Sunday, April 25, 2010

What does it mean to be a great person?

As I come closer to the end of my MDiv journey at Boston University School of Theology, many thoughts come to my mind. One of them is the question of what it means to be a great person.

I embarked on my theological journey with the intense desire of seeking the betterment of humanity, to embody God's presence in the world. Indeed, as I studied in the last few semesters, I have read works by St. Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and John Calvin the reformers, John Wesley, Karl Marx, Karl Barth, Emile Durkheim, MLK, Peter Berger, Catherine Keller, John Cobb, John Berthrong, etc. These past and present authors have been my teachers, and there were points in time when I was inspired to be like them. But when I entered parish ministry, I was confronted by limitations and continual needs to feed people spiritually. And gradually, whatever dreams I held were dimly erased as my conversation partners dwindled. I began to ask myself the same question again, "what does it mean to be a great person?"

In the past, I had thought that to be a great person, you have to be someone high in the hierarchy, you have to have a larger sphere of influence. In the parish ministry, a great person would be someone like Rick Warren (author of Purpose driven life and church), or Kong Hee (pastor of one of the largest churches in SG) or Rev. Stephen Tong (most well-known Reformed evangelist in Southeast Asia). But I was wrong too! The more I read, the more I served in parish setting, and the more I reflected, the more I believed that to be a great person is simply to be ME.

This new insight is significant as I finally understand that there is only one Bill Gates, one Lee Kuan Yew, one John Calvin, one Karl Barth, and one Swee-Leong. There is only one person who could be husband of my wife, the son of my parents, the brother of my sisters, the uncle of my niece and nephew, the grandson of my grandmother, the teacher of my students, the student-intern of my church, the chaplain-intern of the department, friend of my beloved friends, etc. Only I can play that role that no one else can. Why should I measure myself against the benchmarks of others?

If I am fully present as a human being for the others, am I not embodying God's presence in the world? If I continue to embody symbol of hope for others, am I not fostering good will in the history of humanity? If I can answer an emphatic YES to both questions, I am already right on the path of being a great person. To be a great person is simply to be ME and not any others, and to be conscious that I am living in the history of humankind with God as the author of this history. I may not be remembered on the page of history in the same way like Mother Teresa or Karl Rahner is being remembered, and I may not even be remembered by my ex-students, my congregation members, and friends one day, but what matters most is that I am being remembered by God. To know God, and to be known by God, and to be a human being in relating to others in whatever role I am called to be is to be a great person.


zyds, 志勇, Chee Yong said...

Brother, I enjoy reading what you've written :) You have done an in-depth reflection. Perhaps we could rephrase the question in another way - "What does it mean to be the person whom God wants me to be?" What do you think?

ArthKohSL said...

If I were to interpret this qus anthropologically, I would say that different people will locate their projection of God differently. For e.g. if I were raised in a Protestant ethic society (Max Weber's The Spirit of Capitalism and the Protestant Ethic), I would be more inclined to think that to be thrifty, hardworking, to reinvest my profits would be the ideal ethic God expects me to practise.

However, if I were to interpret this qus to emphasize on "to be", then I am looking at a process. The process of sanctification, the process of loving others as myself, etc. This would be closer to my reflection that to be a great person is to be an authentic human being in relation to others and in relation to God, and this is a process.

How about you? What's your response?