Editor's Note: Took a break last week from this blog - the first time in three years. I am back! Enjoy. As always, you can find all my blog posts from 2013 to the present on my website at http://stevemarshallassociates.com/steves-blog/
Man's Search for Meaning
Viktor Emil Frankl (1905–1997) was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. His best-selling book Man's Search for Meaning chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate, which led him to discover the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, and thus, a reason to continue living. Frankl became one of the key figures in existential therapy and a prominent source of inspiration for many psychologists.
"Finding the Meaning of Life is the Truest Expression of the State of Being Human"
One of many quotes attributed to Frankl, I had the opportunity last week to immerse myself into a large gathering of people who have followed a traditional path toward finding meaning in their lives. That group was part of the 4th largest church in Minnesota, and the members are followers of Martin Luther. Better known as one of the first figures in history to refute many of the basic tenets of Catholicism, he is credited as a seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation. (His other significant contribution was to translate the Bible from Latin into the vernacular to make it more accessible to the lay public.) For that, he was excommunicated and branded as an outlaw by Pope Leo X and Emperor Charles V in 1521. Lutherans worldwide will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of his controversial 1517 publication, 'Ninety-Five Theses' next year with many traveling to Wittenberg, Germany for a big event.
No, I Have Not Become a Lutheran
My role last week as a consultant was to interview a broad representation of the membership of this church to determine if they were aware of and committed to an emerging strategic plan for facilities and program enhancements and additions. Over the course of the week, I met with over 50 people in the congregation in one-on-one meetings of an hour or more, and this is what I learned (not about the project). Succinctly, and to quote Martin Luther, “Faith is permitting ourselves to be seized by the things we do not see." The common denominator for all those with whom I met was their abiding belief in their faith as the bedrock for finding meaning in this life. I have not met such an incredible cross-section of people that, once they became grounded by their faith, have become free to pursue all of the best parts of life; community, love, family, laughter, and their legacy without hesitation and complete confidence. (NOTE: I was especially drawn to the leader of this congregation, an ordained pastor of many years in the Lutheran faith, whose commitment and dedication to this church was both real and practical as it was spiritual. I hope I will always know this man.)
And, it Works......for Them
The existential question remains for me; is it possible to become as secure and confident in my life as these wonderful people in Minnesota are without attributing a great portion of my beliefs as emanating from a spiritual being? Is that all it takes? My answer has to be, "no." I tried it when I was young when my parents placed me into the Catholic system of schooling and church life, but I became disillusioned by all of the Catholic voodoo and by age 13 and left. I became further disenchanted with any faith as a result of my 14 months in-country during the whole Vietnam debacle and hearing an Army Chaplain lecture us that, "You shall not murder." That phrase, coupled with the horrors of war and the senseless loss of life, made it impossible for me to reconcile that with the existence of any all-knowing and benevolent spiritual being.
Who Am I?
I am not sure. I was educated, trained, loved - not as I was, but as I seemed to be. My role was my safe way of hiding, and there was no reason to change. I was approved. I pleased. Now, I have changed. I am less sure, more myself. My role has almost disappeared. My roots are not in my church, my job, where I live, even my world. They are in me. And that's OK. Even if there is a supreme being guiding us all in this journey we call life, he/she did one thing right. We were given the unique talent as a species to reason and think for ourselves. So, it seems to me that we are not we do, and we are not we eat, but rather, we have the ability to make those choices. And, finally, find our own meaning in life.
Thank you to the good people of St. Andrews Church in Mahtomedi, Minnesota for inspiring me to write this post.
Next Week: More thoughts from beyond the pale.