Talking JOY

Reminiscent of the meme “Find joy in the ordinary,” William Blake’s poem “Auguries of Innocence” begins with these famous lines:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

After that, it gets very dark, contrasting innocence with images that are anything but. One line reads, “He who shall hurt the little Wren/Shall never be belovd by Men.” And that’s a mild example. But yes, finding joy in the ordinary is a gift, a key, a blessing.

On Thanksgiving eve, I found myself sitting on a couch between two of my three sons. All nine grandchildren were in the room as well. And I thought, “This is Joy.”

The evening before, the eldest (17 years, 8 months) and I discussed film. Favorite directors, great scenes. The fact that no remakes or sequels are that great. We did see Ghostbusters: Afterlife  Thanksgiving night in the smallest theater ever—four rows of seats—and the line “Who you gonna call?” is perfectly done. A bad jump scare sent the two youngest of one family scurrying to the exit. (The world is saved, we told the dad when next we saw him.) The two next-to-youngest in the other family went to sleep, one on the way back from a restroom trip. I noticed he was missing when we were in the parking lot. He comes down the stairs every visit with, “(Insert name) hit me FOR NO REASON!” Conversations ensue.

The youngest of all at 3 months now smiles and coos and charms with ease the older eight. She is kissed and cuddled. The youngest of the other four suggests she needs attention. Probably not. Just the warmth of a mother or an uncle, even a grandmother. Her fragility is stark. I’m not sure it’s possible to know true fear and worry unless a parent.

The older eight took a road trip to Alabaster Caverns State Park in Freedom, Oklahoma. (Be careful on the drive! Do you have a jacket? Caves are cold. Shoes? Snacks? Don’t let anyone fall in!) The baby does not go, perhaps obviously, nor to the movie, ditto. No stalagmites (G) or stalactites (H) because, well, it’s an alabaster cave, not a lime-based one. Just bats, thousands of bats, five species. They say it’s worth the trip when they arrive home safely.

And then it’s over. We come the 266 miles home, arriving safely. A full salt shaker shatters on the floor but—to the breaker’s credit—is swept up and confessed to before the grandmother investigates the hollers. Someone uses all the hot water on Sunday morning, as had happened the day before in Oklahoma. A brief lecture ensues: “Think of others.” We run out of milk and juice, ice cream and salad. A car battery prevents a quick grocery trip for said items, plus cilantro for salsa. It can all wait until Monday. Still, a joy to be with these people.

How does one store joy? I have my mother’s words “See you, hon” engraved on my heart. I felt it happen, as sure as can be, when I was leaving her after a serious surgery. But that has to be rare: Can hearts bear much carving? Why is it so much easier to mire in one’s own flaws? It doesn’t Google, this “storing joy.” Maybe it’s an art, or a skill. Maybe it keeps to itself in the heart, waiting for a time of need to burnish pain. Yesterday we sang “For the Beauty of the Earth” that has the verse:

For the joy of human love

Brother, sister, parent, child,

Friends on earth and friends above

For all gentle thoughts and mild.

The traditional version is here, perfect but not a favorite. Here is a Korean choir singing John Rutter’s setting. The joy on all their faces, beginning to end, does itself bring joy. And finally, an Indonesian children’s choir at a choral festival in Hungary. The best part of this one is that the page turner sings as well. Now it seems clear: Joy is not something to store or to have. It’s something to do.



A Day of Fasting

Some years ago, I had a student from Nepal who had worked with the United Nations rescuing child soldiers. One day he made a challenging comment: “If Americans would only give one percent of their income, poverty could end in the world.” That would require compelling, which we don’t like. Americans are generous, however, with many billions of dollars donated each year. This gives a good breakdown of the recipients.

Thanksgiving comes this week. It has a long history, summarized here and including the controversies. Originally, it was also a day of prayer. Fasting was included with both. This proclamation highlights differences between our time and 1779, for example. We’ve heard the food will be 14% higher this year. But after the last months of hesitancies, at least we’re having a Thanksgiving. Travel will be up 80% over 2020, according to AAA. I’m thankful I won’t be on a plane.

That said, I want to discuss the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in honor of my student. I’d like to see a National Day of Fasting on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The “national” part, of course, won’t happen this year. And with its religious overtones, it might never. In my faith, we fast once a month and donate the money we would have spent on two meals for the sustaining of those in need. It works. The Bishops’ Storehouse works like a grocery store in every way but payment. Food—fresh, frozen, boxed, dairy-cased, canned—is available, as well as hygiene and cleaning items.

The government program is called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) but is only for food. Recipients must use cash for everything else. Food banks take up some of the slack, especially after the allotted amount runs out, but there is no provision for things like soap and shampoo. All great ideas of items to donate…

Today, let’s make it simple. Half the world eats rice as their staple. Beans and rice together make a complete protein. The dish can be flavored in so many ways. What if on November 24th we eat that and donate the price of a burger to a food bank?

In Brazil one year at Thanksgiving, we ate feijoada and though ours had pork, this year we could do with a recipe like this. Or Louisiana style red beans and rice. Or a Mexican version. Personally, these look like work, so I plan a plain pinto bean-white rice combo.

There are so many things this made me think of—the realization that so much hunger is caused by human beings, for example—but this year, this tradition begins: A small bit of food that reflects poverty as I prepare a feast of plenty.

A Festival of Thanksgivings

The week was filled with discussions of gratitude. On Wednesday, a group of teens met with me to practice the script below. It had taken many many calls to get participants so I was thankful they could do it. After they rehearsed, I was amazed how quickly they caught the vision and the rhythm of the piece. Not every word was perfect. Not every unfamiliar name was pronounced like it probably should be. But those kids left me speechless, for which they were probably thankful.

The Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Square presents a festival each year. When we started in 2019, we planned something much different than what we shared in November 2020. It was postponed from March to May with consideration of August (COVID can’t possibly last that long!) with plans for a virtual event that was, in my opinion, better than it might have been in person. Artists submitted their works via video which allowed them time and space to discuss their backgrounds, their inspiration, and their art specifically. Virtual was 100 times more work, but I was thankful to have been involved.

We thought 2021 would be a breeze. It wasn’t. Obstacles are boring to others, so you will be spared. Working with 5 of the best, most dedicated, best, persistent, (all other positive adjectives)best women, I learned much about how to be better, though I am not the best I should be. It’s not just synergy; I don’t yet know its name. We were and are all looking in the same direction, though: upward. To say that I’m thankful to know them is a deep understatement

One of my church leaders, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, gave a talk over 7 years ago about gratitude. In fact, this was another connection during the week when someone discussed it at an activity on Thursday. He draws an important distinction between being grateful for and being grateful in. “Count Your Blessings” is not just a peppy song (don’t panic seeing thousands of unmasked people singing); it’s also one of those unwritten commandments when things are going badly. In the talk, we are urged to remember that gratitude is not just for the pretty times but “In Any Circumstances.” (That’s part of the talk’s title, if you didn’t look, and for the reading below, I used “All” instead. This was before I read the talk.)

The Festival of Thanksgivings featured the art of 6th-8th graders in the Dallas ISD. The artists also submitted in a few words what they were thankful for. Often the responses were moving, thoughtful, poignant. Read some below at the end of the piece. The dramatic reading itself is fashioned from statements of 8 high school students. They take us into their hearts, into their homes. All in all, the words of these sets of children moved us, and, I think, humbled us. In the grown-up world, we consider children oblivious to the goings-on around them. They’re on devices, in their rooms, at their activities. That is not the truth, though. They are dealing with emotions and challenges we rarely glimpse. Our festival gave them a place to share their feelings as well as their talents. We were and are all enriched.

As wonderful as that is, for me personally, something else happened that I’ll not forget. One of the groups who performed involved the Comanche Children and Youth of the Dallas Indian and Lovers Lane Deaf Choir. Their ministry is based at Lovers Lane UMC. Sadly, several members of the Deaf Choir leadership were ill, so that group sent only an ASL interpreter for the Comanche children. After they sang and danced (we got to join in), a small group came in at the back of the hall. I greeted the man who brought the children and asked if he had come for the ASL group. Delayed at a piano recital, he wasn’t aware that the Deaf Choir had not been able to come. It was sad to share the news, but we were thankful this group came.

While I was explaining the cancellation to him, one of the people with him took my hand. I hesitate to describe him because I might offend. Describing disabilities is not intuitive. The Deaf do not like to be called “hearing impaired,” for example. There are times when sensitivity is more important. His hands, though, need a bit. They were small and the knuckles were prominent, almost knobby. This is all he did: he took my hand in his and squeezed it. Twice . The man—with whom he had been signing—did not say anything to me about this action. Because he continued signing, I don’t know what he was communicating, but it didn’t seem to be about the hand holding. Perhaps the action was as it seemed: natural and unremarkable. At least to them. I felt a connection with a human for which I was deeply thankful.

Now, back to the talk. If I were only counting my blessings, I could name that chance encounter. Usually, we remember to be thankful for good health or a strong body. Here, however, the difference between “grateful for” and “grateful in” became obvious. What if we had neither? What if we knew nothing of either? In that circumstance, could we be thankful to be in the state we found ourselves? Psalm 118 contains this line: “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Read it in its entirety, too. There are many “ins.”

Read dramatically, the piece below shares much about gratitude. Quickly, alternating,  and repeating, the lines complete a thought. Four readers, or two. It works. One thing about giving thanks is that it suggests a debt is owed, and I do feel that for the six readers, their parents, and their teachers. How often can one say “Thank you!”? I will be looking into its doing, next.


A Festival of Thanksgivings Choral Reading

[Unison passages are in BOLD BLACK CAPS]

1 Thanks

2 Giving

3 Giving

4 Thanks!

1 Who?

2 You?

3 I can

4 Me

3 Too.




1 No matter what

2 No matter who

3 There is always something…

4 Something to be grateful for.

1 In all circumstances.


2 Corrie Ten Boom said,

3 “I am thankful for fleas.”




3 Yes. Fleas.

4 The prison guards

1 Would not inspect their room

2 Yes, their room

3 Because of





4 In all circumstances

1 Be grateful!

2 For what you can. Devin added more!

4 “Be grateful for what you have.

1 Be grateful for the people who support you even at your lowest points.

2 Be grateful for the future, and that your mistakes can be forgotten.

3 Be grateful that you are capable of loving others.




4 Thank YOU, Devin.


1 Rumi—the great Persian poet

2 Rumi—the Islamic scholar, too

3 Born in 1207

2 TWELVE 0 7?

1 That’s right. Rumi said—

2 “Wear gratitude like a cloak,

3 and it will feed every corner of your life.”      –

4 That’s what Rumi said.

1 Long ago.


2 Last month,

3 Just last month, Gabriela said,

4 “I think when you feel joy you will feel thankful for that moment and everything around you. It’s not something you have to say for anyone to recognize or hear, you can just feel it.

1  Feel how appreciative and thankful for everything you have and everything that brought you to that point in your life.”

2 “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”

3 Karl Barth said that.





4 Larissa Gomez thought,

1Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence,

2 we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart.”





3 Let’s hear what Denise said:

4 “Gratitude means to be thankful and most of the time means returning the favor. There have been many times when I have felt gratitude.

1 When my mom bought me the iPhone 11, I was so thankful and returned the favor by cooking dinner that day.

2 When you return the favor, it feels really good because you’re ultimately giving back to the person or thing that helped you out.”

3 Return the favor.





4 From Jaiydin—

1 “One often does not find their purpose near the end of their road nor the beginning of it

2 They find their purpose while walking their road,

3 When we help one another on the road, we get loads of gratitude from their smiles,

4  not their words.

1 They may not show gratitude but deep down they are more thankful





2 Imagine! Like anime!

3 What’s that?

4 Anime is a Japanese form of animation

1 Not just for kids!

2 No, not just for kids. Thank goodness!

3 Sofiaenid is thankful for anime.

4 She says,

1 “I am most grateful to anime for helping me get through my darkest times

2 And helping me improve my reading, writing skills, self-confidence, mannerisms,

3  and it even helps improve my mindset.

4 Some people might think that anime are just silly animated books or shows,

1 but anime to me is very special and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

2 My favorite genre is Shonen because it has themes that teach you life lessons.”




3 Jordan adds this:

4 “Gratitude is the capacity for appreciating the positive benefits we receive in life.

1 Gratitude is the capstone of the seven capacities of positive leadership.

2 Gratitude charges one’s advocacy because its effects are contagious.”






4 Now, hear from Deontae:

1 “Gratitude is like trust

2   you gotta know the person before you give them your gratitude.

3 Gratitude also is like a mega thank you from someone for doing something like changing their life

4 It also can make their day.

1 It also means giving thanks, especially on Thanksgiving.”




2 This year

3 That’s November 25th

4 Twenty-five?

1 Yes, November 25th





2 DeAmber sent a poem:

3 “As the sun hits the horizon, and the announcer on the tv’s voice rises

while our team wins the football game,

4   I watch as my family comes around a single table within the kitchen.

1   Our table is decorated with food and the main attraction, the turkey.

The table has handmade decorations and centerpieces.

2   Lively conversations between family members fill the table as my little cousins run around before my mother says, “Ahem!”

3   I hear the individual voices of each of my family members saying what they are grateful for.

4   Now it is my turn:

1   Living!

2   Living!

3   Living

4   Living!”







1 Thank you for coming!

2 Thank you for giving

3 Thanks!

4 Our artists are also grateful.

1   Let’s see them!

2  Let’s hear them!

3 Melanie is thankful for her grandmother, Rosalba—the reason she’s still here, her shoulder to cry on.

4  Chanaya is thankful she has a place to stay with her hardworking parents.

1  Jose is thankful for anime!

2  Alejandro is thankful for his hands because he is able to create art, music, literature…

3   Amy is thankful for friends now, because she didn’t have any growing up.

4   Penelope is thankful for her piano.

1 See them all, and see the others.

2  Hear the others.

3 Beautiful!

4 Thank you!



Fresh Bad

In Just Beyond (2021) on Disney+, once again we have a series based on R.L. Stine stories. There are only 8 episodes so far, compared to the 74 for Goosebumps. That’s prolific. The first one, “Leave Them Kids Alone,” tells the story of Veronica. She used to be a “good kid” (read: easy) who has become an activist. Her parents ship her off to Miss Genevieve’s, a school for other girls with a similar “streak.” Hashtags on the IMDb page include the usual suspects: brainwashing, free will, conformity. Newer, more sophisticated ones are also listed: social programming, social conditioning, homogenous. It’s not a particularly new theme, of course. The Stepford Wives (1975) comes to mind, of course, but its tags include “unhappy ending” and “stabbed in the stomach with a knife.” Not for kids. The 2004 remake takes the premise but goes nowhere so dark with it.

[The title “Leave Them Kids Alone” comes from a Pink Floyd song “Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 1.” The operative lyric is “We don’t need no education/We don’t need no mind control.” A long discussion for another time. I have heard of Pink Floyd.]

The thing about the control, the uniformity, the unchanging perfection of these stories is that, for all the “hides a dark secret” revelations, there is a certain ease. Wouldn’t it be nice if things were predictable? Up and down we go. It’s not just events. People can be one way for years. Then, for a multitude of perfectly good reasons, they are different: unreliable, late, disengaged, mean; the list goes on.

One recent example involves Chris Stirewalt, formerly of Fox News. He was on the news desk when the 2020 vote in Arizona seemed ready to call for Biden. Stirewalt acted as he thought was right. But being right, even when it seems easy, doesn’t always work out. He was fired.

For most of us, however, things go the other way. Rather than doing the right thing, we do the wrong thing. And then we suffer. The pain fades eventually, but not before causing sleepless nights and churning tummies.

A new term for this is “fresh bad.” Yes, you’ll suffer. You’ll tell people you did something stupid, but by the second or third telling, it doesn’t really seem so important. And what did I do? you might ask. I offered to do something that didn’t need to be done, thereby messing up the chosen representative who was supposed to do it. I’d misunderstood the premise of the project. While details might make this easier to understand, they don’t matter. The more important thing is not that I did anything wrong; there was no “evil lurks beneath the surface” scenario. Thoughtless, clueless, superficially helpful; the list goes on.

Trying to cheer myself up, I went thrifting. Being with the other hunter-gatherers can be comforting. There is always something new to distract. I found the sign pictured above. (The lamp caught in the ivy isn’t staged. The wind perhaps? The cap was on the ground, though. Replaced for symmetry.) What you can’t see is that it’s lighted—not with neon but with a battery-powered hidden contraption. A delightful surprise. An expanded JUST BE YOU is this message: JUST BE YOURSELF. LET PEOPLE SEE THE REAL, IMPERFECT, FLAWED, QUIRKY, BEAUTIFUL, MAGICAL PERSON THAT YOU ARE. All fitted on a 5”x4.5” block of fake wood. All on Etsy.

This kind of self-affirmation can turn into navel-gazing, easily. Smiling at one of those other hunte…uh, shoppers actually works better to take away the pain of the fresh bad. The path is never going to be flat and smooth. It’s always going to have stumbling blocks and bee stings. And they all hurt a little more when of our own doing. Sometimes getting stale is not a negative. There are real pains we cause ourselves. To my regret, I can neither forget nor repair them. Another topic for another day.

Dia de los Muertos 2021

Halloween 2020 was scary enough on its own because we were six months into a worldwide pandemic we’d thought might last six weeks. The CDC—for all its flaws—includes a page on celebrations in its category “daily-life-coping/holidays.” Trick or treating was inherently dangerous because of exposure to the virus. Back in the day, we were just worried about razor blades sunk into mounds of Mounds. CDC knows better than to say their recommendations reduce the threat entirely. Their list is “Safer Ways to Celebrate Holidays.” Parents probably still check the candy for evidence of tampering. Surely some of them stash that bit of nicer chocolate for themselves, for later.

Among the several (million) things I didn’t get to do last year was a trip to Oaxaca for the Day of the Dead. The colors, the food, fragrances, the music, the lights—these beckoned to the world of Coco (2017). It’s a favorite movie because of the story, which is not easily summarized. The animation is beautifully done, and the marigold bridge symbolizes the link between our world and the next, between our living family and our family on the other side, and the reconciliation that can happen with both. Disney tried to trademark the term Día de los Muertos for marketing purposes but didn’t, after pressure.

Now a couple of distinctions I learned just last week. First, the difference between “prison” and “penitentiary.” Some sources won’t distinguish. But let’s start with jail. It’s the preliminary lock up, a local place to hold alleged offenders. This list of WisdomBiscuits nicknames seems reasonably comprehensive for all: “hoosegow, mainline joint, skinner joint, Stoney lonesome, con college, glasshouse, bucket, club fed, grey bar hotel, big house, slammer, calaboose, castle, cooler, country club, crowbar hotel, digger, farm, guardhouse, hole, joint, jug, juvie, pen, pokey, rock, sneezer, stockade, the clink.”

The Eastern Pennsylvania State Penitentiary now operates as a museum. From September 24-November 13, you can have a night/Halloween experience. Yes, of course, part of it is immersive. The story of the facility is quite instructive, and its use of “penitentiary” rather than “prison” is important. A different system than the Auburn approach (group activities and enforced silence), ESP utilized silence and complete isolation among the prisoners with the goal of helping them reflect and then repent, thereby becoming “penitent.” It didn’t work, and as in all approaches that begin with a cruel premise, it resulted in cruelty.

Second, graveyard and cemetery. This article distinguishes the two, using root words as I am wont to do. I was glad to realize that there is no connection to “cement” in the latter; it’s just a Greek word for “resting place.” Hopefully, that won’t mess up your spelling efforts like Pet Sematary (1989, 2019) does. The article is from HuffPost, and I guess their readership includes people with no sense at all, so the writer feels compelled to conclude with this injunction: “Whichever term you use, just make sure you’re being respectful when you visit a cemetery or graveyard. And leave the shenanigans for your Halloween decorations, not an actual burial site.” Just what one would think of having learned the etymology of both words—grave desecration.

Speaking now of our ancestors, looking after them now is not so much of grave tending as looking into their histories. FamilySearch is a free site that allows you to research, upload pictures, record videos and oral histories, and connect with other researchers. Sign up, but I warn you, hours can be spent, but they’re happy ones. As I hope your Día is today.