Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Don't Stop

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

                        Philippians 4.4-5

The Bright Side

One of my favorite “religious” movie moments comes at the end of Monty Python’s Life of Brian. For anyone not familiar with this edging-toward-irreverent farce, Brian is about an unlucky guy born the same day and in the same neighborhood as Jesus. The two cross paths consistently and Brian haplessly falls in with a group of zealots that mistakes him for the Messiah. He’s arrested, crucified (for lousy Latin conjugations), his followers vanish, and the film closes with this little ditty—“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.

It’s typical Python comic irony, iron clad and iron-fisted. Yet it’s also improbably correct for a movie indirectly based on the life and teachings of Jesus. (You can take the boys out of Anglicanism, but you can’t take Anglicanism out of the boys.) While He dealt with every imaginable kind of human sadness, Jesus consistently taught joy. “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete,” He says in John 16.24. And in the Sermon on the Mount: “When you’re persecuted and lied about because of Me, rejoice!” Or, in Pythonese, “Always look on the bright side.”

Joy and Gentleness

Paul picked up this theme in Philippians: Always rejoice. A lot of believers stop there, taking it as a sort of positive-thinking mantra, which one supposes it is. But Paul’s follow-up statement suggests there’s more to Christian optimism than meets the eye. Joy spawns gentleness. Our determination to practice joy (rather than experience it) blunts the edge of any hardship, criticism, and opposition that confronts us. This isn’t show-tune psychology—forget your troubles and just get happy. It’s a two-edged defense that shields us and exposes God’s presence in us. “The Lord is near,” Paul wrote. Our joy in this instructs that our best defense is no defense. We answer cruelty with kindness. Joy makes us gentle.

Withholding Consent

Christ’s promise of joy in John 16 comes at a difficult moment as He prepares the disciples for His death. In verse 22, He assures them: “I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” On this side of the Resurrection, His promise becomes reality. No one can steal our joy—without our consent, that is. We make ourselves depressed, bitter, angry, and so on by allowing others to interrupt our joy. And when joy ceases, gentleness fades. We lash out, fight back, or roll over and play victim. God is no longer visible to those who need to see His power working in us. Any time someone tries to steal your joy, withhold consent. Don’t stop rejoicing. Make your gentleness evident. Your joy is essential—to you and everyone around you.

OK, maybe the song is more cynical than I remember, but it's got a great hook! Monty Python's Life of Brian: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"

(Tomorrow: Fertilizer Happens)


Mary Ellen said...

What an excellent post and thank you for pointing out the true message of Jesus...and doing it with Monty Python was a wonderful surprise!

Anonymous said...

It is so important to learn the lesson that no one makes you happy or sad or resentful or whatever. you do that, and with the grace of God, you turn from the negatives and toward the positives. Joy is something that must be cultivated. It grows and expands by being nurtured. Thanks Tim for a wonderful reflection.

Tim said...

Mary Ellen--great to see you! Christ's message of restoration seems so obvious to me, I'm baffled by how many people think of Him as God's gatekeeper instead of what He actually was, God's doorman. He came to usher us in, not keep us out; so I'm totally with you about restoration being His true message.

Sherry, thanks, as always, for adding more to the perspective. You're absolutely right: the surest way to prevent losing our joy ("joyus interruptus" in Pythonese) is by actively nurturing it. The bigger, more prominent it becomes, the less likely it is a thief will abscond with it!