“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…” With these words Charles Dickens introduced his famous novel about the French Revolution. These contrasting thoughts inhabit the souls of many of us as we enter another new year.

As people of faith we are always called to support work in the public and world spheres for a more peaceful, just, united, fair, less hungry, healthier world; however, often it feels like three steps forward and two (three?) steps backward.

Closer to home, in the spheres of our families, friends and local community, “better times” are more achievable. A recent poll showed that the American people were not very hopeful about the nation and the world, while they were more positive about things at the local level.

Pining for a wonderful past (that probably never existed) doesn’t help. Juanita was a dear 95-year-old woman in one of my churches. Several of us were visiting at coffee time after church and talking about the bad news of the previous week. This was in the 1990s. Someone asked Juanita, “What were things like in your time?” She smiled. Her eyes flashed. She said “This is my time.” Bless you, Juanita!

England had one of its many “worst of times” in the 17th century -- a terrible Civil War that lasted most of the century. A tablet in the entryway of a church built during the war is inscribed with the following words:

“In the year 1653 when all things sacred were throughout the nation either demolished or profaned, Sir Robert Shirley founded this church, whose singular praise was to have done the best things in the worst times and hope them in the most calamitous."

It is our present task and sacred responsibility, when discord and violence are never far away, to keep and make our homes, offices, schools, churches, government agencies and other associations places where there is calm, civility, safety, peace, justice, services to those in need, faith, hope and love. Indeed, it is “to do the best things in the worst times and hope them in the most calamitous.” The prayer of St. Francis beginning with the words “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace…” (www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=134) is a valuable prayer for all times.

Bortell is a retired United Methodist minister living in Bloomington. Contact him at jimbortell@gmail.com.

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