Reflections to start the week
Monday, June 16, 2014
Many of you know that one of my vocations is to create cartoons, specifically drawings commissioned by the Episcopal Church. As I write this Monday morning, I’m working on ideas for a calendar of cartoons for 2015, which has as its focus funny things about the church. (Feel free to send any ideas for cartoons you might have. I bet you have plenty.) I have done this calendar for a number of years. I will tell you, sometimes the ideas come quickly, just a matter of keeping my eyes open. The material presents itself and I can’t believe someone pays me to do this.
At other times, I feel like I earn every cent. The church, specifically church people, can be terminally serious. As we note statistics about the rapid decline of mainline religion, one can see how that might become literally true. So I sit at my desk and think of ideas. Sometimes my wife is working in the same room at the same time. When she hears me start to giggle out loud to myself, she knows I’ve gotten an idea. But let’s just say there can be long periods of silence.
It all has gotten me thinking about joy and laughter. It’s gotten me thinking of the times when I have witnessed joy. I don’t witness it enough, especially in church. Ironically, joy often comes from people who seem to face the biggest challenges. I remember visiting a congregation near my church in the midwest. We had developed a partnership relationship with this church, and most of the congregants were recent immigrants from Central America, many facing challenges I’ve never had to face in my life. The spirit of worship was celebratory, joyful in a way I had rarely experienced. The church in which I served supported our partner church with financial resources, with guidance about governance, serious contributions for sure. But on occasion, let’s just say our church might have lived into the caricature of Episcopalians as the frozen chosen. The Hispanic church supported us with glimpses of what it means to show joy, in the various ways that joy can be manifested, sometimes effusive, sometimes serene.
When in your life have you experienced joy? Was there a reason it came to you? When in your life have you felt joy go away? What made that happen? Are there things you can do to foster more joy in your life today? Think of someone in your life who has figured out the joy piece. Talk to them about it. Where does it come from for them? What makes someone like Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu exude joy, even in the face of overwhelming hardship?
I suspect one way that joy takes root has to do with gratitude. I recently met with a group that included the rabbi of one of the largest congregations in L.A. She was asked to give the blessing over our meal, and she shared with our group (representing many faith traditions) that in her tradition, faithful Jews were invited, perhaps challenged, to name 100 blessings each day. My own spiritual practice has been to work on 10 a day. 100 seems like a lot but I’m working on it.
Another practice: finding a way to be of service. An intentional spirit of giving, put into action, can be an antidote to the resentment, bitterness, regret, joy-sapping self-consumption that lies close at hand for each one of us.
We all, for sure, can find reasons for joy to dissipate. But we can choose another way. We can choose joy. Or maybe it can choose us. St. Paul described joy as one of the fruits of the Spirit, something God does in us, a way God works through us. Ask God this morning to open that doorway of a little more joy.
The newspapers tell a grim story these days. Our world needs joy, not the denial of challenges we face, but a spirit that carries us through them and lifts us above them. I don’t know all my readers. I know some are facing huge challenges this very day. My prayer for you is joy, a peace that passes understanding, a fruit of God’s spirit, the serious business of heaven available here and now.
– Jay Sidebotham
Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God. -Karl Barth
Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. – G.K.Chesterton
We need joy as we need air. – Maya Angelou
Joy is the serious business of heaven. -C.S.Lewis
Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy. -H. L. Mencken
In thy presence is fullness of joy. -Psalm 16:11
I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly -Jesus (John 10:10)
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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