In Good Faith: “New Year, New You!”

1387573806_stretchCouldn’t avoid the topic of New Year’s in my latest In Good Faith column.

New Year, New You!”

“New Year, New You!” That was the tagline on an ad for a health club I saw recently. While I already belong to a gym, I admit I paused for a moment after reading that. I mean, I’m pretty good with the “old” me but a whole “new” one? Well, that’s pretty enticing.

What would the new me look like? I guess I’d start with the growth spurt that never really materialized in high school. 5’8” isn’t exactly gnome-like but when your 14-year-old son looks down on you by a full three inches you could use a slight boost.

I could also use some help with the hair that’s starting to thin just a bit on the crown of my head — that would be nice. And don’t even get me started on my personality. Fork over a few hilarious stories I could regale people with at cocktail parties and maybe just a few points on the old IQ? I don’t need to be MENSA level but I’d love to wow friends and family with my ability to finish the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in record time.

Hey, as long as this is heading in the direction of a hybrid genie/Santa, I’ll be frank. I could use some extra cash. My life would be so much better if I could trade in the family mini-van for a Hummer. And I’ve always wanted a pied-a-terre in Paris.

It’s amazing to think a health club will be able to deliver a brand new me. Whatever the monthly fee, it’s surely worth it and, with my newfound wealth, I won’t even notice it.

This whole notion is, of course, ludicrous. It’s so easy to fall into the annual New Year’s trap: “I resolve that this will be the year everything changes and I become a better, more successful, healthier, wealthier person.” Yet every year, by about mid-January, you realize that you’re stuck with the same old you. Sure you might give up eating ice cream every night or maybe you’ve finally signed up for that ballroom dancing class you’ve always talked about. But when you look in the mirror, guess what? Same old you.

This isn’t meant to suck the resolve out of your resolutions. After all, New Year’s is a time brimming with opportunity and041812_obit_clarkvogel_640 expectation. Maybe it’s the free-flowing champagne or the overpriced New Year’s Eve meal packages every restaurant seems to offer. Or perhaps it’s those annoying noise-makers or the ghost of Dick Clark (has he actually died yet? I can’t remember). But whatever the reason, the New Year feels different because it offers a fresh start, an opportunity for a new beginning, a clean break. Whatever the past has been, once that calendar switches over to January 1st, we can start anew. Right?

The problem is buying into this mentality means we view ourselves as essentially flawed. We forget that we have been created in God’s image and that God loves us for who we are — blemishes and all. Sure, we’re all works in progress; human beings always are. But God loves the unfinished product. God loves the striving we do to live into our full potential as creatures of God.

So forget about the idea of an entirely “new you.” It’s important to remember we’re not trying to hide from the past but rather building upon it. The past, for better or worse, is a large part of who we are in the present. But we stand, with God’s help, ready to move on and to grow in new and exciting ways. Each day we are offered time with God, time with friends, and time with family. By treating each day with the spirit of New Year’s we can recapture the sense of excitement and wonder that comes from time spent in this holy and fruitful way.

Oh, and I just Googled it: Dick Clark died in April, 2012, in case you were wondering. In any case, Happy New Year!

Guilty Verdict

In my latest “In Good Faith” column I confront guilt and explain why I have resolved to never make another New Year’s resolution.

Guilty Verdict

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

By now most people have abandoned their New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps yours is still hanging on by a thread or maybe you’ve defied the odds and it’s still going strong. But many have lost the will to get up and go to the gym in the dark before work; many have ditched the diet after the first week of self-denial; many have gone back to drinking Diet Coke for breakfast.

When you make a resolution you can’t keep you’re left with one thing: guilt. This is the reason I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. There’s nothing worse than setting yourself up for failure and then chewing on the guilt of good intentions. Sure, I’ll give something up or take something on during Lent, the 40-day season that precedes Easter, as a spiritual discipline but for a number of years I’ve resolved to not make resolutions in the aftermath of a new calendar year. And I’ve kept this resolution with resounding success.

There’s already enough guilt floating around in our lives to fill an ark. We feel guilty that we’re not spending enough time with our children; we feel guilty that we put our aging mother into a nursing home; we feel guilty that we never wrote the great American novel; we feel guilty that we’re not putting in enough hours at work. I’m not sure that “America Runs on Dunkin’” but it sure runs on guilt.

When it comes to religion, there’s plenty of guilt to go around. Dare I say some faith traditions even thrive on it? People feel guilty when they don’t go to church – I can’t tell you the number of people who give me excuses for why they haven’t been in a while when they run into me at the grocery store (oh, who am I kidding? It’s not the grocery store but the local coffee shop). And many are burdened with the guilt of being not-a-good-enough “fill-in-the-blank denominational affiliation.”

So many people approach their faith lives in a posture of guilt rather than one of joy. This is, of course, no way to enter a fruitful relationship with the divine. Guilt is not good for the soul (though it does serve as a great motivator to call your mother).

Rather than guilt I like to think in terms of invitation because God doesn’t want us to attend to our faith lives out of guilt but out of invitation. God welcomes us back again and again; God beckons us to return. God doesn’t say “If you really loved me you’d join a church committee” which is a good thing since there’s only so much bad coffee one should be subjected to in a lifetime.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to church or that the notion of being “spiritual but not religious” is anything but an easy way out. At their best, faith communities provide accountability along with inspiration and invitation. It’s a lot easier to worship together than it is in isolation and Jesus himself, after all, invited a community of disciples to share in his earthly journey. He wasn’t a lone ranger going it alone but formed a group of people passionate about being drawn ever-closer to God.

One of my mother’s mantras has always been “I don’t do guilt.” For years I thought she meant she didn’t lay guilt trips on others. But I recently found out that she meant “I don’t accept guilt heaped on me by others” (yes, a Freudian therapist could have a field day with this). But while guilt is part of the human condition and unavoidable in certain situations, it is important to recognize it for what it is and what it is not. Guilt is a human response to a perceived short-coming. It should not be confused with sin which is a barrier to relationship with God. But guilt itself is not from God; rather it is a self-imposed condition.

If you made it to the end of this article at least you don’t have to feel guilty for not finishing what you started. And if you quit in the middle, well, you can always pick it up again during Lent. In the meantime, lay off the guilt. Life’s hard enough without it.

Be It Resolved

In my latest “In Good Faith” column for the Hingham Journal, I tackle the issue of New Year’s resolutions. I probably come across as grumpy — since I am — but I don’t like ’em.

Be It Resolved

By the Rev. Tim Schenck

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I don’t have plenty to improve upon (just ask my children). I just find the whole set-a-goal-simply-because-the-calendar-has-changed to be a false dynamic. I’m also not a big fan of noisemakers but that may be a personal problem.

I don’t begrudge anyone else’s New Year’s resolutions and I wish them luck even as they crowd me out of the gym in January. If you’re motivated to lower your cholesterol or quit smoking or organize the files in your office because you’ve received a complimentary 2010 calendar from the local travel agency, more power to you.

But unfortunately the percentage of Americans who keep their resolutions is miniscule. Well, technically the percentage is infinitesimal but you get the point. And failed resolutions lead directly to guilt. Which is a tough way to start a New Year. Ask anyone who’s started previous years on various fad diets – Atkins, South Beach, Nantasket Beach, whatever.

Guilt is a great motivator, of course. But you simply cannot sustain a new discipline – whether that’s a diet or an exercise program by guilt. What starts off with the best of intentions turns into a downward spiral of guilt and depression. There are exceptions, of course. Like Jared from those Subway ads. But every time I see him on TV these days his midsection seems to be miraculously covered by a table or the head of a small child or a “$5 foot long.”

No doubt there’s something refreshing about New Year’s. We all need the occasional fresh start, blank slate, new beginning. Though actually I find the whole notion of being wedded to a calendar an artificial way of relating to both God and time. I know you’re thinking “Wow, that’s deep” or perhaps “I wish he’d resolved to stop writing,” so let me explain. In Psalm 90 we hear that “a thousand years in God’s sight are like a day that has just gone by.” In other words, God’s sense of time has little in common with our own. God is not constrained by calendars or clocks. God is not limited by human attempts to control or harness the ethereal notion of time. That’s what calendars and clocks are, after all.

Oh, they’re necessary. Otherwise our daily lives would devolve into disorder and chaos. And I’d miss “The Office” on Thursday nights. But we don’t own time. We plan, we resolve, we waste time, we maximize time but it’s ultimately not ours. We’re living not on borrowed time but on God’s time. And the sooner we recognize this, the better we’re able to enjoy the time we do have in this mortal life.

Not to be a party pooper but I guess my aversion to over-the-top New Year’s celebrations is that they always feel somehow like “forced fun.” When I was in the Army that’s what we used to call battalion events that were supposed to be fun – playing tug o’ war against the neighboring platoon – when we’d all rather be hanging out on our own. And anyone who needs a made-in-China noisemaker to show everyone what a good time he’s having needs a new definition of joy. Plus, have you ever seen anyone wearing those glasses shaped liked the New Year at any other time? I’d be impressed if someone wore 1984 glasses while shopping for deodorant at Wal-Mart. If only for the Orwellian overtones.

Perhaps what really bothers me about New Year’s resolutions is that they’re so inwardly focused. How many New Year’s resolutions have you heard about that do something for someone else? They tend to be self-improvement centered – lose weight, eat healthier, etc. Which, again, is nice but hardly does much to improve the world around us.

So here’s a challenge: if you need a New Year’s resolution, resolve to do something beyond yourself. Shovel an elderly neighbor’s walk; have coffee with a friend with whom you’ve lost touch; pray for a family in need; send the money you were going to use to download 10 new songs on your i-Pod to the Hingham Interfaith Food Pantry. And then resolve to turn these one-shot deals into yearlong habits. If you do any of these things, I’ll resolve to be less grumpy about New Year’s resolutions.

The Rev. Tim Schenck is Rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist. Visit him on the web at where you can access his blog “Clergy Family Confidential.”

Midnight Madness

Popped the champagne at 9:00 pm last night. We had a few friends over with their kids, ordered Greek food, and spent a relaxing evening laughing, eating, and conversing. Once we put on the movie upstairs.

I don’t think I’ve seen the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve since Ben was born 8 and 1/2 years ago. Even when Y2K threatened to destroy the world I figured I’d hear all about it in the morning. Or just sleep in for eternity. Plus with a six-month-old who was a fitful sleeper, we needed all the shuteye we could get. It was bad enough that my very first act of the new millennium was changing a diaper at 2 am. I was in my final year of seminary in Evanston and Bryna and I did watch the ball drop in Times Square before going to sleep at 11:05 pm Central Time. As arrogant East Coasters we figured that if it was midnight in New York, the millennium had already arrived. (The best thing about Central Time? Monday Night Football starting at 8 pm which gave me a fighting chance to see the whole game).

Actually I’ve always found New Year’s Eve to be slightly depressing. The mirth seems somehow contrived; like “forced fun.” Anyone who needs a noisemaker made in China to show everyone what a good time they’re having needs to get a life. And have you ever seen anyone wearing those glasses shaped liked the new year at any other time? I’d be impressed if someone wore 1984 glasses to our next Diocesan Convention. If only for the Orwellian overtones.

The calendar itself is simply a reflection of the human need to gain control over the chaos of creation. I don’t think God really cares what year it is or what day it is. Or whether your countdown begins at midnight or 9 pm. Of course, practically speaking, we need calendars and schedules so we know what time Law & Order is on tonight.

Ben insisted he was staying up until midnight to ring in the New Year; he was so not impressed with our lame 9 o’clock “fake” celebration. Fine with me. Just keep the volume down so I don’t get rudely awakened by Dick Clark (isn’t it past his bedtime?). Ben was out cold by 10:40.

Happy New Year!