It was during my high school and college years that my cultural sensitivities (or lack thereof) were influenced by a television show called Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K). When I heard that cast member/writer Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo, et al) is a fan of author Kurt Vonnegut, I decided to dig deeper. I borrowed a copy of Slaughterhouse Five from the University library and read it cover-to-cover in a couple of days. Who knows what important lesson I missed while skipping another session of Introduction to Computers, undergraduate course catalog #CPS150, but whatever it was, I’m sure it wasn’t as beautiful as the bombs of Dresden reassembling and going back into the planes. If that last sentence doesn’t make sense, well… so it goes.
I still read Vonnegut from time to time. Last night I came across a section from his book Timequake that still rattles in my brain this morning. I would’ve taken the time to type it out, but someone on the google already did that. So it goes:
My uncle Alex Vonnegut, a Harvard-educated life insurance salesman who lived at 5033 North Pennsylvania Street, taught me something very important.
He said that when things were really going well we should be sure to NOTICE it. He was talking about simple occasions, not great victories: maybe drinking lemonade on a hot afternoon in the shade, or smelling the aroma of a nearby bakery; or fishing, and not caring if we catch anything or not, or hearing somebody all alone playing a piano really well in the house next door.
Uncle Alex urged me to say this out loud during such epiphanies: “If this isn’t nice, what is?”
This caught my attention because, as Vonnegut points out elsewhere, we human beings tend to notice when we’re unhappy but rarely notice when we’re happy. True? I think so. True of me, for certain. Every person longs for happiness.
Religions of the world offer different solutions to happiness. Buddha would suggest that the secret is to totally eliminate desire. Judaism acknowledges that we’re going to suffer (and that’s about it). Hinduism teaches that you can have anything you want, as long as you want the right stuff and/or can wait for the right life. Interestingly, just about every religious construct acknowledges the same issue Vonnegut points out: we are very aware that something’s not right and that things could be much, much better.
Christianity offers the gospel – a word that means good news. This good news is relevant because we’re especially aware of the bad news. This good news is realistic because it acknowledges that something isn’t right. This good news is effective because it kills the problem at the root. This good news is eternal because our desire doesn’t go away but is satisfied by our Maker.
Jesus Christ relates to us in a way that no other religion has to offer. God becomes one of us and endures our world (our unhappiness) for a lifetime. Granted, Jesus only made it to 33 years old, but that was much older 2,000 years ago than it is now. He didn’t die of old age, though. After experiencing firsthand the sorrows and joys of humanity, He was killed… by the very people He came to save.
Something happens when we interact with someone who has suffered like us, and Jesus certainly has. We feel a connection that runs deeper than a friendly hello. A soul-to-soul connection, which we often shy away from because we don’t want to be really known like that because it’s a little embarrassing — if not outright shameful. Jesus looks at us, knows us, understands us, and loves us (anyway). How does He demonstrate this love? While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Very rarely will someone die for a person, especially a bad person. Jesus died for the worst people, including me. Follow Him and you’ll be rescued, too. This is good news.
The rescue begins now. Jesus taught people looking for happiness to find it by seeking the Father. In so doing, we expand the Kingdom of God and not our kingdom. We look for provision from His hand. We find forgiveness through Christ. We seek shelter from the evil at work in us and around us. This is the essence of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13).
I think God created us to be happy. Deeper still, God created us to be joyful. Deeper yet, God created us to have every need met in Him. Sin breaks that connection and must be repaired. That’s what the cross of Christ does, and that’s where we find forgiveness and connection.
A life change like that should affect our perspective on everything, yes? That’s where Uncle Alex reminds us of the spiritual practice of finding God at work around us. I don’t think he meant it that way, but that’s how I see it this morning. In light of another day provided by the Father, citizenship in the Kingdom through Christ, every provision met, and protection from evil, it seems fitting to say If this isn’t nice, what is?