Purpose

Category Archives: Purpose

Reflecting Light Into Dark Places

During the Second World War, German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme, the islanders met them, bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. The consequences of resistance were devastating. The residents of entire villages were lined up and shot.

Overlooking the airstrip today is an institute for peace and understanding founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous was just six years old when the war started. He home village was destroyed and he was imprisoned in a concentration camp. When the war ended, he became convinced his people needed to let go of the hatred the war had unleashed. To help the process, he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war.

One day, while taking questions at the end of a lecture, Papaderous was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It was such a weighty question. But Papaderous answered it.

He opened his wallet, took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. During the war he was just a small boy when he came across a motorcycle wreck. The motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smooth and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.

He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolise something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.

 I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.

Robert Fulgham, It Was On Fire When I Laid Down On It

Three Psychaitrists

Vienna, Europe, the period leading up to WW2. Three Jewish psychiatrists, two learned masters in the field, one the young apprentice.

The first master is a man named Sigmund Freud. He has spent years studying people, striving to understand what makes us tick. He’s reached the conclusion that the most basic drive in human beings is the drive for pleasure. It’s our need for pleasure that explains why we do what we do, how we live.

The second master is Alfred Adler. He too has spent years studying human behaviour. His studies have led him to disagree with Sigmund Freud. Adler is convinced the bottom line explanation for human behaviour is power. All of us grow up feeling inferior and powerless. Life is a drive to gain control, to feel we are important.

The third man is a young up-and-coming psychiatrist by the name of Victor Frankl. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of his mentors. But before his career gains any momentum WW2 starts. The Nazis invade and its dangerous for Jews. Freud and Adler are world renowned scholars and so manage to escape before Hitler invades. Frankl is not so lucky. He is arrested and thrown into a Nazi concentration camp for four long years.

After the war is over Frankl is released from the concentration camp and resumes his career. He reflects upon his time as a prisoner. He noticed something quite strange – the people who survived were not always the ones you’d expect. Many who were physically strong wasted away and died while others who were much more weak physically grew strong and survived. Why? What was it that enabled them to hang on through a living hell?

Frankl reflected on the theories of his mentors. Freud’s pleasure principle couldn’t explain it. For four desperate and terrible years the men in that camp knew only pain, suffering and degradation. Pleasure was not a word in their vocabulary. It wasn’t pleasure that kept them going.

What then of Adler’s theory about power being the basic human need? That didn’t fare well either. Frankl and his fellow Jews were completely powerless during their time in the concentration camps. Each day they stared down the barrel of a loaded gun, were treated like animals, felt jackboots on their faces. They had no power and no prospect of power.

Victor Frankl came up with his own theory. The difference between those who survived and those who perished was hope. Those who survived never gave up their belief that their lives had meaning, that despite everything going on around them it would one day end and they would live meaningful, purposeful lives. What is the basic human drive? The one thing that gives life value? The ability to live with a sense of meaning. Not pleasure. Not power. Meaning.

Source: Based on a talk given by Australian speaker Michael Frost

Alexander Papaderous: Reflecting Light into Dark Places

During the Second World War German paratroopers invaded the island of Crete. When they landed at Maleme they were met by islanders bearing nothing other than kitchen knives and hay scythes. But the consequences of resistance were devastating. The residents of entire villages were lined up and shot.

Overlooking the airstrip today is an institute for peace and understanding founded by a Greek man named Alexander Papaderous. Papaderous had lived through the war and was convinced his people needed to let go of the legacy of hatred the war had unleashed and so he founded his institute at this place that embodied the horrors and hatreds unleashed by the war.

One day while taking questions at the end of a lecture Papaderous was asked, “What’s the meaning of life?” There was nervous laughter in the room. It is such a big question. But Papaderous answered it.

He opened his wallet and took out a small, round mirror and held it up for everyone to see. He told how as a small boy from a very poor family he came across a motorcycle wreck. It was during the war and the motorcycle had belonged to German soldiers. Alexander saw pieces of broken mirrors from the motorcycle lying on the ground. He tried to put them together but couldn’t, so he took the largest piece and scratched it against a stone until its edges were smoothed and it was round. He used it as a toy, fascinated by the way he could use it to shine light into holes and crevices.

He kept that mirror with him as he grew up, and over time it came to symbolise something very important. It became a metaphor for what he might do with his life.

 I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world–into the black places in the hearts of men–and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life.

 

Source: reported in Robert Fulgham, It Was On Fire When I Laid Down On It

Is That It?

George Harrison was one of the Beatles, one of the greatest and most influential pop bands of all time. Harrison knew fame, adulation, the pleasure of mastering his craft, the sense that his was a formative influence on music. So his comment in the Beatles Anthology is instructive: “When you’ve had all the experiences – met all the famous people, made some money, toured the world and got all the acclaim – you still think ‘is that it?’. Some people might be satisfied with that, but I wasn’t and I’m still not.”

Source: Reported by Ananova News Service, Nov 30 2001

Everything In Its Place

Most of us have become familiar with the Amish people of the United States as a result of the film Witness. There we learned that Amish people avoid modern technology. They have no TV sets in their homes, no telephones inside the home, and electricity is hooked into the barn but not the house. Such a lifestyle seems to us very harsh and rigorous, but an Amish bishop once explained why it is the Amish live this way. He suggested that most technology had in fact had a negative effect on people’s lives. Television was a good example. It brought violence and poor ethical values into our homes, so much so that many people would like to watch less TV but find they can’t.

Does this mean the Amish are against modern technology? No, explained the bishop. The Amish simply want to keep it in its proper place. The Amish weren’t against telephones. In fact he’d had one installed down the lane from his house. A telephone was handy to have in an emergency or to call distant family and friends. But why bring it into the house. “Telephones intrude into the most precious moments of life.” said the bishop. “You may be talking to your children or sharing something important with your wife; if the phone rings, you will allow it to interrupt what you’re saying. The family can be at prayer, and if the phone rings you will stop and answer it. You could be with your wife in bed, and you will allow the ringing telephone to interrupt what you are doing there!”

Similarly electricity could be a good thing, if kept in its proper place. The Amish in his community had electricty in their barns to refrigerate their milk, but they kept it out of their homes. Why? Because they felt it disrupted the natural rhythms of life. With electricity people stay up late instead of going to bed. With electricity people listen to radios and watch TV that involve them with the outside world rather than their Amish community.

What about tractors? If the Amish will use electricity in their barns, why not tractors in their fields. The Bishop explained that with a tractor a person can plow their field on their own. But using a horse drawn plow the whole family needed to be involved. So rejecting the tractor was a way to create family solidarity.

The Amish have perhaps given more thought to this issue than most of us have. While we may not agree with the Amish on everything we certainly could follow their lead in asking about how we can make modern technology work for us rather than allowing it to determine our lives.

Source: Bishop’s comments reported in Tony Campolo, Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God (Word, 1997)

Billionaire George Soros on Materialism

George Soros is multi-billionaire financial wiz. He retired from his Investment Agency at the age of 70 in the year 2000. He was also phenomenally successful as an investor. If you had invested $1,000 in his Quantum Fund when he started out in 1969, he would have turned your $1000 into $4 million by the year 2000.

Yet life was not always so easy for Soros. He was born in Budapest in 1930. He also Jewish. When the Nazis invaded his homeland during World War 2 his father had to bribe government officials for false identity papers so that George could pretend to be the godson of a gentile bureaucrat. Then the family had to spend a period of the war hiding in the attics and concealed stone cellars of almost a dozen homes.

After the war the teenage Soros moved to England and worked odd jobs. As a waiter at Quaglino’s, a posh restaurant in London, he found himself scavenging the leftover profiteroles. Eventually Soros enrolled in the London School of Economics, and the rest is history.

Partly because of his background Soros is not only a capitalist, he’s also a philanthropist. He has injected almost $3 billion into foundations designed to promote open and free societies throughout the world. He plans to give away the rest of his fortune – another $5 billion – by the time he turns 80.

In recent years Soros has turned his attention to the sorts of societies being created by our international economy. And he is concerned by what he sees. Unlike others who have had a rags to riches story Soros does not believe anyone can do it. Indeed, he is worried at the way financial success has become the dominant value of our age and the skewed social outcomes this is delivering. “Markets reduce everything, including human beings (labor) and nature (land), to commodities” he says. “We can have a market economy but we cannot have a market society.”

Source: Biographical information found at Soros Foundation website. Quotation on markets taken from George Soros, “Toward a Global Open Society”, The Atlantic Monthly; January 1998. Volume 281, No. 1; pages 20 – 32.

Galileo's Telescope

In the year 1609 a man looked through a telescope and unleashed a revolution that would change the world forever. His name was Galileo Galilei. But how did this simple act of looking through a telescope unleash a revolution? Because Galileo Galilee was looking at the surface of the moon, and saw that it was full of craters and mountains. To you and I this is old news, but to Galileo and the people of his day it was a terrifying revolution. Galileo had grown up learning what everyone in his day “knew” to be “fact”. The earth was the changeable, imperfect, impure centre of an unchangeable, perfect and pure universe. And this universe spoke powerfully of God and humanity’s place in it. The earth was placed at the centre of the universe because humankind was at the centre of God’s concern. The various elements of the universe – the sun, moon and stars, existed for our benefit and ours alone. We were the focus of God’s unfathomable love. The heavens, being the creation of a pure, perfect and unchangeable God, were likewise pure, perfect and unchangeable. All that is, except the earth, which had become impure, imperfect and changeable as a result of human sin. Being at the centre of God’s concerns God had sent Christ to atone for our sin and reconcile us to himself.

But with one glance through his telescope Galileo’s view of the world was changed forever. The heavens were not perfect, pure and unchangeable and the earth was not the centre of the universe. Rather, the earth was a ball of mud floating through the vast, dark expanse of space. And so it raised the question. If we were not the physical centre of the universe, were we the centre of God’s love and purposes?

In the year Galileo died another great scientist, Isaac Newtown was born. Newton was the towering genius of his day, who demonstrated that the earth was part of an infinite universe governed by a variety of laws. These operated with mathematical certainty. If we knew those laws and the precise details of each circumstance we could accurately predict every event that would happen. Not just some events like the appearance of comets, but every event of the future. This seemed to make a miracle working, involved God impossible. God was removed from the ever-present helper to the Divine Watchmaker, who made the clock, then wound it up and let it go.

All however was not lost. Though we came to discover we were floating on a ball of mud through an infinite expanse of space governed by unmovable laws of nature, we take comfort that we human beings were created by God in 4004BC and created distinct from the animals to occupy a special place in his creation. But the comfort was ever so brief. For hot on the heels of Newtown came the geologist James Hutton and his argument that the earth’s shape was the result of tiny but continual changes taking place over aeons of time. Now we were not only a speck in space but a speck in time. Then came the final, dizzying blow to our sense of place, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. We were not the special, unique creation of God but the distant descendents of prehistoric microbes and the cousin of the ape.

This has become the dominant story of our culture, the mental map by which we navigate life. We see the world around us that we can see and touch as what is truly real. We pursue the only logical goal in such a world – individual happiness – and believe we’ll find it solely in what we can see and touch – possessions, relationships, work, leisure.

Source: Scott Higgins

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright was one of the greatest and most influential architects of the twentieth century. As a boy he used to a lot of time on his uncle’s farm in Spring Green, USA. It was there that he had one of the most formative experiences of his life. He was 9 years old, it was a winter’s day, and he and his uncle had just walked across a snow-covered field. Frank’s uncle stopped the young boy and pointed to the tracks they had left in the snow. Frank’s meandered all over the place, while his uncle’s went in a straight line from start to finish. “Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle to the woods and back again,” his uncle said. “And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that.”

Years later the world-famous architect pointed to the important lesson he learned that day, but it was not the lesson his uncle had intended him to learn. “I determined right then,” said Frank Lloyd Wright, “not to miss most things in life, as my uncle had.”

Sources: Details found at Biography.com and Focus on the Family letter, September, 1992, p. 14

Forgetting the Thistles

An Australian priest recalls an experience on his family farm. “My nephews and nieces insisted I accompany them up onto the hill so they could show me the ‘mouse plague’. They carried an assortment of containers full of water – jugs, buckets, bottles, depending on the age and size of the carrier. Richard, who was 12, pushed the wheelbarrow up, bearing a  large drum which he had filled to the brim. Three dogs accompanied us.

The top of the hill was completely covered with mouse warrens. Each child poured his water into a hole and as soon a bedraggled little mouse poked his head out of its flooding home it found itself plucked up by a merciless child. By the time the mouse hit the ground again it was lifeless. What that hand actually did to the mouse I could not quite make out but few mice survived those lightning fingers.

My job, it turned out, was to remove thistles from the dog’s feet. They were long, dry, and razor sharp, and embedded themselves deeply in the animal’s pads. Every few steps one or other of the dogs would stop in his tracks and lick his foot. It was endless. As soon as I set one dog free from it’s nasty stinging barbs another would require my help and then I could go back to the first and start over again. I wondered why we had brought the dogs, and I wondered why the children took no notice of the suffering animals.

The next day my brother-in-law told me he was driving some sheep through the hill paddock and asked if I wanted to come. I stood in the back of the ute and closed the gates he had already opened for the sheep. The dogs accompanied us again. They were in the back of the ute with me and barked endlessly, waiting for the command that would allow them to hunt up the dusty mob in front of us.

The order finally came and they were overboard. Back and forth they raced, moving the sheep in the direction they knew by long experience they were meant to go.

It was only when the panting three jumped back into the ute with me that it struck me how not one of the dogs had thistles in its feet, nor did I remember seeing any of them immobilised.

The lesson was obvious. When we put ourselves wholeheartedly into our work we don’t notice the difficulties, even the big ones.”

 

Source: submitted to OzSermonIllustrations by Fr John Speekman