Thursday, January 6, 2011

Year's End

When the year ended it struck me that I had just come through some moments worth thinking about. The first was a funeral for a woman who died at 88; we had buried her husband earlier in the year but as the year wound down this good wife, mother, grandmother died. She had come to Boston 44 years ago and made a good life with her husband of 56 years. They were from Barbadoes. She loved to travel, to dance and to shop; and she enjoyed a good walk around Jamaica Pond.

I left the funeral service to attend a Comic Relief benefit here at MIT; there were over 600 people in the audience and the money collected for tickets went to support flood relief in Pakistan. The comics were funny, sharp and self-deprecating. Change a few phrases and you could have been in the Catskills or in Nashville at the Opry.

Both experiences gave me insight into what it means to become an American. You have to work hard and you have to keep a sense of humor. And in both cases it pays to remember your religious roots. Our faith traditions help us make sense of what it means to be a stranger in a foreign land. Sometimes we laugh; sometimes we cry and in the end we move forward into the new year. Now may be time to examine anew our spiritual resources and to think about how we use them for good or ill.

In my experience one of the strongest components of the Christian tradition is the call to self-examination. We often confront it around the new year when we think about resolutions we might wish to make and keep. We resolve to change behaviors or attitudes that leave us lessened in their presence. On Tuesday mornings when we at MIT gather in the chapel for a few moments we often talk about matters that help make us whole human beings. Resolutions and introspective reflections keep us honest and moving forward.

There are moments in our lives when our religious traditions do not serve us as well. These moments include those times when our religious views cause us to expect less than their best from friends who might be different from our norm. "You know how those people are." Maybe here is a time for some serious introspection; do we really know how "they" are? I doubt it and the new year is a time to share our common humanity and expect the best of one another.

That could be a loud resolution or simply a quiet commitment.