Monday, July 25, 2016

Our Satisfied Self Is Not Our Best Hope

Maumee Bay State Park, Ohio

Is anyone more more perceptive and lucid concerning American culture than Yale University's Miroslav Volf? In A Public Faith Volf writes of the pervasive sea of shallowness the typical American  dwells in (including, I think, the typical American Christian). He's worth quoting in full, with no commentary. 

"We live in an age of great conflicts and petty hopes... [T]he idea of flourishing as a human being has shriveled to meaning no more than leading an experientially satisfying life. The sources of satisfaction may vary: power, possessions, love, religion, sex, food, drugs—whatever. What matters most is not the source of satisfaction but the experience of it—my satisfaction. Our satisfied self is our best hope. Not only is this petty, but a dark shadow of disappointment stubbornly follows our obsession with personal satisfaction." (Volf, A Public Faith, How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, p. 99)

This is spot-on, right? Think of churches where this manifestation of the American Dream forms and shapes how pastors and leaders "do church." Think of the pressure to satisfy people's petty hopes. Hear the clash of worldviews if the Gospel of the Kingdom is preached. 

The "dark shadow of disappointment" comes when, e.g., things like power, sex, and possessions fail to satisfy us and off we go like animals hungering for more of the same.

Volf, who is a follower of Jesus, continues: "We are meant to live for something larger than our own satisfied selves. Petty hopes generate self-subverting, melancholy experiences." (Ib., 99-100)

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In my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God I write about hearing and discerning the voice of God.