New Year’s Resolutions a.k.a. Always Reforming

I am a great fan of New Year’s resolutions. As December turns into January, I find myself taking them pretty seriously, pondering what one or two resolutions I might make for the coming year. What is most important to me is choosing something that I can make into a habit, thereby improving my way of being in the world in some small way.

For example, one of the best resolutions I made some years back now was deciding to leave all quarters I receive in change in my car to use in parking meters. I was embarrassed by the steady stream of parking tickets I would pay through the course of a year because I didn’t have what I needed for the meter. When the solution came to me I wondered why it took me so long to get it.

In this run up to New Year’s I was struck by the correspondence between New Year’s resolutions and the distinguishing characteristic of my branch of Christianity, Reformed Protestantism.

Our very name, “Reformed,” derives from the Latin summary of our approach to the Christian life, “Reforma, semper reformanda,” commonly translated, “Reformed, always being reformed.”

A friend who is a Latin scholar recently commented to me that our usual English translation of this phrase actually loses one crucial grammatical nuance from the Latin: Because it’s an imperative mood, it’s actually a command, and better translated, “Reformed, must always be reformed.” No wonder I take so to heart the cultural tradition of New Year resolutions — it is actually something I must do.

So for this year, what New Year’s resolution could reform us more toward what God is yearning for us to be (and therefore what we must become)?

I resolve to do what I want my church to do: I will greet all I meet as a beloved child of God.

This is way more complicated than dropping quarters into a cup holder in my car, resolving to exercise, giving up sweets, or most of the other common resolutions I know people try or have tried myself in the past. It is also more important. It will become a habit because it is God’s will for me. Through this resolution, Christ is reforming me to reflect His loving kindness.

I cherish the gift my branch of Christian faith brings to the whole in our reminder that resolutions to reform ourselves are inspired by God and a necessary spiritual discipline for everyone, individual or group. And I love the way this understanding has crept into the fabric of our culture without our particularly knowing it.

We all join the Reformed stream of Christian faith when we make New Year’s resolutions, whether we know it or not.

May God bless all our resolutions this year. Happy New Year!


Reverend Janet

6 Responses
  • Chuck Hale on January 2, 2011

    From this morning’s sermon (and many others) “God is always doing a new thing, and it seems that the greatest impediment is most often the church, where “religion” trumps the grace of God’s Holy Spirit moving in the affairs of humankind.”

  • Janet Edwards on January 2, 2011

    Dear Chuck,

    Yes–it is one of the paradoxes of life that the church is clearly meant by God to be doing a new thing while, at the same time, the church becomes for us the preserver of tradition and therefore too often hidebound.

    While God is able to maintain balance in this contradictory place, we human beings are rarely able to. We tend to fall down on one side or the other. I expect you would see as I do that the present division within the church represent these two opposing purposes for the church.

    For me, reform that is like New Year’s resolutions offers a kind of sweet spot where newness is gradual and planned, holding together the best of what has been (tradition) with God’s new thing. Does that make sense to you?

    Thanks for your comment, Chuck! Peace, Janet

  • Chuck Hale on January 14, 2011

    Eric Bern wrote a book: “You have to say Goodbye before you can say Hello” about 30 years ago, and the truth of that has resonated with me, ever since. We can’t enter into the future God has in store for us until we are willing to let go of the security and comfort of what we have loved.

    Those who know me, know how deeply I felt the loss of McCormick’s venerable campus on North Halstead St. in Chicago. While I was there we had a massive fund raising to completely renovate the gorgeous faculty homes that surrounded the central green, and build beautiful new buildings for administration, library, and housing. When churches were fleeing the inner city in the 1950’s McCormick voted to stay in the city. But when the neighborhood got really scary – McCormick dumped their campus and moved to Hyde Park security. Now the old McCormick area is so elite you can’t afford to be there, while McCormick is living in what feels to me like “exile” in South Chicago. I have grieved the loss for decades.
    But now I’m coming to realize that this pristine jewel of a campus, could also have kept McCormick in a traditional past. Now, cut loose, they are innovating new forms of ministry and dealing with an uncharted future for the church. Insecurity has provided opportunity for God’s Spirit to move into new ways.

    The First Commandment – (you know it as well as I) tells us that hanging on to anything other than God – stands in God’s way of bringing us God’s new life.

  • Janet Edwards on January 14, 2011

    Dear Chuck,

    The dynamic of life that you lift up here–recognized in “Reformed must always be reformed”–was brought home to me by the preacher at our wedding. He emphasized that God was already waiting for us in the new apartment we were moving to after the ceremony. I remember so vividly, now 30 years ago later this April, holding that in my mind as we drove to our new home.

    But I do not think of life as a set of booster rockets in which parts fall away and burn up, leaving only the most recent. The history of McCormick Seminary holds all the phases and homes in your heart and in God’s loving will for us.

    I do share your caution that we can make idols of present situations or memories of the past and thus be slow to accept the reform God has in store for us. For me, this fits what I see as a sin of the PCUSA today. Perhaps we would be more willing to move into God’s future if we did not feel that reform requires us to lose something. If we could hold the past AND embrace the future we would probably be more comfortable with reform.

    Thanks, Chuck, for prompting these thoughts. Your response would be welcome!

    Peace, Janet

  • Chuck Hale on January 15, 2011

    Continuity. Discontinuity.Tension.

    There’s a difference between remembering the past, but entering into the future with your whole being – or trying to straddle both worlds and have the best of each.
    I don’t know how this applies to the church “reformed and always reforming.”

    Religion inescapably ties us to the past – and I believe rightfully so. After all, where would we be without our Scriptures? Where would we be without our Confessions, and the writings of our great teachers? Cathedrals inspire us, and any worship space where God has been especially with us – has been made sacred for us by that presence. In the OT there are markers set up to preserve a memory of events.

    But the past must be with us as a rich heritage, just as the teachings we receive in school and in life – go forward with us. We are composed of our past – but we need to bring this rich heritage into a totally new setting.

    Tom and I bought a derelict, deserted mansion with porches falling down, and collapsed stairways, missing ceilings and no working plumbing, in a mixed-race community. We decided to open a Bed and Breakfast there, and couldn’t afford anything better. It had POTENTIAL. (Sometimes that’s become a “dirty word” for us!!). Everyone thought we were absolutely crazy. We had never stayed in a B&B, ourselves. But we had a dream. And we had backgrounds in hospitality and cooking, and bookeeping and maintenance. I papered and painted (10.5′ ceilings) 20 rooms in a 7,000 square foot house, while a handyman worked with me to repair all the stuff that was wrong. We rebuilt 4 bathrooms and introduced 4 new bathrooms. (We worked during the day, and then cleaned up our mess before the guests came in the evening.) After 13 years we were rated among the top 10 B&B’s in the state, and had one of, perhaps the – highest – occupancy rate in the state.

    We had some hard times along the way – but there was no turning back. Sometimes the challenges seemed impossible – but we found a way. I say this not to boast, but to say that our past was the foundation from which we jumped in with total commitment – into a venture where we could have “drowned” financially and never recovered – ever. But the Lord was with us – and from it came our retirement. We could never have survived on my pension and Social Security alone.

    So we brought our past with us – but we also left all of our security behind. There was no way to turn back. I think if we aren’t a little scared in new ventures – we aren’t reaching high enough or far enough.

    When the first church began to receive Gentiles – they took this kind of a step – and of course it nearly split the church – but they lived through it. What if they had insisted on retaining the devotion to the law? Where would we be, today?

    I am reminded that Luther and Wesley were kicked out of their denominations – no turning back. I believe kids (who are not handicapped) need to be kicked out of the “nest” and told to make their own life. A little help – yes – but only a little. They learned at home what they needed to learn from home. There comes a time to cut the ties and take that knowledge into the world to build a new life.

    How that fits where our church is, today, I’m not sure. I’m one of many who is wrestling with this, now. We are living in a world drastically different than the world of the past 400 years.
    It is logical that the church must take new forms, appropriate for this brave new world. We must take our heritage and use it as a foundation – but not the whole building!!

  • Janet Edwards on January 16, 2011

    Dear Chuck,

    I think your description of your renovation of an old house for a new purpose is an excellent image of what “reformed, always must be reformed” means. For me, “reformed” is reassuring in that it suggests a rearranging or remaking of what is already there. It has an inherent element of taking what is old and reworking it into something new.

    This reforming what already is and has been is what I see myself as doing. What already exists is the love of Christ embodied in the church. What I am called to do is encourage the church to reform how it embodies Christ’s love based on the knowledge of Scripture and life that we have now.

    I expect you agree, Chuck, but perhaps not. I would love to hear your further thoughts.

    Peace, Janet

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