looking to the futureI’m not very optimistic about the year out ahead. That’s a hard statement for me to make. I always tend to be the optimistic one in the bunch. But there is some sort of malaise that has settled down on our planet, on our country, on our various communities. I keep looking for the right vision for what’s ahead, and most of what I see is trouble, uncertainty, even fear. And I look for the right kinds of leaders, but feel only a growing impatience for someone to show real depth and clarity and substance.

We are reaping what we have sown, I’m afraid.

When we outspend what we produce—personally, nationally, globally—there is a price to pay. I suspect there is much pain ahead as we adjust to new circumstances of economic limitation. We’re all in this economic boat together, sharing some measure of complicity.

When violence—the sheer face of evil—crops out in our midst, among our children, for goodness sake, where do we turn for answers and comfort? We should pass much tighter gun laws, we are told, and while true, surely we know this will not explain nor stop the awful mayhem. We desperately need to provide care for the mentally troubled, to be sure, but when we have splintered our communities into isolated pockets, how can we surround the broken in healing ways? We must reduce the amount of violence and coarseness and emptiness in our entertainment—our movies, video games, television—to which we say, yes, of course, but here again, these actions will all fall short of rooting out the forces of darkness in our midst.

We must do all of these things, but we have to do something much harder. We must address what’s missing at the core of our culture. We have some very hard questions to ask ourselves about what we have created. Everyone is outraged, to be sure. Everyone is alarmed. Everyone is anxious. But we have lost a common language to address the real issues. There is no center to our culture, no heart, no common wisdom from which to draw.

Goodness must be taught. That’s what I’ve come to. We’ve got to figure out better how to educate, especially young people, with notions of right and wrong, kindness instead of rudeness, thrift instead of debt, decency instead of coarseness, sanctity of life rather than easy cheapness. In my Christian tradition, these things don’t come with human nature. Goodness comes through a fundamental change of heart. Goodness comes through being taught goodness. Goodness comes when enough good people shine God’s goodness into the world.

Oh my, it’s hard to begin a new year with such gloom. But I see where my energies need to be invested. We have a job to do, in our own lives, in our communities, and our nation. Things are a mess. Out of control. But the real concrete action must in some way focus on rebuilding a broken culture. That’s the hard but necessary work out ahead. That’s what I will be thinking about this year.