I’m generally an optimist, but looking ahead to 2024 is challenging that tendency. The wars, violence, tribalism, loneliness, addiction, political alienation, disinformation, raw greed, and levels of cynicism/disengagement from all manner of institutions have created a sort of Petri dish in which pathologies grow. These diseases will further threaten well-being: personal, family systems, institutional, economic, and democracy itself. The clouds are on the horizon and approaching rapidly.
Historically, many people have responded to such times with wholesale denial. Withdrawing from the harsh realities around them, their metrics for a ‘good day’ become a matter of consuming and enjoying as much as possible. “Life is a Cabaret” is what they sang as Rome, or Berlin, or Moscow, or Paris burned. Escape, because to live in the reality of it it is just too hard, too overwhelming.
Another option is to mobilize. Make sure the right person wins the election, the right judges get elevated, the right laws get passed. Storm the castle if you must, but by all means, impose your ‘right’ view of the world on everyone. Some even think that if we can legislate “God” into the picture (a world view called Christian Nationalism, or Theocracy) then all will be well. But even in the Bible, with God at the helm, God’s attempt at Theocracy devolved into violence, oppression, neglect of the poor, and petty kings vying for power, which eventuated in a civil war and the ultimate demise of the nation. (Read I and II Kings and the Prophets for a full explanation!) We think we’ll get it right this time?
By all means vote, and do so prayerfully. Perhaps in person with people you know, also have some meaningful conversations about why you vote as you do. But let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that our party, our view, has all the moral high ground and the other side is the only evil group. That kind of polarization doesn’t create winners and losers. It creates violence, and when the smoke clears, everybody loses, including the new dictator.
If excessive withdrawal and excessive engagement aren’t answers, then what is? Jesus taught that his way was to embed people in neighborhoods and workplaces, bars and courts, halls of power and hospitals, sports halls and concert halls; people who are so surrendered to the spirit of Christ within them that they infuse an aroma of hope in the midst of all the chaos. People of quiet confidence have been pouring portions of life-giving generosity, sacrifice, mercy, hospitality, joy, justice, beauty, and meaning into the world in every age. In ages of darkness they’ve shone as light. Think Bonhoeffer, Scholl, Lewis, MLK, the work of Jimmy Carter with Habitat, the work of George Bush in Africa, the work of many (yet not all) chaplains, healers, artists, parents, teachers, who bring light into the world without fanfare.
What makes these people shine? The answer might require a whole book, (and I’m working on a proposal for such a book right now), but for the moment, as we welcome a new year, I offer this observation. Life giving, generative people are intentionally living out from a set of values. What’s more, because there’s “a time for everything,” it’s also true that certain values must rise to the surface in certain times, which means that the times demand we be intentional about living out from these values so that we shape culture, bless others and infuse hope, peace, and justice into our world.
We don’t need resolutions. We need values. Given the times in which we live, and my own life circumstances, I offer five values that have risen to the surface as the elements I need to embody every day if I’m to continue on a journey to wholeness and live as a person of blessing as I grow old, and as our culture and world continues to reap from the seeds of individualism, consumerism, nationalism, and violence that have been sown so freely as weeds amidst the wheat of beautiful ideals such as generosity, freedom, and dignity of each person.
Spirit Wholeness-Identity - My truest and eternal identity resides deep within me. I’m audacious enough to believe that this identity is complete, filled with the life of God, lacking in nothing, loved perfectly, delights in carrying out the generative and life-giving calling it has received from God. “Complete in Christ,” “…blessed with every spiritual blessing…” and so much more truth from the scriptures are offered so that we might begin each day with a confidence that our truest and deepest self is OK.
Becoming grounded in this reality requires daily reminders, which is why people of faith have, since the beginning, practiced meditation. I’ve written a book about this, available here, and offer some videos to help ground you in meditation practice here.
Encouragement - Fear, anxiety, and a pervasive sense that “I’m not enough” is a huge problem in our culture. People need encouragement, need to know they’re loved, need people to speak into their lives regarding their gifts and potential. People who are walking through valleys and the fog of pain, loss, uncertainty, need to know they’re not alone.
One of the ways I’m embodying this value is by reaching out to connect with, and encourage someone every day without an agenda. As many men are, I’m often too pragmatic in relationships. If there’s not a meeting, a decision, or a project, I assume there’s no need for interaction, which is rubbish. All of us benefit from contact with others simply for purpose of being together, enjoying each other, sharing stories, and encouraging one another.
Creativity - My career trajectory of architecture, music composition, and teacher/author/leader, it might appear as if it jumped all over the map, but in reality all these pursuits are about creativity. They all start with a blank page. As I move more fully into a new season, I need to keep creating every day, whether that’s writing, teaching, creating programs for leadership development, or working with someone in a coaching relationship creating a path forward. In my case, this is a way of saying, “I need to use my gifts every day.” Everyone has gifts. Knowing what they are and being intentional about using them is the way to live life to the fullest.
Stewardship - What am I doing with the time, money, health, and home I’ve been given?
Time - invest in new generations of leaders through teaching, coaching, leadership development.
Money - invest in works that are empowering the most vulnerable and strengthening to ecosystem.
Health - Move every day, make healthy sleep a priority, choose food wisely.
Home - care for the family, the forest, and the local community
In summary: My values are driving habits around meditation, encouragement, creating, and stewarding what I’ve been given. In the coaching work I do, I call these values and the attending commitments “Input goals” because I can control them.
Speaking Update: you can find an updated travel schedule for my speaking commitments in 2024 here. Perhaps you can join me in Austria, Portugal, at Mt. Hermon in California for a men’s retreat, or if you’re a pastor, for the Pastor’s retreat in Canada.