Joy and The Kingdom

What more can I say, except what I’ve said most of the year…a year of joy is proving to be more challenging than I ever expected. I have, lately, been ruminating though, on the idea that it is indeed darkest before the dawn. I think of all the literature that I’ve read, as well as scripture, that the darkness, in desperation, works incessantly to cloud, impede, circumvents and appropriates all the progression that light, love and the building of the kingdom lays forth. For me it has truly become a observational moment, where the goats are separated from the sheep, where the quality of our character determines whether we embrace falsehood and fear, or truth and love. It has all become so clear. It is my hope, then, that the one who made us and saved us all who is truth and love will prevail. It is also more clear than ever that if we are going to continue on a road of truth and love that we can’t do it alone. We must join together, every last one of us, all with unique and essential gifts and parts to play in the continuing drama of our country and world’s evolution. When we act, ripples outward are created. Will they perpetuate darkness or light?

I’ve also been ruminating about the warnings of the New Testament to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. So many sparkly people who claim to be leaders of the future, who shroud themselves in flags and national rhetoric as the savior of the people. I heed the caution to shred through the illusions and watch behavior and the results that come from those choices. If your words spew hate and fear it is glaringly obvious that you don’t represent the evolving future of our country. Going backwards is not evolution. Limiting the perimeters of who qualifies as worthy of liberty and justice isn’t evolution…it is the exact opposite. Investing time and energy into unfounded and conspiratorial filth completely cuts off ones ability to embrace the talents God has given an individual to bear their own good fruit, instead of walking around with a hatchet to destroy the fruits others have been laboring to build. I am stunned and amazed at how easily some are swayed to believe rumors and pass them around as truth, with absolutely no effort to check their veracity. I think to the story of the woman caught in adultery and the challenge Jesus issued to those who would stone her, “let you among you who has not sinned throw the first stone” At least in that situation, the crowd had the ability to be humbled and walk away. In today’s environment? I feel no joy in knowing that some are so entrenched in their righteousness that they would not only throw stones, but would light her on fire, and then demand that Jesus thank them for it.

I am humble enough to admit that it has taken often herculean efforts to wake up, commit to truth, wielding love and expanding the talents God has given me to bear fruit and evolve this world. I too often take personally the vitriol and judgement projected through social media and common interactions (even if it is the hatred that is spewed over the simple wearing of a mask). I find I hold my breath…a lot. It saddens me at how miserly people are with how we are facing such a crisis in our present day. So much discussion about who deserves what, always watching their own backs and pocket books. This, clearly, is amplified for people of faith. When Jesus tells the people that it is harder for a rich person to enter the gates of heaven that a camel to go through the eye of a needle, he understand the hold that wealth can bring, with out it we would have to have faith in our gifts and God to provide what we need, and as the multiplication of the loaves and fishes shows us, we truly could always have enough to share.

So to end this rambling, I have walked the way of the sheep…as prescribed by Jesus: to treat the least among me as I would Christ, to tend my gifts and bring forth fruit and pray for those on the same journey, as children of the light, truth and love that we may overcome the darkness and the fear, the lies and the judgment and celebrate the joy in this simple axiom: “Anything you ask of me in goodness shall be given to you” The focus should be on the word “goodness”, and not “given”. The Gospels have always laid a clear path on how to behave, and not what to look like, or words to say. Remember that next time someone sparkly speaks

Joy, Idolatry and the Co option of America

Joy, Idolatry and the Co option of America

It’s been a tough few months struggling with my theme for this year…It has been hard to celebrate joy as a constant theme in these factious and dangerous times. Regardless of where you stand ideologically, unless you’re a zombie, soul-less, a hermit or a fool we should be able to at least agree on that. So, for the rest of us who are not the aforementioned, can we agree to work together to fight a horrible disease rationally, scientifically and without politics? Can we be respectful to those working tirelessly to rid the world of this horrible disease (and if I lose you at this point, I’m sorry, you really are a zombie, soul-less, a hermit or a fool and just fuck off…sorry, my bad…stop reading) Can we all agree to be civil and listen to one another before we go on the attack? Can people quit using “fake news” as an argument and do a little research please? Can we also agree that those who have tried to co opt the American Flag as a representation of only one kind of patriotism don’t really understand what the flag is a symbol of (meaning using the flag as only a representation of what they believe and then proceed to bully the rest of the country with strings of un-American epithets)? I can be just as American as a veteran (I’m a pacifist), because I’ve found ways to serve this country outside of the military. I have multiple family members who are veterans and they don’t see me as any less American as them. The person who just became a citizen or who has brown or black skin is just as American as someone whose presence in this country goes back generations and is white. So when the flag becomes more important than what it stands for, well that’s called idolatry and we should all be able to agree on that. What truly makes us American is how we reflect the ideals this country is founded upon and what the flag represents. So what ideals am I talking about?

This is where every true American should be walking hand in hand in agreement. America is that great experiment that fosters the freedom of “we the people for the people” to be treated equally under the law, and have the same freedom to pursue happiness. It also stands as a powerful symbol to the rest of the world and especially to enemies that democracy lives. The colors of the American flag represent the following ideas: red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. These are qualities that we all can work to uphold regardless of political party. But to co opt the flag as proof you are more American that any one else? Like I said, that’s just idolatry. Go ahead celebrate American pride…I fly my flag with honor and pride, but as a weapon to curtail those freedoms fought for because your perspective clashes with someone else’s? Well, excuse the language but again, fuck off cause you just don’t get it.

I have found simple joy in those who may not agree with me, but get that we can all work harder for a kinder, less divisive world. The bullies don’t scare me anymore, because the America I believe in is stronger than them, the love I have for this country is so much stronger than the hate spewed at me for having the audacity to have a different ideal of the world. So next time you see someone misuse the flag for their own purpose…simply remind them what it stands for.

Joy and the Long Game

As I have stated often, it is hard to speak of joy during turbulent times. While I’ve learned to focus on small joys, and clean my house of those who obstruct my personal evolution, I have also learned that living in the moment demands acting in a way that builds joy for the future. There are a lot of my Christian friends who are convinced that revelations is unfolding before our very eyes, and speak of doom and gloom that I believe only perpetuates fear (and somehow those who push said fear are sent from God…go figure). Fear has never been the focus of the gospel message, it is quite frankly the antithesis of the gospel message. Jesus the Savior more than anyone understood the frailties and failures of the human spirit. Jesus the teacher, though, speaks more of what brings about troubling times and how we should behave to survive them (from the 24th chapter of Matthew:

As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said: Tell us then, when will this happen and what signs will be of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus said to them in reply, “See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name and say ‘I am the Messiah’ and they will deceive many…But of that day and hour no one knows, neither angels of heaven, nor the Son but the Father alone…Therefore stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come

Interestingly, prior to the disciples query, Jesus goes on a rampage about what liars and hypocrites the church leaders have become and to be wary of those who appear holy in name and appearance with positions of high esteem and power, yet don’t practice what they preach. My favorite lines he uses to describe them are from Matthew 23:

You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth…Blind guides who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel…You cleanse the outside of the dish but inside they are full of plunder and self indulgence…

The point is so clear…a title of power means nothing if their words and actions are empty or contrary to the teachings of scripture. Jesus demands that the greatest among us must be a servant, and the way to survive the trouble of the times is to always be ready, by treating the least among us like we would treat him. For me, that is joy in the long game. Joy in the future is contingent on my actions today. My readiness also means that I am critical of anyone who promises salvation and yet behaves like the scribes and pharisees , the liars and the hypocrites that he decries prior to his comments on troubling times ahead. Actions speak louder than words. There is no other way to look at it.

Joy and choice

Since my last post, I’ve thought long and hard about sources of joy and my commitment to serve and build the body of Christ. I fully realize that there are differing “opinions” about many different subjects out there. I put the word opinion in quotes, because the distinction between opinion and facts still seems to be an issue in today’s world. Phrases like “I heard”, “Someone who is (insert position of some sort) said…” are not always factual, if you bother to check up on them. Also, just because someone states something on cable news, or posts something on the internet, doesn’t make it a fact. In the alternative, “facts” are increasingly hard to come by, when the volume of information differs depending on a host of factors: bias, resources and incomplete understanding. I feel dizzy at what to believe sometimes. My personal strength lies in being prudent, cautious and researching claims and potential bias. It takes a lot of time and effort and while I’ve felt exhausted doing so, it brings me joy to do my due diligence.

There are plenty of people out there who may disagree with my ability to disseminate fact from fiction, and truly, that is of no consequence to me, which further brings me joy. Choosing to challenge unfounded information (info I did research on) and suffering consequences as a result, strangely brought me great joy and freedom, which is pretty new for me. It is a relief to exclude those who refuse to acknowledge, parse words and always demand the last word, (again, my words, my take on it). The removal of those who refuse to be challenged and or continue to misconstrue opinions as fact, view as persecution or anti whatever, and at the very minimum are never open to differing opinions has lightened my load considerabley. My youngest son challenged me by saying, “Mom, you debate and argue logically and succinctly better than anyone I know, you have spent your life studying and understanding the complexities of what is happening right now, why would you associate with people who live on conspiracy theories, misinformation and hateful rhetoric or even care what they think?” I had a pretty weak response initially, but deep down it was because I truly want to be open to differing ideas and am firmly committed to building the whole Body of Christ…to which my own internal dialogue said…so if there was a sickness or cancer in the Body that threatened its very existence you wouldn’t address it? The challenge should be on how to move forward, with different ideas and yet still cleanse the Body of disease which is horribly hard to do with the limitations of a single perspective of which WE ALL SHARE. Its why we must listen to each other. So here is what I finally and uncomfortably realized: functionally, I am declaring that I am beyond or more evolved than some people, the reason being that I am continually challenging my faith. That idea doesn’t sit easily with me because of incorrectly associating being evolved with thinking I’m better than someone else. I really don’t think I’m better, down to my core, which is why I feel joy in finally understanding the distinction. I also embrace understanding that my personal evolution also means that I am aware that I am demonstrably more flawed than I was yesterday, because of exposed holes in my belief system that are a direct result of questioning. But before I let myself spiral downward a bit at recognizing those flaws, words my father wrote to me popped into my head as I continued to ponder this challenge:

I am glad you disagree with fundamentalism because to be narrow as they are apt to be, leads to a narrow frustrating life. They tend to gather around others like them and fail to find goodness in those who are not like them or put their own faith to tests of honesty. They’re good people but they stay status quo, with no growth. It seems to me they put limits on God. To me theology is a process of change which goes on continually in a life time. One must continually grow by learning new things, theologically. As you learn more your life changes in accordance. Everything you learn, in turn, must be challenged and tested. This is how you arrive at growth, or truth. I do not judge how others believe because ultimately we are responsible for our own Christian lives and we must act according to what we know to be the Truth at the time. Over a time we may prove to be wrong but only because we had insufficient knowledge or our logic was faulty. There is always so much we don’t know but we have to have faith that somehow God will reveal to us how right or wrong we are, and with way we grow. I’m sure God does not abandon us and sometimes things happen we cannot handle alone and we give it up to Him. I see you in everything I have said. You plan your own path well enough.

I have worked really hard at this, and rereading my father’s letter brought me such joy. There are too many people who refuse to test their faith and embrace evolution. Happily, I know that I am getting better at it everyday (this is not the same as people arriving at a different conclusion, I still welcome them with open arms, our paths are all different, challenging each other is how we all grow). But those who refuse to evolve, embrace illusions and lies to be superior and refuse to be challenged? They bring me no joy, and I am gratefully releasing them from my life. Challenging my faith on issues of privilege or what personhood means and how better to be a custodian of this beautiful planet and to make necessary changes to evolve my faith are only a few that I’ve embraced. There are so many more powerful truths that are sweeping me up in the current of growth to help me evolve beyond who I was yesterday, and who I will choose to be tomorrow…and it brings me joy.

Prayers for you on my Birthday

So, here I am starting my 61st year, a bit shocked at the place we are at. It leads me to believe that prayer, among many other actions are more important than ever. I think we can agree that we live in troubled times (yes, I know that’s an understatement) so my prayers for you this year on the anniversary of my birth are about evolution.

First, if you are one of the few who believe that you are already on the top of the evolutionary scale and everyone else simply has to catch up…I pray you pull your head out of your butt and understand that as long as you’re still breathing (pun intended) you have plenty of room to evolve. And if you remain resolutely firm in the belief that you have all the answers, or even most of them, I pray that karma doesn’t hit you too hard to force the issue.

I pray for you to find and develop your spiritual intelligence, from whatever source inspires that spiritual essence that exists in all of us…be it nature, music, art, meditation, scripture, or more traditional church. With that inspiration, I pray that you learn and grow and expand that intelligence into all that you do. The world is changing around you whether you like it or not and honing spiritual intelligence can only help you evolve with the changes.

I pray that you are able to evolve past what isn’t working in this world and find ways to change in a way that supports the evolution of everyone and not just you. Just as everyone walks their own path, its more important than ever that your journey doesn’t progress at the expense of someone else’s. Your success in this world should never be predicated on some one else’s failure. This is not the same as saying some will fail on their own, I mean more of the stepping on someone else to move forward kind of evolving. I think its evolutionary to believe and embrace goals that help all of us succeed, and I think it also honors a God who has created a body that can and should celebrate every part of it, even the seemingly insignificant.

I pray that you can evolve beyond what makes you afraid, and understand that the greatest way to overcome fear, is to shed a light on it and face it head on instead of turning a blind eye. Fear only controls what you allow it to and should never be the primary source or reason for any action. We are all afraid of one thing or another, be it rooted in money, judgement, violence, sickness, gender and race or a host of other things…and addressing fear with love, which is so much more powerful and bigger than we are individually, I can guarantee will help fear dissipate (and for those of you who claim to be Christian, you are commanded by God to love one another, because the opposite of love is fear, and choosing fear over love means you reject God who is love)

I pray that we all can embrace change, because it is a universal truth whether we like it or not. Evolution comes when we can clear our vision of illusions and work hard to see truth. While technology advances and tightens our global circle, it can also move us toward even more falsehoods or expose them. Words matter, facts matter and while you may disagree, the lying liars who lie are becoming even more deft at manipulating the truth, So, in order to evolve within change, truth, not opinions or falsehoods are essential.

I pray that that you can celebrate the unique and perfect blueprint that God created in making you. (go with the poetry for a moment and leave genetics aside). I pray you can evolve every great talent that has been built in and bestowed on you, and in doing so I want to thank you ahead of time for the impact it will have on the world and all its troubles right now. We need every gift we can get, and as soon as you understand how gifted you are, the quicker those gifts can be used to help our world evolve.

Lastly, I pray that throughout all the necessary changes our world needs right now that through them you feel and know that you are loved, that you show others that they too are also loved (especially someone you don’t love right now, because I guarantee you they need it) and celebrate the joy that comes with building a new and stronger future for everyone.

Joy and Sorrow

I wanted to start with sorrow, because it is the most prevalent emotion I feel everyday…but that isn’t the focus of my year, its joy. So I think that in this shit show of a world right now, where the condemnatory gifs and memes that condemn the year 2020, I am choosing to live in the “darkest before the dawn” sentiment and imagine that this is exactly the kind of year that will lead us to deeper and greater joy.

Perhaps the joy lies in not taking things for granted, like societal connections both strained and limited by a disease and challenged to transform because the horrific death of George Floyd. The greatest joy would lie in the belief that we really are all in this together. As Jesus says:

God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If (one) part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy.

Perhaps the joy comes when people of all colors and backgrounds unify and walk the streets peacefully claiming that black lives do, indeed, matter and that we need to have difficult and necessary conversations about securing the safety and welfare of all our citizens.

Perhaps the joy comes when there is a renewed effort to practice kindness…even when that kindness isn’t returned, because people don’t always act appropriately when they are overwhelmed and afraid.

Perhaps joy comes with realizing that the pandemic and racial violence also offers the opportunity to rebuild what was burned down, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, and visit the lonely especially those in prison.

Perhaps joy comes when empathy and compassion circumvent the need to demand perfection first. All of us are flawed and fallible at any given point in our lives…we should all be worthy, just like the good Samaritan deemed the thief worthy.

Perhaps joy comes with using your voice to ring out truths that are deemed inalienable by the founders of this great country, and continue their work to be our best selves by exercising one of our single greatest powers, the power to vote.

Perhaps joy comes with the freedom to wield our faith with impunity regardless of those who try to proclaim the belief that we cannot. There is no structure big enough, no limitation strict enough to keep us from engaging in grace and loving as Jesus commanded us to: To love your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Structures and services are not the priority, the loving part is. The rest is just subterfuge perpetuated by fear mongers. For scripture also says:

If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates their brother or sister, they are a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom they have seen cannot love God 5 whom they have not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love their brother or sister.

And lastly, perhaps, joy comes from having eyes to see and ears to hear the necessary truths shared by all our brothers and sisters that will set us on the road to building a better future. We are all creations of God with unique and singular gifts. To think that we can accomplish any greatness on our own…is folly and contrary to what makes humanity great.

Joy and …..

This post was originally titled something else. I tried to live within the theme of joy, but given the current situation in our country and world, the message seemed inappropriate, because truthfully,…it felt trite, disingenuous, disrespectful, entitled, and simply unfair to be talking about joy right now. So, if you would indulge a bit of diversion this is my “not joy” insight. If joy is feelings of great pleasure, happiness and contentment, then we should all take a quick hiatus for a moment. There are times when given the gravity of the violence happening in my home town, when a discussion of joy is reserved for a later date. There may be a time to talk of joy amidst crisis, but that moment is not now.

I have only one single perspective. If I stand alone and demand that the only value is in what I see, and hear and dismiss any other vantage point because it is contrary or different than my perspective then it is antithetical to my personal evolution and contrary to my faith. If I try to move around to see things from different angles and ask for and listen to the perspective of those who may see things vastly different than I do, I think that not only helps me evolve and fulfills what Jesus requires of us, but is the only necessary place from which good solutions are to follow. I think its essential to take a moment and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Looking at things from a variety of perspectives, asking and listening to others doesn’t mean that I have to buy in to any one perspective, but it is required if we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, and love the least among us as if they were Christ. What seeing from a variety of perspectives does for me is to create a sense of empathy, understanding and a greater truth beyond my own limited perspective. Then I get to re clarify and move beyond my limitations.

We have some difficult steps to take now and into the future. It can’t happen without a dialogue, one that is sure to be charged with emotions and opinions. But, if we truly want to get beyond this crisis of the pandemic, racial inequity and the resulting violence and bring together the people of this country, then confronting the uncomfortable and learning to address these problems with civility and respect is a necessary requirement. Before any of us stand in polarity for or against any issue, remember these words that Jesus spoke:

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak. By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

There will be a variety of perspectives on all the worlds ills in the weeks to come, especially before our elections…let reason, love, truth and the golden rule of treating others as we would treat ourselves reign. I won’t tolerate bullying, but I am open for dialogue. I am praying all the time, for us all.

Joy and Revelation

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Amidst scrubbing for the umpteenth time, dried food on pots and pans and the ratsin’ fratsin’ that kept pouring out of my mouth, I had a revelation that brought me peace among the crust of other people’s garbage. The revelation pulled so much of my journey over the last few years together, amidst a pandemic, financial upheaval, polarizing anger and judgement…it all became so very clear. And to begin with, this has nothing, well mostly nothing to do with partisan politics, those of you who think differently than me should know by now how dear you are to me…if not, I’m sure I will be rethinking my ability to communicate that better. Secondly, I really don’t give two hoots in hell if I make some people angry. Do you want to know why? I DID THE WORK…and when I didn’t get it right, karma came crashing down until I got it right. (my relationship to God stems on a quick turn around so I waste no time) please check this reference on “standing in the middle” https://maryfrancesflood.com/?p=7930. Third, because I did the work, I am emboldened to tell you what I think is important information kind of like a philosophical/ theological explorer of sorts. And Forth, and maybe the most important of all, the possibility exists that I am totally fuc@#$g completely off base, and like Thomas Merton said “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” And also my obsession with Job; https://maryfrancesflood.com/2012/04/25/the-patience-of-job/ I am perfectly aware that I don’t have the omniscience that God has, so if I’m wrong about any of this, it certainly wasn’t for failed effort. I don’t think God would allow me to keep such delusions. Anyway, here we go.

I’ve been think a lot about this particular scripture when Jesus talks about the separation of the sheep and the goats. When Jesus comes back in all his glory, he will separate the sheep from the goats…basically those who understood the point of his ministry and utilized the power of grace to inherit the kingdom of heaven (which is super goal oriented, I guess). The bottom line is that the prize will go to those who treat the least among us like they were Christ…there is a lot fodder for discussion for what that means, but let me assure you it has nothing to do with the recitation of the phrase “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior” and then keep kicking the least among you because you think they are sinners and disgusting, and well basically because you said the magic phrase and I’m in the club now, and gives you license to be God in judgment and jury. Love is more efficacious than that…which is evidence why I can love people who stand on a different polarity than me…their love is efficacious (look it up, its a cool word…you’re welcome).  Also, the least among us may look differently to each person see:https://maryfrancesflood.com/2015/01/02/of-consequence-and-consequences/. What makes us a sheep and not a goat, is how we respond to the people we think are of no consequence, or using my reference from the beginning of the post, who throw cooked on dried on food container in the sink for us to clean up. Jesus taught me in a dream, that if I really wanted to keep true to that message I had to be willing to wash someone’s feet that I think is so off it would be painful to do so, and I’m also reminded of  that question that my eldest son posed when he was eight that rocked my world, “Mom, there isn’t a place even in hell that the love of God can’t reach, right?” This is where my frailty comes in and my deep dependence on God to do the right thing when someone has spiritually knifed me in the back…while the anger and all that comes with that is justifiable and all I want to do is eviscerate them with my velociraptor like vocabulary…I recommit to refusing to let it turn me into a goat. (even though for the record this metaphor is lost on me because I love me some baby goats…I understand Jesus meaning though).

The joy comes because of the work that I’ve done, work for which I WILL NOT AND NEVER APOLOGIZE FOR, even if you call me a pontificating freak (which in so many words people have said a lot).I have the war wounds to show for it, and the wisdom to know what is self inflicted and what is not. The joy comes because I have walked and listened to a multitude of perspectives…again, here is the reference: https://maryfrancesflood.com/2018/02/15/truth-and-perspective/. The joy comes because I am so much more than those people that are stuck in one position and refuse to broaden their perspective by simply moving and opening their eyes to a different angle. I have joy because I recognize clearly those who are stuck and understand that it is as impossible to change their minds as it is to have someone color blind understand the color purple. The joy comes because “I” am so much more, because my eyes are open and God has shown me a multitude of colors I hadn’t seen before…and that does make a difference. As the little prince says in St Exupery’ great book: words are often the greatest source of misunderstanding…and then goes on to say “What is essential is invisible to the eye; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly” Jesus says it too: they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another. The joy also comes even amidst the anger that I feel when someone else’s stupid fear (and or just someone’s stupidity) creates havoc in this world. I have joy even amidst the sadness of so many life changes and losses, because the crux of my faith is when God is with me, nothing can keep me from his love…and those who don’t live by that are becoming or already are goats. And I can’t change that, except to treat them, and the least among my particular world as I would Christ. I can only change my response to them, and see if that makes a difference. And sometimes that response looks like wielding a sword, and others like washing feet. The joy comes when I simply do what the Gospel asks me to do, and the promise that I am not alone, even if I am physically in any given moment.

The joy comes, also, because for the first time in a very long time, I don’t feel alone. I feel connected to the great source that connects us all, and in my prayers I feel you, (even though I may not physically know you), struggling to become or stay sheep. I feel joy in praying for you every day too.

Using Joy

So, all this COVID19 stuff is starting to get old, I know that is stating the obvious. All the big corporations talk about how “we’re in this together”. Yeah, I don’t really believe that…but just regular people? Now it is in them that I hold my hope. There has been a lot that could have broken my spirit in the last days, and usually it was a single act of an individual, or the brave act of a bunch of individuals ( I live in Wisconsin) that lift me back up. I do believe that when we come out the other end of this we will be better than before…and that we will invent a “new” normal. And that is my focus right now, to use joy even in its seemingly insignificant impact in the face of sickness, death, isolation and so much fucking bullshit (and my new normal is to step a bit outside of propriety and swear a bit) out there, to bring light one moment at a time.

I’ve witnessed soul crushing examples when money, power and fear take hold…whether its hoarding or behaving superior or being just plain selfish and mean, and the impact it has on other people and myself. And while I’m getting over the shock of it, I guess, it has also become a “separating the sheep and the goats” moment for me. How we behave during this crisis is a truer reflection of who we really are and the future road we take. There is nothing like a crisis to wipe away the minutia of ego..(I have the gray stripe down my part to prove it). It has become clearer to me who I will spend my time with when the isolation lifts. It is also the time where faith isn’t just a word or something we talk about or celebrate remotely on You Tube. It is where we put it all out there and prove to ourselves and the world that we really do believe what the Gospels say and the promises it bears. It is the time to see for ourselves where our houses are built. Are they built on sand or rock? Can you live the beatitudes and treat the least among us as Christ? Can you treat others as you would yourself? Or are you living in fear, judgement, persecution and blame? I face this every day, and I do better on some days than others. The bad days?, I pick myself up and send out a little joy to someone…and it has saved me. I hope it can save you too.

Joymongering

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OK, I borrowed from the phrase: fearmongering…but why can’t we turn that word on its head? So, I had a thought (this time a super fun one). The store that sold my cards is under reinvention, and of course closed because of the COVID19 virus. So I plan on engaging in a bit a joymongering since we are all stuck at home. I will send anyone who wants one, one of my cards free of charge so they can, in turn, send one out to bring a bit of joy to someone that is suffering (like we all are) from social distancing and other pressures this whole new world has brought forth. You can message me on messenger with your address, or for my wordpress followers you can leave initials and an address in the comments section (I don’t, and won’t publish comments), or email me at the address attached to this blog. It’s first come, first serve. You can mention the type of card you want too, but like I said it will be first come first serve. If you have cards at home and don’t need one. them by all means just send them out. Most people keep fears and concerns silent…so let’s break that pattern and spread a little, simple bit of joy!

We are in this together, and we need not be afraid! I’ve never asked this, but please share this post so we can spread joy to as many people as we can!

Joy and Dancing

I keep thinking God is punking me with  joy as a my yearly focus…especially given all that is happening in the world right now…what exactly is there to be joyful about? And then I had an epiphany…and danced. In context, my beautiful niece got married last weekend. Most people had to travel (we did) and some from abroad. There were cancellations, concerns, anxiety and some frayed nerves. Yet love was celebrated, families were together, and in the face of  growing world fear, an opportunity for joy. So this is what I exercised during this trip: conscious joy. In every moment, to find the joy, because its there, always present and waiting to be seen and felt.

I saw joy when myself and others exercised kindness, others so appreciated it. I saw joy in the joining of two phenomenal people in love, and felt joy in all that we as parents accomplished with such amazing offspring and support for one another. I found joy in the warm sun, beautiful surroundings and time to breath (and I don’t mean that metaphorically). I felt overwhelming joy watching my brother and his daughter dance together, and felt an other worldly presence of my niece’s mother and my father who both have passed that washed over me with joy also. I practiced joy in re figuring crazy moments and laughed about them. And then, even though I didn’t want to at first…when given the opportunity, I danced…just like I used to. At that moment I remembered how much I loved it, why I did it and could feel my joy alter the world, even if in a minuscule way. I’m still paying for it now (my body just doesn’t work that way anymore) but it was the best reminder of why my favorite verse was David dancing naked before the ark of the covenant. It transformed my fear, and I realized that joy can be found at all moments. It reminded me why I am a  person of faith. It reminded me that all things are indeed possible if we have faith in God, ourselves and each other.

I am beginning to appreciate that my theme this year is joy. I think God knew I would be prone to dark moments and hopelessness. So I am conscious of it at all times. Joy can be found even in the darkest moments, because we are the very creation of love, and with that understanding comes joy. And this understanding will be crucial as we move forward in this crisis…for me I will try to exercise joy.

Joy Amidst Tribulation

When I studied Theology in college, I will never forget one particular reading assignment in a class on the early Church Fathers that has left an indelible mark on my soul. During the early development of Christianity and its persecution by Rome, there is a letter to the Roman Emperor Diocletian, in which the apologist tries to respond to the Emperor’s query: “Who are these Christians that are joyful even in the face of horrible death?” In truth, I was more impressed with the question than any answer given. The observation was clear…there was something demonstrably different about Christians, they seemed to have something more, a power that enabled them to face their greatest tribulation with joy rather than fear, hatred or anger. As a woman of faith, that’s what I wanted more than anything…to be joyful in the face of any struggle thrown my way.

During this time of cultural trouble when it seems that up is down and down is up, I am again focused on being joyful amidst tribulation. Not fake joy, or just the deep desire or hope of it, and not the proclaimed kind or the kind that the church claims dominion over and is expected of all who say they believe, not the kind that exists in a bubble free from what is happening in the larger world to the least among us….I want true joy, joy that sustains and fills in the empty holes that life sometimes brings…the kind that makes me “more” than non believers. I want the kind of joy that dampens or halts any desire for retribution for injustice, and hypocrisy. I want to be joyful amidst all of the strains and struggles of modern life. I want the joy that used to propel me to dance…the kind that allowed me to see colors that many people, blocked by fears and all things opposite of love cannot see. I want the kind of joy that fills me with the power of light, so that change can happen through the visible representation that we as people of faith are more than someone without it.

I want to be the kind of woman of faith that can show to those who face depression, suicide, victimization, starvation, loneliness, judgement, the kinds of stress manifested in many forms, and all other tribulations that there is hope, a life line, a superpower that helps us all rise above any and all tribulations. I want to be more. For those who were so close to the events of Christ and the apostles in history, perhaps it was easier to become more that they were before they believed, or maybe it was the ferocity that comes when someone like the Romans try to take away what is most precious that gave them joy, because they knew so clearly that God would prevail.

I observe a church today that is more concerned about finding sanctuary within human made walls and blame upon others than standing as a beacon of hope and joy amidst some of the greatest tribulations of our time. It’s no wonder that people are falling apart in desperation all over the world. The surest way to destruction is to lose hope, forget the joy comes when we know that when God is for us, in us and around us that nothing will come between his love for us and the worst of all tribulations…even if that is death.

Think of it this way: those who fully embrace God’s love truly see things on a greater color spectrum. I have had times in my life seen colors that others don’t see. The difficult part is trying to explain a color to someone who is color blind, or can’t see it. Words are ineffective, you have to show the world by example, by expressing and wielding the love that Christ demonstrated, by having faith in the grace that was and continues to be extended by his loving sacrifice and a deep belief in all the promises that he made us. I know most Christians focus too much on the eternal life part, or getting “in the club” part…I’m talking about the transformation in each present moment. I pray every day to be the kind of person that would make people say, “I want what she has” (and not in a material sense).

Make no mistake, I am just as responsible as anyone for not exuding the joy that faith brings. I also want to be clear that joy looks different depending what path you’re on. There are people who suffer from mental illness, grief, are victims of violence and racism, etc. I tread softly here, because I don’t think true joy is a visible celebration all the time. The distinction, though, lies in filling and augmenting the broken pieces in each of us with the spiritual strength of God. Jesus said they will know you are my disciples by how you love one another, and that there is no distinction between loving your enemy and loving those who love you. I have to believe, that whatever the struggle, the love you share still will differentiate you from one who is just broken and hopeless. He also said that if you live in that love, His love will live in us and our joy will be complete. That is what I want to reclaim this year, and I hope my journey helps you reclaim it as well.

What is Joy

Definition of joy

 (Entry 1 of 2)1a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires DELIGHTb: the expression or exhibition of such emotion GAIETY2: a state of happiness or felicity BLISS3: a source or cause of delight

intransitive verbto experience great pleasure or delight REJOICE

transitive verb1archaic GLADDEN

2archaic ENJOY

When in doubt, I use the dictionary…otherwise its too easy to become mired in word use that doesn’t reflect its true meaning, at least for me anyway (words matter). Merriam-Webster has always been a good springboard to start. Words like well-being, getting what I desire, delight, gaiety, happiness, rejoice and bliss aren’t really in my wheelhouse right now. So here it is, the sad truth…I am not feeling the joy.

When I started a “theme for the year journey” 6 years ago, King David dancing before the ark of the covenant was the scripture verse I picked that exemplified my faith. Since then and six themes and years later: walking my path (opening my eyes to see and my ears to hear), speaking a loud about faith, clarity, fruits, truth and love have rebuilt me practically from the ground up, and in all truth most of the time I didn’t feel much like dancing. I don’t necessarily believe there was anything wrong with the verse I chose back then, not to dismiss my past self, but when God answered my prayers on my quest, my movement included a lot more rough and rocky terrain that was and continues to be difficult to dance along. There was a lot more climbing, and leaping, falling down, and scrapes and bruises as well as navigating over new terrain with no visible path than I expected. I learned that whenever a person is serious about a prayer, like mine have been for the last 6 years without qualification, you are afforded an answer. I may not have liked every answer, but, as I reflect, I know the answers were spot on. While I never could have imagined the direction life has taken me, hindsight shows me a great deal of proof that my prayers have been and will continue to be answered. The real qualifier is whether or not I can absorb, understand and apply everything at all…hence the rebuilding of my body and soul.

So, if evolution is to become a reality and not just a blog story (this is in direct reference to all the bullshit that is out there, i.e. saying one thing and doing another), this must be central to my discovery of joy this year:

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you. By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. John 15:7-12

The journey continues, right now its hard to experience joy according to the definition and Scripture’s promise. So my bliss is the hot cup of tea I am sipping, delight in the people I encounter, the happiness I find in my art. I am focused on rejoicing in putting one foot in front of the other and bearing good fruit on my journey as a disciple.