Advent 2021.8 – Advent Practices

Let’s face it: despite what Advent is supposed to be—a season of reflection and preparation—it’s still quite easy to get caught up in the wider culture’s expression of Christmas (not Advent), which can include frenetic shopping and calendars filled up with parties, meetings, and (shocking I know) church events.

It’s fair to say that, as much as we wish we were centered and at peace during this season, we often experience anxiety, frustration, and sadness.

As a bit of a spiritual discipline, I started re-reading The Book of Joy, which is a remarkable book that documents a series of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, where they explore, well, the topic of joy. As someone who struggles with being joyful, I find the book simultaneously challenging and immensely helpful. Not only does author Douglas Abrams record the dialogue between these two spiritual leaders, he also talks about the psychology of joy, and also how to take steps towards experiencing more joy in life.

Abrams refers to the work of psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, who suggests that we have a lot more control over our experience of happiness (or joy) than we’d like to believe. Three factors (or, maybe we could say, ”disciplines”) have a tangible affect on our happiness. They are, “our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous.”

I might say it this way:

This Advent, if you’d like to make some progress in experiencing happiness and/or joy, maybe practice three things:

  1. Practice framing your situation in positive terms;
  2. Practice gratitude (write them down!); and
  3. Practice kindness and generosity.

I’m reminded that there’s so much about the season (read: life) that I cannot control. But I can control my response to it.

Not easy, but simple.


What We Forget About Grace

I was reading The Book of Joy this morning, and this statement struck me:

“Charity is prescribed by almost every religious tradition. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, called zakat. In Judaism, it is called tsedakah, which literally means “justice.” In Hinduism and Buddhism, it is called dana. And in Christianity, it is charity.”

Speaking from the Christian point of view, obviously this is correct. But it struck me that there’s another level that exists, mostly related to the word from which “charity” is derived.

“Charity” comes from the Greek word charis, which means “grace” (which in turn is mostly translated as “unmerited favor”)

To be charitable to someone is to extend grace to them.

As I’m constantly trying to remind people, grace is not something that simply gets us into heaven: It is the constant and consistent attitude that God adopts towards us. 

It goes way past forgiveness, and with the concept of “charity,” it brings us into the equation, where we are able to (well really we are called to) imitate God by extending charity—grace—to those around us.




Wonder, Craft, and My Secret Love of Electronica

I’ve been really blessed this week to see and hangout with some really gifted artists like DJ Promote and Propaganda, a really great hip hop artist. Tuesday night DJ Promote was doing a set before a big rock band played, and the kids were just going crazy. Propaganda was talking to me and another guy and said, “You know, I’ve been all around the world with this guy (the DJ), and no matter where he goes, within ten minutes the room is just going crazy. He always wins.”

I replied, “I think I know why; it’s because I can feel the joy in his mixing. I can sense the emotion behind what he does.”

Ever met someone who somehow was giving and generous the moment they shook your hand?

I’d met Promote backstage before I even knew what he did, and even then he was gushing with joy and wonder.

Ever felt blessed by just being introduced to someone? You don’t even know how it worked, but you turned away and felt richer and better for just having said “Hello” to them?

That’s the way it was with both Promote and Propaganda. (He did some spoken word stuff that was just so legit, it was amazing.)

Though I have no doubt that they both put in their “10,000 hours”, the thing that set them both apart was the joy and wonder that they put into their art.

Have you ever considered the fact that joy and wonder can be translated by technology? That emotion comes through bits and bytes, electricity and wires? I have not idea how it’s even possible, but I am blown away that repeatedly this is the case. You can hear it. You can feel it.

Great art is, in fact, a gift, but the gift that’s being given in these cases are emotional and spiritual, not merely musical. It transcends craft.

… I would almost venture to say that joy precedes craft.

Keeping in mind that “our art” may involve the crafting of our gospel-shaped lives, or a specific artistic endeavor; remembering that “calling” exists at the intersection of our deepest needs and the world’s deepest joy…

What kind of joy are you putting into your art today? What wonder are you bringing to your calling?

In the meantime… enjoy some great mixing and spoken word.