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Happy new year! I suppose that makes it a bit late for resolutions. I’ve never been a big fan of them anyway—dubious as I am of self-improvement and willpower.

The whole idea of new year’s resolutions and their worth is a sort of subset of a larger, theoretical discussion of which I never tire. Can people change? I’ve gone round and round with friends and colleagues on this one. And I can pretty much argue either side, depending on which team is shorthanded.

On one side we have: “How you can you be a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not believe that people can change? And anecdotally, we all have seen people whose lives and character have changed drastically.”

On the opposing side: “The human heart is a pretty stubborn and stable thing. Our warped nature is not easily trued. And anecdotally again, while people do change incredibly and dramatically, their deepest character, their secret wounds, seem just to be rearranged. Their needs are simply met in different ways. Saul/Paul was a combative, insecure guy both pre and post the Damascus road.

Discuss and debate among yourselves. It never gets old.

My skepticism about new year’s resolutions notwithstanding, I also share that today marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of a resolution I have kept, more or less. On January 1, 1978, I stopped eating meat. Back then, my college was starting an optional vegetarian meal plan. I signed up and a few days before returning to school, I took the plunge to stop eating meat. At the time I was a lacto/ovo, vegetarian. I still ate dairy products and eggs. In 1978, even with this concession, it was difficult to eat in restaurants.

But this is not intended to be a self-congratulatory proclamation. It is more about what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed over these thirty-four years, even become a “healthier” person, although not in the expected ways, and perhaps a little wisdom about how to keep resolutions.

If 1978-Steve had been asked why he was going to stop eating meat, the reply would have been about eating lower on the food chain, conscientious stewardship of scarce resources, living simply that others might simply live. Maybe toss in a bit about animal cruelty, too.

Today, when I’m asked why, Sophie, my wife, will quickly interject “Because he loves to be contrary!” Then I might say something like, “It has just become part of who I am. Over the years, we make so many compromises, throw so many of our ideals overboard, I like to try to hang on to something, if only symbolically.

About five or six years into my vegetarianism, I began eating fish and other sea food. This was at Sophie’s request, perhaps insistence. It would make meals and socializing much easier if I would be a little more accommodating. At the time, it was painful for me to relent. But looking back I was learning that relationships are more valuable than resolutions.

In the past few years, my new standard is not to eat warm-blooded animals—this so I can indulge in grenouilles and escargots when in France. Part of the reason for this allowance is simply because I like to try local cuisine, but it also fosters camaraderie with my French family.

Pointed and persistent questions from friends and enemies chastened me. Why did I wear leather shoes? What about the moths and bugs and rabbits I might kill while driving? I discovered that any attempts at moral purity end in absurdity.

I’ve learned to be pretty quiet and humble about vegetarianism. I’ve seen hostesses shamed and waiters interrogated by sanctimonious, strident vegetarians. “Flexitarian” is a term now used to describe all sorts of dietary arrangements. I like it.

So is all this just a sorry story of sliding toward surrender, an excursus on how time wears down all our youthful ideals? I hope not. I hope it is more about finding your way among all of life’s complications, staying faithful without becoming rigid.

I didn’t make a new year’s resolution this year. But if you did, I hope you keep it for 35 years, more or less. And in that time, may you change your resolution a bit, and may your resolution change you.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is a recently retired minister of the Reformed Church in America. He has been the convener of the Reformed Journal’s daily blog since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Sophie, reside in Des Moines, Iowa.


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