It is just too easy to become jaded these days. The last two blogs have perhaps revealed a bit of my personal frustration about living in an age where it seems that ideas (admittedly only ideas)—sometimes known as “values,” such as truth, goodness, justice, which Plato called the “forms”—are no longer valued by folks so much. Rather, personal goals seem to come first, no matter what they might be. In other words, what is deemed valuable is any individual’s personal agenda, and facile applause follows achieving that, with little thought given to the value of that enterprise or its value to the common good. The idea of community is lost, it seems, or at least placed far behind the notion of the individual’s personal growth, even if that growth is in a direction that just may in fact be harmful to those around that individual, or at the very least, in conflict with what had hitherto been regarded as transcendent values.
Assuming I am even partly right about what I have suggested above, then one might have every right to ask the following tough question: “How can I, in the face of changing values or, better put, the devaluation of traditional values, do or even say anything of value?” And I spent some time thinking about this very thing this week, and it came to me that there really is only one thing that one can do to make a difference in an Orwellian world such as I have described.
That difference can be traced, I’m sorry to say, to a source. I say sorry because the notion of any source aside from the individual is, these days, rather unpopular. The individual, it is believed, has the capacity and, more importantly the right, to determine for him or herself what is right, or should I say to determine what is right for him or herself. These palindromatic notions seem, as I hint at in the opening paragraph, to be essentially the same thing. But for those of us who might want to suggest a different, less popular and, yes I’m afraid traditional, perspective, we will look to find the source that I speak of.
That source is a mountain. Not one of the seven hills of Rome, not Athens Mars’ Hill, not Dharamsala in the Tibetan Himalayas, not even Mt. Zion in Israel. No, it is a much smaller “mountain,” really only a hill, one you probably have never heard of, known as Har HaOsher. It lies between Capernaum and Gennesaret, where once, it is said, were spoken by an itinerant rabbi something called the Beatitudes. These teachings can be summed up with any one of a number of quite positive words like grace, compassion, even love. Among those summary words, to me one, however, stands out: redemption. They are redemptive teachings, blessings on those who seek to practice even a fraction of them. That rabbi broke that blessing into bite-sized pieces. They’re not hard to do, they don’t lie “beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, ‘Who will cross the sea, get it and proclaim it to us so that we may follow it?’” No, “the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.”
If there is a solution to a world whose values are in dissolution, then, it seems to me, that the way through the chaos may just be to speak redemption, to show compassion and kindness to everyone we encounter. That rabbi did that very thing when the world he inherited was in at least as much disarray as ours is today. He chose to bless, to redeem. Perhaps we can, too, if we put our mind to it. After all, if we look for it, that redemptive word may just be very nigh unto us, already in our mouths and our hearts. And if it is, perhaps we should just speak it, for redemptive speech might be the first step toward a better world, precisely as it was quite a long time ago on a hill in Galilee.