“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” rings as true today as ever.
And I’d take it even further. “II you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for almost everything”
Why do you work your current job? Why do you live where you live? How do you spend your 16 waking hours? Where does your money go? Why do you vote left or right?
We might feel we have good reasons behind our actions, some underlying morality, or values that drive us. But are those reasons clear to us? Do we even know what values drive our thoughts, intents and actions? And when we understand what values really drive us, are we satisfied?
And what about me?
I’m selfish, quite lazy, and easily angered, while often callous in the face of others’ suffering. At times I’m low key addicted to social media. I don’t want to know how much time I spent last week mindlessly scrolling through BBC, the Economist and stuff.co.nz. I’m broken in more ways than I am comfortable sharing on a public blog and I fall for too many things for too many bad reasons. Low motivation, basic pleasure seeking, not enough sleep. And sometimes because I forget what I stand for.
Because I’m not just a weak person who falls for a lot of rubbish. That’s only a sliver of my true self. At my core I’m good, valuable, even bearing the image of God. I am designed to do good – to be an instrument of Love. I try and stand for what Jesus stood for and what I think he would value – if he were me, in my situation in December 2022 in Northern Uganda. Through articulating what values I try my best to live by, I will stand on firmer ground.
And who knows, maybe writing this blog will help me stick to these values better in 2023. Perhaps my values might even help you better understand yours, which might be very different from mine. So here goes!
An Uncluttered life, an uncluttered heart. Free from the love of money and things. A sustainable life in solidarity with those that have less, in tune with a creation that groans at our excess.
Our married friends recently sold their car and bought an electric bike instead. Their life would be a little harder, but more satisfying and friendlier to the world. They were excited and energised by their beautiful step down to a simpler life
Of all my values, this is probably the most countercultural in 2023. The alternative value most of us live by (knowingly or not) might be “growth”, or “progress” or “up-and-to-the-right”. Bigger houses, bigger savings accounts, bigger lives. But the older I get, the more convinced I am that simplicity can be part of our solution to so many 2023 problems
Cost of living crisis – live simply. Housing crisis- Live simply. Climate change – Live simply. If many of us made the not-so-painful decision tomorrow to simplify our lives even by 20% and used those extra resources to help others or the environment, we might be just as happy (perhaps even happier) while we take a giant leap towards solving the worlds problems.
Live in houses 20% smaller. Eat 20% less meat. Drive a hybrid/electric car that uses 20% less petrol. Fly 20% less often. Have 20% less devices, or at least 20% smaller – cellphone screens are getting so big I can’t wrap my hands around them. Bt I digress..
“ Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting and profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another…”
Thousands of years after Jesus and many other spiritual leaders called humanity to put forgiveness high on our value list, it’s still an everyday struggle. I especially struggle with forgiveness in the moment. If I feel like a nurse has treated a patient badly, or someone tries to cheat on the football field then I too quickly get angry and struggle to let it go. In 2023 I want to be more of a person who can let small slights slide and forgive quickly. It isn’t going to be easy
We increasingly live in a culture where political and ideological opponents struggle to hold differences without harsh judgement. Increasing self righteousness and cancel culture blight all sides of the political spectrum. A recent New York times study showed that 1 in 5 American families reported that their relationships had been hurt by politics. While we harbour judgement and resentment, we just worsen own anxiety and hurt ourselves far more than our ‘enemies’. Forgiveness can set us free, while creating space where relationships can reform, grow and flourish.
More than ever I want to be the kind of person who can look past an insult, and be in healthy relationships with people I wholeheartedly disagree with.
My work is to provide quality healthcare for poor and mostly rural Ugandans. I stress that this not in anyway superior to other work, it’s just where I believe l’m most useful at the moment.But how much am I really helping? Over the last 5 years especially I have become convinced that we need to “do good better” (highly recommend the book). I now value using reason and evidence as much as possible to maximise the good we can do.
Good intentions aren’t good enough any more. Mother Theresa’s work bringing dignity to the dying and caring for the outcast was incredible. But better medical care of the dying could have better relieved suffering in many the people she cared for, and more effort could have been put into curing some conditions. She could have employed medical research to be more effective. At the time this oversight was understandable, the use of research in charity and development was only in its infancy. Now we would expect better.
Doing my best and following my instincts is not good enough. Whether through my work, or when I give money to charity I want do it in the most effective way and in a way that doesn’t hurt. Hundreds of studies are available to help us to decide whether to give people cash or cows. We all want to help others as much as possible, so lets research the best ways to do it.
Simon and Raphel at Myene OneDay Health Center
“I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. “ – Paul
Years ago I did a personality test “Strengthfinder” and one of my top strengths was positivity. I thrive on joy, seeing the best in people and situations. Joy is an engine for my soul, and I’m more likely to follow my other values when coming from a place of joyous contentment, rather than acting under obligation or just following a routine. In my “old age” however I have become increasingly cynical and pragmatic which can dampen that joy. I need to guard my heart to find that Joyous contentment Paul found in his middle ages, even while in prison.
Many of us in rich countries like New Zealand have opportunites most of the world doesn’t have. We can choose fulfilling work, to engage in hobbies and to rest and recreate, so we should make the most of that opportunity. As part of my renewed commitment to joy, my wife Tessa and I are going to take our weekly Sabbath day more seriously this year, marking each Sabbath by lighting a candle the day before.
I think that’s what our world is desperately in need of – lovers, people who are building deep, genuine relationships with fellow strugglers along the way” – Shane Claibourne
We need to know our neighbour to love our neighbour
Lucy our closest friend who lived with us for years sadly passed away 3 months ago. She spent hours on her veranda sharing laughs, life advice and stories both with rich people like us, and people from all walks of life among our community. Just by being herself with an open door and a huge smile she helped us connect with our local community, understand people’s journeys and just sometimes help out a little when the need arises.
When we are plugged into the lives of people around us, we understand, connect and respond better to their needs, as well as the needs of the wider world. Much of my generation seems to believe that if we just had the right government, or the right policies then utopia will descend. But I believe we can solve many of our society’s problems and create good from within communities, regardless of who happens to be in-charge this year.
Lucy holds Carlos as he cuts the cake for his welcome home party!
Next year I will try find joy in living simply among our community, forgiving as I go and effectively helping others.
I’d love to hear some of your values too!
So much love to you all going into the new year