"Why Good Things Happen to Good People"

To be honest, when I initially picked up Dr. Stephen Post’s Why Good Things Happen to Good People, I was expecting another thinly-veiled prosperity read in the grand tradition of Osteen and Amway.

I’ve been down that road before: back in the ‘90s my brother jumped on the pyramid-bandwagon, distributing soap samples and copies of God Wants You To Be Rich to everyone he knew. When his finances flopped, so did his faith.

Call me a cynic, but that’s why I tend to be cautious about literature touting enlightened paths to success or affluence: Jesus said to die to myself and take up my cross. The Gospel is peace, transcendence, and total self-effacement; no mention of that six-car garage.

In Post’s book, I was pleasantly surprised to find a very different message than I expected. From the first chapter, he and journalist Jill Neimark introduce us to a paradigm we have seen before but rarely identified as “natural.” That paradigm is selflessness – goodness – lovingkindness. “If I could take one word with me into eternity, it would be ‘give,’” Post begins on page one. Typical prosperity-fare tells us, you deserve much, you can have much, then you can give… and be justified.

Nowhere in Good Things does Post posit a “get-then-give” dynamic. Throughout the book we are exhorted to be giving, loving, respectful and kind. This is not just a kinder, gentler way of living – according to Post’s extensive research, it’s a healthier, natural way of living.
In 2000, Post launched the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL) through Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine. It’s a mouthful that may sound a little fluffy at first, but their methods are pragmatic and scientific with a focus unique enough to be quite riveting. The purpose: study love and its impact on physical and mental health and overall well-being.

Some findings on the power of loving behavior:

  • Giving reduces mortality. Out of 2,000 individuals, those who actively volunteered had a 44% lower likelihood of dying.

  • Giving reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk.

  • Fostering personal gratitude has profound health benefits. For example, the more gratitude a recipient of an organ feels, the faster that person’s recovery.

  • Generous giving is linked directly to deeper spirituality, especially among teens.

  • Forgiveness alleviates depression and lowers stress hormones.

  • Loyalty is a buffer against stress. The security of loyal, steadfast caring is one of the greatest inhibitors of anxiety.

  • When we listen to others in pain, their stress response quiets down and their body has a better chance to heal.

Good Things is not an overtly religious book (though it regularly references Buddhist and Christian teachings) but throughout the read I could not avoid comparisons to Mother Teresa or Jesus himself. The loving, selfless lives they exemplified have too-often seemed unnatural to me – somehow other than human. After all, human nature is dark, selfish and survivalist…

Post makes a compelling case in these pages for the goodness inherently wired into creation. That is not to say that we always choose goodness, but when we do, we are biologically, psychologically and spiritually healthier. One might dare to argue that Jesus is the most purely natural being to have ever walked the earth: the most perfect man, with perfect love in a perfect life. Here I tread dangerously near an old Christological debate, but when we step in line with the goodness of Jesus (conveniently outlined in the Gospels and neatly supported by Stephen Post, PhD.) we align ourselves with an abundant life intended from the beginning.

Despite my accolade for Post’s thesis, I still cringe a little at the tone from the book’s title that occasionally echoes throughout. “Good things… good people.” Am I hypersensitive? Maybe. But something about advertising “good things” strikes me as potentially dangerous – even if the intentions are pure. There will always be people seeking their “best life.” They look for a yoke that’s easy and a burden that’s light and ignore the parable of the rich young ruler.

On page 15, Post writes, “You don’t have to leap from bed at dawn or dole out sandwiches at the soup kitchen in the middle of an icy winter, or take up the torch of social activism and march in the streets, in order to reap the lifelong benefits of giving. You will find the style that’s right for you.” I’m reminded of Kierkegaard calling Christians a bunch of “swindlers” for contextualizing and deemphasizing aspects of the Gospel to fit our comforts. What if we do have to leap from bed at dawn, dole out sandwiches and march in the streets? What if that’s exactly what God is calling us to? Then this westernized Gospel of Convenience placates us and reorients us back on ourselves. Reap those lifelong benefits!

Why Good Things Happen to Good People is a fast and uplifting read. When I finished, I was inspired to do more for my community, my church, and the people I interact with each day. That’s a very good thing. The added benefit is knowing that by doing those things, I’m becoming a healthier person and contributing to a healthier world. But I pray that I never lose sight of the importance of goodness for goodness’ sake. If forgiveness brought us cancer or kindness risked our sight, would we still model love? Let the Gospel Mission lead us through the hardships of life, not around them, so that any blessings are merely an afterthought.

read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

James is Fuller-Bound!

One of my best friends, James North, just got his acceptance letter today from Fuller Theological Seminary!

He left a voicemail on my phone that just said: "you need to call me right away." It was so intense I thought someone died.

James has walked beside me over the last five years as each of our theological worldviews has been challenged, stretched and forced to evolve. He is probably a little more conservative than I, but we've both come a long way from the 50/50 Pentecostal/Baptist worldviews we grew up with.

I'm most jealous that James gets to live in Pasadena, but equally envious that he'll get to take classes from Dr. Veli-Matti Karkkainen (READ his introduction to ecclesiology).

For all my pompous keystrokes, James truly has a gift for teaching. His enthusiasm and charisma will take him very far, I believe, as an emerging voice in the 21st Century Church.

Nice job, man!

read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

OOZING for answers... Ducking the sadists...

I can't deny it: www.theOOZE.com is the most user-friendly and enjoyable online discussion portals I've ever used. It also helps that the thousands of site users and visitors are interested in many of the same subjects I am.

On the other hand, I've also found that (naturally) the same personality types inhabit theOOZE as I find in local churches and Christian circles I frequent...

Lately I've been working on a chapter for my book entitled "Missional Sadism," or something like that. Maybe I'll call it, "Sadistic Witness." Either way, it's about people who literally derive pleasure from watching people squirm and shrink by asserting theological, intellectual or spiritual dominance through religious discussion or evangelism efforts. Sometimes, it's even physical dominance - only masquerading as religious, spiritual or moral.

There are lots of different kinds of sadists: typically we (ok, I) think of sexual sadists when the word comes up, but the kind of Christianized bullying I'm speaking of is subtler - harder to identify and harder, still, to convict. Many of us have been victims of sadism-as-witness. Maybe someone danced over you with theological terminology you didn't recognize and thus couldn't counter. Perhaps they spoke so fast (and so fluently) that you simply couldn't process the arguments (or indictments) coming at you. Maybe they were playing on deep-seated insecurities in your own life (moral struggles, temptations, embarrassing past experiences, chronic fears, guilt, etc...) that left you feeling small, weak and defeated.

No matter what the method or supposed justification, know this: the Kingdom of God does not breed disciples who feed on suffering. The Gospel does not tolerate arrogance, spite, manipulation or tyranny (even on a small scale).

The next time another Christian gets in your face to tell you how wrong you are, how immoral you are, or how right they are - if it makes you feel small, ashamed or silly) - tell them:

"Hey asshole! I am redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and there's no room for your words in the beatitudes of Jesus Christ. Now go steal some kids lunch money and let me seek, first, the Kingdom of God."

...Well, something like that.

read more about my thoughts on Christianity in the real world at www.essenceproject.blogspot.com...

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