Saturday, March 22, 2014

Forgetting My Brother

I did not own a car while I was living at home.  On the rare occasions that I drove, I drove one of the two family cars- a Rambler or a Buick Le Sabre.  Most of the time I walked to school, but sometimes I was allowed to drive.

One morning, my Dad asked me to drive to school and to take my little brother, Mitch, to his elementary school.  Since Mitch's school let out earlier than my high school, I parked the Rambler in a spot that was midway between the two schools.  Mitch was to walk to the car and lock himself in until I arrived 30 minutes later. Today that plan would be considered insane by all normal people and we would have been arrested for neglect by the Department of Social Services.  But it was a different time in which we lived.

The day passed slowly by as all of my high school days did.  When the final bell rang, I went to my locker, grabbed the books I needed for the night and walked straight home.  Arriving home, I turned on the T.V. and watched some of my favorite Westerns (Cheyenne, Sugar Foot, Maverick) while Mom prepared dinner for the family.

At 5:15 my Dad arrived from work and Mom called us all to the table.  I noticed Mom staring at us, looking at us one by one.  She looked at me; she looked at my sister, Wanda; she looked at my brothers Phillip and Keith.  She looked at my Dad, then back at me and asked the question that I will always remember, "Where is your brother, Mitch?"

I looked at the empty chair beside Dad and slowly it began to dawn on me what I had done.  I had forgotten that I had driven to school.  I had forgotten my brother was to meet me in the car after school.  I had been home for nearly two hours, watching T.V. while eight year old Mitch was who knows where.

I said nothing.  I simply stood up and walked to the door, then ran, like the track athlete I was, the fastest half mile in the history of the world; flying past slow moving cars and neighbors; running by the high school to the street where I parked the car.  I ran up to the car and looked inside.  And there was Mitch- sitting in the driver's seat with both hands on the steering wheel, pretending to be driving.  I unlocked the door, Mitch scooted over, and I drove him home.  Mitch ran into the house, sat down in his chair at the table while I, under the steady gaze of my Mom and Dad, tried not to laugh with my brothers and sister.

This is funny even to this day.  But this story also reminds me that our lives can become so routine, and we can become so focused on the immediate task at hand, that nothing else exists outside our narrow vision of the world.  And when this happens, we forget our brothers and sisters.  But they are there, waiting for us to remember that they exist; that they are people with lives; with hopes and dreams, just like you and me.

Monday, March 3, 2014

In Pursuit of God

Everyone wants to be happy.  Our Declaration of Independence states that one of our inalienable rights is the pursuit of happiness.  So, as Americans, we have a right (given by God) to pursue happiness.  Are we happy?  Maybe. Maybe not.  The World Happiness Report ranks America as the 17th happiest country in the world.  Granted, this is a subjective report, based on how people rate their overall happiness.  But, according to this report, as other nations' happiness rankings are rising, ours is falling.  We currently rank behind Canada, Costa Rica, and Mexico.  Only 33% of our population regard themselves as very happy, down from 35% in 2008 and 2009.  Despite our standard of living and our material wealth we are less happy.  Why is our happiness quotient falling?  The report sites greater instances of depression and anxiety as contributors to our unhappiness.  Age plays a role, with younger people being less happy than older people.

In addition, a very high percentage of people regard themselves as either religious and or spiritual (maybe as high as 90% of our population).  Should these people not be happy?  If a person truly believes in God, a God who is a God of love, a God of mercy and grace, a God who forgives and gives second chances, should this person not be ecstatically joyous?  Should spiritual people (even those who are not religious) not know peace in the midst of chaos?  Should this not be cause for great happiness?

If so, why are we not 90% happy?  Because we have been pursuing our religion and our spirituality as if they are material things.  And in this pursuit, if we are not careful, we may lose our faith in a God of love while pursuing tangible, material proof of God's love through our vision and mission statements; our goals and objectives; our budgets and expense reports; our building renovations; our progress dashboards (with green lights, yellow lights, and red lights); our committees and structures and our systems. God's presence cannot be reduced to the slogan, "if we are not growing we are dying".

It is my belief, that God wants us to be happy.  After all, we were created to be in relationship with God. The fact that we are not happy has more to do with our own failure to take God's hand and walk as a child of God.  Buddha once said, "Your work is to discover your work and then with all of your heart give yourself to it,"  We must discover ourselves as children of God, then with all of our hearts give ourselves to living as children of God.  This is the path to true happiness.