Are You Happy?

Happiness is a Funny Thing, Isn’t it?

Look back on the past week, and see if you can identify a moment in that week when you can say, “there, right there, I was truly and genuinely happy.”

Chances are, if you’ve had a decent week, you could probably find a handful of moments. Especially seeing as how we just had the epicness of the Winter Holiday Season.

But it’s also very possible that this exercise could prove difficult. We might have to really think hard, to try and recall, when was a moment where I was happy? Was I happy this week??

And even if we could come up with a list of, say, half a dozen moments of happiness, we still must then ask the question: okay, then what about the REST of the week? Why wasn’t I happy then?

Why does it seem like our moments of genuine happiness are the exception? They are those moments that stand-out, because they aren’t our norm?

Happiness is a funny thing.

We are Happy When we are Happy

Christine Carter, PhD, is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center. She says this about happiness:

Happiness is a tremendous advantage in a world that values performance and achievement.

On average, happy people are more successful than unhappy people at both work and love. They get better performance reviews, have more prestigious jobs, and earn higher salaries. They are more likely to get married, and once married, they are more satisfied with their marriages.

Happy people also tend to be healthier and live longer… it also turns out that uber-happy people tend to have more friends and be luckier in love.

What is generally agreed upon is this: happiness is preferred to unhappiness.

Happiness is a good thing. If given the choice, the average person would prefer to be happy. We are happy when we are happy.

What is generally not-agreed up on is this: what is it that makes a person happy?

Sure, there are general principles that most people would agree with. For instance, if you are a person of gratitude and appreciation, you’re generally more happy. If you’re content with what you have, you’re generally more happy. If you focus on the positives in life, you’re generally more happy. And so on…

But if it were that simple then bookshelves and online shopping carts wouldn’t be overflowing with self-help books on “How to Find Happiness.”

Happiness is a multi-billion dollar business, when you consider those who are trying to help others become happy and those who themselves are in the pursuit of happiness.

Happiness is a funny thing.

The Way of Love

A while back a friend of mine gave me this little pocket sized book called “The Way of Love,” by Anthony De Mello.

De Mello was a Jesuit priest and a psychotherapist who wrote and spoke extensively on spirituality, and “The Way of Love” is a collection of some of his finall thoughts on the ultimate questions regarding love.

In one such chapter, De Mello contemplates this idea of happiness. He opens by saying:

Take a look at the world and see the unhappiness around you and in you. Do you know what causes this unhappiness? You will probably say loneliness or oppression or war or hatred or atheism. And you will be wrong. There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them. Because of these false beliefs, you see the world and yourself in a distorted way.

A rather bold claim, isn’t it?
That there is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head.

In my more conservative-Christian days, I’d read a sentence like that and presume to know where De Mello was going. I’d assume (and nod my head in agreement) that he is about to suggest the importance of correct doctrine. That we are happy when we believe the right things about God and about Jesus. That we are happy when our doctrine is in good order, when we believe in the deity of Jesus, the literal resurrection, the doctrine of justification by faith, the return of Christ, heaven, hell, etc, etc, etc.

However, thankfully that is not the direction that De Mello goes. And honestly, some of the most unhappy people I know are the ones who are consumed with “getting it right.” With protecting and defending correct-doctrine. But anyways…

He goes on to say that when we look at ourselves and the world around us, and we see the overwhelming imbalance of unhappiness over happiness, then we should be suspicious of the programming and the beliefs that we all hold in common. And yet, the tricky thing is, we have also been programmed not to suspect or doubt these assumptions. Further, if we are unhappy, we’ve been trained to blame ourselves and not our programming, not the cultural and inherited ideas and beliefs.

I think it’s safe to say that, in reality, most people are so brainwashed that they don’t even realize how unhappy they are. “Like the man in a dream who has no idea he is dreaming,” says De Mello.

I’m reminded of The Matrix, and how humans are plugged in to the machine and programmed to assume that the world around them is real when of course it is not. And so it is with the false beliefs in our head, and how they make us unhappy, but how we are programmed not to question the beliefs in the first place.

Choose It

As you kick off your new year I wonder if you’d pause today just long enough to ask yourself: what is just ONE potential false belief that has been programmed in to my brain, that is blocking me from being happy?

When I look like “this,” I will be happy.
When I am with “him/her,” I will be happy.
When I make just “X” amount more money, I will be happy.
When I acquire that house/car/shirt, I will be happy.
When I get a new job, I will be happy.
When I kick “this” habit, I will be happy.
When I get “him/her” out of my life, I will be happy.
When I have less debt/bills, I will be happy.

And so on.

My wife got us a piece of art a while back, and it hangs in our house. It says, “We tend to seek happiness, when happiness is a choice.”

It isn’t always easy. In fact most of the time it’s hard, and it takes work.

But you can do it. You can start choosing happiness. Like De Mello says,

“There is not a single moment in your life where you do not have everything you need to be happy.” 

Happy New Years, everybody.

Why I Write/Post So Much on the “Gay” Issue

Why So Much Attention on the “Gay” Issue?

If you’re my friend on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or stop by my blog from time to time then you may have noticed how, in the past 9 months, a significant portion of my online presence has been devoted to issues pertaining to the LGTBQ community. And, it’s possible, you’ve wondered ‘why.’

Why do I talk about this issue so much?

I think that, for those who have known me for a while, this is a fair, if not also interesting, question. Since I’ve been asked it (in one form or another) so many times lately, I think I’d like to address it and see if I can bring some clarity and understanding as to why it is that this season of my online-life has been so focused on homosexuality.

I have broken it up in to a 4 part series that will be published each day this week. So sign up to Subscribe to my blog (on the right hand side of this page), or just plan on checking back in each morning next week.

Here’s the schedule:

I hope you’ll take the time this week to read each entry and maybe even give it a “share.”

There aren’t enough of us Straight Allies who are willing to talk about these things. And while I know some of you wish I’d talk about it less, there are plenty more people who hope I never stop.

This week will give you a glimpse into my heart and my head. If it raises more questions than it answers, as always feel free to leave a comment in the comment section.

Grace and Peace.

Out of the Theological Closet

Upcoming New Blog Series

Those of you who periodically read my blog, tune in to my Facebook, or follow me on Twitter may have noticed a recent increase in activity on posts, comments, links and stories relating to issues of homosexuality. Over the past few months I have been more and more openly dialoguing about this issue, and each time the conversation inevitably works its way around to the Bible. In almost every instance I am eventually asked things such as:

Why do you ignore what the Bible clearly teaches?

Where do you get your Biblical support for such beliefs?

What do you do with (insert passage here) this Bible verse?

And so on.

Sometimes they come in a snarky “read-this-passage-and-you’ll-be-fixed” sort of way (implying, I guess, that I just never knew such verses exist??).

But mostly the questions are posed in a “genuinely-curious-about-your-perspective” sort of way.

I’ve briefly mentioned here and there some of my thoughts and perspectives on what the Bible teaches (or doesn’t teach) about homosexuality. But each time I end up wishing I had more space, more time, to really do justice to what I’ve discovered over the past few years.

And so, I am beginning a series of blog posts to deal directly with the issue of the Bible and homosexuality, titled, UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible.

As you’ll soon discover, if you aren’t already aware, there are only a handful of places in Scripture that address (or appear to address) the issue of homosexuality. These are commonly referred to as the “clobber passages” (I’ll let you guess why that’s so). I won’t be breaking any new ground, most of what I will be writing about has already been written. But perhaps you have never read them before, or never heard the clobber passages broken down in a different way. So I will add my voice to the discussion in hopes that some of you will be exposed in a new way to what the Bible says, and doesn’t say, about homosexuality.

Why this series, on this issue, and why now?

Several months ago I was promptly fired from the church I pastored for five years when they discovered my theological position on homosexuality. During my time there, I did not discuss my views with anybody other than my wife and a few of our closest non-staff friends. I knew my position would be controversial, and probably not accepted or tolerated, so I kept it to myself. However, once I was “outed” and swiftly terminated, I realized my time for silence on this issue was over. I now feel previously unfelt liberty to share my beliefs, and finally able to speak openly about the journey that Christ has taken me and my wife on over the past 6 years.

I am, if you will, out of the theological closet.

And it feels amazing. As hard as it was to lose my job, lose friendships, and lose much of my identity, what I’ve gained back (in the freedom to be open about my convictions on such issues) is incredibly beautiful. I have felt, for years now, this strange conviction (placed only by God’s Spirit, I promise you) to be an active voice in the conversation that is emerging between the LGBT community (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) and the Christian church. However, I have not been in a place where I could do that… until now.

So I invite you to join me in this journey. Participate in this dialogue.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to my blog (there is a button on the right side bar. Click it.) and be emailed when a new post goes up.
Friend me on Facebook. Follow me on Twitter. And check in each time a new post has been added to this series.

But don’t just read them (although that IS a good place to start).

Interact with them. Share your thoughts in the comment section. Ask questions.

And then SHARE this blog with your friends and family. At the end of every post there are ‘share’ options for emailing, blogging, or posting it straight to your Facebook wall.
I promise you there are more people out there desperate to have these sorts of conversations (and even more desperate for alternative understandings of the Bible) than you can possibly imagine.

I think this issue is of the utmost importance. Not only for our society today, but even more so for the church. For the Bride of Christ.

If we’ve been wrong on this issue (like we’ve been on issues before), then we need to quickly right the ship and start moving forward in peace, hope and love.

Hopefully you’ll stick around and hear me out.

I think you’ll be surprised at what there is to learn about the Bible and homosexuality as we seek to UnClobber our brothers and sisters.

Part I: Setting Up the Series

Part II: The Clobber Passages

Part IIIa: Sodom and Gomorrah the Story

Part IIIb: Sodom and Gomorrah and the Bible

Part IV: Levitical Law and Abomination

Part V: Paul and Homosexuality

Part VI: But Romans is So Clear!

Part VII: Other Bible-related Thoughts

Love God, or Love Spouse?

A month ago or so I received this question from a college student:

“Do you love God more than you love your wife? If so, how do you do that?”

My assumption is that he was in some sort of relationship, and was wrestling with how to properly align and prioritize his love for his God and his love for his girlfriend. And this is a wrestling match I remember well from the days of my youth. Periodically I peruse old journals I kept in high school and early college, and chief among many of those entries were struggles I was having with “putting God first” when it came to whatever sort of relationship I was in.

Like the above question states, how do we ensure that our love for God is greater (because we are told that it ought be) than our love for all others? Even above the person in our life that we love the most? Or, are we perhaps coming at this all wrong?

Here was my response:

You asked: “Do you love God more than you love your wife? If so, how do you do that?”

Interesting question.
I’ll respond with a question: Why do you assume that the two (loving God and loving a spouse) are mutually exclusive?

Or, to put that differently, it seems that built in to your question is the assumption that there are two different entities (God and spouse) and that the act of loving these two entities are in some way compare-able.

But what if they don’t stand in contrast to each other? What if, instead, they feed off each other?

Meaning, what if every time time I “love” my wife, I am simultaneously loving God?

If God is love (as John teaches us) than might we also say that “Love is God?” And if THAT’S the case, then each time I act towards my wife in a loving way, each time I think towards her with loving thoughts, each day that I choose to continue to honor our vows and cherish and adore her, I am continually (in the very act of loving) also expressing a love for and a love towards God.

Perhaps if we thought of it like this, we would be less inclined to feel guilt and shame at thoughts like: “do I love my spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend more than God?” , “does this make me a bad Christian?” , “am I putting this person first in my life, in front of God?”

I think those sorts of negative voices can be dismantled when we re-frame what love is, who God is, and how we actually LOVE GOD when we LOVE PEOPLE… most of all, our spouses.

Or, actually, most of all: our enemies. When we love THEM we are probably loving God the MOST. But that’s a different topic.

If viewed like this then it becomes relatively impossible for us to love anyone more than God, for every time we enact the sacred gift of giving love to someone we are simultaneously loving Love. We are, in a sense, calling forth God through our act of love while also demonstrating our love of and our love towards God.

Earlier today I came across this blog post, where Richard Beck also dialogues with a college student. (you should pause now and go read that… then come back). In it, he wonders if we’ve created a Bait and Switch type of Christianity. And as I read through his post it reminded me of my above correspondence with this college student. Instead of worrying so much about “improving our relationship with God” (as Richard’s conversation went), or about “ensuring we love God more than others” (as my conversation went), would our time and energy be better spent repairing broken relationships, giving of our selves for others, making time in our day for an old friend or family member, showing kindness to strangers, etc.

For when we choose love, we choose God.

Or, as one commenter on Richard’s post said:

The closer you get to God, the closer you get to people

The closer you get to people, the closer you get to God

The more you love God, the more you love people

The more you love people,  the more you love God

The De-Evolution of a Beard

Goodbye “Depression Beard!”

For two months (November-December) I grew out my beard, calling it my “depression beard.”
And then, on January 1st, I shaved it all off.

Here is a video of that moment.

(check out this post, and the talk I gave last week, to learn more about my “depression beard,” what it meant to me, and how it relates to “Doubt” in our Christian faith.)

The De-Evolution of a Beard from colby martin on Vimeo.

Lean in to Doubt

The Psalm Center, at Corban University

Here is the audio from the talk I gave Friday January 13th at Corban University.

At their chapel service, I spoke about doubt. I shared some of my story, and talked about what I was learning about the power of “doubt” within the context of our expression of faith.

You can stream it here or download it for later listening.

Here’s a few excerpts:

Doubt is not something you do TO your faith, rather it is an integral expression OF your faith.

Much of Christianity gives no room for doubt. It is seen as a betrayal of God. It is feared and to be avoided at all costs.

When we engage with our doubts, when we open up the depths of our souls to the darkness that shadows us in our times of suffering, sorrow and doubt, we then find ourselves in a unique opportunity to participate in the crucifixion.

Something profound happens when we engage with the Divine Absence, when we suffer the Dark Night of the Soul, when we lean in to our doubts and let them fully develop. We find that as we begin to come out of it, after being confronted by the full trauma of doubt and despair, we discover that that which pushed us there no longer has power over us.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. Do you agree? Disagree? Why?
Have you ever had seasons of doubt? If so, how did you handle it?

In my talk, I reference my “Depression Beard.”
To see a video where I finally shaved my depression beard, click here.

The Lord Taketh Away and… Giveth?

The other day I saw someone’s status on Facebook, and it read:

God will never take something away from you without the intention of replacing it with something better!

I had to read it twice before I was assured that THAT is what they truly wrote.

Now, far be it from me to judge someone else’s perspective on who God is and how God acts in this world. I’m very aware of my own quirks when it comes to God’s posture towards humankind, and how God acts (or doesn’t act) in accordance. Eyes would roll and pitchforks raise (causing heads to roll) at some of MY thoughts on this issue. So I comment on the above statement carefully, not intending to make the original author feel small or crazy.

But here’s my problem with this line of thinking.

This statement makes the following assumptions:

  • That God is active in the removal of “things” from our life
  • That God not only removes things by God’s own action, but that God does so with a greater purpose
  • That this purpose is noble and good and will lead to the betterment of the person who had this thing removed
  • That we are decent enough judges of what is “better,” so that we can know (or at least say) that “B” is better than what I had, which was “A”
  • That God only removes something with a plan to replace it

While some of these assumptions may have merit, I cannot buy in to all of them, and I don’t think you should either. My fear is that this line of thinking will inevitably end in disappointment or disenfranchisement. I suppose it isn’t overly  harmful to believe that God is active enough in our lives to possibly play a part in “taking something away.” This assumption, while probably needing clarified, is decent enough. God, as the Benevolent One, who knows and loves us like a Father knows and loves their children, surely might work in our lives in such a way as to add OR remove certain things in our lives.

However, does this mean that if something is “taken away” from us (which begs the question: what does this MEAN? A material object? A job? A relationship? An addiction? A temptation? A personality trait? An emotion or feeling? What are we talking about here?), then must we assume it is because God either did it directly or influenced it somehow?  And how can we discern when it’s GOD taking something away, or when it’s a result of some other force? (Or do we embrace some sort of deterministic worldview where everything that ever happens to anybody is already determined and caused and controlled by God? *shudder… No thank you). So then, if perhaps SOMETIMES something is taken away by God, and other times not, then how do we know when we ought wait expectedly for “something better?” And is the counter-point to this line of thinking that when something is taken away by a force OTHER than God, then there ought be no expectation of it being replaced with something better? Again I ask, how do we discern?

Furthermore, let’s say that I have “thing A” in my life, and I am able to clearly and with certainty know that it is gone from my life because God took it away. And let’s say that I have enough objectivity to step back and assess that such a thing has happened (namely, that God has taken “thing A” away from me). Then I ask you this: how will I know WHEN  it has officially been replaced with “thing B?” What if “thing B” is categorically different than “thing A?” Can we adequately judge the goodness of things if they are in different categories altogether? Let me illustrate what I’m getting at…

Todd and his girlfriend Stacey just broke up. Todd, a dedicated follower of Jesus, has prayerfully discerned (and possibly told by his youth pastor) that God must have thought it was better for him to no longer be dating Stacey. God has taken her away from him. Some of his Christian friends tell him the above words of encouragement: “Todd, dude, God will never take something away without the intention of replacing it with something better! So have faith, bro!” As weeks and months go by, Todd starts to get curious about when this promise will come true. Will it be Judy from geometry? Or perhaps Hillary from Home Ec? But what if, in this scenario, God’s entire “plan” was take away Todd’s girlfriend and replace that lack of relationship with an inner sense of peace and security?  Helping Todd to move in to a state where he can know that just being a child of God is enough. That being single will allow him to focus on other (better?) things. And so after a few months, with no new girlfriend, Todd concludes that God doesn’t, in fact, want him to have a girlfriend at all. After sharing this insight with his youth group friends they say back to him, “well there you go, Todd! That’s the “something better” that God was intending to replace Stacey with!” Todd nods in agreement, and they all sing a worship song together. But when Monday comes, and Edith from English class asks Todd out, he then smiles and realizes that THIS is what God was REALLY up to the whole time. Because as everyone in 7th grade knows, Edith is way better than Stacey!

I guess I just think that we would be better off not living in the sort of simplistic formula as described above. It will inevitably lead to disappointment, frustration, and feeling like God owes us something every time a thing that we like gets “taken away.” And life surely doesn’t work that way, so we end up feeling like God has abandoned us. Or another fear I have is that we might miss out on the blessing in our life if we are focused on “thing A” being replaced by something categorically similar. What if (assuming that God has done the taking) God really does have a purpose for the taking and is planning to re-fill that gap with something that is much more beneficial to the one experiencing the loss, but the plan involves something of an entirely different nature? If we don’t broaden or deepen the way we think about such things, we could go on and on in life completely missing the blessings of God.

A final issue I take with this saying, is that if we move from our time of loss straight to an expectation of gain, then we completely miss out on truly grasping with our loss. We skip over experiencing the trauma of such a loss. We lose an opportunity to essentially participate in the crucifixion, and cry out “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?” But since I’m going to be giving a talk on Friday about this exact issue, I’ll say no more about it now. Hopefully I can get the talk recorded, and I’ll upload it here.

Perhaps, in the end, I might amend the original Facebook status as thus:

If we lose something in life that was dear to us, and we are sincerely led to believe that God was involved in the process of initiating or directing this loss, then let us choose to first engage with that loss. Experience it. Know it. Let it stare at us in the depths of our soul and let us not move on to quickly. But when we do, when we begin to move from crucifixion to a time of resurrection, then let us begin to believe that no matter what comes next, whether or not what we initially lost will ever be replaced, that we will be better because we engaged with Christ and participated in his crucifixion and are now living in his resurrection. And that, ultimately, is life.

Kinda long for a pithy FB status, though.