Tuesday, February 05, 2013


I am going through a season in my life when things are changing almost too rapidly for me to identify what is happening.  It is like a sort of earthquake taking place where all the small things are crashing down around me and I am standing in the door frame checking to see what will hold up in the shake down.  I'm not totally ready to identify all those changes, so lately I've found myself going to Facebook and Pinterest to avoid scrutinizing what's going on in my heart and mind.

Unfortunately, even the deep rabbit holes of Pinterest can't get me away from myself, as I came across this "inspirational" post:

It was pinned by not one, not two, but three of my friends from college. Girls I had long talks into the night with. Girls I looked up to. Girls who were there for me when I was falling apart.  For the sake of how much I love those girls, I wanted to ignore this post. But I can't. I don't want to pick a fight with those girls.

But I want to pick a fight with these words.

I am fascinated by the idea of happiness. It captures my imagination because it is such a vortex between faith and real life.  Happiness is a indicator of what is inside. There is nothing more pathetic than fake happiness. It's the authenticity of happiness that gives it power.  I'm not positive, but I can guess that what my friends were resonating with in this pin is the idea that people who are just trying to be happy sometimes makes poor moral choices and that ultimately, if they have their internal values lined up with God's expectations, (ie. "being holy") they actually will counterintuitivly achieve a measure of happiness. But that doesn't make a very cool pin for Pinterest. 

Instead, you get this false dichotomy. You have to choose between Holiness and Happiness. For Christians who are in on "the code," this is affirms their life choices and by sharing, cements their place among the holy.  I can't imagine what it means to those outside of "the code."  I know it does nothing to motivate me.

I'm becoming convinced that the opposite of happiness is not sadness. It's not holiness either. I think that the opposite of happiness is boredom. (For more on this may I suggest the documentary Happy on Netflix? Check out the trailer here.)

When I scroll my Facebook wall and I read the stuff that my Christian friends and family post,  it sometimes makes me crazy. It makes me roll my eyes. It makes me cuss. And then it makes me sad. I don't say anything because I know that in the marriage of Robb and Vanessa, Robb is the lover and Vanessa is the fighter. My nickname as a kid was "Spitfire."  Just ask my siblings.  So I stifle that part of myself because I don't trust it.  But in some ways that is just a nice way of saying "I don't care enough about you to really interact with you."  And the truth is, I do care.  And I'm sad about the way Christianity is expressed on facebook. And to the world.  I think it's a hot mess.

I made a treasury on Etsy on Sunday night.  The theme was "Sunday Morning Long Ago This Morning."  (A treasury is a collection of items available for purchase on Etsy shown together on a single page, and in the best case scenario, on the front page of Etsy.)  In the treasury, I collected a lot of familiar expressions of Christianity that most of my Facebook and real-life Christian friends would recognize and relate to.  The collection was undeniably sweet and nostalgic.  We'll just ignore for the moment that there is no Jesus in it.

I know that Christians want to make a difference in the world for good.  I know they want to be part of a movement. I know they want to fight for justice and the American way. (more on that in a different post)  They want to be part of something that exhilarates them. Captures their imagination and attention. Something that motivates them, drives them, ignites them. Something like...
their first love.

I feel sad when I read "Christian" posts and pins because I think maybe those people are bored with their faith. They want to engage in something that they find exhilarating, but somehow, never pissing off another Christian has become synonymous with holiness. They ignore how unhappy they are and comfort themselves with the thought that if they are bored, at least they are pursuing holiness.  They pursue holiness with more Bible studies. More prayer. More Christian books. More Christian music. More Christian pins to motivate them. More Christian Facebook memes to spur them on to love and good deeds.  This is what holiness is?

I'm not pursuing holiness anymore. I'm assuming God has made me holy and I should go ahead and live. I should use the 1 or 5 or 10 talents God gave me to make something happen. I pay attention to when I'm bored and unhappy because those are symptoms that something is not right and maybe something needs to change. Maybe I'm letting fear of other Christians keep me from a life that is more exhilarating and engaging.

Take another look at the treasury. They are all nice things in and of themselves. But try letting some of it go. Try not speaking "Christianese" for a week. Try turning off the Christian radio and listen to NPR.  Try putting down your Christian living book and join your local library's book club for a month or two. Try not dressing up for church and see how your church treats people who don't have "Sunday Best." Try NOT GOING to church (just once) and instead go to a coffee shop or someplace else on a Sunday morning.  Maybe these things have become a cheap expression of faith that doesn't really cost you anything.  Maybe you are using your pursuit of holiness to avoid Jesus.

And happiness.


JoshZinz said...

...or maybe you are just obeying the Bible and being "holy because God is Holy", and you are his representation on earth. The verse doesn't say "be happy because I am happy". The man in John 9 that was born blind, probably didn't have the choice of happiness too often in life, because he had to suffer his whole life so that God could be praised. We are also commanded to be content, joyful...but most of all to be Holy. There is no doubt that your roomates got it right by desiring to put holiness before personal happiness. I know that isn't how you want to "feel", but that is what God said. The "Christianese" that you dislike hearing, is the same thing that the rest of the world dislikes...it's the Bible, and it calls for change. Romans 5:7-10 says that before we're saved, we are the enemy of God. That's why many people are offended by pure Christianity. Romans 8:7 says that the sinful mind is hostile toward God and doesn't submit. It looks for happiness in other things. 1 Corintians 7:22 says that you are saved into slavery of Christ (which doesn't sound like all happiness). Selflessness gives up on your own happiness in exchange for pleasing God and helping others (Matthew 22:36-40 first and second greatest commandments). These aren't easy things to do on a daily basis, but it's better to work toward a Holy life that pleases God, than to worry about pleasing ourselves striving toward happiness that we can never achieve (because it goes against God's purpose for saving us).

Sara said...

I really like this post. Here's why I've been teaching a Sunday school class of 2-4yr olds. We have "simple" basic curriculum for this age group. Right now the curriculum goes through the A-B-C's assigning each letter with an attribute of God. We got to the letter H...and you could probably guess what word was assigned to the letter H. That's right Holy...Now here's the part of the curriculum that through me off. They had another word for another weeks lesson that also began with the letter H. Happy!

I was totally conflicted at first because of the very same reasons that you had mentioned in your post. And as I was debating about whether or not to declare to 2-4yr olds that God is a happy God. A part of the lesson suddenly struck me. God IS happy being God why wouldn't he be a happy god? And there fore why can't I be a happy person even if that only means that the happiness I have is simply because I'm happy that God is happy? The whole lesson challenged me to look at the world and God with different colored lenses God is Holy, but He IS also Happy.

The lesson went on to challenge me and my 2-4yr old class to learn to be happy with the things that God has made, with what God has given us ect. The whole lesson just made me smile because I have found myself to be a more joyful person when i just simply think of the fact that God is a "happy" God.

I think we can get so lost in the fact that God is un-pleased with sin that we forget all the things that he is pleased with and that still makes him happy.

So all that to say, your post really resonated with me. :)

Vanessa said...

Hey Josh, thanks for the comment. I'm not sure you got my point. Would you mind looking it over again and seeing if it has anything to do with you? If not, that's cool. I'll think about what you wrote and maybe post more later.

lifeonfilm said...

I love your honesty. This is the part of you I miss the most. Happiness is a vapor here one second gone after that phone call, check bounce, job loss. Holiness isn't an emotion. It does not ebb or flow depending on circumstance. It's a call to die to ones self and live in the resurrection of Christ. It's an act of futile understanding and obedience to the one whose life was traded for our humanness and self killing sin.
Giving up things that satisfy your need to be " happy" is an act of holiness. If Holiness were encompassed my human emotion Christ would have never willfully submitted to the cross, that would have interrupted his happiness.
To live is Christ to die is gain. Happiness is relative.

Anonymous said...

I think I was one of those friends in college and I believe I posted this on my Pinterest page recently. I can assure you I am not really bored with my faith, I did not do it to prick anyone's conscious but my own and I certainly didn't do it to pick a fight. I wasn't attempting to create a dichotomy between holiness and happiness, in fact I think holiness and happiness are like a hand in glove. Pursuing happiness as an end all in life will never make you happy and most of the fleeting pleasures I see people enslaved to (often in the name of freedom, but that is another topic altogether) take them far from holiness. I think the way to be truly happy is to be holy... To be like God. Not in a shallow, ritualistic or external way but to inwardly commit to know and reflect their maker as He truly is not what I simply want him to be. I think of pursuing holiness as pleasing God or as I tell my kids, doing what makes God happy rather than living my life for my own pleasure. And God is Happy, he takes pleasure in us and true holiness takes pleasure in Him. We can grieve Him and we can delight him, we can offend Him and we can bless him, we can defame him and we can exalt him. God does instruct us to be holy, it is both a legitimate standing before Him and a process of becoming more like Him. When we truly delight in Him we will naturally pursue holiness and we will be happy.

Heidi said...

I love this post, but wasn't expecting the first comment. Submission, slavery, enemies of God, etc. Where's the good news in that?!

Great post...I've been trying to write something, but there's just too much :)

lifeonfilm said...

It's so easy to get wrapped up in " Christianness" it like a special club. The most agrivating thing I hear at be beginning of the Year each year is the challenge by the local " Christian station to only listen to Christian music, the 6 songs they play, for a month and see how your life changes. To me that is diminishing Christ. It's easy to be superficial with Christianity.. It's eases the mind and let's one believe that they are doing something good or Chrstian when I'm turn the heart becomes devoted to Christianness and not Christ.
I love peoples expression of their love for Christ, I don't love when it makes other people seem bad because they don't understand the expression.
I think we try to make ourselves " happy" with all of the Christian stuff we surround ourselves with, but we have to keep in mind.. We don't take the plaques, tee shirts and crosses with us when we die, we take our knowledge and love of Christ and there in turn should be our goal resulting in happiness.
- Kerri

Vanessa said...

I'm a little surprised by how many comments have been made on this, and I am thinking about them. I do hope that there is some way to convey that I realize what individuals say and post have millions of reasons and motivations behind them. I'm painting with a very big, broad brush here that isn't directed to one thing, but rather a larger set of issues.

I believe in holiness, but I think it's a lot harder to define than most expressions of Christianity allow for.

I don't think of happiness as a destination, as evidenced by the title of my blog and my subsequent musings about it. I think of it as a symptom, but I don't like the negative implications of the word symptom, because that implies something is wrong. I think I mean, instead, a by-product. I'm not sure I ever advocated pursuing happiness exclusively, just paying attention to it.

Third, I wonder why there is push-back on the idea that a lot of what is put out there in the name of Christianity is hopelessly boring. From bad art, to cheesy music to programs trapped within programs. Isn't it possible that we who aren't bored should be looking for new ways to express our faith that exceeds the "folk" expressions on Facebook and Pinterest? Proverbs states that where words are many, sin is not absent. If all we talk about is Christianity, isn't it possible we are saying it all wrong? And if we dare to express it, shouldn't it cost us something? Shouldn't it cost us revealing our true hearts, true struggles, and even the time it takes to say it? Instead, we click "like" "share" "repin" but what good does that do?

There's a story of David wherein he is going to make a sacrifice to God and it's suggested that he uses a bunch of gift-cattle to sacrifice. David is totally horrified and says, "I will not offer anything that cost me nothing."

This is what I'm talking about. These kinds of posts cost people nothing. All the "likes" are from people that believe exactly the same things. There's no "iron sharpening iron" going on here. Just a lot of back-slapping and re-affirming who's in and who's out.

JoshZinz said...

Vanessa, I thought you were saying that your way of thinking was more in line with the Bible than the pintrest quote. I thought I would share some verses as to what God said. I'm sorry if they were unwelcome; I rarely exhibit the gift of wrapping Biblical logic in a sugar coating. I will try harder this time. Hidi, my point is that the Bible isn't completely full of good news. God isn't ok with everything we do (Romans 6:1-2 says that after salvation, we can't just do everything that makes us happy). Creation growns because of sin and the fall of man (Romans 8:22). People are naturally bad because of an inherited sin nature (Psalm 51:5). The good news is that the bad news isn't the only news. There is a balance to life. We can trade slavery to sin for slavery to the wonders that Christ has in his plan for our lives (that's the good news in that verse about slavery that you seemed to miss). We can chose to serve Him instead of serving our own happiness, and in turn, fufill God's purpose for us in creation. We can be content in selflessness, instead of persuing something fleeting. If contentment is what you're really saying that you want to achieve, I'm in agreement. Happiness rarely plays out the way we want, by persuing the things that we think will bring it. Chasing after holiness will always bring about contentment! Just don't confuse that message with a false Christianity that says that zeal for good works (mentioned in Titus 2:14) is what earns you a home in heaven or bragging rights on earth. It's not done to promote ourselves in any way, but it is done to promote God. We should reflect his Holiness on earth if we want to become truly content.

Sara said...

This may sound completely random and probably won't make any sense. I'm horrible with words so I'll just leave it at this.

But I often think that God is a lot more complicated than we would like to know and a lot more simpler than we would like to think.

Jess said...

I'm tracking with you. I believe in aspiring to holiness - meaning the elimination of evil and the inclusion of the Lord's kingdom. The evil part is a little easier to figure out - porn, human trafficking... In our attempts to "do holy" we unfortunately end up "doing" things that create a culture with no on-ramps and breed a "holier-than-thou" attitude toward the rest of God's precious human race. I don't meet very many Christian who enjoy non-Christians. We have stopped seeing our fellow man as beautiful, interesting, valuable, contributing - they are "the lost." Even that label is ugly. Is that what holiness produces?

Anonymous said...

Vanessa, I don't often read your blog...I was only trying to be clear about my viewpoint on the pursuit of happiness not trying to comment on your perspective or accuse you of false views. It seemed part of the question you posed was why someone would pin such a pithy viewpoint for a big issue. I was only attempting to explain my choice to reuse the pin.

I don't pin things for other people I pin them for me. It set my mind to thinking about things I want to give attention to. No, it doesn't capture the whole issue, but it does put in front of my eyes a way of thinking that causes me to remember many things I have studied or meditated on through the years. It spurs me on to choose one thing over another and to give thought to what my overall purpose in life is. I wasn't trying to bring an offering to God or to the masses with a trite statement that fails to communicate all of what it means to be holy or happy...or what either of those things cost Christ and should cost me.

It did however allow me the opportunity to talk with a teenage girl who is pursuing pleasure as an end all in her life about the fact that there is so much more. Sometimes such conversations arise from what I pin, but again I pin it for me to go back to.

You say "where words are many, sin is not absent". But when none of those words speak to God's character or purposes then I think we must also acknowledge sin is not absent. Yes, we need to be sensitive and not create our own vernacular that excludes people from a faith they ought to be invited to be part of at every turn. Using words that God uses ought not to be something we are afraid to do even if they are unfamiliar or even offensive.

I find it rather presumptuous of you to say there is no iron sharpening iron going on here. Will the post itself do that no, can it do that for me mentally?...yes. Can it provide opportunity for conversation that does?...yes. Can a quote express something I wrestle with in way that moves me along in the journey of understanding my heart or my faith?...yes. Aren't those all a kind of sharpening? Is it the deepest, rawest moment? No. Is it a tool, sometimes yes. Can I gain my fill of genuine fellowship from Pinterest or Facebook... Of course not, but it is a real part of our lives and culture and just as not every conversation, every get together, every interaction with my husband, kids or neighbors is life altering or deep neither will social media always provide that... But there are some sweet moments where it can.

Vanessa said...

Josh, I just saw your comment...for some reason it didn't come through before. Awesome. I hear ya.

Sara, you are so pure of heart. Thank you for your words.

Jess, I should have just had you write this post for me. I love the image on "on-roads."

Amy, thank you for engaging with me on this today. I'm sure you have your own things going on, real life to juggle, without having some person from college "attack" you for pinning something on Pinterest. That's so NOT my intention. I really appreciate how much time and thought you put into your responses. I wish we could have this conversation over coffee instead of online because I know it would be clearer and more beneficial.

When I mentioned "Iron sharpening Iron" I mean more the sort of flippant FB posts that are Christian-y and get affirmed by other Christians but have little weight or meaning, not a conversation or long interaction like this.

It deeply concerns me when Christians only interact with other Christians. Either in real life or online, their total experience is baptized. In that format, the definitions of holy, sin, and happiness get really weird and ungrounded. In trying to feel excitement again in the realm of faith, they are fighting windmills instead of engaging with the real, live world.

That's my beef. Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Christians who have isolated themselves to only be around or near other Christians have created a deficit of true understanding and often grow stagnant in their faith in the name of holiness as they miss the very essence of true holiness. We need to wrestle, we need to explore, we need to interact. A God who can be summed up in pithy sayings or trite theological statements is not worthy of worship. Fortunately for us we serve a God who is deep, complicated and not as easily summed up as we'd like to think. And I believe for all eternity He will amaze us with how he unveils himself to us again each day and we learn just how truly awesome He is.

Holly said...

Maybe joy is a better word than happy? All I know is I am a happy person and God made my personality that way. I also know the life of what I call shallowness. A life of being okay with being spoon fed. A life of living inside somewhat safe Christian boundaries. I also now know the vibrant life of experiencing the freedom and bigness of God! I thought I knew before. Now I know I didn't.

I think one lesson here is we on pinterest do kind of mindlessly pin. Some of the pinners might have just been casually pinning and not truly grasping the idea that the photo really does create a dichotomy between holiness and happiness. And with that, us pinners might want to be more mindful of what we are doing and us viewers might want to be more aware that pinning is just for fun and if what our friends are pinning make our eyes roll one too many times we can simply stop following them for a while, until our eyes start tracking normally.

I truly love what Keri just said up above. In the past I have too easily lived inside that Christian bubble that now I see as a false world of holiness. I have begun to despise the "special club" aspect of Christianity. And I am more mindful of what those outside of my faith see me do as opposed as other Christians. Other Christians "know" they have it right. I simply want non-Christians to know we are not all the same and God is big enough to handle our differences. We can not understand Him and I have always been okay with that.

Maybe I believe that in my honest, authenticity I become more like Christ and closer to holiness. I can't begin to tell you how many relationship show me they are led by God when they say to me, "You are not like a lot of other Christians I know and hide from. You are not judgmental. You really listen to me and laugh with me. You really care about me without an agenda." And it is those reasons I would not pin something like that. I don't want to shut the door on people's faces.

But apparently this opened a door for your above posting friend. However, I would venture to guess there was already a relationship between those two people that really did the "trick". God uses whatever and whomever He wants.

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