- learn about the nine dimensions of total health–physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual, social, romantic/relational, vocational, creative/recreational, and spiritual–and how they can be strengthened in your life
- deepen your sense of self to help you be the person you are called to be
- learn how to manage the stress, depression, and anxiety that can get in the way of your being the person you are called to be
Growing up in a conventional Catholic home in 1950’s America, I experienced the Christmas manger display as central to the holiday celebration, more so even than Santa Claus and the Christmas tree. Santa–more formally, St. Nicholas–and the tree were both recognized as honored traditions of the season, but the manger scene–set in a straw-covered, stable-like structure that protected Joseph, Mary, and the infant Jesus from the elements, with the shepherds looking on adoringly and the Wise Men standing regally some distance apart–was the main event.
What I most remember about that manger scene were the three Wise Men. Why they were most prominent to me I don’t know, but perhaps it was due to my firstborn need to assume responsibility for all outcomes: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, who take central billing on Christmas cards and Renaissance paintings, required no assistance that I could provide, but the Wise Men had to make their way to the baby in the manger, and they couldn’t do it on their own. And so I took it upon myself to ensure the completion of their journey from the mysterious East by moving them, an inch a day, closer and closer to the manger, a process that would last from December 26 until the Epiphany, January 6. Without my active involvement in this critical undertaking, they would not reach their goal–and dire consequences might ensue.
The late theologian and New Testament scholar Marcus Borg enjoined his students and the readers of his books to look at the Bible with an eye both to its literal words and–more so–to the meanings and metaphors contained therein. Think what you wish about the historical accuracy of the Wise Men, he might enjoin us, but what does it mean? What greater truth does it suggest? What response does it ask of us today? In that spirit of seeking meaning for the present day, I offer this reflection for the new year: We in the industrialized, democratic West–America and Europe–are entering a frightening period in our history, one characterized by a resurgence of xenophobia, militarism, and demagoguery. Rising in response to legitimate fears about the state of the world, these reactions may be tempting, but we have seen them all before and they haven’t boded well.
To counter these trends, we need new wise men and women to lead us, to point the way, to serve as our new guiding star. But these contemporary wise men and women will need our encouragement. We have learned the Burkean truism that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that the good do nothing, so they will need to be motivated, to be goaded on, to be taken by their hands if need be and moved forward–just as I felt the need to move forward the Wise Men at the manger scene of my childhood, lest they fail in their mission in life, a mission of peace guided by a star. We must challenge our politicians, our clergymen and clergywomen, and our leaders of industry and the arts to say no to the temptations of xenophobia, militarism, and demagoguery and yes to humanity, democracy, and peace.
Peace was what the Wise Men sought 2000 years ago, finding it in the one we would call the Prince of Peace. And peace is what we must seek again today, led by our own twenty-first century wise men and women. My prayer is that they–and we–are up to the task.
“Barack Obama radiates an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners, and elegance that I’m beginning to miss, and that I suspect we will all miss a bit, regardless of who replaces him.”
– conservative Republican author, TV commentator, and columnist David Brooks, several months before the election
Whatever our response to the 2016 presidential election, we can all agree that during the months leading up to it “integrity, humanity, good manners, and elegance” were rarely present. To be blunt, it was a horror show. And we have received little indication that things will change in the few weeks since.
In some quarters, the simple virtues referenced above were discarded as part of a newly fashionable attack on “political correctness,” an expression used almost exclusively as a slur, a disparaging critique of any attempt to direct our attention to the fact that what one person might see as humorous another might find as hurtful. And so we declared open season on schoolyard taunting, disrespect toward women and religious and ethnic minorities, and even critiques of individuals’ physical characteristics, a particularly heinous and mean-spirited offense.
In a few weeks, Christians throughout the world will celebrate the birth of a certain Galilean who famously enjoined us to do onto others as we would want done onto us. These words, preached by a diversity of religious leaders both before Jesus and long after him, constitute the foundation of civilized life, the social glue that connects us to each other and allows us to get along reasonably well. We ignore them at our peril.
In the coming months and years, men and women of good will must unite against this culture of insult and expose it whenever and wherever it resurfaces. Let this be the mission that unites us, that allows us to come together as men and women of “integrity, humanity, good manners, and elegance.” Our future demands it.