There are just a few principles in life that really matter: love, first of all, love in all its forms, love for God, for the one we married, for family, friends, for those who desperately need love, for beauty. Add to love, then, things like loyalty, kindness, forgiveness, humility, patience, reconciliation. Not thinking too highly of ourselves, that should rank way up there as well.

We might call these older values, but surely they are not dated, are they? Can’t we all agree things would be better—for our personal lives, for our society—if we organized our lives around these enduring human principles?

And yet we continue to act as if we are guided by a whole different stack of principles: self-focus, incivility, outright hatred at times, envy, dishonesty, betrayal, ridicule, backstabbing. How about the gotcha tendencies we witness so much these days, the glee we seem to get when we catch someone making a mistake? How about our tendency to discard friends with whom we disagree? How about our obsession over who’s responsible for just about anything that troubles us? I get sick of these things being lifted up, with a shrug, as if this is the way everyone operates these days. I am chagrined when I find them cropping out in my own behavior.

Are these really the kind of people we want to be? What could we ever be thinking? Leadership is a disaster guided by these principles. Family life gets destroyed. Communities can’t even begin to function. Churches break apart. These things corrode our souls from within. They poison our life together. It feels like we’ve taken the wrong path.

Is there another path that might guide our way? Think about the early Christians. The Apostle Paul had his hands full trying to shape healthy communities out of the motley group of new followers of Christ. Conversions were happening, in huge numbers, a movement spreading out across the world. And yet lots of division and dissension began to crop up, argument about what’s true and what’s not, about who’s was going to be in charge. Paul began to ask how to shape this scattered movement into attractive communities that would signal to the rest of the world there is a new and better way to live? He became adamant that if the gospel meant anything, it had to show up in the way people live. He proposed a pretty radical path forward.

Paul fully understood the human tendency to love ourselves above all else. And so he came on strong, saying, over and over, if we really want to follow this risen Lord, then transformed people had to be different.

Put on the garments that suit God’s chosen and beloved people: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience. Be tolerant with one another and forgiving, if any of you has cause for complaint: you must forgive as the Lord forgave you. Finally, to bind everything together and complete the whole, there must be love. . . . And always be thankful. Let the gospel of Christ dwell among you in all its richness; teach and instruct one another with all the wisdom it gives you. With psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing from the heart in gratitude to God. (Colossians 3:12-16)

Wouldn’t it be great to aspire to be people like this? Isn’t this what we need coming out of our frightening pandemic isolation? Can’t we use some real soul-searching, both for the personal lives we live and the society we have created.  This is a call for a radically new kind of people, people learning to live according to the transforming power of the gospel. The communities we form will be different.

I hope this doesn’t sound like a bunch of abstractions, or some kind of scolding. I am writing all of this out of a lot of self-examination. What Paul was proposing is a new way of being, a new way of living when these enduring principles become the habits of our hearts. To change from one ingrained set of principles to another takes a lot of work. I hate what our society has become. I hate it when I see these things in myself. We’ve got a lot of work to do. If we can even come close to becoming transformed people, perhaps our world will become better too. Perhaps we will even see a light shining on a new path out ahead.