According to Wikipedia, the word Pono is from the native language of Hawaii. A common English synonym for Pono is “righteousness.” For example, the motto of the state is Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono. This motto is translated as “The sovereignty of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.”
The word righteousness is not used that much anymore. The word is steeped in religiosity. To be righteous is to be obedient to God’s will. To be free of sin, or at least, trying our best not to sin. For that matter, sin is another word that comes out of religious dogma. The word sin is not commonly used, except for describing a particularly tasty dessert that is so good it must be sinful.
Our next series takes place during the Christmas season. A time of anticipation, celebration, deep discount sales, generosity, parties, and remembering God’s grace. At Asbury, we will be performing the musical, Dusty, again this year. I’m sure there will be some tweaks to the lines and the songs, along with some new faces and voices. Think Dusty 2.0 — even better than version 1.0.
While our series title is a Hawaiian word for righteousness, our subtitle may seem like a different direction — The intersection of violence and beauty. I read this phrase, which I believe to be poetry, in a book which inspired this series.1 Once again, God is working through other people and through art. I was so moved by this line of poetry that I stopped reading immediately and went to prayer. Thank You, Lord, for inspiring me. Your mercy and love never end.
What does this phrase even mean? I instantly felt an urge to explore this poetic line, deeper, before reading on. I didn’t want the author to tell me what it meant before I had a chance to reflect on what it meant in prayer. Perhaps a habit I picked up in seminary. I want to know what God has to say to me about essential subjects before the writer tells me what God told them.
The intersection of violence and beauty. This poetry speaks to me because I feel it. The first time I came to Flint in June of 2010, I felt it right away. I’m feeling it right now. The intersection of violence and beauty sounds like a title for a play or a book. Perhaps the title of a song or a poem. Maybe the title for a Christmas season worship series? Lord, what do You want us to know about this observation of Your city? Help us to see this intersection through Your eyes, Lord.
I see violence when I see the blight in our neighborhood. I see violence perpetrated by weather, by fire, and by people. I also see beauty. I see potential in the people. I know that God loves them dearly. I know that God has uniquely gifted them for work in the kingdom. But what work? While there is beauty in the gifts of our neighbors, there is violence in the lack of employment. Violence comes out of scarcity. Beauty comes out of gifts. As does abundance.
I once came across a man tearing the siding off of the walls of what was once a home. He was using a snow shovel. I wondered if there was something deeper going on in the ripping off of the siding. Anger, I understand, is a kinetic feeling. We dissipate anger by physical movement. I wonder whether the man was less angry after he had finished taking off the siding.
May our barns be filled with crops of every kind.
This is where the word pono came from. Well, not directly. I read an article in Psychology Today about anger. The article used this word pono. But instead of righteousness, perhaps the more common translation, the writer focused on the results of pono. The beauty of finding balance in the community. Hurt and hopelessness finding forgiveness and abundance. Giftedness finding purpose.
The story of Christmas is a tale that offers insight into this poetic line. We imagine the beauty of pregnancy. The miracle of a tiny egg and seed becoming a child carried in the womb of His mother until the time is right for His birth. We imagine the violence of an empire requiring this family to travel from their village, tucked away in the northern highlands. Only to arrive in a place where they would not find shelter other than a stable. It was in that intersection of beauty and violence that a Savior was born.
But the violence wouldn’t end. Nor would the violence be replaced by beauty. Not yet. Shortly after the child’s birth, after the shepherds went back to tend their flocks, and after the travelers from the far east had returned to their native land, the holy family was in danger. Unimaginable violence was taking place around them. They were not safe. Even the Son of God could not escape the violence of the city.
Dr. Matt James writes, “Pono is when you feel centered and comfortable in your own skin. You feel connected to nature, your community, your friends and family, and yourself. You feel at peace. You feel balanced and a sense that all is well. When you feel pono, your decisions and actions are driven by integrity and awareness of what is good for the whole. And when you feel pono, you feel energetic, focused, and effective.” 2
May the Christmas season give you feelings of pono. May you feel more connected to your community and to the earth. May your decisions and actions be driven by integrity and awareness of what is right for our community.
I pray that you will join us during this season of Christmas each Sunday. And on Christmas Eve, when we will unwrap the gift of Christmas by sharing a unique retelling of this story at the intersection of violence and beauty.
Join us each Sunday and invite your friends and neighbors. I lead a short Bible study in the Asbury Café at 9:30 am. Dusty, the musical, will be performed on Christmas Eve at 6 pm. Auditions are coming very soon, so be sure to get involved. You can find more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
1 Having Nothing, Possessing Everything: Finding Abundant Communities in Unexpected Places. Rev Michael Mather. Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2018.
2 “The Energy of Anger,” Matt James, PhD. © 2019, Psychology Today.