2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
We are on the threshold of a new year, 2020, the year of perfect vision. It is a wonderful to time to reexamine this past year of our life. Have we grown emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, or has just another year passed? I’ve heard people describe themselves as having 30 years of experience in something. But is that really true? Do we have 30 years of experience, or do we have one year of experience repeated 30 times? Do we still live a life to meet other people's expectations? Do we behave in a particular manner because that's what we're "supposed to do?" Do we have a specific vocabulary, mind-set, political bent, attitude toward others, or religious belief because of the influence of others rather than from our own independent reflection?
Many of us want to make changes in how we think, behave, and speak. We want to get better, be smarter, learn a skill, lose weight, and get in better shape, yet we don’t change our behavior. We want to lose weight, but we don’t change how we eat or how much we move our bodies. We want to be smarter, but we don’t read anything more, study, or listen to or seek out new ideas.
We are taught in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I’ve heard it said that we can predict a person’s future pretty much by simply examining what they’ve done over the last few years. Most people tend to stay the same, do the same things, invest the same way, read the same amount, and use their time the same way. The secret to our success in any area is revealed through our daily routine. Tweak what we do daily, and over a short period of time we get very different results. Change how we think about someone or something, and we change what Life reflects back to us. When we stop conforming to the patterns taught by the world – the shortsightedness, prejudices, self-centeredness, indifference, and division - we open opportunities to transform our selves, lives, attitudes, and perspectives.
Next week is burning bowl Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays of the year. It is a spiritual celebration and ritual in which we release the things that we don't want or need any longer. With the rebirth of the Christ spirit within us, we take a fresh new look at our lives. We begin again. Of course, we have choices: we can continue along the path we have been pursuing, or we can change direction.
Between now and next week, I would like us to make a 2019 review of our life. Do we have baggage, whether emotional, physical or mental, that we would like to be rid of? Do we have skills that we'd like to develop, talents we'd like to bolster? Do we have counter-productive behaviors that we'd like to give up, and replace with more constructive behaviors? What are our strengths? What are we good at? What have we done this year that has given us pleasure? How have we been in service to our family, friends, our church, our community, or other people? What new things have we learned, and are they worthy of our continued attention and application?
As a world, we learned many new things in 2019. Here are a few things research revealed that caught my eye. Women perform better on math tests when the room is over 80° as opposed to 70º. When workers believe that honesty will require more effort, they are more likely to be dishonest. 120 minutes spent outdoors per week can help us be happier and healthier. Venus may have had liquid water at one time and may have been habitable for 2-3 billion years. An elevator to the moon could possibly be built for a billion dollars. I thought those were interesting facts.
Also, babies have been drinking out of some kind of bottle for 7000 years. Teenagers with acne get higher marks in school, are more likely to complete college, and if female, eventually get paid more than people without teenage acne. Some blind people can understand speech that is almost three times faster than the fastest speech sighted people can understand. They can use speech synthesizers set at 800 words per minute (conversational speech is 120–150 wpm). Research suggests that a section of the brain that normally responds to light is re-mapped in blind people to process sound.
Three strong Belgian beers, Hoegaarden, Westmalle Tripel, and Echt Kriekenbier, have the same beneficial microbes as found in yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut. According to a study published in The Journal of Nutrition in August, eating "sodium in cheese may be an effective strategy to reduce cardiovascular disease." Engineers from MIT proved that Leonardo da Vinci's design for the largest bridge in the world would have worked. Scientist discovered a lost continent of Great Adria, the size of Greenland, located in the Mediterranean region. Bones of human-sized penguins were found in New Zealand. A 2019 study published in Neuron shows that a mutation of the β1-adrenergic receptor allows some people to function on shorter spans of sleep better than those without the mutation. Findings submitted to the National Academy of Sciences in July revealed that stimuli caused by external factors such as weather, animals, and even humans can spark "short-term molecular changes and long-term developmental effects" in plants – in other words, they freak out and protect themselves. Dolphins are “right-handed”, or right-flippered. According to a study published in Science Direct in November, giraffes with darker spots are more dominant than those with lighter spots. They also tend to live a more solitary life as opposed to their paler "gregarious" counterparts. And lastly, a UK study showed that people are happiest at 7:26pm Saturday night.
But back to our own lives, let us review our 2019 as objectively as possible. The goal is to look at our life non-judgmentally, as much from a God-perspective as possible. Let’s view our self as a divine, spiritual being, and know that we are in the process of becoming a better human being. We can consider what endings to bring to completion so that we can start our new beginnings.
Philosopher and spiritual teacher, Ken Wilbur, suggests that the evolution of all phenomena occurs through “transcending and including”: things don’t totally change and become something new; the old is not wiped out. Rather, transformation occurs through including ‘what was’ into a more complex matrix. Over thousands of years of human evolution, rational thought has not eliminated emotion, but has included it into a greater level of consciousness. As a species, at our best, we are intelligent, compassionate, thinking and feeling organisms capable of dynamic, creative, and complex interaction and problem solving; a complicated mix of intelligence, emotions, and spirituality.
New beginnings are born out of former endings and previous attempts. We try to teach our children this lesson: put things away before you play with new toys. We don’t throw away a toy before we play with another. No, we include it in our assortment of possibilities; it is a valuable component within our growing compilation of joy. We do the same in our lives: put away the old before embracing the new, while allowing it to be a part of who we are.
Our challenge in this process is releasing what is broken and cannot be repaired or is no longer necessary. Sometimes we can't see what is unnecessary in our own lives, but see it clearly in other people's lives. Often, we know exactly what needs to be released, but we cling to it anyway, secure in our habits and its familiarity.
Although we use December 25th as the birthday of Jesus, and use Christmas as the time to fill with giving, love, hope, peace and life, we can celebrate Christmas on a daily basis. We can always be loving and giving, and filled with peace and joy. Christ can be reborn within us every day.
The same is true with beginnings because Christ is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. Although we take the ending of a calendar year to symbolically represent the time to begin again - out with the old, in with the new - we also know that daily we have the capability to start over. Daily, we can release our old unproductive ways and initiate the new. We can transcend what we were while including all the good, beneficial, and honorable of us and letting go of the ineffective, hurtful, and useless. Therapist Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.”
That is what the Christ brings to us… a chance to start again, to move forward under new guidance. The Christ offers us a new path and new choices. Our old habits and thought patterns, other people’s opinions and expectations, have no power over us except that which we allow. We alone determine our actions, beliefs, and thoughts. We can change; we can make another choice. Isaiah 43:18-19:"Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
So, let us take a good long look at ourselves this week: examining our life as we celebrate the New Year, the new moment, the new ‘now’. Meister Eckhart wrote, “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” So, it is my prayer that we will choose to begin again, releasing what is no longer working to best advantage and trying something new. There is no shame in wanting to be a better person and making the active attempt. We are all in the process together, sharing experiences, growing together. I pray that as a church family we will support each other in our attempts to change, evolve, and transcend, seeing with perfect vision the plans that God has for us. Let us recognize and appreciate Christ in ourselves and each other. I wish you a joyous, abundant, health-filled, peaceful and loving Happy New Year.