Complex Joy: I guess I'm the Grinch
-Pastor Melissa Fain-
I’m at the point where syrupy faith is just too much. I’m immediately skeptical of worship that is all uplifting, marshmallowey, joy. That’s not how the world works, and in a world where it seems everyone is on an epic struggle-bus, it all seems rather fake too.
I think that’s why this year has been the most difficult to get into the “Christmas Spirit.” It feels fake. I can’t “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” Just, no. I can’t sing, “Joy to the World.” Let’s not. I just wanna survive everyone else’s frivolity, and move on.
In a very real way, this year, I’m connecting to the Grinch.
The Whos Earn Nothing
Have you ever realized the Whos in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” have no story arc at all? They gain nothing they didn’t already have at the beginning. They simply exist for the Grinch’s foil. The Whos have a naive joy, not grounded in anything at all. Meaningful joy will always be born from hope.
It’s like simple versus complex sugars. Just feeling happy is a simple joy. It’s like getting a piece of candy. It tastes good. You enjoy it while it lasts, but it doesn’t fill you.
Coming from grief and heartbreak with a hope given by God is different. When a person sees the first signs of that hope being fulfilled, it brings true joy. It’s a joy that looks strange because to everyone else it might not seem like something to be happy about. It’s like getting a bowl of pasta. It is filling and the energy lasts. The sugar is still there; it just has to be broken down first to get to it.
The Whos had simple joy. Not bad in small batches, but if it’s the only joy you get, eventually you don’t understand why it’s not filling you.
The Grinch earned a complex joy
This guy was living on a cold, dark, lonely mountain. No one cared about him. No one tried to engage him. More than that, the Whos simple joy was mentally hurting him.
Let me unpack that statement just a little. In a community, we want to believe if an action feels good it must be good. It creates this illusion that if the outsider would only see the system the same way the insider sees the system, they too would want to be part of it.
That phrase, “Taking candy from a baby.” It’s said because it implies doing something like that is easy. It’s not easy. The baby screams, cries and draws as much attention to him or herself as possible. Whenever that phrase is illustrated in a show or movie, you usually see the person quickly giving the candy back by the end of the scene. At the same time, who is giving candy to a baby?! To the baby, it seems amazing! How could all that sweet be bad? Only it is bad, especially for a baby, and in unfettered doses for everyone.
That’s the deception. Those partaking of simple joy at all hours all the time are gaining nothing of substance, but they don’t realize it because it’s all so sweet. Those who finally crashed from the immense joy-high, can actually realize how dangerous it all is, but it’s impossible to tell those who are still living the high. Those who have felt the joy-crash can actually be reliving it when they see others with that joy-high.
Moving on. The Grinch came from somewhere. There have been two movies that have tried to unpack it. No one has suggested that he might just be a Who who suffered a joy-crash. After all, from his mountain, he knows exactly what they do in their houses, almost like he lived there once. He can’t hear the constant singing because it’s a reminder, and eventually that reminder turns to annoyance, which turns to pain.
His hope is to destroy what pains him. His solution, while not a good one, is to take away all the things that remind him of his pain. He wants peace, and he’s willing to silence it all to get it. When his plan still ends in Whos singing joyfully, he suddenly realizes he could have real joy. With that, his real hope is fulfilled, he finds peace in his place, and realizes the true joy. That’s why his heart grows. All those pieces must come into place for the love to be found. It’s that complex joy that allows him to find community again.
It’s a process
I don’t think the Church is doing anyone favors by feeding her congregants simple joy week after week. The Church should be the home for the weak and wounded. It’s a place for all those who are living in the joy-crash. Instead, the Church has become the absolute last place for those people. We are ostracized to the mountain, being told we are choosing the mountain. For the newbies, we are like babies, unable to verbalize what is happening to us, and why we are being pushed away by those we thought loved us. For us seasoned Grinch’s- some of us tried to burn it all down. Some of us simply moved on. Others, like myself, are worried about new joy-crashes, and desire to help those who haven’t crashed, see those on Mount Crumpit.
It’s a process. This year, I’m surrounded by the joy-crash. Not my own. That’s over a decade old at this point. It’s all the ones who just thought they could go back, and are finding the simple joy doesn’t last the way it used to. I want to be the Grinch. I want to take the candy from the baby for the sake of the baby. I want to help others find a more complex joy that leads to real love. But, like I’ve already said- it’s a process.
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