Define ‘happy’ and ‘new year’

A Rwandan friend of mine posted a question on Facebook: “what does ‘happy new year’ mean?” He inspired me to write my own response.

It is January 1, 2016… the first day of a new year. We measure time by counting years but I like to think more in terms of ‘seasons’. There is no magic line that gets crossed just because the date changes. Most things carry over into the next year.

What will carry over from 2015? Thinking globally, I will say that most of the events and responses of last year will continue to have ripple effect on our future. I remember a song from 1991 that was relevant to my generation. Yes, Generation X.  The British band Jesus Jones sang:

“A woman on the radio talks about revolution
When it’s already passed her by
Bob Dylan didn’t have this to sing about you
You know it feels good to be alive
I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now, there is no other place I wanna be
Right here, right now, watching the world wake up from history
I saw the decade in, when it seemed
The world could change at the blink of an eye
And if anything then there’s your sign
Of the times

I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now”

I wonder how many of us still feel this way?! I wonder what kind of song would Jesus Jones write right here and right now? I cannot count how many times I have heard the words “the world has gone crazy” this last year. Mostly from my friends in the so called ‘Western countries’. One of the lines stuck in my mind are the words of a well-known Russian TV host and journalist, Vladimir Pozner, “I get an impression that the world has lost its mind. I want to say: Stop the Planet! I want to get off…”

This is an understandable way to respond. Wanting to withdraw. And many people are choosing to do just that. The other option is to call to arms and try to fix it. Usually by force because ‘people just don’t obey’ or ‘don’t know any better’. There are plenty of people who believe that the end justifies the means and trying to build their visions of  ‘happy new era’ by violent force. (yes, I am speaking of the extremists – ISIS and such)

So, the common options for making the ‘happy future’ is fight or flight. Personally I don’t choose either because I believe in another way. This is what my friend also mentions in his post. And this is also the way I am trying to learn from Jesus whom I consider the greatest example of how to bring a radical change around us.

André Trocmé, a French minister who helped to rescue thousands of Jewish people during the Holocaust, wrote: “Jesus’ refusal to use force was therefore not some extra historical dream of a mystic trying to forget the concrete realities of this world. He did not ignore the human condition. His way was a step-by-step journey through the obstacles, mountain passes, snares, and cliffs of history. Jesus carved a new path into the hardness of human realities, a path he trod first, carrying on his shoulders the way of the cross and all the requirements of the kingdom of God: social justice, radical transformation, commitment to truth, and personal regeneration.”

When I think of next year, I can see lots of these ‘obstacles, mountain passes, snares, and cliffs of history’. Or to use the words of my friend Noel, “I am not going to promise you that this year will lead you on smooth roads, but you will be reminded that you got shock absorption abilities.”

What are our shock absorption devices? What is our definition of ‘happy new year’? What are we going to do make this next year happier for those around us?

The answers will come day by day if we are willing to search for them. And I will have a very happy year if I take each step with more love and more courage…

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Crisis of conscience in the land of confusion

The speed of changes in our globalized world seems faster than the speed of light. My mind and my whole being cannot travel so fast… as the events and situations and challenges and questions swirl around us. I suspect I am not the only one who feels like the whirlpool is getting stronger and harder to resist. Like a scene from the “Pirates of the Caribbean”…

Our common responses are – engage or escape. I can say, “Well, there is nothing I can do. I cannot change this world.” I can blame global conspiracies, corrupt politicians and weak governments and greedy people. I could say that all of this is normal and expected and therefore I should just accept it and go on with my everyday life.

I strongly believe that we have to engage our world on the deepest level possible – our conscience.

One of the main problems of our times is undeveloped, weak or confused conscience. We cannot reap where we have not sown. Which means that if we have not constantly cultivated and cared for our conscience, we cannot expect any good fruit. Especially now.

Martin Luther King, Jr. won the Nobel Peace Prize because he was known as a man of conscience. He said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Also Lev Tolstoy challenged his fellow Russians and all of us, by writing, “The changes in our life must come from the impossibility to live otherwise than according to the demands of our conscience not from our mental resolution to try a new form of life.”

We know that the life styles of the privileged have become unsustainable; conflicts because of power and resources are repeating; suffering of the underprivileged is continuing; the damage of our environment seems irreversible; the lack of good leadership is undeniable… Many years ago the British band “Genesis” were singing, “There’s too many men…Too many people… Making too many problems… And not much love to go round… Can’t you see… This is a land of confusion” Well, the wise king Solomon already said that there is nothing new under the sun.

Therefore my thoughts on conscience is nothing new either. I believe that conscience is a God-given instrument and without it life is impossible. It has rights and it has duties (J.H.Newman) but how do we care for our conscience? If we believe that we are the only true judges of our conscience, than we are in grave danger. I know how deceiving and corrupt my heart can be. I know how to quiet my conscience and I have done it many times. I need a higher judge than myself. I need God.

I conscientiously object selfishness, confusion, greed and indifference not because of personal moral integrity but because I believe in a higher law.

Many people are concerned and anxious about the infringement on our privacy. You know, the Big Brother is trying to watch us. But I believe that I am already living under 24/7 ‘surveillance’. I have rights and I have duties because I am created in God’s image and He has given me dignity and worth. And He has given me my conscience as the best instrument for living with dignity.

Do I live according to my conscience in the time of comfort and in the times of challenges? Or is it abused and compromised? If we lose or disengage our conscience, then we lose the whole world!

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