A friend gave me a gift. When I unwrapped the small package and saw what it was, everyone in the room laughed. It looked like a book with the cover title, “Commandments Sticky Notes.” I opened it; there were two pads of sticky notes – one said “Thou Shalt Not” and other “Thou Shalt.” My friends’ laughter was for the recognition of something I do in my workshop when I talked about how we needed to create a new covenant every time we formed a group so that respectful relationships could be built.
Most people think of the Ten Commandments, which is the popular name for the Covenant that God made with Israelites through Moses, as a set of rules that we must follow or we will be punished. But a covenant is more than just a set of rules. It is there to uphold the wellbeing of people in that covenanted community. For example, when Israelites, following the leadership of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, left Egypt and slavery, and crossed the Red Sea, they were saved from the Egyptians. For the first time in generations, they were a free people. In this free society, people might be afraid since there were not yet any rules established in how they were to live together as they journeyed in the wilderness. What if someone decided to steal my belongings or harm me when I was not watching? What would happen to me when I became old and no one would take care of me? What would happen if I ended up working for someone who would treat me like a slave again and made me work everyday without any time off? Here is where the commandments (the covenant) come in. God said:
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not murder.
Thou shalt honor your father and mother.
Thou shalt remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work . . .
The covenant, even though it was made with God, was there to uphold the forming of this new and free community. By agreeing to the commandments, they learned to respect each other, building relationships that supported each other in the difficult time ahead.
Covenants are not static, they need to be renewed and sometimes, we need to create new ones for a new context. According to Christians, God made another covenant through Jesus in a different context – with all people. Again, the Jesus covenant upholds the wellbeing of the community – love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
In my work, I help a lot of communities to build respectful inclusive communities by inviting them to create and affirm a covenant. Instead of Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not, I use:
We will . . .
We will not . . .
The invitation is for people in the community to articulate their covenant with each other by making a list of what they will and will not do in order to uphold the wellbeing of their community.
What is the covenant that you need to make with your family and loved ones? What is the covenant that your community needs to make in order for it to be sustainable? What is the covenant we need to create and affirm in order for the U.S. economy to recover, benefiting all and not just the powerful and rich minority? What is the covenant that the people of your nation need to renew and reform in order for the nation to be just, fair and to uphold the wellbeing of all of its citizens? What is the covenant that we need to make with the earth, so that we can continue to have a sustainable planet for future generations?
Invite members of your community to gather and make a covenant:
Reflection Questions for 5th Sunday in Lent (Year B)
Eric H. F. Law
For competent leadership in a diverse changing world
Upcoming Opportunities to Study with The Sustainist:
May 4-5, 2012
May 7-11, 2012
Register at: www.kscopeinstitute.org