How to Become Your True Self

by Bella DePaulo Ph.D., Harvard | According the “self-concordance theory,” the most important thing we can do to become our true self is to pursue the goals that are right for us.

When those of us who are single at heart try to explain that to other people, we are sometimes put on the defensive. How can we possibly choose to live single? The whole idea of being single at heart, as I define it, is that for some people, living single is the way they live their best, most authentic, and most meaningful life. But how do you know what way of living is right for you?

The question of how to become your true self and live most authentically is one that pertains to every aspect of our lives, not just our choices about marital status or relationship status or parental status. All of our goals and aspirations, from the biggest and broadest to the smallest and least significant, are part of the calculus of living a good life.

According the “self-concordance theory,” the most important thing we can do to become our true self is to pursue the goals that are right for us. If we choose wrong – if we pursue goals that do not reflect who we really are, what we care about, and what we are good at – then even if we achieve those goals, we are not going to feel happy or fulfilled.

In a recent issue of Personality and Social Psychology Review, Kennon Sheldon reviewed the social science research relevant to the question of how we choose goals that best serve our quest to become our true self. Here’s what I see as some of the implications of the research.

When you set a goal or make a plan, how do you feel about it?

  1. Do you feel ambivalent about it?
  2. Do you find that you just can’t get yourself to follow through?
  3. Do you disparage your own goals or plans when you are talking to other people?
  4. Do you feel pressured by other people to pursue the goals you chose or the plans you made?
  5. Do you feel constrained to pursue particular goals (for example, getting a law degree instead of a degree in English literature because you think you will need the better salary that a law degree might bring)?
  6. Do you worry that if you do not pursue a particular goal or plan, you will feel guilty?

Or do you feel entirely differently?

  1. Do you really enjoy pursuing your goals or plans?
  2. Do you identify with what you are doing? Does it seem like what you are doing reflects who you really are?
  3. Do you find what you are doing interesting? Meaningful?
  4. Is it challenging in a way you appreciate?
  5. If you are doing something in some sense because you have to (for example, you are doing your job because it pays), do you sometimes find that it is so engaging that even if you didn’t need the money, you might want to do it anyway?
  6. Are you more attuned to your own feelings of growth and self-improvement than to other people’s evaluations of how you are doing?

If the second set of feelings describes you more accurately than the first set, then you are probably doing a good job of becoming your true self.

Are you the kind of person who springs into action immediately or do you take time to pay attention to how you are feeling? Sheldon believes that this “trait mindfulness” is important. It is defined as “the general disposition to be attentive to one’s feelings, desires, sensations, and emotions – to simply observe one’s reactions and emotions rather than being pulled immediately into action or reaction.” Research suggests that people who are more mindful in this way are more likely to pursue goals that are consistent with who they really are.

Similarly, people who “follow their gut” rather than trying to be overly rational may also do better at choosing the goals and plans that are right for them.

Are you surrounded by people who make it easy to be your true self?

Self-concordance theory is mostly about you and not about other people. But the people around you can be important in making it easier for you to become your best self rather than standing in your way.

In the workplace, you are doing well if you have a boss who tries to see your perspective, who tries to give you choices, and who provides meaningful rationales for any advice that is offered.

That’s true in sports, too. In studies of athletes at all different levels, researchers have found that leadership style matters more at the highest levels: “Having a supportive coach may be especially important for elite-level athletes, so that they can remain in touch with their original motivation to compete.”

In our everyday lives, some of us are fortunate enough to have friends or relatives who know us better than we know ourselves, and have our best interests in mind. They might know before we do when we are pursuing a goal that is never going to make us happy. If we are super lucky, they will know how to tell us that in a way we can hear.


Bella DePaulo (Ph.D., Harvard, 1979) is a social psychologist and the author of Singled Out: How Singles are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After (St. Martin’s Press) and How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century (Atria), and other books. Atlantic magazine described Dr. DePaulo as “America’s foremost thinker and writer on the single experience.” Her TEDx talk is “What no one ever told you about people who are single.”

 

Author of Living Single.In the spirit of the book, Singled Out, Living Single is a myth-busting, consciousness-raising, totally unapologetic take on single life. At this blog, we discuss just about everything about single life — except dating!
Bella DePaulo’s website


Proceedings of the ECWA General Church Council Meeting at Jos, Nigeria from April 8 – 12, 2019

by Rev. Stephen Panya Baba, ECWA President and Rev. Yunusa Sabo Nmadu Jnr., ECWA General Secretary | ECWA calls on the Nigerian Federal Government to apprehend and arrest the perpetrators to face the full wrath of the law, and compensate the victims in the interest of justice as failing to do these may jeopardize government’s effort in boosting food production and guaranteeing food security in Nigeria.

Behold! I am doing a new thing, Isaiah 43:19 is the 2019 Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) theme chosen during the 66th General Church Council (GCC) meeting in Jos, Nigeria from April 8 – 12 2019. The theme reflects the assurances of God’s word of hope to believers all over the world at these difficult times.

The Council meeting had in attendance the ECWA Executive members, members of ECWA Board of Trustees, Chairmen, Secretaries and Delegates of all the 84 District Church Councils (DCCs), Directors of the various ECWA Departments and Chief Executive Officers of ECWA Strategic Business units. The Council deliberated on many key issues affecting the Church, the Nigerian State and the global community and resolved thus:

Insecurity and Wave Of Criminality

  1. The Council views with serious concern the unabated attacks of armed herdsmen across the country, especially in the Middle-belt and Northern States of Kaduna, Plateau, Benue, Kogi, Katsina, Zamfara, Taraba and Adamawa as they continue to destroy lives, farms and properties of innocent members of their host communities. ECWA calls on the Federal Government to apprehend and arrest the perpetrators to face the full wrath of the law, and compensate the victims in the interest of justice as failing to do these may jeopardize government’s effort in boosting food production and guaranteeing food security in Nigeria.

ECWA particularly notes the continued attacks by these herdsmen on the Adara Christian communities in Kajuru Local Government of Kaduna State and the glaring injustice being perpetrated by the State and Federal Government in ignoring thousands of the internally displaced Adara people and the continuous imprisonment of their traditional and community leaders for months without any charge contrary to the law of the land and therefore demands that the Adara leaders be released immediately.

  1. The GCC is alarmed at the spate of killings for ritual purposes, frequent mass murder of harmless, innocent and defenseless citizens. Very often our young people, the very symbols of life and vigour, are the victims and agents of this wastage of human life. In recognition of its divine mandate, the Council reminds all of the sacredness and inviolability of human life, stating that no person, authority or institution has the right to terminate human life and urge everyone to respect the sanctity of human life and end the flow of innocent blood in the land. It advocates for a stronger collaboration between the government, the security agencies, and the entire population, for a more efficient protection of human lives and property.
  1. The Council notes with dismay the continuous spate of banditry in Northern Nigeria, kidnappings across the country, and the apparent helplessness of the Nigerian security agencies to rescue the victims at such, resulting in huge sums of money being paid as ransom to the kidnappers, thereby further exacerbating the poor financial conditions of the victims and their family members. ECWA therefore calls on the Federal Government and all security outfits to take urgent and definite steps to tackle this heinous crime in accordance with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), guaranteeing the security of lives and property of all citizens.
  1. The Council also warned that failure on the part of Government to protect the people and serve justice will spur the people to self-defense which may eventually lead to anarchy.
  1. Council frowns at the deplorable conditions of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps across the country and appealed the Federal Government to improve their welfare and ensure adequate security to enable them return to their ancestral homes.
  1. Furthermore, the Council frowns at the failure of the Federal Government to secure the release of the only Christian girl Leah Sharibu who is an ECWA member that was abducted by Boko Haram amongst many female students of Government Secondary School, Dapchi in their hostel and were all later released after negotiation by the Federal Government except Leah because she refused to renounce her Christian faith. The Council is worried that despite several promises by the Government, Leah Sharibu, Alice Loksha, a Christian nurse doing humanitarian service and other Chibok girls earlier abducted have not been released. ECWA is again using this medium to call on the Federal Government to apply the same negotiation mechanism used to free the other girls to ensure the immediate release of Leah Sharibu, Alice Loksha and the other remaining Chibok girls to their parents.

While recalling the controversy surrounding the suspicious withdrawal of military troops guarding Dapchi town few day before the girls were abducted, ECWA called on the military and other security agencies to weed themselves of fifth columnist in their fold in order to make the system truly efficient to perform their constitutional responsibility of protecting the lives and property of citizens.

  1. The Council particularly applauded Leah Sharibu for her dogged faith in identifying with Jesus Christ at the risk of her life and affirmed that the good Lord whom she has honored is able to keep her safe from harm and grant her freedom in due time. The Council equally praised Leah’s parents for instilling in their child the love of God and encouraged them not to despair in trusting God for her miraculous deliverance from the hands of the terrorists.

Social Justice and Equity

  1. ECWA observed with grave concern the levity with which the Government and her agencies treat the abduction of young girls in the Northern Region of the country where they are forced into early marriages. The Church believes that this is an infringement of the fundamental human rights of the young girls and a criminal offence. We therefore demand proper investigation and prosecution of the offenders no matter their position in the society.
  1. In the fight against corruption in the country, Council noted that the Church is the only hope if the fight is to succeed because of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to regenerate and transform lives.
  1. The GCC congratulates Nigerians and all those who emerged victorious in the recently concluded general elections and urged them to lead in the fear of God. It however, observed that the elections were shrouded in myriads of irregularities, violence and subversion of the peoples will. It therefore called on those who feel aggrieved to peacefully seek redress through the Election Tribunals and trust God’s will to be done in their desire to lead the people. On the other hand, the Council advised judicial officers presiding over the election tribunals to ensure justice to all as they would someday also be judged by the Ultimate Judge of the universe for their deeds.
  1. ECWA commends the efforts of the Military in tackling insurgency in Nigeria but observed the subtle militarization of the polity with the setting up of all sorts of military operations perceived by many Nigerians as targeted at silencing legitimate ventilation of grievances, and with the attendant breach of the fundamental rights of the citizenry due to the high-handedness of the Military.

Council also observed that often times, the security agencies only appear in the communities after the attackers have committed their atrocities and left. The Council therefore calls for increased intelligence gathering and take proactive steps to nip the attacks in the bud. Accordingly, the Council demands that the Federal Government take urgent and decisive steps to stem this disturbing trend.

Infrastructural Decay and Need For Entrepreneurship

  1. The Council further observed with dismay the continued decay of the Nation’s infrastructure particularly the roads and medical facilities. It therefore calls for urgent repairs, maintenance and upgrading of these facilities by the Government. It has become a night mare and a death trap travelling by road across the country. On the other hand, most of the nation’s hospitals have been turned into mere consulting centres with wrong diagnosis due to dilapidated equipment leading to thousands of unavoidable deaths on a daily basis. The Council is also saddened by the growing brain drain in the health sector due to the exodus of sound Nigerian medical doctors and other medical personnel to other countries for greener pastures due to the unimpressive situation of the nation’s hospitals.
  1. ECWA reiterates the need for entrepreneurship by the government, the Church, other religious bodies and the business community. The Council laments that many young people have no job and equally many public servants retire early and thereafter remain unproductive. These idle persons, especially the young ones, are easily available to be recruited for crime and other anti-social activities. There is therefore the need to promote entrepreneurship as a means of engaging many capable minds and hands in positive skills and so contribute collectively to nation building. In this regard, the Council continually encourage the faithful and indeed the entire citizenry to discover and exploit opportunities, and assemble resources in order to create value and wealthThis, no doubt, it noted would make it possible for the Church to build an economy that is truly at the service of humankind. Council equally urged the business community to invest not just for profit but also to offer some services to make positive impact on the society, especially the poor and vulnerable groups.

Church Report

  1. Council expressed joy at the visit of the United States of America Ag. Ambassador to Nigeria Hon. David J. Young and commended the Ambassador for his peace building efforts across Nigeria.
  1. The GCC reiterated the Church resolve to continue to focus on its core values of revival, evangelism/missions and holistic ministry as means of reaching out to the spiritual and physical needs of humanity.
  1. As a pace setter in the provision of quality education in Nigeria, the Council assured of ECWA’s continuous determination to training qualified manpower with the fear of God.
  1. Council expressed delight and congratulate ECWA Leaders who were recently elected into various international and ecumenical organizations.
  1. The GCC received with great joy the progress made so far by ECWA Television in reaching about 103 nations of the world with the Gospel and prayed for its sustenance.
  1. The Audited financial statement of the Church for the year ended December 31st, 2018 as presented, indicated that the financial books of accounts were properly kept and maintained in accordance with international accounting standard.
  1. The new ECWA Constitution and Bye-Laws which took effect from April 1, 2019 was formally presented and dedicated for use by the Council.
  1. The GCC resolved to build historic monuments in strategic mission fields, especially in Patigi, Bida and Girku.
  1. The Council launched an Anthem for the Church titled “Oh! God be glorified”.
  1. The 66th General Church Council successfully elected a new member of the ECWA Board of Trustees in the person of Elder Moses Yusuf Dembo and approved the creation of an additional District Church Council (DCC) to be known as Yamel- East DCC. It also approved the change of name of Tsiga DCC to Katsina South DCC.


What Matters Most: Seeking God’s Glory

by Andrew Kerr | You also need to remember that, whenever you are bent on the Glory of God, every help will be given to those who ask, seek and knock.  (Image of Praying man by Pexels from Pixabay)

Over the last week or two, I’ve been taking some time out to study John’s Gospel in more depth. My particular concern and focus has been to get a better handle on the relationship that exists between Jesus and the Father.

This morning I was looking at John Chapter 7.10-24. This section narrates the doctrinal head-to-head between Jesus and the Jews, both the masses and their masters. The debate took place in the precincts of the Temple. Christ had come in cognito, resisting the pressure of his relatives. Now, constrained by the duties of His office, He stands in God’s House to declare divine doctrine in order to decimate human tradition.

What is apparent, throughout this account, is the commitment of the Son to the glory of His Father. This, in fact, is the thing, above all, that distinguishes Jesus Christ clearly from His Judean teachers and hearers. The central section of the passage is found in the statement recounted by John in Chapter 7 Verse 18:

“He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (NKJV).

This portion of the 4th Gospel raises many searching questions that we need to regularly answer as professors, lecturers, ministers, elders, deacons, members, adherents, or covenant children:

What Matters Most To Me – My Own Personal Kudos, Reputation, Prestige, Honor OR The Honor, Praise and Glory of God?

By way of reply to the question posed by Jesus through His beloved disciple John, let me make a number of points: my aim is to stress the benefits of fruitful meditation on and consideration of the challenge this passage faces us with:

If what matters most to you is the Glory of God then the following facts flow from this passage (no doubt there are many others):

You will (according to the measure of grace and faith granted in Christ) be…..

enabled to BE TIMELY v14
enabled to TEACH TRUTHFULLY v15-16
enabled to RECEIVE CHRIST v17a
**enabled **to DISCERN ERROR v17b
enabled to ENDURE SLANDER v20
enabled to RESPOND KINDLY v21
enabled to DISCUSS THEOLOGY v22
enabled to EXPOSE TRADITION v23
enabled to JUDGE RIGHTLY v24

….Of course, on the other hand, if you are self-seeking, or man-pleasing, you are going, as His disciple, to be seriously deficient or defective, in your character, walk, and service of the Gospel. None of these things are possible while you are motivated by carnal, anthropocentric, thinking.

You also need to remember that, whenever you are bent on the Glory of God, every help will be given to those who ask, seek and knock. The Father, in the Son, by the Spirit of Grace, will reward you passion for conformity to His Son: your heart will be aligned to, and constrained by, His most holy, pleasing and perfect, will. The Jesus who sought God’s glory, and never wearied or deviated from doing so, is a cascading fountain of God-glorifying life, from whom you may obtain abundant grace.

As you seek His power to concentrate your Christianity on God’s glory, expect to see the overflow of His wisdom being worked out in your life. Of course it means you’ll divide opinion (v12), make theologians scratch their heads (v15), collide head-on with tradition (21), and be called a child of the devil (v20) – nobody ever claimed that seeking God’s glory was easy! But, as by the work of the God-glorifying Spirit, in the Grace of the Gospel, faith leads you into ever-closer communion, your relationship with the Father, will be revealed through the Son: your desire to seek God first will be evident in your life, as your mouth and manner are filled with the truth of the Gospel like Jesus.

God grant us grace each day to be God’s Glory Seekers more and more.

Andrew KerrAndrew Kerr is Pastor of Knockbracken in Belfast – Husband of Hazel, Dad to Rebekah, Paul and Andrew, Lover of Skiing, Walker of Lucy (our Bernese Mountain Dog), with a Passion for OT – in Deep Need of Grace. Connect with Andrew via gentlereformation.com

 



Why Do We Celebrate Transfiguration Sunday?

by Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum | The transfiguration of Jesus is when Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant in glory upon a mountain, (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36, 2 Peter 1:16–18). Jesus and three of his apostles, Peter, James, John, go to a mountain (the Mount of Transfiguration) to pray. On the mountain, Jesus begins to shine with bright rays of light (Image by CCXpistiavos on Pixabay).

Many denominations in North America schedule the observance of the Transfiguration on the Sunday before Lent. Celebration of the Transfiguration began in the eastern church in the late fourth century. The feast is celebrated on Aug. 6. This was the date of the dedication of the first church built on Mount Tabor, which is traditionally considered to be the “high mountain” of the Transfiguration. Others locate the Transfiguration on Mount Hermon or the Mount of Olives. Celebration of the feast was not common in the western church until the ninth century. It was declared a universal feast of the western church by Pope Callistus III in 1457. The feast was first included in the English Prayer Book as a black letter day in the 1561 revision of the calendar of the church year. It was included as a red letter day with proper collect and readings in the American Prayer Book of 1892. Its inclusion reflects the efforts of William Reed Huntington, who wrote the BCP collect for the Transfiguration.

This collect prays, “O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the king in his beauty. . . .” (BCP, p. 243). The Transfiguration is listed among the holy days of the church year as a Feast of our Lord. Other provinces of the Anglican Communion followed the lead of the Episcopal Church in celebrating the Transfiguration as a major feast. The Transfiguration gospel is used on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany in all three years of the BCP eucharistic lectionary. As an Epiphany story, the Transfiguration provides one of the most distinctive and dramatic showings of Jesus’ divinity.

We celebrate the revelation of Christ’s glory “before the passion” so that we may “be strengthened to bear our cross and be changed into his likeness.” The focus of the Lenten season is renewed discipline in walking in the way of the cross and rediscovery of the baptismal renunciation of evil and sin and our daily adherence to Christ. At Easter, which reveals the fullness of Christ’s glory (foreshadowed in the Transfiguration), Christians give themselves anew to the gospel at the Easter Vigil where they share the dying and rising of Christ.

In the biblical context, the synoptic gospels narrate the Transfiguration as a bridge between Jesus’ public ministry and his passion. From the time of the Transfiguration, Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem and the cross.

Feast that celebrates Jesus’ radical change of appearance while in the presence of Peter, James, and John, on a high mountain (Mt 17:1-8; Mk 9:2-8; Lk 9:28-36). The Gospel of Matthew records that “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” At this moment Moses and Elijah appeared, and they were talking with Jesus. Peter, misunderstanding the meaning of this manifestation, offered to “make three booths” for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. A bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud stated, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” The disciples fell on their faces in awe, but Jesus encouraged them to arise and “have no fear.” They saw only Jesus. This event is alluded to in 2 Pt 1:16-18, which records that “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” and “we were with him on the holy mountain.” The Transfiguration revealed Christ’s glory prior to the crucifixion, and it anticipated his resurrection and ascension. It may have given strength and comfort to his disciples in the difficult times that followed. It also prefigures the glorification of human nature in Christ.

Donald Armentrout is a professor emeritus of church history and historical theology, the Charles Quintard Professor of Dogmatic Theology, and director of the Advanced Degrees Program at the University of the South School of Theology. Robert Slocum is the rector of Trinity Church in Danville, KY and the author of many books, including The Theology of William Porcher Dubose and Prophet of Justice, Prophet of Life: Essays on William Stringfellow.

Robert Boak Slocum is distinguished lecturer in the department of philosophy and religious studies at St. Catharine College in Kentucky. He has served as president of the Society of Anglican and Lutheran Theologians and is on the editorial board of the Anglican Theological Review. He also co-wrote An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church with Donald S. Armentrout for Morehouse Publishing.



Benefiting from Failure in Your Life & Career

by Graham Young | Setbacks and failures are inevitable in life, no one is perfect, and we all fall on hard times at some point or another. But if we live so carefully to avoid failure, we’re also never teaching ourselves how to manage it effectively when we experience it.
Highly successful people are the ones who have failed the most.

As the public, we usually only learn about these individuals and their companies once they have made it big. We admire their success yet rarely witness the immense struggle they went through to get there. By not being exposed to their failures, we are unfortunately only left to compare ourselves to their achievements.

This in turn can make it hard for us to validate the mistakes we make and problems we experience. We often second-guess ourselves and question our abilities; not realizing that adversity is required in order to succeed.

This way of thinking has made the world afraid of failure. Even from a young age we have been taught that being wrong and making mistakes are bad. Our mind itself uses painful memories of the past to provoke negative emotions like fear and anxiety to stop us from making those same errors today.

Award winning author J.K. Rowling, on the other hand, embraces failure: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all–in which case, you fail by default.”

Setbacks and failures are inevitable in life, no one is perfect, and we all fall on hard times at some point or another. But if we live so carefully to avoid failure, we’re also never teaching ourselves how to manage it effectively when we experience it. So when faced with adversity, it often overwhelms us and causes us to give up.

The question then remains, how can we train ourselves to overcome these challenges and use them to our advantage?

Here are four steps that can help you turn any negative experience into a positive outcome:

1. Accept That Failure Is Part Of The Process
When times get tough, one of the most frustrating things we can hear from someone is to “stay positive.” The concept of positive thinking has been misused, misconstrued, and abused by us all.

Despite what we hear, it has nothing to do with smiling and being happy with everything that happens to you. Anyone who says that is either lying or crazy. Positive thinking, rather, is used so that we can learn, grow, and evolve from what we experience in life.

This does not mean try to fail. It simply means that if you are faced with a setback, understand it is not your final destination. It is a stepping-stone in your journey that is getting you to where you need to be.

When we do experience difficulties in life, it is okay to get down on ourselves. It is okay to get upset and disappointed. Our goal however is to not stay down.

2. Let Out Your Frustration
Once you have have taken some time to walk it off and clear your head, you can then begin accepting what happened. The initial emotional rush will eventually dissipate and you can then slowly return your focus back to the issue at hand.

3. Be Brutally Honest
The most critical part of the process, which 90% of people don’t do, involves taking a couple of minutes to reflect on what happened and being brutally honest with ourselves on why it happened. It’s easy to turn on the TV, pull out the smartphone, or find some form of distraction. Most people will do anything to avoid confronting their own self with mistakes they’ve made.

However, if we don’t do this, we don’t learn, and if we don’t learn then we risk failing insanely. Albert Einstein famously said it was insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. If we don’t learn from our mistakes and failures in life, then we are doomed to keep repeating them, whether we realize it or not.

4. Fail Forward
We fail forward by learning from our setbacks and making the necessary adjustments until we succeed. Every change we make, every person we meet, and every bit of information we absorb is coming together so we can create a different outcome.

We can’t stop obstacles from appearing in life, but we can choose how to handle them. They may block our vision temporarily, but if we persevere then we can discover opportunities that have always been waiting for us on the other side. As we get more efficient with this process, we enable ourselves to see the positive side in even the toughest of situations.

Graham Young writes about unique strategies that support personal growth and professional achievement. He is the vice chairman/COO of Graham Theodor & Co., an investment holding company and he manages business development for ePACT Network, a technology startup. Connect with him on Twitter @IamGrahamYoung



Critics of Christianity Aren’t So Clever

by Regis Nicoll | In this country the bible was used to justify slavery and then segregation and today intolerance based on religion and the bible continues as fundamentalist Christians spew biblical tirades against gays (image: Public flogging of a slave in 19th-century Brazil, by Johann Moritz Rugendas).
On cue my recent article, “The Mercy of Intolerance,” prompted some, um, spirited responses outside the general Crisis readership. One gentleman, “Paul,” who was particularly exercised by the piece shot me an email (excerpt below) in hopes of educating me. My response follows.

Regis, you and I live in two different worlds. In my world tolerance is a virtue, not a sin. In contrast, intolerance is very easy, especially when based on religion and the bible rather than on facts and reason. History is full of religious intolerance beginning with the persecutions of so called pagans by early Christians and continuing to the brutal bloody crusades, conversions by the sword, slaughters of Jews, mass murders of heretics, burning of witches, and on and on.
 
In this country the bible was used to justify slavery and then segregation and today intolerance based on religion and the bible continues as fundamentalist Christians spew biblical tirades against gays.
 
I find that religion and the bible are frequently used when arguments cannot be supported by reason. It has also been my experience that when biblical arguments are shown to be absurd, people advocating them frequently resort to bitter anger and name calling. There are some people who no longer speak to me because of their inability to utilize reason in support of their intolerance. Nonetheless, being a tolerant individual I’m always ready to converse with them, basing my arguments on facts and sound reasoning, not on simple minded stories written by scribes thousands of years ago.
 
Practicing tolerance is difficult especially toward the simple minded and gullible; I do the best I can and hope that as people become more educated, realism and reason will eventually prevail.

Paul, you and I are, indeed, traveling in separate orbits. I am impressed that in such a short space you managed to mention just about every grievance against Christianity that has been leveled by critics over the last few decades.

What I found missing in your critique is the rational thought that you so highly prize. Instead, your caricatures and name-calling suggest an emotional response to a belief system you find personally distasteful. At any rate, I thought I’d address some of your major points.

First off, tolerance as a virtue is a very recent and flawed notion. Up until about forty years ago, the ideals that shaped Western Society were the Greek virtues of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance augmented with the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love. These were founded on the belief that there were immutable standards by which one could discern truth, beauty, and goodness. Together they formed a system of thought that led to some of civilization’s greatest achievements: the creation of hospitals, orphanages, universities, Western government, the rule of law, and modern science.

In contrast with true virtues, of which one can never have too much, tolerance has finite limits that make it self-refuting. For example, the “ethic” of tolerance holds that all viewpoints are equally valid, except for the one insisting that not all viewpoints are equally valid because of the rational conclusion that some beliefs correspond to the way things really are and others don’t.

What’s more, if there are no moral absolutes, as the sirens of tolerance intone, then there is no distinction between virtue and vice, making the whole idea of “virtue” meaningless, and “tolerance” nothing more than a personal “value.” Hence, morality becomes the sum-total of our personal values—an ever-changing cultural convention defined by the 51-percent vote in which “Power is Truth!” is the logical end.

As to the accusations about Crusades, Inquisitions, and witch burnings—standard fare among critics—I’ll not deny that Christianity has had its dark chapters in history. But there are two things that critics always overlook in these matters.

First is scale. Based on liberal estimates, those campaigns claimed the lives of thousands to ten of thousands of people over a period of two millennia. Reprehensible, for sure, but pale in comparison to the 100-200 million killed in less than one century by atheistic regimes. Tragically, the template for that century—a period in which more blood was spilled than all previous centuries combined—was laid back in 1792. That was when the Goddess of Reason was erected in Notre Dame Cathedral foreshadowing the Reign of Terror with the execution of over 40,000 people, mostly peasants.

Like you, it has been my experience that “when arguments are shown to be absurd, people advocating them resort to bitter anger and name calling,” and worse. That’s because all belief systems have their weak, hypocritical, misinformed, and misguided followers.

However, no one puts blame on science when a scientist publishes fraudulent research or develops a WMD. Likewise, nobody criticizes modern medicine for the incidences of quackery and malpractice by medical practitioners. So, neither should they blame Christianity when followers misapply the teachings and example of Christ. Clearly, strict adherence to the Sermon on the Mount or even the second tablet of the Decalogue would preclude all of the evil you decry.

Indeed, for two millennia, when Christian principles were rightly attended to they fueled the great social movements in history: abolition, child labor laws, suffrage, and civil rights. And the same is true about human rights injustices today: slavery in Sudan, sex trafficking, prison rape, religious persecution, and political genocide.

When earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods ravage communities around the world, it is not societies of “Brights,” rationalists, free thinkers, and secular humanists that rush to far reaches on the globe to help victims; it’s churches and faith-based organizations who are among the first to arrive and the last to leave.

By contrast, when materialistic rationalists ignore the “last” and the “least” or send multitudes to the gulag and work camps for “education” they are not going against their worldview, but carrying out its tragic logic.

For a more complete (and accurate) explanation of the Christian position on homosexuality, you can check out my article, “God Made You This Way – Not!”

In the end, you roll up all of the injustices in the world and place them on the doorstep of ignorance fostered by the religiously benighted. If only people would “become more educated, realism and reason will eventually prevail.” I always find this a curious hope for rationalists. For only a moment’s worth of reasoned thinking would reveal the quicksand upon which it’s built.

Consider that over the last few decades, books on diet and exercise have consistently topped best-seller lists. Yet, obesity and obesity-related illnesses—heart disease, diabetes—are at epidemic levels. The same is true for books on marriage, which despite their enduring popularity, have failed to reverse the soaring divorce rate caused by the Sexual Revolution and no-fault legislation.

No, Paul, the maladies of the world are not matters of knowledge and education, but matters of aligning ourselves with universal truths about ourselves and the world that are universally accessible and readily recognizable.

¤ ¤ ¤

As of yet, “Paul” has not responded back.

Regis NicollRegis Nicoll is a retired nuclear engineer and a fellow of the Colson Center who writes commentary on faith and culture. His new book is titled Why There Is a God: And Why It Matters.



Strengthening Our Faith in a Time of Crisis

by R. Jared Staudt | Recognizing the never-ending crisis in the Church does not distract from the need for real reform and for holding people accountable. But it does point us to the heart of Jesus’s call to faith and trust in his providence (image: Shutterstock).
A crisis that strikes so centrally at the integrity of the Church necessitates a response from each one us. There must be general reform in the Church, but I’d like to explore how each one of us can respond to the Church’s crisis with a commitment to stronger faith and personal reform. In focusing on this personal response, I am by no means equating personal sin with the deep corruption we are discovering, nor seeking to take focus away from needed calls for practical change. The crisis to which I am responding, however, goes beyond the recent scandals to the underlying crisis of faith that has weakened the Church as a whole. Although the main thrust of this reflection predated the recent scandals, and comes from a talk I gave in the spring, I offer it now in hopes that it may help focus us on our response to them.

We must decide how we will respond to the storm. Jesus looks at each one of us as we are rocked by the waves. There is no one to grab onto, the wind is whipping up, and we are beginning to sink with discouragement. Do we keep our eyes on Jesus or do we focus on the storm surrounding us? Right now, many of us are drowning in the confusion and scandal caused by leaders of the Church. Does Jesus need to tell us, like Peter: “You of little faith, why so afraid”? The devil uses real problems in the Church to tempt us to sin against faith. If we take our eyes off of the Lord, we could be tempted to think that our faith is based upon the human dimension of the Church. There are so many reasons to be discouraged, but we are called to a supernatural response to God’s plan.

There can be no doubt that the Church is facing a general crisis. It’s not hard to find statistics of the precipitous decline in Church attendance as well as the reception of the sacraments, and there’s no need to repeat them here. Even many Catholics who come to Church do not fully profess faith in the Church’s teaching and may receive the Eucharist unprepared and in a state of sin. We now see that our leadership has been compromised in fundamental ways. And yet, the Church always faces some form of serious crisis. It is built into the nature of the Church as a mystical association of believers, to receive God’s sanctifying grace while remaining weak and sinful human beings. The Church contains both sinners who are experiencing lifelong conversion and hypocrites who reject God’s grace but remain within the Church and even hold positions of authority.

Recognizing the never-ending crisis in the Church does not distract from the need for real reform and for holding people accountable. But it does point us to the heart of Jesus’s call to faith and trust in his providence. God wills the Church to be weak and to suffer. That may sound nice in theory, but the self-inflicted nature of this suffering is particularly hard to bear. Pope Benedict XVI has often pointed this out: “The suffering of the church comes from inside the church, from sin that exists inside the church.” It is tempting to evaluate this statement only from the viewpoint of the clergy, particularly in light of grievous scandals, but the laity, too, must recognize that we are part of the problem. We are also a large part of the solution, if we cooperate with God’s grace. Looking to the saints, the great reformers, we must dedicate ourselves to reform, embracing the Lord’s call to conversion and holiness so that we can play our own part in the Church’s mission with renewed faith and strength.

Nature of the Crisis
There are three major fronts to the crisis facing the Church: doctrine, corruption, and secularization. We could describe these points further as not teaching and adhering fully to divine revelation and dogma; abandoning the call to holiness and the moral demands of God’s commandments; and a breakdown of Catholic culture and the Christian way of life. A fundamental crisis of faith underlies all three points: namely, not adhering to the faith and not living it out personally and socially.

It is true that the Church constantly faces challenges to faith and the moral life, but secularization offers a new and unique challenge. Never before have Christians lived within a secular culture, which pushes God to the sidelines of society, living life as if he did not exist. This secularization has brought unprecedented challenges to the Church and society, as we have called even the fundamental realities of life into question: marriage, the nature of man and woman, and the dignity of human life itself. Secularization is a challenge to the Church because it influences her members in fundamental ways that impede the life of faith, sapping the dynamism of their spiritual lives.

We cannot turn to the Church as a safe haven from our culture, because the Church lives in the world and a crisis of culture always enters into the Church. Catholics bring their struggles with them into the pews, because we live within and are shaped by the culture itself. Confusion and dissent on fundamental points of belief and morality have entered the Church. Despite the heroic witness of some, Catholics as a whole are responsible for the Church’s crisis:

Both the clergy and laity have not been true to the faith.

  • Clergy have not insisted on its integrity and have not taught it fully and faithfully.
  • The laity have rejected large portions of it and have fallen into relativism.

Both the clergy and laity have not lived the faith and kept true to the moral law.

  • Many members of the clergy have not been faithful to demands of celibacy or have fallen into spiritual mediocrity.
  • A large percentage of the laity contracepts, has gotten divorced, and has abandoned the practice of the faith.

Is there a connection between the overarching failings of the clergy and the laity? Absolutely, as neither has kept the other accountable, in large part due to their own failings.

Why the Lord Allows the Church to Suffer
The Church’s crisis of faith creates scandal particularly by fostering discouragement. As it appears that the Church lacks faith and holiness, many begin to question if they are real and possible. To fight against discouragement, it is important to reflect on why the Lord allows weakness and sin to remain within his Church. Paul described this by saying that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). God wants the Church to be weak so that he can tell us with Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). The Lord desires to work through the ministry of sinners so that we realize that he alone is the source of grace and truth. The perpetual crisis of the Church continues when her members become self-referential, pointing to themselves above Christ and using the Church for self-serving ends.

Fr. Thomas Weinandy pointed to this reality at the heart of the Church’s crisis: “I have often asked myself: ‘Why has Jesus let all of this happen?’ The only answer that comes to mind is that Jesus wants to manifest just how weak is the faith of many within the Church, even among too many of her bishops.” Ironically then, the Lord may allow the crisis we face to strengthen our faith in him. He helps us to realize time and time again that we can do nothing without him. The constant need for conversion entails turning from ourselves to Christ for our salvation. The woundedness of the Church continues the scandal of the Cross. Just as the Jews and Greeks objected to salvation through the Resurrection of one Jewish man, acknowledged to be the Son of God, so the world understandably bulks at this salvation coming to it through the ministry of sinful Christians.

The Church must guard against complacency to the sin of her members, however. Otherwise, Catholics, whether the clergy or laity, can become like the unfaithful servant in Christ’s parable, who says: “‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will punish him, and put him with the unfaithful” (Luke 12:45). We must constantly realize that we are sinners representing and serving God, who must seek ever-greater conformity to the Master. Otherwise, he will disown and punish us.

Never-Ending Reform
Lack of faith and the betrayal of sin have been a constant problem throughout history. Tracing the weakness of the Church—of God’s people—is not just a matter of history, but also a matter of listening to divine revelation. We can see how even our father in faith, Abraham, sought to force God’s promise by taking a concubine, how Israel rejected God in the desert after seeing his wonders, and how idolatry remained a constant struggle in the promised land. Most poignantly, we can see how the king after God’s own heart, David, responded to God’s promise that his throne would endure forever (2 Sam. 7), by committing the sins of adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11). Furthermore, his son Solomon, who received extraordinary blessings from God, fell into idolatry, only a minority of David’s descendants were faithful, and the promised line of kings ended in exile.

The Apostles weren’t much different. Jesus made another extraordinary promise to Peter only to call him “satan” five verses later for seeking to impede God’s plan (Matt. 16:18, 23). The same rock denies Jesus three times as all the apostles disperse, and one of them betrays his own master. Later, Paul had to correct Peter over his hypocrisy toward the Gentiles. Nothing could show us more directly how God works through weakness than how he established his Church upon the weakness of our humanity to manifest the power of his divinity. God gave us a clear sign to expect human weakness in our leaders, even as he showed us the transformation he could enact when the Holy Spirit acts through this weakness, such as at Pentecost.

The Church has faced many serious crises in history: severe persecution, which included not only the faithfulness of the martyrs but also many who betrayed the faith; heresies which overwhelmed a great number of bishops, especially Arianism; the destruction of images of Christ through the East in the iconoclast controversies; the external threat of Islam which overwhelmed the Christian heartland; the ignorance of priests and the corruption of the hierarchy in the Middle Ages; schisms in both East and West; the Protestant heresy which split Christendom in half; modern revolutions which nearly extinguished the priesthood and sacraments in entire nations; confusion in the Church’s liturgy and doctrine; and the secularism which has overwhelmed Western Civilization.

And what of the successors of St. Peter? We see both the power of God’s promise to make Peter the rock for the preservation of faith and the weakness and corruption of many popes who needed to be rebuked as satan for impeding the will of God. The laity has intervened at crucial moments in favor of reform. Even the monastic movement began largely as a lay response of personal conversion and reform, gaining popularity once the threat of Roman persecution waned and the Church entered mainstream society. The first ecumenical councils arose at the initiative of the Roman emperors. Similarly, early Germanic emperors intervened to depose some of the most corrupt popes in history in the tenth century. Nonetheless, the intervention of secular rulers would plague the Church as well, with Byzantine emperors seeking to impose heresy and Holy Roman Emperors and later monarchs attempting to control bishops (and many times succeeding).

Every crisis, however, brings forth a new champion of the faith, such as Athanasius who stood against the world in the Arian crisis. Merely human responses will not succeed and will introduce new problems. We cannot focus only on exterior solutions and policies without insisting on interior conversion. We can remove corrupt leaders, but who will replace them? The saints model the authentic reform that begins with oneself. St. Charles Borromeo led the true Reformation by modeling reform himself, which then inspired institutional reform. Holiness—expressed in prayer, penance, and virtue—must be the center of any true reform.

Strengthening Faith
As I’ve already noted, a crisis creates discouragement, but it can also inspire reform. If we are not simply ignorant of what’s happening, we face four possible responses:

  1. Giving up by abandoning the Church.
  2. Complacency in simply accepting things as they are for better or worse.
  3. Corruption in resisting reform and remaining in sinful practices.
  4. Reform by seeking holiness above all else for oneself and others.

Option four will require us to ask with Chesterton, “What’s wrong with the world?” including the Church, and also to answer with him: “me.” This answer does not deny the faults and corruption of others, or turn a blind eye to the need for accountability, but recognizes that my sins are part of the problem. In fact, they are central for each of us, because they are the part of the problem for which we bear direct responsibility. For reform to succeed, stronger faith, repentance, and the will to change must flow from many Catholics. Only in following my “yes” to personal reform, can I be a part of the broader solution by allowing Christ to act through me.

Trials in the Church invite us to strengthen our faith. They invite us to examine the source of our faith. Why do we believe? Because we grew up Catholic, have been inspired by a particular priest or fellow Catholic, have enjoyed coming to Church (as unlikely as that might be), or have been encouraged or comforted by being Catholic? These things may have a role to play, but our faith must be rooted more deeply. Do we believe that Jesus is the Christ who has come into the world for our salvation? We must remind ourselves that we believe in God, not in human beings. In response to the crisis of the Church, I affirm my faith in God and the trust I have in him, recognizing that he is the source of my confidence, not myself or any other human being.

I put forward the following points as my own response to the crisis of faith:

  1. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God become man to reveal the truth of God and to lead us to salvation.
  2. I believe that Jesus founded the Church to communicate his truth and transmit his grace in the sacraments.
  3. I believe that Jesus chose to work through flawed and sinful human beings, including his own disciples, despite the scandal that this involves.
  4. I believe that Jesus will preserve the Church from definitively teaching errors in faith and morals, even though Christians will fail in their own roles to teach and witness the faith.
  5. I believe that God’s providence will continue to guide the Church through history to the second coming, that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church, and that God will use our weakness for his greater glory.
  6. I believe that God is calling me to holiness despite all the obstacles in my own life, the Church, and society. I know that I am a sinner and that the Lord calls me now to a deeper conversion and relationship with him.

As we renew our faith, we must also reform our lives so that they embody what we believe. This will require an increase in humility, recognizing our own weakness and absolute dependence on God. We must also increase our life of prayer, seeking the one thing necessary and recognizing that all good comes from prayer. In addition, we must practice mortification and penance to reach true conversion of life and to make reparation for our sins and those of the Church. We will have to hold fast to the truth in love and patience, witnessing to and serving others. Ultimately, we must form a Christian culture (or way of life) in our family, work, and in all that we do, recreating the necessary soil for renewal.

Genuine faith leads us to hope, especially in the midst of difficulties, which in turn leads to a greater love for God and neighbor, completing our response to the crisis. If we truly trust in Jesus, we can say with St. Catherine of Siena:

This desire was great and continuous, but grew much more, when the First Truth showed her the neediness of the world, and in what a tempest of offense against God it lay. And she had understood this the better from a letter, which she had received from the spiritual Father of her soul, in which he explained to her the penalties and intolerable dolor caused by offenses against God, and the loss of souls, and the persecutions of Holy Church.

All this lighted the fire of her holy desire with grief for the offenses, and with the joy of the lively hope, with which she waited for God to provide against such great evils. And, since the soul seems, in such communion, sweetly to bind herself fast within herself and with God, and knows better his truth, inasmuch as the soul is then in God, and God in the soul, as the fish is in the sea, and the sea in the fish.

R. Jared StaudtR. Jared Staudt works in the Office of Evangelization and Family Life Ministries of the Archdiocese of Denver. He earned his BA and MA in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN and his PhD in Systematic Theology from Ave Maria University in Florida. Staudt served previously as a director of religious education in two parishes, taught at the Augustine Institute and the University of Mary, and served as co-editor of the theological journal Nova et Vetera. He and his wife Anne have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.



Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul

by Brooke Obie | President Bush presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Aretha Franklin on November 9, 2005. The award is the nation’s highest honor, and recognizes exceptional meritorious service.

As family and fans around the world mourn the death of the legendary gospel and soul singer Aretha Franklin, 76, I can’t help but listen to the song, “I Am Sealed Til the Day of Redemption,” in her honor. That was the first song Ms. Franklin ever sang in church.

King Jesus will come and He’ll take me away /
And forever I’ll live in a beautiful mansion /
I’m gonna live with the saints in glory someday /

“That was my song,” Franklin shared with me over the phone when I interviewed her for EBONY back in 2013. For such a powerhouse singer, her speaking voice was soft and gentle, but still so full of soul.

The occasion for our brief chat was the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Ms. Franklin was my historian. The Queen of Soul had toured with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement, singing at church events and protests with him beginning when she was only 16 years old.

Coming of age in the 1950s, the Detroit native was so committed to the cause of civil rights that she had asked her father, prominent pastor and civil rights activist C.L. Franklin, for permission to go with Dr. King, knowing how dangerous it could be. She shared with me a terrifying evening she spent ducked down in a church choir stand behind Dr. King when they heard a loud boom in the back of the church. It was only a fan that had backfired, but they knew their safety wasn’t guaranteed. It was dangerous enough to be a Black person; to be active in the movement alongside someone as visible and targeted as Dr. King was nothing short of courageous.

Yet, Ms. Franklin knew how powerful songs could be to lift the spirits of those in need and even propel people forward to act. She’d grown up on Negro Spirituals and hymns and knew that even during slavery, Black people had used songs as a powerful weapon of self-defense and survival. She felt it was her duty to use her gift to uplift her people and to fight for the end of racism in America.

As her profile as a recording artist grew, she financially supported Dr. King and the movement. She was 24 years old when she recorded her 1967 hit “Respect,” and it quickly became an anthem for civil rights protestors. Just a year later, she sang at the funeral of Dr. King.

But her activism didn’t end with her mentor. When civil rights icon Angela Davis was falsely accused of murder and imprisoned in California, Aretha Franklin offered to pay her bail, “Whether it’s $100,000 or $250,000,” she told Jet magazine in 1970. “I have the money,” she said, “I got it from Black people—they’ve made me financially able to have it—and I want to be able to use it in ways that will help our people.”

In 2009, she went on to sing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at the inauguration of the first Black president of the United States, Barack Obama.

Sitting at Ms. Franklin’s feet five years ago, listening to her tell her stories of Dr. King, I felt tethered to a history and a legacy so much deeper than I could understand. If I had had more time to speak with her, there are so many more questions that I would have loved to have asked her. But I am forever grateful for the time she gave me and so glad to have asked her what she hoped her legacy would be:

“Hopefully, the music has been uplifting and supporting…” she told me then. “…a spiritual stronghold for people who need that and for people who don’t know anything about the church and the Lord.”

With her hopes for her musical legacy fulfilled and her impact on history secured, Ms. Franklin’s “someday” to “live with the saints in glory” has come. I can only imagine how the heavenly choir sounds now that the angels have added the Queen of Soul to their ranks. Her music lives on in all of us she touched, lifting our spirits, giving us courage and inspiring us to action, just as she intended.

Brook Obie

Brooke Obie is a well-traveled writer and editor. She’s the senior digital editor for Guideposts.org, where she manages the health & wellness, relationships and travel verticals.