Re-imagining the good life | Guest column

Dick Staub

Dick Staub

by Dick Staub

Albert Einstein famously quipped, “How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will.” When I first set foot on Orcas Island in 1981, I believed I got a taste of such a place.

Deep questions about life’s meaning percolated in me from a young age. My father was a clergyman, a brooding intellectual who did not shy away from doubts and big questions.

When I was ten years old my brother was born with severe brain damage and most all of the God issues took on a new level of complexity for me. I later learned that C.S Lewis became an atheist at age ten when his prayers for his dying mother failed – she died an excruciatingly painful death. He decided either there was no God, or if there was a God, he wanted nothing to do with him. In light of my brother I came to share Lewis antagonistic views.

I headed off to college in the San Francisco Bay area in the 60s. They say if you remember the 60s you weren’t actually there, but I do recall my introduction to philosophy class where I learned that Socrates asked, “What is the Good Life” and Aristotle said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

What is the Good life? It is a universal and timeless question. In a sense it is a peculiarly American question. Singer-songwriter Paul Simon observes, “We come on the ship they call the Mayflower, we come on the ship that sailed the moon, we come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American Tune.”

Since WWII the “American Tune” has been loosely defined as work hard, go to school, get a job, marry, buy a house, raise some kids and enjoy your retirement. But in today’s uncertain hour the American Dream is being shattered.

Countless young people are graduating with huge college debt only to find substandard jobs. They are delaying marriage, wondering whether or not to bring children into this world and giving up on any hope or desire of equaling their parent’s standard of living.

Many in the older generation did what they were supposed to do and either ended up achieving the American Dream, but finding it unfulfilling, or because of the economic crisis, after years of sacrifice, have found that dream vaporizing just as they are entering retirement.

I think Americans young and old are looking for a new tune. One frustrated soul put it this way. “I spent my life frantically climbing the ladder of success. When I got to the top I realized I was leaning my ladder against the wrong building.”

In 1999 some friends and I who were concerned about the spiritual, intellectual and creative impoverishment of American life started The Kindlings to rekindle a vision for a richer and fuller life.

We defined “a kindling” as a thoughtful, creative person for whom God is of central importance.

Next week (July 31 to Aug. 3) hundreds of “kindlings” will gather on Orcas Island for KindlingsFest 2013 to explore the theme “Re-Imagining the Good Life.”

Artists, poets, filmmakers, dancers, academics and mere mortals will lead us. We’ll screen three Sundance films to help us explore our theme.  By week’s end I hope we will all be helped in recalibrating our life and values to a re-imagined vision for a different kind of good life.

If you ask the big questions, I want to invite you to join us next week. For more information or to register visit our website:, look for our advertisement in this edition of the Sounder, or call 376-6422, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Staub is a nationally syndicated columnist, radio host and pastor of Orcas Island Community Church.