Chris McDonnell - CT Friday February 23rd 2018.
Not everything of value is reducible to economic analysis or science. Those few words raise a huge question; what in fact are values, yours, mine and the society that we live in?
It is a question that is asked time and again, usually when someone has crossed a line and caused a fuss. How do we answer it?
The current argument over the infringement of personal space in varying degrees of seriousness has caused much consternation in the fields of politics and entertainment. What for some might seem casual and inconsequential, might be a serious intrusion into another’s privacy. Who decides and how is that decision made clear?
In the end it is all about who we are, the way we behave speak and act. Soon enough others will recognise that something we call ‘integrity’, the truthfulness of our words expressed through our actions. Claiming to be who we are is an easy use of language, being who we are is a day to day event, demanding care and attention, accepting failure on the way as we make amends for lapses in our behaviour. So above all, any value system starts with the individual, how our own story is put together, the building blocks of experience that shape us and make us.
They come associated with grand words such as honesty, care, love, trust and many more. We offer ourselves to others in the hope that they will recognise us and respond. Of course, when such a person fails to meet the standards they espouse, their fall is greater, the headlines larger.
As Christians, we proclaim and try to live out our Baptism. Others come to expect something of us and so our responsibility is greater. Few come to the Lord through reading a book, although it might help. Most experience the faith of another walking alongside them, at work or recreation, socially or through marriage. Something is recognised, a value acted out for others to experience. Our values can start a chain reaction, an interest, a spark that sets a fire.
The values of institutions, be they commercial, charitable political or educational are now often expressed in ‘Mission Statements’ a collection of words that are meant to be a beacon of their success or intended way of working. Often they are a miscellany of fine-sounding phrases that mean little. Just remember, if indeed they are rememberable, the political slogans from times of election, what they meant and if they were acted upon. A London bus with £300m a week painted on its side comes to mind…
Proclaiming values of little substance is nothing short of propaganda, serving an immediate purpose but with no long term conviction. Too much of our political argument is of that nature, fine phrases of convenience.
How do we examine our own values when as Christians we find ourselves living in a secular society, sharing our life experience with others whose value system is in sharp contrast to our own? In Ireland the realisation in recent years that Church and State are indeed separate entities has given rise to much soul-searching, no more so than in the coming referendum on abortion. There, a substantial question in the value system in respect of human life is being starkly exposed. The question that is asked tests the right of one group of citizens to impose on another group their own values when they are in such contradiction, one to another.
Belonging to any active group is rarely a perfect match, but the best possible fit in difficult circumstances. ’I belong because…. even though I disagree with….’ We tolerate differences until such time that they become too much and cohesion breaks under the strain and we part company, a move that often gives rise to great distress.
Few priests have laid down an active ministry without a time of great soul-searching and, in earlier years, often finding little compassion or pastoral care from some of their bishops. In the end their conscience took them on a path where their values were tested and they had to make a response in good faith.
So maybe during this listening time of Lent, we might examine our own values, what we hold dear, what shapes our lives and forms our experiences, what gives us vision, for without vision, the Book of Proverbs tells us, the people perish.
Dignity in office
The sharp edge of a crude tongue
cuts through the vestige of dignity
in office, uttering in the public square
an unacceptable opinion.
The etiquette of language is a gift
from childhood, the when and where
of casual coarseness an acquired sensitivity
which some grown-up children cannot grasp.
What we value matters, for what we value shapes who we are.