By: John Van Dyk, Social Justice Team
My agenda? Well, you say, I’ve made a dozen New Year’s resolutions and I intend to keep them all! And yes, I made a list of all the things I need to do tomorrow. The first item? Don’t lose this list!
“Agenda” is a Latin word that means: “Things to be done.” The letter “d” in “agenda” adds force: not simply things to do, but things that must be done. Might this “d” change your list? Some things can be postponed, and some things may not need to be done at all. Some retired folks claim they have no agenda whatever: “I’ll just sit in a rocking chair and wait for things to happen.” But then that is their agenda: the thing to be done is to sit and do nothing. The fact is, everyone has an agenda.
An agenda identifies what we think is important in our life. It sets goals. New Year’s resolutions, for example, are intended to bring about positive change. For this reason, no one makes a resolution to smoke three packs a day instead of two. And making a list of things to do is supposed to make life easier, not harder. Agendas, in sum, fit into larger patterns of life. They reflect our priorities and how we see the world. They order our lives.
So, what is your agenda? What is your ultimate list of “things to be done?” Is it to get a good job, a nice home, and a golf cart? To make sure your retirement will be a life of ease? To have others admire you? There is a legion of agendas to tempts us. Often, we are not even aware of the overarching agendas that control our lives. Oftentimes, agendas are hidden.
Democrats and Republicans are said to have an agenda—a liberal or conservative agenda. Political platforms are essentially political agendas. Sadly, just using the term “agenda” can shut down dialogue. Good legislative proposals are easily dismissed when they are stamped as a liberal or conservative agenda. In these cases, agendas function as labels. Rather than examining a proposal for its potential merit, simply calling it a liberal or conservative agenda ends the conversation.
Entire cultures have agendas. Think of the ancient Roman Empire. Their agenda was to foster the myth that Rome was destined by the gods to rule the world, that every knee shall bow to Caesar. What is the agenda of our North American post-truth culture? To promote the American Way of Life, presumably making it possible for everyone to be rich and famous? To bamboozle folks into believing that having an abundance of nice things will keep us happy? To keep the GNP growing? To keep out immigrants and refugees?
For us, Presbyterian followers of Jesus, the critical question is this: What was (and is) Jesus’ agenda? Did he come to foster a materialistic, consumerist lifestyle? Urging us to spend more money on weapons than on caring for the orphans, the poor and the hungry? In Mark we hear Jesus announce his agenda: The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News (Mark 1:14-15). And what is this good news? It’s the good news to the poor, the vulnerable, the blind, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-19). The kingdom is here. Not a Kingdom filled with chariots and horses, but a kingdom of justice, peace, love, joy, and hope.
Such an agenda conflicted with that of the Roman Empire. That’s why Caesar saw the church as subversive. And such an agenda conflicts with much of what today is the agenda of the rich and powerful. As we enter a New Year, a year fraught with bullying and belittling, lies and misinformation, hatred and violence, fear and despair, let’s boldly explore what it means to follow Jesus’ agenda. Let’s fearlessly identify today’s destructive agendas, then get up and challenge these agendas. Difficult? Yes, but with God all things are possible. Besides, we rely on his promise that evil will come to naught and that his Kingdom of justice and peace will prevail. Armed with this promise we can face the world with confidence.