Friday, December 31, 2010
I hereby resolve . . .
And, of course, we all KNOW that Calvin's perfect! It must only be Hobbes (the tiger, for those of you unacquainted with this class comic strip) who doubts it!
For the rest of us, however, this time of the year presents us with the opportunity (obligation?) consciously to look back, and then look forward. And we often take stock of short-comings from the past and resolve to correct them: "Next year, I'm going to give up [insert bad habit]!" "In 2011, I'm going to keep my desk cleaner!" "I resolve to spend less and get rid of that credit card debt!" In religious language, these kinds of statements could be considered acknowledgment of fault, (tacit) repentance, and amendment of life! And, as such, they represent something positive-- since, unlike Calvin, most of us aren't perfect, and could use some shaping-up!
Despite, however, Calvin's bold claim of perfection, there is, to my way of thinking, something almost right about his statement. And I said, "almost". It would be totally out-of-character for Calvin to say this, but he could just as easily have said, "Resolutions? ME?? Just what are you implying? That I CAN change? Well, buddy, as far as I'm concerned I'm too imperfect to change the way I am." He would be focused, in that statement, on what was wrong. I believe, in response to that, in the philosophical statement that "what we focus on becomes our reality." Focusing on our imperfections -- even if we wish to change them -- keeps our eyes on the booby-prize.
Coming, as I do, out of the western Christian tradition with its theological emphasis on original sin, this can be a real trap for me. A whole tradition focused on our "fallen nature", our innate sinfulness, suggests that I need spend my energy correcting faults, personal and otherwise. And, of course, there are enough of those to address! And this same tradition cried out loudly "Heresy!" when, almost 30 years ago, theologian Matthew Fox published his book Original Blessing* which took to task the assumptions and implications of the doctrine of "original sin".
What if, instead of fault-correction as a motivator for new year's resolutions, I chose to focus on strength-maximization! I believe there's just as much a history of this in much of our heritage-at least in the western traditions. I think of Moses, or Jeremiah, or Isaiah, and their push-back when God suggests that they become prophets. They hesitate, stating their shortcomings (e.g., Moses: "I'm no public speaker"; Jeremiah: "I'm too young!"; Isaiah: "I'm a man of unclean lips!"). God, on the other hand, focuses on their strength: the indwelling of God's power and what it might do. I think, too, of the lists of "gifts" that the apostle Paul outlines in several places in his letters, gifts of teaching, administration, healing, etc. Paul asserts that we are all given gifts, gifts we can use to build up our communities.
So, what if, in my musings about the coming year, I focused on what I do well -- on the gifts/talents/passions that God has given me -- and resolved to find ways to develop, maximize and employ those? I still wouldn't be starting from a point of perfection (sorry, Calvin), but I might be on a better, more sustainable, path to realizing my ideal, and doing some good for those around me as well.
Blessings for the New Year,
*Bear & Co., 1983.