What a charge this word sends out. People interpret it so differently. For some, it rings of the self-righteous, religious people they steer clear of. Those acting completely justified in all they do because they believe they're following the Bible. They think this is being righteous before God, and righteous before everyone else too. They think it means they are right. We see this most clearly, exaggerated even, in extreme fundamentalists.
That's not what it means.
Some of us see the guy driving down the street playing music too loud, or our daughter's friend pregnant in high school, or our employed neighbor loses his home to a foreclosure that brings our property values down.
Perhaps we assume they've made poor choices, are lazy, or just stupid. But they may be right where they're supposed to be, living out their purpose right on schedule.
How they are walking through these experiences is more the measure of their journey than the extenuating circumstances surrounding them.
In Christianese, righteousness is akin to being in alignment with your life's purpose, your divine destiny. Your integrity and accountability are co-creators in your life in God. They help keep you on track. You are authentic and compassionate. You're listening to the voice within leading you to places that may not always make sense, yet, in this place of deepest knowing, you know you're being led toward your truth.
To someone more deeply steeped in religion or theology, righteousness is a holy experience. This is as it should be for them. It's often described as a standard of goodness and acceptability in the eyes of God. In other words, you are cleared. Cleared from wrong doing, guilt, and the like. This is very similar to the idea of karma. Living rightly brings good. It's when we get caught up in reactions, mis-interpretations, and worldviews that its meaning gets twisted and misdirected. If I were to identify scripture that best defined what living righteously looks like, I'd quote the Beatitudes. They reflect the goodness and compassion that best summarizes the message of Christ. Christ is humanity's example of righteousness.
There is no formula for righteousness, and it has nothing to do with 'being good', proper behavior, or social standards - not even at church.
Those who live their life with an open and honest heart, combined with a sincere desire and effort to be congruent and aligned will find themselves closer to living in its original intent.
It asks you to walk with integrity on your own soul's journey - listening for, and acting on direction in the ongoing unfolding of your life.
You are on track when you are honest with yourself, others and God. You are working it out authentically.
The key here is vigilance in building capacity to be honest with yourself. In essence, this is what wanting to be sinless really is.
I admit I had to stretch a little to grasp the real meaning of righteousness recently - even though I fully understood it's meaning on an intellectual level. My body still tightened up when it was used in church. Resentment and judgment remained tied up in it. Obviously, its close associaton to "self-righteousness" triggered this response in me. My unconscious found it guilty by association. My physical/emotional reaction said it smelled of religiosity and a pharisaic attitude. Ironically, it's intended meaning is exactly the opposite.
Looking it up in the dictionary didn't help because it was defined with words like moral, sin, and cult. Not exactly my favorite words. Not because they're bad, but again, I had judgment around them. They'd become reminders of people who think they're better than the rest of us and my interpretation of their image of God - which I felt was misguided.
I finally asked myself, "so what?"
Maybe their path is to behave whatever way they do. Perhaps their life lessons and divine destiny is exactly where they needed to be. Perhaps this was the language and path that connected them to spiritual reality. Perhaps their brain is wired in a way that requires black and white lines to identify right and wrong at this moment in time. Or maybe they'll later learn that moral does not equate to social or cultural norms, but to the heart. Perhaps one day "morally justifiable" will not translate to vengeance, war, or hatred. I don't know, but a girl can hope.
All I know is there's nothing better than feeling lined up with my Divine purpose. Knowing, as I step forward in life, that my heart is in step with my highest self. I'm in rhythm with God. Those are the days I realize what it means to know the peace.
For those who struggle with this word and other Christianese words, my suggestion is - simply change it out. Even if it's temporary. If a word triggers defensiveness, self-loathing, or judgment in you, find a new one that speaks to your heart and soul. If it smacks of a judgmental God and those who follow suit, release it. Don't let your mind tell you lies based on past wounds. If it hints at being judged, scrutinized, and measured by someone outside you which translates to "not love," remind yourself that the true goal is oneness in God - which is love. It's just a word. A word that, through the unfolding of life events and time, has lost its original intended meaning for you.
I've been stretching to hear words that trigger these reactions in me, in their true light. Some still haven't made themselves at home. I'm putting a square peg in a round hole. When we've developed an attachment to a meaning that doesn't serve, we're out of alignment with God. Being aligned with our true purpose, living our divine destiny is beautiful and freeing. Don't use a word that prevents that. Language is a powerful tool, shaping much of how we see the world.
Language and words exist to help us communicate and gain clarity.
Sometimes language must change to fit the culture and find its way into people's hearts. Righteousness, I bid thee farewell for now, and invite Oneness and Alignment in your place until further notice.
It's important to remember, however, that whatever word you choose to replace it, be sure it can match spiritual intention of the original word. Righteousness means being right with God. You are good with God. You are living your highest self, making choices and taking actions that reflect your highest path, with sincerity and authenticity - for you in this moment. This does not mean that you are 'being good.' It means you are honestly and openly listening for the lessons and experiences that are leading you to move foward in your purpose here. Sometimes this doesn't look like you think it should. But your heart knows.
Years ago, when my son was young, I was literally compelled to travel alone each weekend to the mountains of Idaho, many miles from civilization, to work with cowboys. It was as if being pushed, like an energetic force was moving me. I couldn't quiet the need to do it.
The cowboys and I were teaching each other about our cultures, which were polar opposite. They immersed me in their life of riding horses, herding cows, and living simply. I told them about urban life and an environmentalist's passion for the earth. By sharing their lifestyle, they showed me what it meant to live interdependently with the land. To my surprise, they lived in relationship with it. They were not observers. The local Native American tribal members taught me this too, even if the culture looked different. It was in their blood, unlike me and my city friends. We looked at it, walked on it, protected it. They were in relationship to the earth in ways I couldn't begin to relate to. Not yet, anyway.
Some people said I was being foolish, irresponsible, etc. because I'd leave my child for this. (He came with me when he didn't have a sports committments.) I listened to friend's feedback, but I couldn't not do it.
I was listening to a higher voice. I was sure of it.
Fast forward two years. By then, I'd started a non-profit that brought people with opposing worldviews and ideologies together to solve problems in communities and on the land. I was being called in to resolve conflicts on public lands in western states with entire communities. I was recommended at congressional hearings as someone who could help solve a community's conflict. I was being funding by all sides of the conversation too. Governors wanted my advice. I started getting awards, which was strange but exciting too. Recognition had never crossed my mind in the work we were doing.
I received the annual Chief's Award for Outstanding Achievement from the United States Forest Service. It was a huge honor to receive this esteemed annual award because most people thought it couldn't be done. It was unheard of, at the time, to find solutions between environmentalists, ranchers, tribal members, and the government on public lands. People didn't even use the word collaborate yet. Another project received the Founder's Award for a New Northwest from the President's Council on Sustainable Development and Sustainable Northwest.
My life's path was right on point when I left my home with a bedroll and chaps to sleep in the high desert sagebrush of the Idaho mountains with a bunch of cowboys for the weekend. Doesn't sound moral, does it?
It was. I was aligned with my Divine purpose each time I got in my car to go. And I knew it.
It doesn't get much better than being lined up with God - even when you don't understand it.
Knowing, as we step into life, our heart is in step with our highest self, with God - that's what peace feels like.
Dear 'righteousness:' I'm not judging. I'm just on my path working to stay in alignment with God. You push me off center, even though I know you don't intend to. Please don't take it personally. Perhaps we'll meet again someday when the memories and wounds have cleared and I can, once again, really 'get' you - and the holy love you intend.
Love, Unruly Christian