Reading and listening today on 1/1/11, I find both news of the individual resolutions for change of men and women around the nation and world, as well as a number of public predictions and wish-lists for the public world we all share. I believe that the two are indivisible. The considerations of any one of us as to how I need or want to change have to be seen in the context of the world around us. There is no “I” that is not part of a larger “we.” What I do has effects far beyond me. What we do, in any part of this human world, has impact on me and on individuals near and far.
If there is any truth in this, what can I say in one small voice about the year that we are about to share and to live together?
I want to be honest and truthful in my dealings with others, in the words that I use and the deeds I undertake. I will state, sincerely and openly, what I really believe, and then be prepared to listen to the truth my partner in conversation has to share. To do so is to show respect both for others and for myself. The premise here is that I have something of import to say about my life, the issues of the day, and about the state of the planet, and so do all others. Some are better informed and educated than others, but all have an inviolable human dignity, a right to speak and be heard, a stake in what happens around us. This is true in relation to governments, to churches, and to every institution large and small with which any person relates.
In the larger world, we could do with the leadership of our nation sounding more like leaders of the nation and less like ideologues of their political parties. In times that are asking consistently more of our common creativity and commitment in order to devise together solutions to problems that might not have been imagined by our forebears in terms of either substance or extent, we need everything our leaders have to offer. Staying on party message while the world shifts violently again and again is the least helpful approach to forging any possible future.
In other words, personally and publicly, let’s say what we mean, not what party or family or institutional attachment necessarily expects or urges us to say.
I will believe that more is possible. I have seen in prior years that more pain, more destruction, more war and more disintegration is possible, and probable. I realistically accept that I will see that ‘more’ as long as my eyes respond to the light. But this year I choose to believe in another ‘more.’ I believe that I can connect more deeply to friends and family. I believe that I can respond more genuinely to the needs of people I know well and to people whom I pass once here on the streets of New York. I believe that I can find the energy within to become more truly the man that I am called and enabled by God to become. I believe that I have not yet begun to mine the possibilities within for expression, for commitment, for excellence.
When I look at the world around me, I will look this year with eyes attuned to the ‘more.’ There is more common ground that we can discover together regarding who we are as a people, and who we hope to be. There is more we can do to find ways to provide medicine for those who suffer, and to keep healthy those who are. There are more ways that we can connect the ideas and the commitment of the young among us to the needs of those who are nearer the end of life, for a sharing of experience, wisdom, and possibility. There is more we can do to bring believers of various faiths together in conversation, there to see that as great as their differences are, there are resources in each of their traditions that can be mined to face the challenges of these times as one. There is more to hope for, even in the face of a difficult present and an unseen future. There is more reason to choose hope, even when it seems blind, than to choose despair. There is more that unites the child in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn to the child on the outskirts of Beijing than will ever meet the eye.
In other words, times of supreme challenge are the last times in which, personally or publicly, we should retreat only to what we have already known, and fail to envision something that has never yet been seen. There is always something new, and it is not always bad. Sometimes it brings the re-creation of the established by the unpredicted.
I will love beyond reason.
Reason has its considerable value. I have never advocated for an unreasonable or unreasoned life. I won’t this year either. But while reason remains in his accustomed seat, love will be allowed to enter the scene, perhaps descending unexpectedly in a bright yellow hot-air balloon, perhaps being spoken from the lips of the seemingly least likely character. Beyond what reason asks of me, I will be willing and open to love the unlikely, even the apparently unlovable. After all, they by definition need to be loved most of all. Can I love Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity? It appears unreasonable to try. All the more reason to do so. And can Mitch McConnell love Barack Obama? While only he can answer that question, he should know he has a responsibility – new with this new year – to answer anew. And in the quiet rooms and the private places of living as well, there perhaps above all, love can trump reason in ways that will make this year worth living.
The death of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ strikes broadly. I mean this: beginning this year, do ask what is lovable in those you meet, and do tell them what you see in them that you love.
I will not tire. There is too much at stake.
The news can drag me down with its daily litany of failures, of acts of hatred, of the celebration of misunderstanding. Personal responsibilities can at times and for periods weigh heavily on any of us and slow our steps or change our direction. This year I will take as my own the ancient words of the prophet Isaiah:
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.
He is Creator of all you can see or imagine.
He doesn’t get tired out, doesn’t pause to catch his breath.
And God knows everything, inside and out.
He energizes those who get tired,
gives fresh strength to dropouts.
For even young people tire and drop out,
young folk in their prime stumble and fall.
But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.
They spread their wings and soar like eagles,
They run and don’t get tired,
They walk and don’t lag behind.”
(Isaiah 40: 29-31, The Message)
These are not days that allow for exhaustion. I’m not advocating for denial when energy lags, as it will. Rather I am admonishing myself and you not to let our lowest moments on a given day or throughout the year define either who we will be or what will be the history we write together from this day forward. Not only do our times ask for our best. They also ask that our best become better – much better.
I will not stop here. Every hour and day of 2011 may mock what I’ve written above, mock it both in the most private moments and in the moments that will define and redefine our world. This only means that this and other musings on the year ahead have to be re-examined and re-written as often as necessary to keep them fresh and real, and directed to the actual situations in which we live. So I will return to this page, and so should we each I think, to like pages of our own, and to the common page upon which we are all writing together as darkness falls on this first day of the still-new year.
One thought on “The Year Ahead”
John, this is certainly a page I will come back to throughout the year and read! You say what needs to be said, and what needs to be done, with such precision and beauty. It amazes me. Thank you for these words that I will cherish this new year!