The Joy of Service

The Joy of Service

What really matters?

This is a question that I’ve been asking my entire life, and I strongly believe that contentment has absolutely nothing to do with the things we have or our social stature. We are only going to experience fulfillment by humbling ourselves at the feet of others through service.

I’m reminded of an instance back in 1999 when I was invited by the Aspen Institute to give a short talk about corporate responsibility in New Orleans.

In a quick 30 minutes, I gave a David Letterman-like top ten list of reasons why corporations should be involved with their communities. The audience seemed to respond positively to my comments, which was reassuring.

Afterwards, there was a dinner in the warehouse district of New Orleans in a penthouse condominium belonging to a developer of the district. I was awed by the luxury and the beauty of the condo. It was a beautiful night which allowed people to freely use the very large outdoor patio where a band was playing. Every room was filled with fine art and food.

As I milled around, a steady stream of people came up to remark about my talk. I got a sense of the distinguished group that was present.

A university president.

A former president of a Fortune 500 company.

A former assistant Secretary of State.

A senior healthcare executive.

What struck me, as it had a number of times before, was that these individuals were no different than the people I worked with day in and day out at the Church Health Center. They were neither smarter nor more interesting. For the most part, they did have a lot more money, but that did not make them happy.

Like all of us, they were looking for meaning in their lives and a sense of purpose which could make them happy.

Fortunately for them, they did not have to worry about the bare necessities of life. Food, clothing, and shelter would always be at-hand. They were surrounded by the best of everything.

In the end, though, those things are fleeting and unfulfilling. It was like the hotel where I stayed that time in New Orleans. A travel magazine conspicuously placed on the bedside table listed it as the second best hotel in the world. But as I looked around, all I saw were four walls with a bed and a bathroom.

My experience in New Orleans many years ago reinforced in my mind that my own search for happiness will only be fulfilled through the work I do for others at the Church Health Center. It is in this way that I will better know the love of God, which I feel certain is the only source of contentment and fulfillment.

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Meeting Richard Rohr

This last weekend at the Church Health Center was certainly a full one! With our annual community walk Walking as One going on at our Wellness facility and the Westberg Symposium for faith community nurses in full swing at the Peabody Memphis Hotel, the Church Health Center was certainly living out its mission of helping others live their healthiest, most joy-filled lives.

Dr Morris westberg

Named after Granger Westberg who held an unwavering conviction that the church can do more to help people find healing, the Westberg Symposium focuses on helping faith community nurses help others all over the world.

My colleague at the Church Health Center Antony Sheehan was even named an honorary Peabody Duckmaster, if you can believe it.

Antony Sheehan as Honorary Duckmaster

Antony really gets to have all the fun.

I had one more item on my weekend agenda, though, that had nothing to do with ducks. I spent a portion of the weekend in Albuquerque with Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation. Some of you might know his writings very well, which include Everything Belongs, Adam’s Return, and The Naked Now. I admit I had not read anything of his before the weekend, but I am now a big fan.

Scott Morris and Richard Rohr

Fr. Rohr, a provocative and excellent communicator, has devoted himself to a life of contemplation yet spends a great deal of time teaching others about the contemplative life. He’s carved out his niche in speaking to people in positions of power about the spiritual life; almost everyone at the small event was the CEO of a major company. He begins his seminars with ways to become powerless.

Of all the things he said, his emphasis on the power of being present with others resonated most with me. Achieving full presence requires great effort and focus that cannot be faked; you have to live in the moment. This is an idea I have talked about for years and try hard to practice, but it is so hard. It is easy to always be looking over the person’s shoulder you are talking to for someone more important or more interesting. As humans, we are prone to think of the next thing we want to say or the next thing we want to do. However, only by being fully-present in the moment do you have a chance to know what God has in store.

Fr. Rohr also points out that Christians do not have a lock on knowing what God wants for our lives. He quotes Hindu scriptures that were written 2,500 years before Jesus and shows how what they say sound a lot like what we read in the Bible. We are wrong to think that only our “tribe” has all the answers. In fact, such “tribalism” is exactly why the world is threatening to blow apart today. None of us knows God in a way that is exclusive to our small band of followers. We need to learn from others if we ever want to grow.

My goal was to get him to come to Memphis, but he explained to me that now that he is 72 he no longer travels. But I now have a long list of his writings to read. I am starting with Falling Upward which is what much of his thoughts over the weekend reflected. What was equally good was I made several new friends who are working around the country to make a difference in God’s world just like we are here in Memphis.

Why We Must Search for More Than Eggs at Easter

Why We Must Search For More Than Eggs at EasterGrowing up, I looked forward to Easter for one reason – the Easter egg hunt.

My mother would dress me in a white suit with a brown shirt, an ensemble that I would never select on my own. I didn’t care because I was single-minded of purpose: find as many eggs as possible.

It was years later that I realized that Easter had anything to do with Jesus. And when I did, I struggled to understand what Jesus being raised from the dead had to do with me. Over the years, what is known as “blood theology” was everywhere I looked. The idea goes something like this: Jesus must die in order for me to be saved and that his resurrection somehow validates that. To be completely honest, I have never been able to understand why Jesus must die for my sins. 

What I do understand is that God loves me and all of humanity, yet we are estranged from Him in ways that cannot be overcome by willpower. Something beyond my own doing is required. I believe that God’s love as expressed in Jesus is what makes it possible for me to know God’s love in this world, that through the life of Jesus and through the mystery of the experience of the resurrected Christ, I am able to know what the love of God means.

I believe that my faith in God as revealed in Jesus makes it possible for me to follow a path that helps me know the joy and love God created for me. This happens only through the grace of God that I experience through the community known as the Church.

Which naturally brings me back to Easter eggs and my white suit. I didn’t have this theological understanding when I was a child, and I fully realize that the way I see it now might change; it might even be wrong. I also don’t expect others to agree with me for us to look for Easter eggs together.

But I do believe that the search together is the glorious journey God has set before us.

Every day at the Church Health Center, I have the privilege of being with people who know that it is only by God’s grace that they can live a life free of pain. I get to help walk that journey with them, and we clearly walk it together.

Today is Easter, and I hope you will take the time to rethink what you truly believe. I hope you are grateful for those you spend each day with who take the journey of life along with you.

Even if we don’t fully understand how the mystery of God’s love works, I am confident that God will find a way to have us experience it in remarkable ways.

Dr. Scott Morris