I watched a 3 minute video this week wherein a woman said that she wants to be happy, so she pours happiness into the people around her. Then she can be surrounded by happy people. I’ve been thinking about that. Certainly, the environment you’re in directly affects your ability to be your best self. If I improve my environment by pouring happiness into those in my orbit, that’s a good way to make it easier to be hapy myself, right? That should be pretty easy to transfer into other parts of my life too, shouldn’t it? This is about laying good foundations. It’s about building good bridges.
Rachel Held Evans died this week. She was a deeply spiritual woman who found God through the questions she asked about faith practises. She built bridges, not walls, and she built them everywhere. She made faith and organized religion a safe space for people on the fringes who are not often welcome within religious communities. She welcomed LGBTQ, non-binary, people of colour, women in gender-suppressing (if not oppressing) faith backgrounds. Rachel was the best of what faith and religion bring. My favourite RHE quote is this one: “We need to stop building our churches around categories and start building them around people“. The world is dimmer for her absence.
This week, Jean Vanier also died. Jean Vanier was also a champion for folks with developmental disabilities. He worked to improve conditions for people who needed that help. If you need someone to be a mentor for ethical behavior and service to community, look to Jean Vanier. My favourite Vanier quote is this one: “Life is a succession of crises and moments when we have to rediscover who we are and what we really want“. Indeed.
I read an article a while back about choices. If you’re always framing your life in a passive way – things happen to you, then it’s easy to make excuses for why you’re not your best self. I had to work late. I had get takeout. Those things meant I didn’t choose things I wanted to do more. But we often frame it as things that we *couldn’t* choose. So I chose to not spend time with a friend, or I chose to not go to the gym, or I chose to stay up too late. I CHOSE those things that I didn’t really want, and I’ve normalized those decisions. Under Jean Vanier’s example every moment is an opportunity to be accountable for our actions and to choose the path of what we want, not what we are stuck with because we made poor, unfortunate choices.
At Soup Night this week, the conversation circled to my dad’s time as a member of the storied United States Marine Corps. We talked about his enrollment and the places he was stationed. Before the Cuban Missile Crisis, my dad phoned home to his family. He said he was being deployed, but he didn’t know where. His family knew where – they were watching this unfold over the news. The conversation at the dinner table twisted slightly to a documentary about the War Room where JFK was listening to two factions trying to convince him to attack or to choose the path to peace. Both were very compelling. But in his heart, JFK was a man of peace, so he didn’t attack. He knew who he was, so he knew what to choose. He surrounded himself with people he trusted, but in the end, he trusted himself most. That’s the kind of person I want to be, too.
Thinking about that conversation with my dad and my family, and the social media memorials to Jean Vanier, this quote also showed up: “We work for peace every time we exercise authority with wisdom and authentic love.”
There’s been a fair amount of opportunity to choose the path of peace (or not) in my world, too. Even if someone you work with makes you want to punch them in the throat on the regular, and you really and truly don’t know why they haven’t been fired like a clown out of a cannon, you still have to work with them. Exercise authority with wisdom.
Make choices that build. Find a way to make it work.
For all my very rich fantasy life where I can just throw someone in a pit and turn a fire hose on them because they don’t do their job over and overandoverandover, I’m not going to dig a hole in an abandoned factory. Preferably with contaminated soil. Like a sociopath. But it’s satisfying to think about. Instead, I choose to exercise authority with wisdom. Find a way through, whatever that means. There are always going to be jackwads in your life.
But there will also be people like Rachel and Jean. In times of celebration and times of challenge, may we look to people like them for example.
I leave you with one last quote from Rachel Held Evans: We live inside an unfinished story.
Make the most of your story, friends. But help others make the most of theirs, too.