Adventure in Joan Rivers: a contradiction of my principles

Comedy, true, pure comedy is so important to me. Moreover it’s important to all of us, whether you want to be okay with that or not. Someone who agrees with me on this in every capacity is none other than Joan Rivers, the snarky broad from the red carpet known for ripping apart the appearance of any and every other human being. Because that is the contradiction of Joan Rivers in my life. I don’t even find her to be that funny, but I do whole-heartedly agree with her philosophy of comedy. I don’t, however, agree with a lick of what she believes about physical appearance.

Joan Rivers. In two parts.Honestly, I don’t know if either of these images are pre-surgery Joan. That’s not really the point. It’s vaguely the point though. She’s a pretty lady. There’s not a doubt about that. Joan Rivers was a pioneer in comedy for attractive women. In a lot of ways she paved the way for your Tina Feys and Amy Poehlers and Ellen Degenereses. She was the first woman to host a late night talk show, with Johnny Carson as her first guest. She even wrote for the Tonight Show.

What she really did though, what she believes about comedy is this. Comedy is one of our single-greatest mechanisms for dealing with life’s greatest tragedies. She is often criticized for being cold for that very reason. At the risk raging in a feministic way, I believe that to be partly due to her gender. Men can get away with saying a great deal more than women, because even in this modern world we live in women must sustain some sort of feminine sensibility. Making jokes about 9/11 or suicides or diseases is apparently not conducive to painting the picture of femininity.

When Ms. Rivers’ husband, Edgar Rosenberg, committed suicide on May 15, 1987, Joan was cracking jokes shortly after. If for no other reason than to break the tension and get herself out of her own head. Please, don’t misunderstand me in this. It’s exactly what I do. She wasn’t cold about it. It’s how she had to deal with it, and she was broken-hearted by the death, by the selfishness, by the actions of Fox she believes led to it all. 

She’s been heckled by live audiences for her “cruel” sense of humor. But at the heart of it all what Joan Rivers wants people to believe about comedy is that in the world’s bleakest hour it can be the only thing that brings us all together. Something I cannot remotely fault her for. In fact, all I can do is applaud her. And if you get down into the mess of Joan Rivers’ life you’ll see it riddled with tragedies that she continues to rise above.

What I do find disagreeable about Joan Rivers is exactly what you see. Her passion for comedy, and despite popular belief the way that she does care for people, particularly her daughter, is admirable. In all of that though she forgot to laugh at age.

At 78 years old she’s a shadow of what she looked like. And while being comfortable in one’s own skin is important, something about reshaping that skin lacks the pursuit of humor of which she speaks so profoundly. I do not want to say she does not have the right to do whatever she wants to maintain her appearance, but where’s the humor in that. Yes, we can all make jokes and she can make jokes about all of her surgeries to maintain the appearance of her choosing. But old people are funny. Old people look funny. What’s better than the opportunity to let your comedy age with your face?

Much of stand-up comedy is the observational variety, which is, granted quite funny. But there’s something unsettling about the idea of not observing an idea or an event or something in whole, but taking it down to the individual. Outside of the self. Joan Rivers does a fine job of ripping herself apart for the sake of a laugh, but her main focus at this point in her career is ripping apart anyone else. And maybe she’s earned that, but all that says about women in comedy, pioneering women in comedy, is that when you get down in it women are still caught up in their appearance. And that, dear friends, is not the direction women in comedy need to continue to face.

A change of pace without the constant change of face. Risk it. Get old. Get wrinkled. Get fat. Don’t let the joke go because you refuse to let yourself go.

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Adventure in Waking Up

We’re tired. We’re lazy. We’re beaten down by reputations and negativity. My brothers and sisters, I am heart-broken as I watch those I love fall away from the hope they once held so dear. It is devastating to hear people say they’ve given up on Christ because others who tout his name are misusing it. Cries in the streets of “God hates fags,” do give us all a bad name. “Hate” is the worst thing anyone could carry around with them, and to have it attached to Christianity breaks my heart. What scares me more than a bad reputation though is that people who had put their faith in Christ are denying Him because they don’t want to be associated with a few bad eggs.

My sisters and brothers, no one said it would be easy. In fact, quite the opposite. Perhaps you expected the opposition to come from playful puppies or in sing-song form from little children on the playground to you as an adult. You didn’t expect it to be something that came to you because of other Christians? No, I suppose none of us did, but we get a pretty clear picture that proclaiming God’s truth will not be well-received in any capacity. Unfortunately, the people shouting God’s hatred in the street have sorely missed who God is. Yes, God is a wrathful god. He does hate. He hates one thing. Sin. You know who’s got sin? Me! You! That guy. Her. That little girl. Gays. Straights. Murderers. Moms. People who make candy. People who can’t eat candy. Cobblers, coopers, black smiths, habber dashers, soup nazis, bakers, candlestick makers, teachers, clowns, puppeteers, doctors, pastors, rabbis, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans. We all do. And in all of us is that one thing that can keep us separated from God forever. Sin. The horrible chasm standing between us and pure, uninterrupted, unalterable joy in the presence of God.

And the only thing getting us there is the immeasurable grace of Christ. Born as a human, a clumsy, fleshy, crying baby. So that he could grow up for one singular purpose. To save your damned soul. To give you one last shot. Because while we don’t want to be separated from him for all eternity, he clearly doesn’t want that for us either. He died remember? For you. For me. So that you don’t have to suffer blindly.

Yes. Life. Is. Hard. Being a Christian is hard. Especially if you’re doing it right. You will face opposition. If you don’t like being associated with the people shouting hate in the street for whatever reason. Shout love. Show love. Pour it out. Don’t grumble. Don’t be discouraged. Be broken-hearted and be anything but that. Be Grace. Be Love. Be Peace. Be Hope. But don’t be discouraged, because you have Hope and Love and Grace and Peace, and God will use it.

Step up and do something. Wake up! We don’t have to stand idly by. We shouldn’t! We can’t!

Encourage your brothers and sisters. Because it’s damn hard to do this alone. It’s easy to be encouraging in life, but that will only teach us to rely on each other. We must encourage each other in Christ. Because our reliance must be on Christ.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4

You deceived me, LORD, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. 

I hear many whispering, “Terror on every side! Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!” All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, “Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.”

But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonor will never be forgotten. LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.

 Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, “A child is born to you—a son!” May that man be like the towns the LORD overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?

Jeremiah 20: 7-18

You are not alone. Ever. Wake up.

Adventure in Voices

On occasion I say things like, “If he could just stand near me and talk all of the time I think that would be okay,” or “I wish he would narrate my life.” I found that I say this about quite a few people, so I comprised a list. This is that list. Enjoy.

(As always in no particular order)

Tommy Lee Jones

James Earl Jones

Liam Neeson

Garrison Keillor

Christopher Lee

Jerry Orbach

Alec Baldwin

Vincent Price

Jeremy Irons

Ben Folds

George Clooney

Maggie Smith

Adventure in Jolly old Saint Nicholas, you have no place here!

I don’t come from a Family of vast holiday Traditions. Outside of the day we celebrate things, traditions barely exist. The night before Thanksgiving my Mom and I watch “Muppet Family Christmas” and eat pizza. The weekend of Thanksgiving the Christmas tree goes up. Outside of that nothing grand really happens.

As little lambs Adam (my Brother) and I were not told about Santa Claus. Well, that’s not exclusively true. I remember at one point sitting in the tiny rocking chair my Grandpa had made me, and my parents explaining to me in the front room with just the Christmas tree for light that Santa wasn’t real. I don’t think they told us the same night. I think it was just me. But they told me the Truth. They weren’t going to lie to us. They didn’t want to lie to us. Other parents would lie to their kids, and we weren’t supposed to ruin it for them. I ruined it for them. It’s supposed to be a fun thing, but they didn’t want to lie to us. They didn’t want us to believe that presents were the reason we celebrated Christmas. They told us about Jesus. How He is the Son of God, and He came to earth and became a human baby. A human baby just like we’d been so that He could grow up and die for the whole world. At this point I hadn’t known anyone who died, so I didn’t really grasp the depth of that. So we weren’t told that Santa brought us presents. My wonderful parents Hal and Kerry did. My Grammy and Grandpa did. My Nana and Papa did. My Uncles and Aunt did. But not some stranger who snuck into our house and pilfered our baked goods in exchange for elaborate undeserved gifts. Because the elaborate undeserved gift that was given 33 years after the first Christmas was the most elaborate and undeserved of all, and it didn’t come from some judgmental human. It came from our Father in Heaven who didn’t want us to be separated from Him. There would be presents though. They just weren’t coming from a stranger.

They did a good thing. I had…have…an over-active imagination. Had they told me as a child that a stranger was sneaking into our house every year and leaving me things based upon what he perceived I wanted while watching us, I’d have been horrified. I also probably wouldn’t sleep or trust anyone else. And more to the point, when the time came for me to learn that Santa isn’t real I wouldn’t have believed in anything else that required that much Faith. I wouldn’t have believed in anything that put my Heart and expectations on the line. And I sure as hell wouldn’t be trusting anything my parents told me for quite some time. Luckily, they were honest and decided Jesus was far more important than some creepy, fat man coming into our house. That isn’t to say it would have been impossible for me to put my Faith in God. It just would have been incredibly more difficult with the way my brain functions.

My parents did a good thing.

My children will be told that Obi-Wan Kenobi brings them Christmas presents, and in so doing I’ve made Star Wars a Christmas movie. You’re welcome.

These aren't the presents you're looking for

These aren't the presents you're looking for

Adventure in Now that’s the business

Thank you to my wonderful and beautiful friend Dana for this.

Now, I don’t love this as far as spoken word poetry goes, but give the woman some credit because she’s got it right. Listen hard to her points, because, my sisters, we’re missing the point. We are missing our point. Oh we have missed it. Remember whose and why you are.

To kick off your thoughts. This is beautiful. To me this is beauty. This is a part of my definition. What does it look like to you? What is your definition of beauty? Words, poems, pictures, paintings, kittens, songs, whatever you’ve got, please, send your thoughts my way. I’m working to build a semi-comprehensive definition. If your definition is big boobs and a tight ass, then that’s your definition. Send it to me. If your definition is Mother Theresa I want that too. If your definition is grace. If it’s cake. If it’s ponies or patience. Send it my way.

Hayley.liz.johnson@gmail.com

Adventure in Stating the Horrifying

A week ago Monday I had an interview to volunteer with the national organization Girls, Inc. Well, she called it an interview, but it was a lot more like an opportunity for her to tell me more about their work and an opportunity for me to pour out my heart about how important that work is.

It should, hopefully, come as no surprise to my regular readers that I care deeply about the image women and girls put on themselves. The hateful image. The worthless image. The shattered image. Because of all of the factors. Media, men, culture, women, family, friends, self. And I acknowledge there is some irony and probably a bit of hypocrisy in talking to these girls about what beauty looks like, how important they are, where their value is, because frankly, I struggle with it. I’m riddled with fear of never being good enough for anyone, including myself. That’s sort of a personal struggle for my heart, because God’s shown me time and again he has a reason for me and my creation in His Image speaks well of my own image. But I get distracted. I get lost. I get beaten down. But if I can even for one moment in my life step outside of myself and show these girls, and hopefully myself too, what their value is about, what beauty looks like, where strength comes from then I think I’m pursuing what small semblance of a passion I have.

I spent a good deal of high school surrounded by eating disorders and depression. I think the thing about it though that scares me the most, even in working with Girls Inc., is that stories have this tendency to be more of an endorsement than a deterrent. I remember sitting in a chapel in seventh grade maybe and hearing an upper classmen, a girl in my brother’s class, talking about her struggle with her eating disorder. How God pulled her out of it. But she wasn’t out of it. She was very much still in it. She was a popular girl. She was well liked and stereotypically beautifully. Academically and athletically successful. It wasn’t long after a girl in the class below her started down the same dangerous path, and in a worse state. A couple of years later I’m in the car with that girl and some girls in my class. She’s telling us about her struggle and pulling herself out of the dark. It’s not long after that a girl from that car is even deeper in the woods than either girl, and her friends around her start to fall victim too.

Where’s the balance? How can we tell our own stories without breaking into someone else’s and leading them into our own dangerous hole? I don’t have an answer. I’m obviously without an answer.

What was most staggering in my “interview” though wasn’t my own realizations about myself, staggering though they were; it was some of the statistics. Heart-breaking truths. Truths I wish could soon become history, or even gradually. That 46% of girls ages 9 and 10 are some times or very often on diets. That 80% of girls have been on diets, whether put there by their families or themselves, before the age of 10. 51% of girls ages 9 and 10 feel better about themselves if they’re on a diet. 91% of women on college campuses attempt to control their weight by dieting; 22% of those women are often or always on a diet. 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. 43% of 1st through 3rd graders want to be thinner.

That’s horrifying. It’s simply horrifying.

Just think about it.