At a recent memorial service for a congregant, the program prepared by the family highlighted values that were central to the life and character of their loved one: kindness, patience, wisdom, optimism, and fairness. In their brief eulogies, members of the family explained how he had demonstrated these traits in a consistent way throughout his life. When the sharing of recollections was opened up to everyone present, one community member offered his comments in the form of a conversation with the man who died, telling him that he was “one of the good guys.” That is what made him so special.
We need people of good character to assure that our society, our nation, and our world will move forward in a positive direction.
The memorial service was held several hours after Temple Beth-El had hosted its annual pre-thanksgiving Interfaith conversation on the afternoon of November 19, 2017. This year, the theme was “People of Character: What Does It take to be a mensch (a decent human being)?” At the program, I shared the “Periodic Table of Character Strengths” prepared for Global Character Day, marked this year on September 13 and founded by film-maker and innovator Tiffany Schlain (featured in my September column).
What was most important about the November 19 program was that we had representatives of several faith groups speak on values which, we believe, are central to good character.
Pastor Jared Carson of Peace Lutheran Church presented his views on persistence. He used biblical examples (Jacob of the Hebrew Bible and Joseph of the New Testament) and shared a poignant personal story that reflected this value.
Deb Rodgers of the Baha’is of Las Cruces shared a personal experience that recounted kindness shown to someone in a communal setting who needed encouragement.
The Rev. Carol Tuck spoke about truth and its varying permutations in our society, seeking to uphold a reverence for honesty and forthright presentation of current events so that we can find a way to live with each other in a spirit of integrity.
Kelley Williams of the Islamic Center of Las Cruces spoke about law, justice, and mercy, noting how religion seeks to strike a balance between all three.
Sonoma Springs Covenant Church pastor Rob Reed spoke on perspective, using the New Testament image from Hebrews of life as a marathon race to be run, with eyes fixed on God and a pace that is holy, honest, humble and healing.
I spoke about compassion/mercy, beginning with the suggestion of the book of Exodus to adopt a positive approach towards the stranger and even to one’s enemy, and also addressing how Judaism seeks to give mercy an edge over an approach of strict justice.
When we broke into small groups for further discussion, attendees shared their impressions of the presentations and built on what they heard to engage in new conversations about how we can work together to encourage everyone to explore how to cultivate character strengths in themselves.
What most impressed us was that, amid the diversity of the teachings of the faiths represented, there was a definite resonance about what builds good character, about what it takes to be a “mensch.”
As we enter a month with important annual holiday celebrations, may our gatherings lead us to consider how our rituals and customs can teach us how to continue to be people of character who value kindness and goodness in a world that needs the best that we have to give.