Faith and relevance in the 21st century

Category: Happiness (Page 2 of 3)

If 85% of the world is religious, why are secular countries happier?

030815-M-2375M-502If 85% of the world’s population has a religious underpinning to their lives, why are secular countries happier, according to the latest studies?

Dutch philosopher, Evert-Jan Ouweneel says that these countries are generally happier as long as circumstances are going well. Resilience though is lessening.

Ouweneel also says that the world is becoming more religious, not less. 85% of the world’s population has a religious faith. If we want to promote human understanding, cooperation and relationships, we need to understand religion and how it underpins the lives of most people in the world.

Finally, Ouweneel faces the common criticism of faith-based organisations working to alleviate poverty, that they give food from one hand as long it’s with a Bible in the other. There are a lot of myths going around about this, and they are well dealt with in this fascinating interview on ABC Radio National.

Listen to the interview here.

How to recover from your FOMO

camp, marshmallows, fire, smoke, burning, wood, roasting, toasting, outdoors, camping, stikes, desserts,

“Wherever you are, be all there.” – Jim Elliott

Do you ever have the attitude that, no matter where you are, you want to be somewhere else? I do.

A friend and colleague of mine has been talking a bit lately about FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. It is the disease of the age. There are so many options in our lives these days, so many things to do, people to see and places to go, that we suffer from choice anxiety.

What this results in is an attitude of “keeping our options open” so we don’t miss out. But in the meantime, we end up not really experiencing anything properly because of our fear of committing. Continue reading

50 lessons of life by Regina Brett

4719290483_6fdca4668e_oI’m currently in middle-age, which I don’t really mind. The fact that I can’t really do anything about it actually helps me to just accept it.

It was when she was 45 that Regina Brett put together 45 lessons of life that she had learned. Since then she has added five more. I first saw these lessons a few years ago and they make me very reflective. Here they are, with a comment of my own in italics beside some of them:

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree. It’s more important to be loving than to be right.
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don’t compare your life to others’. You have no idea what their journey is all about. A consistent challenge for me.
14. If a relationship has to be a secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry; God never blinks.
16. Life is too short for long pity parties. Get busy living, or get busy dying.
17. You can get through anything if you stay put in today.
18. A writer writes. If you want to be a writer, write.
19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. Brilliant. I first heard this from Rowland Croucher. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special. I’m not really into wearing lingerie, but I hear you!
22. Overprepare, then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain. It all starts there.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words: “In five years, will this matter?”
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time. But time only heals if you put effort into the healing.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch. Another consistent challenge for me.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do. Knowing that heals your shame.
35. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
36. Growing old beats the alternative – dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood. Make it memorable.
38. Read the Psalms. They cover every human emotion. Yep. Raw, brutal honesty. I love them.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
41. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
42. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
43. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved. Matthew 22:36-40.
44. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
45. The best is yet to come.
46. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
47. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
48. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
49. Yield.
50. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Loneliness kills more people than Ebola ever will

Great but tragic article from George Monbiot on this age in our existence being known as the age of loneliness. Check out some of these startling quotes:

  • “Ebola is unlikely ever to kill as many people as this disease strikes down. Social isolation is as potent a cause of early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day; loneliness, research suggests, is twice as deadly as obesity. Dementia, high blood pressure, alcoholism and accidents – all these, like depression, paranoia, anxiety and suicide, become more prevalent when connections are cut. We cannot cope alone.”
  • “Structural changes have been accompanied by a life-denying ideology, which enforces and celebrates our social isolation. The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our time, justified by a mythology of lone rangers, sole traders, self-starters, self-made men and women, going it alone. For the most social of creatures, who cannot prosper without love, there is no such thing as society, only heroic individualism.”
  • “For [all our technological and material prowess], we have ripped the natural world apart, degraded our conditions of life, surrendered our freedoms and prospects of contentment to a compulsive, atomising, joyless hedonism, in which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. For this, we have destroyed the essence of humanity: our connectedness.”

What does maturity look like?

Understanding peopleI’ve just been reading a bit of Larry Crabb’s book, Understanding People, again. It’s a book I got in 1987 and it has made a huge impact on me.

The sections I read today discussed maturity and what that looks like. The fact is that much of what looks like maturity in people is actually a commitment to self-protection.

Here are some quotes from the book that have really struck and challenged me. The fact that I find a lot of these quotes so uncomfortable is a sure sign that they apply to me.

  • “Maturity is less related to perfection than to a growing awareness of imperfection, an awareness that…drives us toward dependency on Christ for anything good to come out of our lives.”
  • “A mature pattern of relating involves whatever actions represent the abandonment of self-protection. The defensively pushy person will become more gentle as he matures, while the self-protectively gracious person will assert himself more.”
  • “Mature people relate to others without self-protection as their controlling motive. They love. Their actions may be gentle or brusque, silly or serious, traditional or progressive, quiet or noisy, gracious or severe, tolerant or confrontative, but they will be patient, kind, not envious, humble, sensitive, other-centred, slow to anger, quickly forgiving, haters of wrong, lovers of right, protective, trusting, hoping, persevering.”
  • “[Mature people] relate to others on the basis of a trust in God to look after their deepest welfare that frees them to direct their energies toward helping others.”
  • “In [the presence of mature people], our growth seems more appealing to us than required of us.”
  • “As people learn to love, the internal structures that sustain their emotional and psychological ills are eroded.”
  • “When the Scriptures give no clear instruction to govern specific choices, then the principle is always to do what is loving.”
  • “The effect of dependence on God is freedom to take hold of our worlds and to deal responsibly with them without being controlled by a fear of the pain to which our obedience may lead. The effect of clinging to God is the freedom to love.”

Meditation on the mind

candle-335965_640For those of you who bought today’s Sunday Age, the article below appeared in the Faith column.

Something I should have said in the article was that meditation is not something I have done much of at all in the last couple of months. I let the busyness of life take over and then get out of the habit. What I need to do is take my own advice from this article!

Meditation and mindfulness have enjoyed a surge of popularity in recent years. In January, Time Magazine ran a cover story on the benefits of being still in our constantly wired culture. Soon afterwards, The Huffington Post said that 2014 would be the “year of mindful living.”

More and more people are tuning in to the benefits of taking time to be still in a world that is always on the go.

As a writer I find that creativity and inspiration come a lot easier when my mind is not racing. I need to make time for stillness and to block out the distractions of the day.
The Psalms in the Old Testament talk a lot about meditation. These were people who knew what it was to see themselves and their lives in perspective. Check out this from Psalm 8:

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you set in place, what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?

This Psalm goes on to say that despite this, God has made us with the utmost dignity and respect. That’s another benefit of meditation. It helps us see ourselves rightly – made by a God who is infinitely greater than we are, but loved in equally infinite measure by that same God.

The Scriptures are full of examples of meditation. David, who wrote many of the Psalms, talks about being still; Jesus spent whole nights in prayer; and St Paul encourages us to “pray without ceasing” (prayer can also be a form of meditation).

Meditation can take many other forms too. Personally, I like to focus on my breathing; it helps me to block out the distractions in my mind and in the space around me. As a believer, I also like to repeat a favourite Scripture verse to myself. Alternatively, a meditation practitioner I know likes to say that meditation can be nothing more than sitting there doing nothing!

Research shows conclusively that people who meditate are more relaxed and energised in their relationships with the people around them. The latest scientific research affirms this, showing that the brain actually rewires itself the more we meditate.

Meditation never promises to make our lives better, but I have found that it does help me to deal better with life on life’s terms. Starting with just five minutes per day was all I needed.

More and more people are realising that a life of constant materialistic pursuit leaves us empty. I am slowly learning that meditating on a loving Power greater than me is the key to a life of contentment.

Life won’t begin at your next milestone

Here’s a very wise article from Relevant magazine. I’ve been learning a lot in the last few months about living in the now. It’s about being mindful, being present. I have always struggled with what this article talks about. Real life is always in the future. If “_____” happens, all my problems will be sorted out. This has been my subtle belief about life. It reflects a restlessness, a dissatisfaction about the present. Richard Rohr talks a lot about this.

Someone said once that these are the good ol’ days. What he meant was that joy comes from living in the present, not in the past or future.

The wisdom of St Paul is pertinent here: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11-13).

Remembering CS Lewis, Aldous Huxley and…oh yeah, JFK

WH/HO PortraitIf you’re after a good trivia question for upcoming Christmas BBQs, try this one: Which two other famous people died on the same day as JFK, 22 November 1963? The answers are CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley. Most readers will be well aware of CS Lewis, but not as many will be aware of Huxley.

The latter is the author of the influential book, Brave New World. The story is about a futuristic society in which happiness is chemically engineered. It’s a famous work which takes the line that happiness can be achieved through external influences. Such a contrast to the Christian worldview of Lewis, which says that happiness is only achieved through surrender to the Spirit of God as revealed in Jesus. And a contrast again to Kennedy, the first Catholic president and by all accounts, a man who desired peace in the world, would have pulled combat troops out of Vietnam, and above all, the person we can thank for life still existing on this planet due to his role in the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.

Peter Kreeft has written a highly acclaimed tale of an imaginary conversation between Lewis, Huxley and Kennedy somewhere in the afterlife on the day they died. The book, called Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley, takes a look at the worldviews of these three people who influenced their worlds in their own distinct ways. I haven’t read this book but I plan to buy it. Now would seem the perfect time of any to read what seems like a fascinating story.

The continuing allure of the Kennedy story

I’ve always been fascinated by the JFK assassination. Like millions of others around the world, I find the continuing mystery surrounding his death to be incredibly alluring. Everything about the story, a young President with movie star looks, his wife with equally stunning looks and elegance, the optimism he brought to America, and the national and global struggles that he oversaw during his brief presidency, make for a script that the most creative film producer would probably never have dreamed up.

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The joy of pain

sad consumersWe live in an analgesic society. We have come to believe that when we feel pain we should do something to medicate it. We have tablets for everything. Got depression? Take some more anti-depressants. Over-stressed? Binge out on food, sex or drink. Long ago we lost the ability and the belief that sitting with pain can be a good thing. Please note that I am not saying things like anti-depressants are always a bad thing. Many people suffering the debilitating effects of depression and other mental illnesses need medication. The point I am making here is that our society is too quick to dole out tablets when other options can be more beneficial.

One of the pains we feel a lot in Western society is the pain of an empty soul. Many call it the God-shaped hole.We all have it, though many of us don’t feel it because we constantly cover it over with some sort of medication. Usually that medication involves immersing ourselves in the busyness and “wiredness” of daily life.

Our greatest fear in life seems to be the fear of missing out if we don’t always feel good. We are terrified of feeling pain, let alone sitting with it for periods at a time. We believe it is pointless, even masochistic. Why would anyone in their right mind want to consciously not get rid of pain they are feeling?

Life is painful a heck of a lot of the time. There are many days when we don’t feel good, when we don’t feel the pleasure that life can bring. We see others around us laughing and smiling. Are they really happier than us? Do they really have it more together than us and we are just struggling too much and need to get our act together? Or are these people in denial? Are they medicating their pain and not growing as a result?

And speaking of growing, when was the last time you heard anyone say that personal growth was a noble goal in life, rather than always trying to feel good? Unfortunately our churches are also often places where we are subtly (and not so subtly) given the message that life is about feeling good. We call it “the joy of the Lord.” If you’re not smiling all the time, if you’re struggling, you’re not right with God.

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