Tag Archives: ernesto tinajero

A 2-year-old’s lesson in happiness

By Contributor Ernesto Tinajero

Ernesto Tinajero

Here is a riddle.

Ask most people what they want out of life and what do they answer? Happiness!

It’s common both in the amount of times you hear it and in how mundane the answer is, like some beauty pageant contestant claiming holding hands will bring universal utopia. We know behind her smile hides a person who would spite her competition to win the crown given the chance. Like most contrarians, I had a problem with the simple answer, happiness. Most people find happy people annoying and false. A roomful of happy people feels strange and a bit like there should be an organ playing black notes while in the backroom are brain-sucking-out machines making these people happy. Yet, many of us claim that is what we want for our lives.

I think, in the tyranny of my mind, about this as my 2-year-old son rides a scooter bike down the halls of Ronald McDonald House. I am part of a ministry group that goes there one a month to serve a dinner to families with children in the hospital. I do it out of gratitude because of our stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Seattle during my son’s brain surgery almost two years ago. For more than a year my son has been going with us when we serve. He brings fun. He has fun, it’s his gift.

So, here was my son, with joy on his face, flying through the hallways as we finished cleaning up. Happiness doesn’t come close to describing his emotion.  The mystery for me was identifying what emotion my son was showing. His tiny legs push and pump. He smiles and laughs as he goes. Most everyone who sees him becomes filled with his same emotion. Unlike happiness, his mystery emotion spreads.

I say most because there is one boy, the same age as my son, who is distraught. It is his scooter and he wants it back. I, the parent, step in and give the boy his scooter back. My son complains, and, much to his credit, complies. Then, he and I, father and son, go off to play with another toy. We both soon regain that sense of love, beyond happiness, in our playing together and being together. What was my son’s emotion?

If this is not happiness, then what is it? I think about what happiness is. Happiness is an industry. There is no shortage of books, seminars and techniques promising to make you happy. There’s a plethora of drugs that promises to push sadness into an unreal well of happiness. The word’s root betrays it. Dig to the bottom of it, and you find the word happy comes from the Old English word ‘hap’ that translates into ‘luck.’ Luck, a force beyond us, sweeps in and carries us away into la la land.

Luck and happiness depend on circumstances. Win the lottery, then you are happy.  Most of us won’t win the lottery. We, as such, remain unhappy. We’re unhappy because Lady Luck coughed in our faces. Yes we still shell out our money and play the numbers on the fortune cookie.  Happiness is luck. My son dancing does not depend on anything but his act. Scooter or no scooter, he finds joy.

Lucky people do annoy us. Landing a job because you were at the right place at the right time. To add to this, lucky people are unaware of their good fortune. They think it comes from their hard work, and gives them license to lecture the rest of us on how to be happy. Lucky people play a zero sum game. In the luck game some win, some lose. Yet, as my son pedaled and giggled, those who saw him were not annoyed but joined in his joy.

But happiness is unstable. I was happy because I got a raise, but then the next week I found out my son had been diagnosed with a serious condition that requires brain surgery. The winds of fortune are fickle. Whatever my son felt, this emotion, was resilient. When I took him off the scooter to return it he only momentarily stopped his joy to whine of protest, then it was back to finding something to wonder about. Happy people are fickle. My son was filled with something else, but what to call it?

Wisawa Szymborska/Wikipedia

The next morning I found my answer on the radio. Wislawa Szymborska, a great polish poet died. I love her poetry. As I heard the tribute to her, I followed her words down to answer to my riddle. I found my son’s world and a deep spiritual truth. Follow. Her poems are a celebration of life that can be best understood by the word delight. Delight. That was it. Delight is finding the constant light of simply being alive. Szymborska’s poems always found delight with the world. Delight spreads like it does when my son dances. When we go to feed parents who have a child in the hospital, we are delighted to be with them. To find delight in the world is beyond being happy, it is to bring wonder and awe to the everyday, and everyday there is enough that happens to fill thousands of nights worth of wonder.

I said a prayer of thanks for Szymborska’s life. I left for work delighted by my discovery.

Her poem, “Nothing Twice,” brings it home. I encourage you to read it here.

Finding community with strangers

By Contributor Ernesto Tinajero

Ernesto Tinajero

I sit down and the vehicle begins to move forward, fast. This fact doesn’t move me. Being on a bus is just the way I get home. The bus allows my mind to roam and wonder. There are seven people on the bus. The youngest is five. I might be the oldest. There’s a young woman who, it seems, travels the road of attracting young males. You can tell by their eyes that the young men on the bus dream of her.

The bus I travel now is the second one on my commute home. The first leg ends at a local community college. In the 10 minutes before my second bus I see the students looking to work their way out of their current situations. The community college promises them the magic of education. Students consist of young moms, guys trying to pull it together and, strangely, many Saudi men. For some reason they seem out of place.

A group of the Saudi students climb on the bus with me as I begin the second stretch on my way home. They break the unwritten rules of keeping quiet and to yourself on mass transit. Though, is it breaking a rule if you don’t know it? The bus driver, normally a stickler for quiet on his bus, does nothing to settle them down. Other times, I have seen him stop his bus and silence a wayward iPod. Now, he seems lost. Maybe it’s their uniqueness that helps the Saudi students avoid any trouble as they sing, chant and sometimes argue amongst themselves. The driver seems relieved when the ruckus chorus ends as they get off the bus.

I write on the bus. The 40-minute ride allows me to forget the day of writing words for others and spend time with my own words. Letting time and place flow through me, I find my words. A nervous man, as young as the girl, maybe 20, raps to himself. He gets on his phone and calls his girlfriend. He disappoints her. He will be late, he tells her. They argue. He hangs up. He turns and tells another male similar in age that his is going hunting for other females tonight, because the one he has now doesn’t trust him. He can’t live like that, he says, then returns to his music on his smart phone and the uncertain movement of his head, barely keeping up to the beat of his music.

I remember telling a riddle that gives the details of a bus ride. The riddle is supposed to test one’s mental powers. I start by telling the person to imagine they are a bus driver. Then slowly I tell them how many people start on the bus. I go on to tell them how many people get on or off the bus. They add subtract the numbers I give them. At last I stop and ask what date was the bus driver born. The trick is to distract them with numbers so they forget I told them they were the bus driver. The punch line being, “you don’t know when you were born.” It is easy to forget you are part of the bus.

I wonder about the spirit of a place revealed by its mass transit. In Spokane people hear the term ‘mass transit’ and think of the poor. They don’t realize that on the bus there is a sense of community, both good and bad, that riding to and from work in a car doesn’t possess. There is a spirit of life here on the bus. There is a sense of beauty here. I have no time to work out these ideas, as it is time to pull the bell. My stop has come.

Examining the Gospel, Tebow and success

By Contributor Ernesto Tinajero

Ernesto Tinajero

Now that Tim Tebow’s team has lost it’s time to take a theological look at “Tebowing.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it is a posture of prayer used after a successful play, made popular by the Denver Broncos’s quarterback Tim Tebow. It became a topic of debate as he and his team won a series of games in the last second.

Tebow, to his credit, has not claimed that God has intervened and given him his last-minute victories. But that has not stopped others from making that claim.

People are mad at the young Tebow for his public prayer. Charles Barkley threw a long, long bomb of his own, calling Tebow a “national nightmare,” as if having a young evangelical praying on the sideline was a larger horror than having 15 million people still looking for work. There are many who are frustrated with Tebow for not taking advantage of all the girls, cars and partying that comes with stardom. On the other hand, many hold up the last-minute antics of Tebow on the brutal football field as proof of God’s power. Tebow’s success, and not his faith, is what is admired and held up as the power of the Christian God.

So, did God intervene and give the Broncos victory over its opponents? If so, why not intervene earlier? Does God really like the theatrics of a last-minute win? Would not a blowout win by the Broncos, with Tebow throwing for 800 yards, be just as effective as a last-second comeback? Of course these question lead to more uncomfortable ones, like why is God concerned with football games when many in Thailand and Malaysia are fighting floods? Now that Tebow and his Broncos have lost, does this prove God’s ultimate powerlessness?

These are questions of theology. They are also flawed in terms of Christian theology. They actually reveal not the God of Jesus, but show the idols of our culture. The only reason we are talking about a football quarterback is because he was succeeding. His team had more points than his opponent’s at the end of a game and Tebow happens to pray and give thanks for playing the game. We admire him because he wins by our standards and by the rules of our game.

Now, Jesus, within the same rules of our world, was an actual failure. Jesus lost his life humiliated in a death common to criminals and traitors, abandoned by those who followed him and became no political leader. Throughout his ministry most of his followers had trouble understanding what he was doing. Three times he rejected the offer of success by Satan — he same success we would jump to accept. Who would not want their desires met, riches and powers and the power of the miraculous? Yet Jesus was after something bigger than success. He was out to be with us as friend and companion. Jesus is Emanuel, God with us.

God exposes our idols. We Americans have a fondness of keeping score, of valuing success and loving winners. God loves sinners. Here is the questions for all those who see Tebow’s winning ways as proof of God’s power: what happens now that Tebow has lost? Christians know God loves the football star despite his winning or losing, despite his walking the straight and narrow, and God will be with the young Tebow regardless of the final score. God does not measure us the way we measure each other. Many of us define life like a Hollywood movie; in the end everything workouts in a happy ending without suffering, without the cross. Without the cross, what’s the chance of resurrection?  God defines us in life, through our life defined by the cross and resurrection of Jesus.  God is with us even when we lose, especially when we lose.

Meet Ernesto Tinajero, our arts and poetry contributor

Ernesto Tinajero

Because he grew up in El Paso, Texas, on the edge of Juarez, Mexico, Ernesto Tinajero understands what it means to live on the border.

Art, he says, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology, to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.

He studied at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he was the associate editor of Offerings literary magazine and also served as associate poetry editor for Rio Grande Review. He has blogged for the Christian Social Justice Site Sojourners, currently a Christian Century Blogger network, and has blogged for Salon.com.

Twitter: @titopoet