A friend was in front of me coming out of church one day, and the preacher was standing at the door as he always is to shake hands. He grabbed my friend by the hand and pulled him aside. The Pastor said to him, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!"
My friend replied, "I'm already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor."
Pastor questioned, "How come I don't see you except at Christmas and Easter?"
He whispered back, "I'm in the secret service." *
It seems to me that when it comes to our happiness, most of us are convinced that we need to keep it a secret. We hide it, guard it and keep it to ourselves. Perhaps we think that if we bring it out into the open it will be taken from us.
We are all so good at keeping our happiness hidden, so good at keeping it a secret, that we forget even to tell ourselves. We forget the secret ourselves. We forget our happiness and we get stuck in misery much of the time.
Maybe we keep it a secret because we are afraid that our happiness will be found out to be inferior to other people's. We think that other people must be happier than we are. It's probably because we also keep a secret how miserable we feel. We figure that if they knew all the crud that ran through my head, all the misery, they would call me crazy. They would call me a loser.
You got it. So far I've said that we, as in people in general keep our happiness a secret, and we try to keep a secret how miserable we feel. Have I messed you up?
There is a difference between showing the world our happiness and pretending to be happy, or pretending not to be miserable. Go to a bar. What do people act like? They slap each other on the back, and make a lot of noise to indicate that they know how to have fun. Ain't we a fun crowd? As the years have gone on, it seems to me that twhat's on TV gets more and more like the barroom.
Yeah, we are Americans. We know how to be happy. We'll spend more money. We'll turn up the volume on the hype more each year. We'll be loud and proud and if you have a problem than you must be one of those sissy whining liberals that are destroying our country.
The air and water have become more polluted. The working class has gotten poor. Everybody's working a lot more hours than we did 10 and 20 years ago. Politics has gotten more and more polarized and hate filled. Increasing levels of rudeness, hostility and violence have become acceptable as entertaining.
Maybe I don't need to tell you how common misery is, and maybe I do. In society, there is a false veneer, a feigning of happiness, a pretense that it is a denial of all the pain and suffering. We are so used to this false veneer, that sometimes we may think that others are happier than us. So I'm starting this sermon with the harsh announcement that our society is filled with people pretending to be happy, maybe even pretending to be happier than everybody else at the same time that rates of depression have gone off the charts.
So when I dare to preach a sermon on the power of happiness, I'm not talking about the get louder, get a four wheeler, snowblower, y'all don't know about those do you? Okay ATV, big power speed boat, monster truck,... I can't hear you, whiny stinky liberals complaining about what is wrong with society?
I am talking about something that IS in each and every one of us. I'm talking about the life force that animates us, and gives us a will to live, that makes it so that the way we naturally feel is that we get a blissed out mind blowing joy about being alive.
That's right I am claming that know it or not, happiness is already inside of us. It's like the sun is always shining. Now if you live in Seattle or London, you might have a lot of days when you don't see the sun. If you live in the Artic circle, the sun is out of view a good portion of the year. And still the sun is shining.
This is how it is with happiness. Maybe the clouds came rolling in when we were just a kid, and then teen years might be really brutal. We think we will be happy when we can drive. Then we'll be happy when we go to college. Then we'll be happy when we can get a real job. We might never get the kind of job we hoped would be ours, or maybe we do. Then maybe we will be happy when we get married, have kids, when we can get out of debt, when we get the kids through school, when we can retire.... What happened to the happiness?
Jesus said that to come into the kingdom we must first be as little children. Children know how to play. In the earliest years of life we know how to be alive and we are SO able to enjoy ourselves.
The good news is that we didn't really lose it. Remember, the sun is actually still shining. Even if as ___ wrote “it seems like years since its been here,” life is shining inside of us. And by God I promise you as some one who has gotten pretty dang miserable many times, the joy that we once knew as children is still inside of us. That light does not go out. It might have been so long that we have seen it, that we think it's gone, but it's not.
We are the church in the tradition of Hosea Ballou and the Universalists who rejected the religion that was being preached in those days, that we were sinners in the hands of an angry god, that we had better act good and pray that we were one of the select ones who would be spared from the fiery pit of eternal suffering. The Universalists said, hey wait if God is all loving and all powerful, why in heaven's name, do you expect me to believe that he would do that to us? No!, they said, we here on Earth might be a little lost in the clouds, but have faith that sun is still there. Our tradition tells us that nothing, neither powers nor principalities, nor our own mistakes, ...nothing will keep us from coming to know the love of the One who gave us life! And heaven isn't just some place far away that we will get to. Jesus reminded us that it is a place that is within us.
There is a story told in our tradition of Hosea Ballou. Legend has it that he was out on the road. And he came to a crossroads. And there on the other street leading into the intersection was the Pastor of one of the biggest fire and brimstone churches of the day. That preacher shouted out to Rev. Ballou. He said. “Sir I understand that you tell people that no one is going to hell, and that everybody is going to heaven. Sir, if I believe that to be true, if I have no fear of hell, what is to keep me from using my gun to rob you of your possessions here at this intersection?
Rev. Ballou replied. “Sir if you were a Universalist, you would not even have had the thought to rob me in the first place.”
We know love because we have been loved. And even if in this life we have not had the experience of being loved, it is not to late for us to discover that we are loved. It is not to late to discover that we were created to be happy. As the old disco song said, “We are born, born, born... born to be alive.”
Happiness is our birthright people. He maketh us to lie down in green pasteurs for his name sake. Now I know that a lot of you don't care about this story of a he-god that has us doing things for his own glory. You say man that God sounds an awful lot like the big shot ego-driven power hungry men who have been dominating folks as long as people been telling stories. Okay, but will you translate a little here? The source of life created us not only for the fruit we will bear, and certainly not for how much money we can make. No the source of life created us so that we might lie down in green pasteurs, and do nothing EXCEPT see the beauty of being alive.
In this world today it is easy to begin to think of ourselves as human doings. We learn that we can be happy after we get our work done. We can be happy when we get our reward.
People, the rewards of this world are nothing, nothing I tell you compared to what we already have inside of us. We have learned that we have to earn the right to be happy. We have learned to make happiness conditional upon our succeeding. We have become slaves, living life on other people's terms. We're like squirrels running on a wheel.
What if we could get off that wheel? What if we stopped racing toward the future desperately hoping it would be better? What if we stopped making happiness something we could have when or if we got what we wanted? Imagine if a person was already happy? Might they be free to follow their hearts, to be true to their souls? Is what inside us so bad that we must be protected from it? Or is it be possible that we could learn to trust ourselves? What if it's true that if we ever came to know ourselves, we couldn't help but fall in love, and be happy with ourselves? Or must we continue to defer happiness? Must we continue to ignore what is inside of us? Continue to chase after the carrot on a stick?
Eastern cultures place value upon meditation. Hinduism and Buddhism tell stories of people who learned to meditate and became wise or enlightened. In 1992, while on a peace pilgrimage, we stopped at a Buddhist monastery. The monk showed us the lovely grounds and we all sat down together near a pond. He told us that our minds are like the pool of water. He took a stick and stirred up the water. Then he asked us to say what we saw in the water. He said that if we wanted to see to the bottom, we had to first allow the debris to settle.
To become happy we don't have to acquire something from outside of us. Happiness is not something we can have only if we are among the select few who were born with the right stuff in their brains and bodies! It is not something we can have only if we are wealthy or educated. To become happy we must only gain clarity as to the thoughts and beliefs that go round and round our minds. If we come to see clearly the ways that we make ourselves miserable, then we will be free to choose differently. If we learn to observe, and come to see clearly what we tell ourselves, we will become free to be happy.
To be happy we must only come to know ourselves. I'm not talking about becoming more familiar with the things we believe ABOUT ourselves. I have found that every person is suffering in one degree or another from estrangement from self, and that this estrangment is caused by the limiting beliefs we hold. It usually comes down to some form of “I'm not good enough.” Or “I don't do enough.”
We hate it when other people criticize us. However, we do it to ourselves all the time. We do it as a way of coercing ourselves to behave “properly.” We do it to take care of ourselves. We learned to make ourselves unhappy as a way to try to get what we want.
I learned that I am responsible for the thoughts I think. When I am having a hard time, it means that I am giving myself a hard time. Many years ago, I decided to change the way I motivate myself. Many times I have found that I have forgotten.
I know I'm not alone. Hosea Ballous Treatise on atonement was such a powerful gift to this world. If we realize how great is his legacy, we will be amazed. And yet, to a very large extent our tradition ignored and forgot what he taught us. This is good news because it means we have an unclaimed treasure. As individuals and as a movement, we can learn to reclaim a theology of joy. Instead of coercing with fear and judgment, we can influence ourselves, each other and the world love and happiness. If we take Ballou's words to heart, … if we consider that everything we do is an attempt to pursue happiness, then we will choose differently. We will find happiness by coming to know and love ourselves.
A number of years ago, I began to realize how we use painful emotions to get our way, and I began to realize how costly this form of influence is. Putting Ballou's insights into practice has made a tremendous difference in my life, and helped me to follow my heart and soul rather than social conditioning. I have several times fallen out of practice. I am blessed by this opportunity to remember, the dynamics and the importance of happiness.
It seems more that our society believes that the source of life cares very little for the next generation. We must believe in this kind of God, because this is the kind of creation story we are living. Too often this is the story that we are giving our children; that no one cares all that much, that you have to grab what you can for yourself, that the next generation will have to fend for itself. Where is Love in that story? Where is the truth of our interconnection? Where is the joy of being alive in that view?
We have been conditioned to dismiss and deny the importance of happiness. I want to ask us to consider the impact it would it have if even one person could remain connected to the joy for living that is inside of us. What difference would it make if one of us rediscovered the light that shines from within? What if a person showed that it is possible to show up for life with happiness, with love in their heart and the ability to express that love? What if a congregation gained the ability to see the beauty that is here even in the face of tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns? What if despite these things, we realized the incredible fortune it is to be alive? How would we live if we really knew with all our heart, mind and soul that it is a blessing to be alive? That we are not accidents or unwanted children, but that we are here because the source of life is doing hir thing? Now some might hear me as suggesting that we are just little creatures that the powerful one has its way with us. What I mean is that the big juicy juicy of life keeps springing on Earth painting, singing and dancing, and as a result of life's desire to share, we emerge and are given the opportunity to participate in the creation of what is and what will be. We get to dance and paint and write the stories of creation that will be given to the next generation.
Try that on for size, shall we?
*(source of joke unknown)