The goal isn't to win every game, it's to win more than we lose
God hasn't set a trap for us, everyone fails
The respected and most enlightened Rabbi, Harold Kushner, in his book How Good Do We Have to Be?, has a wonderful section which reflects on what it means to be a genuinely "whole" person.
"To be whole before God means to stand before Him with all of our faults as well as all of our virtues, and to hear the message of our acceptability," he writes.
"To be whole means to rise beyond the need to pretend that we are perfect, to rise above the fear that we will be rejected for not being perfect.
"And it means having the integrity not to let the inevitable moments of weakness and selfishness become permanent parts of our character.
"Know what is good and what is evil, and when you do wrong, realise that was not the essential you. It was because the challenge of being human is so great that no one gets it right every time. God asks no more of us than that . . .
"Life is not a trap set for us by God, so that He can condemn us for failing. Life is not a spelling [test], where it doesn't matter how many words you have got right, if you make one mistake you are disqualified. Life is more like a baseball season, where even the best team loses one-third of all its games and even the worst team has its days of brilliance. Our goal is not to go all year without ever losing a game. Our goal is to win more than we lose, and if we can do that consistently enough, then when the end comes, we will have won it all."
We humans have mastered the ability to rationalise putting our own interests before the common good, of justifying the less-than-ethical but profitable choice, of opting for what is expedient over what it moral.
Organised religion is reaching an impasse. Some writers call this "a new reformation". I think it's more properly a new kind of reformation. There is a thirst for what is authentic. We don't want the legalistic double think of the past in religion and politics. We don't appreciate the "how-far-can-I-go-without-breaking-the-law attitude. Who cares what other people think. I have to live with myself.
Covid-19 has strengthened our genuine ability to question. We are struggling but we accept that no one else can make sense of what is happening to me. I have to do it for myself.
I was reading a helpful book by an Indian Jesuit priest, Paul Coutinho. The book's title itself is enlightening: How Big is Your God?
He believes I need to be free to enjoy each unique experience of God in my life.
"We all have the freedom to find meaning in life, and this meaning is the Big meaning. It's the meaning I have to find. It's not what religion tells me. It's not what my parents tell me. It's not what the teachers or sages or presidents of the CEOs tell me. It's not what anybody tells me. As a human being, as a creation of God, I am invited to find my own meaning." (P123)
In another place he has an even more radical insight (and which I believe is absolutely true).
"Dishonesty is doing something because I think you want me to or because everybody else is doing it or because the church says to do it or because someone tells me God says to do it, but I don't really believe that it is what I am called to do."
Think about that.
EDUCATION IS THE KEY TO A BETTER FUTURE
This has been a dreadfully anxious time for parents, teachers and children as society tries to get some semblance of normality back into children's lives. Even if things are not perfect we have a duty to do everything we can to make back-to-school work; education is the key to a better future. We can't live in lockdown forever. We need to find ways to live safely with Covid-19 until the long awaited vaccine arrives.
A young mother spoke to me a few weeks ago. Her husband walked out just before Covid, leaving her to care for two young children. She was struggling to live. I fully understood how impossible it was for her to explain to her children that she didn't have the money for the necessities of life. She has endured a dreadful six months of Covid.
Yet her unanswerable question to me was: "How am I supposed to forgive this man?"
I explained I couldn't ask her to forgive him. Only she could make that decision. But I did point out that if she keeps focussing on his inexcusable behaviour, she will never find peace. "He doesn't deserve the power you're giving him to live inside your head", I suggested. She thought about it.
Last Tuesday she began a new chapter in her life when she brought her children to school. She realises now that life goes on; it doesn't wait until we're ready; that a good education is the one thing nobody can take away from you. A good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity; it is a prerequisite for it.
Malala Yousafzai is a powerful advocate for education, especially for girls. She was so outspoken in Pakistan that she was targeted and shot in the face by the Taliban when she was 15. She recovered in a Birmingham hospital, bravely resumed her campaign and became the youngest Nobel Laureate ever. She recently graduated from Oxford.
Her motto is inspirational: "One child, one teacher, one pen can change the world."
THE IMPORTANT THINGS IN LIFE ARE FAR SIMPLER
Every family has its own back-to-school story this week - rightly so. I may have told you this 'parable' before but it deserves to be told again.
The ten-year-olds in geography class were asked to name what they considered to be the Seven Wonders of the World. The Taj Mahal, the Grand Canyon, Victoria Falls, and the Great Wall of China were in every list. One girl was having difficulty putting anything on paper - there's always one isn't there? When teacher asked why, she admitted there were so many wonders of the world she couldn't make up her mind.
"Well tell us what you have and we'll help you" the teacher suggested. The shy little girl stood up and read "The seven wonders of the world are…" (And she whispered her list) "To touch, to taste, to see, to hear…" she looked up and hesitated for a moment before continuing "to run, to laugh, to love." That little girl truly did understand the important things in life.
Nearly 300 ago, Robert Louis Stevenson made a list of the attitudes which made him happy in life. Here are a few of them. The seven deadly virtues as it were.
1. Make up your mind to be happy.
2. Learn to find pleasures in simple things.
3. Don't take yourself too seriously.
4. You can't please everybody, so don't let criticism cripple you.
5. Be yourself and do the things you enjoy doing.
6. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself.
7. Keep busy at something. A busy person never has time to be unhappy.
All of the above is summed up by knowing that happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like.