Buddhism and Christianity

by Don Fausel

Several years ago when I was writing my memoir, From Blind Obedience to a Responsible Faith, I ran across a book by Paul F. Knitter titled, Without Buddha I Could Never be a Christian. Knitter has held the Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and has been a leading advocate of globally responsible inter-religious dialogue. His book is described on back cover as “…a moving story of one man’s quest for truth and spirituality authenticity: from the nature of prayer to Christian views of life after death.” He was ordained a Catholic priest in 1966 and granted permission to leave the priesthood in 1975. His book is his personal exploration of Buddhism as a way of dealing with these issues and with blending of Eastern mysticism.

Knitter’s book proposes how the Buddhist perspective can inspire a more person-center understanding of Christianity. The preface of the book is titled Am I Still a Christian and rather than focusing on rigid dogma and rituals, its center of attention is religious experiences, and how a Buddhist approach can enliven Christianity and benefit worship, and social action.

In my naivety when I first read Knitter’s book, I was surprised that Buddhism didn’t have a God! It became apparent that I needed to research more about Buddhism. Knitter suggests we need to become familiar with the Buddha’s first sermon, which he preached sometime around the 500s BCE. The subject matter was The Four Noble Truths, which Knitter states “He (Buddha) preached it shortly after his Enlightenment…” The Four Noble Truths are:

  1. Suffering (dukkha) comes up in everyone’s life.
  2. This suffering is caused by craving (tanha).
  3. We can stop suffering by stopping craving.
  4. To stop craving, follow Buddha’s Eight-fold Path (which consists essentially of taking Buddha’s message seriously, living a moral life by avoiding harm to others and following a spiritual practice based on meditation.)

Let me suggest several books and articles that I found helpful in connecting the Four Noble Truths with Buddhism and Buddha with Jesus:

Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, edited by Marcus Borg . In the preface of his book Borg warns the reader that although he is an “expert” in the study of Jesus but, “In my understanding of the Buddha, however I’m an amateur. I do not know the scholarship surrounding the Buddha as I do Jesus.” Having said that, he goes all the way back to a Dutch writer named Ernest de Bunsen who wrote a book in 1880 titled, The Angel-Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes, and Christians—up to the Dalai Lama himself when he wrote The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teaching of Jesus in 1999.

The rest of the book has eleven chapters including: Compassion, Wisdom, Materialism, Inner Life, Temptation, Salvation, The Future, Miracles, Discipleship, Attributes and Life Stories.  Each chapter has at least ten examples of Jesus’ and Buddha’s moral teaching. For example under Compassion on page 14, is Jesus’ speaking about compassion, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” LUKE 6.31. On page 15 is Buddha’s thoughts about compassion  “Consider others as yourself.” DHAMMAPADA 10.I.  Here’s another saying on pages 36 and 37 under Wisdom.  Jesus is quoted as saying “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” LUKE 6. 41.42. Buddha is quoted as saying, “The faults of others are easier to see than one’s own; the faults of others are easily seen, for they are sifted like chaff, but one’s own faults are hard to see. UDANAVARGA 27.1.

Here’s an article, Jesus and Buddha on Happiness that starts out by the 29 year old Prince Gautama Siddhartha (563-483 BC) , who later was called the Buddha (the enlightened one) left his family and set out on a search for the meaning of life, and for lasting happiness. Since he had no God happiness for him was being free from desires induced by suffering (dukkha). Jesus’ answers are very different than Buddha’s when a rich young man sought Jesus directions for eternal happiness. “You lack one thing: go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come follow me.” (Mark 10:21)

The article goes on to say, “Jesus and Buddha agree that pursuing happiness is transient things is futile. But they direct us to opposite solutions. The Buddha say satisfaction is treasuring no thing. Jesus says it is treasuring God. In God we get all things. In no thing we get nothing.”

I found this article in a website titled All Well Within. The article is  The Buddha’s Essential Guide to Happiness. The article starts out by saying, “You don’t have to become a Buddhist to benefit from the essential teachings of the Buddha because they are universal in nature. Moreover, they remain highly relevant to successfully modern life and finding the deeper sense of happiness and contentment you deserve.” Even though it doesn’t deal with both Jesus and Buddha, I thought most of us know a lot about Jesus and this article is worth it. It’s seven pages long, but again, it’s worth it. Plus I learned that “…the Buddha encouraged his followers to carefully examine his teachings and only accept them when they rang true, rather than following his guidance out of blind faith.” That sounds close to my memoir that I mentioned in the beginning of this blog.

I hope this blog inspires you to look deeper into Buddhism. As a present, here is a TED TALK The Habits of Happiness  by biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard who says we can train our minds in habits of well-being, to generate a true sense of serenity and fulfillment. It already has 6,470,020 readers. It’s worth listening to.

Shalom.

The Hope Which Springs Eternal Within the Human Breast

by Donald Fausel

The title for this blog was stolen (like in baseball) from a poem I memorized in grammar school, Casey At the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer in 1888.  He in turn stole (like in plagiarism) the line from an essay titled An Essay on Man by Alexander Pope in 1733-34.

Just in case you can’t remember the poem, or never heard of Mighty Casey, here is a brief summary. The baseball fans of Mudville, who were watching their team lose that day, were divided into two groups, the “struggling few (who) got up to go leaving there the rest” and the loyal fans who stayed because of their belief in the “hope that springs eternal within the human breast”, and they were counting on Mighty Casey to whack out a home run and win the day for the Mudville Nine. If you want to know the outcome of the game, click on the link above.

As an example, it seems to me that in some ways, many of us are waiting for “a Mighty Casey like” person or movement to fulfill our hope that climate change isn’t as serious as ninety-seven percent of scientists believe it to be, and we can go about our life as usual. If we’re one of those deniers, I think we need to listen to the wise sage Pogo, who said in a 1971 cartoon, “We Met the Enemy and He is US” Pogo’s declaration has become a universal truth that applies to most organizations, including the church. Like many others, I believe that the laity is the key to change.  Having aired our grievances, and recognized that we are part of the problem, we need to keep hope alive. We all need to become change agents and not just “leave it up to George”. This blog will focus on those who believe that “hope that springs eternal…”, and are willing and able to follow Pogo’s challenge to be part of the solution.

HOPE and HOPELESSNESS

So, here are a few words about hope and hopelessness. I don’t intend to use “hope” in the biblical or theological sense, as in Faith, Hope and Charity, but in a more everyday way, as in “Hope is the belief in what is possible and the expectation of things to come.”  Or as St. Augustine of Hippo described it, “Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”  Or if we think of hope as a movement, the Chinese author and Guru Lin Yutang described it as, “Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.

In a previous blog Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness , I introduced the founder of positive psychology, Martin Seligman. If you want to refresh your memory you might check that same blog in a section entitled The Science of Happiness.  And if you haven’t listened to Dr. Seligman’s TED TALK entitled The New Era of Positive Psychology I think you’d find it very helpful.

The first thing we need to decide “Is hope a feeling or a cognitive process?” In an article titled Hope: A Way of Thinking, C.R. Rick Snyder, a deceased positive psychologist, “…offers a way of looking at hope that goes beyond defining hope as a feeling.”  In an article by Dr. Brene’ Brown, Learning to Hope , she summarizes Snyder’s method by saying hope happens when:

  • We have the ability to set realistic goals (I know where I want to go)
  • We are able to figure out how to achieve those goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative routes ( I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I can tolerate disappointment and try again).
  • We believe in ourselves (I can do this!).

Dr. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston. She is the author of three #1 New York Times Bestsellers: Rising Strong, Daring Greatly and the Gifts of Imperfection. She is also the Founder and CEO of The Daring Way and COURAGEworks – an online learning community that offers eCourses, workshops, and interviews for individuals and organizations.

Here is a video by Dr. Brown titled What is Hope?  The introduction to the video reads: “This is a wonderful video by Brené Brown on the subject of hope and how we can all learn to be hopeful.  Watch and learn!” I agree!

I suspect that many of us have experienced hopelessness at some at time and at some level in our lives. A loved one dies. We lose a job. A friend disappoints us. You name it… Well here is an opportunity to listen to a TED TALK by Nick Vujicic. The title is Overcoming Hopelessness. Nick was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1982 to a Serbian immigrant family, without all of his four limbs. During most of his childhood he suffered with depression. It’s hard to even imagine going through life without hands or legs. But Nick decided to “…concentrate on what he did have instead of what he didn’t have.” His first speaking engagement was at age 19. Since then he has traveled around the world “…sharing his story with millions, sometimes in stadiums filled to capacity, speaking to a range of diverse groups…” In 2007 he moved to Southern California where he is president of the international non-profit ministry Life Without Limbs. This is his website and it’s worth checking out.

Three years ago I read one of his books, Life Without Limits.  At that time in my life I had just lost my wife from lung cancer and I was grieving her death. As I read what Nick had gone through I was inspired by this exceptional man. He tells the story of his physical disabilities and the emotional battle he endured trying to deal with them as a child, a teen and young adult.  As he said in his book, “For the longest, loneliest time, I wondered if there was anyone on earth like me, and whether there was a purpose to my life other than pain and humiliation.” He shares with his readers that his“… faith in God has been his central source of strength… and explains that once he found his own purpose—inspiring others to make their lives and the world better—he found confidence to build a rewarding and productive life without limits.

Even though there are fifty five years between Nick and me, he’s one of my heroes.

Every Step Takes You Somewhere

by Amanda Peterson

Every step takes you somewhere.

If you get to where you’re going will you be where you want to be.

If you want your life to change, you have to be willing to change.

Every journey begins with a single step.

These are some common phrases that have a simple truth to them.  Whether you are aware of it or not, your life is moving every day.  My brother used to say, “life is like a bus ride, you think you are just sitting there on the bus, but if you look out the window, the scenery is changing all the time.”  Sometimes we need simple truths to wake us up to the fact that we are invited to participate in life.

There are times when life feels stuck or overwhelming, yet every day one puts their feet on the ground and makes choices on where the journey is going to go regardless of circumstances.  This is the gift of developing an awareness that we have an inner life (call it soul, spirit, energy, God, etc).   Where the journey takes one with an inner life is not set by circumstances.  In fact the categories even change.  Instead of, I want to be rich or travel or have 17 children, the quest becomes, I want to be more loving, gracious, courageous, peaceful, giving, etc. Wealth, travel, and children may also happen but they are not the intention of our steps.

I bring this up because we have an amazing opportunity coming up in the fall for those who feel stuck when it comes to deep joy in their lives.  Is this a prayer you have uttered?  “God, help me be a more joy-filled person?”  John Chuchman is going to present a way to take that next step or look out the window at joy.  I highly recommend this special time because being in his presence is the ultimate example of what joy means.  Whether you have had a time of grief, upset, hurt, or pain, John will introduce some steps that honor your circumstances and at the same time show you the inner life questions that will help you live from a center of Divine Joy.

May you be aware of your steps today.

May you notice that deep within there is a God whisper of guidance.  

May you always know Pathways of Grace is here to help provide fellow journeyers as you learn your own unique steps.

What’s Your Ikigai?

by Don Fausel

It’s never been easy to be a human being! We have always had to wrestle with strong and painful fears. Now if we face ourselves honestly, or if we merely eavesdrop on the secret murmurings of our heart, isn’t this what we discover—that one of our basic fears, the fear beneath many fears is the dread of being nothing, of having no real importance, no lasting worth, no purpose in life.

It is precisely to this fear of being nobody, having no worth, that our Judeo-Christian-Humanitarian ethic reminds us that our basic value is not something we achieve in competition with everyone else, but something we gratefully accept along with everyone else. We need not become important, we are important. We need not become somebody, we are somebody. No matter what others may say or think about us, or do to us, we are somebody.

As we grow older and become less able to function physically or mentally as we did in our younger years, we need to remind ourselves, that we are still somebody, with the same dignity and worth, with the same God-given inalienable rights. Sometimes when we’re not able to do a lot of the things we used to do, when our body is failing us and our short term memory is not as good as our long term memory, it’s hard for us to accept the fact that we are somebody worthwhile. That’s why it’s particularly important for us Elders to periodically ask ourselves, what is my purpose in life?

Several years ago I discovered a Japanese word that captures the importance of having a positive attitude and purpose in our life. The word is Ikigai, (pronounced ee-ki-guy) the Japanese word used to describe why I get up in the morning, what my sense of purpose is. I love the word Ikigai! I like saying it! I like writing it! Ikigai, Ikigai! I think it was the beginning of my interest in happiness. I realized if you don’t have an Ikigai, you’re not going to be happy. But more about that in another blog.

I was even more impressed with the origin of the word and its application for us elders. Researchers have identified what they call Blue Zones. These are areas throughout the world with a high percentage of centenarians; places where people enjoy remarkably long full lives. Their lives are not only longer but physically and mentally, they are more active than elders in other areas of the world. National Geographic’s Dan Buettner has traveled the globe to uncover the best strategies for longevity found in these Blue Zones. One of those areas is the Japanese island of Okinawa. It was there that he discovered that one of the characteristics for a long healthy life was having an Ikigai. To a resident of Okinawa, Ikigai can be anything from tending their vegetable garden, taking care of great grandchildren, to walking and exercising every day. Whatever it is that motivated them to remain involved, they give credit to their Ikigai. After years of research Dan Buettner concludes:

One of the biggest revolutions in thought in our time is the changing of emphasis from physical health to mental health in connection to longevity. The effects of negative stress and ‘inflammation’ are cited more and more frequently as the cause of early death and lowered quality of life. One of the most important methods for counteracting that is Ikigai, a sense of purpose. … Ikigai is something that brings joy and contentment. It fills a person with resolve and a sense of satisfaction in what they are doing. Most of all, it brings happiness.”

Here’s a TED TALK by Dan Buettner titled Okinawa, Ikigai, and the Secrets of Longevity . As usual, one TED TALK is worth pages of my words.

Finally, I’d like to introduce you to one of my all time heroes, who exemplifies what it means to have an Ikigai. She was known as Granny D. If you don’t remember her, she was a social activist,  whose real name was Doris Haddock, from Dublin, New Hampshire. In 1999, at the age of ninety, Granny D. walked 3,200 miles across America to raise awareness about a campaign for political finance reform. She walked ten miles a day for 14 months. She is widely credited for galvanizing the public support that helped pass the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act in 2002.

In 2003 at the age of 94, she drove around the country on a 22,000 mile voter registration effort targeting working women and minorities. She cut her tour short to challenge the incumbent New Hampshire senator, Judd Gregg, in the 2004 election. Her grassroots campaign earned her 34% of the vote. In her later years she published a book entitled, You’re Never Too Old to Raise a Little Hell. She died peacefully in her home six weeks after she turned 100 in 2010. Former president Jimmy Carter described her as “…a true patriot, and our nation has been blessed by her remarkable life. Her story will inspire people of all ages for generations to come.”

I’m not suggesting that we all need to follow in Granny D’s footsteps, by walking 3,200 miles for a righteous cause, or running for the Senate. But we can all be motivated by the spirit she modeled by following her Ikigai, and in our own way, seriously consider identifying our own Ikigai. We need to know and follow our values, passions and talents–and to share them by example on a regular basis. It might be by living our lives, with our physical and mental restrictions, as a legacy for our grandchildren or great grandchildren, or showing compassion for those in need, who are less fortunate than we are. Whatever we choose to do, it’s our Ikigai. So what is it that gives your life a sense of worth? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Since I retired, my major Ikigai for the past five years or so has been writing. To paraphrase the French philosopher, Descartes, “I write, therefore I am!” What’s your Ikigai?

Serenity and Happiness

by Don Fausel

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

This well-known prayer expresses some guiding principles for our living a happy life here and forever, as the last four lines of the prayer proposes. Although there has been some controversy about whether the theologian-philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, who perhaps was the greatest political-philosophy of the 20th century, was the original author of the prayer, those concerns have been settled. It’s not because it was adopted by the worldwide Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12 step programs, but by years of disciplined research. If you’re interested in learning more about how the controversy was solved, I suggest reading a four page article by Fred R. Shapiro titled Who Wrote the Serenity Prayer.

I was aware of The Serenity Prayer from several friends who were going to Twelve Step Programs, but It was sometime in the late 1970s that I really took the prayer seriously. To my surprise, one of my stepsons who was in his early teens became addicted to drugs. First he was abusing alcohol, then marijuana, and he soon “hit bottom” as they say in addiction programs.  It was at that point when my stepson started his recovery in AA that I started to go to Codependents Anonymous a “…fellowship of relatives and friends of the addict and is composed of non-professionals, self-supporting, self-help groups.” From that point on, The Serenity Prayer became one of my everyday prayers.

Like all 12 Step Program meetings, they either start or end with the Serenity Prayer, and sometimes the group leader or one of members would “breakdown” each word of the first part of the prayer. In preparing this blog, I looked through some of my dusty files and found a handout written by hand that I vaguely remembered. I have no idea who wrote it, so I can’t provide the author’s name. It would have been one person’s interpretation of the prayer, and not necessarily something everyone agreed with, but the group would acknowledge the individual’s thoughtfulness. The meetings are about sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here’s the example:

GOD—By saying this word I am admitting the existence of a Higher Power; a being greater then I.

GRANT—With the repeating of this second word I am admitting that his Higher Power is an authority who can bestow and give.

ME—I am asking something for myself. The Bible states that if I ask, I shall be given. It is not wrong to ask for betterment of myself for the improvement of my character, people around me will be happier.

THE SERENITY—I am asking for calmness, composure, and peace in life which will enable me to think straight and govern myself properly.

TO ACCEPT—I am resigning myself to conditions as they are right now.

THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE—I am accepting my lot in life as it is. Until I have the courage to change any part of my life, I must accept it and not accept it grudgingly.

COURAGE—I am asking for conditions to be different.

TO CHANGE—I am asking for help to make the right decisions. Everything is not perfect in my life. I must continue to face reality and constantly work towards continued growth and progress.

WISDOM—I am asking for the ability to form sound judgments in any and all matters.

TO KNOW—not just to guess or hope.

THE DIFFERENCE—I want to see things differently in my life so there can be some distinction. I need to sense a definite value in love over selfishness.

If you want to learn more about Codependence, here is a website titled A How To  Guide to Recover from Codependency it starts off by giving the three C’s of recovery:  

You didn’t Cause your loved one’s addiction.
You can’t Control it.
You can’t Cure it. (Believe me; I learned that the hard way.)

Guidelines for Finding Happiness and Serenity

Here are just a few suggestions for connecting Serenity with Happiness. The first one is the The Spiritual Serenity Series: 7 Steps to Inner Peace and Happiness . This is an eight-page article by Jared Akers. He breaks the process into seven steps:   1. Awareness  2. Acceptance  3. Identification  4. Self-Searching  5. Confession  6. Action  7. Maintenance. What I liked about Akers’s approach is that he has gone through all of the seven steps himself, and passes it on to anyone who thinks it’s might be helpful.

Perhaps you’ve read this article. It was the feature article and on the cover of Time Magazine in July 08, 2013.  The title was The Pursuit of Happiness and the sub-title, Why Americans are Wired to Be Happy—and What That’s Doing to Us.  If you only read what’s on the cover of the magazine, it’s worth checking it out.

Here’s one of my favorite TED TALKS on the future of our nation’s happiness:  The title of Nic Marks’ TALK is The Happy Planet Index. As the blurb reads, “Nic Marks gathers evidence about what makes us happy, and uses it to promote policy that puts the well-being of people and the planet first. He is the founder of the Centre for Well-Being at the UK think tank New Economics Foundation (NEF).” His premise is that rather than having our Gross National Product measure everything, accept what makes life worthwhile: happiness.

Shalom.

Resilience: A Path to Happiness

by Donald Fausel

Resilience - A Path to Happiness by Donald Fausel, Southwest Conference Blog, southwestconferenceblog.org - United Church of Christ

As the title of this blog suggests, resilience is a key to happiness. According to recent research, resilience is ordinary not extraordinary. To be resilient doesn’t mean that you have experienced a major difficulty or unhappiness.  Emotional sorrow or agonies are common in any of us who have suffered from a serious trauma in our lives. Resilience is not something that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. Perhaps a definition would help?

There are as many definitions of resilience as there are websites on the topic. The one I chose is from an article titled The Road to Resilience which is on the website of the American Psychological Association. Their definition is: “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.” The good news is that we can learn to be resilient. We just need to learn to “bounce back”.

The fact that there are several major focal points in the research on resilience, suggests the importance that resilience has in both the scientific and happiness movements.  For example: in the  The Penn Positive Psychology Center website they are “ recognized as a leader in state-of-the-art, evidence-based resilience curricular and resilience programs….we teach skills to prevent and reduce stress-related problems such as anxiety, depression, burnout, and attrition, as well as increased persistence, well-being (happiness) and performance.” If you click on the title above you’ll find more information about their training in resilience. One of the things that stood out to me was the fact that Penn has “…trained more than 30,000 individuals to use and teach the resilience skills”. They must be doing something right!

Another website that has an abundance of articles on resilience is not surprisingly named the Resiliency Center . Here’s an article from their website entitled Five Levels of Resiliency by the late Al Siebert, PhD, who had studied highly resilient survivors for over fifty years. He was also the founder of the Resiliency Center and authored the award-winning book, The Resiliency Advantage: Master Change, Thrive Under Pressure and Bounce Back from Setback . Resiliency is described briefly in a review of his book as “…the ability to adapt to life’s changes and crises—is key to a healthy, productive life. Based on the deep knowledge of the science of resiliency…” It also explains how and why “…some people are more resilient than others and how resiliency can be learned at any age.”  At my age, those last words are very comforting.

In addition to Dr. Siebert’s anecdotes, exercises and examples, in his book he specifies a five level program for becoming more resilient.  The same five level program is also in the article   Five Levels of Resiliency .

The five levels of resilience that he recommends are:

1) Maintaining Emotional Stability, Health and Well-Being. This level is essential to sustaining your health and energy.

2) Focus Outward: Good Problem Solving Skills. The second level focuses outward on the challenges that must be handled. It is based on research findings that problem-focused coping leads to resilience better than emotion-focused coping.

3) Focuses Inward on the Roots of Resiliency—strong self-esteem, self-confidence, and positive self-concept.

4)  Covers the Skills Found in Highly Resilient People.

5) It describes “What is Possible at the Highest Level of Resiliency.” It is the talent for serendipity—the ability to convert misfortune into good fortune.

The article goes on to warn us that “…when faced with adversity it is useful to remember the following:

  • Your mind and habit will create either barriers or bridges to a better future.
  • Resiliency can’t be taught, but it can be learned. It comes from working to develop your unique combination of inborn abilities.
  • The struggle to bounce back and recover from setbacks can lead to developing strengths and abilities that you didn’t know were possible.

Here are two TED TALKS that represent typical resilience programs. The first one, the ABCs of Resilience , by Kathy Meisner, PhD is based on the research of the Penn Positive Psychology Center mentioned above.  The second one is Cultivating Resilience  by Dr. Greg Eells, who  outlines exactly what it means to build resilience in our lives.

How Kindness Can Increase Happiness

by Donald Fausel

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,
gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive
whatever grievances you have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues,
put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

The Apostle Paul, Colossians 3:12-14     

For the last several blogs I’ve focused on the obstacles to happiness, e.g. perfectionism and anger.  Today’s blog is going to empathize one of the virtues that augment happiness—kindness.  

When I first started to research kindness a few weeks ago, I thought I knew enough about kindness already. How wrong I was!  Not only is kindness one of the many virtues, it seems to be out in front when it comes to happiness.    

I first searched for what the Old and New Testaments had to say about kindness and the first website I found was What Does the Bible Have to Say About Kindness? It had over fifty small quotations on kindness.  I also looked for parables on kindness or compassion in the New Testament.  Not surprisingly the parable that stood out was The Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 10-37). Rather than focus on the parable that we all are familiar with, I chose a TED TALK by Daniel Goleman entitled Why Aren’t We All Good Samaritans?  Goleman was picked to speak at a TED Conference, which is on a different level than a TALK.  It’s “…where the world’s leading thinkers and doers are invited to give the talk of their life in 18 minutes.” Dr. Goleman’s presentation is very down to earth, humorous and takes compassion/kindness from a global level to a personal level.

As helpful as the themes in the Bible are for inspiration, and action, I moved on to several websites that are considered to be part of the science of happiness. I was very happy to find The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. They even have a Random Acts of Kindness Week (this year February 14-20, 2016), and Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17, 2016. If you’re interested in celebrating either of these events, you can, “Check out their RAK Week page for kindness ideas and other activities they had in 2015. The 2016 program will be out in the middle of January.

Not only is there a Foundation for Kindness, there is also the World Kindness Movement  (WKM). This international movement has “…no political or religious affiliations.” Their mission is to inspire individuals “…towards greater kindness and to connect nations to create a kinder world.” After its formation in Tokyo in 1997 the movement now includes 25 nations, one of which is the United States. If you check their website above, I think you’ll be impressed with what they’ve been able to accomplish in the last nineteen years.

Acts of Kindness

There’s such a wealth of information about kindness and random acts of kindness that it’s difficult to pick which articles to use for a blog. After much self- debate, I finally chose several websites. The first website is How to Be Kind. I chose it mainly because it is a three part article that deals with:  1) Developing a Kinder Perspective 2) Developing Kind Qualities, and 3) Taking Action Questions and Answers. I was particularly impressed with a part of Taking Action section that’s entitled Transform Your Life through Kindness. It starts with a quote from Aldous Huxley’s remedy for transforming your life: “People often ask me what is the most effective technique for transforming their life. It’s a little embarrassing after years of research and experimentation, I have to say that the answer is—just be a little kinder.” The article goes on to suggest that we take Huxley’s many years of research to heart and “…allow kindness to transform your life, to transcend all feelings and actions of aggression, hate, despising , anger, fear and self-deprecation, and to restore strength worn away by despair.” I say Amen, sisters and brothers!

If you’re not familiar with the The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley, this is their Mission Statement and it contains page after page of material about kindness and happiness. You could spend hours just on this one website. Here are two articles from that website on kindness that speak for themselves. The article Three Strategies for Bringing More Kindness into Your Life  “…highlights 10 core kindness practices, grouped into three broad categories.  1)  How to Cultivate Feelings of Kindness. 2) How to Boost the Happiness We Get from Kindness. 3) How to Inspire Kindness in Others. The second article, Kindness Makes You Happy…and Happiness Makes You Kind, is from two studies, one from the Journal of Social Psychology and the other from Journal of Happiness Studies , that propose that “…giving to others makes us happy, even happier than spending on ourselves.  What’s more, our kindness might create a virtuous cycle that promotes lasting happiness and altruism.”

To end this blog with a bang, here is a TED TALK by Dr. William Wan, titled Happiness and Kindness Dr. Wan is the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement and the World Kindness Movement. He has graduate degrees in law, philosophy, religion and theology. Now that’s impressive. His TALK is actually about happiness by the way of kindness.

Blessings!

 

 

 

Angry is as Angry Does!

by Donald Fausel

Angry is as Angry Does!

“If you want to learn something, read. If you want to understand something, write. If you want to master something, teach.” I’m not sure who the original author of those wise words was but I accidentally found them in a Chinese fortune cookie. Then not far after my discovery, 1983 to be precise I read a book by Neil Clark Warren, titled Make Anger your Ally. I was impressed by his book, not just because he earned a Master of Divinity from Princeton, and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Chicago, but his book was down to earth and made a lot of sense to me. Oh and a more recent version of the original book was published in 1999.

Following the dictum from the Chinese fortune cookie, and the credentials of Dr. Warren, I began to read more about anger,  write commentaries on anger, and a few years later I began to teach courses and workshops on anger. Eventually I realized that anger was another obstacle to living a happier life, and I began to make it a part of my pursuit of happiness commentaries.

As the title of this blog Angry is as Angry Does suggests, it’s not anger that is the problem, our problem is how we cope with the anger that we have, and the anger that others have towards us. Anger affects millions of people. It affects all races, all ages, all religions, all ethnic groups, in essence—everyone!  

In the words of the Dalai Lama, “When people get angry they lose all sense of happiness. Even if they are good-looking and normally peaceful, their faces turn livid and ugly. Anger upsets their physical well-being and disturbs their rest; it destroys their appetite and makes them age prematurely. Happiness, peace, and sleep evade them, and they no longer appreciate people who have helped them and deserve their trust and gratitude. Under the influence of anger, people of normally good character change completely and can no longer be counted on. They are ruined by their anger, and they ruin others too. But anyone who puts all his energy into destroying anger will be happy in this life….”

In order to write this blog I had to go back and review the work I had done on anger some years ago, and bring myself up to date on current research. When I googled Anger and Happiness I was surprised to find how many articles were available. There was even one titled Awaken Your Own Force: 9 Ways Happiness and The Force are One . The author of the article, Jim Smith, was referring to the opening last week of the movie Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I didn’t even know the force had been asleep, since I left off at Episode II. Dr. Smith was kind enough to remind us that in the original Star Wars film, the Force “…is described as an energy field created by all living things that surround and penetrate living beings and binds the galaxy together.”  He goes on to state, “That sounds an awful lot like Happiness, right?”  To prove his point he offers nine ways happiness and the force are one. As an example the number one way they are the same is, both the May the Force be with you, and Happiness are indeed one, since they’re both are “all around you.” I found an another article, Understand Anger: Why Anger Isn’t Irrational which agrees that “Anger is a force of energy that we project in order to push away or combat a threat.”  But it doesn’t identify happiness as force of energy. If you want to read the rest of the ways that force and happiness are the same just click on Dr. Smith’s article above. Or maybe your children or grandchildren can enlighten you.

I also searched for a book from Earnie Larsen, whom I mentioned in my last blog, hoping he would have written a book related to anger.  Sure enough he didn’t disappoint me. The title of his book is From Anger to Forgiveness . Here are a few themes from Larson’s book that I found helpful. He first talks about what he calls The Faces of Anger. These include:

  • Depression: probably the most common face of anger.
  • Smoldering Rage: One symptom is the tendency to take everything personally.
  • The Fidgets: people with behavioral styles that always seem to be tap dancing faster than anyone else. They have very little serenity.
  • Secret Keeper: This person must always look good. They lie about things because they don’t want to spoil their image.
  • Victim: They feel they have no options. Down deep they sense they don’t count—that no one takes them seriously.

For each one of these faces of anger, Larsen provides a story of one of his former clients who had dealt with that particular problem. Without going into details, for an example of Depression, Larsen tells Curt’s story. He describes Curt as being depressed but not dysfunctional, and goes on to show how you don’t have to be dysfunctional to be depressed. In Curt’s case he was very active in his professional activities but at the same time he felt terrible negativity and hostility, and was emotionally flat. The stories are very helpful.

The following YouTube videos are each about 20 minutes long. They both focus on anger and their answers are too long for me to cover in a blog. So here they are. The first one is The Purpose and Importance of Anger and the second titled How to Deal with Anger. I hope both are helpful!

You may also like:

Psychology Today on Anger

Pathway to Happiness

May the Force be With You, and may you have a healthy and happy 2016.

 

…Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Perfection

by Don Fausel

LIFE AND PERFECTION

There are a number of obstacles to living a happier life. I believe that perfectionism is at the top of the list. I say that not just from my own experience growing-up as the perfect child, the perfect friend, the perfect student, and ending up as Mr. Perfect, but also from evidence that scientific research confirms. Among other things sciences shows that for many of us adult perfectionists our journey begins early in life. But first my story!

One of my earliest memories from my childhood was the day my mother took me to Red’s Barber Shop for my first hair cut. I must have been close to five years old. My mother prepared me for this experience by warning me that I needed to be a “good little boy” in the barber’s chair to avoid losing one of my ears. I was prepared to be the perfect customer.

As Red placed me on a booster seat on the barber’s chair, I noticed he not only had red hair but his arms were covered with red hair. That in itself was scary for me. I clearly recall thinking something like: I need to do everything that Red tells me to do. Don’t move one way or another. If I do that I bet he’ll tell his family about the perfect little boy’s hair he cut today. As they say in the 12 step programs, “That’s stinkin thinkin”.

Moving on to my life as a catholic schoolboy, I remembered how I had respect or perhaps it was fear for the authority of the nuns, brothers and priests that taught me, and I embraced whatever they taught me as “the truth”. I learned to have that respect for authority from my family. It’s not something my mother and father preached to me, but I was very aware of the esteem my parents had for our religions “superiors”. No one ever told me, “Donald, you are not allowed to challenge any of the doctrines of the church, or you’ll go directly to hell.” I just observed early on the unquestionable deference my parents had for clergy. I’m not blaming anyone for my not being more assertive in expressing my convictions. Although I think I was influence by the words that G.K. Chesterton paraphrased, “My church right or wrong!”

It wasn’t until my adulthood that I learned the process of critical thinking. I was in my middle twenties. I had already been ordained a priest and taught two years in a seminary. I was then sent by the Bishop of Albany, NY to get a Masters degree in Social Work at Fordham University. Critical thinking was new to me. Over the next few years I was able to start my path of recovery from my addiction to perfectionism. I even started doing workshops entitled, Be Ye Perfect: Mission Impossible. I’m not going into details, since my life is an open book. The title of my book which was published in 2010, From Blind Obedience to a Responsible Faith: The Memoir of a Cradle Catholic should give you an idea of the rest of my journey.

Speaking of journeys, one of leaders, and pioneers in the field of recovery from addictive behaviors and a nationally known author and lecturer was Earnie Larson. I had the good fortune to attend several of his workshops. He had a strong influence on my realizing the negative effect my perfectionism had on my life. So after all these years I googled him and found his website, Change is a Choice. To my dismay I found out that Earnie died in 2011 but fortunately his website is still going strong thanks to his wife Paula and colleagues. After he was diagnosed with an inoperable cancer he spent the last two years of his life writing a book that shared his insights of his final journey. The title of the book is, Earnie Larson: His Last Steps.

Reading the book not only brought back fond memories, but Earnie’s way of facing his last days could be a model for all of us.

Among other things one of Earnie’s favorite dictums came back to me:

What we live we learn.

What we learn we practice.

What we practice we become.

What we become has consequences.

HOW TO CONTROL PERFECTIONISM

In psychology there are a number of definitions of perfectionism. Here is one from wikipedia that’s as good as any: “Perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards accompanied by over critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations…psychologists agree that there are many positive and negative aspects.”

There are also many methods used to overcome perfectionism. Below are several TED TALKS and articles that you might find helpful.

When Perfect Isn’t Enough is a TED TALK that lasts for about 15 minutes by Martin Antony. He also wrote a book with Richard Swinson titled When Perfect is Not Enough: Strategies for Coping with Pefectionism. The book was awarded The Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies Self-Help Seal of Merit. They state in their book that “People who are perfectionists tend to have standards and expectations that are difficult to meet…Although high standards are often helpful, perfectionism is associated with having standards that are so high that they actually interfere with performance. Does that ring a bell?

Here’s a combination of a short YouTube and an article. I was not surprised that there was even a 12 step program for perfectionists so, here it is: 12 Step Program for Recovering Perfectionists

This is an article by Tamar Chansky titled, How to Overcome Perfectionism: 8 Stategies for Making Life Better . She is a psychologist and anxiety therapist committed to making the mind a safer place to live for children, teens and adults. I believe that her strategies can be very helpful.

My next blog will be on another obstacle to living a happier life—anger!

Shalom

 

Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be

by Teresa Blythe

Lots of congregations sing “Lord of the Dance” on Sunday mornings, but really, what would most of them do if someone lost their inhibitions, took the song literally and began to “dance, dance,” right there in worship?

It is so rare to see a real outburst of spontaneous celebration of God’s Spirit in most established (especially white) churches that when it occurs we generally go in one of two directions. If we are inspired by it, we then want to control it ending up with predictable liturgical dancers—eyes and arms lifted toward heaven (in case we don’t understand that they are glorifying God)–or acceptable movement such as a little swaying and clapping. If we are embarrassed by it, we avert our eyes, ignore it and hope it goes away.

We could instead embrace it. Understand that we do not “have” bodies, we “are” bodies and sometimes those bodies want to move or otherwise express themselves in worship. We could, as they say, let the children, young adults and those with nothing to lose lead us toward a more embodied worship experience.

Embrace that Swing

Several years ago I had the privilege of working part-time at Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson—one of the few multicultural progressive churches in Arizona. On this particular Sunday, children’s time had just ended, but, as was the custom at Southside, the children were not yet dismissed to their respective church school classrooms because the choir had not yet sung. With the children sitting on the flagstone floor of the Native American-style kiva sanctuary, the choir sang a rousing gospel rendition of the old favorite, “Love Lifted Me.”

In the middle of the song, with not a shred of inhibition, a six-year old girl leaps to her feet and starts free-form dancing. Now we’re all familiar with the one or two children in the church who enjoy making a scene during children’s time. But this little girl wasn’t in it for the attention. The motivation appeared to be pure adoration and praise. Most of the adults in the congregation were smiling—some had tears in their eyes—at the freedom the girl felt to “dance, dance, wherever she may be.”

When the song ended, the pastor, John Fife, stood to say, “That’s the difference between children and adults. She was inspired, so she got up and began dancing. Many of us were inspired as well, but we just sat there and let her dance all by herself!” Since then, when people at Southside feel so moved by the choir, they stand up and move.

That 6-year old dancer has a prophetic message for the larger church. On a base level, we have to understand how music moves the body and soul. I’m talking about music with full-bodied rhythm—and let’s be honest, most people just don’t feel like dancing to the pipe organ. Yes, saying that can start up a “worship war” in your congregation, but it doesn’t change the truth of the matter.

What this girl demonstrated was that if our churches want to be welcoming and attractive to people younger than your average church member, we had better be alive and ready for anything to happen in inspired worship.

(Which is why it thrilled me this past Sunday at First Congregational UCC Phoenix to turn around during a high-energy gospel song and see one of the young adults who was running the media center in the back moving and dancing to the music the way God intended! I only wish everyone there had turned around to see how much fun he was having at church.)

Embrace the Awkward Illustration

Sometimes spontaneity is thrust upon us by those who have long ago lost the usual societal inhibitions. I once visited a Presbyterian church in Albuquerque as a wild-haired, scruffy older man in a heavy coat had a burden to share in worship. Rising during announcement time, he proceeded to the pulpit to confess to a number of “sins of the flesh.” The young pastor appeared to know this man, and was not exactly surprised at the pop-up confession but was at a loss for what to do. So, he let the man speak.

As fate would have it, the sermon that morning—from the lectionary—was the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus saying that the one who “beat his breast” saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” was justified. What a brilliant sermon illustration! Unplanned and awkward, yes. But, frankly a bright spot in the liturgy.

Was this celebrated as a happy coincidence? Or even a Godly moment? Hardly. No mention is made of the event after the man is escorted away from the pulpit, because his interjection is seen as an embarrassing disturbance.

We’ll need to shed this self-consciousness and a desire to control if we want God’s spirit to blow around in worship. If something bizarre but meaningful happens in worship, let’s make the most of it. It sure beats the Easter Sunday I spent at a mainline church in the Bay area where I counted at least three people in their twenties fast asleep during the sermon.

Let’s embrace the crazy outburst as important data for discerning when and where God’s Spirit is moving within the congregation. How can we follow it more closely? How can we stay open to those times when worship goes slightly awry, seeing what those moments have to teach us? Savor them, in all their ickiness, and you’ll soon become more comfortable with the unusual, the ecstatic, the surprising.

Honoring the Body

Church leaders could start to honor the body in worship by incorporating call-and-response music, drums, incense and a variety of simple prayer postures. Make worship a feast of all five senses, not just the ear and eyes. Instead of bringing on the approved liturgical dancer why not go into the community and hire a professional contemporary dancer to do an original dance illustrating the theme of worship that day? Lift our eyes from the bulletin by posting what we need for worship on a screen or even an old-fashioned poster board up front. Leave us on the edge of our seats by writing sermons with cliff-hanger endings, like the serial dramas on TV do each week. Ask us to yell out “Amen” to your sermon when we feel it. And then entice us with God’s word so that we want to.

Making room for the spontaneous will not be easy for people set in their ways. It requires an attitude of hospitality that says whatever is done in authentic response to the Word or the Spirit is OK with us.

It requires being brave enough to admit that if our music, preaching and prayer aren’t filled with enough of God’s Spirit to move people in some pretty significant ways, we’re in trouble and need to plead for God’s mercy. Remember, boring people in worship is a sin.

The good news is that the Lord of the Dance is the one who saves us.