The God-Talk Club – New Year’s Resolutions

Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

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“So what’s your New Year’s resolution,” asked Ellen, looking at Mac.

“I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Come to think of it, I don’t do resolutions at all. I figure I am who I am.”

“Let your yea be yea and your nay, nay,” intoned Jerry.

“Trying to make me into a Christian, Jerry?” asked Mac.

“No. Well, yes, but this wasn’t an example of it. It sounds to me like you’re living like that text.”

“Making a resolution just makes me tense. If I really decide to do it, I do it. Making it a resolution just makes it harder.”

“Well, I like to make resolutions,” said Ellen.

“I bet you keep them, too,” said Mandy.

“I do!” exclaimed Ellen, smiling. “How would you guess that?”

“You just seem like the sort of straightforward person who wouldn’t like resolutions if she didn’t keep them. You’re just too happy with the idea. It has to work for you.”

This is a work of fiction. All persons and events are products of my imagination. It’s part of the God-Talk Club series, where you can find a list of characters. Copyright © 2010, Henry E. Neufeld.

“Well, it does,” said Ellen. “But it sounds like not doing resolutions works for Mac as well.”

Mandy was always impressed by how easily Ellen dealt with differences. The group had ignored her as their waitress until she had kind of pushed her way into the discussion.

“I always try to get my church members to make resolutions and do so publicly, so that other members can hold them accountable,” said Justine.

“Whoa,” said Bob. “That sounds spooky!”

“What’s spooky about it?” asked Justine.

“Well, all that trying to control people’s lives. ‘Holding people accountable’ sounds a little authoritarian to me.”

“But nobody makes them do it,” said Justine, truly puzzled.

“I bet there’s a lot of social pressure. Emotional manipulation.”

“I don’t see that at all,” said Justine.

“What happens to a member who doesn’t make a public resolution?” asked Bob.

“Well, nothing. We don’t have some sort of punishments or anything.”

“Will the rest of your group look down on them if they don’t make a resolution?”

“I wouldn’t think so.”

“So how to you encourage them. Do you call it a good thing to do?”

“Of course I do.”

“So if they don’t do it, then it’s a bad thing.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Well, at least not as good.”

“Well, true. I do think it’s better if they do.”

“So there’s social pressure to do it. They’ll be thinking that others will think less of them if they don’t make a resolution, make it public, and be ‘accountable’ as you say, to the church.”

“OK, yes, but I don’t see how that gets us to social pressure and manipulation.”

“But it seems obvious to me.”

“I think your problem, Bob, is that you’re making voluntary participation equivalent to manipulation.” Jerry joined the conversation for the first time.

“But there’s a thin line between social pressure and unfair force or manipulation, or even just plain controlling behavior.”

“But you don’t know that the people in Justine’s church behave that way.”

“No, but I do know that some churches are overly controlling. I think we should go out of our way to avoid that.”

“I’m sure it can go too far,” said Jerry. “But on the other hand, we could give up all forms of social control and accountability. Wouldn’t that also be bad?”

“Well, I think churches having less control would be a good thing.”

“But you don’t think all private associations are a bad thing, do you?” asked Mandy.

“Well, I really don’t think much of most organizations that try to control their members and ‘hold them accountable.’”

“You don’t like private organizations at all?” asked Mandy.

“Oh, I like private organizations. Groups of people who are like-minded on some issue or another. They work together because they like to.”

“But you assume my church members aren’t there because they like to be?” asked Justine.

“Oh I don’t assume that. But church membership is very important in American life. I think many people are there just because there is social pressure to be there.”

“In this part of the country I doubt that,” said Jerry.

“What about fraternities and sororities?” asked Ellen.

“I really don’t like them all that much. They pressure young men and women to follow a social norm rather than be themselves.”

“You’re no fun,” said Ellen. But she said it sweetly.

“How do you do that?” asked Bob.

“Do what?” said Ellen.

“You can put somebody down so very gently.”

“I didn’t know I was putting anyone down,” said Ellen.

“That’s probably it. You actually say it like you like me.”

“But I do like you,” said Ellen with a slightly puzzled frown.

“The thing about Ellen,” said Mac, “is that she’s easily the most genuine person in the room. She is just who she is.”

“But I think all of you are!” exclaimed Ellen.

Everybody laughed. Mac shrugged and lifted her hands, gesturing her surrender.

“But I’m still not comfortable with what Justine is doing,” said Mark. “I don’t think whatever we say should apply to churches more than any other group of people. But Justine’s ‘accountability’ thing still makes my skin crawl.”

“What about it is so bad?” asked Justine.

“Getting up in front of the church and making your resolution? Asking other church members to hold you accountable? These people might not be your friends. They might just be looking for gossip. Why would I want to make a real resolution in front of them?”

“Well, they’re supposed to be your family,” said Justine.

“That’s biblical,” added Jerry.

“But how does it work in practice?” asked Mark. “I suspect that many people do spread gossip about things they find out while they’re holding people accountable.”

“People do gossip. It’s a sin, but they do it anyhow.” Justine shrugged.

“So perhaps we should be careful how we do things in that case,” said Mandy.

“So you don’t like the idea either,” said Justine.

“No, I don’t really. I’d encourage people to make resolutions. I’d encourage them to find friends who can hold them accountable. But I’d suggest they do it with a few friends.”

“Well, I take seriously the idea that we’re the body of Christ. We’re even told to confess our faults one to another.”

“I just see that as potentially very dangerous considering we can’t be sure everyone in a particular church is following the same spirit.”

“Don’t you think the churches in New Testament times had similar problems?” asked Jerry.

Mandy paused a moment. “I suspect they did, but we don’t know precisely how they applied ideas like confessing faults one to another. Was it in a group setting with the whole church? Was it with a few trusted people? I don’t think we know.”

Jerry was intent. The New Testament church subject got his attention. “I’d suggest we do know. That’s why gossip is so high on the various lists of sins. They confessed to one another, and one of the things they held one another accountable about was gossip!”

“I’d suggest instead,” said Mandy, “that we don’t really know the details of how they dealt with these problems, and perhaps we should use some contemporary wisdom.”

“I’m with Mandy,” said Mark.

“Wow,” said Ellen. “I just ask whether people have made resolutions, and it becomes a philosophical debate! I thought it would be fun to compare notes.”

“OK, I’ll go with that,” said Bob. “Just because I don’t like the whole church thing doesn’t mean I don’t like resolutions. I have made a resolution to complete three scientific papers I’ve been working on and get them published this year.”

“Oh, thinking of moving up to the college or graduate school scene?” asked Jerry.

“And just how would it be ‘moving up’?” asked Bob.

“Isn’t that the normal career path?”

“Perhaps, but I think the place for science education in this country right now is at the high school level. I’m going to stay where I am, teaching kids about science.”

“So why do you want to publish those papers?” asked Jerry, genuinely puzzled.

“Professional development, contribution to science, and yes, a good bit of ego.”

“I can understand that,” said Ellen.

“So what’s your resolution?” asked Bob. “You started this!”

“My resolution is to read one serious book every week next year.”

“That’s a good one,” said Mandy.

“So what’s yours?” asked Ellen, looking at Mandy.

“I have resolved to start my doctoral studies online. I’m interested in technology education. I’ve been intending to start for a long time and just haven’t gotten around to it. Next year is the year.”

“What about you, Jerry?” asked Mandy after a short pause.

“I’ve determined to share my faith with at least one identifiable person each week next year.”

“Make me feel like a target,” muttered Bob.

“I didn’t mean convert you. Just share my faith. But you’d only count as one person, even if I do share with you every week during the year.” It was the closest Jerry came to joking.

“So what is yours, Justine?” asked Bob. “You’re making all your church members do resolutions. Surely you have!”

“Yes, I have, but I wonder if I should share it with you.” Justine was grinning.

“OK. I deserved that.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. My resolution is to include our young people more in church leadership. By the end of the year, I plan to see young people active and in leadership in every area of the church. I’ve made a chart so I can track it.”

“Yay!” Ellen clapped her hands. “What about you, Mark?”

“Oh, I haven’t made any resolutions. I’m more like Mac. I do what I do, and don’t make a special issue of days.”

“Well, at least it’s not a Christian vs. Atheist issue this time,” said Bob.

“Be thankful for small blessings,” said Mandy.

And that was the end of the evening.

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