Wednesday, August 26, 2015


     It seems to me that happiness gets short-shift these days. Pastors tend to downplay it—rightfully so—'cause it often comes and goes depending on circumstances, whereas Godly joy can by present even in the midst of great sorrow, regret, or unhappiness because God's love is constant and infinite so that there's always plenty to be joyful about.
     Whereas when I was a kid, happiness was front and center, the goal and focal point of all major life objectives. It didn't matter what job you ended up with, where you eventually lived, whom you eventually married, how rich you became, or anything else, as long as you were happy (so said parents and adults everywhere).
     The trouble with that was does anyone really know what will make them happy? How often do we hear of someone happy with a job, spouse, house, car, or neighborhood, only to become very upset or disillusioned about it sometime later? Because people change, what makes them happy one moment may not make them happy the next (as in children before and after Christmas when there's almost always a post-holiday let-down).
     Or how often do we hear someone say if only ____, then I'd be happy. Then through hard work, fortuitous circumstances, or howsoever, he or she does obtain ____, only to discover a fleeting happiness if any at all.
     So I've made a conscious effort not to say "as long as it makes you happy" to my kids in regards to their decisions and instead leave it up to them by saying, "It'll be yours to decide", meaning, they get to choose the reasons--whether in pursuit of happiness, admiration, helpfulness, obedience to God (hopefully), or whatever.  In short, it's their lives, so they should be guided by their own goals, desires, and consciences.
     Which reminds me of a conversation regarding happiness that I witnessed decades ago between my college dormmate and his friend. The two were similar in many ways: good-looking, successful with girls, admired by many, excellent at academics and sports, and fairly well-off financially, being sons of successful entrepreneurs. My dormmate's friend concluded a long philosophical conversation (which they often shared) with a prolonged pause and the question, “But would you say you're happy?”
     My roommate smiled, reflected a moment, and said with a mixture of confidence and unease, “Yeah, I'd say I'm happy...” and justified such happiness with forgettable philosophical mumbo jumbo. His friend with jocular laugh and smile said, “F--- y--, brah!” and thudded his back and left.
     Their friendship was based on such raw, rough-stuff exchanges and didn't suffer the least as a result. But it struck me how deeply unhappy my roommate's friend was and how desperately he wished my roommate was equally unhappy, perhaps because misery loves company.
     It was a shared trait with a friend of mine in Seattle who suffered spells of depression, largely due to lack of success with girls. He resented my meager measure of sanguinity and would do what he could to depress me through hurtful or downer statements, or barrages of unproductive garbage or whatever else until I finally confronted him and we talked respectfully and productively henceforth (for the most part).
     Some suggest that proclivities toward happiness, sadness, joy, or depression are largely innate—we're stuck with what we're born with but that anyone dissatisfied can improve through attention to health and soul via social, religious, medical, psychological, and other avenues. It's such a difficult topic 'cause happiness is impossible to define for each individual—it's so subjective, everyone's different, and one man's happiness may be another man's worst nightmare.
     I've found that happiness is often the fortuitous byproduct of living right more so than achievement of a goal, namely the pursuit of happiness.  Can anyone control their emotions or circumstances to ensure happiness?  If so, why aren't there more happy people?  Clearly, the world is full of unhappy people as anyone can observe (at least here in the United States). 
     Despite the difficulties of defining, pursuing, and "achieving" or more accurately obtaining happiness, I find some of the most beautiful phrases ever include: “I've lived a happy life”, “Thanks for giving me a happy childhood”, “You've made me a happy man”, “These past seventeen years have been the happiest of my life”, and “Happy Thanksgiving, let's eat!”
     May we all experience ample measures of happiness and more. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vacation Bible School Mission

     Our family just got back from our first mission for any of us ever, this at an outer-island vacation bible school for mostly second-generation immigrants from the South Pacific.
     The forty-five kids served—mostly elementary school age—were warm and well behaved. Our very first full day there, I witnessed a seven-year-old go up to Braden (assigned as a youth leader) and give him a bear hug. Braden was caught off guard but smiled and hugged back with hands against the boy's back. He's not the most huggable guy, so the boy must have had an open generous heart.
     Pene, grouped to participate with middle-schoolers her age, was a big help for the leaders making tie-dye shirts, assisting kids with basket weaving and other projects, and demonstrating games and sports.
     Jaren, also grouped with kids his age, became one of the gang and as the youngest of the mission team that numbered sixteen, got special attention from fellow team members.
     Deanne, assigned to third-graders, mostly helped and participated with generous enthusiasm and led by example.
     I, left unassigned, served as self-appointed roamer, seeking to help those in need and doing what needed to get done 'cause everyone else was too busy. Things I got to do included installing brakes on the bike of the pastor's son, mopping and sweeping muddy/dirty floors, making grocery store runs, driving youth missionaries to and from a beach outing, and singing and dancing along with everyone else during worship.
     It was a fun time had by all and everyone in our family felt it was worth it. Pene and Jaren wished they could stay longer, Jaren getting teary when it came time to say bye to all the other youth missionaries.
     Braden got the most out of it 'cause he stayed the full week versus the two days and two nights for the rest of us. We could have all stayed a week but I felt it would be too much, for when our family experiences prolonged separations sans family alone-time to settle, regroup, and recenter, we tend to suffer sleep deprivation, angst, bad moods, and disrespectful attitudes and behaviors. And staying longer wouldn't have been worth it had it cost family peace, unity, and health. As things turned out, I got an eye infection that immediately upon return required a trip to an ophthalmologist and eye drops for a week—something that I was thankful to do at home versus off-island in the midst of hectic schedules and crowded environments. Also, Braden, upon his return, got very, very, grouchy—no surprise as this happens after all his long away-from-home trips—mostly due sleep deprivation and emotional exhaustion, but also due to fears associated with his growing independence. He did very well on the mission and felt good about it, deservedly so, but he knew he wasn't ready to move out on his own, so to gain reassurance that we were still there for him, he acted up by showing extreme rudeness and disrespect to force us, time and again, to have to discipline him. Ah, the confusing and contradictory life of a teen!—loving, independent, and brimming with confidence one minute, fuming, hissing, and growling over the dumbest thing the next all triggered by Braden's refusal to carry out the simplest of tasks the first time every time. How difficult can it be to wash dishes, get some exercise outside, or stay out of trouble? Based on his reaction, you'd think we'd asked him to remove a kidney.
     Photos from later in the trip showed Braden and fellow missionaries with a kid each on their backs. This to me was the real memorable benefit for us all—bonding with loving souls from less fortunate backgrounds. I doubt whether we directly benefited the life of any individual long-term as no such direct evidence exists, nonetheless because our church has been doing this for five years, perhaps God has used our witness to touch a few hearts. And if God plants seeds, abundance often results.
     Braden shared that at the end of the week, many kids wished the school was longer and asked, “Are you coming back next year?” That appreciation for our ministry and obvious blessings shared—what more could we ask for a first mission trip?

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Technology Overload

     Besides not having TV at home (see my prior TV-less Bliss essay), we also don't have Internet access. Well we did for awhile, via out landlord's Wi-Fi, but because of Braden's computer misuse, we asked our landlord to change the password (that Deanne unwisely gave to Braden unbeknown to me with the stern warning “Use only with great discretion.” Well, expecting Braden to exercise great discretion with Internet access is like leaving a room full of cocaine and warning a junkie “Don't touch it.” She did install parental controls for his PC account, but as any teen knows, those can be easily defeated. Almost any sort of movie or video is available on Youtube, for example, and almost any photographic and written material is available on photo sharing websites. Even public library Internet filters are unable to block all such inappropriate material, so I've heard.)
     I never did want Internet access at home for the same reasons I didn't want TV at home: it discourages social interaction and wastes tons of time, and inappropriate material will inevitably be accessed (perhaps by me more than any other). And who wants to be filled with garbage? I often feel like crap after posting to my blog and checking and sending e-mails, which are highly appropriate materials. The reason for these adverse feelings is I hate being on the computer for an hour straight or so. Most frustrating is when I can't get the computer to do what I want it to do, or it does stuff I don't want it to do. I'm not dumb, so my conclusion is that these computer programs or websites are not user friendly.
     The only reason I got an e-mail account is because Braden's Cub Scout den leader required one a decade or so ago. Sure, it's free and super convenient for mass mailings, but the downside is I've read some of the lowest forms of communication ever in some e-mails, with horrendous spellings and grammar, indecipherable meanings, and inane content. Spare me—I've seen far better messages in bathroom graffiti (which seems to be on the wane, probably because kids these days have no need for pens or pencils).
     When I do feel the need for Internet access, I obtain it at work or the public library during lunch breaks. A good week was when I checked personal e-mails only once. Unfortunately, this is rarely possible anymore because of blog posts, essay submissions, and for awhile, urgent church e-mails. (I'm not even sure how I got on that e-mail list. I made it clear from the beginning that I didn't want to be included. I suppose I broke down at a weak point and gave it to them. I've since requested my e-mail address' removal.)
     Braden and Deanne for awhile fed me bovine feces about his having to finish Internet-related homework by the following Monday so we needed to provide him weekend access. I said that that didn't wash because public schools can't force parents to obtain Internet access or favor students with such access, schools must provide ample access for all. “All your Internet-related work must be done at school!” I told him. Sure enough, with all his schools chock full of Internet accessible laptops, teachers and librarians have been happy to provide all the access he's needed during non-class hours. It hasn't been a problem since.
     I find it amusing to read about growing antipathy toward omnipresent and all-consuming technology reliance and engagement. First came the iPods when perhaps half the people I'd see on the bus fooled with these things for awhile, not a single one smiling. Next came iPhones or portable hand held devices for text messaging, playing games, streaming movies or TV shows, listening to music, and such. Again, seldom did I see a smile among them. Whereas when I examined those without these devices who engaged with others, looked about, or even slept, a few at least usually seemed content, or smiled or shared a laugh or pleasant look or exchange with another. To me those were the winners living in the moment, not disengagers staring at images on glass screens, trying to keep up with the latest trend. 
     A recent statistic I read to our family stated that thirty-three percent of people have used a smartphone to appear busy in a restaurant or bar. My observation is that sixty percent of those on the bus using these devices now are playing games, watching movies/TV, or scrolling through lists of who knows what. It seems like a lot of them use it as a disengagement tool to keep others away, a signal not to bother them. I accomplish the same by closing my eyes and trying not to fall too deeply asleep so that I miss my bus stop. For each his own. I'm willing to bet ten years from now, though, no one will be using these devices anymore, just as I don't see anyone using an iPod or Kindle or push button phone or pda anymore, all devises from less than a decade ago. 
     By the way, I'm not opposed to these devices, I just don't think they should be used to avoid or discourage positive or worthwhile engagement with others. And these things can be attention hogs. It was piteous to recently witness parents with two young kids having dinner at a restaurant and their heads were all glued to their own devices, the meal and each other mere afterthoughts. What did that say about them? Did things bode well for their futures? Sure, that meal may have been an anomaly, but judging from their stone-cold expressions, it struck me as ingrained habit, not excited one-time “treats.” And they didn't exchange a single word—very disturbing and sad.
     I suspect a lot more families would be happier with less versus more elective technology in their lives. As with most such niceties, moderation is key, I suppose. 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Aloha State?

     It's amazing how much aloha (love/goodwill/friendliness) Hawaii has retained over the past hundred and thirty years of economic and population growth. I see some every day in courteous drivers that let others cut in, in library patrons that hold the door open for others, in store clerks that walk customers through the store to show where difficult-to-find items are, and in bus drivers that gesture not to deposit money when a passenger forgets for a day his monthly bus pass.
     Praise God the aloha spirit is alive and well!
     I take Hawaii's aloha spirit for granted at times as I do its gorgeous beaches, sunsets, and temperate climate because it's always there and tends to blend into the unnoticed background of everyday life.
     But that makes it all the more jarring and alarming to witness a spate of uncalled-for rudeness in close succession:
  • Upon return from an outer-island trip, our family caught a taxi. I asked the driver (age sixties) the approximate fare and he quoted a high (but manageable) price. He said also, “Plus sixty cents for luggage.” As he loaded our one suitcase and three carry-ons in back, he counted the four and said, “Anymore?” I said, “For those small things?” but he didn't answer. As we departed he thrice asked the address even after I told him I didn't know it and instead gave him the name of our church destination and specific driving directions to get there.
    Nonetheless he showed his displeasure and jerked the car about in very aggressive manner (not too uncommon in the profession). As we continued, he announced his race and asked, “What are you?” I ignored the question but he asked again so I said, “Local.” He then asked Pene's age and after I ignored that question he asked again so I said “middle school.” A lecture filled with sentimental nonsense ensued with an admonition directed to Pene, “Don't ever forget that.” Then followed a self-congratulatory eulogy of his merciful nature, including three profane hand gestures directed at me (as if I were him on the receiving end).
    I wasn't offended but had by then long wearied of his inept attempts at warm-heartedness and poor taste and off-kilter banter.
    At our destination, I gave him the metered fare plus ten percent, which I consider standard (on work trips, this is the maximum my employer will reimburse). He groused thrice with great bitterness about the small tip so I said, “Okay, give me five dollars back” (which left him a twenty percent tip), then he groused twice more that he'd expected more (his initial quoted estimate).
    During our drive over he'd said he arrived from Asia four years prior so I suppose that may explain his “ream 'em” attitude. (All other local cab drivers I've ever had have all been appreciative of whatever tips they'd received and rarely charged for baggage, much less carry-ons. In hindsight, even from the outset, the guy didn't seem very happy, with permanent scowl lines etched in his face.)
  • At a major retailer recently, I was paying by check and the machine I was asked to sign suddenly froze up. The store clerk whined, “It's because you hit the button.” I said “I didn't do anything, I just grabbed the pen and accidentally touched the screen.” She fiddled puzzled with the cash register and whined again about my hitting the button. I said, “I didn't do anything. Can't you just cancel it?” She said,” I tried, but it won't take it. It's because you hit the button.” I said with a chuckle, “That's not my problem it's yours.”  “You have to pay some other way,” she said with a final sigh. I said, “No I don't.” She whined about my hitting the button again and finally my check went through. Her lips curled, she passed me the receipt sans apology or thank you, acting as if her extended hand was peace offering enough (and proof that she didn't deserve firing.) 
  • At a big box retailer with atrocious long, disorganized check-out lines and slow service, Pene and I stood with our shopping cart five customers away from our line's register. The two clerks manning it were ridiculously slow (after twelve minutes, they were still working on the same customer that had only three items.) So I told Pene “stay here” while I waited with an item in hand in an adjacent line that was at least moving. Not much later, a store clerk announced to customers nearby in now ten-deep lines, “there's a shorter line here behind this gentlemen” (me). An aggressive (middle-age) guy with a shopping cart wove past others that had been waiting far longer than he had to take the coveted spot. Five minutes later, I could see that mine was the speedier line, so I called Pene over, who brought our cart along with her. I heard muttered behind my back, “You must be pleased with yourself,” but chose to ignore it. I later heard the guy behind me complain to a store clerk “...he cut in front!...” I said, with a gesture “Go! Go ahead,” and with a hand toward Pene said, “she was with me.” As he cut around, the store clerk thanked me with an apologetic look. After she went, he snapped over his shoulder (while avoiding eye contact), “Don't ever do that again! That's very rude!”
     reckoned it was a judgment call whether splitting up and waiting in separate lines then jumping to the shorter line was kosher or not. It certainly made sense—first come first served versus tough-luck-if-you-chose-the-slow-line, better-luck-next time! And though I never had that problem before, perhaps next time I'll reconsider.
  • On the bus the other day a common occurrence occurred: A number of seated passengers got off at a bus stop, then an impromptu game of musical chairs ensued as dissatisfied (seated) passengers dove for more desired (vacated) seats. An elderly gentlemen took a window seat toward the front. A middle-age man came forward from behind, shook his head as he looked at him, and muttered as he passed, “Yeah, way to go!” as if he'd stolen his seat, and continued to shake his head in disgust as he took a vacant seat further up, still muttering.
     The last two gentlemen mutterers may have had mental issues. (Does that excuse rudeness? They weren't muttering prior to the incidents or much long after.) Regardless, it's apparent that Honolulu is becoming an increasingly rude and unfriendly place. I've noticed it since 1990; my wife's noticed it since arriving later in that decade. Where it's headed is not difficult to see with so many struggling families, burgeoning homelessness, explosive (and extortionate) costs of living, laws favoring the wealthy and fleecing the voiceless poor and middle-class, and ever growing immigrant populations.
      Too bad, it's just such poor and struggling middle-class populations and immigrants that from the late 1800's on, transformed these islands into the beautiful melting pot Aloha State it now is. With the continuing changes and pressures, though, Hawaii's “aloha” may not survive. I hope it will, but Honolulu residents are increasingly looking and acting like U.S. Mainland counterparts. That's not all bad, but it's far from the Hawaii I've known and loved all these years.
      Live aloha, Honolulu, before aloha—like grass skirts, plentiful fish and opihi, cheap rice and poi, reasonable commutes, ample parking, and affordable housing—becomes a relic of the past, irrecoverable and sorely missed.