The Advent and Christmas season is one where I think of my deceased father the most...he was a minister and for obvious reasons this was always a busy season. It was also his least favorite. He almost hated the celebration of Christmas - the gifts, the trees, the shopping. He was actually pretty miserable to live with for most of December...and then, inexplicably, a gift would show up under the tree for me with a tag written in his highly formal script signed 'from Santa'. Clearly he was a bit conflicted but his real issue was that people didn't spend the time appreciating the meaning of the Christmas story and instead focused on the the selfish, superficial aspects. Granted his ideal version of Christmas day was probably somewhat of a pious nightmare - sitting Puritanically on hard benches for hours contemplating what an innocent baby was trying to demonstrate to a world fraught with conflict and tension...
No one wants that - at least I don't - but he had a very important point. The world is a profoundly flawed place - there is war, starvation, conflict - but people have a huge capacity for good and so there is profound hope as well. It is up to individuals to choose and it is a choice that we make every day - are we going to act as if there is hope or are we going to act on our fears? Christmas is all about seeing the hope and the potential in a otherwise dark world.
Acting on hope, however, is not an easy task. It assumes we've got to take the world and other people at face value - with all their flaws - and act on the assumption that the individual or organization we are dealing with will improve, because otherwise what's the point? If we take the cynical view and assume that the other individual or organization will not improve, we are looking at a situation from a perspective of fear and it is paralyzing. Religion then, is all about holding on to the faith that there is, indeed, hope for improvement.
How does that relate to communities? Well one, communities are all about forming ongoing relationships with people. And people are hard to work with - not because they are necessarily difficult - but each person has different priorities and perspectives. Communities require us to compromise our own priorities and perspectives so that the consensus can form and communities can make a difference. As a society however, we have become more individually isolated, gotten used to having our way at all costs, and really don't like our decisions to be dependent on others. We've become cynical and we lose our faith and trust in organizations very quickly. We've replaced blind trust with blind cynicism. That is a huge problem because no person or institution I know is perfect but all too often we are ready to simply pick up and move on if we run into issues, rather than dig in and try to help solve the problem. I see this in myself and other customers all the time - I am incredibly impatient with poor customer service and I am still working on becoming a more patient person. Certainly the companies that I buy from are not actively trying to piss me off. Do they always do a good job in all aspects of their operations? No. But that makes them just like us...a bit flawed but usually trying to do the right thing given the resources they have available.
I don't know exactly where I am going with this but it's a time of year that I think about this topic a lot and this year I've been running into all sort of examples of people who feel entitled or ungrateful for other people and it's a hard year...we all need to give each other a break - and the benefit of the doubt that most people are not trying to sabotage us. In that vein; go tell someone how much you appreciate their efforts, we're all doing the best that we can.
Personally, I'm quite thankful for my father's persistence in teaching me the lesson of hope & faith. I don't go to church these days and I do occasionally think I could use a more regular reminder that I should act in faith that things will improve. My father's lesson was a strong one, however, and one that seems to become more important these days, not less. My father would be overjoyed to see someone of his faith finally make it to the White House, taking that message along with him. What can we do to help?