Pearls of Wisdom from Dwight Schrute?

Why Rainn Wilson Shuns Happiness…and So Do I

Dwight SchruteI never thought I’d learn life lessons from the likes of Dwight Schrute.

But alas, that relentlessly annoying character from NBC’s The Office is played by a rather thoughtful and likable fellow named Rainn Wilson. And RELEVANT magazine recently featured him in a surprisingly touching cover story.

What struck me most from the interview were Wilson’s comments on happiness, a state we humans seem to be constantly chasing. Heck, it’s even written into the Declaration of Independence. Yet the whole concept of happiness seems so shallow, so fleeting. I’ve always thought we should be striving for something a bit more substantive, like fulfillment or satisfaction.

JOY, anyone?

Here is an excerpt from the piece on Wilson:

“I truly believe that happiness is not an if/then statement,” he says. “I think through most of our culture it’s, ‘If I get this, then I will be happy. If I get this job, I will be happy. If I make this much money, I will be happy. If I find my mate, I will be happy. If I have success in my career, I will be happy.’

Whatever it is, there’s this series of if/then relationships. I think that’s not how happiness works.”

“I don’t like the word ‘happiness,’” he clarifies. “I think we have it in the United States—‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ What is the pursuit of happiness?

Happiness, to me, is like my son when you take him to Santa Monica pier and he goes on a roller coaster and eats cotton candy. He’s happy. And then eight minutes later, he’s not happy. He wants to do it again to get happy again. Or he wants to go on the merry-go-round so he can get happy. He wants to go swim in the ocean so he can be happy. Happiness is this thing that you’re chasing.”

“I think that the better word is ‘contentment,’” he says.

“Contentment lies in living fully in your life’s purpose. Living in God’s purpose for you breeds a contentment that’s not contingent on achieving certain things or doing certain things … The ancient Greeks believed in a concept called eudaimonia, which translates as ‘human flourishing.’ That was the highest ideal in the Greek world.”

He wonders aloud, “Can you imagine if our natural motto was, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of human flourishing?’ It’s not happiness; it’s human flourishing—deep, soul-enriching stuff. It’s connection. It’s service. It’s work. It’s creativity. It’s beauty.”

Then he settles into that thought, declaring, “I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of human flourishing.”

Can someone please give Dwight an “Amen”?

Waiting on the Mystery

“Mystery,” a song on the new Sara Groves record, speaks to her recent bout with anxiety, depression and writer’s block – the longest she had ever experienced.

On the director’s cut of this striking album (“Invisible Empires,” currently downloadable from her website), she shares some candid commentary about the frustrating season she endured. And she credits her husband Troy for convincing her of the need to write through it.

“You need to write from where you are now,” she recounts him saying when she expressed her desire not to write from a negative place. “You can’t change where you are and then start writing,” he continued. “You’re not going to get out of this until you start writing again.”

And so she did:

…My body’s tired
From trying to bring you here.
And my brow is furrowed
Trying to see things clear.

So I’ll turn my back to the black
And fall
And wait for the mystery
To rise up and meet me…

She recalls bursting into tears after writing these words, as they expressed so completely what she truly believed, yet they came unexpectedly and without full volition.

I’m a huge fan of Groves’ work. It’s simple and honest and beautiful, and it always points to the God she fervently serves.

This song, in particular, resonates with me in a way few songs do.

I suppose that’s because I’ve been through similar dark periods, and I can’t always figure out where they come from or how to move beyond them.

Friends and family can help. Faith can help. Music can help.

Sometimes, though, nothing at all seems to help, besides waiting for that “mystery” to reach in and lift the clouds. It always does.

It’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Thanks, Sara. You too, Troy.

Read the complete lyrics.

Concocting Enemies

In Support of the Rally to Restore Unity.

A few years ago, I tuned in to Larry King Live as he was moderating a friendly debate between a Catholic priest and a Protestant minister (despite being an avowed agnostic, Larry frequently welcomed religious-minded guests and treated them with uncommon respect).

As a born-and-bred Catholic currently attending a Protestant church, I was drawn in by the discussion.

I can’t even recall the specific topic at hand, but I do remember wanting to immediately pick sides. The debate was civil and non-confrontational, yet I felt the need to align with “my guy” (the Protestant minister) while awaiting opportunities to discredit the other guy.

After the first commercial break, the discussion continued – but with the addition of a third guest: a Jewish Rabbi

Now the stakes had changed. Suddenly – and unwittingly – my perspective shifted, and I latched onto the priest-minister duo. Given the new threat on the scene, the differences between the first two guys didn’t seem as significant.

This conversation progressed until it was time for another break, after which a Muslim cleric appeared on the set. 

Now my world was really shaken. Clearly, this new imposter was the real adversary, and the Judeo-Christian trio was an alliance I felt compelled to throw my support behind.

The final segment introduced the most troubling panelist of all: a card-carrying atheist. And darn it if I wasn’t forced to revise my perspective yet again to accommodate the latest configuration of guests. I cocked my gun and aimed it squarely at newest Enemy #1.

No question about it, this show cleverly messed with my mind, stretching and challenging it in the process.

I came away from the experience with a few personal epiphanies, which I have taken the liberty of broadening into general principles about humanity: 

1. We are most comfortable with those who think, act and look like us. It’s safer and helps preserve the status quo.

2. The more we surround ourselves by “clones,” the more uncomfortable, threatened or frightened we are by anyone who isn’t one. Our holy huddle ends up serving as a bomb shelter whose primary function is to protect the occupants.

3. Getting to know – even like – someone with a different belief system doesn’t have to threaten or diminish ours. In fact, it can strengthen it.

When we completely dismiss someone or deem him dangerous/untouchable, we essentially release ourselves from having to treat him with dignity or respect. Which means, of course, that we also negate the potential of actually developing a relationship that is potentially life-changing for both of us.

All because of fear. Or pride. Or complacency.

I’m grateful to Mr. King (a non-religious Jew) for illuminating that reality for me.




When Tree Huggers Meet Jesus Freaks

The Confluence of Holy Week + Earth Week 


This is the week when Jesus Christ and Mother Earth collide.

For billions of Christians, it’s Holy Week, honoring the final few days of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry.

For countless environmentalists, it’s the annual campaign for promoting awareness and appreciation of the natural environment.

Both groups will commemorate sacred milestones on Friday, April 22: Good Friday and Earth Day. In fact, it’s the first time ever that these two “holidays” are occurring simultaneously.

Some might find it sacrilegious or ludicrous to compare a 2,000+-year tribute to the crucifixion of a Savior with a 40-year-old anniversary of a bunch of green fanatics.

Yet. as someone who aligns with both groups, I find the two quite complementary.

My faith inspires my desire to be a responsible steward of the Earth, and vice versa. It’s my love for God that compels me to honor His creation. Conversely, it’s when I savor the beauty and majesty of the Earth that I’m naturally drawn back to the source and ultimate sustainer of our world.

Strip away the politics and hyperbole (on both sides), and you’re left with two movements that really shouldn’t be in conflict.

And increasingly, that seems to be the case. The Green Christian movement is a growing grassroots network of faith-based environmentalists. They, too, believe their commitment to ecological principles and practices is an authentic act of worship to God.

It’s my prayer that we “Jesus Freaks” and “Tree Huggers” continue to lower our walls and open our minds and hearts to one shared reality:  we are standing on holy ground. 


The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it.
     –  Genesis 2:15

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that this week also marks Passover, which commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Although I don’t practice Judaism, it’s an important part of my heritage, as my dad’s family is Jewish. 


Learn more about the Green Christian Network.

Make an Earth Day pledge.





All My Favorite People are Broken

Don’t worry, I won’t be naming names. But let’s face it, most of us are a pretty sorry lot. And the rest just hide it better.

Which is why I am so entranced by a song on Over The Rhine’s latest – and probably greatest – CD. It’s called “All My Favorite People Are Broken,” and like most OTR songs, it’s pithy, profound and hauntingly beautiful. 

The overall gist of the tune is: you’re messed up, and I’m messed up. And that’s OK. We need each other.

Now that’s a message I need to hear.


Hi, I’m Mike, and I’m Not a Mormon

But I do know a compelling marketing campaign when I see one.  

A series of “I’m a Mormon” TV and radio spots are running rampant in St. Louis, and they are striving to convince the non-LDS masses that Mormons aren’t as freaky as we might believe.

Not surprisingly, these vignettes make no mention of such contentious “Mormon issues” as polygamy, special underwear, baptizing the dead, or Joseph Smith and his golden plates.

What they do present are attractive, articulate, successful men and women talking about their lives and interests. Joy is a world-champion longboarder. Jeff is a sculptor and motorcyclist. Cassandra is a painter.

So why are our LDS friends investing in this high-end, pricey media campaign? Some have surmised that these spots (which are running in nine mid-sized “swing-state” cities) were created to help normalize the Mormon faith in advance of Mitt Romney’s run for the White House in 2012.

Spokesmen from the Mormon organization have vehemently denied this accusation, but I’ll admit it’s a compelling one.

We’ll have to see if the campaign spreads to other cities and builds momentum alongside a certain former governor from Massachusetts.


The man behind the curtain?


Even a counter-campaign is spawned!