(RNS) The turning of a calendar page doesn’t truly start anything new, of course. But it does invite us to look forward with fresh eyes and maybe a bit of repentance.
2012 was baffling in many ways. I was appalled by how much hatred scarred our national elections. The campaign’s vitriol wasn’t just difference of opinion. It was hatred, pure and simple: hatred of a black man occupying the presidency, hatred of the weak, hatred of the poor.
I was appalled by the naked greed of the well-to-do. Those who already have more than enough cannot stop their pillaging of the nation. The vast sums they spent to buy an election in order to keep their own taxes low, no matter who got hurt, was distressing.
I was appalled by the avarice and blindness of the gun lobby. Children were massacred, and the chief gun promoter has nothing better to suggest than issuing pistols to classroom teachers.
I was appalled by failures of national leadership, especially in Congress. Even common-sense legislation got stymied by partisan dysfunction.
I was appalled by tribal and religious warfare spinning out of control, as if the darkness had totally claimed our human yearnings for family and faith and turned them into terror.
I was appalled by whining in the First World. Do those bickering in churches, maneuvering for gender preference, fussing over tax rates, and fine-tuning their lives recognize how much worse everyone else has it?
Part of looking forward is to see the face of fear — for it is fear that seems to underline the hatred, greed, dysfunction and extremism we saw in 2012. For all of our advancements in science, technology, learning and democracy, humanity remains a frightened lot. The one commandment Jesus gave — “Do not be afraid” — continues to languish as we serve the demon of fear.
On the other hand, I saw signs of hope. I saw races getting along, genders getting along, sexualities getting along, neighbors getting along. Not in the hate-filled regions, perhaps, but here in New York, in other cities, on college campuses and elsewhere where young adults are setting the tone.
I saw several congregations decide to be communities of faith and not inward-looking outposts of stale tradition and arrogant ideology. I worked with some courageous clergy and lay leaders, who are standing for change, mission and new life. I see them as the leading edge of a great vitalization in American Christianity.
The so-called “rise of the nones,” after all, isn’t really about people abandoning faith or God. It’s about people losing interest in organized religion and its fixation on Sunday worship.
The nones who actually are holding American Christianity back are those who shout “NONE!” when asked what they would allow to change so that their congregations could be effective. Courageous leaders are standing up to them, choosing change and fresh ideas over whining and death-wishing.
I saw more people wanting to make a difference with their lives, and not just make a bundle. I saw more people, of all ages, taking the plunge into entrepreneurship, rather than seeking safety in large enterprises. I saw technology being turned to useful inventions, and not just used to snag people’s privacy and sell it to advertisers.
I saw people being kind to one another. After hurricanes, after deaths and illnesses, after incidents of violation and rage, people walked toward need wanting to help, rather than away from it wanting to escape discomfort.
And that, more than fear, is what we should remember as we head into a new year.
KRE/AMB END EHRICH