Let me be the first to repeat the true cliché that New Year’s Resolutions are dumb. The act of throwing away a calendar and taping a new one on the fridge is not a meaningful milestone.
Nevertheless, over the last year I have been trying, with mixed success, to eliminate scorn and blame from my thought life. When a given TV preacher or politician or group of people come to mind, a watchful inner eye can catch a dismissive or superior thought just as it sprouts, and cut it down with the scalpel of forgiveness. (Massively mixed metaphors no extra charge. That’s what rolled off my keyboard and there’s no fixing it now.) Forgiveness, of course, doesn’t justify anyone’s words or actions: forgiveness just confesses that nobody owes me anything; it frees me from shackles of resentment, and it commits to bless and pray with compassion for people who wrong me or even just annoy me.
For the coming year, I’ve made the decision to quit my day job and try with full attention to grow my web business into a reliable revenue stream. If I can make enough to pay the rent and feed the cat, then I can devote the rest of my time to serving the parish. The past year of trying to balance full-time office job, part-time freelance marketing, care for elderly parents, and the occasional pastoral task as associate priest, has been far too busy and not very useful to anyone. I’m pretty sure I made a better and happier priest than an office worker with a clerical side hustle. Having no debt, no kids, and therefore not much fear of poverty, I hope in 2023 to combine what I’m good at, what I love, and what I can probably make a living at. And, maybe, to continue figuring out what my heart is going to be like when/if I grow up.
Current “cancel” or “calling out” culture generally hardens resolve, stops the conversation in its tracks, and further polarizes. The cancel culture just invited folks to a fight, not a conversation, because you’re publicly humiliating. Honestly, I’m tired of living in that world of us vs. them. If we want to stop this seemingly endless cycle of opinionated entrenchment and start to mend bridges, shift from hate to love, or just show up with curiosity rather than “knowing it all,” we extend an invitation to engage humanity – an offering to open, not close. And it starts here, within.
(I hope) I am not very known for cancelling or calling out anyone’s sins or social or political transgressions. If I’m not your pastor, it’s not my place to presume to fix you. But I think I have lost track of the responsibility to intentionally “call in.” To participate in others’ lives and invite others into mine. (Trying to avoid the Over-Used Management Buzzword of the decade, “engage”.)
There’s a school of thought that says Christians need to “witness,” i.e. to make every encounter a potential sales pitch for faith in Christ. And you know I love to talk about Jesus. But to “love your neighbor” means among other things to listen to them, let them open up about what they think and care about. I’m going to honestly and openly be me – which includes a cross, a cassock, and a lot of God stuff – but if I love you, I’ve got to let you be you as well. When we approach a person through a lens of what we hope they might become, we fail to interact with who they are right now; we replace a human being with a fantasy. I’ve believed for a long time that if you feel like I heard you, that’s a win. I’ll be really happy if I can baptize you as well, but nobody should ever wonder whether I as a Christian care about them as prospective converts more than as humans.
A year and a half ago I moved into a house with room to practice hospitality – but the busyness I’ve permitted to own my time, in addition to health issues this past summer and (admit it) my own curmudgeonly introversion, have made me more present for my cat than for my parish family, neighbors and friends.
It’s not quite the new year (as if that matters) but I intend to start finding ways both in the parish and in the neighborhood to be present for others, to take action to open my home to friends and strangers; possibly even to accept an invitation from time to time (I know.)
Just be aware that there’s a guy lurking around the area looking for people to listen to and be good to. He’s out there! He’s me.