We are now three weeks away from the end of 2016. And what do I say? What do we say? What can anybody say? I guess we can start with the shared understanding that this year happened. It did. I think we all agree there.
Because it happened I suppose it is up to some of us to comment on it whether for better or for worse. And I certainly do have remarks to make considering both the cultural journey this year and my own personal journey.
For starters, yesterday I read the 96th book that I have read this calendar year! It was a ridiculous book about Generation Z and how hard it will be to reach them with the gospel, especially considering most of them still wear diapers and throw food across the room. Be that as it may, I am actually going to achieve my goal of reading 100 books this year!
This was also the year I completely paid off my student loans. This should have been celebrated with cheers and laughter and champagne (or the Nazarene equivalent, Sparkling Cider). Instead the student loan provider sent me a letter detailing how much money I had just given them over the last 5 years. Let’s just say it would not have paid for a house but probably I could’ve afforded half of one with it. On top of that over the last two months I have realized that I spent the equivalent of 10 years and $120,000 becoming educated for ministry and despite that massive investment I can barely afford health insurance and only contribute mere penny’s to my 401(K) every month. To add insult to serious injury a denominational leader explained to me last week the cruel reality that despite 10 years and $120,000 I am still not old enough to be of much use. The sparkle disappeared from my cider and has put me in a foul mood ever since.
Reading 100 books in one calendar year didn’t come with sparkling cider either. For sure it will stand as my single greatest accomplishment of the year and for that I am proud. However, I am more cynical now than I have ever been about my own ability to have any grasp on truth. Reading that much from such a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds has awakened me to just how deep the chasms in our world run. We don’t just disagree about the color of the sky. We disagree about what constitutes “sky” and just how to define “color.” Our culture is in a mess.
So this great grand goal of reading 100 books has deprived me of the joy of thinking I actually had something to say or to contribute to this world. How do I tell people the sky is blue when they disagree about “blue?” This has made preaching difficult because, as I have all ready written elsewhere, I am not sure of the veracity of anything I say from the pulpit.
But people are still trying to tell you the sky is blue or gray or green or whatever and they are as arrogant as ever in assuming they are right and they alone have the monopoly on truth. Most of them don’t even have college degrees and haven’t read one book this year. But here I am having completed 95 books and paid off tens of thousands of dollars in student loans and still completely unsure I have anything worthwhile to say.
The thing is, we have become a culture of arm chair quarterbacks who never played football. We are critics without cause. I realized we were in a mess when I was listening to cable news pundits critique the US President about what he should have said. They were not taking issue with what he actually said but instead what they thought he should have said. It suddenly occurred to me that we have become so violent in our slander that we now think we have the authority to tell people exactly what they should say. And we claim we are for liberty and freedom.
With that in mind, this year has not been a complete loss for me. I would never be so pessimistic as to claim that. In fact if there is anything I have read this year that has given me great help it is this quote from Teddy Roosevelt’s speech:
I have thought long and often of those words this year and as we look to 2017, I have learned that what we need moving forward are more readers and less writers. We need more doers and less critics. We need more governors and less campaigners. We need more listeners and less talkers. We need more actual quarterbacks and less arm chair quarterbacks. We need more men and women actually in the arena, faces marred by dust and sweat and blood but also marked by a more outstanding courage, a courage that courses through their veins and inspires us all to a better, albeit more humble, greatness.
And as the popular Christmas song sings out, “Let it begin with me.”