Nov 7, 2019

In Good Faith: Are You #Blessed?

In my November In Good Faith column I write about insufferable posts on social media and the true meaning of being "blessed."

Are You #Blessed?

#Blessed. You often see this hashtag on social media. A picture shared on Facebook of the
perfect family on the perfect mountain on the perfect day with the perfect snow. The sun is shining, everyone’s smiling, teeth are gleaming, skis are perfectly waxed. #Blessed. Or you see it on a celebrity’s Instagram post as she’s sitting in the VIP lounge of an exclusive Miami Beach club sipping a mango martini. #Blessed. 

But if the word “blessed” means sacred or set apart by God, I’m not sure this is really what we’re talking about here. A more authentic representation of what’s being conveyed in these posts might be “bragging.” Or “rich.” But it’s hard to contradict someone who claims to be blessed without sounding like you’re simply jealous. It’s almost as if those sharing pictures of their precious corgi sitting on the deck of their yacht are using #Blessed to inoculate themselves from criticism. Or perhaps they genuinely believe that this is how God works — that when God truly loves someone, God conveys fancy vacations and mango martinis. 

But, from a theological perspective, luxurious living is not actually the hallmark of blessedness. In the Christian tradition, Jesus subverts the prevailing wisdom of the day, that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, while poverty was a sign of God’s wrath. That’s simply not how God works, even if that’s what some television preachers would have you believe, and what some Facebook posts imply.

And we need look no further than the well-known Beatitudes to see how Jesus flips this whole notion on its head. “Blessed are you who are poor…Blessed are you who are hungry…Blessed are you who weep…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the persecuted.” Those don’t sound like very Instagram-worthy posts!

And yet Jesus is very clear that these are precisely the ones who are blessed — the powerless and the vulnerable, the oppressed and the marginalized. The ones who, by the world’s standards, are the least and the weak, the lost and the lonely. And I’m reminded of the Simon & Garfunkel song Blessed, off the Sounds of Silence album. It’s a rather obscure song, not one of their big hits like Mrs. Robinson or Bridge Over Troubled Water or Cecilia. But the song invokes the Beatitudes and includes the line “Blessed are the sat upon, spat upon, ratted on.” 

The story goes that Paul Simon was wandering around London in the mid-1960s when he stepped into a cathedral to get in out of the rain, and he heard a sermon being preached on the Beatitudes. It’s a haunting song precisely because Simon reflects upon the poverty-stricken people he had seen trudging down the street and the homeless folks he stepped over to enter the cathedral. He doesn’t see hope, but only hopelessness; he doesn’t see blessedness, but only despair.

And when you look around, it certainly doesn’t appear that God’s blessing is upon the family of Guatemalan refugees fleeing violence in their homeland or the political prisoner wasting away in a North Korean jail or the child drinking lead-infused water in Flint, Michigan or the strung out addict shivering on the Methadone Mile at 3:00 am. 

And yet, if blessing is a sign of God’s presence, that’s precisely where God resides. In the tears of those who weep, in the hunger pangs of those who go without, in the hurt of those who are rejected. That’s where God is most fully present.

So the Beatitudes were and continue to be a radical shock to the system of how we perceive the natural order of things. You are blessed not because you own a vacation home in Maine, but by the compassion and kindness you show to those on the margins of society. And this great reversal offers hope to a hurting world, while demonstrating that neither death nor hopelessness nor Paul Simon get the last word. God does. 

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