In the movie, Date Night, Claire and Phil Foster (played by Tina Fey and Steve Carell) make up stories about some of the people they see. Claire and Phil are not the only ones who have done that, are they?
Sitting on a stone wall, people watching, folks can entertain themselves for hours by making up stories about the strangers that go by. The stories are informed by the strangers’ appearances, speech, facial expressions, gait, height, weight, and age. Some stories rely on stereotypes, others on going against stereotypes. Making up stories about the people we see can be rather harmless fun.
On the other hand, making up stories about strangers is not always benign. Relying on falsehoods, people have been known to make up malicious stories about strangers. Rooted in lies, untruths, and harmful stereotypes, some stories lead to malicious and deadly actions against the people about whom the stories are made up.
Questioning stereotypes and assumptions counters falsehoods, prejudgments based on them, and the notion that the whole lot of “them” must be dealt with severely.
Thinking about difficult issues from various angles and perspectives results in the development of a fuller, more four-dimensional, moving picture of them, and of the people involved. It creates room for malicious thought to dissipate. Starting from the viewpoint that no one has more and no one has less value than another human being can help people let go of feelings of superiority and inferiority.
Having the viewpoint that each person has, or should have, equal agency, can help set aside the desire to control another person. These things are not always easy to do, and some people might be uneasy testing them out. Nonetheless, getting rid of baseless assumptions and stereotypes, and forming a more holistic way of thinking about the world, are worth it.
The day my mother died in 2017, great Joy overcame me, and it has not gone away.
The Joy came quite unexpectedly, as I was driving to the hospital in Worcester to be with our family. And it kept increasing.
My first encounter with death was when I received word as a 10-year-old that two of my backyard friends had drowned. From that point, I have had numerous encounters with death, each one teaching me something.
Mom was a teacher. She gave my sister and me piano lessons. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse. She taught our family countless things. She is teaching now.
It has been said that, “God does not give dying blessings on non-dying days.” For me, that was no truer than when Mom died. That very day Mom taught me all about Joy. It was a lesson I wish I had learned another way.
Here is what I learned. Thanks, Mom.
Joy is a frame of mind, and a frame of reference. Joy is found through giving thanks for life, no matter what. Joy is found through acceptance of others and ourselves as we are. Having Joy does not mean we stop growing and learning; it does mean that we have stopped growing and learning to please others. Joy is found in being who we are and giving thanks for who we are becoming. Joy is the laughter that comes to us when we look at the stars or at a blade of grass and think, “Amazing!” Joy is being in awe of the waves of life happening each millisecond. Joy is discovered in being thankful that so many lives overlap with ours. Joy is found in instant friendships. No longer is there time for anything less.
It is possible to be joyful in plenty and in want. It is possible to be joyful in sorrow. It is possible to laugh in thanksgiving in the presence of grief, and as we grieve. Joy is independent of happiness and sorrow. Joy stands alone, it captures everything. Joy is found in memories, including the unpleasant ones.
Joy, that deep-seated feeling of appreciation and thanksgiving for all things; Joy, that deep-seated and tenacious feeling of the interconnectedness of all things (stardust is awesome!), will not let go even when we let go of it. Joy is seen, heard, smelled, felt, tasted, and appreciated. Joy is profoundly one of the best experiences, feelings, thoughts, and frames of reference in the entire world. Joy sits in pain. Joy rises above strife. With open affection Joy greets the world. Joy heals. Joy gives. Joy sustains. Joy laughs. Joy cries. Joy feels. Joy enriches. Joy hopes. Joy is subtle. Joy is over-the-top. Joy wonders. Joy awes. Joy thanks. Joy tastes. Joy is here. Joy is in a way of understanding creation. Joy is beyond vocabulary. Joy is beyond symbol. Joy is reality. Joy is a gift to be shared. Joy is Love’s twin.
Love one another. Live into Joy and bring people with you. Joy is divine!
Rev Jim Sinclair
Pastor Jim is the minister for First United Baptist Church