It’s hard to believe I’ve been here at Cook’s Church now for just about 5 months. A large part of that, of course, is that about 3 months into my call here, COVID-19 shut down the world and we’ve been instructed not to hold worship services. And since most of y’all have not gotten a chance to know me, let me go ahead and explain something to you that you might not yet have realized. In the 90s, I held a LOT of different jobs. I was a radio account salesman, a night club manager, a restaurant chef, a Barista at Starbucks and, finally, a culinary school instructor.
In fact, I held so many jobs back then that I got in the habit of telling people I’d lived a colorful life but, believe me when I tell you, my 20s were certainly no “fun and games,” if you will. I was lost in the truest sense of the word. I was flailing about, trying to figure out who I was and what I was supposed to be doing in this thing called life and, quite honestly, I was doing a horrible job at it.
But, as I look back on it now, so much of that constant search for who I was and what I was supposed to be doing with my life was wasted effort. Now look, don’t get me wrong, there were some good times in there but so much of that ongoing struggle I see as needless and unnecessarily uncomfortable.
I’m here to tell you, I wouldn’t go back and relive my 20s for all the proverbial tea in China.
You see, like a lot of people in my generation, I was saddled with the overarching belief that it was incumbent upon the individual to quote-unquote “figure things out.” Of which the chief thing to be figured out was, of course, one’s own self. Somewhere along the way I became convinced that, through expressing my own individualism and freedom, that the answers to life’s biggest questions would somehow arise from the cloud of dust being kicked up by my ongoing efforts to survive and thrive.
That I ended up with such a worldview is not entirely a surprise. If anything, over the last 50 years as we’ve witnessed America moving to what scholars in the ivory tower are calling a “post-religious” America, more and more people have been consumed with and consumed by the incessant task of defining themselves.
In no unclear or uncertain terms, such needless baggage is the bitter fruit of existentialism.
Existentialism is a philosophy which arose in the middle part of the 19th century but its effect linger right into the present day.
I thought this definition I found on the internet was both good and succinct. “a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.”
Another great image to assist us conceive of what this means lands us in the middle of the ocean with no shoreline in sight. On the downside, we’ve got to figure out a way to save ourselves, to survive in a place devoid of any assistance. On the plus side is the awareness that, being all alone, you no can define everything by yourselves. To that end, in existentialist thought, ethics and morality are an open playing field in which one simply does not have to adhere to anyone else’s understanding of good and evil, right or wrong. Life is a blank sheet of paper for an individual to fill in as they so wish or desire.