Ten Resolutions American Christians Should Make for 2018

It’s a hopeful time of year, at least on paper.

During the Christmas season, Christians celebrate the hope of the Messiah and the ways he will bring relief, freedom, and peace. The hope of Christmas invites us to participate in the creation of a more peaceful, just world.

As the new year begins, our hope may shift to personal resolutions. This most often takes the form of a post-holiday sweets purge with a diet likely to fail (sorry! but you already knew that, didn’t you?) or other noble but vague resolutions like “be better” (unfortunately pretty worthless as a goal due to lack of specificity).

As 2018 begins, American Christians should resolve to cultivate virtues that will help us better live out our greatest calling: love. This is what many of us claim is the underlying reason for why we do the religious or spiritual things we do, right? To express love for God and for what God loves—neighbor and enemy alike.

Virtues may be my habits but ought to ultimately assist me as a social creature, enabling me to be a good citizen, good friend, good caretaker of the earth, and so on. So which virtues—habits of character—will best facilitate the kind of love to which God calls us? The following ten are a good place to start. Let’s resolve to cultivate these virtues in 2018:

1. The virtue of responsibility. Christians, let’s be less entitled. Let’s not confuse “protecting my rights” with “being cruelly self-centered and scared.” Let’s think less individually and more collectively, recognizing how the ripples of our choices impact (and in some cases hurt) others. Let’s be less deliberately ignorant or evasive. Let’s not avoid topics that make us anxious when the suffering of others is at stake. Let’s be more aware of our responsibility to others backed by the will to act upon that awareness. Less “not my problem” and more “how can I participate in the solving of what is definitely a problem?” Less “that’s just the way it is” and more “I refuse to accept the status quo.” Less “well I didn’t cause their suffering” and more “it’s suffering, period, so how can I help?”

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Interfaith Dialogue, So What?

Clara (my five-year-old) and I attended the annual SW Washington Interfaith Thanksgiving Service last week, along with a few others from my Quaker congregation. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Baha’is, Mormons, Episcopalians, Catholics, First Nations, and a few others, I’m sure, were also represented.

What impressed me most about the experience was the repeatedly stated concern for the people of our region and world. What impressed Clara most were the flute-playing and complimentary cookies.

The point of this gathering seemed to go beyond “how neat of us to all be together in one room!” Not that this isn’t important. Such gatherings can be a witness to the possibility of peace and mutual respect absent when differing religious traditions (or ugly imitations of them) pick on one another, whether through nasty words or mass murder.

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On Quakers and the Cost of Gratitude

“You know, you’re just our pastor.” I’ve heard that more than once from members of my congregation, trying to put me in my place. Always spoken with a twinkle in their eyes, of course.

Though really, it’s less about sending me a humbling message and more something they are telling themselves as a form of self-elevation. And rightly so.

When people tell me I’m just their pastor, they’re not saying I’m unimportant. I do matter. But this is taken for granted in Christianity, that a pastor matters to the spiritual experience of a community. A pastor needs to be cared for, of course.

But in my experience, people don’t need to be told that their pastor is a gift to them. People need to know that they are gifts to one another. People who are often overlooked as “gifts” need to be told and treated like they are gifts.

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Bibles, Flags, and Other Christian Idols

Idolatry can be subtle and pervasive. It manifests in the usual suspects like money or success and other familiar villains. But Christians ought to also be wary of the looming idolatry lurking in some of the essentials of the Christian experience.

I think of idolatry as a disproportionate worship of or devotion to something. Maybe you believe that the God who is Love—Creator and Sustainer of everything from the farthest galaxies to the nearest neurons in our brains—is the one to whom we ought to give our deepest allegiance and devotion or most permit to inform how we live and the choices we make. Idolatry, then, would be giving comparable adoration and devotion to something less worthy or worthwhile than God. Especially something that inhibits our ability to care for that for which God cares.

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Ten Other Naughty Sins of Christian Men

A well-known politician received some press earlier this week for seeming to have looked at pornography, though he denies it. I am bothered by this story, but probably not in the way I am supposed to be bothered by it.

When I was an undergraduate, there was a weekly men’s (boy’s?) group on campus. It wasn’t really a Bible study or prayer group but more like a support group for men striving to live “righteously”, some might say. I did not attend, mainly because I did not fit the athlete-heavy makeup of the group.

I do not fully know what occurred in these meetings, but I do remember how other non-participating (jealous?) students around me caricatured the men’s group with an exaggerated but probably not wholly untruthful version of what took place: young men weeping together, confessing to one another things like “I had sex with my girlfriend AGAIN…and I really want to stop” (since sex is naughty, obviously). But then these repentant men remembered that sex feels nice (not that I had any clue) and so continued to do it. Which worked well for the perpetuity of the group, because then they had something of which to repent at the next week’s gathering. A common enemy over which to connect.

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