A few days ago I heard the word covenant used as how Christians should align ourselves with the Word of God, as depicted in the Bible and translated into action within a church. Like many of our English words, covenant comes from the Latin language, meaning coming together. An agreement, contract, or promise. Which includes a list of stipulations, privileges, and responsibilities.
At one time I considered becoming a lawyer. I passed the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and received acceptance letters from two universities. After much consideration and conversation with my wife, I decided to extinguish that initial interest. Instead, I remained in the field of education and eventually became a university professor responsible for preparing teachers and school administrators.
My reasons for that decision were complicated but never regretted.
The legal profession is essential in our society, because its practitioners can negotiate the intricacies of binding covenants. They untangle vague understandings and language usage. Lawyers are both admired and disliked for their ability, depending on how well they defend or advocate points-of-view. Depending on who feels supported by their actions and who does not.
They can come across as good guys standing up to those who would diminish or cheat us common folk. Or as mouthpieces with dubious reputations who successfully defend guilty parties with enough money to pay for skillful advocacy.
They can find ways to prove inaccuracies of covenants such as insurance contracts. Or laws so poorly worded or executed they are depicted as unfair or favorable only to those who gain the advantage. Politics in our democracy depends on lawyers. Or those who think like them. To write our laws and support citizens living under them.
During the early years of my education career, I served as the representative and advisor for teachers who held grievances against school district policies or practices. No compensation was given to me, but it felt good to win. Which I did every time.
But that experience convinced me to rescind my law school applications. I learned how to win, using strategies for clients who may not have deserved to win. To succeed through intellectual manipulation and strategic maneuvering.
But a deeper reason for my disenchantment involved the pervasive existence of ignorance. The unwillingness to accept opportunities to be fully engaged with the soul of covenants. By soul of covenants, I refer to righteousness described by God. Applied as worldly actions that make us one with a holy universe.
Compromise and accommodation are outcomes Christians have long accepted. But they become the soul of covenants only when they become more of who we are than simply what we accept or do.
Our doctrines, often based on Holy Scripture, can be manipulated to align with contemporary attitudes. People who think like lawyers create unjust conditions. They find scriptural passages that support those conditions and the beliefs on which they are created. People accommodate themselves to those conditions and beliefs, and even stand up for them against opponents.
This blog post is being written in a place similar to where I grew up. The sun emerges over the Organ Mountains to the east, revealing a desert landscape like places I once hiked and revered. Similar to the terrain Christ once walked as he fulfilled his earthly ministry. A ministry founded on principles of reverence for the diversity of earth’s features and its living inhabitants. For ALL the human beings allowed to live on this globe. Under a free will that gives us the opportunity to search for purpose. For ways we can better express unconditional love for each other.
His kind of service was rejected by many. By those with enough power to disparage his teachings and attempt to remove his physical existence. They failed.
But their kind keep re-emerging in us today. Sometimes in the form of political or military dictatorships. Sometimes in the form of those with their own self-serving goals. Those who use their charisma, money, and/or ability to encourage others toward their kinds of aspiration. Using legalisms that justify their own self-serving ends yet sound logical and reasonable in the context of social order. Using fear as a justification for violence. Or to build an extreme loyalty to particular cultural beliefs.
Legalisms and fear can appear in the context of religious belief. No one disputes the value of the Ten Commandments as a guide for living, although they are widely ignored or tempered by cultural loyalties and compromises.
Jesus acknowledged their value as the basis for a behavioral covenant. But in his physical life and today he tells us we must seek the soul of our covenants. To know who we are, as people who genuinely love each other and use that commitment to serve. Even when that kind of service is declared unwanted or unrealistic. Or, in Jesus’ days, dangerous on many levels. Too inclusive. Too upsetting to social order and the economy. Too much a threat to existing laws and cultural mores.
This time in the desert is a good opportunity for me to reflect on how well my allegiances have been given and kept. How well the soul of my covenant has been managed in my life. Even when that kind of service was rejected or ignored.
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