“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where to they come from?” James 4:1-2
So are you happy or sad today? How about most of the time? Half of the time? Or are you less than happy most of the time? When we think about it, happiness and sadness are quite relative or dependent upon our thinking. For example, we may hear of a soldier who committed suicide. He was from a place we never heard of and so it does not affect us too much. But if it were our son who as a soldier committed suicide we would be beside ourselves in grief and sadness. It’s dependent upon our thinking.
We marry and feel complete happiness, at least for awhile. Then circumstances change and we decide we don’t feel so happy so we part and go separate ways. And then we feel happiness again. Then we don’t so we marry again. And again. I am making no judgments or criticisms. If Naomi and I had had lots of money, we may have divorced and remarried ourselves! We just can so easily change our views and experience of happiness; they are based in our interpretation of events occurring in our lives. One little criticism can wreck our whole day, night’s sleep, or week!
How we feel happiness or sadness is related to what goes on inside our minds. And what goes on inside our minds is what we then project outside in happiness or sadness, acceptance or anger. One of my favorite books, A Course in Miracles, states that “Projection Makes Perception!” What this says is what we perceive and think in our minds is what we project out onto the world around us. What we then project makes what we perceive clear. And so projection makes perception. To change the world, the Course teaches not to change the world but to change our thinking about the world by the way we think of ourselves. “As a man thinketh, so does he perceive. Therefore, seek not to change the world, but to choose your mind about the world.” (Ch. 21, Introduction)
The little book of James from the early church collection teaches this principle. In chapter 4 verses one and two we read, “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. You can’t get something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.” And when we’re in conflicts we experience sadness and a sense of despair. Even after they are “settled.
The root of the Hebrew word for sadness is “Ra.” It is also the root for the word “wicked.” In Psalm chapter 1 we read in verse four, “the wicked are not so (happy), but are like chaff that the wind blows away.” In our identity with ourselves as mortal bodies, we never have enough; enough health, enough wealth, enough satisfaction with things as they are. In this world all things constantly change and disappear; they are mortal. Thus everything in this world is an illusion. The way of the ego/body is perishable and therefore really nothing. Or as Psalm 1:6 says; “the way of the wicked or sad will perish.”
Thus happiness is built and based upon our self identity. And our true self identity is as the Sons and the Daughters of God. Our identity is a Divine Being. We seek to remember this identity as much as possible allowing the mind of Christ to rule in all we think and do, all that we perceive and project. As James says; “Such wisdom comes from above.” Or as Jesus taught, from within.
Our goal in life is to recognize in this identity we have everything! Everything that is Real and Lasting. Yes were born with bodies from parents who sought to provide us with the necessities of life. But they are never enough: parents die and leave us, our health wanes and leaves us, our lives in bodies end, vaporize, disappear!
This is central to the idea of living with “detachment”. Realizing we have everything needed as an Eternal Spirit, One with our Creator, we can work on giving up constant striving and endless boredom with not being satisfied with what we have. I heard recently that for a family of two parents and two children, and income of $70,000 is about right. More than that begins to work the other way; a sense of anxiety about not having enough, always wanting to find more, that perfect experience or thing that brings peace and happiness. If a family makes less than $70,000, the challenge is to “live within one’s means”. It helps to leave televisions off and never look at billboards and advertisements. But it can be done. Some of the greatest respected “Holy” folks, perhaps exemplified by Jesus, lived fairly simply!
A few weeks ago Naomi and I watched the movie, “I Am.” It is a story of the life of Tom Shadyac, a Hollywood producer of such films as “Ace Ventura, Almighty Bruce, and Pet Detective”. The film depicts how Tom was making millions of dollars from royalties and kept buying bigger and better homes. He felt he should be completely happy in having everything he thought he wanted but yet he admitted he still wasn’t happy. One day while riding his bicycle he fell and striking his head went into a coma for about three weeks. There was uncertainty about his ability to live but he survived and months later left the hospital and resumed his life. But during the time of being forcefully laid aside with time to think, Tom began to change his life. He reasoned that happiness was really not found in accumulating great wealth in homes, cars and wives. Happiness was found in helping and giving to others and living as simply as possible. Happiness was found in accepting oneself as an “I Am,” a Spirit given all the completion of the Creator. And so today Tom Shadyac lives in a trailer court mobile home near Hollywood where he produces films and stories teaching the power of simplicity and the happiness that goes with it. The film title bespeaks the centrality of our identity, the I Am which is central to all of us. I Am the Divine Child of God! I Am what I Am, God’s Magnificent Son or Daughter.
What then are the characteristics of the happy one? What forms might they use? They meditate day and night on the laws and word of God. “Their delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in season, and their leaves do not wither or die. In all they do, they prosper.” (Psalm 1:2-3)
In the gospel story of Mark in chapter 9, the happy ones, Jesus pointed out to his disciples, are more likely those who notice children, who usually are considered unimportant or an annoyance. Children, then and in many places today, have no power and status. The context of the story is Jesus sharing with his disciples that soon he would be betrayed into human hands and be killed. But it says they did not understand what he was saying (or did not want to) and were afraid to ask. So what the disciples want to talk about in hearing it? Which one of them would be the greatest successor after he died! And so Jesus took the small child and said “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mark 9:30 – 37)
Happiness then is the quality of being willing to be left behind, to be forgotten, and not be remembered. Happiness is within, not something we must preserve by keeping a “mighty reputation”. One of my daughters asked me a few days ago, “Why do you stay in and with the church?” She knows that since retirement things have not always gone easy. Serious conflict arose within the church that I pastored for 33 years. I have had formal charges placed against me for my “non-Reformed” teachings. Word spread around I have had serious charges lodged against me! Some wonder what those charges are! Am I a sexual pervert, in financial trouble, cheating on my dear wife? So why do I stay in such a church? Well I may or may not but I’m not hopefully too concerned about my reputation and legacy. The picture hung in the church when I retired might be removed! But I will try to stay focused on the faith modeled in the stories of Jesus, teach the radical news that God is with us now and always, and we are a part of God’s divinity, part of God’s Oneness. I meditate on this idea night and day and it brings peace and comfort knowing that fame and fortune as all the things of this world, including the body soon pass away, but We shall live forever!
My 91-year-old mother used to have an embroidered piece of cloth hanging on her wall in her older house. It went like this; “Unless the day is hemmed in with prayer, it can become easily unraveled!” And so it does. “Their delight is in the law the Lord and on his law they meditate day and night.”
25 years ago, while I was visiting various ashrams in India, I pointed out to my
Buddhist guide how pitiful some of the families appeared to be who lived in their small homes, what I considered shacks, along the river. I wondered about organizing a Presbytery Committee to help send back better housing for them! He turned to me and with rebuke in his voice said; “Those people are happier and more content then you are!” And no doubt he was right.
Sometimes people in the church and its leadership feel that to be right we must somehow always feel miserable, angry and judgmental. I’ve heard ministers and people say, “I’d rather be right than happy!” And so they are. A few days ago the news reported a teacher from Harvard University, Karen King, who had discovered a papyrus fragment that referred to Jesus as having a wife. She felt at least it would validate that back then people were discussing the issue of divine teachers being married. When the news was given to the Vatican, they issued a reply saying, “Well we don’t care what the scholars say; we will continue to follow our doctrines and teachings anyway!”
The Christian church throughout the world is going through a major time of change and re-formation. The church is discovering that preaching judgment, fear, and threats of eternal punishment, no longer work. Having constant church conflict for missions and sexual wars do not attract seekers for peace. People are discovering by reading Scriptures and practicing meditation they can find the experience of the kingdom of heaven within. Right at home on the back porch. It’s often an experience of joy and happiness rarely found in many Christian congregations. Today as this congregation and many others are pondering “New Beginnings,” I challenge you to find ways to experience and to share deep joy, love and peace in such a powerful way that people will be hardly able to wait to come together and share the experience it with you yet again. It will bring peace to your minds. It will bring peace and happiness to the community. And it won’t add to further wars raging in the world.
Talk summary shared by Rev. David G. Persons, September 23, 2012, with the folks at First Presbyterian Church, West Seneca, NY.