Core Values

By Rod Hemphill

Some time ago I brought some apples to work. But I tended to overlook them, and there they sat in their basket day after day, week after week for a month or so.

Well, the other day I still had three of them left and by now they were really old and shriveled, but still appeared to be in pretty good shape . . . for the shape they were in. So I decided to eat them right then and replace them with new, fresh apples.

I have one of those apple sectioners which you push through the apple and it cores the apple and divides it into eight pieces. And when I pushed it through one of them --one that looked on the outside like it was in pretty good shape-- I found that the whole core was rotten.

So I tried to section the second apple, and the whole apple collapsed under the sectioner because its core was so rotten that the apple had no inner strength.

That's when I gained some insight into what that saying means . . . "It was rotten to the core."

The incident is analogous to people in that it's the core values of a person that give us strength of character and determines our worth --not our wealth, our status, nor any external thing. Even from an evolutionary point of view, that which makes us human beings instead of just the most highly evolved species of animal is that we are not only able to think abstractly and to wonder, but also that we can form values, and we are such that our personal well being and that of our social relationships require that we adhere to values that nurture personal well being and those relationships.

If we fail to develop and nurture the values that make us human, the values that make us decent people, whole persons . . . then our personhood will begin to rot from the inside out.

This is illustrated in the story, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, in which the wholesomeness and goodness of the members of Bob Cratchit's family is set in stark contrast to that of their uncle, Ebenezer Scrooge, who had exchanged the values of righteousness, goodness and concern for others for the relative and self-destructive values of expediency, utilitarianism and self-centeredness.

In plain terms, Wikipedia describes Scrooge as "a financier/money-changer who has devoted his life to the accumulation of wealth. He holds anything other than money in contempt, including friendship, love and the Christmas season." It would be a safe assumption that many who might have had dealings with Mr. Scrooge would have considered him to be "rotten to the core." But the fact is that most of us live lives somewhere in between what we see in the Cratchits and old Scrooge.

From the outside we may continue to look attractive, healthy and happy for a time, but eventually the hard life of abusing ourselves with unhealthy practices, wrong attitudes and abusive substances will begin to be exposed as the inner rot they cause consumes ever more of our inner being. Good health and wholeness of person (body, soul and spirit) depends upon all three areas of human life being in a sound condition, and a sound condition equates to our being what we were created to be. We can change neither our nature nor the reality of our lives to accommodate whatever we might wish were otherwise. Wholeness requires that we come to understand what we are and accept that and what is required to nurture that as the reality of our lives. To do otherwise invites some degree of fragmentation and disharmony in our bodily health, our emotions and mental well being, and in our relationships . . . with God, with others, and even within ourselves as composite creatures each made up of a body, soul and spirit.

In contrast, we can note that if our core is stong and healthy, then we --like the apple-- can absorb the bruises of life and overcome them. But if the core is weak, the bruises will not heal and will in fact grow larger and weaken us further, and detract from the overall quality of our being, and as people --detract from the quality of our lives.

So how well is it with your body, soul and spirit? For the most part, only you can answer this . . . it's not something anyone else can judge except in the case of those individuals who excel in virtue more than the rest of us, or who are so disintegrated in their core being that the affects of those attitudes and practices make them undesirable to be around.

You know how you're treating your body. But how about your soul? The person you identify as You, who inhabits your body and views the world through your eyes, and thinks and wonders, who experiences joy and sorrow, excitement but also grief and a sense of loss, the thrill of anticipation and the anxiety of things beyond your control.

We tend to try to fill our lives full with the tangible things of life only to discover that while it's generally better to have some amount of wealth than not have it, wealth in itself is cold, unfulfilling and unsecure. The momentary thrills leave no lasting fulfillment, and it becomes apparent that to build one's life upon the external things of life leaves one shallow and unfulfilled. And the resultant frustration and personal dissatisfaction with life eat away at the core of one's being. Perhaps this was best observed by Jesus when he said, "What good does it do a man if he gains everything the world has to offer, but at the cost of them consuming his soul?" [my paraphrase of Luke 9.25].

We need to remember that life is a process of becoming. Life is what we experience each day of our lifetime, and what we will be tomorrow is determined by what we are becoming today. So we try to live according to some discipline, but discipline is unnatural and soon we fall away from it. (Remember the last time you decided that jogging would be healthy, or to go on a diet or stop smoking? How long did it last? And if you are one of the few who persisted, it wasn't easy, was it? Nor particularly what you would have rather been doing.)

We learn some new philosophy from some new guru or his book or Oprah and we start thinking that way because it sounds good, only to discover in the end that as it changed our attitudes and behavior, the results have not been entirely as we had hoped, and in some cases it's not been for the good. So also as we read in Proverbs 4.12, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death." Not that it necessarily results in death, but it leads toward death, is associated with the downturn of life and death, and anything associated with death instead of life can't be good.

So we try different things hoping that they will make us feel better or cause other people to respect us or lead us into some other aspect of the good life, but what we continue to experience is the shriveling up and hardening of the soul within us, our essential person, not understanding that our core person is rotting within us. We need to realize that our core values must be those values that correspond with the reality of the created universe around us, of which we are a part.

We can search those values out as we examine the historical records of the lives of those who seemed to have been successful in the living of life . . . successful in this whether they were wealthy or not, or had status or not, and as we search out the recorded descriptions of those whom we conclude were failures even though some of them --as we say-- "had it all."

But in the meantime, life goes on and one's life continues to slip away. But eventually one who might be concerned about such things might figure it out only to say late in years, "If only I had known all this sooner . . . !"

Is that maybe the reason God gave us the Bible, for when we compile this list of core values that lead to the good life of wholeness of being, we discover that they are the same as the values we learn from the Bible.

So what are you becoming? . . . a person respected by friends and opponents alike, who God looks upon as "the apple of his eye," or are you becoming something else? It's important that we answer this honestly, because we must keep reminding ourselves and our children and grandchildren that if we fail to keep living the core values of righteousness, love and faith in God, we will be growing "rotten to the core"!