Happy New Year of 2024, Everyday God-Talk Community! Our Christmas spirit extends into this season of Epiphany. What were your epiphany or “star words” in the new year?
For me, it was a plaque I discovered at my home church, a historical site since around 1865. The plaque adorned one of the ancient pillars of the church, bearing the name Helen Staats. It eloquently described her life as “103 Years of Service to Her God and Her Neighbors,” spanning from November 11th, 1897, to May 11th, 2001. This seemingly simple inscription, laden with meaning between the lines, sparked my imagination about her life near this historic church in our town. I pondered the extraordinary nature of her ordinary days and envisioned the myriad ways she might have served her God and neighbors over 103 years. Do you have someone like her in your neighborhood? At your church? I want to know them. We want to know them!
The year 2023 was challenging. Each day, the disheartening and fearful news reverberated in our ears, amplifying the ongoing despair that began with the 2020 pandemic. I don’t suggest we retreat into our own bubbles, oblivious to the needs of those around us. As a theologian, at the end of 2023, I’ve come to a conclusion – echoing the wisdom of St. Augustine – yes, we humans are all sinners, and our “original sin” runs deep. Human nature tends toward corruption, selfishness, and self-centeredness.
Yet, theologians like St. Augustine also convey a message of hope, suggesting that we, as humans, must rely on the power of God to transform ourselves and the world. Despite our flaws, God loves the world. The Spirit may empower us with the love of Christ, who died for the world despite its unredeemable status.
We need stories of hope, moments of joy, and examples of saintly people around us. I need them. I crave tales that remind me change is possible, and that the world can indeed become a better place. This country can be a better place. My neighborhood can be a better place – through small actions rooted in “loving God and loving my neighbors.”
I invite you to join me in this new year’s dreamy space of the “everyday saint,” deliberately in lowercase to emphasize its humble yet authentic essence, aligning with the Reformed spirit of the “priesthood of all believers” embodied in sainthood. These saints could be figures like Helen Staats, who completed their earthly life and ministry and joined the Saints with the capital S. Or they could be friends like your next-door neighbor, presently engaged in serving God and their neighbors in your modest yet significant everyday space. Or they could be strangers you randomly ran into on the street who showed you mysterious kindness.
Share their stories with me. Let’s spread the good news. Often, the more positive stories remain overshadowed by the horrendous news. Together, may we sustain each other and collectively become the light of the world, starting from the year 2024.