Torch Article: Reverendly Yours - Rev. Tom Goldsmith

04 January 2019

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year is sounding awkward. One can wish for anything, of course, and happiness ought to be at the top of the list of wishes. But extending happiness to others these days makes you feel silly or naïve. We are at an impasse on everything, from reversing climate change to shutting down the government. What does happiness for the year ahead supposed to mean?

Perhaps Happy New Year has a more personal connotation; wishing just you all the happiness, luck and good fortune. But how odd is that in this era of deregulation threatening the health of everyone? How odd is that when immigrant children are ripped away from their parents at the border? Why should I be happy while the country plunges into despair about health care, immigration, trade wars, poverty, and gun violence? These are edgy times; only fools would wish someone happiness while the country unravels.

What do we wish for 2019 to be? We’re sitting on a political powder keg about to explode. Everything can fall apart. What do we wish for, really? 

I don’t know what can save us, but it seems obvious that what we are missing in our nation’s leadership is character. Our leaders/decision-makers are drowning in self-righteousness. They are beholden to an ideology that takes precedence over people’s lives. They blindly follow a creed that makes no sense in real life. Instead of Happy New Year, I want to say: “May this be the year of character development.”

Abraham Lincoln thought that most of us could deal with adversity. But the test of character is when people have power. That’s when things go awry. The frightful mix of adversity and power is exactly the problem today. People of character deal with power more humbly. That is certainly not the case thus far in 2019. How a person responds to difficult things is determined by character. We are a nation in search of character.

Which leads me to recall a most delightful Christmas holiday spent with five granddaughters from 9 months old to 7 years, with a four-year old and two five-year olds in between. We sent their parents packing for days in order to have “the girls” to ourselves. I am pleased to report that all the girls are strong-willed; no male will ever shout them down, intimidate, or out smart them. But we also became experts in rebellions and meltdowns. 

Finding myself one afternoon with a four-year old facedown in the snow staging a tantrum, got me thinking about character as pivotal when dealing with adversity. I was trying to build character in this young child, finding a way for her to deal with her perceived adversity in a more positive manner. But then I discovered this was really a test of my character, not hers. Ostensibly I had the power, she created adversity, so how was I going to deal in responding to difficult things. 

We worked it out all right with compromise being the saving grace. But we worked hard at negotiations; she knows how to bargain well for herself.

Why is compromise so difficult in Washington these days? Plenty of tantrums have been thrown, but nothing ever resolved. There’s lots of power in Washington, but no character. Power without character results in the despair we all feel this New Year.

When leadership on both sides develops character and learns compromise, stop having tantrums and work towards peaceful resolutions, then I will wish everybody a Happy New Year. Until then, Good Luck in the New Year. TRG