Monday, January 02, 2017

One Word 365: Engage

"Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything." -Thomas Merton

This is the fourth year now that I have chosen to forego the traditional making of New Year's resolutions in favor of just choosing one word to live by. This idea has an official webpage called One Word 365, though I doubt they were the first or only entity to ever conceive or promote it.

In 2016, I chose the word Play:
I want to lighten up, to approach both work and home with more creativity and fun, to mess around with the usual things and see whether I can get some new ideas and energy going, and to spend more time on hobbies and extracurriculars.
I used to do this more regularly in ministry and in life. Sometime recently I became too reliant on the sure things and didn't pay as much attention to the possibilities outside of what I'm used to. So it's time to play more.
As with any iteration of New Year's-related good intentions, this had its twists and turns. It was the second year in a row that I wanted to go out and play open mic nights and Friday Night Magic without doing either. And there were a few months in the middle of the year where I just plain forgot that I'd chosen to do this exercise.

Even in spite of that, I did do a few new things related to Play. I ran a couple 5Ks, which to an earlier version of myself would have sounded terrible but was a form of engaging in recreation. This also involved a fairly robust workout routine that I had to carve into my day and that involved putting down work and other responsibilities for a while. And near the end of the year I had some productive conversations with church leaders that helped me get out of certain worship-related ruts and explore some new creative ways of doing things.

So I did play. And I'll continue to build on those things this year, too.

I wasn't sure I'd re-up on this practice in 2017. After three years of this I started to wonder how effective this is for me anymore, especially considering the aforementioned stretch last year when I forgot my word.

Then I read this Washington Post article recounting a writing exchange between filmmaker Ken Burns and a college student anxious about the results of the most recent presidential election. Among other things, she was wondering what she could do in response; how she, one among hundreds of millions of people, could be able to make any sort of difference.

In part, Burns wrote back:
What to do, you ask? A million things, of course. But it begins only with the first step of awareness and commitment, which you have already made.
Just go forward. Engage. Don’t despair. Find likeminded people — not from your social circle, but everywhere. Change the opinions of others, not with ridicule, but reason. Finally, remember too that Barack Obama himself has said that the highest office in the land is not president, but citizen.
And there I found my word for the new year: Engage.

Since late in the evening on November 8th, I have been wondering what I can do and who I can be in this new moment my country finds itself in. Many of my friends are scared, as am I, about what might become of civil liberties, government assistance programs on which many rely, and the overall cultural climate in which those with hateful beliefs toward minorities have felt emboldened and empowered.

Also since that evening, social media for me has been more of a chore that has left me tired and heartbroken. Many use these platforms to vent their frustrations and fears, and while I have been appreciative of those who share information and links to ways to get involved, I'm honestly trying to block out the other stuff while wondering: What can I really do, other than add to the digital despair? Surely there is something besides (and more effective than) saying the same thing many others are saying on Facebook and Twitter.

And there is. There are truth-telling media outlets that need support, there are assistance agencies that need funding, there are minority organizations and individuals that need to hear loving words, there are Congressional representatives who need to hear their constituents' opinions, there is art and writing that needs to be created, and there are disciples who need to be cultivated.

But for any of that to happen, I need to engage. I need to write the note, make the call, have the conversation, fill out the donation form, walk into the building, create the art, and preach the gospel. Maybe I can do one or two of those with a tweet, but to me that is mostly screaming into the abyss.

So I must engage. I don't know if doing such will produce results, but as Merton says above, perhaps the idea should matter less and people more, anyway. Maybe if enough of us do this, each in our own way, in the end relationships will save us.