“Hold fast that which is good.”
I used to recite this every Sunday. It was the highly anticipated signal that the sermon had ended. It was the signal that it was time to join my friends for Sunday school, where the seating arrangements were comfier and the lessons more laid back. However, with each passing Sunday, I liked less and less of what I heard. I questioned more, traveled more, saw more, and I eventually left the church.
I didn’t like the prayer requests to “defeat ISIS” instead of praying for peace (as if God wanted to choose which side’s body count should be less). I didn’t like my prospects as a female, hinging on that fuzzy line between “you’re not lesser, but the man is the head of the household.” And God forbid that man be attracted to another man! Then he’ll be the death of the family institution!
I didn’t like the blasé attitude toward environmentalism, as if God would just keep cleaning up our messes (a sentiment better expressed by Louis C.K). I didn’t like the church anymore, didn’t believe in the doctrine anymore, couldn’t stomach the hypocrisy, so I left. I was taught morals didn’t exist beyond the church, but I somehow managed to continue, to live a life rooted in empathy and arguably, a strong moral compass.
I left the church, but those many Sundays spent reciting that benediction seared those words in my brain. Lately, they have reemerged, but for the first time, the simple beauty of those words is hitting me. “Hold fast that which is good.” It’s because so much isn’t good right now. The mornings bring dark clouds of horrific news. If it’s not a mass murder, it’s a targeted racial one. Facebook brings me to tears as I realize racism is alive and well, and not just in some distant media story, but within my circle of acquaintances, past friends or just beyond my city’s limits. I could cut the ties and block these realities, but then I risk not facing the full extent of the problem.
I may not believe in the church or religion (and if you do, that’s ok), but here’s what I do believe:
I believe all lives matter, but right now, that statement isn’t enough because the news shows us otherwise. I believe we, especially as white people, frankly need to cut our shit. We don’t need a campaign that includes us. We are not in jeopardy. We need to value black lives more because we never have. We need to hold ourselves accountable, acknowledge the false assumptions we make, address the ignorance from other white people when we hear it and take every opportunity to educate ourselves. I’m guilty of false assumptions and saying the wrong thing, but I’ve also opened myself to correction.
In the meantime, we need to cling desperately to what’s good because it feels so precarious these days. “Hold fast that which is good. Hold fast that which is good. Hold fast that which is good.” I play it over and over in my head, like a broken record. We must cling to whatever small advances we can, lest the weight of it all become too burdensome. (I highly recommend this video in which Marianne Williamson explains how even if we have everything we need, our sadness is still justified because the world is just so heavy right now).
The environment, like current race relations, is messy, daunting and heartbreaking, but the work toward good has to begin somewhere and grow- one beehive becomes three, one acre will become six, one set of hands will become many, and one table can nourish in so many ways. Hold fast that which is good.
My “good” is the farm, the Urban Farmer, the way a field of vegetables can quiet the world and release the imagination, the way our little dog waits just beyond the beehives, to stay close to us.
My good is beauty, is the way words can conjure images, the way the smell of fry oil can transport me to South Dakota, the way flowers can brighten a day, the way design can turn walls and floors into home, and a conversation can turn strangers into neighbors.
I am holding ever faster to those “good’s” because I believe, as Dostoyevsky said, “The world will be saved by beauty.” I will not deny the privileges my skin color has afforded me. I will not turn a blind eye to what is ugly right now, but I will do my best to put more beauty into the world.
Freed from all the other tangled human interpretations of good and bad, the core of the verse really is quite beautiful in its simplicity:
Go forth into the world in peace;
be of good courage;
hold fast that which is good;
render to no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak;
help the afflicted;
honor all men;
and in this way, love and serve the Lord….
1 Thessalonians 5:13-22