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A C-SPAN video has gone viral (how often can you say that!?).  It was shot Friday morning outside the White House where First Lady Jill Biden and her husband—along with the dogs Champ and Major—were taking a walk.  The First Lady wanted to show the President the heart-shaped decorations she had had placed on the White House lawn—Valentines emblazoned with messages of courage and hope.  When asked by the nearby gaggle of reporters why she had done this, she said she wanted to send people a message of joy during this oft-joyless pandemic.  

Eventually the President mused about Valentine’s Day, his love for Jill, and how he so wanted to convey a message of hope to the American people.  Then the reporters asked about the dogs and someone in the press pool mentioned wanting some coffee (the President held a large paper cup of coffee even as the First Lady was sipping from a ceramic mug).  The President then gave his coffee to a reporter, assuring her he had not taken a sip yet.

It was all amazingly . . . ordinary.  Calm.  Lovely.  Sweet.  Normal.  The President was casually attired, sporting his Presidential jacket and a pair of blue jeans.   And both of them were setting an example by wearing masks.   Compared to the high drama at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue where the Senate was being shown horrific videos documenting the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the quiet tableau outside the White House was a welcome window into something vastly more desirable than the violence and heated rhetoric of recent years.  And yes, it was a tableau the likes of which no one ever saw from the previous occupant of the White House.  Casual banter with reporters and the sharing of a cup of coffee was not exactly Mr. Trump’s posture vis-à-vis the media.

But this isn’t meant to be another critique of Mr. Trump or all that he represented.  Nor is it meant to overblow or exaggerate last Friday’s presidential stroll outside the White House.  But it is to say that deep down we all desire quiet dignity and basic human decency.   I suspect that if you took the nine Fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5 and whipped them together in a blender, what you would produce would be a frappe of humble decency and mild-mannered dignity.  If a single person could embody all nine of these Fruit simultaneously, what would he or she look like?  Well, like Jesus obviously.

Some of us at least have yearned for this after a long-ish season of brutish rhetoric, hostile posturing, and ugly shouting and agitations to violence.  All of this had been in the air for at least five years and all of it came to its inevitable crescendo at the Capitol on January 6.  But the reasons we want calm and kindness go beyond the obvious fact that given a choice we all prefer solitude and quietness to smothering crowds and screeching sirens.   Instead we desire these things because it ties in with the image of God.  God created us for shalom and so despite our fallenness, when we catch glimpses of and glimmers of shalom, we gravitate powerfully in that direction.

A lot of us had a similar reaction on the eve of the Inauguration last month when there was that quiet and deeply moving memorial ceremony by the Reflecting Pool in D.C. to honor the 400,000+ Americans who have died of COVID.  You may deem me a sap when I say this but after watching it, I said to my wife—through barely held-back sobs in my throat—that there was more humanity and honor in that very brief spectacle than in anything we had seen from anyone in the entire past year since the pandemic began.

Someone once said that being a Christian means more than just being nice.  But it does not mean less.  And of course no one gets saved on account of being nice.  We are all saved ever and only by the grace of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, which is the focus of our meditations in this Season of Lent.  But as the Apostle Paul articulated as well as anyone—and as Jesus well articulated in The Beatitudes—once you are brought into the kingdom by grace, you emerge a changed person.    You ought to be, at minimum, nice.

Every preacher knows it’s easier to find stories of sadness and tragedy and evil than stories of grace and beauty.   That’s why a large percentage of the sermons I grade at seminary lack concluding vignettes of grace to counterbalance stories from earlier in the sermon that illustrated brokenness.  I rarely see a sermon that lacks specificity on sin but that is great at propping up instances of grace.  It is almost always the other way around.

But we all need those boosts of seeing grace in action.  Because when a sermon or just an ordinary news story displays for us glimmers of shalom and vignettes of grace, our hearts sing.  Our pulses quicken.  And there’s a reason: God made us for exactly this.

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.

16 Comments

  • Douglas Brouwer says:

    Exactly how I felt, but with words I didn’t take time to write. Thank you.

  • Wonderful writing. May Shalom prevail.

  • RLG says:

    I really enjoyed this article. I had the same feelings. Aren’t feelings, emotions, great. But you realize that many, upon seeing such a scene of our president and his wife, only felt contempt. Many would have much preferred a victory smile and wave from the candidate that lost the election. I had a family member who attended a Trump rally shortly before the election. He was so exhilarated that he likened his experience to a conversion experience. He had, at this point in time, complete confidence that his candidate couldn’t help but to win the election. He was enlivened with excitement. Talk about “fruit of the Spirit.” Yeah, feelings are wonderful. But don’t put too much confidence in them! Thanks, Scott. I, too, felt what you did.

    • RAH says:

      This is not about feelings. It’s about two individuals expressing hope–and desiring healing–for the American people after a year of tremendous loss.
      How can that not be a fruit of the Spirit?

  • Marty Wondaal says:

    Reverend Hoezee,

    1. If you only knew what January 6 was really like. I was there. I could tell you, if you’re curious.

    2. Seeing Joe Biden and Dr. Biden reminded me of many years ago when President Clinton and his loving wife canoodled on the beach in an effort to distract simpletons
    (apologies for that image, breakfast-eaters).

    3. Reading your essay, I can’t help but be reminded of Jeremiah 6:14.

    • Daniel J Meeter says:

      I would love to read your first-hand take on January 6. Would you write it up and submit it to this page?

      • Marty Wondaal says:

        I won’t. I’ve been rejected here before. Apparently, I have “culpable blindness” which precludes me from having thoughts worth printing on The Twelve. I struggle with rejection – it reminds me of High School.

        But I will ask my son to send you something. He was with me, and he’s a better writer. I don’t think my condition is genetic, so he may not be as culpably blind.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    I appreciate this blog, but I can’t help but think that the yearning for the shalom of niceness or a return to the ordinary … Calm. Lovely. Sweet. Normal. feels like a particularly white experience of our country’s “peace.” I often think that the privilege of being nice is used to undo or discredit the experience of being black or a woman or LGBTQ+ or all of the above together. If someone speaks out against the “Calm. Lovely. Sweet. Normal.” they are just not “nice.” I could offer the other descriptors offered but I think you get the point. Maybe points of grace are intermingled with shouts of protest. Maybe a call for BLM is gracious, particularly juxtaposed to a captial riot. Jan 6 was a shock to anyone who doesn’t understand our countries history. We have a long legacy of white folk tearing down the whole system rather than sharing it with black or brown folk (see closing down community pools and opening private clubs, refusing medicaid expansion in states as part of Obamacare, closing public schools rather than integrating, a shift from college grants to college loans, see Easter Sunday, 1873 Colfax, Louisiana massacre/riot that overan the courthouse in an attempt to overturn a “contested” election … sound familiar). It’s just endless and it’s not really “nice.”

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      Thanks Rodney: You raise a good, and tender/sensitive, point. I suppose one way to respond would be to say that if bearing the Fruit of the Spirit–which in aggregate would make one gentle and “nice” toward all–were predominant or had ever been predominant in our society, white supremacy and our past and current racism would not have happened on the scale it did. Perhaps the better semblance of shalom that a pandemic of niceness might lead to would be every person’s ideal, regardless of race or background. Absent that ideal, though, you are right: sometimes calling others to get to “nice” requires words and confrontation and calls to repentance that won’t sound “nice” but that are aimed at leading to it from more of us rather than fewer of us. As I am reading Barack Obama’s biography, I am reminded of the furor that surrounded Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Some of his words were legitimately intemperate but much of the core anger he voiced in his sermons over how blacks have been treated was just, historically accurate, and for those people of privilege with ears to hear those words were also a call to be better. It never feels nice to have someone point out your sins or shortcomings but in its own way confrontational speech aimed to help lead to repentance and healing is the nicest thing anyone could do for another person. In any event, thanks for the thought-provoking reply.

    • Tom says:

      Well, I guess if you want to filter everything you see, hear, or read through the lens of race (or, I suppose, any other grievance someone might substitute for race – ‘the rich’, ‘immigrants’, ‘elites’, ‘anabaptists’, etc.), you’re welcome to it, but that seems doomed to result in a life of bitterness and resentment – sort of a ‘theology’ built on original sin without God’s grace.

      • Rodney Haveman says:

        Tom,
        That’s fair I guess, but the framework that was given in this blog is that we all want to get back to what is “nice.” All I said was that the lovely return to what once was, the “nice” reality we all want back is a place of privilege. As if a return to what is “Calm. Lovely. Sweet. Normal.” is actually “Calm. Lovely. Sweet. Normal.” for everyone. It’s quite a privilege to say, I don’t have to look through a filter or lens of race, etc.
        Maybe not everyone has that privilege …

        • Tom says:

          I get what you’re saying but I disagree on what I think is a pretty fundamental point. I don’t believe that for vast majority of white Americans, “all we want back is a place of privilege”. I think most of us want everyone to enjoy the freedoms – and ‘calm’, I guess – that we enjoy (and supposedly we’re the only ones). And, many of the “glimmers of shalom and vignettes of grace” relate to the progress that’s been made regarding race. Obviously, we should not ignore our shortcomings and there is much that still needs to change, but it takes a long time to turn a ship this size. I feel like the George Floyd incident becomes the entire story describing the current state of the nation, which ignores the fact that we have a Black supreme court justice (and he’s not the first one), vice-president, ex-president, multiple viable presidential candidates in the last two presidential primaries, a near winner in the last Michigan Senate race, etc. Yet, all I read on this topic here and elsewhere is that anyone who is white is automatically a racist. It just ain’t true.

          • Rodney Haveman says:

            Thank you, Tom. I did not intend to suggest that if you are white you are racist. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard that construction articulated by most people. I don’t know if that terminology is helpful anyway. I often refer to white supremacy instead. It points to systemic racism rather than individual hate by white folk. The things I mentioned in my first post were examples of a mixture of white supremacy and blatant racism. For me the fruit of the Spirit drive us toward a different system of acceptance and love for everyone. I also agree that our country has made strides, but again a longing for a way back to “nice” is maybe avoiding the fact that it wasn’t “nice” for everyone. Laura de Jong wrote today about wonder and beauty. It was quite lovely. One of the things she said (paraphrasing) is our ability to see the lack of beauty reflects our ability to experience the beauty before us or our longing for beauty. I don’t intend for us to get bogged down in a lens of racism or sexism or whatever ails us, but it does seem to be part of the heart of Christianity that as much as we confess what is wrong in our lives correlates to the joy of it being made right, hence speaking truth about the lack of “niceness” in the good old days might be a driving point for the fruit of the Spirit to transform the world in the power of the Spirit. Otherwise it feels like the fruit might just be an opiate to keep us in our comfort no matter what is really happening in the world. I think our longing starts with speaking the truth and then maybe that truth can empower us to bring transformation. There is a reason that the work of the church in helping overcome South Africa’s apartheid began with a “Truth and Reconciliation” process.
            Is the country moving forward? Yes! Do we have much more work to do? Yes! Is every white person racist? No! And maybe those questions get at the heart of it. We’ve taken steps down the path, but now is not the time to stop or pine for what once was. Now is the time to keep moving toward the reign of God, where the fruit of the Spirit moves all to experience what is “nice” about the grace and beauty of Christ.

  • Debra K Rienstra says:

    I really want a fruit-of-the-Spirit frappe now.

  • Bob Crow’ says:

    Thanks Scott.

    And I agree with Debra, I’d like you be of those Galatians 5 frappes.

    Thank you.

  • Kelly Seitter says:

    I commend that you now feel complete with “feelings of shalom”. I agree peace is good, but policy speaks more. I’m betting all the babies now losing their lives to abortion thanks to President Biden rescinding the Mexico City Policy and Hyde Amendment aren’t feeling peace. Nor am feeling peace I as a taxpayer thanks to my tax dollars now funding abortions. In my opinion you are embracing symbolism over substance. And in addition, “feelings” don’t work on the world stage.

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