The rock band The Who is famous for asking the question, Who are you? If you are in the over 40 crowd you can probably sing at least the chorus (Who are you? Who, who, who, who ) where they ask the question over and over. More recently on the big screen, Jason Bourne, in The Bourne Identity, is dealing with amnesia and is desperately searching for his identity as he tries to reassemble the details of his life. The more he discovers the less he wants to know. As he pieces together the puzzle that is his life it appears that he is a highly trained government assassin. What other conclusion can he draw from his fantastic fighting skills, secret cache of passports (with various identities) cash, weapons and proficiency in various languages? Is his identity found in what he was trained to do? Is it to be found in his previous line of work? Or is identity something more permanent, more foundational?
How should any of us answer the question, who are you? Where is your true identity found? Is your identity found by what you think about yourself or what others think about you? Does it have to do with your skills and abilities and what you have accomplished in the past? Is your identity the combination of gifts and abilities that make up your personality profile? Can you change your identity? Can it be taken away or stolen? Is your identity a role you play or something that forms a bedrock foundation to your life? Do you get your identity from others? Is your identity genetic and inherited or can it be developed over time? When a person loses their mind, do they lose their identity?
Everyone has defining moments and experiences in life. Do those experiences form your identity or just shape your character? Wouldn’t it be great if you weren’t defined by your past?
It is helpful to think about your identity as that which is most true about you and which cannot be taken away. If that definition works, then the question becomes, what is most true about you? Like the rebellious teenager who disowns his parents and runs away from home, whether they like it or not, their identity is still linked to his or her parents DNA and history. Some things can’t be changed.
Is your identity a spiritual issue? Is there an immaterial part of you, a soul that contains that which is truly you? Does God play a role in determining your identity? What if God had thoughts about you? Would it make a difference if he thought highly about you? Would God’s thoughts about you be any more or less important than what others think about you or what you think about yourself? What if God was offering you an identity that could never be changed? What if God offered to bring you into his family and relate to you like a parent does to a child in all the best ways that relationship was meant to be?
Your genetic makeup and personal history are very foundational whether we like to admit it or not, but maybe your identity can be more than that. The Bible records many occasions when Jesus Christ talked about God’s love for each of us and his desire to welcome us into his family, to be his children. It seems that for most of us our identity is ultimately found in our family and where we have come from. Could that be true regarding a relationship with God too?
When I am being really honest, I often find myself wrestling with questions related to my identity. Sometimes, like Jason Bourne, the more I learn the less I want to know. Being reminded of what God says is true about me makes a very practical difference in the way I live my life. So, as those philosopher musicians in the 1970’s asked, Who are you? Who, who, who, who?
“We live, we die, and the wheels on the bus go round and round.” was Edward Cole’s (Jack Nicholson) philosophy and comment to his unwelcome roommate and fellow cancer patient Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) as they traveled the world checking items off of their bucket list, a collection of the things the two wanted to do before they “kick the bucket.”
“Corporate billionaire Edward Cole and working class mechanic Carter Chambers have nothing in common except for their terminal illnesses. While sharing a hospital room together, they decide to leave it and do all the things they have ever wanted to do before they die … In the process, both of them heal each other, become unlikely friends, and ultimately find the joy in life.” IMDB
The film is a story about death and finding meaning in life. It is a picture of contrasts between billionaire loaner Cole and blue collar family man Chambers. It is also a contrast in viewpoints about what is important and how to see the world.
Cole exclaims, “I envy people who have faith, I just can’t get my head around it.” Yet, as he delivers the eulogy for his new friend, Cole remarks, “… I loved him. And I miss him. Carter and I saw the world together. Which is amazing… When you think that only three months ago, we were complete strangers! I hope that it doesn’t sound selfish of me but… the last months of his life were the best months of mine. He saved my life… And he knew it before I did.” The film is humorous and thought provoking while wrestling with questions that really matter and well worth the price of admission.
If you haven’t seen it yet put The Bucket List on the top of your bucket list.
I finished watching a movie last night; one that I didn’t enjoy or want to watch, but knew I needed to see. It only took me 14 years to watch Schindler’s List (1993) and I couldn’t watch it all in one sitting because it was a hard film to view and process.
You’ve probably seen Schindler’s List already; the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman in Poland who learns to make money after the Nazis rise to power by running a factory and using bribes to win military contracts. Initially using free labor from imprisoned Jews to run his factory he develops a conscience after seeing what the Nazis are doing to the Jews in Krakow. Eventually he spends his vast fortune to rescue 1,100 of his workers from almost certain death.
Numerous times I had seen a clip from the end of the film showing Schindler expressing remorse that he didn’t make further sacrifices to save more people, but I didn’t know the context. In the scene, at the end of the war and as Schindler and his wife are preparing to leave, he laments not sacrificing more, like selling his car and his gold pin to buy more people while his accountant and friend Itzhak Stern tries to console him saying that he has done so much and saved generations of families. Earlier Schindler stated that he had more money than any man could spend in a lifetime. Yet in the days to come he would spend all of it on bribes to German officers to keep his workers out of the concentration camps and in his factory while meeting their needs for survival.
And so I wonder; if I was in Schindler’s position would I have spent my fortune to save as many people as I could? Would I feel joy over those who were saved or saddened by those who had been murdered? What circumstances would lead me to take that kind of action today? What is a person worth? Are there ways to use my money, time and possessions to help people who cannot help themselves? What would motivate a person to sacrifice at that level? Where does that kind of courage and conviction come from? What good is wealth if people are dying around me and I am able to do something about it?
I am reminded of a story that Jesus Christ told about a prosperous man who stored up his wealth for himself and was not “rich toward God”. What does it mean to be rich toward God? Why do I have so much? Does all that I have in life ultimately come from God? If so, does God expect something from me as a result? Although Oskar Schindler was not a particularly religious man it seems to me that he was “rich toward God” because of the way he valued people and gave his wealth to save them. How can we be rich toward God?
“Contrarian thinking at its best simply asks, Is this really true? It speaks up when the politically correct answer or conventional wisdom doesn’t match reality – when things simply don’t work the way everyone says they should.”
Are you a contrarian thinker? Do you like to cut through the politically correct to find the truth that matches reality? If so then you will enjoy A Contrarian’s Guide To Knowing God: Spirituality For The Rest Of Us, by Larry Osborne.
For example, with regard to the life of Jesus Christ, Osborne writes,
“It’s no accident that Jesus was raised in a backwater town and used simple illustrations to convey profound truth.
It’s no accident the New Testament was written in the simple language of the marketplace rather than classical Greek – which was far more eloquent but way beyond the grasp of the common man.
It was all part of God’s plan to make the inaccessible accessible.
When Jesus burst onto the stage, he confronted a religious system that saw God as anything but accessible. Spirituality was reserved for the elite – those with pedigree, education, and a commitment to rigid self-discipline.
He countered this with a different path, one that farmers, fishermen, carpenters, even little children and sinners could follow.
He raised the bar of righteousness. But he lowered the bar to entry.”
Asking life’s most important questions often requires a contrarian perspective to commonly held beliefs and perspectives. That is what Larry Osborne helps his readers do in A Contrarian’s Guide To Knowing God. Does that sound like you? I thought so.
What is Ultimate Pursuits and who decides what life’s most important questions are? Now those are two good questions. Ultimate Pursuits is the quest to ask, discuss and answer the questions that lead to living a meaningful life. Who decides? You and I and everyone else who enters into the discussion will determine those questions and seek answers together.
So, I would like to ask for your help. Please leave a comment on this posting and let me know what you consider to be the 2 or 3 most important questions in life (to do so choose the leave a comment button above).
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Most people do not enjoy going to see a doctor for a variety of reasons, among those reasons is a natural hesitancy to deal with our own mortality. It was fascinating to learn that many doctors themselves are not very good at dealing with my mortality also.
In the book Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality (Alfred A. Knopf, January 2007), Pauline Chen draws upon her own experiences going through medical school and years of practice as a transplant surgeon to reflect on mortality. Far from being morbid, Final Exam is an insightful look into the medical profession and the great lengths doctors go toward saving life and the difficulty they have in dealing with death.
Final Exam will help you appreciate the challenges your doctors face as they treat patients and cause all of us to think about our breadth of life.
Pauline Chen graduated from Harvard University and Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine and completed her surgical training at Yale University, the National Cancer Institute (National Institutes of Health), and UCLA.. In 1999, she was named the UCLA Outstanding Physician of the Year.
The following is a review of Final Exam From Publishers Weekly, “Like most physicians, Chen, a transplant surgeon and former UCLA faculty member, entered medicine in order to save lives. But as a medical student in the 1980s, she discovered that she had to face death repeatedly and “found disturbing inconsistencies” as she learned from teachers and colleagues “to suspend or suppress any shared human feelings for my dying patients.” Chen writes with immaculately honed prose and moral passion as she recounts her quest to overcome “lessons in denial and depersonalization,” vividly evoking the paradoxes of end-of-life care in an age of life-preserving treatments. Chen charts her personal and professional rites of passage in dealing with mortality, from her first dissection of a human cadaver, through the first time she pronounces a patient dead, to having to officially take responsibility for the accidental death of a patient in her care. Focusing on the enormous moral and psychological pressures on doctors and on the need for greater empathy in hospital end-of-life care, Chen also reports on signs of change within the profession …“
What do you want heaven to be like? Hold on, I am not asking if you believe there is a heaven, but if there were, what would you like it to be like? Be honest for a moment, you have thought about this question before. Maybe in generalities; maybe when life here was getting tough; or maybe it was on a lazy summer day as a kid lying in the grass staring up into a blue sky dotted by puffy white clouds and wondering. Well, why not wonder again?
Maybe you asked the question on a Monday morning as the daily grind started to churn or on a Friday afternoon after the grind had taken its toll. Will heaven be a place where work really matters? Or, will there be any work at all in heaven? Will your boss in heaven be a “good boss” or will you be the only boss? Will the days be meaningful or will there even be days? What will the weather be like? Will the days be sunny? Will it ever rain? Are there beaches? Can you choose the climate you like?
Will relationships still be so challenging? Will there be arguments and conflicts or will heaven be continuous peace and calm? Will husbands and wives still have to struggle to communicate with and love one another? Will parents and teenagers understand each other? Will you like people there that you didn’t like here? Will you be surprised to see him or her there? Will they be surprised to see you there? Who will be there?
Will all of your financial stresses be gone? Is there any need for money in heaven? Are the streets paved with gold? Does everyone live in a mansion? What will you drive? Can you choose? Will there be any need for charity? Who will be rich and who will be poor?
Will there be adventures in heaven? Will there be mountains to climb, seas to sail, and far away lands to explore? Will you get tired? Will there be music? Will all the wine be excellent? What will you eat? Will someone else prepare all the meals? Will your dog be there? How about cats?
Will the way you lived your life here affect your experience there? Will your good deeds be rewarded? Will your bad deeds be remembered? Do you want to go there? If heaven was real would it make a difference in how you live your life today?
What are the chances that there really is a heaven?
Who am I to judge? There are so many religions that they must all be true somehow. Whatever you believe about God is true for you. Morality should be whatever a person decides for themselves. No one can be really sure about what God is like.
The question of the hour seems to be, who am I to judge? It used to be that popular belief held that there was truth in all areas and that rational thought could help lead us to discover truth. That kind of “enlightenment” thinking is considered old school. Now it is widely held that we are postmodern in thought.
Most people continue to believe that the physical world is still governed by objective truth, like the laws of physics. Although, when it comes to matters of morality and religion popular belief has changed to hold that there is no objective truth and that rational thought is not necessary. It is not so much that there is no truth, but that there are in fact many truths which can contradict each other.
James Sire writes that, “The social fact of pluralism [the presence of so many different religions and beliefs about morality] has lead to the theoretical principle of relativism [the belief that there is no absolute truth that applies to everyone] … Truth itself has become personal opinion.”*
Sire goes on to suggest that this shift away from using human reason has left us with no way to answer life’s most significant questions. Why am I here? What should I live for? What makes me valuable? How should I treat my fellow human beings – my neighbors, those in my community, those in other countries? How can I get along with people whose beliefs are different from my own? He points out that, “Without a transcendent standard of reference, all we have is our own desire, our own personal opinion or our own social custom to rely on.” Unfortunately, most of us would prefer to have more satisfying and concrete answers to the questions and longings in our hearts.
Just because people hold different beliefs doesn’t mean that we can’t engage in fruitful discussion about what is true and apply our gift of rational thought to discover the riches of truth. Just like searching for oil. If we use the best technology and equipment and dig deep enough, hitting pay dirt is almost inevitable. Maybe we have been endowed with the capacity to think rationally for a reason?
*For more on this kind of thinking see Why Believe Anything by James Sire. Quotes taken from, Why Good Arguments Often Fail, by the same author.
Reading Ultimate Pursuits may cause drowsiness. Do not operate heavy equipment while reading Ultimate Pursuits.
Driving down the highway, you’re moving faster than the flow of traffic, when suddenly you notice a police car off to the side of the road. Immediately you put your foot on the brake pedal and your mind goes through a checklist: Am I speeding? Did I use my turn signal? Have I done anything illegal in the last quarter of a mile or so? Is there anyone nearby who is going faster than I am? It doesn’t matter if you had the cruise control set five miles below the speed limit, your natural tendency is to hit the brakes and evaluate your driving because someone’s watching.
Have you ever participated in a sporting event, acted in a play, or sang in a concert and found yourself looking for that special person among the crowd? When you noticed that parent or girlfriend or boyfriend did you become more focused, dig even deeper, and perform at a higher level?
Are you less tempted to cheat on an exam when the professor is in the room? At your job is it more motivating to work hard when the boss is around? Each of us, for better and for worse, behaves differently when we know someone is watching. This tendency is universal and planted deeply in the human soul. Think back on your own childhood, didn’t you act differently when your parents were present? My point exactly.
When someone pads an expense report or cheats on their tax return, what is the motivation for doing something that is clearly wrong? Why do athletes use steroids that are prohibited in their sport? People do these things because they think no one will notice. If you knew you could get away with cheating on your taxes, or even cheating on your husband or wife, would you do it? Would you live differently knowing that no one was watching you?
So many questions about God have to do with whether He is aware of what is happening—is He watching over us, and can He do anything about what He sees. Does God see me and does He care about how I live my life? Is God like a police officer watching and waiting to catch me break the rules or is God like that special person whose presence enhances my performance? This contrast in perspective cuts to the heart of our motives for living a good life. Some people choose to spend their lives trying to avoid being caught misbehaving. Others, aware that God is both loving and just, find a higher motivation for being good coupled with the awareness that each of us are ultimately accountable for the manner in which we live.
Are there are any moral values that apply to everyone? That is an interesting question in theory, but when you are going 20 mph over the speed limit and you see a police officer, then the theory collides with real life. The next time you find yourself being tempted to compromise, ask yourself “Is someone watching me?”
The older I get, the more often I find that I need to be reminded. I write myself little notes so I won’t forget to do some small task. Heading to the grocery store I make a list of the three items I am in search of so that I won’t forget any.
When it comes to more important areas of life it seems that more often I am in need of a reminder rather than instruction. It is quite common today to have academic discussions about things like morality and each person’s right to determine what is true for themselves. Although, C.S.Lewis (Oxford and Cambridge professor, author: The Chronicles of Narnia) surmised that what we typically need is simply a reminder. He wrote,
“Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that. As Dr. Johnson said, ‘People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.’ The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see”
Isn’t that what Jesus Christ did when he gave us the golden rule, reminding us to treat others the way we want to be treated? Why do we tend to avoid moral teachers that are simply trying to remind us?