Sunday, January 24, 2021

That your love may abound

I had an odd dream this week. I rarely dream, and even more rarely remember my dreams. But I woke Friday morning with a strange clarity: I had been sitting next to Donald Trump and he had reached out and pinched me, hard. I turned and said as calmly and clearly as I could, "That was rude, it hurt, and it was was mean and inappropriate. Don't do that again, to me or anyone else." 

That's it. That's the dream. I found myself puzzling over it as I made my coffee and dished out my morning medley of local Seven Stars yogurt and Bethlehem Inn granola. It was still on my mind as I began my reading in Philippians 1, and sparked my attention on a verse I know I've read many dozens of times before: 

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight . . . . 

It struck me that love, genuine love, requires us to know, to really SEE, understand, consider those we say we love. 

And it struck me that my dream of Donald Trump gave me an odd insight into him, into me, into what it means to love the unloveable. 

Replaying the little snippet of dream that had traveled with me from my sleep, I heard in my own voice the calm, clear reprimand I've given countless times to children in my care. It's the work every parent, teacher, youth pastor, caregiver is called to: calm clarification of what's okay, what's not. It's an act of love, helping children prepare for life. Helping teens stay safe. Helping form the lives around us to be respectful, kind, aware of their actions. 

In replaying that dream, I was filled with sadness for Donald Trump, the child, the teen, the man: so lacking in that awareness, so deprived of that calm, clear reproof. Trained by his father to be a bully and a "killer," egged on by his own parent to abuse, dominate and betray. 

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. 
There is so much to process from these past historic weeks: the still unfolding fallout from the attack on our nation's capital. It took me until today to watch the chilling account compiled by the Washington Post. In Pennsylvania, there's the troubling news that a PA congressman coordinated with Donald Trump to subvert the Department of Justice, and news that over a million dollars of taxpayer money was used by PA legislators to contest the same ballots that put them back in office. 

Add the inaugural events:  beauty, sadness, potential, division. The rendition of Amazing Grace at the candle-lit memorial service for the 400,000 who have died of COVID-19.  The Republican leaders who joined the Bidens at an inaugural morning prayer service. The brilliant young poet Amanda Gorman and her incredible spoken-word performance. The mingled reports of brokenness and promise.

How do we move forward? How do we speak with truth and grace in places of deception, anger, lingering bitterness? How do we rebuild a fractured nation, a fractured state, a fractured church?

That passage in Philippians points the way: 

And this is my prayer: that your love may about more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.
That word righteousness has often given me pause. In English it's linked too closely to "self-righteous," exactly what we do not need at this moment in our history. 

But the word, the Greek dikoias, is expansive, inclusive: it describes "what is in conformity to God's own being
." I wrote about the word in 2013, about what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness, "hungering far past "rightness." As I reread that post, I see how far that hunger for righteousness has brought me, how it has shaped the intervening years and fuels my hope for the years ahead.  

I grew up thinking righteousness was something like “rightness.” As in: correct. The narrow tradition of my childhood church offered long lists of correct, or more often incorrect, behavior: No movies. No dances. No playing cards. No alcohol. No skirts shorter than your knees. No tank tops. No two piece bathing suits.

Righteousness was staying on the right side of the rules.

There were right opinions and wrong, on everything from baptism to women to the work of the Holy Spirit to the chronology of the end times.

“Righteousness,” to me, was a competitive activity, with a strong punitive edge.

Who would hunger and thirst after that? And what would it mean to be satisfied?

Dig a bit, and it turns out the original Greek word used in Matthew’s gospel, “dikaios,” is the same as the Hebrew word "tzedakah", a word used throughout the Old Testament to describe the character of God and God’s restorative actions: justice, truth, compassion, kindness, making right, renewing, restoring, ensuring good things for those without, restraining the powerful, lifting up the weak, repairing ruined vineyards and fields, ensuring wise governance and an equitable economy.

We have no word that comes even close.

We are in a space when the landscape is changing around us. Definitions are shaken, patterns are upended. Both pandemic and political upheaval have called into question relationships, habits, our very understanding of what normal might be, should be, could be. 

How do we navigate this space in a way that leads closer to dikaios, in a way that ensures good governance and equitable economy? How do we clarify God's concern for creation and people on the margins, while offering compassion and truth to those who live in fear?

I"ll be holding those verses close as I pray for insight, understanding and discernment. 

I pray you do the same. 

And this is my prayer: that your love may about more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.