Being a Good Ancestor

I was thinking about the phrase Samantha Power used in a commencement speech: “Be a good ancestor.” This phrase is wonderfully suggestive. It implies that we have some agency, some responsibility, an ability to make considered, deliberate choices – in spite of our normal familiar, habitual acts – that can change the world.

What we call the church’s traditions are our attempts to be good ancestors. We want people to seek peace; to break bread with our neighbors; to see through other people’s eyes. Of course, sometimes our tribal patterns run counter to our traditions. And every religion has several traditions at work, some of them contradictory.

Granted, I don’t think there are always clear answers to what makes being a “good ancestor.” Often, I think that the best we can hope for is that good decisions for us now will lay the foundation for future generations. As we are often broken, we make mistakes, and have everyday failures, being a “good ancestor” doesn’t mean being a perfect ancestor. It may just mean what Jesus implied throughout his ministry: don’t be deceptive in your practices; don’t worry so much about the future; recognize that God’s love does not require lifestyles that are costly for our relationships or for the planet. The love that God has imbued within creation is enough for us to live at peace with one another.

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