Drugs, Asking, & Depression: On (the Rest of Us) Having a Moral Compass

August 12, 2014

I am interrupting this series on freshman in their faith commitments. Yesterday, Robin Williams was discovered dead of asphyxia. Williams had a long history of depression and drug addiction. In particular, Williams used illegal drugs, such as cocaine. Williams acknowledged many years ago that the death of his friend and colleague, John Belushi, from drug addiction had awakened him to his own problems.

More recently, his struggle with depression reemerged, as did the use of illegal drugs. Although quite open about his struggles with addiction and depression, apparently his transparency about these debilitating problems did not have sufficient power to alleviate the pain of depression or keep him from (allegedly) taking his own life.

I caught part of an interview on KTLA this morning, and that viewing prompted this post. An actress made an astonishing apology for Williams’ drug abuse and alleged suicide: and I mean apology in the traditional sense of justifying his actions.

I want to err here on the side of grief: I will assume that, like so many others I’ve heard over the years, when we grieve, we say things that are totally out-of-bounds and so exceptionally offensive. Were it not for the overwhelming feelings of loss and sadness within grief, we would banish such thoughts from our heads before ever allowing them upon our tongues. Yet, I could not help but think, “Wow: Why doesn’t the journalist intervene right here? This kind of talk on TV is unacceptable.”

Although completely independent, I could not help but think of the overdose death of Phillip Seymour Hoffmann earlier this year. Hoffmann also struggled with addiction to illegal drugs; in his case, the struggle was with heroin. He was also alleged to have problems with depression.

Both Williams and Hoffmann were adored and celebrated for their astonishing acting abilities, and the range of characters that they inhabited in film, theater, and TV. They had a cadre of professionals who served them, conducted business on their behalf, and empowered their convictions regarding the arts; they both had friends and family who were aware of the troubles and maladies that each suffered from. Indeed, although only one with a lay understanding, it occurs to me that those in closest proximity also experience some social conflicts and emotional fatigue.

But, that is where I would like to draw some attention. My lack of “professional” qualifications should be enough warning to you to confirm or investigate what follows. First, I wonder about the relocation of announcement of depression. In the last 24 hours, about every other FB post or tweet made some version of the following request: “If you’re depressed, please tell someone about it.” Or: “If you’re thinking of taking your life, please stop what you are doing, and tell someone about it.”

At one level, this kind of straight talk assumes that explicit, linear, no-nonsense announcements will introduce safety, intervention, and promote healing. And, I am inclined to agree. What little I know from my friends, however, who have depression tell me: Just declaring they are depressed often takes an enormous amount of energy and courage, both of which are often in short supply. So, the above requests hold the best of intentions: but, no one should believe for a moment those announcements will solve everything. Relocating the responsibility to the one with depression is no guarantee we’ll hear anything.

For there is some dispute as to whether depression can be healed. Again, I’m not the one to consult, but if you google “depression healing”, you’ll quickly observe the astonishing range of responses; what kind of depression, and what kinds of healing are possible within any particular version of depression: and you get my point. Just making announcements can’t be the solution to alleviate pain or divert someone from making an attempt on their life.

But, we need to probe in the midst of this historical moment about culpability. Even here, we need to look and listen carefully about what we say and do. I’m always more than aghast when I learn about artists who overdose on narcotics (or die from other causes precipitated from drug abuse), especially those for whom they previously received some of the best medical and psychological treatments available. Who are the people who sell these narcotics and other illegal drugs to these artists? If by chance or serendipity, you are one of those people: Stop.Now. You are setting up your colleague for an early demise, one that is completely preventable.

But, it would be far too easy to merely point fingers at drug dealers, no? I am thinking now of those of us who know someone who has depression. Not everyone should routinely ask this question: but, at least once, checking in: “How are you doing with depression? (Listen.) May I ask you about this again in the future? Who else knows this about you? (Listen) May I have permission to tell that person I spoke with you?”

I feel some anguish here; I have had some students and colleagues over the years who suffered from depression in a variety of forms, and some hid it so well, that my surprise, in hearing from some friends, still has emotional power from the disclosure. It is easier to remain quiet and “keep to ourselves.” I am not proposing anything heroic: far from it. I know at least two or three of you reading here who routinely practice my suggestions: and have been surprised by the worst possible outcome.

Still, I want to recover my “moral compass”: just remaining silent agrees to everyone wandering along in any possible direction. Join me in asking our family and friends, especially those we know who suffer from depression: “How are you doing today?”

Last thought on asking that moves to other forms of intervention. I had a student leader who was too close to a freshman student of the opposite sex; it was the freshman’s first term in the university. She became very despondent about her academic performance, and began isolating herself. The student leader, initially offering pastoral care, learned that the freshmen was considering ending her life. She followed this announcement by telling the student leader that if she learned that he disclosed this to anyone, she would instantly take her life.

So, the student leader kept this agonizing secret for more than a month. I would run into him, or her, sometimes together, and it began to be obvious from their body posture, tone of voice, and forms of communication with me and others that something was being hidden. A private confrontation with the student leader finally yielded the energy-sapping secret.

Now: I can move over to more of my professional experience for you: In short, anyone at anytime who declares to you their intent to take their life is also announcing that they need to be made safe from suicide. They will typically follow this declaration with the threat to fulfill that intent if you disclose it to anyone. You need to swiftly–if possible discreetly–contact law enforcement and get their help. Anyone who declares their intent to end their own life has given up the right for that to be kept secret. For clergy, medical and psychological professionals, and law enforcement personnel all know this: swift intervention is needed. Which is what I did, albeit based upon what little I did know about the freshman and the disclosure by the student leader.

There’s nothing heroic about this kind of action. She’s alive today, married (to someone else), and enjoys being a mother. I’ve had to intervene on behalf of international students as well; those experiences are culturally awkward, and, much to my disappointment, have not resulted in healed relationships over the years.

So, don’t let your family or friends just wander around in their depression. I realize: We all have our limits. It’s the keeping of silence and secrets that contributes to our lack of moral compass: Ask your friends and family with depression how they are doing. Throwing some light upon all of this will contribute to the journey of life. (Jn. 12:35)


Prayer for Freshmen: Thursdays, 8:55 AM

August 7, 2014

It occurred to me that I should include you in my weekly routine. Namely, every Thursday at 8:55 AM, I pause to pray for freshmen students, campus ministers, pastors, and universities.

I pray at 8:55 AM on Thursdays for a variety of motivations. It’s just before the top of the hour, and right about now is when work and life become animated for me. It’s also just before the weekend, and for a huge chunk of first-year students, of all the things they could reflect on, they consider what they’ll do with their weekend and who they’ll do it with: on Thursdays.

So, some intercession for wisdom and risk-taking that contributes to their present as well as their future makes it into my prayers.

But, the prayer that always makes it into my intercession is this:

How are we communicating the Gospel among freshmen?

Obviously, that prayer opens me up to all kinds of input, and that is good, given my research topic. And, that prayer alerts me to how and what freshmen students hear, how they respond, and how they interpret the Gospel engaging their present aims and future goals.

My Facebook feed is blowing up right now with announcements and prayer requests from my InterVarsity colleagues and students preparing for New Student Outreach, just a scant 3 weeks away from the start of classes at many universities in North America. I am full of joy for them, and pray the Lord grants them the fullness of his Holy Spirit as they proclaim that one name by which we are saved. (Acts 4:12)

Here’s my invitation: Please join me on Thursdays at 8:55 AM, wherever you are in the world, and pray for freshmen, perhaps your daughter or son, and for the campus and those who serve there, and this prayer in particular: “How are we communicating the Gospel among freshmen?


Keeping the Faith Among Freshmen/First-Year Asian American Students: For the Parents (Part 1)

July 30, 2014

First off: Congratulations! Your daughter or son is heading off to the university. You should be feeling proud! Keep in mind the great privilege your children have received: less than 7% of the world’s population has a university education. Just getting admitted confers a unique status to your child in this world.

Sure, but does it pay? The next 4 to 5 years will go by in a heartbeat: and upon graduation, your adult child will potentially earn more than 70% over their lifetime than any of their classmates who graduated from high school without a college degree.

So, even if they did not get admitted to (or will attend) the university you wanted for them, your child–your adult child–will likely have a prosperous future before them. And, I would like to believe, that includes sustaining and growing their faith in Christ. More on that in a moment.

In case you’ve read this far and it was missed: I’m a PhD student in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary: My research topic is about how Asian American first-year students make decisions that impact their faith commitment. I am just concluding a pilot study among freshmen (or first-year) students.

As you can tell from my family name, I have an Asian heritage–far more diffused, and I will explain why later–and my wife is Chinese: we were both born in California. I also serve with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and for the last 20 years, the majority of my ministry has been among international students and in churches among Asian Americans. While I bring academic rigor to my research, I also have a stake in what I learn; my children have graduated from different universities, and their faith commitments are intact, but quite distinct from my own.

And that leads to what is next for you: When it comes to what matters most to your child, when it comes what they care about most, or when it comes to their dreams for the future: I am pretty sure from just my pilot study: They haven’t told you.

In fact, some are keeping it under wraps from you for a variety of reasons, experiences, and perceived outcomes. I don’t think that is a surprise to most parents: namely, that our young adult children have a private, inner life that they do not disclose to anyone except– possibly– those for whom they trust will contribute toward the fulfillment of what matters most to them.

Plenty of the first-year students that I’ve met inform me that you want them to become a doctor or an engineer. So, they are studying some major that will contribute toward that goal. Some of those same students really do want to become doctors and engineers! Awesome! And many are doing this, in part because they trust you, and in part because they don’t want to disappoint you.

But, flowing from their interests and faith in Christ, if given the opportunity to serve the poor directly (and not by way of graduating from medical school, etc.) or to become an artist: they would do that in a heartbeat. Here’s where this post gets a little tangled.

As you already know, lots of Asian families put “family first.” Collective matters receive a higher priority than individual concerns. In contrast, when living in North America, much of the social and cultural items, like education, place a higher value on the forming of the individual.

So, while you (and I) were encouraging and empowering our children to perform well in school, the school took that posture our children brought in from us; they attempted to mold it so our children would live with making their individual concerns the highest priorities for their lives. This is a tension that many of us have with our children: They hear at home, “Do what is best for the family,” and that is picked up by good-intentioned educators who articulate and practice: “Do what is best for yourself.”

So, in case your child ever came home and announced, “I want to become an artist”, and went on about that: and you silenced them or ignored them: in part, their announcement was energized over a short amount of time by their experience in school. And it really doesn’t matter if your child attended a private or a public school in North America.

This happened to an friend from East Asia, not long after migrating with his family to the US: He announced, “I want to become an artist,” and his mother’s response was swift: You will either become a doctor or a dentist. End of discussion. And it was…in more ways than one.

He furtively continued to paint, hiding his brushes and paints from his mother, always washing his hands scrupulously to remove any residue of paint, secretly taking art classes in high school and college, always avoiding detection from his mother. He graduated from dental school, and developed a thriving practice. Having disclosed what matters most to his fiancee, he married and they bought a home: and their garage has never had a car inside it and it has always been a studio. His wife loves his art: and for good reason: he’s an excellent painter. His mother has never made a critical comment about his painting to my knowledge. But, it was never the way my friend ever wanted to live, having to keep secret– from his Christian mother– what mattered most to him.

Obviously, my friend’s experience is a unique example of someone who knows his ultimate concern, and orients his life toward the fulfillment of what matters most to him.

Now, I mention this, not because I already know that your child has some ultimate concern that they are hiding from you. They might be hiding it from you, assuming they even know what it is, or hiding a collection of ultimate concerns. Rather, I mention the story for you to be aware that my friend made this discovery of painting in his elementary school in North America, and in part, the tenacity of his commitment to paint was strengthened within a North American educational context that values and supports becoming a unique individual.

Our children–no matter what our family’s cultural history may be–routinely encounter this kind of “hidden curriculum” within their schools and extra-curricular groups. Our children make decisions rather quickly about how they will participate, inasmuch they already know that we want them to succeed. Yet, some of the commitments and the momentum of their participation would never get endorsed by us at home. They are doing this, by and large, by themselves.

And this individuation gets affirmed to the extreme in the university. This affirmation can work in some peculiar ways upon the faith of our adult children, both developing and denying their faith commitment, but certainly encouraging and empowering their ultimate concerns.

But, make no mistake: plenty of the first-year students want their faith and their ultimate concerns to meet up in the world, or “to make a difference” in the name of Christ.

What should we do, as parents, even if our adult child doesn’t know their ultimate concerns? There are no “silver bullets”, no formulas for which we “add water and stir,” no weekend seminars to repair and heal broken (or incomplete) relationships. I will make some suggestions in my next post about the days ahead: that days precede the day you assist your child with moving into their university residence hall.

Meanwhile, please pray for yourself and your adult child. Plenty of parents make the abrupt discovery that their former high school student is moving out of the home to the university, and is unlikely to ever become a permanent resident again: that discovery can be tough on the heart. Pray for your adult child to be and become wise regarding how they live into what matters most to them. Pray that you and your adult child will continue to follow Jesus, albeit in some new ways apart from each other. Thank God for the great privilege your adult child has received in even being admitted to any college or university. Pray that their faith in Christ and their ultimate concerns will meet in the development of skills and competencies to participate in the mission of God.


Keeping the Faith among Freshmen/First-Year Asian American Students: Introduction

July 28, 2014

In a few weeks, a variety of media sources will cite and speculate about the class of 2018. The first-year students entering the North American universities will have some unique characteristics based upon their collective birthdays located in 1996. Pundits, professors, and parents will ramble and rant about this class. The optimism of high school graduation speeches from the spring will be tempered with economic realities, majors that lead to employment following graduation, and a subtle change in perspective that moves from GPA to starting salaries.

So, count this post as an early start. And, in case we haven’t met: Glad you’re here! And, if this was missed: I’m a PhD student in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Seminary: My research topic is about how Asian American first-year students make decisions that impact their faith commitment. The first-year experience is often perceived outside the university as a threat to the faith commitment of incoming undergraduates. Lots of hand-wringing by parents, youth pastors, family, and friends: the freshman may lose her/his faith in that first-year of university life.

But: Let me pause right here. When I first drafted this post, the world was going to hell in a hand basket: Some unidentified people shot a Malaysian passenger jet from the sky a couple of weeks ago; Israel and Hamas are attacking each other in Gaza with no end in sight; Hong Kong is flailing from continued and increasing harassment from Beijing, as the former British colony resists suppression of their intent for universal suffrage and for democratic leadership that comes without exclusive vetting by Beijing; Children from Honduras and Guatemala travel in packs without their parents to the US to escape violence in their homes: Only to be resisted by ‘Mericans who claim our nation cannot receive them in all of their vulnerability. And, it’s only getting worse.

So, this post–and those to follow– might read as a bit disconnected from the reality that our TV’s and social media link up to our lives. I hope it won’t be separated. Indeed, latent to all that follows is that responsible participation in the mission of God (missio Dei) can and should involve disciplined imagination, learning, and praxis. Faith and higher education can be linked up to participate in the healing, reconciliation, and renewal of the world that Jesus Christ is presently and eternally enacting as you read this. Getting a college education and developing your faith is not the only way to go into God’s mission: but, that is another topic for another day. Meanwhile, the erosion and abandonment of faith during the college years by young adults, especially in the first year, has generated its fair share of anxiety.

And, it’s not as though that anxiety is unwarranted or without merit. Plenty of books have been published on the realities. Some well-funded and tightly focused ministries have taken aim at this phenomenon. I’m also on the campus staff of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship: welcoming freshmen into our fellowships is a big deal. InterVarsity belongs to a consortium of ministries aiming to assist that transition from high school to college with the student’s faith intact, and it includes ministries who serve high school students to those who serve university students.

So: “Why do this research if others have already done surveys, published, and other ministries–including yours–have taken up the task of reaching freshmen?” That is a good and fair question.

For one, Asian Americans are among the fastest growing ethnic groups in the North American Christianity. Yes, yes: Latino Pentecostals are and will be the largest Christian ethnic group in North America: the fastest growing ethnic groups in North American Christianity are among the Koreans and the Chinese: and those are just the East Asian Americans. South Asian American Christianity is exploding as well. Why? More in another post. Keeping up with a culturally dynamic group of young adults with regard to their faith cannot be energized by presuming certain static categories or stereotypes will endure from generation to generation: such as the transmission of Confucian values, filial piety, or the myth of the model minority. Far too often, how Asian Americans of the Christian faith interact and persist in their faith has not adequately described how they engage with their social and cultural contexts: and vice-versa.

Another answer to the question above: There is a remarkably small amount of research conducted on Asian American religion, and an even smaller amount on Asian American Christianity. That reality keeps expanding and deepening, improving monthly, and we’re all the better for it as a result. Nonetheless, there is a lot of room for contribution and understanding.

And, in that regard, especially among evangelicals, understanding the complexity of ethnicity and faith in North America continues to expand and deepen, and yet remains tangled and somewhat elusive. As you might expect, I am discovering the burgeoning literature on migration, ethnic origins, and faith in North America, and that nexus is generating discussions that are coming to profitable boil.

Finally, and most importantly, I intend to name and describe the mechanisms that underly the decisions that first-year students make, and consequently, how those decisions are enacted and subsequently influence how freshmen enact their faith. This goes to the bottom for me in more ways than one. We really benefit from The Barna Group, Pew Research, and others: their results reveals the tendencies and patterns that many late adolescents and young adults have with respect to their faith.

Those regularities, however, do not describe how decisions get made, and how the social and cultural surroundings interact with these young adults and their faith commitment: instead, hearing of someone who has abandoned the faith by the end of their first year in the university, slogans and quick diagnoses are forwarded.

She really didn’t have faith to begin with.” “His faith was always weak.” “Her/His parents didn’t really trust in the Lord to begin with.” “Her youth pastor always had a shaky theology.” Or: “The youth pastor graduated from ________ seminary…” Or: “He fell into the wrong crowd.” “She had an atheist/Marxist/Darwinian professor in her first year.

Or, my favorite: “It’s a Lordship issue.

As if that explained anything. And those slogans are so common as to rarely bring any objection or resistance from among parents, youth pastors, university faculty, or campus ministers. Such responses hide not only why the students apparently have left their faith, but also self-generate absolution for responsibility for such an outcome. (Preview: Assuming some responsibility is OK, but is often located in the wrong contexts.)

Well, I don’t intend to research those responses. Having said that, and the context that generated those responses: I’m taking up the question from the other side: Why do some first-year, Asian American students keep their faith? Missiologically, the question resides as a subset of those wondering, “Who will participate in the missio Dei?”

So, in the next few posts, I’ll make some proposals for everyone, but each one will be focused upon a specific group of people: parents, youth pastors and others on the “clergy-side” of ministry, faculty, and even my colleagues in campus ministry. Although the ethnicity of the students I am investigating are Asian American, my sense is that what is emerging may have application for other ethnic groups. That sense will need some elaboration, and recovery of particular histories, but for now:

Pray for the peace of Christ to prevail in the world. It’s not as though weird, strange, and violent events have never taken place simultaneously in the world before: It’s just that the need is great, in the present, for the people of the Christian faith to both rely upon the received traditions in spiritual disciplines and to practice those traditions in order to announce peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: that need is now part of the context of the mission we live in.


Happy Birthday, Martin Niemöller

January 14, 2013

Today is the 121st anniversary of the birth of Martin Niemöller. He was a Lutheran pastor and theologian, and lived richly ambiguous life during the reign of Hitler. Initially, Niemöller was a supporter of the Nazis, and made many anti-Semitic remarks in the early days of The Nazis. His comments were of the kind that were made of fear.

Niemöller came to his senses, and began to preach and speak out against Hitler. The consequences were swift: Niemöller was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau from 1938-1945. He narrowly missed execution, and was liberated by the US Army after the Nazis abandoned the concentration camp.

After leaving Dachau, Niemöller admitted his guilt, and became a pacifist. The following quote is attributed to Niemöller, which has contributed to his renown and ill fame:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I’m mindful that Niemöller underwent the kind of conversion in prison that few of us will ever experience. If hindsight is indeed 20-20, he received an acuity coupled to his repentance that focused his being a recipient of grace and his share in humanity.

It’s an interesting season, in that you’re probably aware that Louie Giglio removed himself from the upcoming presidential inauguration, as the news made the rounds that he voiced his objections to the organizing efforts by various LGBQT groups to influence the government. It’s not his objections or the supposed objections of PIC to Giglio’s remarks I’m concerned with here.

It’s the responses of the evangelical leaders of various ministries and institutions that I’d draw your attention to. Google Andrew Marin, and you’ll find in his blog a list of names with links. The responses are the kind Niemöller made before he was imprisoned. Lots of fear expressed about what the world is coming to.

Parenthetically, I’m in favor people speaking up, and Giglio’s comments weren’t, as far I can discern, made out of fear: but commended practices of organization and policy to other Christians. Even if you disagree with him, the practice of making those comments needs to be endorsed by everyone.

The remarks of the evangelical leaders were from a different tone. It’s too bad, as these responses represent a bunker mentality, that somehow our evangelical identity has separated our humanity from the rest of the human race and that our experience with the human condition privileges us from the rest of the people on the planet.

It’s part of our evangelical heritage of late to presume we’re the stewards of culture and morality, and instead of perceiving circumstances as these as an opportunity for mission, fears get expressed as the prevailing motivation of at least one segment of the church.

It’s the later Niemöller that these leaders need to consider and emulate: as do all of us from the church.


Happy Belated 104th Birthday, Lesslie Newbigin!

December 10, 2012

My internet connection was down over the weekend so this is a delayed post.

Leslie Newbigin (1909-1998) is the premier contemporary missiologist of the 20th and 21st centuries. Newbigin’s passionate reflection upon the Gospel and Christian mission remain unparalleled in our time. His writings have yet to be fathomed; his preaching, lectures, and publications are regularly read by pastors, missionaries, and routinely challenge theologians and missiologists. Newbigin served 40 years in missionary service in India, and in service to the worldwide church; his subtle influence upon Vatican II is only now becoming public. Upon retirement, Newbigin began serving as a pastor in London to an inner-city church. In honor of what would have been Newbigin’s 104th birthday, I post the following:

“When we speak of finding in Jesus the clue to the meaning of the whole human story, we are not speaking of a mere cognitive exercise. We’re speaking of that act of atonement wrought in Jesus through which we are brought into a loving obedience to the will of God as it is exercised through all human and cosmic history. It is not merely a matter of illumination, of new understanding; it is a matter of reconciliation, of rescue from alienation, of obedient response to the divine initiative of love. It is illumination and new understanding only because it is first a divine action of reconciliation through which we are brought to that state in which we can say and know that God works all things together for good to those who love him. It is only through this act of atonement that Jesus becomes for us a clue to history.” (Truth and Authority in Modernity, 1996:39-40.)


Response to Pew Report on Rising Number of “nones” with Religious Affiliation: really, just one (big) thought

October 12, 2012

Earlier this week, the Pew Report on Religion announced its perceived most important result: the number of religiously unaffiliated increased in the last 5 years from just over 15% to just under 20%. Perhaps the most valuable description here is that what was formerly an intuition for most people is now quantified. For those wanting to know more about the increasing movement in the unaffiliated, there was a sidebar that offered some interpretation.

To me, this sidebar was informative, and leaves us with an impression that there are powers at work that will keep rolling through North America, almost without stalling, inexorably, and lending to the notion that the extinguishing of religious affiliation is a foregone conclusion. That impression needs to be examined, although not for the sake of preserving religions per se. Of course, some people may not agree with the impression, and what follows will be superfluous. Such readers may want to stick around anyway.

The sidebar observes four different theories to explain the increase, and they are as follows:

  1. Political backlash, i.e., people reject the attempts of organized religions to influence social institutions like marriage or school curriculum, and are repelled by institutions like the 1970’s “Religious Right” and others that were media savvy for their day and remarkably well organized for influencing elections and sitting politicians.
  2. Delays in Marriage; here, the idea is proposed that those who wait for matrimony (into their 30’s?) are less likely to participate in religious services or commit to any social institution.
  3. Broad social disengagement; here, there is larger trend, made famous by Putnam’s text, “Bowling Alone”, in which, just not religious organizations, but many social institutions are experiencing declines throughout the generations in participation, resulting in lower social capital and a remarkable decrease in communal experience.
  4. Secularization. I must admit: I thought this theory was moribund, and perhaps the editors/writers of the sidebar felt they needed to include this. Yet, even their data- and they admit as much- give further evidence the theory is lifeless. In short, the theory argues that as the overall economic/financial health of the society improves, their religiosity decreases; if the economic health is poor, the religiosity of a nation increases. In the US, the trend continues unabated: the GDP improves, and the nation’s religiosity increases. Why the theory was included doesn’t have any support from the data.

So, my one thought all along has been, how do the people respond to such forces? It needs to be made clear. Survey data doesn’t give us such information. Again, the theories proposed above don’t offer much direct engagement with the surveys or specifically with the respondents. So…

I would make a few suggestions for your reading, and such fall under one big thought: people already have some sense of mission in their lives. They may not use, or even resist, the use of the term “mission.” But for those who are thriving, they have some sense of purpose to their lives. They may not have a religious, let alone Christian, sense to that mission, but they’ve got it. I will defer to another day for a discussion of what is going on for those “who do not thrive.” But, for now, I want to attend to those who are thriving.

For those are the people who are negotiating and determining what kinds of constraints and enablements they encounter when they consider religious affiliation. Religious affiliation doesn’t possess, in and of itself, some social hydraulic that pre-determines an outcome socially. Nor does it hold some kind of special power that induces a unique psychological state that human persons are compelled to act upon.

My guess is that most readers are following me: in other words, I’m trying to make sure we preserve the capacities and dignities that all human persons possess, while denying that the properties and powers of religious affiliation and its related institutional structures will/must produce a specific emotional and social status or produce a certain allegiance.

Let’s not abandon the very real capacities that all human persons have for inner deliberations, of the many kind that exist, and to determine, in response to religious affiliations, how to intersect in a fruitful manner that accounts for their personal sense of mission/purpose.

On the one hand, attaching ourselves to the different theories above concurrently hands off our latent powers to reflect upon the social and cultural context one finds one self in, and merges such without any real consideration of what it means to be human. On the other hand, by keeping a confident hold on such remarkable properties leaves room for learning, testing, a “changing of one’s mind,” and the possibilities that one’s personal projects can fallibly include religious affiliation: and still retain a sense of mission that coheres with that religious affiliation: and activate the powers that accompany a religious commitment.


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