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Living a Life Bigger Than Yourself – Living Transcendently

dom-hankleI frequently talk and write about living a good life. I believe living a good life is done holistically, embracing every facet of the human person. That simply means you need to be mindful of the fact your human life is lived in a body, thought about with your mind, experienced with your emotions, shared in relationships, and given meaning transcendently. Good living is concerned with caring for your physical well-being through a proper diet and exercise program, keeping your mind sharp by learning new things, being mindful of your emotional responses, working hard to keep relationships good with others, and participating in activities requiring you to think of those things greater than yourself. In this post, I’m going to address that last aspect of living a good life. I want to discuss what it means to live transcendently.

Living well can’t simply be reduced to one of the five areas mentioned above nor can we eliminate one of them without impacting the others. You can’t say happiness is derived by simply thinking good thoughts. If you don’t care for your body you can’t think well because your physical wellbeing impacts your brain which in turn impacts your ability to think clearly. Studies show obese people experience some cognitive impairment and this impairment gets worse as they age. This is related to how the physiological response to obesity impacts brain functioning. Good relationships with other people seem to imply longer life and better physiological development. We are an interconnection of all five dimensions mentioned above and without one the others suffer. I find many people are concerned with their physical well-being, some work on maintaining their psychological well-being, and most are interested in maintaining good relationships. However, few people think about their transcendent self. They believe this area of life is nothing more than religious nonsense or unimportant philosophical idealism. That can be a real problem because if the good life depends on these five interacting dimensions of human living by ignoring one of them you impact the others.

When I talk about our transcendent nature, I’m talking about the human capacity to go beyond ourselves. We have this inherent need to reach beyond ourselves in a couple of ways. First, we need to make meaning of our lives and feel a sense of purpose for what we do. Meaning and purpose cause us to reach beyond our current situation and become part of something bigger. Viktor Frankl, a famous psychotherapist, and Holocaust survivor believes the human need for creating meaning and purpose is one of the most important things a person does, particularly when experiencing suffering. He believes we can discover meaning in life in three particular ways. First, through the creation of work and activity. Creating and doing cause us to ask questions about why we do what we do. In a person’s work, the individual can identify a purpose, even if that purpose is merely to provide for those he or she loves. The second way one discovers meaning is through encounters with other people. Other people challenge our understanding of ourselves as we engage them and lead us to know our purpose and meaning in ways we may not have appreciated before. And the third way is through suffering. Frankl has said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Through suffering people come to understand the importance of their mental response to their conditions. So the first element of being transcendent has to do with our need to find, create, and experience meaning and purpose for our lives, relationships, work, and the suffering we endure.
The second way we experience transcendence is by connecting our lives to something that matters. Human beings need a mission. We need to be part of a quest that makes the world a better place. This need to be part of a mission is connected to our need to make meaning and purpose as outlined above but stands on its own as well because it’s concerned with how we end our life journey. We want to leave a legacy when we die. We want to know our lives mattered in some way to some people. Human beings are not just concerned with meaning in the immediate sense of their lives, they care about what their life meant when they’re gone. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote the following: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” If we want to live transcendently we should begin to think about the things that matter.

Meaning and purpose, living toward a legacy and making our lives matter are ways we live transcendently. Without this transcendent element, we miss the opportunity to live life as fully as possible. In fact, when we ignore the transcendent aspect of who we are we struggle emotionally and psychologically which then causes us to struggle physically and relationally. Transcendent living gives us hope, provides us with aspirations, draws our lives toward something more than the “every day”, and alleviates existential angst. If you want to live a full, healthy, flourishing life commit to doing two things. First, find a way to make meaning and purpose in life. You can do that by spending some time thinking about what matters to you and how you can use that to help other people. Then, become an advocate for what matters in life. Make your life a quest to create a place in this difficult world where peace and prosperity can be experienced by those around you.

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Staying Motivated – The Necessary Ingredient for Achieving Your Goals

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There are plenty of things most of us want to accomplish.  We spend a significant amount of time setting goals and trying to achieve them so we can say we’ve done something important.  Goals are interesting things, they draw us toward something we aspire to be, they frustrate us when we don’t achieve them, the pursuit of them teaches us a tremendous amount about who we are, but in the end, a goal demonstrates we’re more than the mere biological drives and instincts connecting us to the animal world.  There are a multitude of books and articles written about setting and achieving goals.  I find all of them fascinating but only some of them helpful.  For instance, I’ve found its best to keep the number of goals you want to pursue to no more than two.  A book I read indicated a big factor keeping people from reaching their goals is they tend to create too many and therefore never achieve what they want.  You have to limit them to no more than two exceptionally important achievements. Anything more than that is just setting yourself up for failure.

Another important factor when chasing your goals is to keep score.  Too often we set a goal and don’t establish daily habits we can track to see how well we’ve shaped our behaviors to achieve what we want.  By tracking daily activity, we can gauge whether or not we’re actually working toward what we aspire to be.  It keeps us from merely being dreamers.  If you keep score each night you can ask yourself “What did I do well, what do I need to change to get closer to what I want, and how honest am I being in regards to wanting to achieve my goal?”  These are important questions that help you keep track in real time of your progress.

These are all great suggestions but, in the end, there is one important characteristic that matters more than anything else.  That important ingredient for achieving your goals is motivation.  How do I keep motivated to pursue my goals?  This is often the biggest problem people face when working toward their goals.  Motivation seems to evade all of us and if we can keep motivated we can achieve a great many things.  Here are some tips I give my clients on how to remain motivated.

First, make sure you own the goals you set and they’re something you really want to achieve.  You need to connect your goals to something you’re really passionate about.  You don’t just want to lose 15 pounds, you want to live a vibrant healthy life and have confidence when speaking in front of large groups of people.  Be sure you’re connecting your goal to those bigger things that mean something important to you.  If you don’t do that working toward your goals is just doing more mundane work that means little to nothing to you.

Second, be honest with yourself and realize adding a goal or two to your life doesn’t mean you’re going to stop the day to day activities you need to complete in order to keep your life functional.  Those necessary tasks are going to remain consistent and necessary.  You need to determine what is absolutely important for you to achieve and what you’re willing to do above and beyond your already packed schedule to achieve your goals.  One author I read said you need to pick one or two wildly important goals you’re willing to pursue above what you’re already doing.  If you believe you’re going to stop doing what needs done daily to accomplish your goals you’re lying to yourself.  Pursuing new goals means you’re going to establish daily habits above what you already do to achieve something new, different, and wildly important in your life.

Third, take your daily schedule and block out time to work on something that gets you closer to achieving your goals.  I wanted to lose 15 pounds which meant I had to change my eating habits but also incorporate an exercise regiment in my day.  I found if I took 30 minutes of time out of my morning schedule and made an appointment with myself I would actually exercise.  It makes the daily habits used to accomplish your goals mindless activities to complete throughout your day.  You get up, look at your schedule, and follow it mindlessly.  Every night I sit down, evaluate how well I worked on the tasks necessary to achieve my goals, and plan out my next day.  Then, that next day, I simply go through the schedule one appointment after the other diligently working on what needs to be done to reach my goal in the stated timeframe.  Sure, there are days things get in the way or unexpected needs pop up but more often than not, I’m getting something done to reach my goal.

These three important tips can make a significant difference in your ability to stay motivated.  If you can make your goals something you really want to achieve, set the honest expectation you’re going to work above and beyond your already packed day to achieve them, and schedule daily habits aimed at getting you closer to your end goals, you’ll find you’re pretty much able to accomplish more than you ever believed.

There’s Nothing More Dead than a Dead Priest – Not True My Dear Friend….

raimer_chesterA friend of mine who was (and actually theologically it’s appropriate to say still is) a Roman Catholic priest died yesterday. He was the individual who introduced me and my wife to Jesus Christ, taught me to love theology, spirituality, and in many ways life itself. He was the most welcoming, fun, pleasant person you might know. He was merciful to those who came to him seeking God’s forgiveness, encouraging to those needing a friend and mentor, and above all, he was the most human, authentic, and loving person you might meet. Fr Chet as we called him was a true priest. When you met him you met Jesus and I don’t mean the Jesus that is above and beyond us; some distant sainted individual, but rather the Jesus who weeps with you, laughs with you, eats and drinks with you, and just lets you know you’re loved and appreciated even when you might not have your life in the best shape. I met Fr. Chet at a time in my life when I had little interest in Christianity and believed philosophy was all someone needed to know in order to find meaning and purpose in life. He showed me that Christianity was intellectually stimulating, meaningful in a person’s life, and could be lived in such a way that it would always challenge you to be a better person. He taught me that ministry was about loving and serving people even when it was tough to do so. He was the kind of priest that didn’t just attend the church dinners, picnics, and bazaars walking among the faithful as a distant church authority, he washed dishes with everyone, played games, bought kids ice cream, and worked elbow to elbow with all of us. Everything about my ministry now, even though I am not a Roman Catholic priest (I am an Anglican priest) reflects the influence of Fr. Chet. In fact, not just my ministry, but my role as a father, husband, brother, son, and person in general is a reflection of the man who always lifted me up, encouraged me to study and pursue ordination, and be the one thing so very hard to find in this life, a good friend.

Fr. Chet used to tell me there was nothing more dead than a dead priest implying that because Roman Catholic priests have no immediate family such as a wife or children of their own they are often forgotten once they retire from parish life and die. He got this one wrong. When my family found out Fr. Chet died we all mourned his passing. I only got to see him once or twice a year after moving to Virginia (He was living in Greensburg Pa) but we kept in touch via phone and the occasional letter. My wife kept him in the loop of our family life’s transitions through photographs of graduations, birthdays, etc. Fr. Chet will never be simply a dead priest in our lives, he will always be that part of us who gave us Jesus Christ. He is with me every day and alive and serving the body of Christ with every soul I touch, every Eucharist I celebrate, every sick person I visit, and every couple I marry. I loved and still love my friend who celebrates with the Angels and I’m sure sits down to a good meal in heaven with those who went before him. Prepare a place for me my good friend, I look forward to celebrating with you at that heavenly banquet which you made sure I had an invitation to attend.

The Christian Vocation of Forgiveness Living a Life of Peace and Grace BY Dominick D. Hankle

9781532605680“Every soul carries within itself pain caused by the hurtful words and acts of another human being. How can you find peace and heal from these wounds? How can you live a Christian life reflective of Christ’s command to be a forgiving, loving person? By integrating the work of psychologists and the deep theological truths of the Christian faith, Dr. Hankle answers these questions and more so you can live a healthy, flourishing, resilient life. He provides you with practical steps to incorporate in your daily spiritual practices so you may love and be loved as God intended.”

Available at Wipf & Stock the Publisher at:

http://wipfandstock.com/the-christian-vocation-of-forgiveness.html

Endorsements & Reviews

“Dominick Hankle has given us a moving narrative of what it means to be a forgiving Christian. Dr. Hankle’s empathy and concern for others from his years of psychological counseling and Christian ministry is compelling. His deep theological perspective throughout the text from his training as a theologian orients our actions. And his clear and accessible presentation of every aspect of forgiveness keeps us reading and moves us to a life of forgiveness. The Christian Vocation of Forgiveness is as practical as it is insightful.”
C. Eric Jones, Associate Professor of Psychology, Regent University

“In his comprehensive new book, the Rev. Dr. Hankle thoughtfully addresses the subject of forgiveness, providing relevant biblical, historical, and theological perspective throughout on this vital topic. Most importantly, Hankle offers practical insights as to how his readers can apply the principles presented in the book to their everyday lives. I can say without reservation that through this very readable and engaging book, I’ve grown significantly in the virtue of forgiveness. I highly commend this work to laity and clergy alike!”

Doug Gray, Episcopal priest and chaplain in Virginia Beach, VA

The Journey God Beckons You to Take

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“If we gaze too long at where God wants to take us but never start the journey we never experience his abundant grace. Yet, when we walk with God even the darkest forest and highest hills can be traversed for he guides us through what we can’t see to know him in ways we’ve never experienced before. Don’t fear the journey, embrace the path God beckons you to take and know him more profoundly.” – www.dominickhankle.com

Hope – The Seeds of Life in a Desert of Despair

“Hope is the resilient seed of life allowing us to find within the desert of despair the fresh green evidence of life. This is why Hope isn’t a virtue you cultivate on your own but rather a grace from God one must passively receive. The Christian must exercise “Active receptivity” in which one pursues opportunities to be available to the transforming work God does in a receiving heart. Be open to the seeds of hope and allow God to plant them in your desert of despair and you will see life where it seems only death is found.” -Dominick D. Hankle

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Virtue and Vocation – How a Particular Vocation and General Vocation Connect

photo (1)To understand why virtuous living matters we need to explore the concept of vocation.  In particular we need to understand the difference between a general vocation and a specific vocation.  Let me use life as an example of these two dimensions of vocation to help explain these concepts.  I serve the Lord through a number of particular vocations.  First, I work as a psychology professor at a Christian university.  That’s a particular vocation at a particular place in which I serve the Kingdom of God by educating students in the discipline of psychology.  In addition to my job as a psychology professor I’m an ordained minister in a particular church body.  That again is a particular vocation in which I serve a particular part of the body of Christ.  Yet, within all  these particular vocations there is a general vocation I exercise simply because I call myself Christian.  Part of this general vocation includes the idea Christians are an incarnational representation of a number of virtues within the families and communities they live.  To be Christian is to be a living sign of forgiveness, gratitude, patience, etc., all the virtues Christ displayed as transforming agents in the Roman world.

For the Christian, a vocation is a response to a divine call.  A vocation finds its source in God, not in the individual.  It’s a God given call (Thus the english word derives its meaning from the Latin word vocare meaning to call) to which one must respond.  The individual must respond but the response must be discerned through a number of channels, one in particular is the Christian community.  The community in which the individual lives is part of the discernment, particularly when we talk about particular vocations.  A particular vocation is always mediated through a faith community.  Ministry is a perfect example of this need for community as part of its discernment because most Christians cannot simply proclaim themselves as ministers and pastor for a non-existent church.  There is always a community helping an individual discern whether or not they are truly experiencing the call to minister to others.  This community may be the local church, a larger church body, or the seminary faculty.

While our particular vocations are discerned through a number of channels and take time to process, our common vocation is much more evident.  By surrendering to Christ we immediately say we will live out our salvation in a number of ways which identify us as Christian.  This common vocation requires us to love and serve God above all else and then our neighbor.  Vocation in the Christian sense has ontological implications as well functional implications.  It’s a type of “being” manifested in “doing.”  The Christian “takes back” his or her human dignity by choosing a life of grace instead of a natural life impacted by sin.  Because we are made in the image and likeness of God, a human life is best lived when it reflects the divine life in this fallen world.  The Christian regains (Through grace) a special human dignity and lives in this dignified manner through acts of love toward God and neighbor.  To live the general Christian vocation is to live as Christ demonstrates in Matthew 5:13-16:

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.  You are the light of the world.  A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way , let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

This passage is a reminder that God intends us to live lives incarnationally reflecting the divine life so the world may be transformed to more perfectly reflect the coming and present Kingdom of God.  Part of the Christian’s common vocation is to live kingdom values in the world seeking what is best for it.  Why is this part of the Christian vocation?  Because God intended human beings to live virtuously as benevolent caretakers of creation giving him glory and praise.  In our fallen state we’re content to live creaturely instead of in a grace filled supernatural way.  We would rather live in darkness than in light.  The virtuous life is deemed useless because it benefits others more than it does ourselves.  The light of kingdom values gets covered up and never gives the world the guidance it needs,  the guidance we are to provide as God’s caretakers of the created order.  People give up the core of who they are choosing to be something less than God intends with every selfish and sinful act.  The Christian vocation calls us to recognize through Christ we’ve been “Fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and are “Little less than the angels” (Hebrews 2:7).  Sin has caused us to forget who we are causing us to embrace our creaturely, selfish, unfruitful lives instead of the grace filled lives we were originally created to have.

I encourage you to explore both your particular and the general Christian vocation so that they compliment one another in the life you live. God has called us to a new life in Christ and this changes who we are and what we do. This new life however, is lived in a particular way, and when the particular vocation you have lines up well with the general vocation you have received as a Christian, the world is transformed and God is given glory for the majesty in which he has crowed the human person.