The ”Why” of cultivating these six values:
The goal of life isn’t to experience comfort and pleasure, know bombproof financial security, or have perfect physical health. Neither is it to preserve democracy (as beautiful and hopeful a system as it is, in its ideals of representation for all), or the “American way of life“ (which means vastly different things to different people). When any of these things are our goals, our definition of ‘the good life’, we’re stuck with a life of contingencies. In this paradigm, all will be well as long as the markets don’t tank, or some cell in our body doesn’t mutate in the wrong way and suddenly its cancer, or our party is able to be in power. But of course all these things can’t be captured - they’re like grabbing smoke. Embrace this path and your fulfillment is contingent: on health, wealth, political structures, and perhaps many other things as well (reputation, marital status, etc)
If we take the teachings of Jesus seriously, we need to sit for a minute with the spectacularly unconditional promises he made. Though there are many, let’s focus on just two for now:
"I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly."
"Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
The picture painted here isn’t one of just getting by. Neither is it a picture of the pursuit of personal well-being as an end in itself. Instead, Jesus’ promise is that the result of our lives being somehow yoked with his will result in our own fullness, a fullness that is so full that we’ll overflow, being filled with the capacity to serve, bless, and heal our broken world. Abundance! Rivers of life giving resources to share!
What’s remarkable to me is that these promises are offered without contingency. They were spoken when the Roman Empire ruled Jesus’ part of the world, an empire that gave peace and prosperity to some few, but not women, or slaves, or those physically challenged, or non-citizens. An empire that affirmed male sexual excesses and domination, while calling women to marital fidelity. Jesus’ promises here apply to everyone; not contingent upon your citizenship, party affiliation, gender, net worth, educational status, age, or health. All humans have access to the possibility of a life lived, not just to the full, but to overflowing - that’s the audacious promise made by Jesus. Everything offered here on this website is about equipping you for such a life, to the end that you might be empowered to bless and serve our broken and thirsty world.
The values in this post, and the previous one, are woven into the fabric of a life lived without contingency. In my last post, I noted three of these values:
In this installment, I offer three more “values” and encourage you to embed them in your life.
Stay Grateful - I practice a morning meditative prayer in which I say: “Christ above me, I receive.” I do this as a way of reminding myself that “every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the father of lights” as the scriptures say. Yes. Every breath; every ray of sun hitting my face; every sip of clean water; every moment of connection with another person; every sip of delightful coffee, every meal with friends, every turn of ski in the snow, every note of delightful music, every moment of rest - all these and more are gifts from our Creator, who is the source of all life.
Losses begin to pile up with age or circumstances. We lose friends and parents to death. We lose status in a society that idolizes youth. We lose some of our physical and athletic capacities. We may lose some of our financial independence and often end up losing physical independence as well. "A time for everything" means not only times for gain, but time for losses as well, but we have the opportunity to live as people of hope on both sides of the ledger!
This is because no matter our status, the gifts reign down every day, too many to count. Paying attention to those gifts and naming them is a value that serves us well because, while it doesn’t wash away real and grievous losses, it balances the losses with the reality that God is still pouring gifts into the world, into our lives. Naming those gifts and consciously giving thanks are both acts of worship and keys to our own well-being.
Stay Humble - What do you have that you did not receive? If then, you received it, why do you boast? You may have worked hard, made wise choices, practiced self discipline, and as a result you find yourself in a rather comfortable position. Still, if you’re reading this, the odds are very good that you live in a wealthy part of the world, have received a good education, and have easy access to clean water, health care, and shelter - and you didn’t earn these; they came to you as gifts.
It’s as if each of us have been given a storehouse of gifts which feeds our sense of gratitude but also creates a sense of responsibility to use our gifts to bless and serve others (see generosity in the previous post). Increasingly, we begin to see ourselves as dependent upon our Creator, not just for the tangible gifts of material provision and strength, but also as our truest and deepest source of joy, hope, wisdom, and capacity to live the lives for which we’re created. “Unless you become as little children, you cannot see the kingdom of God” is a statement from Jesus that rings truer with each passing year.
The humility of childlike dependency creates in us, ironically, a quiet sense of confidence. Like children with good parents, we know we’re safe, we know we’re loved, we know we‘ll have the resources we need to live the life for which we’re created. “In quietness and confidence is your strength” is how the prophet put it - not a bombastic arrogance; not a wallflower filled with fear and disengagement - just a quiet confidence that the Creator of the universe loved you, has filled you with divine life, and will express hope, joy, and powerful love through you.
Stay Connected - This value is at the core of everything. Go back and look at Cain’s murder of Abel in the Bible, followed by Cain’s rhetorical question in response to God who asked where his brother was: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” he asked, and though he thought the answer would be 'no,' God’s response reveals the fundamental paradigm we’ve largely abandoned throughout human history. When you distance yourself from ‘the other’, be they people of a different race, political party, belief system, or nationality, income strata, or sexual identity/ethic, you’re a short step away from justifying all kinds of horrors. Our history is full of them, ranging from the way in which Scottish people were victims of cultural genocide at the hands of Great Britain and the church, to slavery, and the American treatment of its own natives, to the genocides of Rwanda, Cambodia, and Germany to our treatment of animals and the earth. “We’re above - they’re below”; "We're in - they're out" is the fundamental thinking that justifies what I call the domination paradigm, and those who believe it stand with Cain: we are not responsible for our brother’s well-being, let alone the well-being of a democrat, republican, gay person, Hispanic, or immigrant neighbor, not to mention the ‘other than human’ world of trees and animals (both of which are also infused with God’s glory according to the scriptures). The result? We’re divided, alienated, angry, isolated, lonely, afraid, armed, anxious, and feeling like we have a lot of battles to fight and that we’re on our own in fighting them while species disappear and the world’s on fire.
The way forward begins by acknowledging that everything God created is good, infused with the life of God and capable of displaying God’s glory and image. Because of this, we are our brother’s keeper, and our neighbor's, no matter their political persuasion or skin color. We are also the keeper (according to our Creator’s plan for humans) of the the forests and oceans, the wild creatures and the water, the air and grasslands.
Stay connected - as neighbor, friend, steward. When you do, you’ll begin to escape the domination model that prevails (even among religious people) and begin to enjoy the life for which you’re created.
Conclusion: I’ve seen lives lived well ”without contingency” with my own eyes. I’ve seen HIV positive people in Rwanda dancing and working hard to make their world a better place; seen a pastor there who lost 142 members to genocide living as a person of hope and reconciliation; seen profound generosity in the midst of poverty in Nepal and Central America, and read words of gratitude by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, MLK, and Sophie Scholl, all written from prison. All these consciously held these six values. These examples, and countless more, offer hope that a life without contingency is available and that’s very good news as we move into 2022 and beyond!
NEXT STEPS: which of these six values is most challenging to you? What steps can you take to awaken that value?