For many people, 2017 has been a year to say “good bye and good riddance” (maybe just good riddance), now that January 1, 2018 has rolled around. Regardless of the number of personal smiles or sorrows, the chaos and mean spiritedness that dominated the political scene and news cycle were enough to point-blank categorize 2017's goings-on as nothing but lamentable. And (oh, if only) forgettable.
However, as noted before in The Comic Lens and elsewhere, when it comes to joy, all bets are off. This is an experience that is never limited to places, times or situations. Exuberant, life-giving, transformative joy visits, even explodes upon the scene, in often the most unexpected, most difficult of circumstances. The joy described throughout the Bible is certainly a testament to this surprising phenomenon.
So, maybe more than any other year, I invite - highly suggest - you to make your list of “Top 10” joys that gifted you in 2017, even if it feels totally wrong. Personally, I’ve been especially looking forward (no, needing) to make my 2017 list for quite some time.
My list this year is chronological. Joy came to me in January and kept on coming!
1. Women’s March! When it was announced that there would be a rally and march for women’s rights in DC the day after the Trump’s Inauguration, my sister and I were a big fat “YES!!!” Then, a couple of my best pals joined in, as did millions of other women, men and children around the globe. I believe the peacefulness and witty creativity witnessed everywhere and communally engendered an exponentially powerful hope and strength to persevere with all the often-unfunny resistance work that has subsequently became necessary.
2. Serenading the mayor of Des Moines! In February, I had the chance to meet Des Moines’ mayor, Frank Cownie, at his office - in the back of the family fur store - and serenade him with a song about Iowa’s capital city I wrote in 8th grade, when Des Moines was really boring and I was really miserable. Really, what could be better??
3. Marcos! When my brother was tragically killed in May 2016, my sister and her family became the new parents of my brother’s cat, Marcos. However, by March 2017 their family cat had started “marking” his territory all over the their home (and especially in baskets of clothing); so Marcos became my ward. I’ve never been a “cat person” but knew I had to do this for my brother; besides, once he arrive he just hid in my storage room. However, after a couple of months I decided to step out on a limb and start making “kitty” sounds as I approached his hideaway as well as plug in a container of “Feliway” nearby. By May, he was in bed with me every night, kneading my chin every morning, and totally winning my heart. Imho being a “crazy cat lady” is everything it’s cracked up to be.
4. The last week of my dad's life. (!) On Good Friday my ailing father had a traumatic incident that pretty much signaled the end was near. And by Easter Sunday, his beloved nieces and nephews were able to gather around him to offer prayers, recite the 23rd Psalm, and share some super special, funny reminiscences that brought laughter, tears, and an audible “thank you” from dad’s lips. Dad’s last Cub game was the following Wednesday - he could still hear even though he couldn’t open his eyes - and it ended with a game winning end-of-9th inning homer by Addison Russell. Truly the worst and the best of times for both my sister and me….
5. Cal-PAC Annnual Conference 2017! This annual gathering in mid-June of UMC clergy and lay delegates to hear reports, vote on legislative issues, and, in large part, sit for long periods of time in Redlands, California, is rarely included in anyone’s top 10 list of any sort. But this year, I was surprised by joy! I was SO happy to be in the presence of my colleagues and to hear how my denomination was doing - for better and for worse; it became quite clear to me I was ready to return to full-time local church pastoring in Southern California in July 2018, if the Bishop so appoints me. (And if I can relearn how to get up in the morning....)
6. Wild Goose Festival! 2017 has brought many meaningful, fun opportunities to write and perform and continue building new bridges between comedy, the Bible and theology. The best was co-leading a workshop, with one of my favorite “pastor-partners in crime,” Rev. Laura Gentry, a workshop we called “Laughter for a Change!” at the esteemed Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC in early July. We got to share, as Madge Max and Eunice Ruffles, historical and biblical examples of humor used to effectively speak truth to power. We also had a bake sale!
7. Girl Trip to Portland! One of the things I’ve been able to do since the death of my dad has been to use my freed time to visit friends going through a rough patch. In July, I got to go to Portland to visit a friend and former congregant who continues to struggle with cancer. Joining me were a couple of her other pals from church (including a clergy colleague). We had the BEST time wine tasting, hanging at Cannon Beach, and of course, GIGGLING. Indeed the greatest medicine for all.
8. Bremwood Plays! In August I invited interested residents of Bremwood - Waverly’s live-in campus for Iowa at-risk youth - to write plays based based on whatever was on their hearts and minds. While I envisioned a teen-version of “Panic in Needle Park” what ended up emerging was a short play about the plight of a bunch of lovable misfit vampires, ghosts and other assorted oddballs who for didn’t make it onto Noah’s Ark - and an Alice in Wonderland take-off that was a cross between “Rocky” and “The Suicide Squad.” Go figure!
9. Cartwheels Across the Pond! This year I had the incredible opportunity to take not one but TWO trips to Europe! And you know what that meant: cartwheels in very special places! Here are a few of my favorites:
10. The Bliss-full Gift of Time! Since my father’s death, I’ve been gifted with a season of free time that has yet to fail to engendering the feeling of ecstasy. Right now, there is nothing I HAVE to do - Every day I wake up saying, “This day is mine to fill as I WISH!” There’s of course much to be done, and I’m so very happy I get to do attend to it in this glorious container. Words can’t describe it. Well, one does: Sabbath.
So I leave you with a wish and a prayer that as you search your memories of 2017 you find several powerful, transformative, probably surprising joys that really did make a lot of difference, and that it will bring you to a deeper understanding - and appreciation - of the past year, and what, I’m guessing, God and the Bible would say us for our lives, and faith, in 2018.