I have spent a lot of time in a car this past week. My family left Christmas afternoon to make the fifteen hour trip to my in-law’s home in Florida. Since the one driving decides what music is played on the car stereo, I try to drive as much as possible. Which leads my wife, son, and daughter to either sleep, read or put their ear buds in and listen to their own play list on their iPods. My music is not very popular with my family. As the hours on the road passed and my music put one and then another and finally all my family members to sleep, I found myself turning the radio off and thinking about all different sorts of things.
I thought about how special this most recent season of Advent was at the congregation I serve. We had some of the most beautiful worship music I have experienced in nearly thirty years of working in congregations. We had a live nativity scene which I think helped many people, both participants and observers, experience the joy of the season in a new way. The Christmas Eve candlelight services were well attended and the sharing of the light from the Christ candle became the opportunity for us to be reminded that the story we share is one of “good news of great joy for all people.”
I also thought about the things I consider of utmost importance in life. That is, what is worth my time, my energy and my commitment. Now, in my mind I quickly listed love, faith, family and friends. All of which I am so glad to already have, in many ways abundantly, as part of my life. So I kept pushing myself to think beyond these matters to what really draws me in and pushes me to give my best. And I thought of three things that I think are of utmost importance and worthy of time and energy and commitment.
The first is the pursuit of justice – which I understand to mean that we work toward creating a world where every person is treated with dignity and respect and everyone has access to what they need to live a simple and decent life. I suppose this is why I have always gravitated toward working in support of housing and food ministries. I believe the basic needs of people for shelter and nutrition should always be a primary concern for people of faith. Though there is much to be done in our nation to help people overcome poverty and its effects, it begins by simply making sure people have shelter and food. Charity is not synonymous with justice, but charity can be a first step in the movement toward justice.
The second is the importance of education. As people of faith, we should remember that some of the most prestigious universities began from a foundation of faith and as places to train ministers. Faith and the pursuit of knowledge (truths about our universe) are not antithetical. They should always exist together hand-in-hand. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” In the communities in which I have served, I have tried to work in support of the local school systems. And my willingness to do so was welcome. In one place, I was asked to review textbooks for the committee charged with choosing them. In another, I was provided the opportunity to be part of school’s Improvement Planning Team for two years. I have also been able to work as part of the crisis response teams in school corporations. Too often in the media we hear about the church and local school systems having an antagonistic relationship. For most of us, I’m not certain the reality is as the media paints it. I do think that people of faith should be proactive in support of education for finally we believe that the pursuit of truth is the pursuit of God’s truth. A good education for all is also a step beyond charity in helping us to create a more just world.
The third thing I consider of utmost importance is having fun and laughing. I know that might seem out of place with the other two I listed, but I don’t really think it is. There is nothing more rejuvenating for my soul than laughing with my family – usually at my own expense. Nothing more refreshing than watching my wife and daughter do cartwheels on the beach or listen to my son as he rubs in the fact that he beat me at Skee ball. At the Disciples’ General Assembly, I look forward to the after sessions with my friends where theology and laughter go hand-in-hand. I suppose I consider having fun and laughing of utmost importance because it is a reminder that as important as our work is as people of faith, it is ultimately a work which is meant to bring joy into the world. That joy can take many forms. For me, it takes place as laughter and often silly times of fun. I want to work toward a more just world so more people can discover that joy in their life.
That is what I thought about when my music had put my family to sleep and I turned the radio off. I wish you the best in 2014. I hope in this New Year you can find times to think about what you consider of utmost importance in your walk of faith. Then, pursue them. In fact, that is the fourth thing I consider of utmost importance - your life and your choices. I believe that what any of us choose to do makes a difference in this world.