The most difficult virtue for many to master is self-control, especially control of the tongue. The Stoic philosophers considered mastery of words a sign of virtue, a demosntration of inner self-control. St. James commented that the tongue is the human eqivalent of a ship's rudder or the match that sets a dry forest ablaze. Maturity is marked by the words we use.
Today's Information Age opens avenues of commerce and communication that startle the imagination and foster hope. The downside is that anyone (including me) can publish their thoughts and create "knowledge" that may or may not be valid. Add to this the "edutainment" we are subject to on radio and TV, with instant analysis from experts and we have a recipe for domination by demogogues. Reasonable, reflective voices are drowned in a cacophony of egocentric, ideology-driven claptrap.
Advent is a great moment to pause and be thoughtful. For Christians, this is the season of waiting and welcoming Christ the Lord, who is the final and full message of God's love. For Jews, Hanukkah is a moment to remember the Providential preservation of a faith and a people in the midst of oppression and subversion.
From these two traditions, all thoughful people can mine some precepts that will increase integrity and the impact for good. For Christians, the challenge is to let the Good News win out over ideologies and philosophies that subvert the power of the Incarnation. Jesus (to borrow C. S. Lewis' great phrase from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), is "not a tame lion." Dr. Peter Kreeft of Boston College reminds his students that Christ will not fit into the boxes of conservative or liberal, pure capitalist or Marxist, ot any other constructs.
For those who are Jewish or God-fearing, moral monotheists, the miracle of Hanukkah is preceded by spiritual and military courage. There is a time to resist evil, both personally and nationally. A small band of Maccabees routed a larger force led by the sinister Antiochus IV.
Here are some starting points for an "Advent of Thoughtfulness":
- The Sovereign Lord worshipped by Jews and Christians is the "God in search of man" (Abraham Heschel). Compassionate communication and service is the hallmark of true faith.
- The great enemy of sound morality and theology is ideology - any terms that end in "ISM" have the potential to subvert the power of real piety. One can be conservative or liberal leaning; however, conservativism and liberalism can take on a life of their own and blind the adherent to deeper insight. Listen to liberal or conservative talk shows and chart how ideas are presented: most often, opponents are presented in the worst possible light and then irrationally trashed. This is not a way forward for civil society.
- St. John told his readers, "Brothers and sisters, let us not only love in word or tongue, but is deed and truth." Concrete service to those who can not return the favor is the source of true moral authority. The Salvation Army is a church - an evangelical (gasp!) one - yet its record of service to all people is unsurpassed. What an example for all of us.
- An Advent of Thoughtfulness requires a common commitment to "First Principles", transcendent ideas that are foundational for the freedoms we claim and enjoy. The Founders of the USA knew that liberty rested on a moral citizenry. May I suggest that we no longer wink at extramarital sexuality, runaway consumerism, spirituality-without-sacrifice and parentless children.
Each day gives us the opportunity to choose a better future. My prayer this Advent Season is that we will choose the glory of God and the good of others over our self-centered proclivities.
Right now there are millions of unreported acts of kindness and love taking place. Let's join this band of brothers and sisters and begin a real revolution: exchanging animosity for humility, ideology for theology and talking heads for helpful hands.
Merry Christmas! I will write again as 2006 dawns, unless events compel me to speak out.