Friday, January 09, 2015

More Like a Millennial: #FightBackwithJoy in 2015

The first time I met Margaret Feinberg, I knew I would like her. I knew because she gave me a candy bar. For free. And not one of those fun-sized ones; this was the whole enchilada, if you will, one of those candy bars you buy on impulse at check out. For free.

Margaret was leading a conversation about publishing with a millennial audience in mind when I met her. This is something she's particularly qualified to speak to, as she's published about a bazillion books and articles, and she's given herself to a millennial audience in each case. That's not to say that older (and now, sigh, younger) readers don't go for her stuff, because they do. But there's something in the Zeitgeist of the millennial generation that lends itself to freshness, hopefulness, a lightness of being that's not naive or simplistic. Reading millennial writing isn't always illuminating, in the sense of learning something new, but it is almost always enlightening, in the sense of easing your load and dispensing with darkness.

From left: Hershey, Margaret, Leif

So it's not surprising that a book - Margaret's latest, Fight Back with Joy - with so serious a subtext as cancer is nevertheless brisk and fun and defiant and lively. Margaret sent me some of the early chapters some time ago, which I was eager to read, as she tells her cancer story in the book. She does so with great vulnerability and courage; the anxiousness and suffering that attends to a cancer diagnosis is not neglected or minimized. But this isn't ultimately a book about cancer; it's a book about joy, and joy - not as a feeling but as a discipline, as a resource - permeates the book.

I doubt people who know me well would characterize me as "joyful." I do laugh a lot, and I crack a lot of jokes and enjoy a fair amount of playtime with my friends. But I think closer to the center of my life experience is cynicism, a jaded view of the world. Blame it on the music I listen to, if you want, or blame it on my generation: the X in "Generation X" likely stands for "Expect to be disappointed." In any case, when things get hard, I don't typically fight back with joy, as Margaret suggests; I more often fight back with snark.

I remember a time when I was editing a devotional, and I added the phrase "Yeah, right" to a mildly humorous entry - which was, I hasten to add, my right as editor of a work-for-hire writer. (See? Snark.) The writer demanded that I take the phrase out, with the condescending comment "I can't affirm that kind of sarcasm." You can perhaps imagine how eager I was to work with her again. I don't subscribe to the school of thought that sees sarcasm as a character flaw; I hear it in the voice of the Lord in the Sacred Scriptures, for God's sake:
"Go ahead! Cry out for help to the gods you’ve chosen—let them get you out of the mess you’re in!”

"Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me, since you know so much!"
The occasional sarcastic barb, I've come to understand, is one thing; a lifestyle grounded in cynicism is quite another. Sarcasm may punctuate a point, but cynicism is a kind of abdication of responsibility; it assumes that things that demand to be changed are unchangeable, and it consoles a person with the notion that at least you get it; at least you're not simplistic and naive enough to think change is possible. Cynicism as a lifestyle starts the human story with the fall of Adam and Eve and ends it with the latest bad day. It finds evidence of original sin everywhere it looks, because it expects to find it.

Cynicism is arguably chronic in our age, but it's no more inherent to our being than "original sin" is original to our existence. There's a story that predates the fall of Adam and Eve, a story that, as Margaret points out, is filled with joy.

A close inspection of the first chapter of Genesis describes the fabric of creation as knit together with divine affection and delight. Throughout the process of creation, God observes and celebrates the goodness of what he makes. The declaration “God saw that it was good” rings out like a holy chorus until God eyes all he has made and concludes, “It was very good.”

God’s repeated declaration of “good” suggests that God delighted in the outcome multiple times. God was so pleased and happy with the results that he percolated with joy. The rich imagery of Genesis 1 suggests the kind of creative high an artist experiences upon completion of a great work.

Another vivid illustration of the creation story is tucked into Proverbs. The personified voice of wisdom, one of God’s active attributes in creation, describes, “Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”
Joy is inherent to God's approach to the world. Joy is characteristic of wisdom. As Margaret observes, "We spring from joy," because we are made in the image of God, and God is joyful in his bones.

TWEET THIS: Joy is inherent to God's approach to the world. Joy is characteristic of wisdom.

We lack imagination when we lack joy. But more than that, we lack the resources we need to persevere through the hardships we inevitably face. "More than whimsy," Margaret writes, "joy is a weapon we use to fight life's battles.

Sure, the virtue of joy is an upbeat companion for life, but that is not the whole story. The true power of joy supersedes a chirpy disposition, candy-coated emotion, or saccharine fantasy. It’s far more tangible than any magical notion of clicking your heels and discovering your bliss. Joy serves a useful and mighty purpose.
TWEET THIS: We lack imagination when we lack joy.

I haven't faced something so soul-shattering as a cancer diagnosis. But if (or when) I do (maybe this will be the year), I hope I'll face it less like an Xer and more like a Millennial, like Margaret. I hope I'll remember that despair is accidental to our existence; it doesn't enter the picture till Genesis 3, and it doesn't survive past Revelation 21. Before and after and all the way through the Bible - before and after and all the way through life - there is joy available to us, joy bred into us, joy undergirding us and overseeing us. Maybe this will be the year we lean into that fact and discover just how powerful joy is.

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You can get a copy of Margaret's Fight Back with Joy pretty much wherever you want: from Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, from Christian Book Distributors, from an independent bookseller, maybe even from a local church. Give it a read, by yourself or with a group of friends. (There's a companion video series to support group discussion.) I know you'll like it, and you may well find yourself better equipped for the next joy-testing event in your life.

Fight Back With Joy 6-Session DVD Bible Study Promo Video from Margaret Feinberg on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Margaret Feinberg said...

Love, love, love this David. Honored. Humbled. Grateful.