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Stages of Faith  Just as there are changes as we transitions into mid-life, when we enter this stage there are also changes in our faith development.  According to James Fowler (Stages of Faith, 1995), a person entering mid-life would experience what he refers to as the fifth stage of faith development: Conjunctive Faith.  Once again the middle-aged adult is confronted with paradox.  One begins to accept that there are paradoxes associated with faith.  Boundaries become more porous and flexible as the person seeks to find greater common ground with those they disagree with.  This speaks to my earlier point in part 1 about being a whole person in relationship with others, and the ability, or inability, to reach healthy resolutions in highly emotional conflicts.  In this stage conjunctive faith is similar to cognitive development in mid-life.  A mature person who has transitioned into, and is navigating a healthy passage through mid-life is better able to mediate sharp conflicts and pronounced differences through the integration of emotion and logic.  In conjunctive faith,

“There is also a deepening of appreciation for the complex issues associated with faith, and also a deepening of empathy for people who are at other stages in their faith journeys” (Richard N. Shulik 1988). 

This stage is rarely encountered before middle age, and as I write this, the Church where I serve comes to mind, and I’m glad that we are led by Elders; mature, healthy leaders, who have also experienced enough of life, have successfully transitioned through this stage, and are able to lead others with wisdom, skill, and empathy, sympathizing with the weaknesses of others. 

Although there are similarities in this stage between conjunctive faith and cognitive development, I would be careful to not rely too strictly on logical progressions and cognitive models to formulate a process of faith development.  A person’s faith journey is also a thing of mystery, and just as in character development our experiences may lead us back and forth through various stages, sometimes causing us to learn mature lessons beyond our years, or returning to unfinished business in our older years, so it is with ones passage through the stages of faith.  We often take circuitous routes to reach maturity.  So what is of primary importance is how we experientially relate to God and others, not how we systematize belief about God.  How we interact with God and cooperate with the Spirit is an experiential process as well as intellectual.  The visceral struggle of mid-life is ripe for such exploration.

Man or Troll  The progression from stage to stage is a progression through various stages of maturity, not just a process of aging that leads to retirement and then death.  One sign of maturity for a person in midlife is a willingness to accept that one has entered it.  Author Mark Gerzon speaks of midlife as a quest he was reluctant to embark on.  In his book, Listening to Midlife: Turning Your Crisis Into A Quest, Gerzon says:

“Whether we know it or not (and usually we don’t), it often begins with resistance to change.  It begins with our pulling against the future and clinging to the past.  It begins with our unconsciously saying, “No, not yet!” to what is happening inside us.”

Our denial is a refusal to continue the journey to greater maturity.

 A mature middle-adult is also someone who has adapted to the social and relational changes and demands placed on their life.  The Call of this stage is a call to care.  If one is to be a whole person, they must be so in caring mutual-relatedness to others.  For the mature middle-adult, to live for one’s self is not enough.  To live for one’s self is a choice to not live true to one’s best self.  Henrik Ibsen dramatizes this crisis in one of my favorite plays, Peer Gynt.  A modern poetic comic/drama on man’s search for identity, Peer Gynt chronicles fifty years in the life of an immature man who forsakes his family, friends, and the love of his life, to escape from the responsibility of caring for others.  In midlife he fails to see that his life has had no positive “other directed” purpose.  His adventures, misadventures really, are attributed to fate and not his own self-centered decisions to be less than a mature, caring, person.  In fact, in one scene, he chooses to identify with the mountain trolls when they explain to him the difference between a man and a troll:

“Among men, under the shining sky, they say: ‘Man, to yourself be true!’  While here, under our mountain roof, we say: ‘Troll, to yourself be – enough!’”

This describes the immature man in midlife who has chosen to cope with stagnation by serving his own self-centered interests.  I know what its like to withdraw into the solitude of  a “cave’.  Comfort and solace can be found there.  But my hope for other men and women who find themselves stuck in a cave and growing stagnant like this, is that by the grace of God, they would not see this season of their lives as a season to withdraw into their “mountain caves”, but rather give more fully of themselves to the human race, their neighbors, communities, churches, families, and spouses.  In community, they could discover their true selves in interdependent relationships with others.  This will require faith, hope, and love.

Faith Hope and Love  God has already provided the remedy for our stagnation and the means of growth through this or any stage of life.  Whether it be family, Church, or some other safe and healthy community where life is shared, these are the means God has provided to keep the middle-adult from becoming a Troll.  When healthy, these provide a context where we learn to live, love, and labor in mutual relatedness to others.  Our needs are shared, responsible demands are made upon us, and comfort and support is given to one another.  This is also a place where those who are younger can be mentored by the middle-adult.  Within families and faith communities we learn how to serve others.  We learn skills necessary for healing and maturing the souls of others.  It is here, in a safe environment that we learn to speak the truth in love, growing up into maturity.  As Ephesians 4:14-16 says:

“Then we will no longer be immature children.  We won’t be tossed and blown about by everywind of new teaching.  We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.  Instead, we will speak the truth in love., growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of the body, the church.  he makes the whole body fit together perfectly.  As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” 

Finally, community is a place where grace should be freely given and recieved, and a vision for the care of others beyond our selves is imparted.  Near the end of his life, a broken, weary, and much older Peer Gynt returns to his home in the woods, where decades earlier he had abandoned his wife Solvieg (a Christ figure?).  She is as young and faithfully in love with him now as she was then.  In remorse and full of shame, Peer asks her: 

“Where have I been myself, whole and true?  Where have I been, with god’s mark on my brow?”  Her answer: “In my faith, in my hope, and in my love.” 

The challenges of midlife and life in general, require faith, hope, and love.  Without these three, the greatest being love, how can we ever hope to tame the trolls lurking within our hearts?

Mid-life has been described as a crisis of the spirit.  While watching television this week (and every week), I see evidence of this crisis – in the news, in the hit movies that promote grown middle-aged hung over men behaving like immature buffoons, and even in our governmental leaders and the ways in which they fail to address our nations trials.  And of course we see it in our homes and in our communities.   

But what can one expect as they enter this stage of life?  What does maturity look like in mid-life?  What events or changes mark entry into this stage, and how does one continue to mature, especially  in relationship with others? 

Phyisical and Cognitive Changes  Though this can be a stage of great productivity, we also begin to experience the physical and cognitive degeneration that accompanies mid-life.  There are several theories that attempt to explain why we age.  One such theory is the Programmed Cell Death Theory.  John C. Cavanaugh, in his book, Adult Development and Aging, says that “Programmed cell death appears to be a function of physiological processes, the innate ability to self-destruct” (Cavanaugh pg. 73).  Basically, after we reach reproductive maturity (mid-life), our genes are activated to self-destruct (Programmed Cell Death) and physiologically we decline.  In other words, no matter how often I go to the gym or how many protein shakes I drink, I only delay the inevitable. 

When we consider the biology of aging, it’s easy to comprehend the physical and cognitive changes we go through, after all – the experience of aging is felt very acutely as we enter our middle and senior years.  We’re more susceptible to illnesses.  The hardening of our artery walls cause the heart and circulatory system to work harder and handle stress less well. 

The senses also experience the effects of aging.  The ability to focus and adjust one’s vision may lessen, and our other senses diminish as well.  And most humbling of all is that we men will begin to lose our hair, and sexual urges will decrease, though God in his foresight saw fit to bless us with viagra.  But I digress.

Women can expect to lose the ability to bear children.  Due to hormonal changes in her body, she might experience hot flashes, chills, headaches, and depression.  Though men not experience a loss of reproductive ability, there is a decrease in sperm reproduction, and the changes in their ability to perform sexually can also have a negative psychological effect, and may cause some to grow depressed or over-compensate in other areas. 

The Upside  So, there are obviously some challenges in mid-life, just as they are in every stage of life, but there are also many wonderful opportunities for growth! Even cognitively.  In the adolescence and young-adult stage, the focus is on gathering information and problem solving skills.  This means developing more abstract cognitive skills.  But in middle age, the emphasis shifts to applying the skill and knowledge one has in caring for others.  In fact I would argue that the lack of ability to love our neighbor and care for others is not only a “political” or “religious” concern, but a sign of immaturity and evidence of a failure to transition into this stage of healthy adulthood.  Referring to K.W. Schaie’s theory on cognitive behavior (1977-1978), Cavanaugh says, “This stage involves learning to appreciate the effects that one’s own problem solutions have on one’s family and friends” (pp. 262-263).  The black and white absolutism of the earlier stage (young-adult) gives way to a process that allows for ambiguity and paradox.  It makes one wonder why so many middle-aged and senior people are still so frighten and threatened by both paradox and ambiguity when the ability to navigate these is actually a sign of mature development – the next stage in becoming a mature adult.  According to Schaie, how one uses what they know, and not simply what they know, shows the cognitive transition into mid-life.

Head and Heart  Another aspect of cognitive development in this stage is the ability to integrate emotion and logic.  In a study by Blanchard-Fields & Camp (1990), younger adults faired less well in solving problems that were high in emotional involvement.  Middle and older adults “showed more awareness of when to avoid or passively accept a situation within interpersonal, emotional domains, whereas younger adults tend to use a cognitive analytic approach to all problems” (Cavanaugh pg. 267).  These changes would be consistent with the social aspect of caring for others found in the mid-life stage, and again makes one wonder at much of the interaction we see in politics and religion on emotionally charged issues and their inability to exhibit skill in integrating head and heart in solving problems.

Social/Relational Possibilities  The major conflict in this stage is that of Generativity versus Stagnation.  In this stage one must choose whether to assume responsibility, and give to society.  Generativity is having a clarity of purpose that brings meaning to life, taking responsible action for the good of others, and preparing the way for the next generation.  Charles L. Slater (2003) says, “The adult stage of generativity has broad application to family, relationships, work, and society.”  If generativity is the process of creatively engaging and making meaning of life, then stagnation is the loss of meaning, the loss of a sense of purpose, and the inability to care for others.  Children rely on the care that they receive from their adult caregivers, so stagnation at this stage has generational implications.  During this stage, there are many responsibilities, and demands placed on the middle-aged adult.  How the person responds to these demands will determine whether he or she will experience the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that is possible in the stage of life.

Next – In part 2, I’ll present some Biblical categories, as well as an example from the play Peer Gynt to show God’s way of helping us navigate the “Middle Passage” bringing us to greater maturity in our middle years.

“It has been the normative practice for many Christians when discussing popular music to fall into the false dichotomy between sacred and secular. This has resulted in creating a sub-genre of Christian popular music that has been written off by most of society as overly sentimental and at its worst, plain kitsch. The creation of this sub-genre has sadly led to many people ignoring what is a very rich tradition of musicians and songwriters who respectfully examine the biblical narrative but do not neatly fit into the label of “Christian musician”. This approach can be seen in the writings of musicians such as Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Marvin Gaye and more recently Sufjan Stevens.” – Nate Risdon

Transpositions blog has a wonderful post written by Nate Risdon: Popular Music and Theology: Strange Bedfellows?  You can check it out here: http://www.transpositions.co.uk/2011/06/popular-song-and-the-biblical-narrative/

Justin Taylor and Tim Keller on Scoffers, Scorners, and Snark.

Second, scoffers show no respect for opponents or opposing points of view. They do not simply refute them; they belittle, insult, and mock them (9:7-8.) There is always a tone of contempt and disdain. Together dogmatism and contemptuous derision comprise the spiritual condition of ‘scoffer.’ – Tim Keller

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