re-happying church

Is ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams the ultimate feelgood song? It first came to prominence in one of my favourite films: Despicable Me 2 and then seemed to be everywhere. I heard it again on the radio a bit earlier today. Here are the lyrics for the chorus:

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

As well as a really catchy tune that evokes a happy feeling the lyrics also tap into a universal yearning within humans – the desire to be happy. That drives so much of our behaviour. It probably explains some of the impulsive behaviour that gets people into trouble (the happiness impulse over-rides the part of the brain that is screaming ‘think about the consequences!’).

What does it mean to be happy? Is it simply a chemical reaction within our brain where endorphins and other chemicals induce a feeling of well-being? Is it something coded into our genes? Is it about cramming as many pleasurable experiences into our life so that they outweigh the unpleasant ones? Is it a psychological state of mind that can be achieved with the right counselling and therapy? If you search online your will find millions of different responses to the question: “How can I achieve happiness?”

In contemplating this the thought occurred to me that churches have an image problem, especially if the desire for happiness is such a strong instinct within us. Because of past (and sometimes present) attitudes that border on the puritanical I think we are still seen as places and people that say an enormous “NO!” to happiness. I wonder whether when people think of churches they primarily associate “Thou shalt not…” with us. In our zeal to live holy lives we may unconsciously have given the message that God does not want people to enjoy ourselves and that he is happiest when we are most miserable. This was verbalised wonderfully by a friend who was not allowed to do anything fun on a Sunday when he was growing up: he quipped, “We even used to take the swing out of the Budgie’s cage in case he enjoyed himself.”

Now don’t get me wrong here. I am not advocating a no holds barred hedonism. Nor am I saying that churches are actually unhappy, boring places. And I am not suggesting that if you come to church all of your problems will be solved and you will always be happy. No, no, no. (See how easily ‘no’ trips off my fingers and onto the screen!). But perhaps we need a touch of the advertising campaign a long time ago for the Yellow Pages directory: “Good old yellow pages, not just there for the nasty things in life.”

But instead of churches having a reputation to make you unhappy perhaps we need to re-happy church?

What if we started emphasising some of the more positive aspects of life and faith and debunk the myth that God wants us to be miserable? What if Jesus’ words “Life in all its fullness” became our strapline? What if we took time to notice all the times in the Bible that Jesus affirmed people rather than just the ones where he told people (mostly the religious ones) off? What if we took him seriously when he complained that people were criticising him for enjoying himself: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’? What if we did what the old hymn urged us to do and ‘Count your blessings, name them one by one’?laughing - permission given for blog

And what if we started singing this in church?!

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do

Be blessed, be a blessing

joy

laughing lady
Not a SWEG!

I can remember one of my Ministers when I was a teenager joking about Christians who have a SWEG: slimy, wet, evangelical grin. He was commenting on the superficial artificial saccharine smile that we share with one another to convey that we have everything under control and that we love Jesus.

I wonder if the root cause of SWEGs can be found in one of the fruits of the Spirit – joy. We sell God short if we reduce that to ‘feeling happy’. In our ‘instant gratification’ culture we find that happiness is something to pursue (especially if you are American). But the reason it needs to be pursued is that it is elusive, it is transitory, it is like sand that you can hold in your hand but will run through your fingers so that you need to scoop it up again.

Joy is not happiness. Don’t get me wrong, you can be joyful when you are happy. And Christians can be happy (honestly!) But you can also be joyful when you are sad. Joy is not primarily about our emotional state: it is about our spiritual state. We are joyful because of Jesus. If you read the Gospels you find that many times people who met him left rejoicing.  It is the natural response to an encounter with him. His death and resurrection are the cause of astonishing joy. He is the source of our joy because of who he is and what he has said and done.

God’s Spirit grows this fruit as he reminds us of Jesus and all that he has done for us. Spiritual joy is perhaps best described as a state of awareness of Jesus. It is a recognition that no matter what life can throw at us it cannot take Jesus from us, nor can it take us from him. It is a recognition that he is at work in us by his Spirit. That is why the early Christians were able to rejoice when they were persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Our joy does not depend on transitory circumstances it is based on the absolute certainty of our faith.

Be blessed, be a blessing

A mangy looking guy walks into a very classy restaurant and orders a steak. The waitress says: “I’m sorry, but I don’t think you can pay for your meal.”

The guy admits, “You’re right. I don’t have any money, but if I show you something you haven’t seen before, will you give me my supper?”

The waitress, both curious and compassionate, says, “Only if what you show me isn’t risque.”

“Deal!” says the guy and reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a hamster. He puts the hamster on the ground and it runs across the room, directly to a piano. The hamster then proceeds to climb up the piano, and starts playing Gershwin songs.

The waitress says, “You’re right. I’ve never seen anything like that before. That hamster is truly good on the piano.” The guy sits back and enjoys a fine steak supper with all the trimmings.

Shortly thereafter, he asks the waitress, “Can I have a piece of that fine blueberry pie I see on the dessert cart over there?”

“Only if you got another miracle up your sleeve”, says the waitress. The guy reaches into his coat again and pulls out a frog. He puts the frog on the table, and the frog starts to sing up a storm!

A stranger from a nearby table runs over to the guy and offers him $300 for the frog. The guy says “It’s a deal.” He takes the three hundred and gives the stranger the frog. The stranger runs out of the restaurant with dollar signs in his eyes and a big smile on his face.

The waitress says to the guy “Are you some kind of nut? You sold a singing frog for $300? It must have been worth millions!”

“No”, says the guy. “The hamster is also a ventriloquist.”