We hear a lot about how we may be the most drugged up, addicted, lonely, unhappy people in the history of the planet despite our incredible wealth and ease of life. One memorable version of this, maybe it was Bill McKibben, was the idea that global warming resulting from humanity’s rapacious appetite might not be so bad if we were at least enjoying the party but we are not and that makes the planetary degradation that much harder to justify. I read these sorts of essays and books anyways, so trust me there is a big current of this in our society today.
Personally, I am fascinated that we can burn the planet, and for all intents and purposes, enslave entire nations, and yet not be happy with quality of our lives. Our high quality lives leave us with much to complain about. I am too upbeat to offer an entire article on the rot at the heart of much of our lives (see 6500 dead—7 people for every player— so we can watch grown men kick a ball around at the recent World Cup and you will understand). Of course, it doesn’t make us happy, at some deep rooted spiritual level the blood of our brothers and sisters and the animals we share the planet with cries out into the cosmos and it affects us. God at times says the blood on the earth cries out to him (Genesis and Exodus).
As I reflect on it all there is an assumption that I run up against over and over at the heart of the secular society we are all a part of. The assumption is that we are free and answer to no one but our own sense of right and wrong. Or put another way: my conscience is always right. We see this when we refuse all authority, reject any notion of expertise on the part of another person, when we generalize and refuse specificity, or when we want our thoughts/desires affirmed ipso facto and a priori and cannot handle any pushback against them. Yet we cancel anyone we disagree with this week, and fear being canceled because staying on top of the political correctness is exhausting. Ultimately the truth of the matter is that we follow certain paths (intentionally or not) leading us to particular ends and as we do we submit ourselves to a vision.
Whatever we are working towards, whatever takes highest priority reigns in our lives. Sure, we might choose it, like finances for those in the financial independence retire early camp, or the olympics for certain athletes. We might be reacting to it: the physical, psychological, family of origin hands we are dealt. Or maybe we just sort of float with whatever is popular or what our friends, family, or chosen influencers suggest. Regardless how we come to the choice, the choice matters deeply because eventually it will make itself clear and its failure will be clear too. Like the early retiree bored of life and lacking meaning, or the athlete (successful or not) who has to hang up their skates and must remodel themselves. Or defining ourselves as victims leads to a dead end place. Most of the priorities will fail us as they cannot deliver on their promises to make us whole. There are simply never enough dollars, awards, prizes, or sympathetic shoulders in the world.
Most priorities are, in fact, what the bible calls idols.
I thought about all this during advent because Christmas with its gatherings, letters, and celebrations has a way of making us more aware of where we place our trust and value. As we gathered together many feathers were ruffled as we rub up against each other and peacock around. Peacocking around in close proximity to each other doesn’t help us fly.
Perfect Christmas that if you do not provide it you will feel crushed and ashamed and like a failure? Idol.
Perfect children you invest everything into who if they fail to thrive you will question how you have spent your adult years? Idol.
Perfect body (ha!) Welcome mid-January doldrums!
Stash of cash that never grows big enough?
Employment going well?
Accepted and promoted idols all around us.
We will try to “justify” the year that has been and find personal successes in the year of which we can be proud. All too often the boasts fall on deaf ears because no one really cares that you won your fantasy baseball league or lost 5 pounds or moved up a rung or two on the corporate ladder (or pickle ball rankings). I do a lot of funerals and I can tell you people always (always) speak of the character of the person, the love they shared, and if they are a person of faith, the faith they had and how it impacted the way they interacted with the world.
Maybe it is just me, but I often find Christmas gets wrapped in accomplishments that are surface level when character growth is far more important.
All of this leads me back to the Story.
When Mary is told by the angel that she is to conceive a child she is promised that he will one day Reign from a throne and his kingdom will will be everywhere and always. His Reign will not fail us but will make all things right.
I know it is not popular to submit, wives do not submit to husbands, children to do not submit to teachers (or parents), and generally none of us submit to employers, and yet as much bluster as we can manage we do submit to something. We don’t like to admit it but we are all like the teenagers who all match as they try to “express themselves.” The question is if that something or someone will fail us (look at any teen photos and you know the failures are real, maybe it’s just me:)
All of which is to say that I know it is a hard question but: who or what are you willing to submit to? What story are you kowtowing to?
Be honest with yourself.
Who is that working for you?
When is the last time you really considered an alternative?
If you want peace, if you want purpose and meaning, if you forgiveness or to be able to forgive, then recognize the King who fulfill his promises. If you need help or guidance there are many kind and generous Christians open to conversation, seriously just ask them.
May 2023 be the year you identify who or what you obey so that you may begin to do so with integrity and intention.