Happiness, War and Roller Coasters

May 24, 2015

Memorial Sunday

 

May 24, 2015 10:30 a.m.

Sermon by Frank Arvan

 

If you have been attending services this past three weeks you have heard some wise words about happiness and you know this is third in series of services onHappiness. It is a bit intimidating, being the third, especially after the wonderful choir service last week. I feel I’m on the down side of happiness.

 

So,if you have been here and heard the sermons and readings I have a question for you, are you happier now than you were three weeks ago? Have the words had an impact? I suspect, unless you have done some serious soul searching, the word shave not elevated your happiness level much, if at all, because we can talk and talk about happiness but in the end it is something that happens in your gut.It is how you live. It is internal and self developed. 

 

Happiness is something that can pervade everything you do, even the unpleasant things. I don’t mean that giddy kind of happiness found in a child waiting for aChristmas present. I mean are you content with your life? Do you feel fulfilled, useful? Do you feel that you belong? Do you feel safe, in control and secure in your being? Are the challenges in your life accepted and cherished? It takes more than about an hour and half of listening to other people talk to shake us from our way of being and push us to a higher plane of happiness. The work is ongoing and I hope these thoughts provoke your continued introspection.

 

OnMemorial Day weekend, the first picnic weekend of the summer, the warm temperatures and spring rains have brought lush green trees and plants, we see life and birth all around us, it makes us happy I think, yet we dedicate this weekend to death.  As Ed described,Memorial Day was probably first established to honor the Civil War dead and no wit is the holiday when we honor all of those that have died in all of our wars.We honor those that died defending this country, its people and its ideals.

 

I was not a soldier, being of age just after the Vietnam War, but I am powerfully grateful for, feel somewhat guilty about, in awe of and more than a bit torn by the soldiers’ sacrifice. Much of the harmony and peace we experience every day is because we have been defended by soldiers that have fought and died for us?But there is an underlying unease from that loss and destruction. In this world today, with so many opposing perspectives and conflicting information, it is terribly hard to feel confident that the wars fought in our name, financed by our dollars, instigated by our elected officials and prosecuted by our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and neighbors are justifiable.

 

But we drink from wells we did not dig. It’s a favorite phrase used by Unitarians that points out the connected web of all existence. And whether the wars are justifiable or not they have given us a level of security and peace in this country not seen before in human history. We are truly privileged by the wells that have been dug by the soldiers that have died.Those wells are very vast and deep, glorious and sad all at once.

 

AbrahamLincoln wrote in his Gettysburg address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate --we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation,under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In the face of such sorrow, sacrifice and pain how do we have the right to seek even slightest bit of happiness?

 

One of my favorite UU Ministers is Forest Church. I saw him speak at the 2008General Assembly shortly before he died of lung cancer in 2009.  It was just after he had written his wonderful book “Love and Death, My Journey through the Valley of the Shadows”.

 

In that book he wrote “Death is not life’s goal, only its terminus. The goal is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for.” It’s a similar call made by Lincoln’s asking us to “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain”

 

 It’s a difficult call. What does it mean in our everyday lives, beyond the crucible of war, to live in such a way that our life is worth dying for?

 

Our lives are a complex and irregular pattern of projects and events. We work on these all at once and over time. It is in part linear with ups and downs and strangely ending where it began. We are born in mystery and we die in mystery.There is something comforting about those brackets.

 

Some of our projects are small and seem inconsequential. We cut the grass. Some are powerful and draining. We sit next to the bed of our dying parent or spouse. In every event, it is our way of being with the world that defines our worthiness.Are we tender and compassionate, caring and considerate? Or are we self absorbed, unforgiving and careless?

 

ForestChurch uses a wonderful metaphor in that same book to describe how we can be happy in the face of difficult times. It has to do with recognizing the complexity that life presents to us. He writes:

 

“The glass we look through onto the world is like a lightly stained glass window.Each pane looks out onto some aspect of our life: our vocation and avocations, our spouse or companion if we have one, our parents, our children, our health. At any given time, some of these panes are likely to be rosy and translucent. We can see through them clearly and their tint casts a gentle glow on the prospect we look out on. My wife is happy. My children are doing well. My friends are there for me when I need them. I enjoy my job. And my hobbies invest my free time with meaning. Imagine, however, that one pane in the window that looks out over our life suddenly grows cloudy. What was translucent becomes first opaque and then almost impenetrable.

The tendency is to press our nose up against that one frame, desperately trying to see through it. When we do this, we lose all sense of proportion. Our entire world goes black.”

 

Life is like an ever-changing stained glass composition, glass panes morphing in shape, size and color as people and events move in and out of our lives. When we are born there is one pane, and the panes are added as we live. We must see all the panes and not just the dark and opaque one that is causing darkness. If we look around there are always some lightly colored glass panes. We just need to know where to look.

 

With each day new delights and problems, joys and challenges emerge that unsettle us and cause anxiety. If life is like an ever changing stained glass window it is also like a roller coaster. You might remember this scene from the firstParenthood movie

 

 

We are all connected on a wild roller coaster through space and time. The coaster starts at our birth, clanking up that first steep hill in mystery, and ends after a harrowing, exciting and exhilarating ride when we die, just the same,where we started, in mystery.

 

At the beginning I mentioned a few characteristics of happiness: are you content,do you feel fulfilled, useful, do you feel that you belong; do you feel safe and secure? All of this is partially dependent on the wells others have dug,like our soldiers, but it is also dependent and to a large extent on the lives we lead.

 

Church says “this is where love enters in for it is the love we give, the love we leave that cannot be taken away from us even by death”. Our worthiness is defined by the love we give and the good things we do. This is the most powerful and permanent source of happiness, for this is controlled by us alone and it reverberates beyond our death into time.

 

There are a few final parts to this happiness puzzle for me. There is a saying attributed to Voltaire “Perfect is the enemy of the good”.   While we strive to be our better selves, to do good things, to love, there is no doubt we cannot do this perfectly.As individuals and as a community we always fall short. In this falling short,forgiveness is critical. It is important to say I am not perfect and to generously say to others I accept and forgive your imperfections. This forgiveness of self and others is an essential part being happy.

 

Waris the biggest falling short we have as a species but every day we have little failures. Civility and kindness break down, chaos and violence ensues, in large ways like in war and small ways when we blurt a cutting remark to a loved one or a stranger.  Even though war,that ultimate imperfection, casts doubts on our right to be called human, we can reclaim that humanity by forgiving our failings and expressing disgust for wars destruction and pain. The world is imperfect and happiness requires us to forgive ourselves for our imperfections, even the big ones. Knowing that imperfection is inevitable frees us to try again to be better.

 

So,“Live your life as though it is worth dying for”, where the good things we do,the love we give, reverberates through time and space.  Remember that life has many panes of lightly stained glass and do not focus on that one darkening pane at the expense of the many beautifully colored ones. Be humble and know you and others are not perfect. Be grateful for the wells that have been dug by those that have died in our defense and finally, enjoy that roller coaster, throw your hands up in the air with delight, as you go over the crest, and plummet into the next valley?

 

Sermon“Happiness, War and Roller Coasters” FrankArvan

 

If you have been attending services this past three weeks you have heard some wise words about happiness and you know this is third in series of services onHappiness. It is a bit intimidating, being the third, especially after the wonderful choir service last week. I feel I’m on the down side of happiness.

 

So, if you have been here and heard the sermons and readings I have a question for you, are you happier now than you were three weeks ago? Have the words had an impact? I suspect, unless you have done some serious soul searching, the words have not elevated your happiness level much, if at all, because we can talk and talk about happiness but in the end it is something that happens in your gut.It is how you live. It is internal and self developed. 

 

Happiness is something that can pervade everything you do, even the unpleasant things. I don’t mean that giddy kind of happiness found in a child waiting for a Christmas present. I mean are you content with your life? Do you feel fulfilled, useful? Do you feel that you belong? Do you feel safe, in control and secure in your being? Are the challenges in your life accepted and cherished? It takes more than about an hour and half of listening to other people talk to shake us from our way of being and push us to a higher plane of happiness. The work is ongoing and I hope these thoughts provoke your continued introspection.

 

OnMemorial Day weekend, the first picnic weekend of the summer, the warm temperatures and spring rains have brought lush green trees and plants, we see life and birth all around us, it makes us happy I think, yet we dedicate this weekend to death.  As Ed described,Memorial Day was probably first established to honor the Civil War dead and no wit is the holiday when we honor all of those that have died in all of our wars.We honor those that died defending this country, its people and its ideals.

 

I was not a soldier, being of age just after the Vietnam War, but I am powerfully grateful for, feel somewhat guilty about, in awe of and more than a bit torn by the soldiers’ sacrifice. Much of the harmony and peace we experience every day is because we have been defended by soldiers that have fought and died for us?But there is an underlying unease from that loss and destruction. In this world today, with so many opposing perspectives and conflicting information, it is terribly hard to feel confident that the wars fought in our name, financed by our dollars, instigated by our elected officials and prosecuted by our brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends and neighbors are justifiable.

 

But we drink from wells we did not dig. It’s a favorite phrase used by Unitarians that points out the connected web of all existence. And whether the wars are justifiable or not they have given us a level of security and peace in this country not seen before in human history. We are truly privileged by the wells that have been dug by the soldiers that have died.Those wells are very vast and deep, glorious and sad all at once.

 

AbrahamLincoln wrote in his Gettysburg address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate --we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation,under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

In the face of such sorrow, sacrifice and pain how do we have the right to seek even slightest bit of happiness?

 

One of my favorite UU Ministers is Forest Church. I saw him speak at the 2008General Assembly shortly before he died of lung cancer in 2009.  It was just after he had written his wonderful book “Love and Death, My Journey through the Valley of the Shadows”.

 

In that book he wrote “Death is not life’s goal, only its terminus. The goal is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for.” It’s a similar call made by Lincoln’s asking us to “resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain”

 

 It’s a difficult call. What does it mean in our everyday lives, beyond the crucible of war, to live in such a way that our life is worth dying for?

 

Our lives are a complex and irregular pattern of projects and events. We work on these all at once and over time. It is in part linear with ups and downs and strangely ending where it began. We are born in mystery and we die in mystery.There is something comforting about those brackets.

 

Some of our projects are small and seem inconsequential. We cut the grass. Some are powerful and draining. We sit next to the bed of our dying parent or spouse. In every event, it is our way of being with the world that defines our worthiness.Are we tender and compassionate, caring and considerate? Or are we self absorbed, unforgiving and careless?

 

Forest Church uses a wonderful metaphor in that same book to describe how we can be happy in the face of difficult times. It has to do with recognizing the complexity that life presents to us. He writes:

 

“The glass we look through onto the world is like a lightly stained glass window.Each pane looks out onto some aspect of our life: our vocation and avocations, our spouse or companion if we have one, our parents, our children, our health. At any given time, some of these panes are likely to be rosy and translucent. We can see through them clearly and their tint casts a gentle glow on the prospect we look out on. My wife is happy. My children are doing well. My friends are there for me when I need them. I enjoy my job. And my hobbies invest my free time with meaning. Imagine, however, that one pane in the window that looks out over our life suddenly grows cloudy. What was translucent becomes first opaque and then almost impenetrable.

 

The tendency is to press our nose up against that one frame, desperately trying to see through it. When we do this, we lose all sense of proportion. Our entire world goes black.”

 

Life is like an ever-changing stained glass composition, glass panes morphing in shape, size and color as people and events move in and out of our lives. When we are born there is one pane, and the panes are added as we live. We must see all the panes and not just the dark and opaque one that is causing darkness. If we look around there are always some lightly colored glass panes. We just need to know where to look.

 

With each day new delights and problems, joys and challenges emerge that unsettle us and cause anxiety. If life is like an ever changing stained glass window it is also like a roller coaster. You might remember this scene from the firstParenthood movie

 

We are all connected on a wild rollercoaster through space and time. The coaster starts at our birth, clanking up that first steep hill in mystery, and ends after a harrowing, exciting and exhilarating ride when we die, just the same,where we started, in mystery.

 

At the beginning I mentioned a few characteristics of happiness: are you content,do you feel fulfilled, useful, do you feel that you belong; do you feel safe and secure? All of this is partially dependent on the wells others have dug, like our soldiers, but it is also dependent and to a large extent on the lives we lead.

 

Church says “this is where love enters in for it is the love we give, the love we eave that cannot be taken away from us even by death”. Our worthiness is defined by the love we give and the good things we do. This is the most powerful and permanent source of happiness, for this is controlled by us alone and it reverberates beyond our death into time.

 

There are a few final parts to this happiness puzzle for me. There is a saying attributed to Voltaire “Perfect is the enemy of the good”.   While we strive to be our better selves, to do good things, to love, there is no doubt we cannot do this perfectly.As individuals and as a community we always fall short. In this falling short,forgiveness is critical. It is important to say I am not perfect and to generously say to others I accept and forgive your imperfections. This forgiveness of self and others is an essential part being happy.

 

Waris the biggest falling short we have as a species but every day we have little failures. Civility and kindness break down, chaos and violence ensues, in large ways like in war and small ways when we blurt a cutting remark to a loved one or a stranger.  Even though war,that ultimate imperfection, casts doubts on our right to be called human, we can reclaim that humanity by forgiving our failings and expressing disgust for wars destruction and pain. The world is imperfect and happiness requires us to forgive ourselves for our imperfections, even the big ones. Knowing that imperfection is inevitable frees us to try again to be better.

 

So,“Live your life as though it is worth dying for”, where the good things we do,the love we give, reverberates through time and space.  Remember that life has many panes of lightly stained glass and do not focus on that one darkening pane at the expense of the many beautifully colored ones. Be humble and know you and others are not perfect. Be grateful for the wells that have been dug by those that have died in our defense and finally, enjoy that roller coaster, throw your hands up in the air with delight, as you go over the crest, and plummet into the next valley?

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