Tuesday, September 30, 2014

God Doesn't Want You to be Happy

Two Saturdays ago, I was invited to plan and facilitate a retreat -- I love this sort of work, so I gladly accepted. The theme of the retreat was finding a way through the tension that is inherent in being both a young professional (perhaps especially in DC) and a Christian. Anyway, deep in one of our discussions, we were talking about hopes -- and what God hopes for us.  The first thing someone shouted out from the back of the room was that "God wants us to be happy."

And at that moment, I realized that I believe that God does not want us to be happy.

Now, I'm not saying that God wants us to be miserable, or to suffer, or to cause pain -- I believe God redeems misery, suffering, and pain, not causes them -- but I am saying that happiness, our cultural chimera, doesn't seem to be one of God's projects. First of all, there's not a lot of God making people "happy" in Scripture. Show me a prophet, and I'll show you someone who is fundamentally unhappy. God doesn't call Samuel to be the last judge to make him happy, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, certainly had some very bad days. More recently, I wouldn't claim that MLK Jr, Oscar Romero, or Dorothy Day were particularly happy folks, either.

Secularly, I see this played out as well. Doing meaningful work often means doing sacrificial and hard work, which automatically disbars what we think of as "happiness." For instance, when I worked at the Red Cross and disasters would hit, we were working twelve hour days and weekends, were exhausted and were so stressed we were either gaining or losing weight, but the meaningfulness of the work was somehow so much more than "happy." (This description of disaster work also seems to apply to parenting.)

Anyway, provoked by this thought, I did a little digging -- and "happiness" comes from the root word, "hap," which means "luck." So someone who is "hapless" is literally "luckless" and "happenstance" is a mashup of "lucky circumstance." So, happiness is nice, but it's something fleeting that happens randomly -- nothing you can control.

Joy, on the other hand, is a different beast entirely. And those folks I mentioned above? While they weren't necessarily happy, they were joyous. Joy is an inward disposition, rooted in knowing who you are and whose you are, and living in faith and trust. Joy grows if you cultivate it, if you can clear out enough of the gunk stuck to your soul so that joy can flourish. Joy is more than happiness, joy is more than luck. I can't help but think that God wants so much more for us than just "happy."

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Fall!

September 21, 2014

Snapped this pic on my way to church on Sunday. Happy first week of fall!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wedding Time

I love weddings, which is good, because I'm up to my eyeballs in them. In the last few weeks, I've done premarital counseling for two couples, attended a bridal shower, navigated the protocol for a same-gendered blessing from a different diocese, and helped out as a liturgical deacon* during a high mass wedding; in the next few weeks I'm officiating at two weddings, and tonight I'm going wedding dress shopping with my future sister-in-law.

Like I said, it's a good thing I love weddings.

But what is it about them? Well, first of all, you've got the regular reasons -- weddings feel hopeful, and full of love. But more than that, weddings are a liminal time, and everything that happens around them feels meaningful. In the time between being single people and being married people, there's a feeling a movement, transition and living with deliberateness. Loved ones take time to say things that go usually go unsaid, and to tell family stories that haven't been told in years. Loved ones who are gone are remembered, and their impact on the lives of those gathered are marked in formal and informal ways. Overall, weddings are one of the few times that sincerity is welcomed in our irony-laden culture, and I find that refreshing.

Being a priest at wedding is a unique experience -- you get brought into the sphere of the family, and you have a specific task before you. Not only do you teach the couple the rituals to becoming married, and guide them through it, prompting vows and the taking of one another's hands, but you have the privilege and the terror of saying something meaningful about it all, how God is working in the lives of the couple, and the lives of the families gathered.

The other piece, though, is often navigating through a whole wedding full of people you've never met before. Some people really hate this part, but once I get my feet under me, I enjoy it. Even though at the last wedding I was at, I had an animated ten minute discussion with a six-term retired senator before he had to spell out that he was a senator, after I asked what projects he was working on, oh, running a hugely influential lobbying firm... even though he had told me who he name, and I really, truly, should have connected his name to the senate. (Seriously, as an avid NPR listener, I'm still appalled at myself, but I wasn't really looking for a senator to pop up, you know? I thought he was a great uncle or something. I had been talking to his wife all afternoon. She was lovely.) But despite that huge failure as a Washingtonian, I still managed to have some other really meaningful conversations with people, the down-in-the-trenches-I've-never-talked-to-a-professionally-religious-person-before sort of conversations.  I love the curiosity and the diversity of world views, and the willingness of people to step up and talk to a stranger. If you're one of those people who talks to the officiant at a wedding, thank you.

And today I'm gearing up for the next wedding, with a rehearsal tomorrow and the wedding itself on Saturday, getting ready to dive into a time of sincerity and love, with all the privilege (and, sometimes terror) that entails.

I love weddings.

*liturgical deacon: a priest that does what a deacon does during a specific service, which for a wedding means, read the Gospel lesson, pray the prayers, and help out during communion.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Back to School

It's been a crazy few weeks for me; there's been lots of family stuff going on, and I've been flying solo at St. Thomas's since August 3rd. I haven't been as diligent as I should have been getting posts up, but that should change soon since my boss is back in the office today, and I'll be handing over the fire extinguisher.

A few weeks ago I did two Easter People podcasts with the delightful Easter People out of the CMT at Virginia Theological Seminary, and late last week, the second podcast dropped. It's about back to school, school rituals, and our favorite educational programs. I hope you'll listen, even if it means that all of your suspicions about just how nerdy I really am will likely be confirmed (my favorite back to school ritual: buying a planner and putting in the assignments. Enough said.) but you'll also get to hear from some really amazing and smart folks that I was lucky enough to talk about joke around with for 45 minutes.

You can listen to Easter People 21: The Back to School Extravaganza here.