So often we get into this time of year and the sweeping pronouncements begin:
“New Year, New Me!”
“This is going to be a fresh start!”
“It’s time for a complete makeover!”
And on and on it goes until around mid-month when it hits us that all of the baggage we lugged with us from the last year followed us into the new year. Also, it’s cold and dark. Who’s in the mood to start new stuff? Certainly not I. No, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I come into the new year as the same person I was last year, only with a few more miles on the tread.
That said, it’s not a joyless resignation. In fact, I’m starting this year by celebrating me. Not the superficial me. Not the external me. The “me” I am at my core. I am reminding myself of the values to which I try to live up. I am trying to find my center. To do this, I have to remind myself of some central things, things that I believe and things that I feel I have strayed from at times in the past. I suppose in a way these are resolutions, but only to the extent that I resolve to aspire to be the self that lives into his highest calling.
So, here are some core values that I hold to:
*Love is the highest ethic. Not love as in “eros” that is based on romance and passion, nor the love as in”philia” that is based on mutual regard. The love I speak of is the love that Dr. King often wrote and spoke of, other-centered, disinterested love that loves a person simply for their own sake. There is no higher calling than to love someone, to care about their well being, simply for their benefit. This is not an easy love. It oftentimes means love of an enemy. It at times will mean loving someone who will not reciprocate the love. It may mean loving someone in a way where the love is not understood. But it always means seeking their good.
* Service is the best way to show love. At the end of the day, I know who I have loved by who I have served and I know who has loved me by who has served me. We serve people by attending to their needs. We serve people by anticipating their needs, possibly before they are even felt. We serve people by listening for what they say they need. We serve people by giving up our comfort for theirs.
The ability to serve rises from compassion, literally suffering with or alongside another. When your pain become my pain, then I will do what needs to be done to alleviate your pain. Compassion fuels service and we must constantly be refueled or we will become embittered in our serving.
* Justice is an outgrowth of service. There are times when what people need is larger than what an act of compassionate service can provide. I may feed a hungry person once as an act of service, but ultimately I have to ask why she is hungry in the first place. When I come to that question, I am left with the choice of either cynically blaming the victim for their circumstance or addressing the larger issues that have created the problem. Justice is service on the community level. It is love enacted on behalf of the many.
The work for justice infers that there is injustice. Injustice is not passive. There are forces at work in the world that seek to keep people dominated and oppressed. Given that reality, the work for justice cannot be passive either. Justice doesn’t just happen. It is an act of will.
*Change is incremental. One of my core beliefs of which I must constantly be reminded is that change happens most often in increments. “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed”. It is the small action with continuous, multiplying effect.
I hold this as a value for two reasons: 1) to keep from getting discouraged when it feels like things are moving slowly and 2) to resist the temptation that comes from promises of sweeping change.
*Community is our purpose. We are made for community. I don’t know if I can say it any plainer. We need each other. You have strengths that overcome my weaknesses. I have strengths that balance your strengths. We, in dialogue, form relationship. The network of our relationships create community. Love is for the maintenance of community. Justice is for the balancing of community. I know myself best by who I am in relation to my community. To the extent that I know my community, I know myself. To the extent that I invest in my community, I am investing in myself.
*The Divine Lives within us all. We start out, before anything else, created in the Divine image. The breath of God fills our lungs. We are made as a reflection of the Divine and declared to be “very good”. This is our original state. “Sin” is anything that distorts that image either in ourselves or in others. To the extent that I cannot see God in you, I am sinning. To the extent that you cannot see God in me, you are sinning. To the extent that I cannot see God in myself, I am sinning. The challenge of community is to remove the barriers to seeing the Divine in each other. Poverty is a barrier. -isms are barriers. Pride and ego are barriers. If i recognize God in you and God in me then I won’t hurt you because I know that I am hurting myself.
*As sharers in the Divine Nature, we all are driven to create. I think that creation is the essence of the Divine nature. “In the beginning, God created…”. As creatures who also have that Divine nature within us, we too are driven to create. We tell stories, make music, draw pictures, tell jokes, plant gardens, raise children, write sonnets, design structures, program software, create algorithms, and mix chemicals. Our desire to create is holy and can be used to create community, work for justice, and spread love.
At my core, these are the things that I believe. This is what keeps me going and gives me purpose. This is who I am. I am not interested this year in being a “new me”. I am interested in living more fully into the me that I know myself to be. But I need you for that. Because I am created for community…