How rediscovering my voice led me to give up coffee

When I last wrote, I shared about finding my voice again, at last. I feel as though it’s returning after years lost in other people’s narratives, speaking someone else’s vision. But even after only a few days, I realize both how powerful and how fragile it is to speak one’s own message and experience. My voice is like a tiny plantlet, just emerged from a seed. Too much sun and it withers, too little and it molds. This weekend I wrote not at all, spoke little, and thought a lot, mostly about how to stay on the path I’m traveling now, with all its gifts and revelations. Which is why, much to my surprise, I gave up coffee.

In general, I am an overthinker and a questioner. I seldom make any decision without exhaustive introspection and fact finding (hello, perfectionist). However, Saturday morning, after a questionable night sleep, I poured my cuppa, looked at the mug and thought, what if I didn’t? It doesn’t seem like a big deal, I know. But after one sip, I poured it down the sink and reached for tea instead. Again, for most, it’s not such a big deal, but for me, this action tells me that I am listening to my inner voice, again.

When I heard about the one hundred day project, I looked into it only summarily. Instead, I felt as though something was pressing on my gut whispering, you should do this. You need to do this. My immediate response to this sort of experience is to go intellectual. After all, my heart is not trustworthy. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve ingested. I’ve survived on intellect alone for years. Intellectualism is a way to survive, maybe, but it’s not so great for thriving. Ignoring my heart and my feelings are part of what got me into this tangle in the first place. Simply taking that message, to write for one hundred days, which came from deep inside, the least intellectual part of me, led me down an amazing path. I shared my heart, and when I did, I discovered a new way of experiencing the world around me.

Even my faith has relied on my intellect for as long as I can remember. I’ve learned rules and tenets and systems and answers. I can defend and define with the best of them. But somewhere I lost the ability to feel or wonder. When rules are all you have, doubts and questions are a corrosive element to avoid at all costs. Imagine my surprise to find, even after bringing doubt in by the truckload, God is still here. She still loves. She is not threatened by my doubts or my feelings. Opening my heart, not to certainty, but childlike wonder remains the most terrifying and life giving discovery of the past few months.

So I gave up coffee. Sure, I’ve been doing some out-of-the-box things in an effort to improve my rest and my health, but none of them without reading and research. I don’t even believe I gave up coffee with sleep in mind. I only know I recognized that pressure on my gut that told me, listen up! your heart is talking.

One of the things I thought about most over the weekend was how to protect my heart from being drowned out by voices in the world, in the church and in my relationships. While I have some ideas I will flesh out with the proper research and intense questioning, I’m also creating space for my heart, my inner voice, to just speak for herself. She knows more than my head in so many ways. She deserves consideration even when I don’t entirely understand.

So I’m curious, are you more prone to rely on intellect or instinct? Do you trust your heart/gut/ inner voice? Why or why not?

 

The End: When endings are the doorway to beginning

In an interview released yesterday, Eugene Peterson said if asked, he would officiate a gay marriage. As I am sure you can imagine, the internet exploded. While I agree with his position, that isn’t actually the part of the interview that brought me to tears. Instead, a bit further down the article, the interviewer spoke of endings. Mr. Peterson is 84 years old, reaching the end of a beautiful career and lifetime. The interviewer asked, “One day, as with all of us, Eugene Peterson will not be someone who exists. He will be somebody who did exist once. When that moment comes, how do you hope people will remember Eugene Peterson?”

What a question, eh? One day you will no longer exist. Here is a portion of his response…

“I haven’t been part of anything big. I’ve never been a big church preacher. I’ve never been on the radio or anything like that. I’m so pleased that people care about what I’ve done and support it because these are difficult times for the church. I’m quite aware of that. Anyway, I guess I’m just surprised that anyone would remember at all.

This is where I cried. For a thousand reasons, this honest, gentle response touched my soul. Not three sentences earlier he uttered words that will echo across blogs and tweets and facebook rants for weeks to come, without changing much. No, it’s the gift of his long, consistently beautiful life which we will remember, and he didn’t do any of it for fame or recognition. This is beautiful.

Last week I told my husband, I feel I’ve written out all my bitterness. I still have things I am angry about, of course: injustice, 45, the ways we treat each other. These things make me angry, and they should. Anger is a catalyst for change; I hope I never lose it. But bitterness is anger we turn inward, hanging on to it like a trophy, to prove our rightness, our superiority. At some point, that feeling flowed out of my fingertips and disappeared. My heart feels buoyant, expansive, and filled with light.

I have changed. Nothing else about our situation has. I’m still checking the weather in other people’s cities. I’m still a misfit in a conformist culture. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I really haven’t figured out anything at all. But I understand myself better, and if that is the only thing I take away from the last 100 days, then it is worth the hours and days of effort I put into it.

But it isn’t my only takeaway, not at all. Writing for one hundred days has helped me rediscover my voice, the one I use to speak when I’m not defensive or wounded or (very) afraid.  I learned to sit comfortably with fear, but not with silence, not anymore. I understand now that  I am most powerful when I love well, and sometimes the best way to love well is to let go.

Most importantly, I know I am not alone. You all came with me. Maybe not every day, but you showed up. You spoke up. You let good enough be good enough on days when showing up was the best I could do. I didn’t take this journey alone. I hope that you may also have felt a bit less lonely you yourself. Deconstruction is a difficult, often isolating experience. It’s good to hear the voices of others to help you feel normal, sane or at the very least, not condemned. Like Eugene, I’m just surprised anyone cared enough to read at all. That’s the truth.

I love new beginnings. I always have. But endings? I haven’t always done well with those. Still, here we are. Together at the end, one hundred days later. It takes an ending to give birth to something else new.

There it is. Can you see it?

 

 

How to be human again: remembering our divine self

I’m experiencing a sort of reading nirvana right now. I truly believe the right book arrives at the right time. At least, it’s been my own experience. I’m currently reading several books: one about the Bible, one by a Buddhist nun and several books about Islam. Honestly, the ways they weave together and overlap is nothing short of holy. I’m having divine encounters each and every time I drink in words, lately. I keep taking off my shoes and watching for burning bushes. It’s amazing.

(This is the part where you either decide I’ve completely lost my mind, or you’re sticking with me forever. Bless you, whichever way you choose.)

Anyway, one of the ideas I encountered today was the necessity of relearning to be human. It began with the context of the Jewish people leaving Egypt and wandering out into the wilderness after centuries of slavery. I can’t think of anything more dehumanizing than human slavery, can you? Anyway, the reason the Mosaic law, and especially the Big Ten came into being was to help remind the Israelites how to be humans in community. When you leave a place where your life is defined by an utter lack of control, boundaries, and inherent worth, you lose part of what makes you a compassionate, empathetic human being. It isn’t intentional; it’s survival.

And freedom, when it comes, if it comes, can be so overwhelming, you either shut down or glut yourself on it until you explode. We need guidance. We need a framework to show us how to live well and fully without exploiting our new found power and responsibility. It’s no simple thing to be free, not if we want to do it well.

Enter some rules. Given not to bind people up again, but to guide people along a path of life. This is the way, walk in it, the guidelines say. Not with whips and threats of harm, but with smiles and open arms of welcome. This is life. This is love. Follow me.

Because we are free, it is up to us whether or not we listen to the Divine voice in our souls. All of us have it, but sometimes we forget. We need reminders of how to be human.  Or maybe we’ve believed the lie that humanity is wicked, untrustworthy and despised and so we no longer wish to be human at all, loving or otherwise. We set our eyes entirely on eternity and try to push the world away, out of sight, out of mind.

But you know, I don’t believe this is true of humanity. Certainly, Jesus did not despise himself or his companions, or the world as he walked in it. No, He loved. And when we’d forgotten the nature of the Divine who has always, always been singing us down the path of Life even since before time, Jesus came to remind us again. How to be human. How to live life, fully.

I’ve written a great deal these last three months about recovery and deconstruction and all the wounds and ways of healing I’ve encountered along the way. I’m relearning how to be human too. Sometimes it’s felt narrow and private, cold and lonely. But it’s bigger now, more like standing in a field in the pouring rain, arms open and face tilted to the sky. It’s wild and welcoming, and a little bit crazy. But it’s alive and oh so sweet and powerful as well.

I remember. I am reconstructing. May I not forget again.

Ten Guideposts for being more human
  • I will remember to seek the Divine
  • I will seek to be in the moment without numbing or distraction
  • I will love humanity as it is, not as I would have it.
  • I will speak kindly of all people
  • I will rest
  • I will act lovingly to family, friends, neighbors, and strangers
  • I will honor life
  • I will love and enjoy my marriage
  • I will hold what is mine loosely and share generously
  • My yes will be yes and my no will be no
  • I will remember that everyone is living a beautiful and difficult story

Learning to let go; releasing resentment and control

This summer, it’s shaping up to be wet and muggy. Honestly, I hoped to be elsewhere by now. I’ve made no bones about how I feel about a deep south summer; they stink. (I promise this whole post is NOT a rant about summer.) But last night as I was journaling, when I answered the “What do you need let go of today?” question, I said, I need to let go of resentment over being here for summer.

I have to tell, staring at your honest unfiltered words on paper is a terribly humbling experience most days.

Friends, how much energy am I wasting over being pissed at summer for…well…being summer and for my lack of control over it? So much, apparently.

Which got me to thinking, how widespread is this issue for me? I expend so much concern and frustration over things I do not now, nor will I ever, have the power to influence or change. Global things like the weather, intimate things like failed relationships, family things like what if something bad happens to someone I love.

Yesterday, I shared about uncertainty, which seems to have unleashed a chain-reaction of insight. Not only do I try to distract myself from the discomfort of uncertainty, I actively try to reverse it. It’s like I’m bailing with a teacup after my rowboat was hit by a freighter. So much effort expended with less than zero possibility of affecting the outcome.

Maybe it’s obvious to everyone but me that this is why I really needed a period of hibernation. I can’t escape the daily deluge of crap that seems to threaten the existence of the entire planet. Most of which, I cannot control.  Raging against everything has depleted me utterly.

I must learn to let go.

Now I wish I could expound upon how I will go about all this letting go (a minimalist shouldn’t struggle with this so much, you would think). Unfortunately, I’m not sure how it will look. But I have to do this for my own well-being. I’m beginning to realize these internal seismic tremors aren’t just spiritual. They signal shifts that occur across every aspect of my life: relational, physical, emotional and spiritual. I can’t dismantle one and leave the others intact. Everyone’s along for the ride.

Fortunately, I believe in the saying, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. Having experienced this before, I believe I am already learning to let go, even before I knew why I was learning. Meditation, journaling, withdrawing from harmful places and situations are all tools of release. Even when I didn’t know why I needed them, I was practicing them.

So here I am, ready to tolerate summer (hey, it’s a stretch to ask me to embrace it), and lean into being exactly where I am for one more sweaty season. Even if it isn’t comfortable, it can still be very, very good. And I can learn to let go of what is not, without trying to fix it.

Leaning into Uncertainty: accepting the gift of this moment

If you were to look in my journal – a fate I’d not wish on anyone – you would see a frequent refrain. I wish I knew what is next. Nearly every day in some form or another, I express this desire to know, to know what’s next, to not feel so uncertain about…well, almost everything. What I have a tendency to forget, in fact what we as a culture try to whitewash continually, is the fact that there is very little that is certain. Cars crash. Parents age. Cancers grow. Jobs disappear. The list goes on and on. Although we invest our money and purchase life, car, health, dental, vision and pet insurance, we are still not immune catastrophe. Or at the very least, discomfort.

This kind of talk makes me the hit of every party.

I believe it’s this sense of uncertainty that is weighing so heavily on my soul lately. I’ve shared over the last couple months of writing that I am in a season of endings. While ending can be emotionally fraught, they are a natural part of life. We must have endings in order to have beginnings, but we resist the former and embrace the latter. Maybe it’s because of the emotions associated with endings: fear, anger, sorrow. Even the best ending is seldom entirely joyful. I have even protested myself that I am not sad about these endings, but when I say this, I am not being entirely true to myself. I am sad. But sorrow itself takes so many forms, the warmth of nostalgia, the darkness of grief, bitter tang of regret. Sadness is not the enemy we have been taught to believe.

It may be that I have mistakenly tried to distract myself from uncertainty by anticipating what’s next. Anticipation is one of my favorite emotions, allowing me to experience a wonderful thing many times before it occurs. This seems a much more enjoyable process than allowing a season of endings to take it’s allotted time. I pretend I have control by trying to force events, emotions, probability. Constantly erecting barricades of expectation only to be crushed beneath them when they crumble. In this way, I am my own worst enemy.

Withdrawing a bit from all the voices of the outside world, lovely and unlovely, is a way for me to ground myself in the present. Whether I feel joy or sorrow, whether or not I know what’s next, I can live this moment. I may not know what’s coming next, but I can decide what I will bring to the moment I inhabit. When I fight against uncertainty, I bring a combative, controlling presence. But when I embrace the unknown I bring peace both within and without. How can I resist conflict in the world when I create conflict within myself?

I can’t.

My task right now is to be present. Excruciatingly, vulnerably, joyously present. This moment and who I choose to be in it is the only certainty I get. Learning to accept this, to embrace  this miracle of now is the path I walk today. Whether the path is beautiful or wretched is entirely up to me.

Things falling apart is kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and they fall apart, again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen. Room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy. -Pema Chodren

Reading Scripture Sideways: a new take on a very old book

I’ve been slowly, as in snail’s pace slowly, working my way through Rob Bell’s latest book, What is the Bible. I actually want to read it like the pages are on fire and I have to finish before it consumes them. I want to gorge myself on the clever, gentle, insightful ways of considering an ancient library. Scripture. I used to love it. Even now the word feels so weighty and mysterious when it sits on my tongue. I believe that’s because it is  weighty and mysterious, wrapped in thousands of layers of meaning and interpretation. Yes, I used to love scripture. I was so much more certain of everything then. Now, honestly, I’m afraid of the Bible, and that fear is holding me back from enjoying not only Rob Bell’s book, but scripture itself.

I know what you’re thinking: here comes the crazy again. It’s true. I have all the issues when it comes to church and church business. But through all this great big hairy church mess, somehow, I never believed that God lost her faith in me. Even when I stumble and flail and fall and swear, even when I push her away like an over tired toddler, she loves me still. She’s been faithful in every way and for that I am so deeply and powerfully grateful.

Religious institutions have not been so merciful or forgiving in my experience. Now I’m what old cowboys refer to as ‘gun shy.‘ Churchy words and situations make me anxious. I seldom measure up to expectations, and when I do it’s because I’m not being true to myself. And then there’s the Bible, the weapon most often used against me in religious altercations (also known as rebuking, church discipline and spiritual authority).

It’s true, I’ve used the Bible as a weapon myself, back in the days when together we were infallible. I can accept that about myself even if I don’t like it very much. Had I known how quickly that weapon would turn on me, I might have thumped more gently, perhaps not at all. For as long as I can remember, we’ve elevated scripture with superlatives: inerrant, inspired, ineffable. Words so high, I cannot attain them. I’ve learned to defend it, uphold it, revere it and memorize it, as though tongues of fire straight from Heaven itself licked words upon papyrus scrolls with nary a misprint or mystery in the process.

What I didn’t learn was how slippery millenia old stories of the Divine become as they slip through time. Or how entirely human the men and women who recorded the stories really are. Sometimes a very human agenda superimposes itself over a very divine story. I didn’t learn context, or layers or culture. Truth may be eternal, but the expression of Truth isn’t so easy to nail down in concisely neat terms once and for all.

So I’ve floundered.

My experience of God doesn’t fit so neatly on the pages as it used to. It keeps sliding off, bursting out, growing bigger than the neat little boxes I learned about. The God of my deconstruction is endlessly forgiving, but God out of the box can get you excommunicated (or perhaps even crucified).

I’ve avoided wrestling with scripture for fear it will disappoint me. It has a lot to live up to when you look at it as the very word of God. But recently, I’ve started to see it a bit differently. Jesus, Himself, is the very word of God, and to date, He hasn’t failed me. I think for me it’s time to let the words of the Bible be what they truly are – a very human attempt to describe a very indescribable God.

An immutable, inerrant Word of God is far too dangerous in the hands of someone like me. But a human attempt to unravel the Universal Christ in ways we can understand and embody, with all the mistakes and course correction that entails? That might just be the right fit for a heretic like me. And if it isn’t, I have a God who’s waiting to fill in the gaps. Because that’s the kind of God she is.

How pimento cheese and chicken salad can save our souls

Last night I met with some good friends at a local sandwich shop. We discussed a fabulous book over pimento cheese, or chicken and egg salads. We also discussed British television, under-reacting, how children survive to adulthood, pre-reading, parental angst and Chuck E. Jesus. We did not talk about news, politics, rage (well, other than parental rage), or anything else of national or international import. Basically, it was delightful. At one point I thought to myself, these are the moments that save our souls.

I’ve been thinking about important minutia lately. Oh how we love the grand, sweeping gesture. We accept the mantra, “go big or go home.” But most of us don’t have the energy, knowledge or support to go big, so we just go home, where we feel powerless to add anything of value to a floundering world.

Here is where we miss an important truth: it’s the little changes, usually begun right at home, that begin sweeping momentum shifts. It’s not about making the biggest splash when we cannonball into the pool. We simply start where we are with what we have.

We live in a culture of hero worship. Even the church has “heroes of the faith” we love to rally behind. We believe we aren’t smart enough or good enough or experienced enough to do something for ourselves. So we wait, and we wait for someone else to start something we can get behind. And by get behind I mean make a facebook post about it and hope people like it enough times to affirm our position.

But last night, as we encouraged each other, admitted our secret fears and confessed our secrets (My children had no formal educational instruction until they were 8-ish years old, and now they all go to college. How about that?), I realized how empowering it is to be seen…heard…known and finally, accepted. Such a small thing which makes such a huge difference.

Instead of marking the things which divide us, instead we joined together for a bit on the things which make us human, a trait every one of us shares. These shared little things are the ones which save our souls, not the giant political systems or the moral majority. The way we change the world is by connecting with each other in small ways, across systems and religions and ethnicity. When we meet in the connecting spaces, we create the momentum that tilts the world towards love, acceptance and equality.

Yesterday I shared about feeling rage, impotent, helpless rage. But today I woke empowered – to feel more, to hear more, to connect more. You probably won’t hear about it in the news. It probably will receive very little attention at all. But I will know. If I can shift the moment to love those closest to me, then perhaps they will shift theirs as well. Each of us shifting a bit at a time towards love, mercy, grace and justice eventually we’ll create a tidal wave so huge, it covers the whole earth, washing us clean.

Lean into the Sadness: thoughts on rage, despair and healing

Remember the other day when I was listening to Bruce Hornsby and writing about happiness? Today it’s Glen Campbell, because when I have the blues, I always go back to my roots. Classic country and cowboy music is about as good as it gets in my book. I’ve been tapping in my love of music this year in a way I haven’t in quite some time. Just another tool in the recovery toolbox, one I let get rusty for awhile. Sadness is dogging me this week, despite my happiness declarations (which I still believe, by the way).

This week the world seems heavy. Heavy, hard and mean. Issues threaten to swallow me in their vast terrible brokenness. Racial Injustice. Democracy. Polarization. Terrorism. How do we even stand against evil systems like this, systems which have reigned for thousands of years?

I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I feel a ball of rage in my gut for things I feel helpless to change. Even though I use the tools I know will help: meditation, avoiding social media, self-care, I still feel stuck. Stuck or trapped or isolated. While these feelings may not be entirely reliable, they tell me about the state of my soul. They move me to empathy, to explore other perspectives, to lean into confusion and pain. They also warn me against becoming trapped in patterns which only lead to self-destruction. These feelings push me to connect with loving people, beautiful places and peaceful practices.

I want to do something but rage is not the fuel for this fire. Love is. Love is. But I damn sure don’t feel loving right now. Normally this is where I withdraw and practice all my escapism and distraction rituals. But I’m not going to do that. Not this time. I’m learning new ways to engage with the world, in love, as it is. Even on tough days, like today.

Maybe it’s a cop-out to make this confession and then send you elsewhere, but if you are like me, feeling impotent, faceless rage and not sure how to dispel the overwhelming despair, then you need to read these words from Brian Zahnd as much as I did.

It’s ok to cry while you read it. Sometimes it helps.

“When the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, with the wounds of his suffering still visible, he did not say, “Let us rage against Rome and the Sanhedrin.” No, Jesus spoke a word from elsewhere. He spoke the first word of the new world. He said, “Peace be with you.” And in due course these earliest of disciples turned the Roman world upside down by embodying the Pax Christi, a transcendent peace that exposed the Pax Romana for the empty propaganda that it was.

So here is my advice for those of us who inhabit this age of rage.”

Read the rest of this beautiful message here.

How I spent all day reading: thoughts on guilt

Today I fully intended to write a follow-up post to yesterday’s thoughts on happiness. I even have part of the post pre-written. Instead, today, I read books. It’s the perfect sort of day for reading, dark, rainy, quiet. I was alone in the house all day except for the dogs, who love nothing more than to curl up next to me on the sofa. Since I have quite a few books que-ed up right now, I gave in to my base desires. I spent the entire day reading. It was completely delicious.

True, when I go on vacation, I spend entire days parked in a chair by the ocean reading book after book after marvelous book. I find it harder to indulge this way when at home. Here I can always find ways to be busy. Or to lose myself in the million responsibilities tied to parenting and wife-ing and life-ing. You can fill in the details, we all have lives filled with them. It’s easy to tell ourselves we don’t have time for the things we want when there are so many things and people that need us.

It’s almost a drug, this illusion of being needed. We want to matter, to know we hold an important position in this world. We measure our worth by how many people depend on us day in and day out. So we pile it on, the duties and activities and responsibilities, making ourselves important, believing ourselves invaluable. Then we look at all the appointments and responsibilities which fill our lives to the limit and beyond, leaving no time for self-indulgence or rest.

Or maybe that’s just me. But I don’t think so.

I’ve spent the better part of the last five years feeling guilty for failing to measure up to an arbitrary, shifting standard. I’ve signed up, cleaned up, cooked up and shown up to the point of exhaustion. But about six months ago I came abruptly to my senses. I realized I’ve wasted innumerable hours chasing after ill-fitting recognition for something I don’t want after all. I’ve chased acceptance and value in a vicious cycle, constantly falling short, constantly trying harder.

So I stopped. Yes, just like that.

And then I felt guilty…again, maybe more than before.

But instead of fighting the guilt with more busyness and activity and fixing and forcing, I just leaned into it. I leaned in and listened to what my heart was telling me about how I really saw myself. At first the image was distorted, almost unrecognizable. But the longer I looked, the more still I became, the more my inner vision came into focus. I began to recognize myself again. Day by day, slowly finding the real me, buried under the ways I tried to make myself bigger, better, more…whatever thing I suddenly thought I needed.

I still get caught up sometimes in the belief that I need to do more or work harder to be worthy of love or acceptance or …insert whatever thing is poisoning your soul here. Guilt for not measuring up lingers, and whispers, telling me to go, try, work, do. But I’m less inclined to listen now. When I’m not chasing every urgent detail, I can actually handle the important things and leave the rest for someone else, or no one else. It doesn’t really matter.

Which is why I’m perfectly content about my choice to drift around the house today, snuggling dogs and reading books and drinking tea. I accomplished nothing of consequence to anyone but me. Because I’m worth. I’ve always been worth it. Even when I was too busy to realize it.

Bruce Hornsby makes me happy; an unlikely path to holiness

Right now I’m listening to Bruce Hornsby on Spotify. Do you remember him? He slips off my radar for weeks at a time sometimes, and then one of his songs pops up again. I think to myself, “Why don’t I listen to more Bruce Hornsby and the Range? He always makes me so happy!” So today, even though I have no idea what I’m going to write about, I’m happy.

I spend quite a bit of time thinking about happiness lately. Not just my own happiness (though I’m frequently the subject of my ponderings), but the nature of happiness.  I think happiness gets a bum rap in religious circles. We subscribe to dying to self, sacrifice, and piety but often at the expense of our own happiness. We say really holy things like, God is more concerned with my holiness than my happiness. It sounds good, very spiritual but honestly, I don’t believe this is an accurate picture of God.  The creator of quarks and sub-atomic particles is more complex than such a binary holiness equation. I’m not denigrating piety or sacrifice or even suffering. But maybe we’re cheating ourselves out of something by believing they are the singular signs of higher level spirituality or perfection.

I’m pretty sure Jesus was a laugher. I like to imagine a great, ringing belly laugh, the infectious kind. I can see him now, head thrown back, eyes twinkling, or bent forward, grabbing his knees and trying to catch his breath as His followers chortle around him. I’m not a historical scholar, but I know few things about life in Jesus’s time. First of all, for your typical Jewish man (which most followers were), life was hard. You worked hard; you paid a lot of taxes, and sacrifices, and offerings. I won’t even begin to detail the hardships women faced. As an oppressed people, day-to-day existence was fairly scrappy for the people of Jesus’s time. Anyone peddling more of the same- suffering, hardship, sorrow- probably wasn’t gaining a huge following.

So when Jesus spoke to them of something different, better, new, the expectation was a path that led to a better life, including, you guessed it, happiness. Here’s where I lose some people because you’ll say, well obviously Jesus was talking about HEAVEN, not life in the Roman Empire (insert eye roll if you’re feeling sassy). Except, Jewish people didn’t have a construct of Heaven the way we do today. That’s a pretty modern construct, and not entirely Biblical.

What Jewish followers believed, and a large part of what we need to understand is the Kingdom of God takes place here, on this very earth. On this very good earth as Abba has declared it, we usher in the Kingdom. Not an army of scowling, self-righteous followers, but a smiling, gracious, self-effacing welcome crew, pulling out chairs and passing out refreshments. When our joy is contagious, when what we offer is beautiful, we reflect the very heart of God. Those of us sitting around waiting with sour faces for the sweet-by-and-by are missing something – a very large piece of the Jesus picture.

This is what I am coming to believe as I deconstruct and reconstruct this wild and woolly faith. Happiness is part of the divine package. We were created in joy, for joy.  I simply do not believe the God who handcrafted penguins and kittens and sea turtles didn’t delight in the creation process. Why? Because it made Him happy and He knew it would make us happy as well! Why are strawberries so sweet? For our pleasure! Why does the autumn breeze smell divine? For our pleasure! Why are hand-holding, and hugs, smiles, and a gentle caress part of the universal human experience? Because the universal human experience is rooted in happiness. From the beginning of time our Abba, whose greatest joy is expressing His love, meant for love to bubble over with delicious, delightful happiness and joy.

Oh but the fall, you say?

But the CROSS, I respond.

If we are restored to our former glory (if we ever actually lost it), then why are we afraid to be happy? Why do we feel guilty when we pursue the things which tickle our souls? Why wouldn’t I turn on a little Bruce Hornsby and the Range simply for the simple thrill of delight it brings to my soul?

I’ve wasted too much time trying to twist myself into some pious image I cannot be. I’ve despaired to the marrow that I’ve failed to live up to some ideal I simply will never attain. But I’m learning now. Learning I can pursue happiness and be closer to the Man from Nazareth than I have ever been. My smile makes Him smile since no one across the universe desires my happiness more. Holiness is overrated if it comes at the expense of a belly laugh, a warm hug, a space at the table. I choose happiness, and I believe with all my heart, that holiness will follow quickly, if it can only follow the sound of my laughter.