When Joy is a Choice

Photo of Joy

This morning I drove by a park. I pulled to the curb to savor the pure joy of several adults celebrating life. They were a mix of disabled and able bodied adults enjoying a day of warm weather and blue skies.  The parachute accentuated their joyful whoops and laughter.

Their witness was in contrast to the news on my car radio that morning (the expanding war on terrorism, the 13th anniversary of 9/11 etc.) along with the worries I carry with me.

Tim Hansel in his book ‘You Gotta Keep Dancing’, speaks of his journey with chronic pain.  He writes that joy is different than happiness.  Happiness is circumstancial.  It is dependent upon ‘good things’ happening to us. If like sucks (such as chronic pain) we are unhappy, if things are good we are happy.

Joy he offers is different, it is a choice.  It is based on the deep seated belief ‘that whatever happens, God is with us.’ ‘Joy is a gift’ says Hansel, that comes as we choose to be hopeful.

As I watched these adults ‘play’ in the park.  I found that my own perspective began to  change.  I began to feel and embrace their joy in that park.  I was reminded that while life can be difficul,t that I too can choose to be joyful. 

As a person of faith, I can choose to believe ‘that whatever happens, God is with me.’Who knows, if I truly believe this… you may find me tossing a colored parachute into the air!

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Sacred Work of a Time Traveller

My friend Ben is a time traveler. He is a young man whose passion and values hearken back to an earlier time. In our hyper busy culture, his calendar is seasonal. In our technologically driven society, he is most attuned to subtle changes in the weather (moisture level, wind, temperature). Like our ancestors 100 years ago, he seeks to live in harmony with the natural world. Ben is a farmer.

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Ben also seeks to walk in harmony with a wisdom teacher named Joshua, who lived 2000 years ago. This teacher was a healer and prophet who sought to show us how to live in harmony with the Creator, one another and with creation.

How does a time traveler like Ben live in the present? How does he take values gleaned from the past and put them into practice today?

The answer is found in watching Ben do his work as the site director for the Food Project in Beverly, Massachusetts. There Ben and his team of young people work several acres growing produce from seed to fork.

Food Project is a six-week youth development program that uses sustainable agriculture as its foundation. Teens from a diverse economic, geographic and racial mix come together to learn sustainable agricultural practices, working as a team and honing leadership skills.

They help to raise the 250,000 pounds of tomatoes, squash and field greens that will eventually be donated to hunger relief organizations, sold in neighborhood farmers markets, Community supported Agriculture Shares (CSA) and restaurants.

Food Project farms are found on one acre sites in inner city Boston and in a North Shore community like Beverly. While Food Project is not religiously based, my friend Ben integrates his love for the earth, love for healthy affordable foods and his love for Joshua, also known as Jesus.

2000 years ago, Ben’s teacher said: “Whatever you do unto the most vulnerable of my family, you do it to me.” For Ben taking care of the earth, providing healthy affordable food and empowering young people to work for the common good, all this is sacred work.

Ben’s good work inspires me to be a time traveler too. He reminds us that sometimes our best examples for living well in the present, are to be found in also living in the past.

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Wounded Warrior

Afghanistan photoToday I attended a conference for mental health providers serving our Veterans. This conference focused on the emotional and spiritual cost of war. With soldiers returning from multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan we find that many of our veteran’s carry wounds that may be physical but also of the mind, heart and soul. The VA estimates that 31% of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan war suffer from PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

How can it be otherwise? Since Sept. 11, 2001 our nation has placed an incredible strain on our men and women in uniform. Many have served multiple deployments in often brutal conditions, while placing a strain on marriages and families. A friend who served as a chaplain in Iraq, speaks of the human cost to families as they struggle to find a new normal for life after the war.

The conference focused on the need to get services to our warriors who deserve our very best effort. A speaker from the Veterans Health Administration (VA) offered these disturbing statistics: Veterans dealing with depression wait on average 8 years before seeking help; those with substance abuse average 22 years before seeking treatment. And, only 50% will seek treatment. Imagine the pain that these wounded warriors carry.

The challenge said the speaker, is for the VA and community partners, secular and religious, to strive to grow the number of those who do seek help and to shorten the time in which they receive services.

The poet William Stafford wrote: “Every war has two losers”. People of good will can debate whether a particular war or any war is justified. But what should never be debated, is our nation’s commitment to honor and take care of our warrior’s (and their families) who have sacrificed so much. They deserve our very best effort.

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Travels with Sandy

Travels with Sandy.

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Travels with Sandy

Sandy for blog rotated
In July we laid to rest Sandy, our sweet old dog. She was 15 and 8 months old. Last November we had a birthday party for her. We invited other dog owners who would understand that special bond between we humans and our dogs. We didn’t invite any other dogs because truth be told, Sandy got along better with people. We hosted this party (her first) because we sensed that it would be her last. Our dog had been diagnosed with cancer the previous year. Our veterinarian was surprised that she was still with us.

Sandy was a loyal and affectionate companion. She was also a marker for our family. Our daughters were age 7 and 4 when as a puppy Sandy arrived at our home. Sandy has travelled with our daughters from elementary school to college. She offered unconditional love and a listening ear during the sometimes stormy times of adolescence. When home from college Sandy would welcome each daughter by doing her ‘happy dance’ which consisted of running in a circle.

Late this Spring my wife and I moved from Oregon our home of twenty years to Massachusetts. Moves are never easy. I asked our veterinarian if he thought Sandy was up to the trip. He responded, ‘she isn’t in pain and as long as she is with you, she is happy.’

An objective observer might say that taking an old dog cross-country wasn’t a sensible thing to do. (I should note that Sandy and I and my friend Bob, would be driving cross-country in a small Honda Fit).But as I said, Sandy was a marker for our family. She was a constant source of affection and loyalty and at a time when we were saying good-bye to so much, our family needed the comfort that Sandy always provided.

So it was that Sandy went for her last long ride, 3000 miles. She calmly watched the countryside pass and her often rhythmic snoring matched the rolling of the tires. Being an old dog she needed to be walked several times a day. This slowed our progress but the emotional comfort she provided was worth it.

My wife Tricia arrived a few weeks later at our rental apartment in Massachusetts and Sandy was there to greet her. Our daughter visited and Sandy wagged her tail.

Two months later we took Sandy to a vet. The veterinarian with great empathy told us that the cancer had spread and that she thought it was time to ‘let Sandy go’. She said that ‘dogs have a way of hiding their pain because they want to stay with their pack’.

A few days later I took Sandy out for her last walk. She and I walked into the woods and I buried my face in her mane and wept. I thanked her for being such a wonderful friend to me and our family. Sandy stood by my side and slowly wagged her tail.

We drove Sandy to the pet clinic and she was laid to rest. Her ashes will go into the garden of the house we moved into this past week.

It’s been said that we attribute human emotions to our pets such as loyalty and love. What I do know is that Sandy graced our family with great comfort over the course of her long life. She helped us raise our daughters and gave us one last gift in helping us get settled in a new place. Thank you, sweet old dog.

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The Gift of Robin Williams

The Gift of Robin Williams.

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The Gift of Robin Williams

We mourn the passing of Robin Williams at age 63. He was an extraordinary person who touched the lives of millions as a comedian and actor. Initial reports suggest that he took his own life. A spokesperson for the family say that he wrestled for much of his life with depression and addiction.

His comedic genius served as a backdrop to my generation and touched the life of my children’s generation through endearing performances such as the Genie in the Disney animated film, ‘Aladdin’.

Robin Williams Photo

As an actor he won an academy award for his role as a grieving, empathetic therapist in ‘Goodwill Hunting’. In the film ‘Dead Poets Society’ he portrayed a beloved teacher who drew from his own reservoir of pain and spoke to the deepest longings of his students.

Robin Williams portrayal of these two fragile characters rings true because we sense that he brought his own vulnerability to the role. His experience resonated with our own sense of vulnerability and struggle.

As a comedian he had us rolling on the floor in laughter, even as we sensed that his comedic gift came from a fragile place. This connection between darkness and laughter wasn’t unique to Williams. His death feels so personal because his authenticity as a human being touched us deeply.

Robin didn’t hide his struggles but put them out for all to see. My hope is that his example will encourage and challenge each of us to be honest about who we are. One truth I’ve learned in 30 plus years of being a pastor is that no one has their act completely together, certainly not me.

We all have our areas of light and shadow, hope and despair. This mixed bag is what it means to be human. That Robin’s despair ultimately took his life should not discourage us from being open about our own vulnerability and struggles as well as our hopes and dreams.

His example challenges us to respond to the seemingly polite question: ‘How are you today?’, with an honest answer: ‘I feel good, happy’. Or, ‘I feel alone/anxious/sad/hopeless/angry’. The truth is most of us feel a mix of emotions every day.

In choosing to be emotionally authentic with each other, we have a responsibility to listen and be compassionate and caring. To let each other know that we have each other’s back. This is what it means to be part of a healthy community.

This is a bittersweet time. We are full of grief at the passing of an immensely talented, flawed and courageous human being. And, we are full of gratitude for the joy and depth of humanity that Robin Williams brought to us all. May God’s comfort be with his family and all who grieve his passing. To the Creator’s love we return his expansive soul.

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