Beliefnet
Truths You Can Use

dilbert god

The newspaper is rarely is a good source to find wisdom. We find opinions. We find facts. But real insight on how to live well is are. So we turn to other sources like books and essays and blogs.

But what if I told you one section of the newspaper does contain wisdom? And that section is the one you are the least likely to anticipate? That would be the comics.

The best comic strips do not just make us laugh. They trigger aha moments. They make us think. They stick with us, and we want to tell our family and friends about them.

The Wisest Comic Strip

My all-time favorite comic strip is Dilbert. I love it even though I do not work in the traditional office setting Dilbert so often mocks. But I love the insight of the comic’s author, Scott Adams.

Adams shares more his insights in a phenomenal book, How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. Adams’ ability to capture deep ideas in pithy sentences drives the entire book.

The World Needs to Make Sense

Though he is not a person of faith, one of his key observations reveals a lot about what makes our faith traditions so powerful. The world, as he points out, is too complex for any one person to understand.

Even Albert Einstein, perhaps the smartest person to have lived, admitted he knew only a fraction of what there is to know about the world.

Therefore, in order to survive and not feel totally overwhelmed, we develop a perspective, a point of view. That perspective helps make sense of what happens to us.

Someone with a secular perspective sees the birth of a child as purely a medical phenomena. A person of faith sees it as a miracle from God.

Do you Want a Longer Life? 

Each perspective has its place. We would not want a doctor delivering a baby to ignore the science and think of it only as a miracle. But when it comes to living a meaningful life, the faith perspective works very well. It leads us to longer, healthier and more compassionate lives.

Indeed, recent studies show that people of faith live, on average, seven years longer than others, have more friends, and a healthier lifestyle.

We cannot fully understand why faith works so well. I say it is because God created us this way, and when we follow God’s teaching, we are optimizing ourselves as human beings.

But others might offer a more pragmatic and sociological prospecting, suggesting faith works because it binds us to others and creates communities that look out for one another. We do not need to know the precise reason faith works in order to see that it does.

All we need to realize is that it works. So if you want a better life, you don’t need more things. You need more faith.

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chanukah and christmas

Jewish tradition often leaves me perplexed. A few years ago, the first night of Chanukah coincided with Thanksgiving. This year Chanukah begins on Christmas Eve. How is that possible?

The Jewish calendar revolves around the lunar cycle. The lunar cycle lasts about 28 days. That is a month in the Jewish calendar. The typical lunar year is 355 days.

To keep the calendar more aligned with the Western secular calendar, the Jewish sages add an extra month every few years. Thus, the secular date of Chanukah changes every year, though it rarely is earlier or later than December.

So is there anything religiously significant about Chanukah and Christmas coinciding this year?

Not really. Some interfaith families will observe both in various ways. But here’s what we can all remember.

We need light in this darkest time of the year. For most of us, December is the darkest month of the year. The days are short and the nights are long.

The lights of Chanukah and Christmas come as a much needed relief and source of celebration. Here’s why we need them.

A Story About Light 

A classic Jewish joke tells of a man looking down at the sidewalk. He keeps walking back and forth and looking down.

A policeman eventually comes up to him and asks what he is doing. He says “I’m looking for my keys. I lost them.”

The policeman then asks, “Where did you drop them?” The man points toward the other side of the street and says “Somewhere over there.”

The incredulous policeman says, “Then why are you looking over here?”

The man replies, “Because over here, the light is better.”

Light My Way

This joke often used by scientists to explain biases in research. The light represents our biases, and we tend to look for ways to confirm them.

But it also reveals a spiritual truth. We seek light in times of darkness. We need light to guide and comfort us.

My hope and prayer is that we can be lights for one another. We can fill our spirits with the light from above, and bring it down to one another in

 

Earlier this year a friend of mine delivered a sermon at Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Facebook comments soon informed him that the church had once been headed by Donald Trump’s favorite minister.  

norman vincent peale

That minister was Norman Vincent Peale. Reverend Peale presided at his marriage to Ivana. Trump has spoken about Peale’s extraordinary sermons and teachings.

Simple Wisdom

Regardless of what one thinks about Trump, his favorite minister warrants renewed attention. While Peale was popular in the 50s and 60s, he fell from the public eye because of some of his more conservative political positions. His writings were also seen simplistic and backwards-looking.

But there is a difference between simplistic and simple. Peale’s writing is far from simplistic. It does, however, convey some simple and overlooked guidance for living happier and more productive lives. What are they? 

1. Always be optimistic because optimism makes happiness possible: Even in trying circumstances, which each of us faces, optimism benefits us. It helps us cope when things go wrong, while increasing the chance we can create a better outcome. This is not just faith talking. It is science.

Researchers have discovered what they term “the optimism bias.” The way we view the future helps shape what it turns out to be. When we view it positively, we reduce anxiety and stress. And we focus on creating the future we envision.

Israeli Discoveries

Much of the research in this area has, interestingly, come out of Israel. The world’s foremost optimism expert, Dr. Tali Sharot, writes that “The tendency for positive predictions to create positive outcomes is rooted in fundamental rules governing the way the mind perceives, interprets and alters the work it encounters. 

“The mind has a tendency to try to transform predictions into reality because our behavior is influenced by our own subjective perceptions of reality.”

In other words, what we believe is more likely to come true because the belief generates the action we need. We will work harder to realize our beliefs. Peale knew 60 years ago what researchers are proving today. (Click here to get 10 Life-Changing Quotes from Norman Vincent Peale) 

2. Find meaning in tragedy: Shakespeare said, “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” In other words, we assign meaning to life’s events.

Certain events like the death of a loved one inevitably produce sadness. Yet, they can also lead us to make positive changes in our  life. They remind us of what matters most. They can help us renew other relationships.

We can find hope, as Peale recognized, even in the worst circumstances. And we can turn our tragedy into a lifeline for others. Consider the victims of cancer and Alzheimer’s whose survivors have raised tremendous funds to help find a cure, so others do not experience the same tragedy.

3. Pray with intention: Peale was an extraordinary preacher. Yet, his colleagues said he always got tremendously nervous before getting up to speak.

What calmed him and gave him focus were a few simple prayers. They gave him the push to share his message with the thousands who needed it.

Peale understood prayer is not simply about saying something to God. It is also about saying something to ourselves.

It tells us of who we are and what we are called to do. It gives God an opening to into our hearts and minds so God can help use our gifts. It reminds us that God has our back.

300 years ago a Jewish mystic said “God dwells where we let Him in.” Prayer is a way of opening the door so God can come in. And when God comes in, we find the inner strength to live fully and pursue the happiness for which we were created.

Get 10 Life-Changing Quotesfrom Norman Vincent Peale

Something new and wonderful happened last night. The Chicago Cubs became World Series champions for the first time since 1908.
cubs celebrate
Amidst the celebration, we can learn so much to help us in life. Baseball is not just a sport. It teaches us about life. Here are ten truths we can learn from the Chicago Cubs victory:
  1. Be patient: Longfellow wrote “good thing comes to those who but wait.” The Cubs had not won a World Series since 1908. This drought was the longest in baseball. But it ended. When going through difficult times, remember, as King Solomon once put it, “This, too, shall pass.”
  2. Honor the past: On my Facebook feed, so many friends posted pictures of deceased parents wearing Cubs hats. Baseball unites generations. Like faith, It reminds us we are part of a team, an idea, much larger than ourselves.
  3. Have a plan: When he came to Chicago in 2011, Baseball operations President Theo Epstein said, “I’ve got a plan.” He followed it. The Cubs executed on it. What do you want to achieve in life? Plan for it. Of course, you may need to make mid-course adjustments. But consistentency and persistence pay off.
  4. Celebrate good times: We live in anxious times. That makes celebrating  all the more important. Joy is infectious. When we celebrate our joy, we spread the spirit to others. Here in Chicago, even White Sox fans are celebrating the Cubs.
  5. Hope is powerful: Cubs fans know all the legends of curses and superstitions. Yet, we know they don’t matter. Hope does. Hope gets us through painful times. One man held a sign at the final game that said, “Now I can die in peace.”
  6. Momentum defies statistics: The Cubs defied all odds by winning three games in a row rally back from earlier losses. Momentum is powerful. It can push us to overcome pain and loss. If we start with small victories in our life, we can gain the energy to help us get big ones.
  7.  Trust: Facebook has made it possible for everyone to broadcast their game analysis to the world. Whenever a coach makes a decision, some people mock or question it. But sometimes we just need to trust. In life, God has our back. It may not always seem that way, and we have lots of questions, but sometimes we just need to act, and trust that everything will be okay.
  8.  Life can feel lonely: A good friend wrote before game seven about remaining a Cubs fan through the long drought and painful years of loss. Whether we are baseball fans or not, we will face those periods in life. And we will feel alone. But faith reminds us we are never truly alone. And Cubs fans knew that last night.
  9. We are a community: A few years ago I read a book arguing that the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s helped the city of San Francisco come together and overcome its many tragedies of the 1970s. Chicago faces many challenges. The Cubs may help bring us together to confront them.
  10. Great achievements take time: It took the Israelites 40 years to reach the Promised Land. It took the Cubs 108 years to win another World Series series. The the best things in life are worth waiting for. They take time to come to fruition. And we are lucky enough to live in such times.