Why we cannot seem to let go of "everything happens for a reason"

Over the years (hereherehere and here.) I have written a few posts on the phrase "everything happens for a reason." What I have failed to identify in these posts is what is really behind this phrase and why we cannot let it go in our popular Christian culture. 

It all has to do with control.

Humans are under the spell that we are in much more control of things than we like to admit. We are reminded of this false sense of control daily. We set the temperature of our homes at exactly 76 degrees. We use a remote control and take birth control. We decide when to use cruise control and we talk about pest control. We believe we can control air traffic and crowds. We teach others how to be in control of emotions while looking for the newest diet to help us control our weight.

Additionally it is worth noting how deeply we resist giving up control (which may be why the great religions teach the path of surrender).

When we believe we are in control of more than we really are, we project that others must also be able to control more than they really can.

For instance we think that the President of the United States has a lot of control over the economy of the nation. Or we think that meteorologists can really predict the future. Or we think a pastor can grow a church. Or we think personal determination will inevitably lead to personal success. 

image from: http://blog.saintclairsystems.com/blog/topic/temperature-control

image from: http://blog.saintclairsystems.com/blog/topic/temperature-control

With all the reminders of how much we "control" we can see why "everything happens for a reason" is difficult to let go of. It is the ultimate creed of the god of control. It is the idea that someone, somewhere has to be in control because to think that things are not somehow under control is too frightening for us to imagine.

The most zealous devotees to the deity of control will even admit that we may not know right now or that we may never know what the reason is, but to trust that everything happens for a reason. This can be said because the reason is what is important but the soothing reminder that control is, well, in control.

Until we let go of control as cultural god, we will continue to hear "everything happens for a reason." The more we hold onto control the more we will miss the message of Jesus who teaches us about how to live in trust rather than in control.

Eric the Eel - The man who swam in an Olympic race alone

Every four years since 2000 there is a story that comes into my vision. It is the story of Eric "the Eel" Moussambani. Here is a section of the Wikipedia page for him:

Moussambani gained entry to the Olympics without meeting the minimum qualification requirements via a wildcard draw designed to encourage participation by developing countries lacking full training facilities. While Pieter van den Hoogenband won in a time of 48.30 seconds (setting a world record of 47.84 in the semi-finals), Moussambani took more than twice that time to finish (1:52.72). "The last 15 meters were very difficult", Moussambani said. Because the other two swimmers in his heat made false starts, and were thus disqualified, he won the heat unopposed. Before coming to the Olympics, Moussambani had never seen a 50 m (160 ft) long Olympic-size swimming pool. He took up swimming eight months before the Olympics and had practiced in a lake, and later a 12-metre swimming pool in a hotel[3] in Malabo.[4]

Here is a video for your enjoyment:

When you watch the entire video you hear (at around the 7:30 mark), Moussambani express part of his understanding of the Olympics, "It is not just competition it is participation." 

For many in the Christian tradition, the way of Jesus is a competition. It is a matter of winning. It is about getting the crown and the heavenly prize. It is about running the race to win. It is about trying to convince that your views are correct and others are incorrect. It is about counting how many people you brought to Christ as though evangelism is like a medal count.

Eric Moussambani reminds us all that life and I would argue Christianity is less about competition and more about participation. Are we participating the game God has give to us? Are we joyful and filled with excitement to participate? Do we play the game so that others would want to play? Do we we have a heart for participation more than we have desire to win?

"Think with your eyes and feel with your ears"

Malcolm Gladwell was on "Late Show" with Stephen Colbert not long ago. Colbert asked Gladwell why he was making a podcast when he is more than able to sell books and is quite popular in the world of popular writing. In response, Gladwell cited his friend Charles (I cannot catch the last name) who said, "you think with eyes and feel with your ears." 

There is a little back and forth here between the two while Gladwell attempts to make his overall point but here is the interview in full to consider:

While Colbert has a point that there are times that we "feel" deeply when we read a book or a poem. I would argue that the times we are emotionally moved by a text is when we allow it to "speak" to us and we "hear it" in our souls. However, Gladwell's point is getting at there is so much conveyed in sound that is lost on a page. You don't catch the nuances that come though when someone is speaking about something that is at their core. Sure you can read a sermon, but it is much different to hear a sermon.

For instance, this is the video clip of the moment that Gladwell mentions that will forever be remembered from Colbert's previous interview: 

Notice Munoz's voice and pauses and pacing and tone. There is an emotion and a feeling that one cannot get by just reading the transcripts. 

At risk of sounding like a technology curmudgeon, when we prefer to use text over voice as a primary communication then we need to understand what we are loosing. The gains in productivity we may get in "texting" another are perhaps by way of sacrificing the emotional connection we build when we talk to one another. 

I am not sure how one would go about tracking if the rise of text communication is inversely related to the decline of empathy but there are interesting studies that explore the decline of empathy.

We may be getting smarter but we may also getting "the feels" less often. 

Are the Seasons Backwards?

Back in 2009, the question was raised, "Could the problem with Sunday worship be that it begins out week?" The assumption I generally operate from is that Sunday is the start of the week. But, the question wonders, is it more reflective of a deep wisdom that Sunday should be considered as the culmination (the end) of the week? 

Taking this idea of flipping my assumptions, it lead me to think about the seasons of the year. 

While the calendar year ends in December, for reasons I cannot place my finger on, I have always put the "start" of life in the season of spring. In fact if I were allowed to remake the calendar, I would have shifted the start of the new calendar year with the first day of spring. Spring has new buds and new leaves and new life and it all feels like spring is the start of a new life. Conversely, winter signaled to me the "end". Cold and dark, it just made sense to me that winter is the end of life and spring is the beginning. 

However, what if this ordering of the seasons misses a deep wisdom? What if we did not associate spring with the beginning of new life but we considered the season of fall? 

If we think of fall as the "beginning" then we gain a good number of deep truths. First of all, we no longer would be so afraid of death and dying. Death and dying would be the "start" of a new life. And in fact, in the world of plants, death is the start of life. If death is seen as the start of our lives, then how would our minds change toward our care for the elderly?  

After our new life begins in death (fall), the next step in life is germination (winter). This is the season of wondering what sort of new thing God is germinating in us. This season of germination would be the season of deep faith that God is doing something even if we cannot see it. It is the season of faith that there will be spring and summer after the dark season of winter. Additionally, Advent, the season around Christmas which focuses on God coming into the world, would take on a whole series of new meanings.

After the season of germination (winter) we begin to flower and see the beginning of this thing that God has been doing in our lives for the past six months. We no longer see flowers as the start of the process but as the half way point of what God is doing. We begin to see that these flowers are beautiful but temporal. Spring becomes the season that we rejoice that God is faithful to us because for six months we may not have seen much evidence of God's work in us when we began this process of new life.

Finally, we see the "fruit" of the past nine months of God working in and on us in the season of summer. The fruit is sweet and provides sustenance for us. We assess if we are producing good or not so good fruit. As we sit in the heat of summer, beaten down by the sun, we can only consider if the work that we have done with God the past year is fruit bearing. While we enjoy these fruits we understand that God is calling us into a new thing once more and we take that first step into new life by dying to our old life - the season of fall is upon us once more.