These particular qualities are especially helpful because they are "ways of being" rather than stages of accomplishment.
There isn't a time when someone can put down a checkmark next to "thoughtful" and move on to being "humble," and so on. There are always strides to made because there is always room to grow.
The open-ended nature of these characteristics matches the observation that our lives are dynamic, not static. Each day offers unique possibilities that call for different responses at different times. Tally sheets and checkmarks won't help us find our place in what is essentially a narrative existence that picks up the past, lives in the present, and looks toward the future.
These four "ways of being" have an ongoing, participatory quality that meets us wherever we are on the journey of faith and points us in the right direction. Because they're so important, I want to unpack each of them in a little more detail.
Being thoughtful could be taken in a couple of ways, but here it means involving ourselves in careful thinking. I have in mind a faith that seeks understanding. This doesn't mean that everyone should be a scholar. It means that we take a second look, from a different angle, at the stories and actions with which we've grown familiar. It's a reflective approach that understands the power of ideas, and recognizes that truth isn't determined by the volume of someone's voice. We ask questions in order to gain understanding and clarity about what is said and what is meant.
Thoughtful people are the kind of people who wonder about why things are the way they are, and seek to articulate their views in meaningful ways.
Being humble is about holding realistic view of our own ability and knowledge, and also giving others the benefit of the doubt. This requires us to admit that we don't know everything, can't do everything, and have a limited perspective through which we view the world. God sees things exactly as they are, we don't. Such a posture of humility goes a long way toward breaking down walls hostility. It can also motivate a willingness to contribute toward the common good with people who are different from us.
Humble people are the kind of people who recognize their own strengths and limitations, and look for the good in others.
Being intentional involves paying attention and applying effort to the private things that make a public difference. It considers not only who I am, and who I am becoming, but also who we are, and who we are becoming. Because personal identity and group solidarity are both important and fragile, special attention must be paid to the development of disciplines (both private and public) that are necessary to sustain our particular vision and vocation as Christian people. Boundaries must be drawn and goals must be set because identity and solidarity aren't formed overnight; they are solidified through a long obedience in the same direction.
Intentional people are the kind of people who are committed to doing important work that often goes unnoticed.
Being hopeful describes the conviction that the world is presently out of joint, but it won't always be this way. Hope insists that God is willing and working toward another way. Against the dominant agendas to keep everyone and everything quiet and orderly, hopeful people speak words and perform actions that break the silence and break the status quo. Being hopeful is about announcing (in word and deed) that God is always on the move, always on the verge of breaking loose to transform our world with mercy, freedom, and justice.
Hopeful people are the kind of people who look back at the stories of God's mighty acts, and are freshly energized to play a role in the new stories being written today.
Each of these four characteristics can stand on their own, but they take on their "varsity" quality when they are brought together and coupled with faith. It's not that being thoughtful, humble, international, and hopeful is all there is to being a Christian; it's that being thoughtful, humble, intentional, and hopeful positions us to maintain and develop our Christian faith as the present gives way to the future.
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