Prayer When We are Alone

Almighty Father,

Reach out to me this morning and comfort me in my solitude,

lonely, missing one so dear.

I know that I should not be sad for a life well lived,

for someone strong who showed me how to live and then how to die.

Yet, I am sad, because it is my turn to be strong and I do not want to be.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

grant me time and space and strength to grieve and to let tears flow.

For the season is at hand for such.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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Preface

Cover for Called Along the Way
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Preface

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the enduring memories of my experience as a camp counselor in my Boy Scout years occurred when I was asked to teach a troop of special needs scouts how to swim. By the end of the week, however, two of these scouts were swimming. Both had the swim routine down before I met them, but both also faced certain obstacles to finishing the course.

The first had perfect form in swimming the American crawl, but only in shallow water where his fingers touched the bottom. He became violently upset when I prodded him to venture into deeper water. The second swam just fine, but thought it was more fun to be rescued by the lifeguard. He would swim a lap or two in his swim test. Then, a great big smile would come on his face and he would pretend to drown. I can still see the horror on the faces of those watching me get mad at a drowning scout—that is, until they saw him stop drowning and finish his swim test.

Isn’t that so like us when hear God’s call? Swim in deeper spiritual waters? Who me, Lord? Stop focusing on myself and step out for Christ? Who me, Lord? I think the hounds of heaven have been after me all my life. Yet, in the chaos of life frequently cloaked God’s presence day to day.

A woodcut called “The Ship of Fools” has hung over my desk since 1985. A couple years back I learned that this woodcut satirized a practice prevalent in the Age of Reason in Europe of driving special needs individuals out of the towns or placing them on boats (Foucault 1988, 3-37). For years, however, this woodcut symbolized my experience of the chaos of life. Yet, God blessed me in unmistakable ways which with the passage of time lifted this cloak over his presence.

One example of the lifting of this cloak occurred on a Sunday morning as my mind drifted during a long sermon by a Guatemalan friend. I prayed to God: why am I sitting here working in Hispanic ministry? I have no Hispanic heritage; my preaching in Spanish is weak and boring. Why am I here? God reminded me that I came to Christ through the testimony of a young man named Nicky Cruz[1] who I realized for the first time was Puerto Rican. It came as a surprise because at age 13 when I came to faith I had no idea what a Puerto Rican was—to me, Nicky Cruz was just another member of a street gang in New York. If I am a fool for the Lord, it is because he called me from the first day of faith.

This example illustrates that one of the ironies of life is that we are often strangers to ourselves. Our desires, motivations, and purposes lie behind a veil that cloaks our shadow side, limiting our personal growth and relationships, especially our relationship with God. Pulling back the veil accordingly offers the hope that we realize our potential, become comfortable with others, and welcome God more fully into our lives. One of my purposes in writing this memoir is to lift this veil.

Richard Niebuhr (1937, 1) observed that: “All attempts to interpret the past are indirect attempts to understand the present and the future.” I explore my past in this memoir not only to understand the past, but also to inform my call into pastoral ministry. During the darkest days of my career, several verses hung on my office wall:

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. (Isa 43:1-3)

Much like God called the Nation of Israel out of slavery to human masters, God calls us out of slavery to our own desires and sin. In doing so he also blesses us so that we can bless others (Gen 12:3).

Consequently, this memoir focuses on the history of my personal journey of faith and call to ministry so that those that come after me will be encouraged in their own faith knowing that Christ walks along side of us each step of the way.

Soli Deo Gloria.

References

Foucault, Michel. 1988. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (Orig Pub 1965). Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Vintage Books.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1937. The Kingdom of God in America. New York: Harper Torchbooks. (Review: Part 1 ; Part 2 )

[1] My parents took me to see the pre-release showing of a film, The Cross and the Switchblade, which told the story of the dramatic conversion of a young gang leader, Nicky Cruz. The film starred Pat Boone and Erik Estrada (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amg_Q4aT6Mg). We viewed the film in Constitution Hall in Washington DC.

 

Also see:

Christian Memoir: Looking Back 

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Placher Argues the Foundations for Postmodernism, Part 2

William C. Placher. 1989. Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Many times philosophy is denigrated as irrelevant and uninteresting. Far from irrelevant, it gives form to our thoughts—our default settings—and motivates us to take actions that we never really think about. For example, why do postmoderns head to the mall when they are upset, while back in the day moderns typically stopped to pray in a church? Far from uninteresting, philosophy shapes our music, explains trends in art, and leads us both to see and explain the world and ourselves in fresh, new ways and to rediscover aspects of our history which previously seemed mysterious or simply a bit nonlinear.

In his book, Unapologetic Theology, William Placher makes three observations about the postmodern apologetics project that bear repeating.

  1. Because we cannot argue from a foundation of absolute truth for the truth of Christ, neither can anyone else, such as secular modernists or scientists, argue from a foundation of absolute truth. This is an important observation because if Christian apologists continue to play by Enlightenment rules, there is no inherent reason why anyone should listen (138) and there is the danger that they may simply be shouted down by “imperialistic Enlightenment rationalism and liberalism” (168).
  1. While conversation cannot proceed from a foundation of absolute truth, common cause can still be found on an ad hoc basis. Placher observes that Christians can agree with both Jews and Marxists on the need to extend assistance to the homeless among us (167).
  1. In a real sense, our theology is justified in the eyes of the world by our actions, not the other way around (167).

Let me turn to each of these observations in turn.

No absolute truth, but shouted truth. The Enlightenment effort to find a foundation for absolute truth failed to discover a set of observations or logical relationships which could be used to justify objective truth. In its absence, competition has opened up to substitute subjective truth or truths of various sorts.

In the political realm, an early development of postmodern thinking evolved in Germany in the early twentieth century in the form of national socialism. If no absolute foundation exists, then let’s pick a leader to tell us what to believe. The logic was as unmistakable as the evil that it implied. Fear motivates us to seek easy answers and to accept solutions that would otherwise be unacceptable. The link of national socialism to the philosophy of Nietzsche, particularly his “will to power” is direct and undisputed among those that have studied it.[1] Political correctness, which originates with Karl Marx,[2] flows out of this line of thinking because once you promote a subjective alternative for absolute truth it is terribly inconvenient having your opponents point out the subjective nature of your alternative.[3]

In an economic realm, the absence of absolute truth helps explain the critical role of advertising and Hollywood movie productions in forming public opinion and preferences in daily purchases. If subjective truth is the only truth, storytelling is extremely interesting and important in cultural development because it persuades.[4]

Agree not on truth but on service. Placher makes the point that when we meet someone, we do not lay out a detailed foundation for conversation; we just look for points of agreement and start talking.

At one point I attended my uncle’s retirement from the Council of Churches in New York city and, although he worked as a pastor, a table of orthodox Jews attended the retirement gala. This observation interested me and I invited myself to sit with them. When I asked why so many orthodox Jews were attending a meeting of the Council of Churches, they told me that although they do not believe that Jesus is the Messiah, they agreed with many of the service projects undertaken by Council of Churches and wanted to get involved.

Service points to Gospel truth. Although Placher does not develop this theme, it is an inference that can be drawn. In a world where many voices scream for attention, actions speak louder than words and point to the motivations that brought them to fruition. Jesus said: “each tree is known by its own fruit.” (Luke 6:44) No one cares for a tree that bears no fruit and such it is with philosophies.

William C. Placher (1948 – 2008) was a postliberal theologian, a professor at Wabash in Indiana College, and the author of numerous books. His doctorate (1975) was from Yale University.

William Placher’s book, Unapologetic Theology, reviews modern and postmodern philosophical arguments that affect how we do theology and witness in the postmodern age. In part 1 of this review I summarized Placher’s argument for why the modern age is truly over—objective truth has no foundation that we can all agree on. In part 2 I summarized key implications of his work. Placher’s work is a fascinating read written for college students, but helpful to anyone concerned about cultural trends.

References

Lind, William S.  2009. “The Roots of Political Correctness.” Online: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/2009/11/19/the-roots-of-political-correctness. November 19.

Schaeffer, Francis A. 1976. How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Wheaton: Crossway Books. (Review: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-wW).

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. (Review: http://wp.me/p3Xeut-1E0)

[1] For example, Nazi propagandist, Leni Riefenstahl, named her documentary on the 1934 Nazi rally at Nuremberg a paraphrase of Nietzsche’s famous phrase, Triumph of the Will (Schaeffer1976, 62).

[2] For example, see: (Lind 2009).

[3] Marx tried to substitute his concept of dialectal materialism for the existence of God, but enthroning man or man’s thinking in place of God begged a creation account. Evolution seemed to fit the bill here until scientists in the ninetieth disproved the concept of spontaneous generation. Rather than explain how mankind could not evolve to be the center of the universe, Marx and his followers refused to talk about it and began to restrict access to Bibles, which competing creation account. It was curious to see why communist countries, such as North Korean, imprison anyone with a Bible while also arguing that God does not exist! This persecution is not arbitrary but has a philosophical foundation that goes all the way back to Marx.

[4]This is the theme of a recent book by Sachs (2012).

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Prayer for Protection

Sovereign Lord:

I praise you for raising me up from the deeps that I had fallen

and have not let my detractors have their day.

You remembered me in my hour of affliction and healed my soul and body and mind.

I need not fear the grave or the hell that others have fallen into.

Praise the Lord, Christians, give thanks and bless his name.

His wrath passes quickly, but his love is forever; our weeping is a night’s misery, but

our weeping is a night’s misery, but our joy comes with the new day.

As for me, because of my many blessings, I will remain strong in the Lord.

You have strengthened my footsteps, but when clouds cover your face, I am distressed.

To you alone do I cry for mercy; if I die, will my bones praise you and tell of your faithfulness?

Hear my prayer; come to me quickly!

For in you mourning becomes dancing; black funeral suits are quickly removed and your joy clothes me daily.

I will sing to you and not stay silent; I will rejoice in your name forever! (Psalm 30)

In the power of your Holy Spirit cover me in my weakness.

Shelter me in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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The World of Perception

One of the oldest photographs of me as a baby shows me in a high chair. I am smiling with my hands in the air and oatmeal on my face wearing a diaper and a top covered with a bib. The date on the photograph is February 1954 which means that I was about two months old.

Does little Stephen remember this early meal? Hardly. Did little Stephen climb into this chair or prepare his own food? Hardly. We know, however, from the picture that little Stephen is well fed and cared for because he is plump and happy. We suspect that little Stephen has a mom that loves and cares for him, but she is nowhere in the picture.

How does little Stephen perceive his world?

As parents (or siblings) we know that little Stephen needs constant watching because everything in arm’s reach goes straight into the mouth. Science tells us that babies are actually born blind, but babies can still feel, smell, and hear, although the mouth has priority. For the baby, trying something out generally means putting it in the mouth. No amount of reasoning by mom will change that behavior.

So how do little Stephen’s perceptions change with time?

If stuff goes into the mouth that does not belong there, little Stephen cries and cries, but that does immediately mean that it won’t go into the mouth a second time. If little Stephen does not like smashed peas, for example, he will still try them a few times before learning to refuse them on sight.

In the same manner, dad and other relatives may initially hold little Stephen, but pretty soon he will recognize that they are not mom and may get anxious and cry unless mom is in sight and comforting him.

How sophisticated is little Stephen’s decision making?

Through tasting, little Stephen learns that he likes some food and does not like other food—and other random, mouth sized objects. Good food gets a positive response from little Stephen; bad food gets a negative response. This tasting elicits a behavioral response, with either positive or negative.

Through sight, little Stephen compares his food and visitors with his prior experiences and either accepts or rejects them. Although these comparisons come much later than tasting per se, they form the basis of early rational decision making.

Who provides little Stephen’s template for thinking about God?

In little Stephen’s world, mom is the early model of God’s immanence because she brings him into the world and cares for him. Dad’s role as progenitor and provider is less obvious and serves as an early model of God’s transcendence.

How does little Stephen relate to his parents?

Little Stephen has a definite preference for mom because she cares for him and is always present. This preference only changes once trust is established both with mom and with dad.

Isn’t telling that we, as postmodern people, have grown fat and irritable? In our anxious world, the fascination with food reflects a mass regression to a child-like state, where we trust only things that go into the mouth—not because we are hungry, but because we are anxious—and where we cry for the one who cares for us, even if we do not even know his name.

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Placher Argues the Foundations for Postmodernism, Part 1

William C. Placher. 1989. Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is hard not to notice the crisis of identity facing Christians and the church today. If we as Christians see ourselves as created in the image of an almighty God, then nothing is impossible for God and, by inference, for us as heirs to the kingdom. On the other hand, if we start to believe our critics that God does not exist and church is just another human institution, then our options are no different than anyone else’s—limited by the time and money immediately available. Because we act out of our identity, we need to care about what our identity is in our heart of hearts, not just on our business cards. For Christians, our truest identity is defined in our theory of God or, in other words, in our theology.

In his book, Unapologetic Theology, William Placher writes:

“This book represents some of the philosophy I have been reading, as one context for thinking about a new way—or maybe a very old way—of doing theology.” (7)

By “old” Placher means to argue apologetically from a Christian perspective with Christian assumptions. This “old” perspective, which he calls the “unapologetic” approach, is interesting because:

“Christian apologists can adopt the language and assumptions of their audiences so thoroughly that they no longer speak with a distinctively Christian voice.” (11)

Arguing from the “new” Enlightenment perspective means:

“questioning all inherited assumptions and then accepting only those beliefs which could be proven according to universally acceptable criteria.” (11)

If those universally acceptable criteria preclude faith in Christ Jesus by their nature, then the “new” perspective blunts effective witness (12). Worse, if no universally acceptable criteria exist, which essentially means that the Enlightenment (or modern) era is over, then the price of arguing is paid without gaining any credibility as a witness. Thus, adopting an unapologetic stance appears warranted in the postmodern era which we find ourselves in.

Placher’s argument raises two questions that we care about. First, is the modern era truly over and, if so, how do we know? Second, because Placher clearly believes that the modern era is over, how do we approach apologetics in the absence of universally acceptable criteria for discussion? We care about these questions because it is hard to witness for Christ in the postmodern era if, in effect, we do not speak the language of a postmodern person.

In part 1 of this review will focus on the first question while part 2 will consider the second.

Is the modern era over? Placher starts his discussion of the Enlightenment with the father of the Enlightenment, René Descartes, writing:

“Descartes had set the goal of seeking a foundation for knowledge, but modern philosophy soon divided between empiricists who looked for that foundation in bare, uninterrupted sensations [things you see, hear, feel, taste…] and rationalists who sought it in logically unchallengeable first truths.” (26)

For empiricists, a problem quickly emerged because:

“We cannot build knowledge on a foundation of uninterpreted sense-data, because we cannot know particular sense-data in isolation from the conceptual schemes we use to organize them.” (29)

If this is not obvious, think about how one knows that a light is red and different from yellow or green. In order to recognize the difference, one needs to understand the definition of red and how it differs from yellow or green. Without knowing that definition, red is not a distinct color. We teach colors to children at a young age so they seem obvious to us as adults, but to untaught kids colors have yet to be learned. The definition of red is what is meant here as a conceptual scheme.

For logicians, Placher observes:

“What we cannot do is find some point that is uniquely certain by definition, guarantee to hold regardless of any empirical discoveries, independent of any other elements in the our system.” (33)

Placher notes the definition of a mammal, “a warm-blooded animal with hair which bears live young”, had to change with the discovery of the platypus (32). While the problem posed by the platypus seems trivial, Placher notes after referencing Russell’s paradox that:

“If our definitions in mathematics or logic lead to problems, we may decide to change them, but we always have more than one choice.” (34)

In conclusion, Placher cites Wittgenstein observing:

“when we find the foundations, it turns out they are being held up by the rest of the house. If theologians try to defend their claims by starting with basic, foundational truths that any rational person would have to believe or observations independent of theory and assumptions, they are trying to do something that our best philosophers tell us is impossible.” (34)

In other words, the attempt by Enlightenment scholars to find a defensible basis for objective truth has failed and we are now in the postmodern era where it can be said: “how you stand on an issue depends on where you sit”.

William Placher’s book, Unapologetic Theology, is a fascinating review of modern and postmodern philosophical arguments that affect how we do theology and witness in the postmodern age. In part one of this review I have summarized Placher’s argument for why the modern age is truly over—objective truth has no foundation that we can all agree on. In part two of this review, I will summarize Placher’s arguments for how we should do theology and witness understanding that we are in the postmodern era.

 

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T2Pneuma Releases “Prayers” in EBook

T2Pneuma Releases “Prayers” in EBook 

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Learn more (click here)

CONTACT: Stephen W. Hiemstra, author, T2Pneuma Publishers LLC (T2Pneuma.com), Centreville, VA 703-973-8898 (M), T2Pneuma@gmail.com

 CENTREVILLE, VA, 4/10/2017Prayers by Stephen W. Hiemstra is now available in Kindle (ISBN: 978-1942199083 (ASIN: B06Y15XYPN), EPUB (ISBN: 978-1942199120). The Kindle Edition is currently on sale on Amazon.com according to T2Pneuma Publishers LLC of Centreville, Virginia. Details are available at T2Pneuma.com.

DISCUSSION:

In this book are 50 prayers taken from A Christian Guide to Spirituality (2014) by the same author. These prayers are inspired by the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Una edición en español (Oraciones) es también disponible.

Hear the words; walk the steps; experience the joy!

Author Stephen W. Hiemstra (MDiv, PhD) is a slave of Christ, husband, father, tentmaker, writer, and speaker. He lives with Maryam, his wife of 30+ years, in Centreville, VA and they have three grown children.

BISAC: Christian Prayerbook (REL052010), Christian Life—Prayer (REL012080),   Spirituality (REL062000).

KEY WORDS: prayer, prayerbook, Christianity, devotion, spirituality, faith, Christian living.

 Please mention T2Pneuma.com on social media.

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Frankl Finds Meaning Outside Self

Vicktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Frankl Finds Meaning Outside Self

Viktor E. Frankl. 2008. Man’s Search for Meaning: A Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust (Orig Pub 1946).[1] Translated by Ilse Lasch. London: Rider.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

What is the meaning of life? “To glorify God and fully to enjoy him forever.”[2] Reminding ourselves of the centrality of God in our lives is a good theme for Holy Week.

For unbelievers, life is a bit more complicated, kind of like the mathematics of planetary motion for people who still believe the universe revolves around the earth. The mathematics of planetary motion became so much easier after Copernicus demonstrated that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice versa.

Introduction

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl shares both his concentration camp experiences during the holocaust and his observations as a logotherapist (meaning therapist) on the meaning of life. (104) His purpose in writing, as stated in his preface, is that: “I thought it might be helpful to people who are prone to despair.” (12)

Problem of Despair

This purpose statement is a massive understatement, as we later learn from Frankl’s own summary of the predicament of our times, when he writes:

“Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs its own psychotherapy to copy with it. The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as a contention that being has no meaning.” (31)

Neurosis can be defined as an “excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession”[3] while an existential vacuum (lack of meaning in life) “manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom” which afflicts 25 percent of European students and about 60 percent of American students, according to Frankl’s own statistics. (110) As a parent, I used to say that the two most dangerous words in the teenage vocabulary were “I’m bored”; apparently, Frankl would agree.

Meaning of Life

In reading Frankl’s work, we can surmise that Frank’s life work as a logotherapist arose immediately out of his experience during the Holocaust, but we are never explicitly told. What is remarkable is that Frankl, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was offered the opportunity to immigrate to America before such opportunities went away, but stayed in Vienna to look after his parents who were not offered this opportunity (13).

Why link meaning in life to experiences in a concentration camp? Viktor again does not explicitly tell us, but he does explain how he managed to survive the Holocaust when 27/28 camp inmates did not. Frankl busied himself in the camps contemplating the lectures that he would give after the war on the psychology of the concentration camp! (82) In other words, this book was the therapy that he administered to himself in the camps—outlining what he would write in this book. Contemplating the meaning of life in the camps gave life meaning, as he spent his days laying railroad tracks and, later, caring for inmates dying of typhoid.

Surviving in the Camps

Frankl offers numerous tips to prospective concentration camp inmates on how to survive. Among his observations are:

  • Don’t draw attention to yourself from sadistic guards.
  • Shave daily, walk briskly, and stand up straight to look healthy enough for work.
  • Applaud profusely when sadistic guards read poetry.
  • In walking in formation, stay in the middle or the front to avoid those that stumble and the beatings that follow.
  • Offer free psychiatric counseling to guards in need of it.

Short timers, who have given up on life, ignore these rules and smoke cigarettes that might otherwise be traded for food.

Critical Role of Meaning

A critical point in all this craziness is that, according to Frankl, survival depended on finding meaning in suffering. Frankl reports that the death rates in the camps days after Christmas in 1945 rose dramatically, not because of any external deprivation, but simply because inmates who had hoped to be released by Christmas gave up the will to live in the days thereafter. (84) When life hangs by a thread, small changes in attitude make a difference. Frankl writes:

“Woe to him who saw no more sense in his life, no aim, no purpose, and therefore no point in carrying on. He was soon lost…we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” (85)

So Frankl learned that inmates needed to live for other people who depended on them and to live to finish unfinished tasks, like the book he was to write. (87, 109) In other words, meaning comes not from looking inside one’s self, but from transcending one’s self.(131)

Assessment

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning is an unusually fascinating book. Frankl does not dwell on the horrors of the camps, but develops lessons from it for daily life in a postmodern world. When he discusses his survival tips, my mind immediately jumped to office situations where the same tips would be pertinent, suggesting not an opportunity for dark humor but that the camp experiences helped Frankl strip away the thin veil of the civilized world to see more fundamental truths. This is a book that you will want to read and, perhaps, return to occasionally for reference.

[1]Ein Psycholog ergebt das Konzentrationslager (A Psychiatrist’s Experience of the Concentration Camp).

[2]“The Larger Catechism” (7.111) The Book of Confessions. Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part 1. 2004. Louisville: Office of the General Assembly.

[3]https://www.google.com/#q=neurosis&*

 

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Prayer for Living Water

 

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Good Shepherd:

Do not leave me alone in this weary land,

where the dust and stand blow in my eyes,

where the heat is good only for raising scorpions,

where I may perish in my own sin and be cut off from people

and where foolish hearts lead people astray (Rom 1:21).

Strike the rock that is my heart with your staff,

that my heart may become wise  and through your Holy Spirit

bring forth springs of living water from which many may drink (Exod 17:6).

And that I too might be saved.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

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Why We Care About Epistemology

Our concern with epistemology is simple: faith is a lifesaver and, when faith is undermined, people suffer.

To see why faith is a lifesaver, let us return to our earlier discussion of the scientific method, when we consider the steps—problem definition, observations, analysis, decision, action, and responsibility bearing—the key step typically is the first one: problem definition. Glenn Johnson (1986), a friend and former professor, used to talk about how researchers would get stuck on a pre-step in problem definition—having a felt need—which does not mature into an actionable, problem definition. A good problem definition requires insight in the problem and creativity that is frequently absent.

Viktor Frankl offers an interesting problem definition in reflecting on faith and the meaning of life. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl shares both his concentration camp experiences during the Holocaust and his observations as a logotherapist (meaning therapist) on the meaning of life. He observes:

“Every age has its own collective neurosis, and every age needs its own psychotherapy to copy with it. The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as a private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as a contention that being has no meaning.” (Frankl 2008, 31)

He defines neurosis as an “excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession”[1] while an existential vacuum (lack of meaning in life) “manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom” which afflicts 25 percent of European students and about 60 percent of American students, according to Frankl’s own statistics. He concludes that meaning comes not from looking inside one’s self, but from transcending one’s self (Frankl 2009, 110,131). In his book, he repeatedly associates this existential vacuum with despair and suicide, based on his experience both as a concentration camp survivor and a professional psychiatrist.

If our culture obsesses about individual freedoms, encourages individuals to look within themselves for meaning, and rejects faith out of hand,[2] then Frankl suggests that we should observe epidemic levels of anxiety, depression, and suicide, as we observe. Lucado (2009, 5) puts it most succinctly: “ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s.” Frankl and Lucado’s observations about the emotional state of a society are hard to quantify in a statistical sense, but the New York Times recently reported that suicide rates in the United States had reached a thirty-year high.[3]

How did we reach this point?

Part of this story is one of a stagnant economy where about half of all Americans have seen no increase in real income since about 1980. Families under economic pressure have increasingly both spouses working full time which implies both smaller families and fewer economic and emotional reserves, especially for those with only a college degree or less. When both spouses work, it is harder to set aside Sundays for family and church, reducing spiritual reserves. When a family crisis emerges for families already stretched to the limit, the absence of reserves—economic, emotional, and spiritual—can be stressful. Remove faith from this mix, the absence of reserves can be devastating.

Faith is more than a spiritual reserve, but it is certainly no less. If faith functions as a reserve, then its removal leaves the family more prone to stress. We accordingly care about maintaining the vitality of our faith at least as much as our economic and emotional vitality. If our faith informs our work ethic and our devotion to marriage, as indeed it does, then the vitality of our faith is actually more important than our economic and emotional vitality because it is more primal. Attacks then on our faith are the most basic threats to our life both here and now, and eternally. So we care about epistemology because our lives depend on maintaining our faith.

Reference

Frankl, Viktor E. 2008. Man’s Search for Meaning: A Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust (Orig Pub 1946). Translated by Ilse Lasch. London: Rider.

Lucado, Max. 2009. Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Tavernise, Sabrina. 2016. “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High” New York Times. April 22. Online: https://nyti.ms/2k9vzFZ, Accessed: 13 March 2017.

[1] https://www.google.com/#q=neurosis&*.

[2] Guinness (2003, 145) describes prevailing attitude when he was a philosophy student during the 1960s as ABC—anything but Christian.

[3] Most surprising, the largest increase among men aged 45-64 (Tavernise 2016).

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