just joy

Middle aged woman sitting in a rocking chair

I’ve been thinking a lot about the comment to my last post about Joy! and I love it so much. Don’t you think that accepting both/and instead of either/or generates a sense of peace and harmony? Do our minds just jump to a polarized, black and white view of things automatically and our spirits are the ones who have to rein in that response and attempt to see the nuances that pull us back to the middle ground? Peace is the next topic I want to explore and finding harmony, balance and peace rests on this idea that life is best lived in the ‘in-between’, the middle way, or at the foot of the cross. I’m really liking the exercise of sitting with discomfort but at the same time the very act of sitting in stillness with a recognition of the discomfort brings peace….peace that passes understanding because it is beyond my mind’s ability to rationalize and sort through it. I practice accepting what is and feeling the dichotomy while trying to hold a space for just breathing, just being, just joy. I think about the collusion of opposites like a candle in the night or the moon above the trees or a flashlight in a closet and how the very fact that they occur at the same time defines each of them against the other and gives a unique beauty, depth and hope. What do you think?



I love that I found a picture of a woman who fits the image of joy that Vabutsy describes in her comment.

When JOY! is Hard to Find


UGH, this is a hard on194306_1_iocs_Joy2_125_per16_125_R2ne! JOY!  (Don’t you feel like it has to be followed with an exclamation point?) Telling people to find joy in the blessings no matter how small is not helpful and I would suggest it is even harmful and alienating, especially when we imply that joy is evidence of our spirituality and our resolve, as do the writers of the Christian website Theopedia. Their entry for joy is “a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness.” Following the above definition are a few ‘encouraging’ paragraphs about choosing joy and finding joy that include a whole lot of ‘shoulds’ that make me question the authenticity of the evangelical Christian perspective. Check it out: http://www.theopedia.com/joy   Honestly that doesn’t always work for me no matter how hard I try.

In the movie “Inside Out” Joy is the skinny, pretty one in a yellow twirly, flippy dress. I’ve always wanted to be Joy but if I’m honest I’m really more of a combination of Sadness and Disgust. Some days my zeal is heavy on the zzzzz’s and light on the (squ)eal’s. I am a champion napper, which is my way of shutting out all the voices and taking a break from too much thinking. I flee from negative feelings by hiding out in books, in my bed and even in busyness.

No amount of telling me that I ‘should have joy and count my blessings’ will change my attitude. I just want to embrace the disappointments and the negatives of life, see the world as it really is and, frankly, dwell in the pity party for a moment, take a nap, eat a pint of Chunky Monkey, bitch and moan a little and eventually give myself a pep talk and move on, slowly and with determination and without guilt about being human and embracing the fact that JOY! is not always an option for me. I want to smack this little elf right off her shelf, for real!

So, what do I do with the ‘fruits of the  Spirit’ when they’re not my ‘go to’? I’m tired of pretending and just ‘putting on the armor’….I know, mixing my scripture passages. I’m not good at putting on ‘joy’ and just smiling when things aren’t alright.

You know, I think sometimes in life Sadness and Disgust and even Anger are the appropriate emotions and we need to embrace them. Sitting with them for a bit serves to remind me that not everyone is JOY! Some of us struggle with choosing and living in the ‘shoulds’ and the ‘pretending’ and that’s okay. We’re the ones who can sit with others when joy isn’t around and be okay with a real life full of messy, hard stuff. I’ve sat with depression, death, dying, cleaned up diarrhea and cried with strangers; someone has to be there when joy is hard to find.

‘Still I rise’ by Maya Angelou

Yesterday I was asked by an African-American, female chaplain to read this poem aloud at the palliative care conference at the university. It is ostensibly about the struggle of the black woman in America, and a black woman in particular (Ms Angelou), but Rev. Hepburn was using it as a way to open dialogue about the black cultural mythology surrounding illness and death. The act of reading it was powerful and brought tears to my eyes. I returned to my seat empowered in a way I didn’t anticipate.

I hadn’t read this poem before yesterday nor had I met Rev. Hepburn and she does not know me or my story. She told me later that she believes in following the Holy Spirit and she clearly heard the spirit tell her this poem needed to be read in my voice. I will forever be grateful to her for following the spirit’s urging to use my voice and I have no idea why or what purpose it served for her presentation to have a little, blond, white woman read it, but God had a clear message for my heart in these words and in the act of standing behind a microphone to declare them aloud. I am inspired to embrace my own culture, my own body, my own changing roles; to find and embrace my own ‘womanist’ voice and declare for myself:

Still I rise.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Letting Go of My Need to Know


I have decided that giving up my need to always be right, have all the answers and seek “The Truth” is the only genuine way to follow Christ. I have some sort of inner desire to be right and I am beginning to think it is detrimental to my faith. I know you know what I mean! We all do it. It seems to be part of being human. We choose a side, a team, a church, a faith tradition, a worldview and in choosing we seem to think that we have found the Truth. Unfortunately, in declaring THE truth we also declare all other options as false leaving us defensive, arrogant and oppositional. I am automatically placing myself in a position of self-determined superiority. And what happens when over time things change and it no longer seems like truth to me? Then what do I do? Admit I chose the wrong team to begin with? Try to justify why my church is no longer a good fit? Stick it out and make it fit or make others change? Keep my questioning to myself and slowly fade into fatalism?

Maybe giving up my need to be right is required to walk justly in the world as Christ walked and to live my truth by embracing my limited abilities to know all things.

All my life I have fought against a habit of looking at things as always right/wrong, good/bad, win/lose, black/white, guilty/innocent….etc.  I say “fought against” because it seems like a battle to me. When I voice my opinion or my views there’s something inside of me that wants so badly to be right! to win! to be accepted for choosing the right way and find other people who want to jump on board with  me.

What if that impetus to be right is the root of dissension and unrest in the world? What if Christ’s example on earth was not to establish clarity and perfection for his followers by showing them the way to discern right from wrong and truth from falseness, but to show us a way to live humbly with imperfection in ourselves and others in an imperfect world? (I am saying WE are imperfect not Christ) To show us an alternative to judging between Jew and Gentile by giving us the good news that it doesn’t depend on us and what we do, who we are or what we think. He came to restore all of us to fellowship with God. Perhaps he doesn’t need us to constantly defend the truth, but rather to live out a life filled with the fruits of the spirit. When I read the recorded actions and words of Christ I don’t find him standing in front of crowds arguing about doctrines and contemporary issues, rather I find him listening to individuals, speaking kindness and forgiveness, meeting their needs physically, emotionally and spiritually. He walks softly, gathers seeking hearts, holds broken hearts tenderly, provides healing.

In Paul’s writing to the church in Galatia, after encouraging them to stick with preaching the gospel of Christ, knowing that only through faith can anyone be blessed, he lists the fruits of the spirit:  love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, kindness and self-control. He doesn’t encourage them to know the truth and staunchly support it with wise arguments, rather he challenges them to believe that Christ was God, came to love them through sacrifice and to live by the Spirit and not give in to the desires of the flesh which lead to all kinds of conflict and craziness. (See Galatians 5). I memorized verses 22 and 23 at one point because frequently reminding myself of Paul’s vision for how my Christian walk can unfold with God’s help and power is the best way to combat the dualism in my mind. I am thinking that Christ may have come to save me from my drive to choose right from wrong and defend ‘truth’…and instead came to show me a better way to live in a world of crazy-mixed-up voices and to live with inner peace and purpose that comes from following His example and serving. What do you think? I’ll try to listen generously and peacefully.

LOVE and ‘the selfish gene’

I’m still thinking about love. I’m thinking about living out love in my life and how it actually looks…..as my husband says some people are easier to love than others and the true challenge to love  is loving the ‘unloveable’ or the person along my path who is hard to love. If I have determined that love consists of strong emotional attachment and showing compassion and kindness….how on earth can I possibly love those I have no emotional attachment to or who I cannot understand. If Jesus the Christ is my example of the ultimate love…laying down one’s life for someone…everyone! then how am I to possibly follow that example.

On the recommendation of an atheist friend I’m reading a book “The Believing Brain: from ghosts and gods to politics and conspiracies–how we construct beliefs and reinforce them as truths” by Michael Shermer. It is interesting and well-written from a social scientist’s perspective however there was something in the pages I read yesterday that made me pause and consider once again the concept of love in action in the light of Christ’s example. Shermer briefly references a twentieth-century social evolution scientist W.D. Hamilton’s theory on social altruism called ‘Hamilton’s Rule’ in which Hamilton determines that living beings show altruism (I would say love in action) or spite (I would say withhold love or show disdain or hatred in action) to other living beings based on the benefit or the cost to their own survival and that of their offspring. His theories were popularized by Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene” in 1976 and basically what it boils down to is that all living beings are ‘programmed’ at the genetic level for selfishness and survival leading to actions demonstrating love or spite toward others depending on self-preservation.

Maybe that genetic code written into our being is why it is harder to love some people, but we have the advantage as humans of choosing our actions and it seems to me that choosing to love anyone by showing mercy, grace, service, understanding and giving of our time, talents and money is only possible when we live by the example of Christ’s sacrifice….otherwise why would we even bother if it is purely out of survival instinct?  How cynical and sad the evolutionary perspective is on human behavior. If love in action is purely dependent on my genetic need for physical survival it is worthless!!!!! If I unconsciously, on a genetic level weigh the costs and benefits to me personally with every action of compassion and kindness it is not love! The Bible defines God as love and one of the most well-known passages of the New Testament defines love as ‘not self-seeking’. What possible survival advantage could love have if it is sacrificial to the point of giving up life? Personally, I want to demonstrate love …selfless, sacrificial, zealous love with no other motive than obedience to the image of Christ’s example. The kind of love the Bible says the ‘world’ can’t understand because it makes no rational, scientific sense…..It is only possible through a surrender of rationality and an embrace of the power we have as conscious beings to believe, hope and trust in a Higher Power.

On this the 10th anniversary of devastating terrorism and loss, the stories of sacrificial altruism are overwhelming. What power or genetic coding drove men and women to stand beside or some cases to run toward physical danger to help the victims? As you hear and see these stories be on the look out for examples of the power of LOVE  trumping the selfish gene…What a WILD social experiment that can be! Love looks very different than we expect sometimes.

LOVE: Part 2

In part 1 of the definition of LOVE I cut and pasted the wikipedia definition of love as a jumping off point. One thing you need to know about wordaholics and bibliophiles (two groups of which I count myself a member) is that we are pretty picky about our dictionaries and where a definition originates. Wikipedia is a pretty lame source, although I was impressed with the breadth of the definition. The gold standard for English language users is the Oxford English Dictionary or the OED as it is called. (I once quoted a definition from a “lesser” dictionary to a fellow graduate student and received a virtual tongue lashing that taught me the intended lesson very quickly!)

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the OED online ($295/year subscription) or the time to head to a nearby library ..so wikipedia it will have to be for now, but  just know that I know that wikipedia is a lame source. OKAY? okay.

Back to the task at hand: LOVE. We think we know what love is all about. I personally tend  to dwell on the positive, profoundly giddy and decadently devoted side of things but today my thoughts fall to the darker side of love: the serious and often painful side of love. If love is a coin and one side is warm, comfortable and full of unimaginable joy, then the other side is cold, stark and clinging tenuously to those our hearts embrace. Love opens the ugly potential for pain and loss; if we didn’t love then there would be nothing to lose! There would be nothing to pine for and no one to ache to hold close and protect from the pain of the world. We know this….from our experiences… but we don’t want to think about it. We don’t want to spend any time on that side of the coin. Flip it over! we scream when the dark side turns our direction.

To love is to actively understand both sides of the coin. Consider your partner in life, your family, your friends, your stuff, your pets. Love is not easy or free of cost. It costs us everything always….whether in the good times or the bad….


One of my favorite things to do is dig deep into the meaning of words. I take a word and try to decide what I think it means in a general kind of way then I get my dictionary out and my “FlipDictionary” (a very cool kind of thesaurus). The dictionary definition gives me new ideas about the meaning of the word and then of course I find synonyms and look those up….it is sometimes a tortuous journey through books, websites and words but one I love. (I once spent part of a day in graduate school touching and reading an original Samuel Johnson dictionary published in 1755. Touching with white cotton gloves of course…and the special collections’ librarian at Zimmerman Library watching me so I didn’t do anything inappropriate or damaging!) Anyway, nerd that I am, I can get lost in a dictionary and my own notations about one word for hours!

I explain this as an introduction into a series of blog entries I’m beginning today on the meaning of the nine fruits of the Spirit listed in St. Paul’s letter to the Christian church in Galatia. He writes to encourage them to live by the Spirit and love each other rather than being selfish and living for physical excitement that will eventually destroy their lives and relationships. He writes the fruit of the Spirit will bring life: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control. I try to bring them to mind on occasions when I need to be reminded to live in the Spirit and examine my actions for evidence of the kind of life I choose to live. So I am thinking that a week of in-depth examination of the meaning of each word and how it might look in my life would be valuable.

So, of course the first is LOVE. Probably the most used and misused word in the English language I would imagine. And probably the word-slash-feeling we humans think we understand the most! Let’s see. From my own experience and understanding I already know that love is a feeling, but more than that. I know there are different ‘kinds’ of love….brotherly, romantic, sacrificial, unconditional etc. I love the word love! It is short and kind of wavy….reminds me of a psychodelic wave of neon colors and bubble letters from the 1970s. Can you see it? LOVE! Even the exclamation point is all bubbly! You know you see it! LOL!

Well, anyway, on to the dictionary definitions. First….Wikipedia: LOVE:

“Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment.[1] In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindnesscompassion, and affection. Love is central to many religions, as in the Christian phrase, “God is love” or Agape in the Canonical gospels.[2] Love may also be described as actions towards others (or oneself) based on compassion, or as actions towards others based on affection.[3]

In English, love refers to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from pleasure (“I loved that meal”) to interpersonal attraction (“I love my partner”). “Love” may refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros, to the emotional closeness of familial love, or theplatonic love that defines friendship,[4] to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love.[5] This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.

Love in its various forms acts as a major facilitator of interpersonal relationships and, owing to its central psychological importance, is one of the most common themes in the creative arts.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love

So, that is today’s blog! LOVE, think about it! Ponder it, consider it today! Tomorrow I will dig a little deeper into the meaning for me personally and hopefully I can move on to “peace” later in the week. I am thinking I could probably take a full week on each fruit…..hmmmm.  Ciao! LOVE!