Many years ago, my husband and I were in London, attending a service at St. Martin-in-the-Fields on New Year’s Day. The young priest who gave the sermon spoke of the evils of war and the abuse of power by political leaders around the world, in particular speaking about the American President at that time, George Bush, and the conflict with Iraq. She told the biblical story of Herod the King commanding three wise men to follow up on stories about the birth of a baby who was touted as the King of the Jews and to report back to him.
The three wise men, she said, were wealthy and influential. They had followed the star, travelling on a path of power, position and privilege. She emphasized this point before continuing to say that, having seen and worshipped the infant, the three men were warned by God in a dream that they should not return to Herod And so, according to the Bible, they departed into their own country another way.
They travelled on another path, said the priest, without the power, position and privilege upon which they had always relied.
That sermon struck me powerfully at the time. And now, I believe, the virus has shown that power, position and privilege will not get us through a pandemic.
Clearly, we need a new path. Systemic inequality, racial violence, social unrest, the climate crisis and the need for reconciliation with indigenous peoples demand new approaches. The pandemic has made this need much more urgent. Crucial.
If we and the planet are to survive, we must change. Secretary-General António Guterres has proposed a new social contract as a way forward:
This idea has also been suggested by various environmental, political, spiritual and financial leaders. If you enter “Social contract 2021” or “Social contract pandemic” in your search engine, you’ll find several hundreds of results. The details vary, but all of them propose a radical shift in how we deal with pervasive inequalities and the climate crisis. Various consultation processes, assemblies and tables are recommended. That’s all needed for meaningful social contracts, no doubt.
But perhaps it’s also necessary for each of us to examine our own new path and to choose a better way individually. A social contract needs to be supported from the ground up as well as with whatever may be developed and imposed from the top. What can an individual do to choose as a better way?
It’s the time of year when, traditionally, people make resolutions. I don’t do that any more because I never keep them. And I don’t set out intentions, because I know what the road to hell is paved with. Often, at the time of Epiphany, I’ve chosen an inspiring word like trust or hope or community as something to guide me in the coming year.
This year the word I’ve chosen is real. I’m tired of lies, fabrications, dishonesty, alternate facts, fake news, and inauthenticity of every sort. The self-deceptions that prevent us from pursuing transformative change.
I’m going to pay attention to what is real in the world around me. In the people, In the ideas, in the words, in the physical world, in the things.
And most of all, in myself.