One of the blessings to the cyclical rhythm of life is the opportunity to start over again. It is present in the seasons of nature, and in the offer of forgiveness and redemption in our religious heritage. And the beginning of a new year is an opportune time to reflect on where we are individually and corporately on the path to becoming better than we have been.
Better for present purpose is being further along the path to creating a just society. Our ability to achieve this is directly related to our ability to feel connected to the other; to see ourselves in the other and recognize either through faith in the divine or our own reason that safeguarding the other’s welfare is the best safeguard of our own welfare.
One whose needs are satisfied is far less likely to threaten our own needs.
In a recent documentary on Paul Simon’s making of the Graceland album with the South African group, Black Mombaza, Simon defied an international boycott of apartheid South Africa and traveled there to record the album. He was blithely unaware of the situation on the ground in South Africa and when he was advised that the black liberationists were opposed to his efforts, ignored their opposition on the grounds that their attitude infringed on his artistic freedom. The South African black musicians who collaborated with him were vilified. Even today 27 years later, many of the liberationists remain deeply disappointed with them.
Ironically, the acclaim of the album raised the profile of the genius of South African musical talent, and did more to galvanize worldwide attention and opposition to apartheid than almost anything else at the time.
The spirit of the anti-apartheid sanctions was to benefit the oppressed people of South Africa. The breaking of the letter of the sanctions turned out to be more in keeping with their spirit than abiding by them.
This illustrates how often we forget that the spirit of the law is more important than the letter, and that we must be careful as we make choices in our personal and corporate lives that we remain true to the spirit rather than to rigid adherence to the letter of the law.
This precedent exists in Christ’s teachings. On one occasion he picked corn and fed his disciples on the Sabbath and was accused by the authorities of breaking the law against working on God’s holy day. In response he observed that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The spirit of the law was intended for the benefit of the people’s welfare.
In this election year many of our political debates suffer the same failing. Issues from war and peace, to immigration, income inequality, racism, and gun violence all risk suffering this flawed analysis as the populist cheerleaders forget the original spirit of our democratic experiment, to form a more perfect union with justice for all.
This is the spirit to which we as a nation must be dedicated. The beginning of this New Year is a perfect time to push the reset button on trying to live it.