Christianity: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Meaning”

Deutsch: Viktor Frankl

Deutsch: Viktor Frankl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 The Atlantic Monthly has a great article, “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy.” The article is AVAILABLE HERE.

It points out what has been known for a long time (including Victor Frankl‘s observations from his time in a WWII Concentration Camp, as described in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning“), People find more life satisfaction in living a meaningful life than in living a happy life.

This makes sense to me. I am melancholic by temperament. I am basically satisfied with life but I certainly would not describe myself as a “happy’ person, or a ‘joyful” person (“joy” is essentially the word that Christians like to use instead of “happy” because it sounds more spiritual), or a “victorious living” person. I find meaning in my life. I feel that in some small (perhaps very small) way, I am fulfilling my purpose and am making the world a better place.

Many parents say, “All I want for my children is that they be happy.” But let me suggest something better. “All I want for my children is that they find meaning in their life, and understand their place in God’s creation.

Drugs, sex, crime, violence… many things can make a person happy. Almost anything today seems to be justified with the basic statement, “But it makes me happy.”

Is it better to have meaning? Is it better to have purpose? Quoting a brief bit from the article,

According to Gallup , the happiness levels of Americans are at a four-year high — as is, it seems, the number of best-selling books with the word “happiness” in their titles. At this writing, Gallup also reports that nearly 60 percent all Americans today feel happy, without a lot of stress or worry. On the other hand, according to the Center for Disease Control, about 4 out of 10 Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Forty percent either do not think their lives have a clear sense of purpose or are neutral about whether their lives have purpose. Nearly a quarter of Americans feel neutral or do not have a strong sense of what makes their lives meaningful. Research has shown that having purpose and meaning in life increases overall well-being and life satisfaction, improves mental and physical health, enhances resiliency, enhances self-esteem, and decreases the chances of depression. On top of that, the single-minded pursuit of happiness is ironically leaving people less happy, according to recent research. “It is the very pursuit of happiness,” Frankl knew, “that thwarts happiness.”

Perhaps we need to change our own goals. Perhaps we need to change how we parent. Perhaps we need to change how we do ministry?

Many in ministry try to market a ‘happy” Christianity. Church services are relabelled as “Celebrations.” Focus is often on Victory and Prosperity. Perhaps Rick Warren has a point with the “Purpose-Driven Life” and the “Purpose-Driven Church.” But maybe we need to work more on helping people find their purpose… that might be different from others. Maybe “abundant life” has more to do with life satisfaction and purpose than it does with being happy.

So maybe in ministry we can adjust a famous quote from  the American Declaration of Independence:

  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (mankind) are created equal (by God and before God), that they are endowed by their Creator (Designer) with certain inalienable (God-given) rights, that among these are (eternal and abundant) life, liberty (in Christ) and the pursuit of happiness their unique meaning and purpose.

 

 

 

Missionary Member Care and William Carey

I will be teaching a two-week module on “Missionary Member Care” starting next week. So I decided to provide an excerpt from “William Carey: Missionary Pioneer and Statesman” by F. Deaville Walker pg. 125-129.

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marat...

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marathi and Bengali in Calcutta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


It is a fairly old book, published in 1925. This passage describes some of the many challenges, externally and internally, that William Carey was going through. Issues include problem with financial support, colleagues, physical health, family, culture shock, doubts and depression. Problems with local government here was only briefly alluded to. It is hard to decide what opinion to have after reading this. Does one emphasize the resolute faith and determination of William Carey? Does one emphasize the faithfulness of God who brought him through the fire and to ultimate success? Does one emphasize the failure of the system (mission support system) to make the path straight for him (and family and partners)?

To a man of less resolute mold and of less faith in God than Carey, the whole position must have seemed almost hopeless. Separated thus from the colleague he sincerely loved, he was left to his own devices. Trials began to thicken around him. It was evident that he would not be allowed to live in Calcutta as a missionary– even if he could afford it, which he could not. Yet he could not find another place to go to, and money was dwindling rapidly: “For two months I have seen nothing but a continual moving to and fro,” he wrote in his journal. The climate, the unaccustomed food, and the conditions of life in the tropics were evidently affecting his wife’s health. The long strain of the voyage, followed by their unsettled life in Bengal, had told upon her nerves, and both she and her sister were, not unnaturally, inclined to complain. It is not surprising that curry and rice did not agree with them, and they found Indian chapatis a poor substitute for bread; they complained that they had “to live without many of the necessaries of life.” There can be no doubt that their privations were real, for, left to himself, Carey naturally sought to reduce his family expenditure to the narrowest limits and live within his income. Doubtless the old experiences of Moulton were repeated, which would be all the harder for Dorothy and Katherine after the– to them– comparative luxury of the ship’s table. Dorothy and the two older boys were ill for a month with dysentery. Felix, indeed, so seriously that his life was in danger. Probably, too, they all suffered from homesickness and yearned for their simple cottage in the dear homeland. Enfeebled in body and spirits, they were not inclined to give William the sympathy he sorely needed. “My wife, and sister too, who do not see the importance of the mission as I do, are continually exclaiming against me,” he wrote in his journal; and again, “If my family were but hearty in the work, I should find a great burden removed.”

Nor had Carey real friendship of spirit with his colleague. To Sutcliff he wote:

“Mr. ‘T.’ is a very good man, but only fit to live at sea, where his daily business is before him, and daily provision made for him. I own I fear his present undertaking will be hurtful rather than useful to him; the fickleness of his mind makes him very unfit for such an undertaking. I love him, and we live in greatest harmony; but I confess that Ram Ram Boshu is more a man after my heart.”

Poor Carey had enough trouble in his own little family, in addition to the burden of the work he longed to do; and the financial entanglements in which Thomas was constantly involved must have been almost the last straw. Early in January (1794), within two months of their landing in Bengal, it was discovered that one of the doctor’s creditors in England had sent his bond out to India, and they were not sure that other creditors had not done the same. Carey knew that his colleague was hourly in danger of arrest. “In his state of perplexity, we know not what to do,” he wrote.

Twelve days later, Carey got an offer of a piece of land at a place called Deharta, some three days’ journey from Calcutta. It was to be rent-free for three years. So he went at once to consult Thomas and get from him the money necessary for the journey. Tho his dismay Thomas told him that the money was entirely exhausted– the whole year’s allowance gone in less than ten weeks! Indeed it was even worse that that, they had actually overspent, and Thomas had incurred a new debt to a moneylender.

This may have been a staggering blow, and on reaching his temporary home Carey wrote in his journal:

“Jan. 15, 16 (1794). I am much dejected…. I am in a strange land, alone, no Christian friends, a large family, and nothing to supply their wants. I blame Mr. T. For leading me into such expense at first, and I blame myself for being led … I am dejected, not for my own sake, but for my family’s and his, for whom I tremble.”

Subsequent entries in the journal bear witness to the almost crushing burden Carey bore that dark week:

“Jan. 17 …..Very much dejected all day. Have no relish for anything of the world, yet am swallowed up in its cares. Towards evening had a pleasant view of the all-sufficiency of God, and the stability of His promises, which much relieved my mind; and as I walked home in the night, was enabled to roll my soul and all my cares in some measure on God. … What a mercy is to have a God!”

January 19 was Sunday; to our lonely harassed missionary it was indeed a “day of rest and gladness.” Triumphing over worry and uncertainty, he went out into the country to get among the village people. Aided by his faithful munshi, who acted as his interpreter, he visited the Manicktulla bazaar, and, while the usual business was carried on as on other days, preached to a large congregation consisting principally of Mohammedans.

That Sunday brought a measure of peace and comfort to his soul. On Monday he had once more to take up his heavy burden of finance. He writes:

“Jan. 20. This has been a day of seeking money.” He evidently felt that he had no alternative but to try to borrow five hundred rupees with which to carry on– a thing he hated, but in his extremity was driven to. The journal continues:

“Jan 22. Full of perplexity about temporal things. … My wife has, within this day or two, relapsed into her affliction and is much worse than she was before, but in the mount the Lord is seen. I wish I had but more of God in my soul.

Jan. 23. … My temporal troubles remain just where they were. I have a place, but cannot remove my family to it for want of money.”

Imagine poor Carey’s grief and dismay on visiting his colleague that day, to find him

“… living at the rate of I know not how much, I suppose two hundred and fifty to three hundred rupees per month, has twelve servants, and this day is talking of keeping his coach. I remonstrated with him in vain, and I am almost afraid that he intends to throw up the mission. …My heart bleeds for him, for my family, for the Society, whose steadfastness must be shaken by this report, and for the success of the mission, which must receive a sad bow from this.”

Every word seems to have been written in blood. What unutterable loneliness Carey must have passed through this day, with no earthly firend in whom he could confide! But ere he slept he wrote:

“Bless God, I feel peace within and rejoice in having undertaken the work, and shall, I feel, if I not only labour alone, but even if I lose my life in the undertaking. I anxiously desire the time when I shall so far know the language as to preach in earnest to these poor people.”

There can be little doubt that beside his heavy cares, Carey was suffering from the depression that so often attacks newcomers in India. His own health was probably undermined, and in his condition troubles would appear blacker than they really are.

But even in his darkest moments Carey never lost sight of his greater purpose. He had burned his boats behind him and never thought of turning back. He had come to this land to do missionary work, and nothing could shake his conviction that God had called him.

With the shadows lying heavy around he threw himself with renewed earnestness into his language studies. With his munshi he worked hard to correct the Book of Genesis that Thomas had translated into Bengali; and on the following Sunday we find him and his interpreter in the villages making known the gospel of the grace of God.

On January 28 he went again to Calcutta in a fruitless effort to find a way out of his difficulties. He wrote:

“Again disappointed about money. Was much dejected and grieved. …In the evening had much relief in reading over Mr. Fuller’s charge to us at Leicester. The affection there manifested almost overcame my spirits, for I have not been accustomed to sympathy of late”

Every door seemed closed, and to him, in his spirit of depression, everyone seemed against him. He called on one of the most honest and pious of the chaplains in Calcutta and was coldly received because the good man had “got across” Dr. Thomas. Instead of getting some friendly counsel or help, poor Carey was allowed to depart without even the common courtesy of a meal, though he had “walked five miles in the heat of the sun.”

What days of depression Carey must have experienced! If faith in God means anything at all, it is at a time like that.

The Lure of Novelty and The Tarsus Calls

It is common to focus on the Damascus Call of Paul. Perhaps this is because it makes a more interesting story because of its strongly supernatural nature, because of its personal nature, and because of its more radical result. But there were a lot of other calls with regards to Paul.

English: St. Paul. From the Acts of the Apostl...

English: St. Paul. From the Acts of the Apostles printed in , Georgia, in 1709 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  The Macedonian Call. Acts 16:6-10. This also appears to be a supernatural calling since it is described as a vision. However, the change is less radical. Paul here simply changes from going to the Hellenized world of Asia Minor (his own home territory) to Macedonia and Achaia.

2.  The Antiochan Call #1.  Acts 13:1-3. This also appears to be supernatural in nature although the exact transmission is not made clear. However, it was not personally given. The calling was given to the church and the church sent out Barnabbas and Paul. 

3.  The Call to Tarsus.  Acts 9:29-30.  There is no mention of the supernatural in this one and the text describes Paul in a passive role. The church of Jerusalem discovers a plot against Paul, the church takes him down to Caesarea, and the church sends him to Tarsus.

4.  The Call from Tarsus.  Acts 11:22-26. Again no mention of the supernatural except that Barnabbas (the mentor of Paul) was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Barnabbas is sent by the church of Jerusalem to go to Antioch to check on things and, presumably, to serve there as one “sent out” by the church of Jerusalem. There, Barnabbas decides to enlist the help of his former disciple. He goes to Tarsus and calls him to join him in Antioch.

We see here different forms of calling. We see calling through big supernatural show. We see calling through a minor supernatural occurrence. We see calling through the activity of the church (whether or not with a supernatural show). We see calling through the activity of an individual.

With this variety, why do we focus on the Damascus call? Some might argue that the Damascus calling was the call to missions while the subsequent were simply changes of direction. I am not so sure about that. I would describe the Damascus call as the call to follow Christ… and that is the call that all of us as Christians are given (whether with a lot of exciting sights and sounds or not). The other calls were more specific details on what falling Christ would mean to him personally.  As such, these other calls are, arguably, every bit as worthy of being described as missionary calls as the Damascus call.

Some thoughts:

  • If all of us are called to follow Christ, we should focus less on some sort of specific “Missionary Call,” and focus on gaining insight into what following Christ means individually.
  • Focus less attention and hope on a big Damascus or “Burning Bush” experience. God’s call for you may be as mundane as someone knocking on your door (as Barnabbas did in Tarsus).
  • Focusing on the novel callings in the Bible can lead us to thinking that we should not serve. Moses had an exciting supernatural calling… but Aaron did not. Regardless they both followed God’s leading to lead the people of Israel. Paul had an exciting and miraculous call to follow Christ. Peter simply had a prophet he was hosting say, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
  • It has been said that those who don’t have a strong sense of being supernaturally called to ministry are more likely to fall out of ministry later. That may be true… but do we create this situation? I recall Garry Friesen  (in “Decision-making and the Will of God”) describe his ordination board. He admitted that he did not feel a unique, personal, supernatural call to ministry… in fact, he felt that such a calling is non-normative… if not theologically incorrect. The board was very uncomfortable with granting ordination and at least one informed him that he would most likely drift away from ministry because he lacked that comfort of calling. So do those who do not recognize a personal calling fall away because of the lack of that confirmation or because churches and church leaders create a theology of failure. And do some who “feel called” stay in ministry when they clearly should make a major course correction in their lives because they’ve been told that changing course is rejecting God?
  • A little skepticism is always useful. Does one “feel called” due to God’s leading or because of other problems (family pressure, escape, etc.). Should a church “accept the calling” of an individual who seems to lack critical qualities to serve God in a missional capacity? One should not completely accept the supernatural and should not completely reject the mundane.

Thoughts.Opinions.Theories.Facts.Beliefs.

I like this short post. And it is far from theoretical. I remember discussing with atheists (or at least closed agnostics). Although many were pretty relaxed in dialogue, they commonly got rather irritated when I suggested that belief in no God is still an act of faith… just with a different object than that of a theist. I also suggested that atheistic secularism or naturalism can be thought of as, functionally, a religion (not an organized religion, typically) since it seeks to provide meaning for the adherent and answer the “Grand Questions” of life. The did not like such suggestions since they were emotionally invested in rejecting “faith” and “religion.”

Doing Good

GodAnalytics

‘Good Deeds’ is Googled 201,000 times per month.

Doing good is a little like rowing a canoe.  It’s beautiful when you see the sunset just at your fingertips and you feel as if life’s possibilities are as endless as the horizon’s reach.  But then the boat starts to turn in an unexpected direction and you realize that your partner in the back is stroking his oar the wrong way.  Or your feet start to cool down and you notice that an unexpected hole is slowly informing you it’s probably best to find safety at shore.  And then there’s always that infamous complete imbalance where one person is trying to stand and adjust something they deem necessary to adjust and the whole boat decides to unexpectedly flip.  Usually someone ends up stuck underneath, with just a little bit of room to breathe while another person desperately tries to single-handedly flip the…

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“Faith” as 2nd Order Change

2nd Order Change

“Watzlawick et al (1974) discuss two levels of change— first- and second-order change. First-order change refers to change within a given system. In other words, the system itself remains unchanged, while its elements or parts undergo some kind of change. First-order change appears to be linear, stepwise, and mechanistic (Adams, 1977). It is a change in quantity, not quality. First-order change involves using the same problem-solving strategies over and over again. Each new problem is approached mechanically.

If the problem resists resolution, more old strategies are used and are usually more vigorously applied. There is either more of a behavior or less of a behavior along some continuum. For example, a father might attempt to deal with his son’s chronic misbehavior by using more and more punishment. This approach to the problem reflects the concept of first-order change because the structure of the interactions between the father and son remains constant.

Second-order change refers to a change of the system itself. The system is transformed structurally and/or communicationally. Second-order change tends to be sudden and radical. It represents a quantum jump in the system to a different level of functioning. This type of change is discontinuous and qualitative. It is not logically predictable and often appears abrupt, illogical, and unexpected. Paradoxical interventions produce second-order change, sometimes called paradoxical change (Weeks and Wright, 1979). In the example given for first-order change, the father tried the same solution over and over again. A second-order change solution to the same problem would involve trying something radically different or unexpected,,,”

-Weeks and L’Abate, “Paradoxical Psychotherapy: Theory and Practice with Individuals, Couples, and Families,” Brunner/Mazel Inc., 1982. pages 18-19.

This very simple model, first-order versus second-order change seems to have much to say when it comes to evangelism and saving faith. As Christians, we are seeking 2nd order changes in people. We want people to stop following their own path, and start following Christ. This is a radical, discontinuous, and perhaps illogical jump… a 2nd order change.

However, there is a broader process here. First, a person must be dissatisfied with who or how he is and has a desire to change. Second, a person must try to change utilizing the tools and structure he already possesses. This is first-order change. It is with the failure of first-order change that openness for radical (2nd order) change is contemplated. With 2nd-order change, the new follower of Christ is still expected to change or grow, but within the new system. Discipleship is then primarily focused on 1st order change of the Christian as he or she is conformed to Christ.

I believe that in the area of evangelism, we can fail in multiple ways. One way is to push too quickly for a second-order change– before the person recognizes the need. If this happens, the change may not truly be second-order. For example, if one says to a person that he has to say the Sinner’s Prayer, he may only be making a first-order change. If the person has the habit of dabbling with various fads, this may be no more than another linear choice. Another failure is to minimize the radical nature of accepting Christ. If faith becomes an intellectual assent (“easy believism”), there may be nothing more radical in the decision than deciding that a certain political system has merit. This is ultimately a  first order change. This may be okay at first… but should not be the final action.

I would like to suggest that in most cases, salvation (salvific faith) involves two steps. The first is a first order change– the individual adjusts his life to accommodate Christian thought and behavior. Consider Peter letting Jesus use his boat to preach from. Only later is the person prepared for a more radical, 2nd order, change. In Peter’s case, it was when he responded to Jesus’ call, and left his nets to follow Him.

In many cultures community precedes change. One joins a community of believers before one radically changes to be part of that community. With that in mind, a church should be open to welcoming seekers. The “church family” should be bigger than “followers of Christ.” Just as a church welcomes children into the church family long before they decide to act in faith to follow Christ, the same welcome should be given to those who undergoing 1st order change in baby steps towards being part of the church and part of God’s kingdom.