for release December 13, 2002
by Melodie Davis
Instant Happiness or Abiding Joy?
A poster at a gas station boasted the services of a local spiritual/psychic advisor. The sign promised, "In just one visit, happiness guaranteed."
Whoa. That's quite a promise.
Where is the truth in advertising department when you need it? Where are the food and drug people? Of course, this is neither a food nor a drug, and maybe anyone who believes the promises of a psychic deserves any disappointment they get.
Then I thought, isn't that what some of the bona fide religions seem to be selling or offering at first glance as well? "Happiness guaranteed." I'm sure it may look that way on the surface.
My response to my own question was, "No way." At least not in my faith experience. And I'm glad my faith tradition doesn't promise silver linings and gold spoons. It doesn't promise limos or mangos in a tropical paradise.
In our modern times, to some minds, that psychic's use of the word "spiritual" on her advertisement is just confusing enough that "psychic" and "angel" and "spiritual" and God all get mixed up together. And of course this local psychic is not alone in using the word this way and indeed "spiritual" is usually thought of as having to do with the world that we cannot see, or the thinking/feeling part of a person.
In this day when spiritual and psychic and God seem all wrapped up in one, what happens to belief in a specific God and a particular child, Jesus? How does the modern, broadminded person deal with the specific claims of the man who, though born in a common manger grew up to be the uncommon, singular among all humans-Jesus. Some people argue that all religions point to the same divine reality. That does an injustice to all religions, because while each may be seeking the truth, they have vast differences in belief about God. Some religions, for instance, say there can be many gods, while others say there is only one God. So they cannot be saying the "same thing" in essence. (One excellent book tackling this subject is Who Do You Say That I Am: Christians Encounter Other Religions, Calvin E. Shenk, Herald Press.)
Faith in Jesus is different from other religions in that you develop a personal relationship with this unique Jesus. But maybe that doesn't sound attractive or inviting, either. Recently I read a piece from the Boston Globe where a religion teacher noted the scorn her seventh-grade boys had for Jesus. They couldn't "get" a man who would walk away from fights, who is humble, forgiving, a guy who hangs out with beggars and lepers. They couldn't relate to a guy who had never dunked a basketball, played Nintendo, or drove a car. "What a loser," said one freckle-faced boy in her class when she talked about what a patient, loving generous man Jesus was.
Jesus was all those things, but he was a whole lot more, and maybe these are the values today's generation can relate to: He may have hung out with persons with leprosy and beggars, but he also hung out with prostitutes and party guys-and was condemned for it by the religious establishment. He talked with women-one woman who had been married and divorced seven times and currently living with a man-when talking with any woman in public was something no self-respecting man did in that day. He looked religious leaders in the eyeball and called them show off's and hypocrites. He called them a brood of vipers (snakes). Rebellion? He knew that sometimes you had to walk away from your family if they kept you from doing what was right in God's eyes. He even drew a whip and angrily scolded the people who were cheating poor people right in God's temple. He broke the religious rules of the day and said it was more important to help people than worry about every little rule. He called the leaders of the day, "blind fools." He may not have played football or wrestled but he had the kind of power and personal magnetism that drew people irresistibly to him. Eventually he made the leaders mad enough and they felt threatened enough that they killed him.
This man Jesus did all these things because he was on a totally different wavelength, building a totally different kind of "kingdom" or community for God. This is the Jesus whose birth we celebrate this Christmas!
Believing in this kind of Jesus leads to a faith that is way different than a generalized spirituality that can be led or directed by a psychic who promises instant happiness. It is faith to stake your life on. It makes celebrating Christmas a deeply joyful experience-one that makes mere happiness pale as a fleeting, momentary thing. Deep joy abides and stays with you no matter how few presents are under the tree for the kids. It stays with you even in the despair of facing a pink slip, or the disheartening state of the world. That joy has staying power. Deep joy to you.
Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 845 words; end material = 105 words
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©2002 by Globe Syndicate, all rights reserved.
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