The English word happiness comes from the Old English word hap, which meant stuff involving random chance. Like its Spanish equivalent, feliz, which comes from the Latin word for fertile, the idea is: if you’re lucky enough to have good crops or a baller job, you’re happy. Period. To a medieval person, the idea that someone had her own apartment, a fridge full of Lone Star and burgers for dinner every night, but wasn’t happy, would be incomprehensible; for them, happiness WAS material wealth.
Now, we mean something a little different: we’ve tacked on another concept, which earlier peoples wouldn’t have dreamed of associating with dumb luck. It’s an idea they might have called joy or delight, or, to get even more specific (by which I mean get even more nerdy on you), Eudaimonia. This is a Greek word which thinkers like Plato and Aristotle used for a joyous life—a life filled with meaning.
Eudaimonia, was the opposite of luck; it was a state that came from within, and it meant following the Good over all else. For them, Good was almost like one substance that came in a bunch of flavors. When you order ice cream, you may ask for Rocky Road, Chunky Monkey or Mint Chocolate Chip, but what the guy is going to hand you is frozen milk with sugar in it. In the same way, Good comes in lots of varieties, but its basic essence is always the same. For Plato, goods like kindness, courage, beauty, compassion, harmony, light, prayer, truth, loyalty, justice, etc. are all really just the Good in so many varieties. Eudaimonia was a life filled with Good.
Early on, this was a pretty abstract concept discussed by a bunch of knowledgeable Greeks, but as Christianity developed, this line of thought was incorporated into Christian philosophy and became the basis for the Christian concept of the Good Life, as theologians (and 50 Cent) called it. Unfortunately, in the Modern period, the Good Life and happiness are concepts that have gotten weirdly fuzzed.
Now, we have this insane cultural assumption that having money leads to a life of satisfaction—that luck and wealth can buy you the Good Life. This would have seemed crazy to both the Greek philosopher and the medieval lord. But now, everybody’s like Cristal, Maybachs, diamonds on your time piece, jet planes, islands, tigers on a gold leash (to quote a modern Lorde).
We’ve all heard cliches about money not buying us happiness, but what these really mean is that money can’t buy us good, joy, delight, meaning, etc. because these are not possessions, but choices, goals, habits or forms of life—they are all stuff that comes from within. When you feel unhappy with life, love, work, or whatever, ask yourself: what’s missing in my life? Which flavor of The Good do I need more of? What can I do to lead The Good Life—how can I find real happiness within?
Access to affordable health care continues to be a challenge in Texas despite the Affordable Care Act. But healing the sick continues to be part of the mission of El Buen Samaritano. El Buen, an outreach ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas in Austin, served nearly 12,000 people in 2013—8,000 of whom were uninsured individuals who accessed the ministry’s health and integrated behavioral health services.
According to a U.S. Census Bureau report released last fall, nearly 25 percent of Texans are uninsured. Currently at capacity, El Buen’s clinic serves 2.2 percent of the uninsured in the surrounding five counties—Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Travis and Williamson.
Many individuals with no health insurance turn to El Buen when they feel sick. Last October, Alberto Zamora,* 45 and uninsured, came to the clinic for an earache, but received an unexpected diagnosis of diabetes.
Some years ago, Zamora had been diagnosed as a pre-diabetic, but was never given any information regarding the condition. Asymptomatic, he continued his life as normal until he went to El Buen’s clinic last fall.
“I’ve never felt any symptoms,” Zamora said. “I was confused and didn’t know what to do with the information the doctor was giving me.”
To his surprise, the clinic’s Diabetes Disease Management Program team was quick to take him under their wing. His medical provider referred him to Maria Ramos, a diabetes educator, who taught him to check his glucose levels and he scheduled weekly meetings with nutritionist Mark Smith, who suggested a healthier eating regimen.
“I’ve always eaten well in the mornings,” Zamora said. “But in my [current] job, I have no chance to eat throughout the day, so I would just snack on a fruit here and there or get street food as my route allowes.”
Zamora drives around the city six days a week to repair floors and tiles. On Sundays, he attends St. Louis King of France Catholic Church—a Roman Catholic parish in North Austin—where he serves on the hospitality committee.
After his diagnosis, Ramos talked to him about the effects alcohol and tobacco on his health. He sought additional counseling at the clinic to help reduce his drinking and lower his anxiety. “God’s placed me where I need to be for a reason,” Zamora said as he explained how he decided to give up smoking and drinking to improve his health and mental wellbeing. “I have not touched a drop of alcohol or a cigarette since December 31.”
Zamora was born in Tejupilco, Mexico, and grew up in Mexico City. He was 18 when he migrated to Austin to be closer to his sisters. He is grateful to the team of providers that have cared for him at the clinic.
“At one point, I was experiencing anxiety and depression,” he said. “But I feel much more at peace now.”
Beyond its health and integrated behavioral health services, El Buen offers a comprehensive system of care to help low-income families in Central Texas leverage their resources while empowering them to lead healthy and productive lives. Offerings emphasize healthy living, and include human services, a food pantry, case management, eligibility and referrals; and a robust education program for all members of the family.
El Buen Samaritano will be hosting a health fair, Viva la Salud, on Saturday, April 26.
El Buen Samaritano and San Francisco de Asís Episcopal Church have shared a common physical space since the recently deceased Rt. Rev. Maurice M. “Ben” Benitez, 6th Bishop of Texas, founded and joined the two ministries in the late 1980s. And like siblings sharing a room, they’ve grown apart and closer together many times throughout their nearly 27 years of history.
With a vision to have the two ministries work toward one common goal—addressing the needs of the whole person—the clergy of San Francisco de Asís have recently been appointed as chaplains to El Buen Samaritano. As chaplains, both the Rev. Bertie Pearson, vicar, and the Rev. Cynthia Ruiz, deacon, will offer pastoral counseling to staff, volunteers and clients, and provide a ministry of presence in El Buen Samaritano’s clinic, food pantry and education programs.
“I see San Francisco de Asís becoming a spiritual center to which people come for spiritual growth,” Pearson said as he shared his open-door policy view. “I’d like for people—even non-Christians—to see it as a place they can come for spiritual development.”
When El Buen Samaritano’s Board of Directors conducted a strategic visioning process in 2012, they hoped not only to expand the program offerings of El Buen Samaritano across the Diocese, but also to build more of a community at El Buen Samaritano. Together with San Francisco de Asís, El Buen Samaritano can build a stronger community for the families accessing programs and services and attending services.
Well aligned with El Buen Samaritano’s approach since its foundation, Pearson said, “We’re here to be of service. If people need to talk, we’re here to listen. You don’t have to be an Episcopalian; you don’t even have to be a Christian. Of course, when people are interested in the Episcopal tradition, we’re always excited to welcome them to worship with us.”
Pearson and Ruiz will work closely with the social workers in the clinic. And as they see someone is having a rough day, they will be readily available to offer help.
About the Rev. Bertie Pearson:
Ordained in 2008, Pearson served in the San Francisco Bay Area, initially on the staff of Bishop Andrus, and later as Priest in Charge of two congregations: Holy Innocents’ and St. John The Evangelist. When his wife was accepted into the clinical psychology doctoral program at the University of Texas at Austin, he interviewed at San Francisco de Asís and fell in love with the church.
“For me, Christianity is incredibly simple,” Pearson said. “All of Christianity is really one sentence: love God with your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. And that’s really it. The rest is commentary on how to get to there.”
Pearson sees San Francisco de Asís and El Buen Samaritano as a perfect synthesis of Christ’s two great commandments. “I feel like San Francisco is this wonderful spiritual center, in which people develop a love of God and grow in their life in Christ, and El Buen is an expression of the selfless love of neighbor. It’s a place where people work really hard to do wonderful things for Austin and for the surrounding communities, often serving some of the most vulnerable people in Austin.”
Pearson is also an instructor at the Iona School for Ministry and an adjunct professor at the Seminary of the Southwest, where he teaches church history.
About the Rev. Cynthia Ruiz:
Ruiz was ordained as a transitional deacon in 2012. Originally from Niagara Falls, New York, she has lived and worked in Puebla Mexico, where she studied intercultural communications and cultural adaptation, and taught ESL at the Universidad de las Américas – Puebla. Upon finishing her master’s in Applied Linguistics, she taught at the Colegio Americano de Puebla. She and her family have lived in Fort Worth, Texas since 2001.
Ruiz’ seminary studies brought her to the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, where she graduated in 2011. Upon being ordained, Ruiz served as a deacon at St. Elisabeth’s Episcopal Church in Fort Worth.
She is a citizen of Mexico as well as the United States, as are her husband and children, and views her calling to Hispanic ministries as a way to share the richness of her own bicultural household. She believes being involved in Hispanic ministries helps her celebrate the creativity that God presents among its people and the possibilities that come from worshiping with and among that creativity.
“Generally speaking, the assumption with church is that you go either on Saturday or Sunday and then on Monday, you begin your real life,” Ruiz said. “In reality, our lives take place all throughout the week, and our Church is called to be involved in the needs of the community, helping people find the wholeness of presence even in the most difficult of circumstances.”
Ruiz began at San Francisco de Asís as a deacon on March 3, 2014. She sees the potentially symbiotic relationship between San Francisco de Asís and El Buen Samaritano as a way of recognizing that Christ is present in every moment of our lives. “We’re called to nurture that presence in every moment of our lives—in our neighbor when they’re going through difficult circumstances or when we are going through difficult circumstances and ask for help from our neighbor.”