THE LOTTERY IS THE MIGHTIEST FAIRY IN THE WORLD

I entered a convenience store in Joliet, Illinois. It was 1975. Some people in front of me were purchasing lottery tickets. When it was my turn to pay for my items the attendant asked, “Do you want to buy a lottery ticket, too?”

“No,” I replied.

“Aww, come on! You could win the big jackpot!”

No.

They pressed a little further. That’s when I said, “Only fools play the lottery.”

And a great silence came over the convenience store.

“Fool” here means: people who are ignorant of probability and statistics. “Fool” means someone who falls prey to the “Gambler’s Fallacy.”

I may be a fool, but not when it comes to the lottery. I have never played it, never bought one single ticket. Playing the lottery is throwing money away.

In 1842 Honoré de Balzac wrote:

“This mania, so generally condemned, has never been properly studied. No one has realized that it is the opium of the poor. Did not the lottery, the mightiest fairy in the world, work up magical hopes? The roll of the roulette wheel that made the gamblers glimpse masses of gold and delights did not last longer than a lightning flash; whereas the lottery spread the magnificent blaze of lightning over five whole days. Where is the social force today that, for forty sous, can make you happy for five days and bestow on you—at least in fancy—all the delights that civilization holds?” (La Rabouilleuse)

USA Today asked the question, “Is the lottery the new American Dream?” Probably. But by probability, it’s as likely to happen as fairies landing on your head.

3 NIGHTS OF MARRIAGE STRENGTHENING IN JANUARY WITH LINDA AND JOHN PIIPPO

Linda and I invite you to join us in January for 3 Nights of Marriage Strengthening!

WHEN: January 17, 24, 31

6 – 8 PM

WHERE: Redeemer Fellowship Church
5305 Evergreen
Monroe, Michigan

Sign up in the church lobby or by calling our office at 734-731-1709.

We’re working on hopefully providing babysitting. TBA.

We’ll be using the “I Love You More” video + workbook curriculum by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott.

Couples will need to purchase workbooks which accompany the videos: Here for men; here forwomen. ($8.99 apiece. If you cannot afford the workbooks please let me know.)

In I Love You More, a video-based study, Doctors Les and Leslie Parrott show you how the same forces that can chip away at a marriage can instead become the catalyst for new relational depth and richness–provided you make wise choices. Whether the problem is major or mild, you’ll learn how to transform nettlesome issues into loving opportunities.

We’ll do 2 17-minute sessions per evening. The topics are:

1. I Love You More, Session 1 “Love Is Not Enough”
In Session 1, “Love Is Not Enough,” you will discuss unrealistic expectations you brought into your marriage and discern how you can strengthen your marriage from conflicts.
2. I Love You More, Session 2 “Tackle This Problem First…and All Others Get Easier”
In Session 2, “Tackle this Problem First… and All Others Get Easier,” you will discuss attitudes that exist in your marriage and which ones need to be changed.
3. I Love You More, Session 3 “The Subtle Saboteurs of Every Marriage”
In Session 3, “The Subtle Saboteurs of Every Marriage,” you will discuss how busyness has crept into your marriage and learn how crabbiness can negatively impact your relationship.
4. I Love You More, Session 4 “How to Solve Any Problem in Five (not-so-easy) Steps”
In Session 4, “How to Solve Any Problem in Five (not-so-easy) Steps,” you will discover the five tools you can use to tackle problems of any kind and learn how to take responsibility in your relationship.
5. I Love You More, Session 5 “Joining Your Spirits Like Never Before”
In Session 5, “Joining Your Spirits Like Never Before,” you will discuss the difficulty in creating and maintaining spiritual connections and learn what you can do to bring more spiritual intimacy into your marriage.
6. I Love You More, Session 6 “The Good that Comes from a Problem-Solving Marriage”
In Session 6, “The Good that Comes from a Problem-Solving Marriage,” you will discern which blessing of marriage you most appreciate and what you appreciate about your marriage relationship and express how your marriage makes you happy.

REVOLT AGAINST THE MASSES

Photo of a plaque I saw in Columbus, Ohio

“In 1941 at the age of twenty-six, [Thomas] Merton sought refuge in the Trappist monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemane. Kentucky, “in revolt against the meaningless confusion of a life in which there was so much activity, so much movement, so much useless talk, so much superficial and needless stimulation,” that he could not remember who he was.” (“Introduction,” by James Finley. In Merton, A Book of Hours, 16)

I wonder what Merton might say were he alive today. The phenomenal explosion of media technology functions as a gigantic amplifier of ever-changing banality and stupidity. There’s really no more ignorance under the sun than when Merton lived. It’s just more known.

The result is that people no longer know who they are. This is why dictionary.com’s word of the year is “identity.”

Lacking knowledge of their identity the wandering herd creates personas in whatever images they happen to like, and imagine their social media friends admiring. Huddles of self-congratulatory selfies text to applaud their life wisdom, little of which has been thought out. Never before in history has the meaning of non sequitur found so many instantiations.

Thanks to the twin gods Google and Siri everyone is a Renaissance polymath, an unreflective mass of omniscient beings lacking knowledge in precisely nothing. And all this without being able to think critically about anything.

T.S. Eliot wrote:

  We are the hollow men
    We are the stuffed men

    Leaning together

    Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
    Our dried voices, when
    We whisper together
    Are quiet and meaningless
    As wind in dry grass
    Or rats’ feet over broken glass
    In our dry cellar
    
    Shape without form, shade without colour,
    Paralysed force, gesture without motion…

That was in 1925. By comparison Eliot’s hollow men would be viewed today as seers.

Both Merton and Eliot saw the total absence of identity coming. We’re not quite there yet. But I think I see the tipping point that will take American humanity over the abyss and into the unhuman. Welcome to the Book of Revelation.

That’s the point of the Zombie Apocalypse, right? Bodies without souls, with hopefully some remnant still alive to revolt against the masses.

5 THANKSGIVING CHOICES

Some of our Redeemer kids
Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day!
1. Take time to reflect on the blessings God has given you. I’ve made a gratitude list on my computer and printed it out. I’ve got the list in my pocket, and will pull it out and look at it several times today.
 

“We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.”

– Thornton Wilder

2. Think of the people God has brought to add value to your life.
 
“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”
– Albert Schweitzer
3. Focus on what you have gained, not what you have lost. In the worship song “Blessed Be Your Name” we sing “You give and take away, You give and take away. My heart will choose to say, blessed be your name.” I remember precious people I have lost. I think of what their lives have given to me.
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”
– Epictetus
4. Say “thank you” to others, in your words, attitudes, and actions. Today, serve people. To serve is to love. Servanthood is the overflow of a thankful heart.
“The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”

– William James
5. Let the words “Thank you, God” be your constant praise. 
 
“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.”
– 1 Chronicles 16:4

THE MANY BENEFITS OF THANKFULNESS

cropped-DSC_8591a.jpg

My back yard, on the River Raisin.

Gratitude is greater than bitterness. Thankfulness is better than resentment. 

Colossians 3:15 says:

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

A heart of thankfulness positively affects one’s entire being. Many scientific studies confirm this. Here are some of them.

From “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier” (Harvard Medical School)

  • “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”
  • Dr. Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvania) says most studies on showing gratitude to others support an association between gratitude and an individual’s well-being.
  • Gratitude can improve relationships. “For example, a study of couples found that individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person but also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.”
  • Gratitude is associated with emotional maturity.
  • “Gratitude is a way for people to appreciate what they have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make them happier, or thinking they can’t feel satisfied until every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps people refocus on what they have instead of what they lack. And, although it may feel contrived at first, this mental state grows stronger with use and practice.”

Here are some ways to cultivate gratitude on a regular basis.

  • Write a thank-you note.
  • Thank someone mentally. (“It may help just to think about someone who has done something nice for you, and mentally thank the individual.”)
  • Keep a gratitude journal. I make lists of things I am thankful for and carry them with me.
  • Count your blessings.
  • Pray. “People who are religious can use prayer to cultivate gratitude.”

From “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude that Will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round” (Forbes)

Research reveals that gratitude can have these benefits.

  • ·        Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • ·        Gratitude improves physical health. “Grateful people experience fewer aches and pains and they report feeling healthier than other people, according to a 2012 study published in Personality and Individual Differences.”
  • ·        Gratitude improves psychological health. “Gratitude reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a leading gratitude researcher, has conducted multiple studies on the link between gratitude and well-being. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.”
  • ·        Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression. “Grateful people are more likely to behave in a prosocial manner, even when others behave less kind, according to a 2012 study by the University of Kentucky. Study participants who ranked higher on gratitude scales were less likely to retaliate against others, even when given negative feedback. They experienced more sensitivity and empathy toward other people and a decreased desire to seek revenge.”
  • ·        Grateful people sleep better. “Writing in a gratitude journal improves sleep, according to a 2011 study published inApplied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. Spend just 15 minutes jotting down a few grateful sentiments before bed, and you may sleep better and longer.”
  • ·        Gratitude improves self-esteem.(Acc. to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology.)
  • ·        Gratitude increases mental strength. (Acc. to a 2006 study in Behavior Research and Therapy, and a 2003 study in the Journal of Personality and social Psychology.

From “Giving Thanks: The Benefits of Gratitude” (Psychology Today)

Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough “point out the benefits of expressing gratitude as ranging from better physical health to improved mental alertness. People who express gratitude also are more likely to offer emotional support to others.”

  • “Expressing gratitude in your daily life might even have a protective effect on staving off certain forms of psychological disorders. In a review article published this past March (see below), researchers found that habitually focusing on and appreciating the positive aspects of life is related to a generally higher level of psychological well-being and a lower risk of certain forms of psychopathology.”
  • Increase your gratitude-ability by looking for small things to be thankful for.

From “Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude” (University of Berkeley)

  • It’s easy to take gratitude for granted. “That might be why so many people have dismissed gratitude as simple, obvious, and unworthy of serious attention. But that’s starting to change. Recently scientists have begun to chart a course of research aimed at understanding gratitude and the circumstances in which it flourishes or diminishes.”
  • Recent studies on people who practice thankfulness consistently report a number of benefits:
  • Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure;
  • Higher levels of positive emotions;
  • More joy, optimism, and happiness;
  • Acting with more generosity and compassion;
  • Feeling less lonely and isolated.

From “Thanksgiving, Gratitude, and Mental Health” (Psychiatry Advisor)

Gratitude can have a positive effect on a person’s emotions in four significant ways.

  • First, gratitude magnifies positive emotions by helping us to appreciate the value in something; thus gaining more benefit from it.
  • Second, it blocks toxic, negative emotions, such as envy, resentment, and regret – emotions that can destroy happiness.
  • Third, gratitude fosters resiliency.
  • And lastly, gratitude promotes self worth.

From “5 Proven Health Benefits of Gratitude” (Shape)

  • Gratitude is good for your heart. “According to a recent study at the University of California, San Diego, being mindful of the things you’re thankful for each day actually lowers inflammation in the heart and improves rhythm. Researchers looked at a group of adults with existing heart issues and had some keep a gratitude journal. After just two months, they found that the grateful group actually showed improved heart health.”
  • ·        You’ll smarten up. “Teens who actively practiced an attitude of gratitude had higher GPAs than their ungrateful counterparts, says research published in the Journal of Happiness Studies.”
  • ·         It’s good for your relationships. “Expressing gratitude instead of frustration will do more than just smooth things over—it will actually help your emotional health. Expressing and attitude of gratitude raises levels of empathy and abolishes any desire to get even, found researchers at the University of Kentucky.”
  • ·        You’ll sleep more soundly. “ Writing in a gratitude journal before turning in will help you get a longer, deeper night’s sleep, says a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.”
  • ·        You’ll have better sex. “Couples who regularly say thank you to their partner feel more connected and more confident, according to a study published in the journal Personal Relationships.”

See also:

DOES MY LIFE HAVE MEANING?

Does my life have meaning?

This will be one of the things I’m speaking about at a conference in New Jersey this weekend.

I define “meaning” as: fitness in a coherent context. I only understand what a certain joke means if I understand the socio-linguistic context. And, that context must be coherent and narratival.

I understand the meaning of a pawn in the coherent, narratival context of the game of chess. But a chess pawn standing on a tennis court is meaningless because it has no “fitness” there. So, for there to be meaning, there must be fitness within a coherent context.

The movie Mad Max: Fury Road takes place in a land called “Wasteland.” Max sums up the meaning of his life with these words: “My world is fire and blood” where everything “is reduced to a single instinct: survive.” The movie longs for redemption as a woman named Inperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) smuggles five women out of wasteland, hoping to take them to a destination called “the green place.” Context affects meaning; meaning changes relative to context. And if there is no coherent context at all then life is meaningless, and nihilism prevails. “Mad Max is about a road that goes nowhere but exists only for itself. It’s meaningless mayhem.” (“Mad Max: Fury Road – Finding a forgotten Eden in the midst of post-apocalyptic anarchy“) The film ends with these words, as a epigram:

Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland,

in search of our better selves.
Where can we go to find the meaning of our lives? The options are:

1. An incoherent context where nothing fits.
2. A coherent context where I do not fit.
3. A coherent context where I fit.

Option 1 is atheism and nihilism, ultimately and logically.

Option 2 is the kingdoms of this world which, as a Jesus-follower, I was not made for.

Option 3 is the kingdom of God, which, as Jesus said, is “not of this world.”

In the pre-modern existentialist biblical book of Ecclesiastes the Preacher weighs the meaning-options and finds them all wanting, except for one.

He looks for the meaning to life in Nature (Eccl. 1:5-9). But nature is a closed system of cause and effect, and endless circling of sunshine, wind, and rain. The answer, the key, is not in Nature.

He looks for the key to life’s meaning in Mankind (1:3-4) and humanity’s efforts and accomplishments. But this yields only an endless seeking for happiness through this and that, but to no avail.

He looks for an answer in human Wisdom (1:12-17; 2:13-17). But even the most brilliant are only learned ignoramuses (cf. Ortega y Gasset) who fail to make sense of it all.

He looks for the meaning of life in Pleasure and sensual delight (2:1-11), but finds the same reality: it’s all nothing but “vanity and striving after the wind. (Here it feels like Bertrand Russell’s atheism has borrowed from Ecclesiastes – see Russell’s “A Free Man’s Worship.”)

The answer? Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 concludes:

Now all has been heard;

    here is the conclusion of the matter:

Fear God and keep his commandments,

    for this is the duty of all mankind.

14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,

    including every hidden thing,

    whether it is good or evil.

To answer the question of life’s meaning we must first answer these two questions:

Who, or what, made me?

What was I made for?

The answers to these questions will lead you to either Option 1, Option 2, or Option 3.

I’ve opted for 3. By experience and by reason. My life’s meaning and purpose are found in these words of Jesus:

You shall love the Lord your God

with all your heart,

with all your soul,

with all your mind,

and with all your strength.

And you shall

love your neighbor as yourself.