Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving thanks for the power of one: remembering Soren Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard was a philosopher who wrote around the middle of the 19th century in Denmark. His writings didn't really fit into any category of that time, as he wrote his philosophy from a very personal, subjective perspective, as one who was seeking a truth that was not just out there (objective) but inside (subjective). Kierkegaard spent a good deal of his writing criticizing the philosophy of his day (Hegel), and the religion of his day (State Church in Denmark). But, Kierkegaard's perspective was profoundly religious and Christian, but in a way that confused both believers and unbelievers. He was very appreciative of the ancient Greek thinkers, often speaking of Socrates.

In a real basic way, Kierkegaard focused attention on the individual human being as the measure of value and the locus of purpose and truth overagainst the systems (social, religious, political, educational) of his day. At the center of his thought was a profound vision of each individual standing alone before his or her Creator. That is where thought and understanding of life must begin and that is where it ends. Kierkegaard spoke depreciatingly of the herd mentality of his time as Nietzsche later did. Human beings had their dignity in standing before the judgment seat of the Eternal, and human beings were demeaned in standing before the judgment seat of society. I can't think of a more healthy and desperately needed message for our youth today who seem so socially oriented and so in need of continual social affirmation (e.g., "please text me every three minutes and let me know I still matter," etc.). To need the approval of the herd was the height of falsehood and the loss of humanity for Kierkegaard.

And, Kierkegaard lived out his life as a solitary individual who could not be shaped into a part of any system. In his autobiographical writings, he reflects on how difficult it was for him to find companionship in this world, talking at times about the ending of the hope of marrying. Kierkegaard kept thinking and trying to find a way through his creative and wonderful mind to find truth and how to live truly as a human being. And, his work is a testament to the dignity of human beings, as his struggle and efforts to find an authentic way to live raise the banner of "the individual" and remind us of the "power of one."

There was something within him that simply would not give in to all the forces and powers that wanted to define him as "strange" or "wierd" or "antisocial" as one who just didn't fit in society or in the academic world, though he was brillant in both his intellect and ability to express it in writing. He had the nerve to stand up as one sole individual and accuse the religious and philosophical establishment of being wrong. And, he felt a prophetic urge to express a true way of believing and thinking. Looking back on those times, this solitary individual, Soren Kierkegaard, seems to have been way more right than wrong about Christianity and Philosophy. His writings were inspiration for so many thinkers in religion and in philosophy that followed him. And, as I read his writings today, I feel comforted as if I have a friend from back then, who was deeply human and touched with the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of the Living God. He reminds me that life can be lived without giving in to the herd. He arouses a protest inside me and on behalf of some very beautiful and wonderful people that society would crush. And, as I think on Kierkegaard, it reminds me of some of the deepest things that make life worth living, and the one it reminds me of most right now is the "power of one," the irreducible dignity of the solitary individual who finds the guts within to stand alone and protest that he or she has the right to live freely and to develop as he or she is meant to develop and does not have to conform to any dictates of society that go against the holy seed within, the holy fire of God that only resides in the individual who dares to stand alone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Committee of Selves

My friend, Mack Garner, said to me one day: "Each of us really has a committee of selves: the self responsible to family, the self who wants to have fun, the self who needs glory, the self who is compassionate, the self who needs to produce something, the self who just wants everyone to leave it alone, etc." And, then he went on to say that as we live out our lives, one self shouts out the others, while some selves remain fairly passive and get run over. If a person has 8 or 10 selves, there are usually two or three that dominate, maybe even one. But, each self has its day, and its situation. That's why some people can surprise us so much. We have only known them in one context, and so only known one of their selves. Then, in another context, they completely surprise us, because one of their selves that we have never seen appears.

Of course, with a person who is somewhat whole, there is a strand that connects and orders the selves - i.e., a well-functioning commmittee. Which is another way of saying that the selves have a basic agreement on what is important and who is in charge of what. I guess this basic agreement or constitution is what makes us who we are.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Marking the Passing of Time

Thanksgiving is this coming Thursday, I am 50 years old today, and Advent will begin next Sunday. These things that help us mark the passing of time: holidays, birthdays, holy seasons. And, as we move into the Advent season, Thanksgiving stands as a welcome.

September and October flew by before I even noticed, and now we are at the end of November. And, quite a few years have passed by so quickly as I am now 50 years old. I remember as a child thinking that when it was the year 2000 I would be 40 years old, which seemed very old. Well, 2000 came and went, and here we are 10 years down the road. "Time like an ever rolling stream bears all its sons away," as the hymn goes.

A very important thing about special days, like holidays and birthdays, is that it marks the passing of time, and somehow seems to slow time down just a little. These special days help us to slow down and realize where we are, who we are and what is going on in our lives and in the lives of those we love. It is a good thing to slow down and mark the passing of time before our time passes us by.

A day can seem so long when you are anxiously waiting or full of sorrow, and then thirty or forty years can seem to pass before you know it. But, we carry what has passed within our hearts and minds as memory. And, so what has passed still makes up who we are and remains part of our living. I guess our memories in a sense are always marking the passing of time, honoring what has happened within our lives, and giving us a sense of meaning through it all. It is an amazing thing that human beings generally are able to sort things out as well as they do and have some sense of purpose and hope in life. We can thank our Creator for that. Happy Thanksgiving.