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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.