catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 16 :: 2009.07.31 — 2009.09.03


Lifting the paradigm

My parents reneged on all three of my brothers’ names as soon as they were born. I forget what name was originally intended for Joshua; but I do recall that “Stephen” was instantly dubbed Matthew instead, and “Charissa” suddenly became Luke (by necessity). Mom and Dad had thoughtfully chosen names weeks in advance and were determined to use them, even up to the moment of the births. In my case, however, there was no last-minute waffling. They had picked out the name “Joy” for their firstborn daughter before they ever even married. And it stuck.

My nicknames spanned the gamut — from cutesy syllabic combos (Joy-ful, Joy-ous, Joy-less and when I started French class, Joy-eux) to entire amalgamations or decimations of songs and famous quotes (“I’ve got ‘Joy’ down in my heart, deep, deep down in my heart, J-O-Y…” and “[she’s] ‘Joy’ unspeakable and full of it, full of it, full of it,” etc.).

I imagine my name has helped to spur my lifelong fascination with lasting, eternal joy as opposed to temporal, fleeting happiness. I read C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy and The Great Divorce till the covers cracked, ruminated on William Cowper’s and John Newton’s and Jonathan Edwards’ hymns, and tried my best to smile more — ! — to live up to my name.

Growing up within the context of a church family, I was told constantly how “blessed” I was to have in my name a built-in reminder that The Formula for Joy is J[esus] + O[thers] + Y[ou]. Who hasn’t heard this nifty mnemonic for seeking Kingdom priorities first? So I kept trying to be nice to Jesus first in my life, to be nice to others next and to be nice to myself last — if I thought of myself at all (knowing full well that, to achieve super-spiritual joyfulness, I’d eventually need to shed that “Y” altogether and operate as “JO” for the rest of my life).

Over time, I stopped drinking that Kool-aid. I kicked on the cynicism when anyone tried to bring life-altering Gospel theology into the realm of “nifty-ness.” I loved Lewis’ ability to make abstract concepts (like eternal joy) concrete without degrading them in the process. “Jesus and Others and You-what a wonderful way to spell JOY!” came across to me as bathos, an unfathomable concept cheapened by familiarity and the twang of an un-tuned piano. Unable to keep my smile permanently pasted on or to maintain a “joyful enough” status quo on temporary highs from a neat sermon or a good book, I felt compelled to seek deeper and longer-lasting formulas that would add up to deeper and longer-lasting joy.

Recently, I was confronted by Jesus Christ. I mean, again. His Gospel, the continuing saga that it is, has been becoming more real to me, like the grass that believing ghosts in The Great Divorce can gradually begin to walk upon as they slowly solidify. I am realizing more and more acutely that life is not about “Jesus and Others and You” and yet that life has everything to do with “Jesus and Others and You.”

Eureka! What if we kept the J+O+Y formula and modified the variables? What if we thought about JOY in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What if I tackled joy as a verb, and less voluntarily — less like tackling but more like needing and breathing and singing along my way to a Destination/Someone, literally JOYING in the Person and work of Jesus Christ?


How I can relate to Jesus now because of Who He is and what He has done to reconcile me to Himself. My older Brother, my Head, my Intercessor, my Lord!



How I relate to others because of Who Jesus is and what He has done and continues to do in these other souls, my neighbors. All of us screwed up, all of us both humbled and glorified by grace we could never manufacture nor earn. “But God” (Ephesians 2)!



Who I am because I am adopted by and brought into union with Jesus, who I can become because Jesus identifies with me, because Jesus saved/is saving/will continue to save me from myself.

In Surprised by Joy, Lewis spends the better part of the book describing his lifelong quest for Joy-how he was spurred on by occasional gleams and glints of happiness and beauties that brinked on Joy, drove him to distraction and led him to persuasion that there must be more to life than the visible realities. By the end of the autobiographical book, he has become a theist (later to become a Christian), and for his journey to that point he uses the metaphor of signposts pointing to a city. He calls those glimpses of Joy the mile markers and signposts that pointed him in the right direction and kept him on the path. When we are lost and alone in the woods, stumbling across a signpost means the world to us! It completely consumes our sight, our thoughts, imbuing rapturous hope and purpose. But once we approach within eyeshot of the city we seek, those signposts fall away from significance and out of all memory — in light of the destination itself, now within our reach. They were lesser mementos, reminiscent of the city, reminding us of the way, guiding and motivating us. When we reach the city itself, those signposts become obsolete.

Lewis writes in those final pages, “But what, in conclusion, of Joy? for that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian.”

Ultimately, and effectually, it’s not at all about Joy. It’s not remotely about Jesus-and-Others-and-You. It’s about Jesus.

Jesus : Jesus + Jesus : Others + Jesus : You = JOY. It’s more than a paradigm shift. It’s a lift. I cannot “turn on the happy” with J+O+Y alone. But if the good news of Jesus Christ factors into every part of the equation, He solves and resolves it beyond satisfaction — beyond belief — beyond our wildest hopes for the solidest joys.

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