Happy New Year! On New Year’s Eve, I listened to a couple of different video events marking the occasion. The first included a reflection from Union Seminary President Serene Jones. She spoke in part about the many months of social upheaval across America, and the work we still have to do in reimagining and transforming our treatment of others. She said this: We need to change the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.
This resonates for me. If I’ve learned anything during the months of our church’s antiracism discussions, it’s that there’s a lot of our history that hasn’t been widely told (or heard?) and publicly acknowledged. We’ve pondered reasons for this in our group, and I’ve already shared some of my reflections on this blog. But there’s more we need to do. We must acknowledge, for example, that the “equality” envisioned by our “founding fathers” only applied to free white men, which has limited the lives and opportunities of the vast majority of those who have lived in this nation over the course of centuries.
In order to do that, we do also need to change the stories we tell about ourselves as individuals. If we’re white-skinned, we need to acknowledge our levels and layers of privilege. For example, we need to understand that our opportunities and success had as much to do with our social networks as with our inherent gifts and skills, or our hard work. I know that sounds heretical to some, but frankly, the heresy is the Protestant work ethic which has transformed this country to the point that workers are regarded by their privileged bosses as machines instead of people.
This also reminds me that Jesus did not have a life of privilege. He lived with and preached to poor workers and focused much of his attention on the outcasts of his society. He did not even try to change the leadership in Rome. That wasn’t his job. But he knew he was called to ministry among “the least, the last, and the lost.” He did it so well that, over time, we coopted him, put him up on a pedestal, and made him into one of the privileged. But his message would have applied much more to the slaves in early America than the landowners.
So yes, we need new stories for a new year. The other event I attended New Year’s Eve was an online interfaith peace vigil. One phrase that stuck with me formed the chorus for a song by Jewish cantor Alisa Fineman: “We walk sightless among miracles.” It reminded me of how much I take for granted—which I also think is true for our nation as a whole. I hear so many stories about what’s wrong in this world, but there’s a lot that is right, too. My daily walks get me in touch with the beauty and fierce strength of nature. Music gets me in touch with new rhythms and fresh ways of framing my life. Reading places me in others’ lives and perspectives to broaden and deepen my understanding of our common humanity.
The start of a new year seems like an excellent moment to spend some time retelling ourselves our stories. It’s also a great opportunity to reflect on what might need revisiting, revision, or outright release in the new year.
Will you join me in this endeavor? I began by setting aside time on New Year’s Day to reflect on the stories I tell myself, and beginning to discern what needs to change. Will you commit to doing the same?