Thursday, December 18, 2014

Are Believers Risk Takers?

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During his first week in college, Michael Conway’s grandmother - a great cook who always shared what she made – died, and after the funeral, Conway got into a conversation with the guy who worked at his dorm’s front desk.

Seeing his stress, the guy invited Michael to join a group called Labre, which seeks out homeless people in downtown Chicago, offering them hot dogs, granola bars and occasional toiletries. The guy obviously knew that Michael needed to “get out of himself,” specifically by “paying forward” his grandmother’s generosity.

Fortunately, it worked for Michael, who took the risk to become a regular member of Labre during his four years in college. I recently read about him and the account of his “calling” in America magazine, making me think of how searchers for God, in a variety of unlikely ways, “find” him/her. Many people today think that searching for God is anything but risky, that it’s an accommodation to the status quo. But is it, really?

I’ve mentioned before in these blogs that in the interest of clarity and better communication with people with whom I’m trying to connect, I avoid “churchy” language and references to the Bible. The language of religion just doesn’t resonate with many people today.

But sometimes stories from the Bible, along with stories like Michael’s, best illustrate what I’m trying to say. The “call of the Apostles” in the Gospels is a case in point. This is from The Message translation of Mark’s gospel.

“Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, ‘Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass.’ They didn’t ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed.

“A dozen yards or so down the beach, he saw the brothers James and John, Zebedee’s sons. They were in the boat, mending their fishnets. Right off, he made the same offer. Immediately, they left their father Zebedee, the boat, and the hired hands, and followed.”

“Yeh, right,” I’m tempted to say.

There’s a lot here that doesn’t make sense, not the least of which is the willingness of these fishermen to drop everything and follow this itinerant preacher. One important explanation, of course, is that the four gospels attempt to describe the estimated 33 years of Jesus’ life - focusing on the last three “public” years - in very few words. There’s so much left out.

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Had Simon, Andrew, James and John heard about Jesus beforehand? Had they already been thinking about a career change and of joining him? Maybe they were deep in debt and wanted to get out of the business. Maybe they were tired of the hard work, long hours and uncertainty of fishing. Maybe James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were fed up with their father. After all, Jesus refers to Zebedee as “Thunder.” Did that indicate he was hot-tempered? 

There is a lot more to these “calling” stories than meets the eye.

A couple of thoughts strike me about the stories’ relevance to us – people who have our own agendas, who are suspicious of the unknown, who need to be persuaded before committing to  something, let alone someone.

First, these apostle recruits may have been “simple” fishermen but they undoubtedly knew what they were doing. They surely calculated the prospects of following Jesus compared to their current lives, even though they could not have seen the tragic ups and downs of a future with him. The details just weren’t included in the gospel.

Second, they probably weren’t the smartest or wisest, let alone the most prominent, people Jesus could have chosen. And they probably weren’t the most devout. They may not have attended synagogue regularly. They may have on occasion cheated buyers of their catch. They may have been in relationships that were forbidden by the religious authorities. They may not have observed the detailed laws prescribed by those authorities. They may have been on the fringes of Judaism. They may not even have believed in God. In short, they were a lot like us.

Still, they were risk takers. Although wandering preachers were common at the time, according to Scripture scholars, Jesus appears to have been unique. His viewpoint on God and God’s relationship to human beings, his demands, his compassion, his self-confidence, his strength, his persistence, his obvious ability to overcome physical and spiritual obstacles were obviously attractive. But actually committing to this preacher was risky.

So, why aren’t these attributes not attractive today, and why are so few people who long for fulfillment in their lives willing to take a risk? Instead of the Jesus who challenges us, who lovingly invites us to faith, many see a plastic, pious, other-worldly Jesus with whom they have nothing in common. Could it be that we may have grown too comfortable with our lives, too smug in our doubts, and intolerant and judgmental about people who don’t share them?

Readers who have given up on God and/or religion may think that this applies mostly to Christians. But the description fits believers and non-believers. And if we’re serious about our search for God, at some point we must become risk takers, making a leap of faith and a commitment, as did Simon, Andrew, James and John, and Michael Conway.

 

 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Hope: Faith’s Weaker Cousin?




Photo by Beatriz Botero

Tom Pfeffer, my sister’s brother-in-law, was an extraordinary priest who was pastor of a mostly Hispanic parish before he died in April of 2004. Before that, he was pastor of a rural Iowa parish where he noticed on frequent funeral trips to the cemetery a lone grave outside the official Catholic cemetery.

After some research he found that a man who had committed suicide years before was buried there. According to Catholic rules at the time, the man couldn’t be buried in a Catholic cemetery, considered to be consecrated ground.

Tom made it known that he wanted to be buried next to the man, also outside the official cemetery. It reportedly caused a stir among some who didn’t want their beloved Tom to be buried in “unholy” ground. But Tom won.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, he didn’t view suicide as a cowardly act resulting from despair. For him, compassion trumped passing judgment. He understood that people can be so down on themselves and their lives that they are driven to take their own lives.

I’m writing about this in an attempt to shed some light on the subject of hope. I’ve had a start to a blog on this subject for some time but just couldn’t get it written because I hadn’t figured out exactly what I wanted to say.

(After reading this blog, Jim Stessman, my friend and former newspaper colleague who reviews these blogs pre-publication, noted that Tom, who was his friend, too, “was a cheerful guy whose face communicated hope.”)    

Still, hope’s meaning seems vague. Isn’t it just faith’s weaker cousin? I’ve sometimes thought that hope better describes my faith.   It occurred to me that I could get into the subject by considering its opposite, hopelessness.

Thankfully, I haven’t experienced hopelessness personally. But many people do, and I imagine it as the worst thing that can happen to you. In the case of hopelessness that results in suicide, it may be the worst thing that can happen to family and friends as well.

I’ve been to places where you would expect to find hopelessness. I experienced terrible poverty while living in South America, but I was shocked about the lack of basic human resources that I found in several later trips to El Salvador.  
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I remember, for instance, entering a rural shack in the extreme heat and finding an elderly woman sitting alone on the edge of a bed. The shack had little circulation, no fan and sparse furnishings. The woman could barely see or hear and her leg was swollen terribly. My niece, a wonderful nurse, examined her and said she probably had, among other things, untreated congenital heart disease. It likely remained untreated.

Conditions in El Salvador, for me, are a recipe for hopelessness, but you don’t get that impression from Salvadorans, the majority of whom seem resourceful, tenacious and relatively happy.

Still, my experience in El Salvador helps me understand hopelessness, which should help me understand hope. There seems to be a kind of hope that’s superficial, expressed as “I hope it doesn’t snow; that I get a raise; that my candidate wins the election;” or even that “my girlfriend doesn’t get pregnant, or that my Mom survives her breast cancer.”

But hope in the traditional Christian sense is a virtue, which is the way your life conforms to your principles. For Christians and other believers (who are not mentally ill or have other overwhelming problems with which to deal), hope is not allowing hopelessness into your life. It’s trusting that you’re on the right path to God, and never giving up on his/her love. For non-believers, it may simply signify a sense of optimism about the future.

Singer Danny Gokey, who at age 34 had reason for hopelessness with the tragic death of his wife, sums it up well in the lyrics to his song, “Hope in Front of Me.”

There's hope in front of me.
There's a light, I still see it.
There's a hand still holding me
Even when I don't believe it.
I might be down but I'm not dead.
There's better days still up ahead.
Even after all I've seen
There's hope in front of me.


 
 
 


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Five Ways to Ban Negative Thoughts

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Years ago, I was at a party where an acquaintance, when asked his profession, said with a straight face that he was “an economist.” He never worked in that field. He had an undergraduate degree in economics.

My credentials as a psychologist or sociologist are even flimsier, but I’m interested in what makes people happy or not. And when I say “happy,” I’m not talking about how you feel right now, or even how you feel today or this week. I’m talking about an inner joy, an optimism about life that some people have and others don’t. Happy people make people around them happier, of course, and unhappy people do the opposite.

This subject is important when discussing faith because although I believe joy results from faith (and this may be reflected in the many studies showing that people of faith are happier), being optimistic and upbeat also help searchers find God, and him/her to find us. Finding God by looking into ourselves and by seeing him/her in others, as spiritual writers recommend, is tough for people who are down on themselves and others.  

Even people who are happy at their core, however, have their bad moments – and weeks and even years. Human beings are hounded by negativity demons. We get down, blue, depressed, sometimes for no apparent reason. And sometimes we dwell on negative thoughts.

They might include grudges from years ago; current problems with relationships; deaths, divorces, split-ups and job losses; financial problems; religious or political differences; competition at work or even worrisome cultural, national or world events.

Are people today more or less happy than in previous ages? Hard to tell, because it wouldn’t have occurred to people in previous ages to ask about happiness. Certainly human beings, even in the poorest countries, are better off materially. But are our lives more meaningful, and isn’t it a sense of meaning that makes us happy? Without a sense of purpose, said the famous poet and philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, many people live “lives of quiet desperation.”

In an America magazine article, Thomas Bushlack, who teaches theology in Minnesota, wrote that modern society has a “spiritual disease” that manifests itself mostly in “excessive busyness – the pursuit of activity, success, achievement, possessiveness – anything to justify my existence in the face of apparent meaninglessness and to keep me distracted from the creeping sense of despair that underlies day-to-day existence.” 

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Ok, it may not be that bad for most of us. It is ironic, however, that for cultural and superficial reasons, many people ignore what for me are the obvious sources of meaning: God, and religion, which has innumerable resources to help us search for him/her and make life meaningful.

I know, this may sound a bit like a pitch from the famed “snake-oil” salesman. They were people who in the previous couple of centuries traveled around the western U.S. promoting a product made from the Chinese Water Snake (according to Wikipedia), which they said could cure just about anything.

The difference between that and the search for God, of course, is that unlike snake oil, which you applied anywhere on the body in hopes it would do its magic, the search for God requires the use of your mind and heart, as well as the acceptance of uncertainty. The search for God is not magical. You need to be open, thoughtful, courageous and as mentioned in a recent previous blog, patient.

But back to those negative thoughts, keeping in mind the old saw that you get what you pay for. Here are some ways to deal with them that usually work for me.

1.    Insist on being rational. It may be the last thing you want to be when you really want to mope or even cry. Serious negativity often follows something, big or small, that is bothering us. But almost always, we give problems more importance than they deserve, and nearly all negativity is caused by irrational thoughts – fear, pent-up anger, jealousy, exaggerated expectations. Analyze why you feel the way you do. Just doing that often helps.

2.    “Change your mind” by thinking about something that’s fun or pleasurable, replacing the negative thought with something positive.

3.    Do something physical, like physical work or a workout. It almost always helps.

4.    Think about how well you have it, or how much you have compared to most people in the world. Tragedy is the constant companion of many people here and around the world, and by comparison, most of our lives are a walk in the park.

5.    Pray. Ok, so this may not be easy for skeptics. But I’m not talking about traditional, formal prayers like the “Our Father” (although it’s a great prayer for believers). I’m talking about sitting quietly by yourself, banning distractions, and conversing with God. You can tell him/her about what’s troubling you and ask for help. Praying often may seem like talking to yourself, but just try it.

Obviously, you can’t wish away negative thoughts. But you can get into the habit of using these and other methods to keep them to a minimum and lessening the harm caused by the ones that slip through. Doing so will help in the search for God.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Is Thanksgiving for Non-Believers?

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I was a columnist at one point in my newspaper career, and for several Thanksgivings, my whole column comprised a list of names of people for whom I was particularly thankful.

I had thought about doing that with this blog, which will be posted on Thanksgiving Day, my favorite of all the holidays. But in the interest of privacy, which is becoming a rarer commodity, I decided against it.

You know who you are. You’re family and friends and the readers of this blog, including the 136 people to whom I send weekly e-mails about the posts, my 223 Facebook friends and the unknown number who see it on Google+ and Tumblr. I am particularly grateful to Jim Stessman, my friend and former newspaper colleague, and Catherine Swoboda, a busy, young professional woman, for looking these blogs over each week and providing valuable feedback. 

I realize that although I do all I can to make them readable, you may not always be in the mood to read them. The topic requires thoughtfulness and a willingness to look inward. For our own mental health, that’s not something we may always want to do.

(You might be interested to know that, according to Blogger, I’ve had 11,557 page views since starting this blog in the summer of 2013. With 73 blogs posted so far, that’s an average of 158 page views a week. It’s far from “viral,” but I’ll take it gratefully. One thing that I would like is more feedback, which readers can do from the blog site or by sending me an e-mail at carneyconsulting@msn.com. I also need to consider ways of reaching more people.)

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As the plug under the blog’s title says, Skeptical Faith is a “discussion of faith, belief and religion for people who have given up on God and/or religion. It’s meant to show that faith and skepticism are not mutually exclusive.” Along with Pope Francis, I don’t believe believers and non-believers are natural enemies. We’re fellow seekers of God, even though non-believers may not describe the object of their search in that way.

So why don’t people like me just leave the non-believers be? First, because like the woman in the gospel who sweeps her house and finds a valuable coin that she had lost and when she finds it calls together her neighbors to rejoice with her, I feel compelled by my faith to share the joy and peace that faith has brought me. People are free to read it or not.

Second, I believe that many non-believers have as much doubt about their disbelief as many believers do about their faith. I might be able to shed some light on the subjects of faith and doubt.

One of the reasons I like Thanksgiving is that all of us, believers and non-believers, can share in the gratitude the holiday signifies. We all have much to be grateful for, even if we may disagree about where to direct our gratitude.

Most believers are, first of all, grateful to God, the prime mover, the ultimate creator, our Father/Mother. And we’re grateful for our brothers and sisters, in and outside the faith. I think most non-believers are thankful, among other things, for the people in their lives and for life itself. So being grateful is something we can share.

Here’s hoping that we can relax and gratefully share this holiday with whomever we’re with, and that believers and non-believers come closer to the object of our search.

 

 

 

 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why Spirituality and Not Religion? Part II

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A recent article in America magazine dealt with the affinity between Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a biophysicist and author who died in 1972. The Pope and Heschel never met, but Heschel had a great influence on Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Francis’ good friend in his native Argentina.

Back in 1976, Heschel wrote a book called “God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism.” Even 38 years ago, it seems, the handwriting was on the wall about future generations’ lack of enthusiasm for religion, and Heschel’s book still speaks volumes.

“It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society,” he wrote. “It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.

“When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion – its message becomes meaningless.”

Like all human endeavors, religion can become irrelevant, oppressive, insipid and meaningless. The questions is, is it the religion itself – its principles, beliefs and practices – that is the problem or the people at any given time who lead or influence it? They’re not the same. Do the doping scandals in major league baseball mean that the sport is bad, or that some people who play it are bad? I believe many people adopt the caricatures of religion to be able to easily knock them down.

Many religions, including my own Catholic faith, believe that the church is human but also divine because God had a hand it its birth. Religion’s purpose is to help us in the search for God, and to the extent that we find him/her, help us in our subsequent relationship to God. I believe Catholicism, and most religions, fulfill that function and more.

But how do you, really, search for a being who is invisible and unknowable? And an even harder question, how does he/she search for you? Many people have found the way through religion and religious leaders like Rabbi Heschel.

The title of his book, says the America article, “expresses what is perhaps Rabbi Heschel’s most distinctive or signature idea: It is not so much we who seek God, but God who seeks us.”

For Heschel, “God is always present to us. But because we are not always, or perhaps even usually present to God, Rabbi Heschel suggests that God must ‘reach out’ to us (from around us and from within us) to elicit our presence, our responsiveness. We dwell within the sphere of God’s presence, yet God must strive to get us to appreciate that presence. God dwells within us, yet God must awaken us to the divine indwelling.”

Pope Frances and Rabbi Skorka
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Abraham Skorka, the Argentinian rabbi, also wrote a book. His co-author was his friend, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis. Written in 2010, it is called “On Heaven and Earth,” and is a transcription of the conversations about faith, life and the future of religion the two had over an extended period. Bergoglio has suggestions about where to start in the search for God.

“What every person must be told is to look inside himself,” Bergoglio wrote. “Distraction is an interior fracture. It will never lead the person to encounter himself for it impedes him from looking into the mirror of his heart. Collecting oneself is the beginning.

“…I would tell the people of today to seek the experience of entering into the intimacy of their hearts, to know the experience, the face of God.”

To me, this means that people need to be thoughtful, which I believe may be more difficult than at any time in human history. When have there been more distractions? When have people had “less time” to think? When has there been less support for thoughtfulness?

Returning to the theme of the problem with religion, Rabbi Skorka bemoans the smugness involved in the habit of some religious people who apply dogma to practically any human problem. This is nothing new. To illustrate, he uses the story of Job from the Hebrew Bible.

Job, “a just, upright man, wanted to know why he had lost everything, even his health. His friends told him that God had punished him for his sins.” Job is comforted when he has a conversation with God; in other words, when he prays. God doesn’t answer Job’s many questions, the rabbi says, but “the touch of God’s presence stays with him.”

Stories from the Bible may seem unlikely to move us. Like all things “religious,” the Bible has for many become throwbacks to childhood and childishness. So commonplace, it may have become trite and stereotypical. What could it possibly have to say to us today?

Looking inside oneself, as suggested by the future Pope, is just the beginning. Eventually, the searcher for God must look seriously at what the Bible has to say, and consider other timeless sources, including the experience of generations of religious people and their institutions. To ignore them is to invite aimlessness and continual detours on the path to God.

Like reading a book that has an inviting title and cover but vacuous content, it’s hard to be spiritual without religion.

 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Patience: The Difference Between Faith and Atheism?

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A staple of this blog is that many people, believers and non-believers, struggle with faith.

Like non-believers, many believers have doubts and questions. Some have spent lifetimes of struggle with questions about God. For various reasons, believers have come down on the side of faith. Many of us, like the psalmist says, simply “cling to him/her in love.”

Today’s believers can’t bank on the artificial props of the past, however. They can’t depend on God as an answer to questions about the natural world, or assume that most people (including family members) are like-minded or attend church regularly. And modern society, with all its advantages in prosperity (in many parts of the world) and advances in technology, has brought an unprecedented amount of anxiety, stress and “busyness,” all obstacles in the search for God.

Many believers also share with atheists and agnostics the desire to be truthful, to see things as they really are. But it’s easy to confuse your own thoughts with those of the popular culture. Though it may be well below the surface, today’s apparent indifference about God beckons us to unbelief. It leans toward the idea that human life is meaningless and ends in nothingness. So, distract yourself today, the day after, and the day after that. That’s the best you can do; the most you can hope for.   

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve often quoted Tomas Halik, a Czech priest, philosopher and sociologist who this year won the Templeton Prize. I’ve just started reading a second book by him called Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing in Us. Zacchaeus – the famous tax collector from Luke’s gospel who happened across Jesus – stood on the sideline, “curious but non-committal,” says the book’s promo.

Being “vertically challenged,” Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a better look, and probably would have stayed there for some time had Jesus not called to him and, risking association with a “known sinner,” asked to stay in his house.

The world is full of Zacchaeuses, says Halik – people who may be curious about faith, feel some attraction to it but haven’t been able to commit. One of their most frequent questions (with which this blog has dealt frequently) is, “Where is this God of yours?”

“Hardly anything points toward God and calls as urgently for God as the experience of his absence,” says Halik. His prescription for such God searchers: Patience.  

Tomas Halik
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“Yes, patience is what I consider to be the main difference between faith and atheism,” he writes. “What atheism, religious fundamentalism, and the enthusiasm of a too-facile faith have in common is how quickly they can ride roughshod over the mystery we call God – and that is why I find all three approaches equally unacceptable.

“One must never consider mystery “over and done with.” Mystery, unlike a mere dilemma, cannot be overcome; one must wait patiently at its threshold and persevere in it – must carry it in one’s heart  … and allow it to mature there and lead one in turn to maturity.

“If the signs of God’s presence lay within easy reach on the surface of the world as some religious zealots like to think,” he adds, “there would be no need for real faith.

“But I’m convinced that maturing in one’s faith also entails accepting enduring moments – and sometimes even lengthy periods – when God seems remote or remains concealed. What is obvious and demonstrable doesn’t require faith. We don’t need faith when confronted with unshakable certainties accessible to our powers of reason, imagination, or sensory experience. We need faith precisely at those twilight moments when our lives and the world are full of uncertainty, during the cold night of God’s silence. And its function is not to allay our thirst for certainty and safety, but to teach us to live with mystery. Faith and hope are expressions of our patience at just such moments – and so is love.”

Unlike the prescriptions handed out by self-help gurus, Halik focuses on factors that are at least vaguely familiar to all of us: faith, hope and love, traditionally called the “theological virtues” – “(from Greek theos for “God”) because they come from, and are directed to, God. (Months ago, I started on a post about “hope,” sometimes seemingly a better way to describe my own faith. But I haven’t yet been able to finish it.)

Although faith, hope and love may have become little more than clichés, Halik insists they are the only route to God, offering a distinctly different path from either atheism or ‘facile belief.’

A question I’ve asked before in this blog: Why does God require faith? If he/she exists, why not plainly show him/herself? And as I’ve written before in answer to my own question, the only honest answer is that we don’t know.

We can speculate, however, that if he/she were “on the surface” of the world, we would have zip for freedom. How would we be free to reject him/her? And like any good parent, God evidently doesn’t consider coercion a good basis for a relationship.

So, how to live with uncertainty? Patience, friend, patience!

 

 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Are We Really “Special?”

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I heard an anecdote years ago about an elementary teacher who repeatedly stamped each pupil’s paper with, “You’re special!”

Ok, so it could mean, “You’re one of a kind,” or “You’re special to me,” but the irony of stamping everyone’s paper with that phrase was evidently lost on the teacher, and on many of the students if Tim Urban, a blogger for the Huffington Post, is to be believed. Thinking they’re special is one reason people in Generation Y, the generation born between the late 1970s and the mid-1990s, are unhappy, Urban wrote in a post last year.

Lucy, his fictional character from Gen Y, is also part of a yuppie culture that comprises a large portion of Gen Y.

“I have a term for yuppies in the Gen Y age group – I call them Gen Y Protagonists & Special Yuppies, or GYPSYs. A GYPSY is a unique brand of yuppie,” he writes, who think they are “the main characters of a very special story.”

Urban has a formula: Happiness = Reality – Expectations. For him, it’s simple. If people’s lives turn out better than expected, they’re happy. If they turn out worse, they’re unhappy.

Maybe a little too simple. But I believe the idea may have value and Urban provides interesting arguments, starting with the GYPSYs’ grandparents and parents. The grandparents were “desperate for economic security,” he wrote, and urged their children, the baby boomers, to seek secure careers. The baby boomers would have to put in years of hard work to get it done, however.

The baby-boomer parents of Gen Y, then, had great aspirations for prosperity, most of which – because of their personal  resources and a period of national prosperity – were fulfilled. Their success exceeded their expectations. Naturally, they wanted the same or more for their GYPSY children and told them they could be “anything they wanted.”

GYPSYs emerged with tremendously exaggerated ambitions, leading to Urban’s “facts” about them, starting with, “GYPSYs are wildly ambitious.” They want to “follow their passions” to careers that are “fulfilling” and successful.

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Urban’s second “fact” comes from the “You’re special” idea: “GYPSYs are delusional.” Like the children of Lake Wobegon on the Prairie Home Companion Radio Show, all of them are “above average.”

So GYPSYs believe they are special and that consequently, their careers will take off in a very short time. “Even right now,” writes Urban, “the GYPSYs reading this are thinking, ‘Good point... but I actually am one of the few special ones.’

“Unfortunately, the funny thing about the world is that it turns out to not be that easy of a place, and the weird thing about careers is that they're actually quite hard. Great careers take years of blood, sweat and tears to build … and even the most successful people are rarely doing anything that great in their early or mid-20s.”

So, Urban writes, “since the real world has the nerve to consider merit a factor,” Lucy finds herself a few years out of college, frustrated and unhappy.

Adding to the problem, says Urban, Lucy is “taunted” by her friends on Facebook, the perfect platform with which to continually compare yourself to others.

Urban urges GYPSYs to remain “wildly ambitious,” but stop thinking they’re special and understand they may have to work hard for a long time to attain their goals. Finally, they should ignore others. To paraphrase a cliché, their grass is seldom greener.

All this is simplistic and full of generalizations, but there may be some truth to it. I suspect GYPSY traits spill over into the age groups before and after them, and may have affected all of us. Unrealistic expectation is undoubtedly a universal problem.

In a blog last year, I wrote about Tony D'Souza, a psychologist and Jesuit priest from India who has co-authored a book on awareness. In a homily I heard in Denver, he said, "When we let go of our expectations, everything becomes a gift." As a boy in India he used to visit a 95-year-old woman who told him, "I go to bed every night not expecting to wake up. When I do, I feel so grateful."

Believers may not define “success” the same as non-believers. Believers try – though not often successfully – to “see things as God sees them.” So someone could be a homeless person, a prison lifer or a bottom-of-the-barrel junkie and be a “success” in God’s eyes. That explains why Jesus, who saw into people’s hearts, was a friend of prostitutes and tax collectors.    
 
I know I often quote Pope Francis, but it’s because I admire him and believe he has a lot to say to today’s world. Here are his suggestions, provided in an interview earlier this year, on how to be happy. The interview brought criticism from some Christians because he didn’t mention God.
 
1.       Let everyone be him/herself.
2.       Give yourself tirelessly to others.
3.       Walk softly (that is, with kindness, calmness and humility).
4.       Be available to your kids and family.
5.       Spend Sundays (or a day of rest) with your family.
6.       Work toward empowering young people.
7.       Care for the environment.
8.       Move on (from negative experiences. This often involves forgiveness.)
9.       Respect others’ opinions.
10.     Actively strive for peace.
 
I think the Pope didn’t mention God because he knows doing these things will bring people close to God, and even more happiness. Maybe only in God’s eyes are we all “special.”