This week marked the United Nations Social Justice Day, with social justice described by the UN as being at the core of their global mission to promote development and human dignity. This week I will be speaking at an event as part of the SCVO gathering on Values for a Modern Scotland. It is a subject close to my heart but one which the more I explore the less I see value in words and the more I understand that what really matters are actions. It is, I believe, when we live our values, we create the world when social justice is made real.
I was once asked to baptise a still born baby. While baptising a child who never saw life outside of the womb went against what I had learnt in my training as a minister, this was a very real opportunity to bring a small bit of pastoral care to a very painful circumstance. Did I value the integrity of the sacrament of baptism over the compassion I felt for the grieving parents whom I knew well and whose circumstances were very tough. In my desire to “do something” in a tough place of death and bereavement end up undermining something special and significant about new life. They asked me the moment I arrived at the hospital at 3am in the morning; the birth of their daughter having happened an hour earlier. As I looked at the pain etched on their faces, the incomprehension in their eyes; I had a fraction of a second to decide what to do.
I saw an excellent tweet recently “values should be lived, not laminated”. Values are merely words on a page or in the air unless they are the bedrock of our authenticity. It is not enough to believe in compassion unless we are compassionate even when it’s hard. It is inauthentic to say we act with integrity but when a crisis happens default to defensiveness and discord.
Living our values is tough. It takes resilience and courage. I know I regularly fail to meet the standards I set for myself in living the Cyrenians Values of compassion, integrity, respect and innovation. I just need to pick myself up, dust myself down and try again.
It is particularity difficult when they seem to clash; recently I found myself facing a decision where I had to balance my compassion for an individual versus maintaining the integrity of the organisation. There was no “right answer”. These things are never binary. One of the toughest things about living values is we are taken into the grey area between opposite choices where most of what is truly human is lived.
“The best decisions you make will be when you have time to think about them. The most important ones are the ones you will have to make instantly.”
He was right. It is in the decisions made instantly where we find out if we really do live out our values; if what we say matters to us is made manifest without thought; it is part of who we are, our DNA.
Of course, sometimes we won’t get it right, sometimes we learn what it takes to live our values when we reflect and realise the impact of not doing so, not in theory. But in practice.
Recently I heard this saying; “courage doesn’t always come in big acts of bravery. It takes deep courage after those days when we feel we have failed to be the person we aspire to be, we get up in the morning and say quietly, I will try once again to live the truth I believe”
Living our values is not a claim of perfection and a desire to live well for others and so for ourselves.
Living our values is rarely about words and always about our deeds.
Living our values is when, faced with an instant decision, we know what to do; even if it’s not what the “rules” say.
So I baptised the little girl knowing I was breaking the vow I had taken to uphold the rule of the institution which gave me the authority to carry out the sacrament of baptism. But as I held her tiny still body in my arms and watched the tears slipping down the cheeks of her parents I knew, in the instant when I had said yes to their question, I had done the right thing. It would have been an injustice to do otherwise.
On days when I know I struggled to live up to my values, it’s times such as that moment in the hospital as dawn broke on a very painful day that keep me going.
22nd February 2018