experiencing a rare kind of joy. I am overwhelmed, not in the pain and frustration my family has gone through recently, but in the response of others. I am reminded we are all connected and kindness is important, even when we work through conflict with others. I, myself have been a self-serving knucklehead at times and someone kind stood before me and showed me I can be better than that. I can DO better than that. I don’t think people are totally bad. In fact, most are good but still capable of doing bad things, making bad decisions. I know I have.
I sat with friends this week. I was given comfort. It felt like rain in the desert. And, even in the midst of all the “people made” pain I have been in, I have once again found joy.
All this to say I have been letting the wrong voices fill my head and heart. In case any of you didn’t know this, I write as a form of therapy. I write to find understanding and wisdom in the universe that I couldn’t otherwise tap into. When I have my most success in this theraputic process, the light comes on and my own inner voice says, duh!
Find your joy. Better yet, create joy. If people steal that joy, take it right back and leave those negative influences behind. I know that seems simple. But my struggle is proof that it’s a challenge. Look at it this way, if you are passionate about anything that involves people, count on being let down, repeatedly. It turns out, I am passionate about everything, so I am constantly challenged. But, oh man, when the joy kicks in, its that supercharged warm and fuzzy stuff. The occasional disappointments are worth it. Because as it turns out, God made all of us. So we are all very connected. Better to get along and stay engaged, as families are supposed to do.
Be love. Be kind. We are all connected. Life is better with a soundtrack.
One last bit of music that has brought me joy lately. Below that is a link to a playlist I used as I developed this post. Peace be with you, my friends. Joy too.