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A good life

By Mike Ruffin I’ve been thinking about what makes for a good life. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about what constitutes a good life in this vast, diverse, and fascinating world in which we live. I’m well into the sixth decade of my life. I don’t presume that I’ll have another thirty years to live after I hit sixty, Lord willing, in 2018. I do, though, find myself thinking of my life falling into three sets of 30 years. My first 30 years were about trying to grow up, getting an education, getting married, having children, and beginning my career. My second 30 years have been about developing my career, raising our children, and seeing, reading and experiencing everything I possibly could, given the constraints of time and money. When I think about the next 30 years, I think about expanding my horizons. I’d like to see much more of the world, to read hundreds of books, to watch lots of films and to see dozens of plays. I’d like to write many books and essays about things that matter. I’d like to have someone – anyone – record a song I’ve written. I’d like to get to know more people whose background and life experience are different than mine. I’m a white, AARP-eligible, Christian, straight, middle-class, professional, right-handed, Southern man. In my social environment, I’m about as average as one can get. But lots of folks in my milieu perceive me, and rightly so, as being much less conservative than they are. In fact, some of them consider me downright liberal. I have no problem with that, although I prefer to think of myself as progressive, by which I mean that I count myself among those who believe that we can and should do everything we can to make progress in this old world, especially in human rights. That’s why I applaud efforts to embrace and celebrate diversity. That’s why I appreciate increased diplomacy and more discussion between nations. That’s why I value education. That’s why I refuse to regard people of a different nation, culture, ethnicity or religion as my enemies. And, if some people consider themselves to be my enemies, I will, by the grace of God, try to love them as Jesus told me to do. I will pray for them, as Jesus also told me to do. (My Christian faith contributes to my thinking about living a good life. How could it not, if I am a Christian?) A good life in this vast, fascinating, diverse world in which we live, then, is a life in which we embrace the vastness, fascination and diversity of that world. I’m happy to be who I am. I’m happy to be identified with the groups, some by birth and some by choice, with which I’m identified. But I want to know who others are. I want to embrace them and to be embraced by them. I don’t want to stand in judgment of them and I don’t want them to stand in judgment of me. Are there evil people who claim to be Muslim? Yes. Are there evil people who claim to be Christian? Yes. Are there evil Russians? Yes. Are there evil Americans? Yes. But there are many, many more Christians, Muslims, Americans and Russians who have good intentions, who are doing the best they can, who are just trying to get by, who love their families and friends, and who want to know and be known. I’m all in favor of our learning together – all of us, or at least as many of us as are willing – not just to get along, but to be friends and neighbors whose default setting is genuine respect for each other as human beings. It’s hard, though. It’s such a big world. There are so many people. There are so many nationalities, ethnicities, languages, religions, groups and sub-groups. That’s why it’s wise to remember that, like so many things, living a good life begins at home. We should love our families deeply. We should create homes where every member of the family is not just accepted and tolerated, but valued and treasured. We should talk and listen to each other. We should appreciate our similarities and respect our differences. We should remember that no two people are exactly alike and that differentiation makes life interesting. It takes a lot of energy to build and maintain that kind of family life. So it’s not hard to understand that many of us don’t think too much about the world beyond our little piece of it. And, if you have to choose between building a good family and helping to build a better world, I’ll be the first to say that you should choose your family. Besides, maybe in building a home where everyone is welcomed, cherished and respected, we are helping to build a better world. Perhaps our children and grandchildren will absorb their family experience and go live it out in the world. Maybe one of them will be one of the ones to make a big difference in the big picture. I hope that, in whatever years the good Lord gives me, I’ll keep trying to live a good life, both at home and in the world. I’m grateful for all those who are trying to do the same. I hope more will join us. Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor for Smyth and Helwys Christian publishers and a native of Lamar County. He has served Baptist churches in Fitzgerald, Adel and Augusta. Ruffin also has served as Associate Professor at the School of Religion at Belmont University. He preaches at The Rock Baptist Church at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

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