Sunday, January 1, 2017

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot?"

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And never brought to mind? 
Should auld acquaintance be forgot, 
And auld lang syne!” 

Here’s hoping you sang Robert Burns’ old Scottish poem as the clock struck midnight and 2016 passed into the rearview mirror with the new horizons of 2017 opening ahead.

“Auld lang syne” translates into “old long since.” The ballad’s opening inquiry seems to be asking whether “auld acquaintances” should be forgotten. Of course, they shouldn’t. In its entirety, the message has more to do with the auld acquaintances whose lives we’ll continue to share. “We two have run about the slopes and picked the daisies fine. But we’ve wandered many a weary foot, since auld lang syne.”

On this New Year’s morn, I opt to read those classic lyrics as an affirmation that, despite how many differences we’ve had in 2016, we begin 2017 blessed more by what we have in common. 

The poet didn’t ignore the differences between auld acquaintances. They are real and they’re honest. “We two have paddled in the stream,” Burns wrote, “from morning till dine. But seas between us broad have roared since auld lang syne.”

Acknowledging the reality of our differences doesn’t mean we shouldn’t “take a cup o’ kindness yet for auld lang syne.”

In seminary, an “art of preaching,” professor taught that the best sermons we’d ever preach would be the ones we ourselves most needed to hear. Perhaps the same could be said of columnists. As 2016 fades into auld lang syne, I admit my language has often been divisive. Harsh language accompanies deep feelings about that which matters most to us. You’ve seen it in me and I have seen it in the responses of some readers. As they say, we’ve given as good as we got. “Seas between us broad have roared.”

The new year question beckons. “Is it possible to express our most deeply held views without employing vitriol?” Perhaps, but only if we are more honest about the source of our feelings. It seems the genesis of deeply held views are twofold; hopes and fears. The chasm between us is deepened by that which we fear, though we know a bridge across that chasm can be built by a focus on our shared hopes.

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” is one of my favorite Christmas carols. It’s a favorite because of one lyric. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” Those who know me understand I’m not a “Christian-exclusivist.” For me, Jesus provides guidance when we arrive at Robert Frost’s place where “two roads diverge.” For Christians, Jesus is the intersection between our hopes and fears. For others, the intersection is found along other paths.

Whether we are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Unitarian Universalists, skeptics, believers along other paths or non-believers, the place where two roads diverge is where we each decide whether there is something bigger than each of us. The road Frost said was “less traveled by,” the one he said “has made all the difference” is the one that moves us away from our fears and toward our hopes.

Vitriol and harshness arise from focusing on that which we fear. The Dalai Lama says, “Where there is fear, frustration will come. Frustration brings anger.” Anger prevents us from sharing our hopes. Yet each of us, conservatives and liberals alike, have many of the same hopes for our children and grandchildren, for our community, our state, the nation and the world.

Having reached the place where those two roads diverge, and having “looked down both as far as I could,” the road I’ll seek to travel in 2017 leads to hope. Let us each make our case, defend our cause, with logic rather than meanness, and when we can’t agree, let’s be agreeable as we share our hopes.

As the song invites, “And here’s a hand my trusty friend; and give me a hand o’ thine! And we’ll take a right good-will draught for auld lang syne.”  

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