Worship: A new year is a chance to look for the good in the world

Make goodness great again

January was named after the Latin word for door (ianua), which leads us to think of it as a time of transition from old to new. Many associate it with the god Janus, who faced both ways — to the past and the future. So, January bids us onward, armed with wisdom and courage both.

I am ready for January, for a new year and a fresh start. But if we must cross the new-year threshold with Janus eyes looking backward and forward at the same time, could our backward eyes just squint and our forward eyes open wider?

It feels like last year Pandora took the lid off the box and all the evils that lurked beneath the surface or in the shadows have been on full display. Politics are mean and petty. Religions fight one another and within each against others. Simmering racial tension boils over. Sexual harassment of women by powerful men is revealed for all its shamefulness.

We could go on. And we do. The freefall is aided by the 24/7 “breaking news” cycle (the phrase itself is redundant, and now virtually meaningless). Social media functions as little more than ignorant gossip.

What should people of faith and good will do amid all this? Here’s a suggestion for 2018: Look for the good and make goodness great again.

My wife and I were talking about this at a piano bar in Santa Fe, when the pianist started taking requests. Kim knew what she wanted to hear: Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”

It’s perspective worth practicing. The song is three stanzas with a bridge, all noticing the simple wonders of the world and the love of neighbors. Each stanza ends with the repeated phrase, “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”

With so many of us starting diets at this time of year, we realize that the saying is true: “You are what you eat.” That’s also true of what we feed our spirits. You are what you digest.

If you focus only on what’s wrong with the world, before long you will be drawn into the black hole of cynicism that refuses to emit any light. What’s more, the heaviness of the world gone wrong will weigh you down, too. But if you look for and meditate upon the persistent and always present goodness of life, the light will shine and it will lighten your spirit as it does.

How do you feel when you hear these lines from the song? “I see skies of blue and clouds of white /The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night / And I think to myself what a wonderful world.”

Working against injustice requires more than naming it as such; it calls for a vision of a just world that gives us hope. That world is already present among us, if not yet completely so. Let’s cross the threshold of this new year with an eye on that wonderful world, which is both gift and promise.

George Mason is pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church. The Worship section is underwritten by Advocate Publishing and the neighborhood businesses and churches listed here. For information about helping support the Worship section, call 214.560.4202.


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