This is not a problem specific to New Orleans. We all struggle to find the appropriate balance between mourning and celebration in our lives. We can overdo either.
The Christian faith, at its best, strives for the right balance. Today is Fat Tuesday when we celebrate. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday when we remember our sins, the pain in the world, and the fact that we are all going to die.
We strive for the appropriate balance between celebration and mourning in funerals. I have a problem with anyone who just wants to do one or the other. It’s not a proper funeral if you don’t do both. In a funeral you need to both feel gratitude and shed tears. Paul told the early Christians to “not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We Christians grieve with hope. We have balance.
It is wrong to look exclusively at the cross or exclusively at the empty tomb. Both are realities for us. We see the sin and suffering in the world. We see those who bomb mosques and kill the innocent in Iraq. We see those made homeless by Katrina, or the tsunami, or the earthquake in Pakistan. We also see the power of resurrection and the victory of life over crushing obstacles. We celebrate the six 3-pointers shot by an autistic boy in a basketball game. We celebrate the victory and compassion of an Olympic champion who gives his winnings to the refugees of Darfur.
All too often we focus on happiness or the lack of it. After all, isn’t that what life is all about? The pursuit of happiness?
Time magazine recently had an article with the splashy headline, “Happiness Isn’t Normal.” It was a profile of Steven Hayes, a 57-year-old psychology professor who was one of the authors of the book, "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life" His message is a simple but important one. Hayes said in an interview with Salon:
“The natural game most of us are in is how to feel good. That's not the same thing as how to live good… We don't get good training in how to sit with pain anymore; [we used to have] spiritual traditions of fasting, where you didn't eat even though you were hungry in order to connect with the suffering of other people. Most of those traditions are gone... Western culture promotes feel-goodism…you're supposed to feel good from morning to night…. If you consume the right products, eat the right pill, drink the right beer, drive the right car, you believe that you're not going to feel anything you don't like. What I'm saying is that that is not the definition of a meaningful life, and I'm saying people know it.”
©2006 C. David Hess