“Blessed are the debonair, for they will inherit the earth.”
Matthew 5:5 – translated from the French
It may be surprising to learn that this flowing phrase is found, of all places, in the Bible. It’s right there, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5. In a French translation of verses known as the beatitudes, the phrase that the English–speaking world know as, “Blessed are the meek”, is translated as, “Blessed are the debonair”. The dictionary defines ‘debonair’ as confident, stylish, and charming in the manner of: “All the men looked debonair and handsome in white tie and tails.” Much and all as that might have styled it out in the 1940’s, surely Jesus can’t have meant that rocking the look and attitude was the key to inheriting the earth … can he?
When the Bible was translated into French in the mid-1500’s, to be ‘debonair’ meant something quite different:
“…A person who is not an idolater, one who hasn’t gotten hooked up in anything worldly, one who is so sophisticated as to know wealth for what it is, and that it isn’t everything … This is a person who has a kind of centeredness that doesn’t let the idols of this world capture it. It’s a kind of debonair in which you sit lightly on the offerings and temptations of this world because you have a vision of something better…”
Or, as Barry Taylor, our friend and NINE BEATS collaborator, says: “To be debonair is to dance lightly on the earth. Like Fred Astaire!” Fred was a celebrated dancer in old Hollywood movie musicals. Along with dance partner Ginger Rogers, they were famed for their dazzling light feet!
That image gives a very different angle to this saying of Jesus. The kind of people who will inherit the earth are those who dance lightly on it. Those who already instinctively know that human beings have trampled across the earth in hob-nailed boots. Those who understand that wealth isn’t everything. Those who don’t get caught up in the offerings of the world because they have a vision of something better. Often, the Bible is portrayed or interpreted as judgmental and out of touch – and not that caring about the physical planet. But these words start to sound more like an invitation to live in Jesus’ way in how we live, and relate to the world around us.
When it comes to climate destruction, dancing lightly doesn’t mean tiptoeing around leaving no trace. It means throwing off the temptations of consumption and greed, and instead, loving outrageously. The question is, what does it look like in terms of living life and caring for the earth?
Maybe it looks like putting the Bible’s life words into practice; an actual lived reality of treating the world the way we are supposed to. Not just knowing that we can change things but doing it. Not just tipping our hat at the idea of consuming less, and loving more, but choosing to do it. Choosing to be debonair, and dancing lightly where we have been conditioned to stomp.
The movement to act to save the planet has been gaining strength. Recently, young people across the globe have led the way, dancing lightly through the earth with passion, placards, solidarity, sacrifice, and bravery, to inspire people of all backgrounds, generations, and cultures that the world, and how we treat it, is literally a matter of life or death.
The Bible isn’t something that’s outside of this debate – it has something to say, and it has words to inspire us to action, and it invites us to put it to the test in today’s reality. So, let’s heed the Bible’s life words and be ‘debonair’ as we live our lives in this broken and hurting world. Let’s choose to dance lightly on the earth.
Whether you are new to what the Bible has to say about how we live in and care for the planet, or you already consider yourself ‘debonair’, come and explore the dance with us.
1“His God Story,” in The Eloquence of Grace: Joseph Sittler and the Preaching Life
2Check out this clip of Barry Taylor having a chat to some of the NINE BEATS crew about being debonair and dancing like Fred Astaire: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBVQXkNVE3I