Practice Joy

Karen Oliveto

Since Easter, our pastors have offered a series of sermons called Practice Joy. The anthems and hymns have been joy-based.

Still, sometimes I forget about doing joy. I read the news or watch it on television and become distraught. It’s not just the latest shooting, but about some state legislator from Tennessee (I think) who says we can’t do anything about it.  Or the book bans that are designed to “protect”  our kids from becoming transvestite Latinx bisexuals spouting Critical Race Theory. When I see this, I curse at my television, quite literally.

But two events last weekend reminded me of the power of joy. One was the sermon, tied to Romans 12:9-21. Specifically, in verse 15,  “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” There is power in not going through the pain alone; there is even a reflective joy.

The other was that my wife and I attended a gathering at the First United Methodist Church of Schenectady. The congregation was celebrating its 27th Anniversary as a Reconciling Congregation. For those not versed in UMC lingo, “All persons are recipients of God’s love and grace; God intends the church to be a community which embodies love, grace and justice for all people as a sign of God’s covenant. We, therefore, will continue to seek and welcome persons of any age, gender, race, ethnic background, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability as full participants in our community of faith.”

The speaker

The speaker was Bishop Karen P. Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Conference, the first openly LGBTQAI Bishop in the United Methodist Church. She may be the most optimistic pastor I’ve encountered, and I’ve known a few.

After speaking for a while, she asked us to discuss the things that distress us with a neighbor. This was very easy. After another bit of her sharing, she called on us to share what we did to bring ourselves joy. This was more difficult.

After the talk, my wife and Karen got reacquainted. Karen is the sister of one of my wife’s best friends since college. Karen had spoken in Oneonta, about an hour from here, at some point pre-COVID, but I couldn’t make it.

On the lookout

After the talk, I started looking for every opportunity to find joy. We went out to a diner and had cheeseburgers. Of late, we rarely have beef, so it was terrific.

Then I went home. A blanket had covered my stuffed animals because I was tidying up. But they gave me joy – I was reminded of this when a young girl at the Karen Oliveto talk mentioned hers – so I needed to liberate them. One of my favorites is Lenny. He’s named after Leonard Bernstein and has the sweetest roar. We hung out on the sofa and watched TV.

The next day at church, there were several opportunities for humor. Like many funny things, the humor is diminished in the retelling. One encounter involved pizza, inside out.

Don’t forget to practice joy. It’s easy to forget.

Joy, America, food, Muppets

Not sure if it’s anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, some warped religiosity, the fear of the Red menace that makes anything “socialist” automatically suspect or what.

AmericasdebtMore from New York Erratic:

What was the greatest joy in the last year?

It had to be Thanksgiving. My wife and daughter and I spent it at my second cousin’s house, just outside NYC, with her and her family, her sister, my eldest niece and her husband, a couple of my mother’s first cousins (the hostess’s uncles), and more. The next day, my family did Manhattan with the niece, her husband, and her friends.

What do you think is really causing the deficit?

I just don’t know. It seemed that Bill Clinton had a real handle on reducing the deficit, but then, kablooey, it got all out of control. It’s totally mysterious.

Jaquandor chimes in:

I’m noticing more and more that other countries have good ideas as to how to deal with problems, be it health care (other countries do it better AND much cheaper), credit card security, mass transport, urban design…and yet, new ideas have SUCH a hard time gaining traction in this country. Why is that?

I blame de Tocqueville. He came over here from France early in our national development, gave us the big thumbs up, and we felt free to continue that manifest destiny westward expansion thing, because of American exceptionalism. (I jest, but only slightly.)

And there was a point where, because of this being a big melting pot of a country, that this was a destination for immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. And great things WERE done.

Except now, we are often exceptionally bad at education and health care compared with other industrialized countries, even though we spend more. It’s our way or the (miles, not kilometers) highway. This graphic covers it.

Not sure if it’s anti-intellectualism, xenophobia, some warped religiosity, the fear of the Red menace that makes anything “socialist” automatically suspect, the power of the American oligarchy, or what. Maybe it’s the belief, totally in the face of evidence of facts to the contrary, that “the good old days” is what we need to strive for. It is probably the same forces that reject climate change, believe people rode on dinosaurs, and think the opinions on FOX News are facts.

Raising a child now, what do you make of current children’s media (books, movies, teevee) versus what you know from your own upbringing or that of others?

Re: TV, there’s just a whole lot more of it, geared to different ages, whereas I grew up with Saturday morning cartoons, Captain Kangaroo, Romper Room, and the local cartoon show. Now, you have whole networks for kids. Disney has tons of sitcoms, most of which are not great, but it’s keeping writers working.

Books and movies are a whole lot more “grown-up.” Someone suggested that my 10-y.o. would be ready for Hunger Games or something along those lines; not a chance. Too violent, too intense. But she does read a lot; she’s MOSTLY over the fairy phase.

Interestingly, even movies she sees that have scary parts on first viewing she’ll watch again to inure herself.

Favorite cheese(s)?

Colby, Gouda, sharp cheddar, Monterrey jack, Gruyere. Sandwiches usually with provolone, Swiss, cheddar.

But the one I use the most often is cottage. CC with apples and mayo. CC with fruit cocktail or apple sauce. CC with eggs.

Seguing to SamuraiFrog, who has a food question as well:

What foods did you love as a kid that you don’t like now?

We had a lot of canned vegetables, including canned spinach. Had some in the last 12 months, and it was AWFUL, inedible. Used to eat white bread, Sunbeam by name; not something I’d want now.

What is your favorite non-music-related sound?

See, I don’t think there are many non-musical sounds. When Lydia was in the MRI for an hour, I’d hear songs that sounded like those particular dronings. Elevators, garbage pick-up trucks, vacuum cleaners, sirens all have pitches I try to pick out. That said, it would have to be running water, the more the better. It’s partly why I like waterfalls so much.

What smells do you find comforting?

Baking bread. Also, the perfume that certain women wear.

If you could paint a picture of one thing, what would it be?

If I could only paint! A night scene with lots of stars and a crescent moon.

And the most important question: Who is your favorite Muppet?

Did I mention that I just bought The Muppets Character Encyclopedia? I didn’t know so many characters had actual names! OK, Kermit sings my theme song, was originally voiced by Jim Henson, and is green, so he’s #1; you’ve written about Kermit yourself recently. Number #2 is Ernie, who sings a song about a duck – you HAVE seen my blog logo – and was originally voiced by Jim Henson. But #3 has to be Rowlf, who I used to watch on the Jimmy Dean Show, long before I knew the term Muppet.

Joy and Happiness QUESTIONS

I don’t know that Mother Teresa was happy living in squalor.

I was intrigued by a study mentioned here that suggests that people believe they would be happy if they only had 20% more money. Didn’t matter what their status: 20% seemed to be the most popular number.

At least until one gets to a point like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, when they actually not only start giving away their money, they encourage/cajole other billionaires to do the same.

So money, presumably, can make you happy. But does it bring you joy? I distinguish the two; to me, happiness is a more temporal thing. Joy is a state of being rather than a fleeting emotion. Weather with a high of 71F, with low humidity, makes me happy; looking forward to tomorrow – not a specific tomorrow – but almost every tomorrow, brings me joy.

A particular song can make me happy, but music brings me joy, listening to it, singing it. The Mets winning the National League East would make me happy (ain’t happening THIS year); baseball, the intricacies of the sport, brings me joy. Sharing information definitely brings me joy.

I don’t know that Mother Teresa was happy living in squalor, but evidently, it brought her joy in helping others. I think Gates and Buffett are experiencing joy giving away their money. I’ve read somewhere that, as a percentage of income, it is not the rich who are most generous donating to charities, it is those of the middle and lower economic levels who are more likely to help others. So the joy of helping others seems to trump the happiness of self, in some people, I gather.

People can take joy in God or money or family or nature or sex or Xbox, I reckon.

What makes you happy? What brings you joy?

Happy by the Rolling Stones
Being in love can make you happy.
Joy by Lucinda Williams
Losing one’s joy can be devastating

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