Forum on Faith

The News Times, July 29, 1995

People need to come to terms with purpose and meaning

By Rev. Douglas Hutchings

There was a recent program on National Public Radio describing the efforts of law enforcement people in San Francisco to downplay the fact that the number of people who have succeeded in committing suicide from the Golden Gate Bridge was approaching one thousand. A fraction have tried and lived. The authorities seemed to believe that someone would want to claim that notoriety, thus accelerating the rate of attempts.

Another curious aspect of ending it all in this rather notable way, was that almost every attempt occurs off the east side of the bridge, facing the spectacular city of San Francisco, rather than on the west side looking out into the dark and ominous expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Could it we that there was even at the last, a final desire to gaze upon something filled with life?

We recently had a scare in New Milford when emergency room professionals became concerned about the number of suicide attempts by teen-age girls. It was also feared that some kind of a "suicide pact" might have been uncovered. Such attempts, whether singularly or in a group, should most certainly alarm parents, those who care about the crisis occurring with our children, and even the children themselves.

The hopelessness of both situations blatantly demonstrates a lack of faith so prevalent in our society, as well as a lack of vision about who we are and why we are. The religious community is finding it less and less effective in building up in people the hopefulness that we each need to handle the changeableness of our society. And, the apparent change taking place in us as we become less sensitive to each other and less aware of the needs of others. That change is occurring more rapidly all the time.

Where there is no vision, the people perish", says the Book of Proverbs (29:18). Of course, you might suppose that those who reach out for the new life and for heaven are escapists who are tired of earth or indifferent to the challenge of the present moment. But nothing could in fact be further from the truth.

History does not remember those who stayed behind in Haran (Genesis 12:4), but in fact remembers Abraham, precisely because it was his faith which changed the course of human history. History does not remember those who cautioned Columbus not to go too far, but it does remember Columbus because his faith literally changed the shape of history as well as geography.

It was the and lubbers and not the pilgrims who were the escapists. They resisted the challenge of a whole change of outlook and a completely different way of seeing the world.

Faith and vision are interrelated and the one enables the other to open the door of perception to new ways of seeing things and to new outlooks. And that always is the way which the future is created - biologically, geographically and religiously; by faith. Faith and change are two sides of the same coin. Without faith we cannot change creatively. If we have no goals - no vision - no reason to believe in the future - we cannot create that future. For those who seek a "permanent solution to a temporary problem," like suicide, there is no future for certain.

The past has the power to paralyze us in the present. So we are left standing still, clinging to what we have, and looking back at the past with our snapshots. There is something sadly nostalgic about snapshots unless they are really and truly spontaneous - sad, like the two bewildered disciples on the road to Emmaus, who just stood still, we are told- "looking sad." So then, without the promise of heaven in the future, the present will become little better than hell on earth. The present is always the prison house of the cautious.

For those in our communities who claim to be Christian and who follow Jesus Christ, we try to discover how he is calling each of us, and our culture to a vision, a future, the shape of which we do not yet know, but which will in time be revealed. All religions look with hope for the fulfillment of their purpose.

In our society today there is so much sadness, confusion, and disarray that we cannot yet visionize, or come to terms with our purpose and meaning, our individual and collective mission. But, what will happen. It depends entirely upon a willingness to believe in the possibilities which exist in our various faiths, and on how well we do in reaching out to the faithless and those without hope. Changing our hearts to effect a change in others is what life is all about.

The Rev. Douglas W. Hutchings, Rector, Saint Johns Episcopal Church, New Milford, CT