Wednesday, 7 November 2007

note to antonio - sept 07

"Many other things to ponder Phil, near the top of the list at the moment for me is how to bring revival in the western church among believers rather than unbelievers"

A note from Alex on my facebook wall; I share it because it follows, I think, to the quandary of ‘happiness’. Now Alex’s question begs a great many further questions: what is faith, how does one divide the believing sheep from the unbelieving goats-in-need-of-revival, and why do Christians hold so hopefully to this ‘revival’ thing, but the question that itches me, that keeps me awake on the bus, that fills me equally with delight and despair, on the back of ‘why revival?’ is the ‘in what does life consist?’ question.

This sort of ‘revival’ amongst ‘believers’ is not conversion, rather, it could be said to be a change of attitude towards a more outward-looking life concerned with the happiness-of-others, their joy, their fullness of life, and this would form community, this would form church, in place of doctrinal debate and denominational feuding would come a preoccupation with the wellbeing of people outside and inside the church. Alex’s ‘believers’ – and I would say under other belief systems than Christianity this may also apply – these believers, are believing in the sense of intellectually assenting to a selection of truth claims made by their book of faith, but that they are bored, they feel sold short, and so are ineffectual in conversion but more essentially they are barely human, suffering under religion without the joy of experiential or even real identity, security and truth.

I raise these because of the query as to what the end is to which happiness is a means. Happily I feel I can talk to you – rightly or wrongly as you have no means of interruption J - I can talk in terms of life having the potential for truth meaning and purpose, something Joe, usually for the sake of argument and antagonism, endeavours to deny. Happiness is a means perhaps, I would even venture that happiness may be neither an end nor active means but rather a symptom of life lived as it was designed to be lived.

I’m not sure we mean the same thing by ‘happiness’, quite possibly you have additionally assumed the following other meanings within the word, if I were to make my "ultimate and all-inclusive goal that of happiness of my surroundings…", If this were my mission statement and call to arms, I wonder that I should use I place of simply ‘happiness’, the fullness of being, sustainable peace and most of all joy, joy sort of Ps16:11 joy, of those around me. Happiness by itself connotes to me a frivolous passing happiness, a fleeting pleasure, isolated, escapist and temporal. While all valid in their time and season, my ultimate aim is to see dead people come alive, those sleep-walking through life awaken, going through the motions blindly to see the beauty before them, my hope is that I might form my character, and lead a life that brings others into a light of transcendent meaning, a hope and purpose beyond the mundane, bound-for-death drudgery of passing time on earth. I would hope that in my desire for their fullness – perhaps this is conceit – but I should like to think that in truly loving them that I should not be afraid to rebuke them, and rebuke them such as might impair their immediate happiness. Perhaps I am splitting hairs over happiness and happiness and I am conscious of my hypocrisy throughout.

In "looking for the happiness of others you will find your own", is true, but as you say it is not an end, for the pursuit of happiness as an ends in itself, whether yours directly, or yours indirectly in the happiness of others, is idolatry of a sort. If by the measure of your happiness you assess your worth, if it is in happiness that you define yourself, it becomes barely more noble than a self definition like ‘I shop, therefore I am.’ We surely need an entity bigger than this to tell us who we are or that we are at all. The self-serving pursuit of happiness is perhaps the very essence of ‘sin’ where I consider sin to be life turned in on itself, to be that which severs us from relationship with one another and from any form of the transcendent.

This again is more a train of thought, your initially offering then retracting happiness as an ultimate goal, I know you to be among the most humbly loving and genuinely giving and enviably peaceful people of my acquaintance, but your mention of happiness as goal made me to think of the more prevailing aspiration of culture, of cosmetic relief under the guise of compassion, seen endemically in the whole green campaign. What is love without sacrifice? Are we really solving things if we persist under the pretence that we can solve the various environmental issues without cost to our comfort and excess.. I want to believe that the answer really is as simple as a man on a cross, and I want to believe that the local church is the model for sustainable community out of which issues of social justice, issues of corporate excess, issues of crime, climate and culture can be addressed in a meaningful way. Meh..

So anyways, I gave Alex an equally rambling flow of thoughts as they come to me. True happiness/fullness and revival of a outward-looking church, I think, are driving in the same direction, facing the same obstacles but perhaps I’ve missed something, I felt this all summer, this feeling as if I’ve missed a trick..

I have thought some time on the nature of this happiness we discuss. Do write back with others, these were a few.

Happiness is…
…that weight of being, that lightness of touch
…embracing the tension of the now and the not yet
…saying no to post-modernism, no to cynicism, no to bitter irony, no to staid parody
…the end of isms, the end of religion, the end of utopias
…something to give away, a life lived beyond yourself
…living without blood on your hands, knowing where your food came from, knowing who didn’t die to make your clothes, and the rainforest that wasn’t felled in the name of your furniture
…building for keeps, retelling your redemption to your children
…security, identity, truth, hope, purpose
…life in the spirit, life in community, life in its fullness
…knowing that everyone else has your hopes and fears, knowing confidence in death
…fearing nothing, risking everything, knowing that you are loved unconditionally
…having faith hope and love, giving faith, hope and love
…free hugs forever

So set out is a small picture of how things are and how things could be. The step from one to the other is not a matter of preaching at people, but neither do I believe that simply trying to make people happy is going to found sustainably joyful communities on its own. There are forces in the world whose agenda is quite diametrically opposite to one of happiness and whether you want to name these as spiritual or otherwise, there are those to whom the death to self involved in the pursuit of others’ happiness is an offensive message. I wonder where is the compensation for him who pursues the happiness of others and for whatever reason does not find his own happiness, where his offerings are repeatedly rejected, does the gospel of ‘seek others happiness, find your own’ hold sufficient weight to inspire the sort of martyrdom needed, understand that I think of martyrs to have died before death, just as those who live with much but would give it all away and not miss it, have already given it away in their minds. In both cases I wonder at the need for God..

I get little phrases stuck in my mind, I pick them up, or they sort of come to me, maybe its god.. Some were on happiness some others were these, before I talk about something more interesting in this letter:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
We are, therefore I am.
Blessed are the cautious for they shall inherit the suburbs
Blessed are the relativists for theirs is a good view from the fence
What does an architecture predicated on grace look like?
Did architects kill great architecture?

I’d love to know your thoughts on the nature of belief, the nature of identity and the nature of gender.

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