So, every year about this time I am convinced that I’m probably going to have to skip this year’s Christmas/holiday column because I can’t think of anything positive to say. I have a hard time getting past how polarized we have become and all the many horrible events that have been transpiring — the evil, debilitating acts unworthy of humankind.
Every year, however, I ultimately end up remembering this: For every act of hatred, for every evil event, for every unkindness, for every minuscule or massive selfish act — like mass shootings — there are a thousand beacons of light, kindness, courage and grace; we just don’t always see them or hear about them like we do with the bad stuff.
Good intentions are OK. But good acts are better. Action is better than intention. That’s what our minister Ollie Wagner keeps telling us.
“Don’t just think about doing something to help people, actually do something.” This is one minister who, for the record, practices what he preaches too.
Acts of courage and grace are all around us in the person of your neighbor, your kid’s teacher, your old friend from college, the new person at work or just some complete stranger who is stopping to change a flat tire of a stranger. Grace is found in those fostering a child, pulling someone out of a burning house, taking in a refugee family, sitting someone’s adult parent with dementia so they can have a couple hour break, reading to someone or just sitting next to a friend or stranger and listening.
My wife Christina is a lot like Ollie; she walks the walk and consistently is coaching me to do the same. And I know and realize that I fall so short on the “do something” spectrum. If I have any goal for 2020, it is going to be become that someone who actually does more. My wife, and my children have taught me 99 percent of what I know that is worth knowing, and how to live as well — and how we should treat others. To them I am so grateful.
There are no small or large acts of grace or courage; they are all the same size — the size of the entire planet, the size of “being alive,” the size of “past the stars.”
Horace Mann once wrote: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
That victory is achieved every time your attention is focused outward instead of inward, and in some way that makes someone else’s life better or happier or less alone — “past the stars.”
Being kind to one person shines as brightly as the light that comes when thousands are saved.
Grace is color blind and has no nationality. So is the courage to act with grace, too. When Christ said “that what you did not do for the least of these (my children) you did not do for me,” he meant everyone — including those who cross borders out of fear, those who feel helpless, who are hungry, and those who are persecuted. They are all his children and we are expected to help them all. When we choose not to, we are choosing to separate ourselves from God and his grace.
I watch my wife ask others how they are doing. I hear her ask about their children, their parents, their job — or their job hunt. I watch her take food to them. I see her invite them to eat with the group — day in, day out. There are no large or small acts of grace or kindness; they are all the same size.
What will you say to your children someday, or their children?
Acts of courage require making choices, making decisions about whose values and standards to follow — yours or theirs, yours or your parties, yours and what is right or theirs and what is expedient. They are all choices.
For elected officials, when is it time to vote for what you know is right, even if it means the vote is not expedient and may not help you get reelected? Is holding office so important that it is worth compromising what and who you are until you can’t even recognize yourself — compromising and betraying who your children and grandchildren thought you were or what you stood for?
This has nothing to do with any of the current political chaos. It has everything to do with stuff like whether or not we want to help each other or hurt each other or whose laws and values we choose to follow — man’s or Gods. It about the personal decisions we make.
Our neighborhoods, our city, our state is full of good people who care, who participate in mission trips, who volunteer, who give time and raise money to help those who are less fortunate than they are. I can think of so many individuals I know personally who are amazing in this way. Yet then so many turn around and make choices to do just the opposite and attack, demean, criticize and basically contribute to making our collective world a worse place because they are a Democrat or a Republican or because they hold office and choose to vote for what they don’t really believe, in order to be reelected.
Why do so many of us choose to compromise our values and the good works we do — the work we perform to help the least of us — by not having the discipline and the faith to be loyal to our real values, and instead opt out to adopt the values and contempt of others?
We all have the capacity to take the higher road, the more difficult road, the road that is ruled by love and unshakable faith.
So, despite what seems to be a world turned upside down today — one beyond redemption and reconciliation — I choose to hold on to hope and faith in us and to celebrate our “better angels.”
Happy New Year!