The Pursuit of Happiness

Happy Boy Flier

Matthew 5: 12: Be filled with joy and be happy…
Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude. -Denis Waitley
I don’t know if you heard about an editorial in The New York Times by Arthur Brooks, president of The American Enterprise Institute, who wrote explains happiness stems from three sources: genetics, events and values.

While half of one’s happiness is genetic, Brooks wrote that 40 percent of happiness can be attributed to events in one’s life and 12 percent boils down to circumstances well within one’s control.

“Everybody’s got these cheerful co-workers who are very annoying, and you think they must have some sort of secret potion. ‘What are they drinking, man?’ But the truth is, half of your happiness is genetic. And understanding that only about 12 percent of your happiness is under your control … you really can control it.”

What are these circumstances one can control to achieve 12 percent of total happiness? Brooks noted that there are four: faith, family, friends and work.

“Don’t waste your time on money, don’t waste your time on these things, spend your time on faith, family, friends and work, making sure that your work serves others and creates value. And if you do those four things, you’re going to get the maximum amount of happiness.”

While a promotion at work, a new house and even a chocolate sundae bring joy, Brooks wrote that the resulting state of euphoria is fleeting — a temporary feeling.

“People will work for years, just to make a boatload of dough and buy that dream house, and six months later, they’re back to their old bummed-out ways,” Brooks wrote.

So while 40 percent of happiness is attributed to events in one’s life — such as that new house, or a professional accomplishment — the happiness experienced from these milestones is short-lived.

Because of this, Brooks advised not to “bet your well-being on big one-time events.” Instead, investing energy in faith, family and friends is a better investment for long-term happiness.

“Knowledge is absolute power in this case. It’s so important. Every time I write about (happiness), it reminds me of the things that I am doing wrong, and it makes me a better dad.”

Mr. Brooks’ reminder is an important one, but it is only a reminder. An itinerant rabbi told the world the same thing over 2000 years ago when he sat thousands of people down on a hillside in Palestine and reminded us of the source of joyful living. Praise God for the gifts of joyful living and for his one and only Son.

 

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Poem: Ladies of the Church

I posted my piece on the ladies of the church last week, and my friend and former colleague Mary McElveen and also former Poet Laureate of the City of Alexandria, put this on her blog.

She wrote, I wrote [this] for a friend who was asked to say a few words about a lady at the church who died of cancer. Gloria was one of those indefatigable volunteers, and probably has heaven organized and running like a top.

Thank you for letting me post your poem, Mary. Every church has its church ladies.
They are legion,
the church ladies:
the hands that smooth the tablecloths, brew the coffee,
bake the cookies, make the sandwiches,
arrange the flowers.

They think of everything,
then do it.
They are the voices on the phone
the fingers on the keyboard,
the gentle nudge
reminding, recruiting,
reorganizing and regrouping—
doing the things no one has time for,
for the people no one has time for… and for us all.

They are all things good:
secretary and sorceress,
chauffeur and counselor,
teacher and student,
greeter and galley slave…

And I can’t help thinking that if Jesus is among us,
He is cleverly disguised
as a church lady.

Breaking the Code

Code
 
Matthew 7: 28-9: When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

I don’t know if you pump your own gas these days or not. I suspect you do, like most of us these days, unless we visit New Jersey where it’s against the law to do so. This fact of modern life was satirized in a scene from one of my favorite movies, Back to the Future, in which Marty McFly is astonished to see four attendants at a filling station launch themselves at a car to check the air in the tires, clean the windshield, pop the hood to look at the oil and coolant levels, and take the driver’s order for gas. Now, those were the days!

Of course, if we’re paying cash, we have trudge over to the attendant—the horror of it all!—and schelp back to the car where we can then fill the tank ourselves. If we’re using a credit or debit card, our lives are somewhat easier. Indeed, if we used plastic to pay for gas, we rolled up to the pumps, got out, swiped our card through the reader, waited for the screen to respond, chose a grade of gas to our liking, and started pumping. Those days are gone, apparently, because the little magic screen now asks us to enter our zip code, a security measure in case we have stolen our own credit card and are trying to use it a half mile from where we live. I understand the need for this little addition, since having a credit number used and abused by someone else does not make for a good day in the life of the card holder, but I also have to confess it took me back a bit when I first had to enter the number with my little index finger. The screen also told me that if my postal code included letters, I had to see the attendant. Huh? I thought. There ain’t no letters in a zip code. What’s with that?

As it turns out, there are letters in postal codes of many countries around the world. Say you want to send a nice letter to Oxford Press in Oxford, England. You write your nice letter, put it in an envelope, and after putting on proper postage, address it to:

Oxford University Press

Great Clarendon Street

Oxford

OX2 6DP

Please note that the “postal code” includes letters and numbers, so they got it about 1/3 right. Not bad for a former mother country. They’re not alone, however, in using letters: about 250 other countries do as well, including, in some cases, the U.S. So, we’re in a minority by using only numbers. Who knew this? Not me!

Anyhow, all these numbers and letters got me to thinking about Christian belief and theology. We who have walked the path of belief most of our lives are familiar with the language and tenets of the faith. We know the hymns, stories, parables and theological terms. It’s all old business to us.

But to someone coming fresh to the story, it must all seem like a puzzle, a set of codes, a secret language which must be interpreted and studied to be understood. Such work is difficult and can, as we know, take years. And so, we need to be sensitive to those who are new to the faith and be willing and able to help them on their way, much as we were taught and guided and mentored by those who came before us and enlightened by the Holy Spirit. Through worship, Bible study, fellowship and service, we gained understanding of what we needed to know. We all have had in our lives parents, relatives, teachers and ministers who taught us the “mysteries of the faith,” so that these matters became, for us, ways of life. Jesus assured his followers, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” His teachings as compared to other rabbis were relatively uncomplicated since his word came from God.

I pray that we might be like our Savior in this as in other matters, showing others the way to the Master and to life everlasting. Amen.

 

The Ladies of the Church

Church Ladies
 
1 Timothy 5:1-3 (selected): Treat…older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters… (and) give proper recognition to widows…

 The title of this piece this is not a reference to Dana Carvey’s Church Lady, a hilarious send-up of an uptight, self-righteous judgmental church lady on Saturday Night Live several years back. No, these church ladies are a group of ladies of a certain age at my church who are at opposite poles from uptight and self-righteous. Many (though not all) of them are widows, and they are faithful supporters of the church and its people. I see them sometimes sitting together in services. They are always immaculately dressed and well turned out and don’t seem to change or age that much.

 The ladies of the church have been through more than most of us. They have suffered the deaths of spouses, children, friends, and losses of all kinds from financial reverses to illness. I would not minimize their sufferings, but they have an indomitable faith, and a spirit that bears them up and carries them on. I feel better just seeing them wherever they are, and they are in most places around town—at plays, concerts, restaurants and sporting events, making a contribution to the life of the community just through their presence and good cheer.

 The ladies of the church have children and grandchildren of their own, and they are actively involved in supporting their families. They baby sit, take the kids to rehearsals, attend performances and games and celebrate birthdays. In some cases they are raising the grandchildren because their children are not able to do so.

The ladies of the church have a wide range of interests. One is involved in a book club that has run for years; she always has a good recommendation for me of a book to read. Another is a Nationals fan like I am and we share in our team’s suffering. One coordinated and taught in our ESOL program for decades. She lived all over the world and has a deep appreciation of other people and their culture. Another oversees a quilting ministry at the church which involves dozens of people. Another is a master gardener and leads the effort to keep the church grounds beautiful.

 I have identified the church ladies by their interests instead of their names because they would not like the attention. In fact, some of them will probably smack me in the head for implying that they are any more special than any one else. But they are, and I value their good sense, insight, sense of humor and their wisdom, although they would not claim any special qualities for themselves.

 When there is a funeral, they are there in the kitchen, making sure the family and friends are fed and insuring that they will have enough food during the trying days after the service. They supply food and help at church dinners—and you’re lucky if you come to a meal where they help provide the food—they are all excellent cooks.

 They are women of faith, with beliefs that have been tested by trial and trouble. They are involved in the Sunday School, music program, missions activities, women’s ministry and senior adult program, just to name a few. They serve without notice, but they are the quiet mainstays of the fellowship.

Of course, there are many other groups within our church family—the smallest babies, the children, the young people, the couples, the singles, those who are middle-aged and the seniors. They’re what helps make a church a church. Every church seems to have them, and each group contributes something special to the community. This time, though, I want to salute the ladies. I hope you’ll recognize and encourage them as well.

 So, here’s to you, ladies of the church. May you prosper, and may you continue to inspire and lead the rest of us. May you keep on keeping on for a long, long time.

 

 

 

Finding What We Seek

Seek and Find

 

Jeremiah 9:12-13: Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.

I don’t know if you’ve ever looked for something and it turns out it was right there all the time, but not where you expected to be. Let me explain. I was rehabbing the screen door on the Rock cafeteria at our church last week, and wanted to replace the hardware cloth that protects the screen portions of the door. If you don’t know what hardware cloth is, it’s neither hardware nor cloth, kind of like the children’s string figure game, cat’s cradle. I did that for a child once, and she said, “I don’t see a cat or a cradle.” In truth, it doesn’t look much like either one. I’m pleased to report that Jacob’s Ladder does look like I imagine the real one did, except it is made of string. Not much climbing on that ladder.

Anyhow, hardware cloth is a kind of minor-league fencing material, made from wire (the hardware part) which are welded together in a lattice pattern (that’s the very loosely woven cloth part). It’s used to present a barrier to small things like rabbits or ducks. It won’t stop a tank, but few things will, other than another tank. Mercifully, we don’t have too many of those coming at the Rock kitchen door.

So, since hardware cloth comes in rolls, my first task was to unroll it. It’s very stiff, and the roll is held in place by a wire wrapped around it. I could see the wire, and surmised that it had a beginning and end somewhere (most things do, except for those that are eternal, which wire is generally not). I further supposed that the ends of the wire were twisted together at one end of the roll, which was a reasonable supposition. It was also incorrect. I couldn’t find the closing at either end. So, not wanting to take all day to open the coil of hardware cloth, I started cutting the wire at various places with some metal shears. Soon I had bits or wire flying through the air. ( I was wearing safety glasses while I was doing this, and so should you when you are cutting wires or using a striking tool. Everyone loses when we play games with safety.) As the hardware cloth, freed of its restraining wire, started to uncoil, I noticed the juncture of the wires was in fact not at either end, but in the middle, where I had not been looking for it.

All this, I thought, had to have a spiritual dimension. And it doesn’t. Sometimes we are looking for fulfillment or happiness or meaning and we think we know where to look while, as I found out, we don’t. It is when we are engaged in the work of the Kingdom that we find what we are seeking, and that is the presence and spirit of Jesus Christ. As Albert Switzer famously wrote near the end of his book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus,

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

Amen. Seek and you will find.