Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Quo vadis?

Posted in Reflections, Uncategorized by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 31 December 2018

As the New Year approaches, many of us think about what is lacking in our lives and what we want to change. One of the most common attempts of resolving the dissonance between our real life and the one we want to have consists of the so-called New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions are notoriously broken and abandoned in the very first weeks of January, but this points to flaws in their implementation, rather than in the idea itself. The main idea—namely, that if one wants to change something in one’s life, one must do something about it—is very much correct. This idea is both intuitive and supported by life experience. If, for example, I want to leave the room, I must get up from my chair and begin to make steps toward the door—one step at a time. If I stay the course, it is guaranteed that I will make my way to the door and, in fact, leave the room.

Results become only slightly less certain when they do not solely depend on our actions but also on those of other people. I may want a promotion at work and I can do all the right things, take all the right steps, and someone else may still get the job because he is more qualified, or because he happens to be the boss’s cousin. Even though, if one were to apply oneself, the same will surely see at least some of the desired results—maybe, not in the desired timeframe or setting—but he who puts forth the necessary effort will generally see it bear some fruits. If one wants to be a doctor, enrolling in a medical school is a good plan. If one wants to become a better runner, going out for regular runs is a sure way to advance toward this goal. And naturally, if one wishes to become more spiritual or virtuous, it is not enough to merely wish it, or to pray about it, or even to go to church; a certain amount of inner work must happen in order for any positive change to take place.

A very similar principle applies to finances. If one wants to set aside money every month for a vacation, then, with proper planning, one will be able to enjoy the desired vacation. If, on the other hand, money is regularly budgeted for shoes or cars, then one will amass a collection of one or the other, but not necessarily be able to take a vacation. These are very simple and self-evident truths that are easily tested by anyone who cares to do so. And these truths and principles appear to apply not only to individuals, but equally to families, communities, and entire countries.

If we notice the direction in which our society is making steps, we can have a reasonable guess at the eventual destination; and if we look at what we choose to spend our money on, we might be able to see what this money will buy. Most of our discretionary budget—more than $900 bn out of $1.2 tn—goes for military spending, and this does not include the billions that the Department of Energy spends on the maintenance and modernization of nuclear weapons and naval nuclear reactors. Only about $70 bn of the federal budget is spent on education—not quite 7% of the amount of military spending. The Environmental Protection Agency received only $6 bn in 2018—0.7% of the amount of military spending. I am not an economist, and I accept that fiscal matters are not necessarily simple and linear, but if we doubled or tripled our education budget, we may get better educated children, or, perhaps, college graduates with less debt. Incidentally, our military spending for 2018 could end world hunger for the next 30 years—from 2018 through 2048! To end all world hunger for just one year would require only 3.5% of our yearly military spending. The 2019 defense budget has been increased by 10% compared to 2018.

Each one of us is just a small cog in a large social machine, but together we pay most of the revenue into the federal budget. Individual income tax collected in 2018 amounted to $1.7 tn, compared to only $205 bn in corporate income taxes. Perhaps, if we united, we could have greater say in how our money is spent. But in order to do this, we must find ways to unite. There are 300 million of us in this country. If each one of us makes just a small step in the same direction—that’s 300 million steps—and we can go a long way!

A good New Year’s resolution for all of us in 2019 may be putting a sustained effort into finding commonalities between us and those who seem or look different. I suspect that we have a lot more in common than that which divides us. We must understand that all of us are human, and we all want very similar things for ourselves and our loved ones, we have very similar aspirations and similar dreams. As Mowgli once said, “We be of one blood, ye and I.” Or, as the Apostle Paul once put it, “[The Lord] hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth…” (Acts 17:26)

Before His arrest, Jesus prayed “that they all may be one” (John 17:21). This was His New Year’s resolution, and we, His Body, must try to keep it. We must be kinder, more patient, more forgiving, more supportive—our society does not have too much of any of these qualities. We must listen more and speak less, try to understand rather than angrily insist on being understood. These are simple things that have been said so many times, but it is not enough to talk the talk—we must walk the walk. Our Lord made it His New Year’s resolution. In this, the year of our Lord 2019, let us make it ours.

Happy New Year!

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