Ending Well

We are all going to die.

And that is okay. Oh, I know you might say that Jesus is returning any day and will take the redeemed meeting with them that had not “slept” in the clouds. Statistically speaking, however, history is decidedly on the side of “it is appointed unto man once to die” for your fate and mine. And nothing is wrong with that. If we are comforted that Christ will come… why would it be any less comforting that we are a couple of heartbeats away from eternity?

But that seems to be the thing about being human. Death bothers us. Maybe it shouldn’t… but it does. It does a lot. It does so much that many Christian leaders fail to plan for their death. Erik Erikson notes that near the end of life one must deal with integrity versus despair— struggling with the impending threat of non-being. In ministry, people can struggle with this or more  confusedly, act as if one will never die and not train up a replacement.

I recall a former pastor who claimed to be referencing Jerry Fallwell when he expressed the belief that organizations rise and fall by their leaders. Within the context of his point, the pastor was actually saying that one should hardly bother to train up a replacement because things are going to fail anyway once that visionary leader is gone. I can’t help but think that was simply a justification of laziness and hubris, rather than doubts about his mortality. Curiously, Jerry Fallwell died, and our former pastor was pushed out of the church… without such collapse. Go figure.

But organizations and groups die as well. So do churches. So do websites. Times change and structures that were important at one time lose their purpose for being.

I am mentioning this because I am considering bringing this blog to the end.

Why? Am I nearing death?  It is certainly possible, but I have no reason to assume that.   But I am changing. For much of my time in the Philippines, my focus has been on Missions. It is my topic and passion. However, starting in 2009, I became administrator of a counseling center… and then registrar of a chaplaincy certifier. And then an instructor in a number of pastoral care topics. I find that much of my research in recent years has been in terms of pastoral care topics. My missions research has been growing stale. And those areas that I have been continuing to take seriously have been those areas of missions that overlap with other fields. These include:

  • Contextual Theology (Missions Contextualization and Systematic Theology)
  • Missionary Member Care (Missions and Pastoral Care)
  • Interreligious Dialogue (Missions and Pastoral Counseling)

Additionally, I have been doing more in terms of Pastoral Theology (Pastoral Care and Practical Theology) and the somewhat related topic of Theological Reflection.

As such, I find less and less new to say on missions that I have not already shared in my over 1000 previous posts.

So does that mean that this is my last post. Probably not. But I will probably start a new blog that is more in the area of my newer focuses. 

Should I stop now completely? I am getting more views per day on average than I have ever gotten in my 8.5 years of doing this blog. It seems like that would be ending well. End with strength and transition.

But I understand the other side. One doesn’t want to let go. Like many ministry leaders… it feels strange to give up on one’s pet work or project. It always seems worthwhile to keep things going past their usefulness.

Maybe this blog will not end well…. just slowly peter out. Or maybe I will get a new fire in my belly and have more things to say.

Time will tell.

I Think We Are Confused

Okay… at times I people say things that are strange. Nothing wrong with that. I say strange things at times. But some things really confuse me… and I think that my confusion stems from the presumption on my part that others are NOT confused. So here are a couple of things

  1.  People will talk to me something like this.  “Wow… I was walking around ________ and I saw Muslims there. They are growing!!” Well, Islam is growing. Actually, so are many other religions… and secular ideologies. At the moment, Islam is the fastest numerical grower among explicitly religious entities. However, in the United States and the Philippines (where the people I speak to live) this is not situation at all. What they are experiencing is mobility. People move around more now that transporation is becoming relatively cheaper and job opportuninities and political struggles drive migration. We see this here in Baguio City, Philippines. I live on the campus of a Baptist seminary. However, within a short walk of where I live is an Islamic mosque, a Sikh Temple, a Hindu temple, a Buddhist temple, a Bahai Center, a Brahman meditation center, a Christian Science reading room and church, a Mormon church, a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, and more. While many of these are driven partly by missionary fervor, much of their existence is owed to migration. For the world religions, this is especially true.  Around 1 out of 5 humans on earth are self-identified Muslims. So if the worldwide stats were true everywhere, 1 out of 5 people we would see walking down the street here would be Muslims. What is NOT surprising is that there are so many Muslims (or Hindus, Buddhists, or more) in Baguio City,. What is surprising is that there are so few. Migration is likely to continue (xenophobic nationalism notwithstanding) so the important thing as Christians is to figure out how to deal with people of other faiths as neighbors. Of course, it should not be that complicated. Jesus already told us how we are to treat neighbors.
  2. I have had so many people express shock and anger that Christians are being persecuted. In some cases that persecution being noted is true persecution.  “True persecution” in my view involves physical abuse or death, outlawing Christianity or Christian practices of private individuals. For many, however, persecution includes taking away preferential treatment. Others seem to mix Christian beliefs with secular political ideologies so that challenging such ideologies is seen as attacking Christian beliefs. Instead of fighting about what is legitimate persecution and what is not, I would rather avoid that mess and simply note that Jesus said that we are to expect persecution if we are following Jesus. It is understandable to be angry about persecution. Some people truly suffer for their beliefs. But after the anger… what do you do about it. Do you feed the anger? How do you treat those who are persecutors? Curiously, Jesus answered that one as well.

Not so Courageous

A few days ago I got involved in a pretty mild disagreement on FB. It was on a Christian topic that I consider fairly minor, and one in which my view is rather middle-of-the-road and nuanced. Despite all of this, at the end of the discussion, the one who had started the conversation remarked positively on my courage to express my opinion in a forum of those who held a very different view.

I really did not think I was being courageous at all:

  • My view was far from opposite of the others. It was just more flexible.
  • I, frankly, did not know that I was going into a group with a different view than my own. (Truthfully I probably should have guessed that the group was embracing a different view. The signs were there—  a person shares an e-article on FB and adds the comment something like, “Mmmm. Interesting article. What do you think?” That comment usually really means, “Hahhh!!! Checkmate!”– despite the mediocrity of the actual article cited. “Confirmation Bias.”)

But that is not the main reason I was not being courageous.  But before I get to the main reason…

I wrote a post a few months ago that suggested that John Calvin may be a “wee bit wrong” about something. I got a response from a friend of mine that said that I had probably hit a nerve with a large number of people. I may have been courageous to share it… but perhaps a bit foolish.  Again, I don’t feel all that courageous because:

  • Theology is a human construct, and theologians are— well— human. As such, it should be fully anticipated that theology and theologians are wrong… a lot. Calvin (and not just his overzealous followers) is certainly wrong a lot because humans are wrong a lot. It should not be hugely controversial to say that his theological perspective may be a bit missiologically deficient or that, just perhaps, he confused the sovereignty of God with the control of God in a way that distorts exegesis of some key Biblical passages.
  • I am wrong a lot because I am also human. It is hardly courageous to share something that could be wrong since we all do that even when we try not to.

And that leads to the biggest reason I am not being courageous:

As Christians, we are called to give each other grace, understanding that we don’t and won’t always agree on everything. It is not courageous because it is not supposed to be courageous. We are supposed to exhort and admonish and love and encourage one another. Where is the fear and danger in that?

I do admit, however, that it is amazing all of the blogposts and articles out there calling pretty much everyone else heretics. But that reflects badly on the writers more than their targets. This is not to say there are not false teachers. Since all of us are wrong at times, we need to give a bit of grace regarding what level we say that wrong good people have crossed the line to wrong bad people.

It is hardly courageous to express one’s opinions to those who may not share those opinions, but it is certainly cowardly to only hang out with one’s  “Yup, me too” gang members and take hurtful potshots at those passers-by who hold a different perspective.

Nostalgic Christianity and the Ambiguity of History

nostalgiaOver the years I have been fascinated by those Christians who regularly point back longingly to a time in history that they identify as ideal or idyllic— especially from a Christian perspective. Some look back to the 1950s. Some look back to the early years of their own faith tradition (whatever period that may be) with the pillars of their faith. Some American Christians point back to the “founding fathers of the US, or to the time of the Puritans. Many go back to the first century church.

I have always wondered why. Even a casual student of pretty much any period of history would find a lot that Christians would (or should) feel ambivalent or even uncomfortable about. One of the challenges I have in teaching missions is that in so many periods in missions history, it is hard to find things that are commendable. But they are there. There is beauty in times of ugliness, and ugliness in times of beauty.

But I do wonder what makes people want to view the past in an idealized manner? Consider this verse,

Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions.   Ecclesiastes 7:10

One would think that Christians would avoid expressing nostalgia if for no other reason than to avoid being declared unwise. But the fact that nostalgia was an issues over 2000 years ago suggests that it is an issue of humanity, not simply of our times.

A present belief is that nostalgia becomes more pervasive in times of uncertainty and anxiety. In these times, the world seems dangerous or at least uncomfortable. A response to that is to embrace a form of exoticism (temporal exoticism, if you will). Exoticism is the belief that some other culture or place is kind of awesome, while our own place or culture stinks. Exoticism is built off of ignorance. Distance obscures unpleasant details. While it has been said, “Once they’ve seen Paris, it is hard to get them back on the farm,” it is probably more true that “Once they have embraced an idealized vision of Paris, it is hard to keep them from leaving the farm.”  For “Temporal Exoticism” the far off place is far off because of time, not space.

For Christians, what are some things that can lead to nostalgia? A few thoughts.

  1.  A feeling of lack of control or power.  When we have power, or the perception of power or control, we tend to be less anxious.  This may not be a universal thing. The feudal system placed people in a position of no political or economic power, yet anxiety most likely came from uncertainties about illness and weather, not the fact that their daily existence was in the hands of the lord of the land. But in the present era in the West, where autonomy is given great priority, lack of control can be highly stressful. (It is strange that Christians feel this sort of lack so acutely when Christianity was built on the presumption of having little to no political or economic power.) People who feel this as a stressor look back to a time that is more triumphalistic or where their own worldview was seen as universally appreciated.
  2. Pluralistic communities. For many people it is stressful to be around people of other cultures or faiths. Living in a culture that is almost entirely unlike the culture I was raised in, I struggle to understand this. However, I met people from my home culture who now live in the culture I presently dwell in who seem to live in a state of continuous trauma. They look fondly back to the time before easy transportation when monocultures were prevalent. It seemed safer back then. But was it?
  3. Progressives. The term “progressive” is so loosely used for so many situations that it is pretty close to meaningless. But I suppose that gives me the right to appropriate the term. In this case, I am using it to refer to those who tend to judge the past based on present ethical perspectives. As such, they often disrespect the same periods of time that are embraced by the nostalgic Christians. Nostalgia may be a way to reduce stress by creating a somewhat false narrative, but when others try to crush that vision, the result is an increase in stress. This increase in stress can lead some to “double-down” on the fantasy.

The reality, however, is that history is messy. Consider, for example, a church of which I have a connection. It is a fairly old church and when one looks at the earliest church rolls, one finds that there were slaves who were members of the church. One can look at that with horror— Christians who went to church and yet “owned” other human beings. Such horror is quite understanable. Of course, if someone else looked at the same situation, they may say, “Isn’t it wonderful that these Christian slaveowners  cared about their slaves enough to be concerned about their immortal souls! Oh yeah, and isn’t it nice that these slaveowners recognize that their slaves have immortal souls!” I think you may see how the ambiguity of the situation can be difficult for people to wrestle with so they embrace a one-sided perspective. Shortly after the American Civil War, the slaves associated with that church were emancipated. They formed their own separate church… which still exists to this day. Should one feel good that former slaves now have self-determination in terms of religion, or should one feel bad that a church could only be racially integrated when there was legally mandated “caste” system in place?

I hope I don’t have to point out the ambiguities of the 1950s in America or of colonial expansion of Christian nations. Some unambiguously bad things like the Crusades also become a bit more murky when one realizes that it was an evil response to past evils of others. Pretty poor excuse, but an excuse nonetheless.

I think we grow as people when we address the ambiguities. It is okay to look at King David in the Bible as a great hero of the faith, but it is also okay to look at him as a self-righteous self-serving monster. But maybe better than either of these is that King David was a man who (truthfully) did many many bad things, (it is kind of awesome that the Bible portrays a man of faith who was an adulterer, a horrible father, a mercenary, and a racketeer) and yet when challenged in his failings was able to humble himself and seek forgiveness. Not many kings outside of fairy tales do that. The ambiguous human is best I think. Heroes and monsters are caricatures. We learn better from humans than we do from caricatures.

Nostalgia is sometimes identified in two forms:  restorative and reflective. In restorative nostalgia, there is the desire to return to a time—- a time that did not truly exist. Reflective nostalgia may be more benign… perhaps even beneficial. To have a time that one can reflectively look back with pleasure does not necessarily have to be done “with rose-colored glasses.” For example, one may look back fondly on one’s time in high school… while still being well aware that there were aspects of high school (puberty, bullying, social awkwardness, and fears regarding the future) that one remembers vividly.

Perhaps, if one seeks to find value in nostalgia, it can be done reflectively… enjoying some aspects on the longing, while still embracing realistically that one can never truly go back (and that returning to the past would, in fact, be a very bad thing).

My Electronic Doodlepad

I haven’t posted recently. Mostly this is because I have been desperate to finish the book my wife and I are writing on Pastoral Counseling (“Dynamics in Pastoral Care”). Additionally, I have been supervising several students in their thesis work. I also have been on the board reviewing theses and prospectuses (“prospecti”?) of numerous students at our seminary. Further, I am now serving as interim pastor at a churchplant here in Baguio City. That means I have to do less of some things.  Right now it has been in doing my posts here.

During one of the theses reviews, an issue was brought up. One of the students had used some blogposts in his thesis as references. It was noted by the board that this is inappropriate. There were two reasons for this given. First, blogposts are commonly just the opinions of the individual writers. Second, blogposts are not peer reviewed.

I think the first point is quite valid. Blogposts are commonly just opinion posts. I have noted to some friends on more than one occasion that I have mixed feelings that people read my posts. On one hand, my posts are sort of like my personal diary of ministerial thoughts— my electronic doodlepad. Often what I write down on one day as pure gold becomes lead (or worse) when I look at it a few days, or a few months, later. On the other hand, the very fact that people may read it does motivate me to write… and write more thoughtfully. If I had a private notebook just for me, I would probably never write anything down… ever. Putting my thoughts and my opinions online give me a way of clarifying my thoughts. But I don’t think I should be quoted beyond something to the effect of “Bob Munson (for whatever it is worth) agrees with me based on his blogpost on _________.” Not a very compelling point, I think.

So since blogposts are commonly just opinion papers (at best) and bigoted rants at worst, they shouldn’t be used as formal references. On the other hand, I am not so sure about the peer-review issue. If peer-review was able to weed out nonsense and identify the beautiful truth,  I would agree. However, I haven’t really seen that peer review does that. It can catch some misinformation, but probably the most important thing of peer review is identifying flaws in logic. Unfortunately, peer review can promote its own fallacies since peers often disagree as to what is compelling. One finds peers who will try to force grounded theory research to work deductively. Others will act like quantitative analysis is more precise than qualittative analysis even though both go through and equally imprecise process of interpretation of results.  (Having experienced the process of so-called validation of instruments for quantitative studes, and seen how the resulting statistics are skewed, I mean interpreted,  into nonsensical findings, I wonder how anyone call say that quantitative is better than qualitative in anything that relates to theology or ministry). Some people will reject research utilizing sources over 10 years old (in some fields this may make sense but in others, such as pastoral care, it is hard to find anything LESS than 20 years old of much value).  Some will question the research not because of problems in the methodology, but because the results of the research were unpalatable. At the other extreme I have seen wildly questionable interpretations of results make it through peer review completely unscathed because the interpretation was consistent with group-truth.

Does that mean I am against peer review? No.  It certainly can have value. However, I would argue things from a different position.

Consider a research paper like a court case. The researcher has a limited number of pages to demonstrate that the findings and interpretation of the paper is compelling (“illiative sense”). As such, one must choose the best supporting information. Blogposts should be well down the list, along with celebrity quotes. However, it is hard to imagine an source that is unimpeachable.

For me, at least, I find value in continuity. If history supports a present trend, that adds credence to the results. If history shows a trend that moves us towards where we think the truth now is, that is strong. Focusing only on the contemporary seems logically flawed. But so is using one’s electronic doodlepad.

<I this post seems a bit disjointed, I apologize. But I decided to practice what I preach. I am writing down my thoughts here before they are fully clarified. One day I may have it all figured out and will edit it. If this paragraph is still here, you can rest assured I haven’t updated yet.>

Scratching Where it NEVER Itches

My daughter is a nursing student at a hospital here in the Philippines. She was looking through some of the reading materials that were left lying around. One caught her attention enough to take a picture of every page. It was a “gospel tract.” Fairly long one. I will put a few quotes here.

In response to the possible objection that spending an eternity in hell is unreasonable (or I would probably reword it as unjust), the writer states:

“It is obvious to everyone but ourselves that eternity in hell is the correct sentence for lawbreakers. A preacher once said, ‘The moment when you take your first step through the gates of hell, the only thing you will hear is all of creation standing to its feet and applauding and praising God because God has rid the earth of you. That’s how not good you are.’

… Not only does God see sin as exceedingly sinful, He is the One against whom each and every offense is primarily committed. If anyone should be angry about sin, it is God Himself. And He is. And that anger will last for an eternity.”

In a different section titled The Inevitable Verdict, the writer says,

“If God finds you guilty, and He will, you will be instantly whisked off to God’s eternal prison, hell. This is your final resting place, but there will be no rest. God’s righteous, holy, indignant wrath will rest on you for all of eternity.

Your first day of activities involves weeping, gnashing your teeth, and torment. Your ten-thousandth day is no different from your first; your suffering will never decrease in intensity. You would give anything for a drop of water or a ray of sunshine, but it never comes. Ever.

You will find no comfort in being surrounded with friends. Hell will not be an eternal party; it will be eternal punishment. And the One inflicting the punishment will be the One against whom you have committed all of your crimes: God Himself.

God, the just judge of the entire world, is going to judge you, and He is willing and able to pour out His anger and wrath on you forever and ever and ever. His holiness, righteousness, and love demand it.

You will receive only ongoing, unrelenting, and intense misery— eternal, conscious torment with no reprieve. You will forever receive the just reward for the unrighteous life you have willingly and knowingly lived.

Is there any hope for sinners like you and me? Is there any way we can escape the horrors of hell?”

I think that is enough. Here are some random thoughts to the presentation. Some are theological, while others are practical. However, my biggest complaint is the first one.

  1.  It scratches where it doesn’t itch. A survey a few years ago found that only about 3% of Americans are afraid of hell. I suspect the writer knows this because he spends 20 pages trying to convince readers that one SHOULD be afraid of hell. He seems more interested in convincing people that Hell is horrible, than that God is loving. But why do that at all? If a person’s itch is on their arm why scratch their shoulder? If a smoker is worried about money, why focus on cosmetic blemishes caused by smoking? Why not focus on how expensive smoking is short-term as well as long-term? Why not scratch where it itches? Salvation brings blessings, meaning and purpose, a place in God’s family, ability to endure struggles, give victory, and more. Why focus on the most negative (and least valued) motivations in this century to reach people?
  2. It focuses on the least interesting (or at least most ambiguous) metaphor. There are many metaphors used in the Bible for salvation. There is the shepherd seeking a person as a lost sheep. There is the adult choosing to adopt an orphan. There is the father seeking a wayward son. There is a person who liberates another from bondage. There is God as a sheltering refuge. There is God as a vinedresser grafting in new branches to an old vine. Instead the writer uses, and reifies, the metaphor of the courtroom. There is value in this metaphor— that is why Paul uses it. But it also places God in the most ambiguous position. God is the judge seeking to pass sentence… while Jesus, as God’s Son, is seen as the one acting as a mediator and payer of debt. This seems to place God the Father as wrathful while God the Son as loving.  It looks like God is schizophrenic (Mark 10:45 has a metaphor with a similar problem). Of course, this problem comes when one takes a metaphor and stretches it too far. God the Father is FAR MORE than a just God seeking to express his “just” anger against EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO EVER LIVED, into hell for ever and ever and ever, The Father is, after all, the one who sent the Son to rescue mankind as an act of unjustified mercy. This brings the next point.
  3. The writer spends too much time defending God. Over and over again the writer says that God is just. But why would he being doing this? I think it is because he really wants us to condemn ourselves. If we can buy into the idea that God is just, and that we have violated God’s law, then we can embrace the idea that hell is where we belong. But does God really need defending? And more to the point, are we really supposed to be intellectually comfortable with the idea that our Creator truly hates us and wants us to exist forever in torment? I feel that one reason the writer spends so much time defending God is that there is a bit of an unraveling in the logic because of the next point.
  4. God is not all that just. Now before you get all bothered by this point, hear me out. The Old Testament describes two coexising qualities of God throughout… God’s justice and God’s mercy. Mercy, is, in part at least, the quality of suspending justice due to compassion. Thus, God is just… but His justice is limited by His compassion. In the New Testament, John notes that the quality that best defines God is Love, not Justice. I don’t think that it is correct to say that God is fully loving and fully just. There is an imbalance, and that imbalance is in our favor.
  5. God, as described in the gospel tract, is not all that just even in human terms, not just Biblical terms. The writer suggests that God is just for punishing even though we have no option but be guilty, that we have no formal knowledge of standards we must live by, and that everlasting torture is appropriate. This is expressed even though by every standard of justice that we have… including in the Bible (“eye for an eye” is meant to show that punishment must not exceed the act) … would make the activity seem unjust. The most comon emotion recorded of Jesus, the most complete revelation of God, is His compassion and showed great ability to spend time with, and even enjoy the company of, sinners. Also, Paul, who popularized the metaphor of salvation in terms of the courtroom, told unbelievers (in the book of Acts) that God has chosen to overlook their sins because they did not know better. It is hardly surprising that the metaphor of the courtroom is passed over to other metaphors as the role of grace is emphasized in Paul’s writings. (I am not trying to minimize the issue of sin, but to note that the Bible expresses it in a more nuanced way than is commonly expressed in morality plays.)
  6. Some of the hermeneutics in the tract is pretty awful. The writer says that if one is angry than one is guilty of murder, violating one of God’s 10 commandments. Likewise if one has sexual fantasies than one is violating the commandment about adultery. If that was so, than certainly anyone must jump in and say that God is truly unjust since these actions do not violate the letter of the law. A just judge must follow the law. Of course, the writer is drawing from the sermon on the mount, but Jesus did NOT say that anger is the same as murder, or that fantasies are the same as adultery. They are different things. That interpretation violates any sound interpretation of the respective passages. (And it is so unnecessary. The Bible says these things are sinful. That is really enough.) Additionally, the Bible does not actually say that Hell is a place of Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). Now I know this is a hot button topic for some. I will simply say that I don’t know what hell is like… but just note that describing it in Revivalistic terms rather than what the Bible actually says tends to undermine the strength of the argument. Clearly it is a bad place, but going beyond what the Bible says should make one question the writer. Bad hermeneutics tends to lead to distrust in the reader.
  7. The tract is WAY too long. It takes 20 pages just to place the reader in hell. It takes reading that God is unjust and angry for 20 pages before one finally gets to the area where God is presented as (unjustly) being merciful through Christ.
  8. The expressed goal of the writer is to scare the reader. Is that really a good path to loving God?  Maybe, but I doubt it.

To note, I am an Evangelical (although its ties to politics and to nationalism in many circles has made me want to distance myself from the term of late). As such, I generally agree with the basic massage. We need to seek God’s love and mercy to be saved by Him. And this comes through Christ. But as Jackson Wu humorously demonstrated in his book “One Gospel for All Nations,” one can take a lot of true, or at least theologically justifiable, statements and create a hideous monster of a gospel presentation. While there are some weak or doubtful statements in the presentation, the biggest problem is that it creates a hugely unappealing presentation of the gospel. True is never good enough. One must scratch where it itches.

Maslow and Culture, Part 2

Continued from Part 1

I guess I would argue that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, if it is used in terms of Positive Psychology, is culturally inadequate. Taking into account culture and individuality could lead one to showing the hierarchy of needs as an upside-down pyramid.

Maslow 3

As humans, our physiological needs are quite similar. There is relatively little variation due to individuality or culture. However, when we move to Safety and Security, we start to have a broader range of attitudes and responses as to what meets this need. This is even more true when we get to Love and Belongingness. Culture defines social belongingness. What meets this need is far from universal.

Continuing on to Esteem, it was already pretty broad as described by Maslow with social and individual components. Some derive esteem more from belongingness, others from public recognition, and yet others from internal resources or from God.

This then leads to the broadest of all— actualization. It could be described as self-actualization, but studies have shown that most people feel that they are self-actualized if they are recognized as great or important by the general public. One might simply tell these people that they don’t understand what “self-actualized” really is. However, in the previous post, I related the story of a person who felt actualized by achieving his role as a positive member of a supportive family. It is hard to see how such actualization is less meaningful than achieving one’s own internal potential.

Perhaps it is better to recognize the spectrum. All of them involve a certain amount of “finding one’s calling” or seeing that one has accomplished or is accomplishing the purpose for which one was placed on the earth. The difference is that individual personalities and different cultures may disagree in terms of how this is evaluated. Some may see it as involving:

  • Interconnectedness with family and loved ones
  • Faithful service to God
  • Accolades of the public
  • Personal recognition of living out one’s personal talents and giftings.

The Eastern mindset may focus more on the first one, while the Western mindset may focus more on the last one. As Christians we may focus on the second one. However, these are often more theoretical than actual. The most common one worldwide tends to be the third one— accolades of the public. That is quite likely the worst of the possible choices. To give over one’s evaluation of self-worth and achievement of purpose to a bunch of fickle strangers is truly self-destructive.

Overall, however, I think it is worth noting that the church may fit better into the Eastern worldview in terms of social actualization, mixed with the second one. While a lot has been written about how Christians can achieve their God-given dreams, actualizing their calling and gifting, much of the Biblical understanding of the church is in terms of social actualization. It is not about you or me or about your dreams or my dreams, but our place as members of one body, carrying out our social roles within a community structured more on love and belongingness than on merit and success. And yes, it is also about God.  This does not discount the other side, but I would suggest that far too many churches are filled with far too many disconnected and lonely people (“… where do they all come from.”). Perhaps it is time to consider a different model for church life and individual growth.