Via Creativa: The Island of Misfit Toys / Drunken Misfits

Read the rest of the Via Creativa: Island of Misfit Toys series

Jubilee! Circle, Columbia, S.C.
Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany:

You shall no more be termed Forsaken. (Isaiah 62:1-5)
You have kept the good wine until now. (John 2:1-11)
They leave each other in peace. (Tao Te Ching, 80th verse)

Our first song comes from Philadelphia born singer and songwriter Jim Croce. He released five albums between 1966 and 1973 and had hits with songs like “Time in a Bottle.” This song, I Got a Name, was released on September 20, 1973, which was the day Croce and five other people died in a plane crash in Louisiana. The song went to number 10 on the Billboard charts. Let’s try it:

Like the pine trees lining the winding road,
I got a name, I got a name
Like the singing bird and the croaking toad,
I got a name, I’ve got a name
And I carry it with me like my Daddy did
But I’m living the dream that he kept hid

CHORUS: Moving me down the highway,
rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life won’t pass me by

“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God,” the ancient prophet Isaiah crooned to the people of Israel. “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married.”

“The Lord delights in you!” That old prophet Isaiah brought good news to the struggling Hebrews on their return from exile in Babylon – and brings us the same message. “The Lord delights in you.” The Lord doesn’t just think you’re okay, or likes you just a little, or can take you or leave you. The Lord delights in you! Just your very presences plasters a silly grin on the Lord’s face and makes her do a little happy dance whenever he sees you or thinks about you.

The Lord delights in you!

What do you delight in? What makes gives you a goofy grin or transports you out of the mundane trouble of the day to the land of happy dances, non-stop giggles and a face that hurts from smiling and laughing so much?

I would hope there are many things that bring such delight into your world. If you can’t think of anything right off the bat, that means you’re not paying attention, because delight is all around, just waiting to be seen, discovered, and giggled over.

For me, I find delight in a lot of places. With a new puppy there comes plenty of opportunities for frustration, especially in housebreaking. But, that is overcome with the delight of watching the puppy at play. Have you watched puppies run? They don’t just run, they bound, and they flop, and sometimes they trip over themselves as they make their way to you with delight. To them, you are their delight and they show you how delighted they are to see you, to be with you, to be petted and loved by you.

The Lord is like that puppy, bounding to us in absolute delight, kissing us and rolling over to enjoy a belly rub.

There are other delights – a good cup of coffee, time to play my guitar, a good book. But, the object I take the most delight in is my wedding ring, because it represents the delight I take in my marriage. While we still fight for marriage equality here in the U.S. for gays and lesbians, Wanda and I are legally married in Canada. The process of going down to the county marriage license office to fill out paperwork and get things in order may be mundane and routine for others, but for us, it was a delight.

Wanda and I have taken part in protests at the Richland County courthouse where we’d go and fill out the marriage paperwork, only to have the clerks there tell us they couldn’t take it, because our love is illegal in this particular backwater town in South Carolina.

But, in Canada, it was different. We filled out the form and turned it in to the clerk. We stood nervously as he looked it over, waiting for the words, “I’m sorry, but we can’t allow you to get married.” Instead, he looked it all over, sighed, handed it back to us and said, “Pay the clerk over there and you’re all done.” He was completely bored with the process. Two women getting married? Who cares! Go over there and pay your money so I can take the next couple in line. For us, it was a moment of complete and utter delight – to be seen as a couple getting married, not as freaks looking for some special right.

The world may see us as freaks, misfits and outcasts – and forsake us and leave us desolate, without rights or left out of all the great legal reindeer games everyone else gets to play. But God sees us for who we really are – delightful, not desolate or forsaken. The Holy really sees us and gives us a name – a name that is never forgotten or left desolate.

Our names are the most precious sound we can ever hear. To hear Wanda say my name is like prayer, like music. (Unless, of course, she’s upset with me!) It’s sacred to hear the most beloved person in our lives say our name. To have God whisper your name – my delight, my beloved – well, it can make you downright drunk with delight.

Like a north wind whistling down the sky,
I got a song, I got a song
Like the whippoorwill and the baby’s cry,
I’ve got a song, I’ve got a song
And I carry it with me and I sing it loud
If it gets me nowhere,
I’ll go there proud

CHORUS: Moving me down the highway,
rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life won’t pass me by

It is an understatement to say that names are important. Our name gives us our identity. Some names may be unique, even made up by the parents. There is a guy in one of my religion classes whose first name is Demosthenes. There are also the usual suspects of Gary, Mary and Timothy. The most popular baby names last year, by the way, was Liam for boys and Emma for girls.

Names do more than just identify us on our driver’s license or on a class roster. Our names are part of a legal contract. By giving us a name, our parents have introduced us to society. Our names are associated with Social Security numbers in perpetuity. Our names will be on credit reports, credit cards, tax documents and other legal documents, perhaps even wedding certificates.

The tradition in heterosexual marriages, of course, is for the woman to take her new husband’s last name. This is a powerful reminder that it is to be the man’s lineage – his name – that lives on through the children they produce. Her name is subsumed into his so they become Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Some women buck the trend, of course, keeping their name or hyphenating. This is the power of the name, though … and something we give a lot of thought to when we are presented with chances to change or forsake our given names.

Our names also mean that we have accepted our role in society – to be branded as Bill, or Joy, or Monique. We honor what our name is on – the bills, the taxes, the paychecks. We take delight in hearing our name, which is why sales people say them a lot when we’re considering buying something like a new car. And when our name is misspelled or mispronounced, we take offense. And when our names are stricken from records, expunged from church rolls or erased from memory by former friends or even family members, we are hurt. We cannot bear it when our names are forsaken or we are seen as desolate and abandoned.

“You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the LORD delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

Hear the good news, Jubilants, the Lord delights in us, delights in our misfit nature. The Lord is drunk with awe at us – gives us a new name, calls us delightful and asks for our hand in marriage – to come into a relationship that can sometimes be rocky and rough, but at its heart, is a relationship of mutuality – of mutual awe – of being drunk with passion and delight for one another.

Breathe deeply.

And I’m gonna go there free
Like the fool I am and I’ll always be,
I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
They can change their minds but they can’t change me
I’ve got a dream, I’ve got a dream
I know I could share it, if you want me to
If you’re going my way, I’ll go with you

CHORUS: Moving me down the highway,
rolling me down the highway
Moving ahead so life won’t pass me by

Sometimes it’s hard to see anything to be delighted about – the world can be an ugly and desolate place. Wars, famine, violence, cruelty and greed take up the daily headlines. We never have to leave our chair and we’re transported into the sorrows around the world.

Imagine a small country, the Tao invites us in this chapter, where they have weapons but don’t need them. People like their work, they love their homes so much they rarely leave them, even though they have means to travel the world. They have clothes, good food, shelter and love their way of life. They have neighbors nearby, but rarely visit, preferring to leave each other in peace.

To those who like to busy themselves with the mundane in this world, this little country may sound awful, but to the misfit, who insists on drinking in all the awe and joy they can find, this world is perfect, because the Tao is inviting us to find paradise right here, and right now – in our work, our home, our clothes and food. We don’t have to travel great distances to exotic lands to find delight and awe. As Voltaire once said, “Paradise is where I am.”

“Find joy and solace in the simple,” writes Wayne Dyer. “Change your view to see the pleasure in what you have, where you’re located, and who you are.”

You have a name, Jubilants. You are delightful, and paradise is right where you are. Spend more time drinking deeply of all the delight around you.

Breathe deeply.

Our second song comes from Canadian singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell. “Big Yellow Taxi” was released in 1970 and Mitchell said she wrote the song while on vacation in Hawaii and the view from her hotel room was ruined by “a parking lot as far as the eye could see, and it broke my heart… this blight on paradise.” Let’s try it:

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Ooooh, bop bop bop Ooooh, bop bop bop

They took all the trees, and put em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
a dollar and a half to see them
No, no, no Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Ooooh, bop bop bop Ooooh, bop bop bop

In our Jesus story, we find our guy partying down. He, his mother and the disciples have been invited to a wedding, and in this culture, a wedding isn’t a one day event, instead they can go on for days and days.

We join Jesus on the third day of this celebration and learn that the host has run out of wine. Now, there is much religious symbolism in this first recorded miracle that Jesus performs. First, this happens on the third day, which, if we remember our Easter story, the third day is kind of important – so John is foreshadowing the importance of the third day not just in Jesus’ life, but in the life of the church.

Also, this miracle is meant to show John’s readers that the wine Jesus’ produces are really the new teachings about God’s realm are there to refill the empty and hollow teachings of the Hebrew laws that Jesus saw as spiritually oppressive. So, this passage could be theologically unpacked for a long time.

But, let’s talk about wine, and paradise, and parking lots.

What Jesus offers the wedding goers in Cana, and even us today, is more than the fruit of the vine – he’s offering the fruit of life, delight, joy, paradise, if only we’ll open our eyes and see it and receive it. Jesus knows, however, that the world’s messages to us are strong and hard to overcome, even with sweet wine.

Instead of taking Jesus up on his offer to be drunk with delight, we so often pass it by, preferring the rancid water of the status quo, the safety of fitting in. The world tells us we can’t really have joy, we have to save the best for last, work hard for what we want and put off things that make us happy into some point in the future when we can “afford” it. Jesus says, no, we can have the best now and in the future, because joy is offered in each moment, the best wine is right now, in this present moment – we are invited to become joyful misfits in this joyless world, to be drunk on awe and happiness and bliss – right now, not in some point in the future.

In the movie, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, both Rudolph and Hermey the dentist elf understood that even in the midst of danger and sadness, paradise was all around them. They spent their time in the wilderness playing with the woodland creatures, finding beauty in an island of misfit toys, and in the end, even finding paradise in the very place that had forsaken them in the first place.

This is what Jesus is seeking to teach us – to change how we see the world. Instead of seeing the world as full of rules and conformity and going along to get along, we’re supposed to see the world as jam-packed with paradise and be drunk with delight. The red wine of the Holy flows in each moment, whether we’re in the cave the Abominable Snowman, or standing in a parking lot.

When Jewish people raise a glass to say a toast, they often say, “L’chaim,” which means “to life!” This is Jesus’ invitation to us in every moment, to raise our glass and shout “L’chaim, more wine!”

But, too often we don’t understand all the awe and wonder in our life until it’s gone. Only in retrospect do we see the amazing miracles that have taken place in our life, but we missed them in the moment. Jesus is inviting us to be here now, in paradise, where all the miracles take place, even amidst the day’s challenges and disappointments.

Life is a celebration, Jubilants, but often we get caught in the mundane – a stack of papers waiting in the inbox, chores at home, more tasks than time. Our wine of life runs dry all the time, and we forget how to refill those dry casks – by turning our attention to the Holy, to the awesomeness all around us in every moment. It’s the world’s misfits who understand though that each moment should be lived in paradise, where the red, red wine of joy never runs out. “L’chaim! – more wine!” Breathe deeply.

Hey farmer, farmer, put away your DDT
I don’t care about spots on my apples
Leave me the birds and the bees Please
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Hey now, they paved paradise to put up a parking lot
Why not? Ooooh, bop bop bop Ooooh, bop bop bop

I was once asked by someone if I believed that Jesus would come back one day. My answer then is the same as now: I believe Jesus comes back every day and every day we torture and kill him, because we’re still not ready to receive that wine of love and awe that Jesus always comes to offer us. But, Jesus persists. Every single day, he comes to us, in the form of friends, family, strangers and most especially enemies, and offers to refill our empty lives with the sweet wine of divine love, joy and peace.

Every day we refuse for a lot of reasons – but mostly because our society, and especially our religions, say we’re not supposed to be drunk with delight. Instead, we’re supposed to be dour moralists, or guilty sinners, or finger wagging pious prigs, or preachers of hellfire and damnation.

When Jesus comes into our daily lives, offering the wine of delight he is telling us, “You are not forsaken sinners or desolate doomsayers. To God, your name is delightful!”

Jesus seeks to remind us that we live in paradise, right where we are, but every day we build another parking lot, another sign of worldly progress – a sign of the growth of our mundane status quo that blinds us to our divine misfit nature that is meant to be drunk with delight – even among the parking lots.

Jubilants, we are called to drink deeply from delight, to hear the Holy call our name and offer up our empty and dusty cups and shout: “L’chaim, more wine!”

Listen, late last night, I heard the screen door slam
And a big yellow taxi took my girl away
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Well, don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Why not? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
Hey hey hey Paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Oh, Yeah!