It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, since that is the end of all mankind, and the living should take it to heart. Grief is better than laughter, for when a face is sad, a heart may be glad. The heart of the wise is in a house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in a house of pleasure. – Ecclesiastes 7:2-4
I would be willing to bet that these words wouldn’t go over very well with virtually any audience at any point in time. Thousands of years of philosophy and religion has been spent on trying to solve the perennial “How can I achieve happiness?” question. How completely counter-intuitive and counter-cultural is it to say that funerals and grief is ultimately “better” than laughter and parties?
Death is the great equalizer of mankind. No matter what station in life you have or what legacy you may leave, you will end the same way as all eventually must. Death is the clock running down that is hung over you. Not only that, but there is no assurance of what time you have left. You may have 40 years or 40 minutes left.
The heart of every man knows this deep down, but the majority of people live the “teenage” life. The life that assumes there will always be a tomorrow. The life that believes you are invincible and that you must have plenty of time left before you get decrepit and ready to go. The fact is that you just don’t know if that’s the case or not. Every day is a day longer where you beat the insurmountable probability that you shouldn’t even be alive to enjoy it.
Solomon was King of Israel after his father David. Solomon famously was the wisest and richest king in world history, and he pursued pleasure more heedlessly than anyone else could. Solomon is really history’s ultimate hedonist and libertine. “Caligula would have blushed.” In Ecclesiastes 2 he details his journey of pleasure pursuing. He tries everything under the sun. He increased his achievements by building magnificent buildings, he had so many slaves that he didn’t have to do any of the work, he had more gold and silver than any other single human in history, he had so many concubines that he couldn’t get around to them all if he tried. He had all the praise, wealth, sex, and ease of life that your typical human ever craves. “All that my eyes desired, I did not deny them. I did not refuse any pleasure..”
Solomon had everything that humans think would make them happy. What did all these earthly delights bring him?
“When I considered all that I had accomplished and what I had labored to achieve, I found everything to be futile and a pursuit of the wind. There was nothing to be gained under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes 2:11
So there you have it. The man most likely to be ensured happiness by worldly standards couldn’t reach happiness that way.
If doing things that makes us happy can’t bring us happiness, what can make us happy?
Solomon’s answer to this question is as radical as it gets. Instead of seeking happiness in things that make you happy, you should consistently consider things that bring sorrow.
Why would this ultimately lead to true happiness? Because it leads us closer to God.
Solomon points out in 5:20 that the things that we find pleasure in are all gifts of God, especially when you consider these things make it harder for us to consider the days of our life. Pleasure or happiness as we understand it is actually the great barrier in the way of us wanting God more. That makes it all the more graceful and incredible that God gives us as much to delight in as He does.
Going back to the first quoted passage, Solomon says that “when a face is sad, a heart may be glad.” When you obtain more understanding of God by considering the full scope of life, it brings a more grateful and balanced view that ends in the greater joy of knowing God better. Wisdom is understanding that it is God who is completely in control, not you. Wisdom is letting go of the feeling that all the things you may be passionate about are important, and that what matters to God is the relationship between Him and you.
It may take a lot of sad times and days for us to learn this wisdom in our deepest hearts, but a sad face won’t be sad forever. In 8:1, Solomon says that “A man’s wisdom brightens his face, and the sternness of his face is changed.” It is wisdom, the understanding that the things of God are what is not futile, that leads to a change.
If you’re in a time of sadness, do not despair! This is the time that God can speak to you and impart a new perspective of wisdom that may bring gladness to your heart. A sad face is nothing to be ashamed of. There is a time and season for everything under heaven, and the Lord works in everyone in His own time. The good news is that there is great reason to find joy in knowing that you are loved beyond all understanding, and that Christ died so that you could be made guiltless before Him and adopted into His family. This should not be forgotten.
Enjoy what God has given you to enjoy in this life, but do it with the understanding that it is a gift that should not be taken for granted or thought of as guaranteed.
“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.” – G. K. Chesterton
Thanks to one of my favorite bands, The Choir, for inspiring this post.
“A sad face is good for the heart
Maybe just now, I don’t understand
A sad face is good for the heart of a man
A sad face is good for the heart
It’s alright, you don’t have to smile” The Choir – Sad Face
Last night I watched Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane again as I’m wont to do, this time showing it to my youngest sister for the first time. Every time I see the film again I notice things about it that I hadn’t caught completely before. The thing that really stuck out to me this time was the running motif in the plot of promises. Near the beginning of the film, there’s a scene where Charles Kane, Jedediah Leland (his closest friend), and Mr. Bernstein (a close associate) are discussing the first newspaper they’re unleashing on New York the next day. Kane keeps refining what he wants on the front page, and ultimately decides to change it one last time. This time, he’s going to feature a “Declaration of Principles” that will outline his promises to the people of New York. Leland doesn’t trust Kane to actually keep these promises, so he asks to keep the original copy of the Declaration because he has a hunch it may “turn out to be something pretty important.”
His hunch is right, as Kane’s principles go off the deep end (to say the least) throughout the film. He abuses his power as a news tycoon to encourage wars and promote his own activities and interests, in comparison to his earnest and ambitious start where he boldly fought for truth. Mr. Bernstein warned Kane that “You don’t want to make any promises you don’t want to keep” as Kane simply retorted that “These will be kept.”
Kane continues to make promises that he breaks, and forsakes making any further ones (as he does in his gubernatorial campaign). He breaks his marriage vows to Emily by committing adultery with Susan Alexander. He breaks his promise to be honest to the people in his papers. His inability to keep his promises becomes a running joke with his friends. Kane’s word eventually means nothing, as Leland had already suspected would be the case.
Promises are a tricky business. People love to make them all the time, to the point that it becomes casual and expected. Have you ever heard two lovers talking to each other? It’s not long before they start making promises. I’ll always love you…. I’ll never leave you, etc.
Parents make promises to their children to appease them that they know they can’t really keep. In Jon Favreau’s Chef the main character promises his son that he’ll take him to New Orleans next month, but one can easily tell he has no intention to do so.
People make promises to their friends (or people they don’t like), that they know deep down somewhere, even with the best of intentions, are most likely to ever happen.
Soren Kierkegaard said that “A no does not hide anything, but a yes very easily becomes an illusion, a self-deception, which of all difficulties is perhaps the most difficult to overcome.” No may be difficult, but it is true and does not obscure your real intentions or abilities. I love how Kierkegaard says that yes can so easily slip into a self deception or illusion. Saying yes to someone and disappointing them is rude and can have devastating effect based on the context, but above all saying yes begins as a self deception. You’re tricking yourself, contradicting what you know you’re capable of and what your truest principles are. You think you can hold the promise this time, but you know deep down it’s not going to happen.
We see all around us that one of the central deceptions humankind regularly employs is to make a promise. We see promises now as nonbinding statements of intention that can be reneged if we change our feelings on the matter, or if the timing just doesn’t seem right, or if it’s just to much of a hassle for us. God on the other hand, takes promises with the utmost seriousness. He always keeps His promises. “He who promised is faithful” according to the author of Hebrews (10:23). The Bible proclaims God’s faithfulness in superlative terms. “Your faithfulness reaches to the skies” (Psalm 36:5); “your faithfulness continues through all generations” (Ps 119:90); “great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:23).
“How does God’s faithfulness show itself? By his unfailing fulfillment of his promises. He is a covenant-keeping God; he never fails those who trust his word.”
– J.I. Packer, Knowing God
God does not make promise like we do. We fail to keep our word, as God never fails to keep his. We constantly deceive, while God never deceives.
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
– Numbers 23:19
We think of some sins as being lesser than others, not as bad. As long as you’re not killing someone or sleeping with someone’s wife or doing drugs or something you’re just fine.
That’s not how God views it at all though.
As Jesus preached on the mount, he told the crowd to “let your yes be yes and your no be no. Anything more than this is from the evil one” (Matt 5:37).
Saying yes or no and not really meaning it is deception, and what does the enemy do best? Deceive. Deceiving others and yourself is partaking in the nature of the evil one.
Learn how to control your yes and no. Whether it’s meeting up to grab some coffee sometime or taking someone in marriage, stand behind your yes. If you’re going to say it make every effort to make sure you will actually go through with it. If it’s no, tell the other person with the compassion Christ told others when he had to say no (Mk 5:19). Remember to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15).
It is not our role or place to try to please everyone and destroy our word and soul in the process.
A false promise can be a self-deception, but it will always be an attack on what is good and true. Solomon says in Proverbs that “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (12:22).
“These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.” – Zechariah 8:16
The world was a different place in 1967.
The social revolution had been building swiftly for the past three or four years after a cycle of turbulence rocked the culture of the western world in an unprecedented way.
The JFK assassination, Vietnam, swinging London, rock music, drugs, free love, all of these elements were pieces of an enormous board of influences that were shifting everything anyone had known for decades. You most likely know this already because you either lived it or read about it in school sometime.
What is often forgotten however, is one of the key ingredients that made the 60’s such a distinctive and exciting time: the overwhelming prevalence of optimism.
Last November, I had the privilege of seeing one of the most powerful temporary museum exhibits I’ve ever seen. It was called “You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It was an exhilarating experience that I’m truly disappointed was only temporary. What was so unique about the exhibit was not only how brilliantly it was designed, but how incredibly relevant the late 60’s was made to the modern era. It felt like the 60’s was alive and breathing, that it hadn’t receded in the past, but that its vision was so advanced that we were only now catching up with it.
The exhibit focused strongly on the music, as one would expect considering the time is considered one of the greatest eras in musical history. Music was not the only field being revolutionized in the late 60’s though. Forward-thinking fashion designed by prominent designers like Mary Quant and Nigel Weymouth were displayed. Psychedelic graphic art like that made by Hapshash and the Coloured Coat was featured along with photographs by swinging epoch-capturing photographers like David Bailey and Terence Donovan. Everything down to the design of furniture, telephones, magazines, cans, and other basic utilitarian things were being engineered with a whole new enthusiasm. You could smell the coming of a new world all around. On the radio, on television, in the clothes, in the stores, even in the chairs you sat on.
The sudden popularity of LSD had an enormous influence on this new freedom of design and childlike hope for a new world. Within about a three-year span, nearly all of the influential rock musicians of the time had taken trips. Many of them described their trips in terms that made it sound as if they had discovered the key to solving the underlying problems of disharmony in humanity. Steve Turner called LSD the “Damascus Road tablet,” turning hard-nosed materialist rock stars into starry-eyed mystics.
God isn’t in a pill, but LSD explained the mystery of life. It was a religious experience.” – Paul McCartney
To again quote Turner, “LSD was the perfect religious experience for the consumer-boom 1960’s. It could be bought, it was fun, it required no sacrifice, you made up your own commandments, and it was in color.”
LSD was seen by many rockers as being the key to a new world. The recognition that we are all God coupled with the loss of ego would ultimately destroy alienation and conflict. This idea was taken so seriously at the time that there were suggestions made to spike the water systems of major cities with hallucinogens to spread the message.
Timothy Leary, high priest of acid in 1967, encouraged the view that LSD could allow humanity to make an evolutionary leap to a near-perfect state. The drug was seen as a cleansing agent. It could break down all the junk loaded on your mind by society and modern civilization and bring you back to the innocence of childhood. Being childlike was incredibly hip. Festival goers would blow bubbles and frolic about in painted bodies. Brian Wilson was writing a song utilizing the Wordsworth line that the “child is the father to the man.”
What was the great message that LSD brought which revealed the “answer” to the mystery of life? Love was the answer. Masters and Houston reported one of the effects of LSD was that “this idea emerges… that a universal or brotherly love is possible and constitutes man’s best if not only hope.” Paul McCartney heartily concurred. In 1967 he claimed, “The need today is for people to come to their senses and my point is that LSD can help them. We all know what we would like to see in the world today–peace. We want to be able to get on with each other. I believe the drug could heal the world…. I now believe the answer to everything is love.”
“Love became the buzzword of 1967 rock ‘n’ roll culture. It gave rise to a huge wave of optimism. The Beatles sang, ‘With our love, we could change the world,’ and millions of young people, for a few months, truly believed they were right.” – Steve Turner
A few months was right. The LSD religion craze came crashing down almost as soon as it started. The idea was destined to be short-lived in reality. Once you saw the possibilities, where would you go from there? A LSD “religious experience” offered no ground to stand upon whatsoever. There was no guiding light, no worship, and no discipline. The central question was “now what?”
To make matters worse, LSD ended up not just being less than what experimenters looked for. It ended up destroying people’s lives and minds. Stories spread of “acid casualties,” people who had gone on trips and whose minds had never returned. There were also some who, truly believing all to be one, saw no harm in jumping out of an upstairs window. Many experienced “bad trips.” Nightmares that made the user feel terror, fear, and loss of control. The Beatles themselves soon abandoned the drug. Lennon called Timothy Leary’s book “stupid” and blamed the drug for harming his confidence. George Harrison had a bad experience with San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury hippies. Thinking the city was going to be a utopian paradise of love and friendliness, he instead found a ghetto of “dirty people” and addicts. Harrison was quickly telling the press that “LSD isn’t a real answer. It doesn’t give you anything.”
“I was experimenting with LSD. I had done some trips and it was terrible. I’d wake up having nightmares…I had ‘Peace’ written on my wall and I went around giving the peace sign, but I didn’t experience peace in my life. I didn’t know what peace really meant; it was just a cliché.” – Phil Keaggy (Glass Harp)
Allen Y. Cohen, one of the original disciples of Timothy Leary, became disenchanted as well. He explained,
“The use of psychedelic chemicals did not lead to a social utopia. Our attempts failed not because of the quality of the people but because these results do not accrue from chemical-induced experiences. You can’t carry over even the most profound experiences you have. You can feel very loving under LSD, but can you exert that love to someone who previously you didn’t like? The long-range answer is no.”
Thus the dream for a new world of peace, love, innocence, and oneness under LSD was recognized to be a sham. If LSD couldn’t make you love your enemies, then it ultimately could change nothing. Rock stars sought more grounded answers in eastern religions and transcendental meditation, but this was quickly dismissed as well. John Lennon claimed that “The dream is over…. We’ve got to get down to so-called reality.” This summed up the closing of the 60’s; the closing of hope for a different, better world.
The utopian vision of the counterculture had good intentions, so where did it go wrong? The hope had permeated all things. It was a time filled with magic. New-comer counterculture films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde were getting recognized by Hollywood as having a massive impact, ushering in an era called the “New Hollywood.” Pop music reached artistic heights it had never before achieved. There was an excitement for all that was new and different and better that replaced the stale consumer-driven world that had been long dominant since the end of WWII. It seemed that the world could really continuously involve into a greater place.
It is clear with hindsight that the means of 1967 which were thought to be world-changing ended up being a dream that didn’t reflect reality. War continued because not everyone would take LSD, and even those who did had mixed experiences and disillusion. Drugs, free sex, rock music, Eastern religion, marches, etc. all didn’t have the long-term effect that was hoped for. Despite this, the 60’s has had an undeniable mark on the world at large. We are living in a post-60’s society. Things that were still out of the ordinary at that time have passed into the mainstream. Everything from experimental pop music to conservation efforts and vegetarian eating are products of movements that found their start in the 60’s. While the societal goals envisioned at this time were out of reach, having such lofty visions led to a great deal of change despite the loss of the ultimate “dream” of peace and universal love.
I want to close with a song that I feel like encapsulates the year of 1967 as a whole, and indeed the dream of the 60’s itself.
In 1967, The Zombies went into Abbey Road Studios and recorded an album that is now considered one of the greatest of all time, Odessey and Oracle. The album would mostly not see the light of day until “Time of the Season” became a radio hit two years too late in 1969, but now the album is considered to be a masterpiece. One of the songs on the album is a psychedelic swirl that writer Rod Argent says wasn’t even influenced by drugs, since he had never been interested in them. The song captured the spirit of the times with great poetry in music and words.
You can listen to the song here: The Zombies – Hung Up On a Dream
Check out these lyrics:
Well I remember yesterday
Just drifting slowly through a crowded street
With neon darkness shimmering through the haze
A sea of faces rippling in the heat
And from that nameless changing crowd
A sweet vibration seemed to fill the air
I stood astounded, staring hard
At men with flowers resting in their hair
A sweet confusion filled my mind
Until I woke up only finding
Everything was just a dream
A dream unusual of its kind
That gave me peace and blew my mind
And now I’m hung up on a dream
They spoke with soft persuading words
About a living creed of gentle love
And turned me on to sounds unheard
And showed me strangest clouded sights above
Which gently touched my aching mind
And soothed the wonderings of my troubled brain
Sometimes I think I’ll never find
Such purity and peace of mind again
“‘Hung Up on a Dream’ is one of my favorite Rod Argent songs. It was written at the time of the Summer of Love. We had great hopes that the movement would develop into something more. It was a time when it was possible to envision that the power of universal love might be extended to all. It wasn’t. It didn’t. It crashed in a fog of drugs and exploitation. Maybe it will happen one day” – Chris White (Zombies)
The dream of 1967 may have crashed, but that doesn’t mean hope still can’t be alive fifty years later in 2017. The dream that hope can lead to great change that betters all humanity. Perhaps there is a love that is grounded in truth, that leads one to loving even your enemies, that gives a real answer. A love that leads to you thirsting to really change, to always push towards the new, the better, all in childlike joy.
That’s a love and hope and peace to look for.
Thanks to Steve Turner, whose fantastic book Hungry For Heaven: Rock ‘N’ Roll & the Search for Redemption provided the bulk of information for this piece. For more on these issues of spiritual issues in musical movements I can’t recommend that book enough.