Letter from the Editor: The 2017 We Think We Want

At the start of each year, many a heart and mind turn toward life change. Everything from fitness to finances to character to habits are assessed and judged, then reformed into a formula for success.

Many goals are adopted to set us on the path toward our definition of personal greatness. Defining that, of course, is up to the individual. Our value systems point us toward our best life, if not now, then certainly by the end of the year. Certainly 365 days is long enough to craft and create the life we’ve always wanted. Right?

This self-improvement focus has been one of the main arguments against resolutions among those who proclaim Christ as Savior. Is it right to place such effort on personal growth? Does a Better You actually translate into kingdom advancement? Should we be so focused on achieving our best year now, in 2017?

We can use our days to advance kingdom principles and be brutally honest about our need for more of it in our own lives.

Like many actions connected to being in the world but not of it, New Year’s resolutions are not inherently bad. (Besides, we have a knack for twisting even the best of things to serve our own interests.) The features in this issue of Christ and Pop Culture Magazine consider various aspects of entering 2017 and the pitfalls to avoid in attempting to make it Your Best Year Now.

K. B. Hoyle helps frame up our perspective in her feature titled “It’s Not About You: Doctor Strange and the Dichotomy of Self”:

The Ancient One’s admonition of, “It’s not about you,” serves as a last-ditch attempt, perhaps, to encourage Stephen Strange to make the right choice. She can see more clearly than he what will become of him if he allows his desires to be put to death. Don’t love your old life. Choose to continue to die daily to yourself. It’s the bookend of all her teachings that began with, “You think too little of yourself.”

A Sunday school teacher I once had liked to say he holds a daily funeral every morning before his feet hit the floor. In his deep Alabama drawl, he would smile and quote Galatians 2:20 from memory: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” This was his favorite teaching: Choose whom you will serve. Die daily to yourself. Make way for Christ, and Christ will work through you.

With this filter in place, our resolution-making and goal-setting has a much greater chance of being rooted in grace and producing a harvest of righteousness by year’s end. One goal in particular need of tender care is the way we tend and keep our health. Weight, fitness, and eating are almost synonymous with New Year’s resolutions—likely because each year we have to recommit after last year’s failure. Amanda Martinez Beck suggests this struggle is connected to another faulty filter. In “Resolved: A Neighborly 2017,” Beck explains:

I might make a New Year’s resolution to be healthier and to lose weight, but it never lasts very long. I have been through this very cycle quite a few times, and I have to ask myself why I always fail at these attempts at self-betterment. Even as a Christian—although I understand my depravity and know the self-improvement journey is something I need divine help with—I can’t seem to stay on the wagon. I’ve implored heaven for help to lose weight and to be healthy, particularly at New Year’s, so why wouldn’t God bless me with success?

I propose it is because my fitness goals and dreams of a culturally glorious body have focused on the wrong thing: me. Gradually, I have come to believe that it is possible—and downright necessary—to mold my worldview of fitness and health around someone else, someone God has called me to love as much as myself: my neighbor.

Admitting our tendency to make our aims and goals all about our own self-improvement is key. By facing and embracing our brokenness, we can let go of our need to be strong and power through to our best selves. This is exactly what Aarik Danielsen recommends in his feature, “You Can’t Skip Lament and Have a Happy New Year”:

Each new year comes with its own quiet resolve, an imperceptible power play that lets us keep our true feelings in check. We turn into strong, get everything in order types.

Few people would include learning to lament in their 2017 goals. We lean long into discipline and habit structures and powering through to success. Lament, however, is the posture of the psalmists, who were fiercely honest about the great need we all have for Divine intervention. Danielsen continues:

The psalmist’s people are hard to find within the church’s walls. To find those messy feelings, you have to look in messy places for a cohort of common grace. His offspring often wear the titles of rock star, balladeer, rapper, and poet. They are found in anyone who knows two kinds of truth—never flinching from felt reality, yet looking out and up for ultimate reality.

Artistic expression of lament—the truth of our broken reality—is birthed in those tender places where our hearts are bruised, cracked, tattered, and torn. In Steven Miller’s feature, “Will the Church Value Video Games in 2017?” the faithful are called to a specific art form that has been regularly avoided but has much to show us:

[T]he U.S. evangelical church—regarding video games, we have largely dismissed (as harmful) or ignored (as meaningless) one of the largest cultural phenomena of the past 40 years. . . . The pulpit, the blogosphere, and informal discussion seems to provide regular thought regarding other pervasive media types, such as movies, or fiction books, or sports, or social media. But sadly, I see a disproportionate amount of careful, nuanced thought on an industry so extensive.

Miller calls us away from our own interests and into a realm where art is produced that speak directly to a large portion of the U.S. population. This year, we can step into someone else’s world and learn to hear their hopes, dreams, and laments through the art that speaks to them. Even more, we can use our days to advance kingdom principles and be brutally honest about our need for more of it in our own lives.

Still, the making of resolutions isn’t for everyone. Whether you embrace the tradition or ignore it, we trust these features and support articles may inspire you in some way to move toward God and others more purposefully this year.

—Erin Straza