Tag Archives: Pursuit of Happiness

Lessons in a List of Names

These searched for their family records, but they could not find them and so were excluded from the priesthood as unclean.
Ezra 2:62 (NIV)

The small community in which Wendy and I live was established in 1847 by a group of several hundred immigrants from the Netherlands. They followed their pastor to “the new world” to experience the freedom of religion that was found in America, along with the opportunities that the American frontier offered.

In our town’s Historical Villiage there is an entire wall that lists all of the original families who made the dangerous voyage. It was dangerous. Many died at sea or on the trek by foot across the still untamed American prairie.

There were relatively few families of any significant means among the original colonists, but for those that were there was a clear distinction between them and the poor and “common.” Today, I can look down the list. Most of the names I recognize. The families prospered and grew. They found the opportunities they were looking for. Most of them still have descendants living in the community.

I thought about that wall in the historical village as I read today’s chapter. I find that chapters like today’s are quickly dismissed and glossed over by most casual readers, but in context, they hold lessons to be learned.

In the Hebrew religion and culture, your family determined a lot about your life. They considered the land as “God’s” possession and they were merely tenants. When Moses led the people out of Egypt and they entered the “promised land” the land was divided by tribes. Religious offices were also determined by tribe and family. Only descendants of Aaron could be priests and only descendants of Levi could oversee the temple and official religious duties. Your family of origin determined much of life for the returning exiles.

A couple of things to note in the chapter. There is an entire list of men who are not numbered by family, but by their towns. They had no family distinction or genealogy to be listed among the families or tribes. They were “commoners” like many of the people who settled our community. Also, there were those who could not prove their claims as they had no family records. They were religiously excluded until a process could be set up to settle their claims. Then there’s the curious story of Barzillai who had married a daughter of Barzillai and took his wife’s family name rather than his wife becoming part of her husband’s tribe; A very uncommon situation in those days.

This morning I’m thinking about family, about history, and about the opportunities that I enjoy on this life journey that did not exist for most people in all of human history. My great-grandfather came alone to a new world. He was a young, poor, uneducated commoner with some carpentry skills. He started a hardware store and a family. How much do I owe to his daring to cross the ocean and half a continent to make a new life for himself and his descendants? How much do I owe to a country where one is not bound by a family name or trade, but free to pursue any path you desire?

One of the offerings that the ancient Hebrews would bring to the Temple that they returned to Jerusalem to rebuild, was a “Thanksgiving Offering.” This morning in the quiet of my hotel room I find my spirit offering a word, a song, a heart of gratitude to God for the incredible blessings afforded me that I daily take for granted.

 

Chapter-a-Day Acts 20

Fluoxetine (Prozac), an SSRI
Fluoxetine (Prozac), an SSRI (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.” Acts 20:24 (NLT)

It is a depressing thing not to have purpose in life. We were created for a purpose. When we are blind to or unaware of that purpose, it can slowly erode the health of our soul. Days become burdensome. Existence feels meaningless. At that point, I’ve observed that we either seek after endless distraction and pleasure to medicate and cover the growing sense of emptiness, or we fall into despair.

I watched a recent television news program that cited statistics showing well over half of all Americans are on antidepressant medication. We are in arguably the wealthiest, most well provisioned and stable nation on the face of the Earth where we recognize everyone’s  right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And yet, a majority of us are so depressed we are taking prescription medication for it.

Contrast that with Paul who, despite a terrible problem with his eyesight, worked the menial job as a tentmaker so that he could frugally travel from town to town sharing with others the Message of Jesus. He was ceaselessly harassed, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked and threatened. He was constantly on the run from those who sought to kill him. Multiple attempts were made on his life. And, his soul experienced a fullness of meaning, purpose, and joy.

Somehow, in our “pursuit of happiness,” I believe we have misplaced our understanding of what gives life true and motivating worth, meaning, and purpose.

Pursuit of Happiness #17

While there are movies that I think are better movies for this reason or that, Casablanca remains my favorite movie of all time. There are so many iconic moments and memorable lines, but this lesser known moment from the film never fails to stir my heart.

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Pursuit of Happiness #15

Wendy and I went to the Des Moines Art Center yesterday afternoon to see their current exhibit of Henry Ossawa Tanner’s paintings. I love the Art Center. I love that it’s free (thanks to generous patron support). I love that I have a growing supply of memories of being there with loved ones and friends.  I love that I once brought my daughters there as little girls and now, as adults, they want to bring me back. I love how some paintings become old friends and make me feel at home and at rest in their presence. I love getting to know artists and their works. I love that each time you walk in you see the same things only different. I love that what I see changes each time I visit not because the works of art have changed but because I’m at a different place in my journey and see them from a different (hopefully, a more full) perspective.