This black-and-white photograph, taken in the l890’s, perfectly captures in a single image what it means to flourish as a human being in an imperfect world. We may not be challenged by any physical disability, but all of us are lacking in one way or another. And our impairments are the very reason God pairs us with others. In those pairings, in those dependent relationships, we learn that we not only need others, but are in fact created to need others.
We don’t need a psychologist to inform us that people who are charitable, caring, and compassionate generally rank higher on the happiness scale. We know people like this. And we’ve experienced it ourselves. We go out of our way to lend someone a hand or donate a little extra to charity, and what happens? We feel a rush of pleasure. We feel better about ourselves.
There are some elements of disgust that are more universal. One of these is that, once something has been deemed unclean, polluted, toxic, or contaminated, it not only remains that way, but it also passes on its disgusting quality to whatever it touches.
If we had eyes to see what really happens in a baptism, we’d treat them as R-rated acts of violence. Not only is a person about to be killed. Not only are we about to witness a drowning. Horrific monsters writhe in the water. Dragons of the sea lurk therein. And a bloody battle, with crushed heads and butchered bodies is about to go down. To treat baptism as cute or sentimental or symbolic is a lie. Abandon all such foolish notions. Every baptism is war.
We will all be failures in 2019. We don’t need prophets or crystal balls to reveal this to us. Just stand in front of a mirror. Is the image staring back the same image that’s always been there? Well, there’s the evidence. New year, same you. The same you that’s failed, in ways big and small, your entire life.
We do plenty of counting this time of year. Moms and Dads count how many days they have left to swipe their Visa for gift purchases. Children count how many of those presents lie colorfully wrapped beneath the evergreen tree. Stores count profits. And surveying the hams, pecan pies, and oceans of eggnog lavished before us, we all try not to count calories.