Joy is a ride in the wilderness

Be wild; that is how to clear the river. That is the divine paradox. — Clara Pinkola-Estes

Are you jealous of the ocean’s generosity? Why would you refuse to give this joy to anyone? Fish don’t hold this joy in cups! They swim the huge fluid freedom. — Rumi

Joy is the serious business of heaven — CS Lewis

Hello Friends! 

This week, I am recalling some ideas from a blog post a few years ago that speak well to our upcoming Advent series. I hope you enjoy the thoughts and that your week is filled with warm and playful memories, friends and family, and all the tastes and smells that delight this time of year!

Town slogans can say a lot about a community — “Keep Austin Weird,” “Keep Fort Worth Funky.” Marfa’s “unofficial” alliterative one says “Keep Marfa Mysterious.

There’s “Keep Seattle Soggy” (that’s actually not official — a friend of mine who lives there shared it as his slogan). You pass through Gas, Kansas, and can’t help but notice the big, red water tower boasting the slogan, “Don’t Pass Gas; Stop and Enjoy It!”

I made the mistake once of asking kids at a school in Frankenstein, MO, if the town was “a really scary town” — clearly one of the most unoriginal jokes anyone has ever made in that town. But Peculiar, MO, does have one of the most original official slogans anywhere — “Peculiar, MO — where the odds are with you.”

There’s something about communities and towns (and admit it, with most of our families and friends) that when we get together, we want to experience a little weirdness in our time together.  Sure, we like it when things are comfy, calm, and familiar, but admit it — “a little strange can be a good thing.” I once heard someone say, “Nothing is really ‘in balance’ without some ‘imbalance’ to keep it real.”

What’s maybe most uncomfortable is when the strange, or the unfamiliar, or the imbalance, becomes the norm. Loss, pain, illness, suffering, conflict, division — we lose control of our world, our home, our job, our self-esteem, and suddenly life feels more like wilderness than simply strange and unfamiliar. Grief or worry or loneliness or hatred can feel more like a wasteland than a land of hope or joy.

The prophet Isaiah spoke to this wasteland, this wilderness of despair, to his community in fear, and said, “A voice is shouting: ‘Make way for hope! Clear a path for love and joy in the wilderness!’” In the midst of the ancient Jewish despair, there was this voice of un-reason that called people to make way for love in the wilderness, to cultivate a path for hope and joy in the midst of suffering — as if something inherent in life itself, something at the heart of life and just beneath the surface, was always present to redeem the wilderness and reveal joy at the of heart of despair.

Another time in Israel’s ancient history, another writer, simply called “the preacher” (or “the teacher”), wrote of a kind of despair in Ecclesiastes, “I’ve been around a long time, studied all the wisdom there is, watched and observed the High and mighty and the Low and simple-minded. And there’s only one conclusion — it’s all mist, just spittin’ in the wind.”  But then he doesn’t end it there. The Teacher essentially concludes, “The goal isn’t to try and control it all and cling to stuff, or even to life, but to let it all go and then find the joy in life.” Wars, captivity, loss, despair, injustice — and yet, joy!

This Sunday, I am beginning an Advent series called “Joy 1.0”  This Advent season, the whole of FUMCFW, will be celebrating the season with thoughts on joy, commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Christmas hymn, “Joy to the World.” And, as always, I want to take this idea a step or two deeper — and to think about joy as the very thing, the very reality, that embraces all of life — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Maybe we can give it a slogan: “The Kin-dom of Heaven — where the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.” (Okay, I’d have to get copyright permission for that one.) So maybe this one:

“The Kin-dom of Heaven — Everything must go. Enjoy!”

Well, it’s a work in progress (Wait… I like that one!)

You can come up with some ideas of your own and let me know.

Meanwhile, join us this Sunday as we take a beginner’s look at Joy 1.0 with “joy — the wild.”

The band, along with our “resident artist/composer” and former drummer, Jon Fortman, will premier his winter piece, “The Calling” and offer songs from Bruce Cockburn and Philip Philips. Actor, and eleven:eleven member, Jakie Cabe will also offer a playful recitation from ee Cummings.

See you then!


Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven

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