Finding Meaning


Beware the Unexamined Life

By Skip Hellewell
By Skip Hellewell

The Indy is making space for an experiment, a column on religion. It’s a good idea as 80% percent of Americans self-identify as religious (per the 2017 Gallup US Daily survey). Gallup breaks the believers down as 49% Protestant, 23% Catholic, 2% Mormon, plus 6% non-Christian religious.

Laguna has long been graced by these faiths. (Future columns will tell their stories.) Finding Meaning is a discussion of the religious side of news so often neglected by the media. As N.Y. Times editor Dean Baquet recently acknowledged, “We don’t get religion.” So, thank the Indy for a chance to “get it” in Laguna.

Google the phrase “finding meaning” and you can get over 250 million hits, so something is going on here. Riding this wave is Emily S. Smith’s book, “The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness.” But Smith didn’t invent “meaning”; religion has been doing that for millennia and scripture still provides a time-tested framework to the meaningful life.

Want a more meaningful life? Mankind has a will to meaning, but daily duties get in the way. Retirement and kids leaving home may unravel prior sources of meaning. Isn’t the worst thing to arrive at the end of our journey and realize you haven’t given proper thought to the purpose of it all? So, one goal of this column is to invite reflection on your life’s meaning.

Per Smith, the sources of meaning are various. We need purpose, affiliation and belonging, someone or something to serve, a goal greater than ourselves. But through all these runs our greatest need, to give and receive love. You may have read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” in college. It’s based on his experience as a Jew suffering the WWII degradations of Auschwitz. Frankl’s breakthrough came when he had lost everything, but found blessing in remembering the love of his wife, or the realization that even imprisoned he was free to choose his attitude. For Frankl, that was enough to survive.

Immanuel Kant, German Enlightenment philosopher, thought meaning lay in our duty to develop our gifts and to improve the world. He could have done the screenplay for that transcendent movie “Groundhog Day.” You’ll recall that Bill Murray played an arrogant TV weatherman sent, against his wishes, to report the event from tiny Punxsutawney, Pa. In his dark and vile mood Murray’s character ruined the day for all and was doomed by the gods to remain in that day. It was as if a single day was such a precious gift, that Murray would have to repeat this wasted one until he had lived it perfectly. Eventually Murray gets it, that there is meaning, even redemption, in self-improvement and serving others and goes to work. Upon finally getting it right Murray escapes the day and also wins over the lovely Andie McDowell.

The apostle Paul left us a subtle guide to meaning when he wrote: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” (I Cor. 13:13)

Faith is hard, finding it can be the work of a life. Hope demands daily discipline against depression, a plague of our time. Charity, of which Christ’s love is the highest form, is our ultimate test. Paul was right—these do “abide.” By inviting us to seek them he gave us a process for finding meaning. Paul also advised going to church (see list of Laguna’s below).

Share your thoughts: What makes your life meaningful? (Email: [email protected])    Next week’s column: We’re in the period of pre-Lenten parties, like Carnival in Brazil and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. When the noise dies down, it will be time for the more serious period called Lent. Are you giving something up for Lent? Please share.

Places to worship on Sundays, except where noted:

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Friday, 6 p.m.; Saturday, 10:30 a.m., Sunday, 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:30 p.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Bahá’í’s of Laguna Beach – contact [email protected] for devotionals,

meetings, and youth programs.

Neighborhood Congregational Church, 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m. There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park Ave., 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.


Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip and is the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” A student of local history, he and wife Clare dote on their many grandchildren. Email: [email protected]





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  1. Ground Hog Day is the ultimate metaphor about life being too brief an opportunity to be decent to too few people. Even after the Bill Murray character understands what it means to get it right, he still rushes through the tender moments to possess what he covets. There is not a lot you need to know about human character that you can’t learn from that movie, the director really knew his message and how to use bittersweet humor to make us see ourselves.

    Victor Frankel, Kant and Ground Hog Day all in Skip’s first column. Wow, add the Toy Story Trilogy and you have a grand slam in my book. I am a Kant groupie, prefer 1792 thinking and writing to social media literacy, such as it is. I go for, you know, the presuppositionless apprehension of true forms of truth and beauty, the critique of judgment, reason and taste thing, right?

    Then again, I suppose the Apostle Paul upstages the rest. Paul was good at marketing, but didn’t get paid well and wasn’t allowed to live out life in a sublime seaside resort, and so Paul fittingly should have the last word, right? After all, what is Toy Story or Ground hog Day or the Age of Enlightenment about if not our search for the meaning we find only through loss of self in service and charity, connecting us to God in our relationship to others, and to others in relationship to God?


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