Thursday, December 30, 2010

When Joy is Hard, II

Allowing ourselves to mourn develops our capacity to feel life’s joys. I believe that positive and negative emotions are two sides of the same coin. Of course, many of us would prefer to experience and deal with only positive feelings. We often feel uncomfortable with our own or others’ sadness, anger, disappointments, fears. . . . As we learn to feel all our feelings, we explore what it means to be fully human, to be all that God created us to be.

—Mary Lou Redding
The Power of a Focused Heart

I came across this from doing the Beth Richardson online retreat, "Unlcuttering Your Heart during Advent and Christmas." It speaks to the psychology of joy- that true joy comes in the context of experiencing pain, not as an escape from it. Of course, the cultural expectations are all about turning on happiness with a click of the "joy app" brought to you by the Christmas machine.

But we're human and not wired machines. Our resources include that which is not accessible to the naked eye. They include our emotional and spiritual, as well as our physical reserves. This season naturally takes withdrawals from us. If you're a clergy leader, the deficits mean that your reserves, if they exist at all, will be depleted to the point that you may not be fully present to your closest friends and family as you gather with them.

The good news is this: we can learn a better way, in any and all seasons. Until recently, I let my energy be absorbed in the siphoning vortex of this season's predetermined schedule. So the first step for me was realize I have choices. That, in itself, is empowering. How can I be more intentional in my spiritual life and more responsible for my own self-care each December?

Second, instead of just claiming "I survived- thank God it's over," I chose to celebrate so that I could look back and be grateful for what was life-giving in the season. Finally, I chose one or two activities to do over the season that I truly enjoyed, that would reconnect me with what is holy in my past Christmases, and then offering that to others. Singing in the choir and facilitating on online Advent discussion group were my choices.

Our part with joy does have to do with both the things that happen to us but also, the things that we choose. We tend to minimize the later. Although we cannot chose to just chuck the demands of this season, we can at least be more focused on the choices we can make. And we can let these decisions be more life- giving than diminishing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When Joy is Hard

One Advent a few years ago a spiritual director said to me, "Maybe this year, instead of going to Bethlehem, you need to meet Jesus at Bethany with Mary and Martha, at the tomb of Lazarus, their brother and friend."

I'll always be grateful for that guidance. Those words invited me to be myself, to be present with the grief and loss I was experiencing. The truth is, the season's theme of joy can be an especially a heavy weight for those who are marking loss instead of celebrating new beginnings. Feelings of isolation and loneliness may be experienced by those who must work through the holiday so that others can celebrate Christmas- church professionals and clergy are among this group. Sometimes glad tidings just cannot be heard no matter the regularity or the volume with which they are made.

In many a devotional guide, this week, the third week of Advent, has a mini-break intended to help us breathe a little easier. If words of joy are difficult to hear, you may need to give yourself a break, and to cut others some slack. You are doing the best you can. So are the others in your life. God's loving delight in you comes from the overflow of the Giver of Life's generosity and goodness and joy, not from anything we can try to control, nor from the traumatic events that happen to us beyond our choosing.

God is patient with you wherever you are in this month's journey. Even if you are not where you want to be, God is with you there. And for that reason, you can be patient with all, beginning with yourself. Especially when you feel much more like Scrooge or the Grinch than Santa. But we don't have to conjure up the perfect Christmas anymore than we're supposed to self-produce joy and happiness. The real Christmas is the one wherever you are, because wherever you are, God's healing and compassionate love is with you- and in you.

Peace of the Incarnate Word be with you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2010's Trite and Worn Words & Phrases

In grades 7-9, I used a progression of marvelous texts called Word Wealth to expand vocabulary. So I should know better if and when I use any of these overused words in the next few months.

on steroids/
counter intuitive
/man up/
friend-ed/ life back
/it's all good/
/transparency/it is what it is

* Please feel free to add your own phrases you find mildly irritating.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Cleveland, You Still Rock, and You've Got Company

Le Quitness doesn't get why all those people in Memphis kept booing him. He didn't do anything to them. Every city that's not a top market has an automatic affinity for the fan-dom of Cleveland, Ohio. It's all about knowing what it's like to be treated as second class and third rate.

There's no sense in cataloging much history here, because Cleveland's experience is the norm and not the exception. (By the way, it's the Mistake ON the Lake- not the Mistake BY the Lake. Know the difference). It's just that, when sports franchises want the economic support of their community, they like to tout the importance of fan loyalty. But, when it's time for a franchise to leave, or a player to be let go or traded, it all suddenly becomes about running a business and market-size. There is no city that hasn't felt that empty feeling of losing a team or player or coach the fans once passionately followed.

The same week that the player returned from South Beach to beat his former team on the North Coast, the man who moved the Browns-Ravens to Baltimore in 1995, Arthur Modell himself, was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2011 class. Talk about great timing! Ya just gotta laugh.

So the Memphis folks booing Le Classless? He will continue to function as a lightening rod for every fan who has ever felt betrayed by broken promises.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's Time to Flush the Hallmark Theology

Consider it your calling to debunk, in every way possible, the seasonal onslaught that's trumpeted in every piece of media, from the Grinch to the latest Hallmark special. The sad thing is, we so buy into it! What happens when we end up pinning all our hopes on whatever we can somehow produce on our own, whether it be good intentions or good actions?

We look back at another December and wonder why we feel so empty and exhausted. Maybe it was the toxic theology that we first ingested along with the primal Christmas special and the Thanksgiving turkey.

We don't have to swallow whatever anyone has to say about God. In fact, it is faithful pastoral work, as well as self-care, to disqualify some claims- to refuse them as sub- Christian. When someone says that God has a reason for the death of your loved one, instead of getting mad at God, learn how to get good and angry with that kind of this-for-that theology! But don't let that be an excuse for you to resist the life- infusion of the Spirit or to stop seeking God, the Lover of your soul!

I've always taken the Grinch story as a good critique of our materialism. But just to rid yourself of the attachment to stuff doesn't necessarily lead to life until you ask, what is filling the void? The story implies that human kindness and gratitude is what makes Christmas what it is. As helpful as human warmth can be, it's not my own goodness that can deliver me from the addiction to excessive grabbing, and the fear-based mantra that enough is never really enough.

I wish we weren't so susceptible to this season's message of salvation through buying and the self-manufacture of happiness. It's time to spare ourselves of all of the false consolations of a Hallmark theology--and receive the promise of the One who is coming, the One who is more wondrous and life-giving than we can ever think or imagine... the One who exceeds any human expectation.

Oldies but Goodies