By Rev. Paul Graves
For 24 2/3 years, I’ve been privileged to write a “Faith and Values” column for The Spokesman-Review. In that time, I’m not sure I’ve actually explored some of the meanings of those words.
I do so today, primarily because in the American cultural climate we have, “faith” and “values” seem to have been cut loose from their traditional moorings. They’re adrift in an angry and fearful rapids-filled river, racing toward an unknown sea.
On opposite banks of that river are people shouting irrational things at one another, waving slogan-flags and cliché-signs to “prove” the correctness of their positions. Occasionally, people tragically slip into that raging river and are swept away.
Deep-down, what does all that shouting and posturing really matter? What seems to matter to the river-banks people is their inalienable right to be angry, to be fearful. I thought our inalienable rights were to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, not anger and fear.
What “matters” to us is arguably what we value, and what we trust (have faith in). With me so far?
So, let’s identify some of the hot-button things that matter to us. Some will contradict each other. But don’t let opposites cancel each other out. Consider the possibility you might learn from those things you currently oppose.
Truth matters. Lies matter. Votes matter. Law matters. Masks matter. No-masks matter. COVID information matters. COVID misinformation matters. All lives matter. Black lives matter. Blue lives matter. Wealth matters. Living wage matters. Poverty matters. Individualism matters. Community matters. Partisan politics matters. Non-partisan politics matters. Sharing matters. Selfishness matters. Character matters.
Love matters. Apathy matters. Compassion matters. Hate matters. Respect matters. Disrespect matters. Personal responsibility matters. Social responsibility matters. Nonviolence matters. Violence matters. Reality matters. Denial of reality matters. Gun rights matter. No-gun rights matter. Honesty matters. Dishonesty matters. Friendship matters. Enemies matter. Learning matters. Ignorance matters.
And the list goes on! Feel free to add your own matters that matter.
Now, ask yourself which of these reflect the deepest values that you hold dear. Which of these reflect the faith (trust) you put into other people and/or other institutions?
Now comes a tougher part of my exercise. Look at things that you don’t agree with. You may disagree a little, or very passionately.
If you value honesty in yourself, can you honestly see anything in those disagreeable matters that just might come from the same values you hold? Might someone who holds a totally opposite view from you actually hold the same value as you do?
You may have to work really hard to “walk a mile in that person’s shoes”. But what if you just can’t/won’t do that? How will you try to understand someone who is so polar opposite you? Or will your values let you forget about understanding that person? Just asking, folks!
A Jesus-way to rephrase the values question: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Sometimes what we treasure and what we value seem to take different paths. Which path to follow? These days, that’s sometimes a toughie!
Or how about “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44). Don’t you get irritated when Jesus’ own words drill down to where you live? I do.
So, if you want to stay comfortable in your choices of what matters to you, perhaps you need to stay away from what we know as the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5-7 of the Gospel of Matthew). Reading and reflecting on those things that mattered to Jesus always challenges our faith and values.
The Rev. Paul Graves serves as the chair for the Council on Older Adult Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.