What is vision, anyway? There’s that famous verse in Proverbs – or, anyway, the first part is famous.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.”
The first part is well known and often cited: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The second part about keeping the law is less often mentioned. The implication is that having vision is synonymous with keeping the law. That’s weird! Unpacking this Proverb will, I think, make it seem less weird.

As beautiful, quotable, and familiar as the language of the King James Version is, I rely mostly on the New Revised Standard Version, which renders Proverbs 29:18 as:
“Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint. But happy are those that keep the law.”
Both translations indicate that keeping the law is conducive to happiness. But “vision” is now “prophecy,” and “perish” is now “cast off restraint.” The Hebrew word translated as “perish” or “cast off restraint” means to loosen; by implication, to expose, dismiss, to ignore (advice or instruction). Staying alive entails keeping ourselves together.

The Hebrew word translated as “vision” or “prophecy” refers to the revelation or prophecy of God’s will. The prophets were the seers who saw God’s will – hence “vision” for the perception of divine purpose. In this light, the New Living Translation’s interpretation makes sense:
"When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful."
The New International Version is:
“Where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint. But blessed is the one who heeds wisdom’s instruction."
So what do we have? We’ve seen that what goes by the name of vision is also known as prophecy, divine guidance, revelation. It’s what makes us able to keep the law, which is to say, heed wisdom’s instruction.

I’d put it this way: “vision” is, indeed, about seeing. It’s about seeing who we truly are. When we don’t know who we are, we are undefined, and scattered. That’s how I read “casting off restraint,” “running wild.” It’s the dissolute, dissipated life of not being true to ourselves: jumping from persona to persona without the anchor of a core vision of who we are. That’s no kind of life. It is, indeed, to perish.

By contrast, to keep the law, as I read it, is to keep your own law: to be true to the vision of yourself. It is to heed wisdom’s instruction, recognizing that the best wisdom is in yourself. I’ve been talking a lot in the last couple months about vow – asking, “what is your great vow?” Our vow is the vision we have of the life we want to lead. It’s not a goal to get to – it’s the way we want to travel. It’s not about any particular results, it’s just about orienting yourself in a particular direction, and going.

I’m not saying “the journey’s more important than the destination.” I’m saying the journey IS the destination. There’s nowhere to get to except the going.

Our vow is our vision for ourselves. To have vision is to see everything we do in the light of our vow.

In the business world, in the organizational world, you need to accomplish things. So there’s a need to articulate just what you’re out to accomplish, and make plans to get there. But there are a lot of different goals your organization could be pursuing, so the challenge arises: how to decide which goals? Most organizations have multiple goals, so the question is which ones to make the highest priority.
And for organizations, that’s where vision comes in. A well-crafted vision that isn’t just written down in some exercise and then forgotten -- a vision statement that is taken to heart and paid attention to -- provides real guidance in deciding which goals are the highest priority.
It provides inspiration in pursuit of those goals. So in the organizational world, vision is about accomplishing things.
And that’s great. I’m not against accomplishing things. Organizations are for accomplishing things. Whether the organization is a Mom and Pop Bakery, or Google, or Walmart, or a sports team, or a nonprofit like the Equal Justice Initiative, or Greenpeace, or a political party, the organization exists to accomplish stuff. Achieve results.

The Black Lives Matter movement is not an organization. It’s an amorphous movement without formal leadership, where informal leaders emerge and recede without any sort of organization chart of who reports to whom. But even a movement is about accomplishing things. And it needs a vision, which, in this case, is right there in the name of the movement. Black lives matter. That’s the vision: a world in which black people are not systematically treated as if their lives don’t matter. From that basic vision, various individuals and organizations may opt to be guided by that vision in to form particular goals that contribute toward the vision.

Accomplishing things is important. Accomplishing housing for people is a definite good – and that has not been fully accomplished yet.
Accomplishing a system that keeps so many millions fed and clothed – a system that produces enough food that no one need ever be hungry, even if we don’t get it distributed to everyone – is a really good thing. Shakespeare’s plays, Michelangelo’s art, Beethoven’s symphonies, Newton’s Laws, Salk’s vaccine, Pythagorus’ theorem, and Eiffel’s Tower are achievements that profoundly alter and enrich human life. Accomplishment of libraries, and universities, and hospitals, and museums is important. Accomplishment of our system of ongoing scientific research with peer review is no small thing. Accomplishment of a free and independent press is a big deal, as is the accomplishment of an independent judiciary – given that for most of human history we had neither a free press nor an independent judiciary. All those accomplishments have required vision that directed purposive effort toward accomplishing.

And all those accomplishments, wonderful as they are, are not enough. We still need to accomplish the end of poverty, the end of domestic violence, the end of rape, of misogyny, of patriarchy. Achieving the end of war, the end of police brutality, the end of white supremacy remains to be done. The accomplishment of peace and justice remains to be done. Achieving equality of concern and respect for all of God’s children remains to be done. The accomplishment of environmental sustainability and conservation of species and habitats remains to be done.
Those are vitally important. In some of those cases, we won’t survive as a species if we don’t proximately accomplish them. In other cases, if we can’t proximately accomplish them, maybe we shouldn’t survive as a species. Accomplishing these things will take clarity of vision and steadfast commitment by a lot of people to that vision. We have, all of us, absolutely crucial work to do to get things done. We have journeys where getting to the destination is very much the point, and is very much needed.


Life is also more than accomplishing things. In the widest context, in the spiritual context, in the ultimate context, we do not work for the sake of what we hope that work will accomplish. We work simply to manifest who we are, regardless of whether the hoped-for results happen or don’t.

Vision works at both of those levels. Vision works at the level of directing us toward accomplishment, clarifying and inspiring our aims. Vision also works at the level of just being, clarifying and inspiring our inherent blessedness.

The first is the level of never enough: there is always more to accomplish, always the next thing that needs our efforts. The other is the level of never not enough. Who you are, what you are, is always precisely and perfectly sufficient. Please have the vision to see that.


Dear Jeremiah, archetype of our imagination,
We turn to you in prayer, you, dear Prophet Jeremiah, who, in 6th-century BCE Jerusalem, grieved for your people.
You wrote:
‘My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King not in her?”
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?
So why has the healing of my dear people not come about?’
As you then wished plaintively for a balm, so today and here, do we.
We crave healing, an end to the desperate pain we are feeling.
People of more than 75 cities in the United States are marching, demonstrating against the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbrey, and far too many others at the hands of the police.
Others are demonstrating in solidarity in London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Perth, Auckland, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, among other cities.
We need a balm of Love and Peace, to heal our wound of racism.
We need to be made whole.
The worldwide Covid-19 pandemic continues.
Statistics are not reliable, but such as we have indicate that the worldwide deaths per week peaked in mid-April, then fell steadily through the end of May until weekly deaths were almost down to half of the peak week.
In this first week of June, however, deaths are up again – 10 percent more than the week before, worldwide.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Jeremiah, you experienced a divine command to gird up your loins, stand up, and tell them everything commanded.
So be with us, prophetic icon and archetype.
May we likewise be unafraid.
May we likewise stand up, in body or in spirit, for what is right.
May we likewise speak what Justice commands.
For there is no balm in Gilead unless and until we are that balm.
There is no physician but we ourselves.
When we are the healers, then will we be healed.
Be with us, spirit of Jeremiah.
Blessed be, and Amen.


Iyanla Vanzant said:
"If you don’t have a vision, you’re going to be stuck in what you know. And the only thing you know is what you’ve already seen.”
So. Think about that. To have vision – to see – is the only way to see what you haven’t seen. Vision, like the Lord, works in mysterious ways. Sometimes a vision of one thing leads us to a place of something else – different from what has been and also different from you had envisioned. Through imagination we may be led to the unimagined.

Sometimes what’s called for is completely unrealistic vision.
You might look at that unrealistic vision, and your rational mind says, “No, that’s not gonna happen.” But there’s a benefit, sometimes, in turning off rational mind for a little while. Enter the field of play. Hop on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood Trolley and take a trip to the land of make-believe.

When you get back, you may be in a position to say: OK, that vision is not going to happen. But thinking about it lets me see what I really love about that completely unrealistic vision – what I really value. And clarifying what we love and value can then go into making a vision that maybe, kinda, really could happen. You might like an example. And I have one.

Here is a completely unrealistic vision. It ain’t gonna happen. But I find it very appealing. And by reflecting on what’s so appealing about this, we get some direction for maybe what we really could do. This vision is expressed in a poem by Junauda Petrus-Nasah.
Could we please give the police departments to the grandmothers?
Give them the salaries and the pensions and the city vehicles, but make them a fleet of vintage corvettes, jaguars and cadillacs, with white leather interior.
Diamond in the back, sunroof top and digging the scene with the gangsta lean.
Let the cars be badass!
You would hear the old school jams like Patti Labelle, Anita Baker and Al Green.
You would hear Sweet Honey in the Rock harmonizing on “We who believe in freedom will not rest” bumping out the speakers.
And they got the booming system.
If you up to mischief, they will pick you up swiftly in their sweet ride and look at you until you catch shame and look down at your lap.
She asks you if you are hungry and you say “yes” and of course you are.
She got a crown of dreadlocks and on the dashboard you see brown faces like yours, shea buttered and loved up.
And there are no precincts.
Just love temples, that got spaces to meditate and eat delicious food.
Mangoes, blueberries, nectarines, cornbread, peas and rice, fried plantain, fufu, yams, greens, okra, pecan pie, salad and lemonade.
Things that make your mouth water and soul arrive.
All the hungry bellies know warmth, all the children expect love.
The grandmas help you with homework, practice yoga with you and teach you how to make jamabalaya and coconut cake.
From scratch.
When you’re sleepy she will start humming and rub your back while you drift off.
A song that she used to have the record of when she was your age.
She remembers how it felt like to be you and be young and not know the world that good.
Grandma is a sacred child herself, who just circled the sun enough times into the ripeness of her cronehood.
She wants your life to be sweeter.
When you are wildin’ out because your heart is broke or you don’t have what you need the grandmas take your hand and lead you to their gardens.
You can lay down amongst the flowers.
Her grasses, roses, dahlias, irises, lilies, collards, kale, eggplants, blackberries.
She wants you know that you are safe and protected, universal limitless, sacred, sensual, divine and free.
Grandma is the original warrior, wild since birth, comfortable in loving fiercely.
She has fought so that you don’t have to, not in the same ways at least.
So give the police departments to the grandmas, they are fearless, classy and actualized.
Blossomed from love.
They wear what they want and say what they please.
Believe that.
There wouldn’t be noise citations when the grandmas ride through our streets, blasting Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye, Alice Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, KRS-One.
All that good music.
The kids gonna hula hoop to it and sell her lemonade made from heirloom pink lemons and maple syrup.
The car is solar powered and carbon footprint-less, the grandmas designed the technology themselves.
At night they park the cars in a circle so all can sit in them with the sun roofs down, and look at the stars, talk about astrological signs, what to plant tomorrow based on the moon’s mood and help you memorize Audre Lorde and James Baldwin quotes.
She always looks you in the eye and acknowledges the light in you with no hesitation or fear.
And grandma loves you fiercely forever.
She sees the pain in our bravado, the confusion in our anger, the depth behind our coldness.
Grandma know what oppression has done to our souls and is gonna change it one love temple at a time.
She has no fear.
So, what’s appealing about that? Proverbs told us that when we run wild, we aren’t going to be happy. Our flourishing depends on having some guidance. “Whoever obeys the law is joyful” – says the New Living Translation.

OK, that’s a human need, especially for our younger folk, but not just for younger folk: to have some guidance. I’m 61-years-old, and I have a relationship with a person I call my teacher. Teachers need teachers too. Our flourishing at all ages depends on having some guidance – some laws we obey.

And police were kinda, sorta supposed to help us meet that need, ideally. I mean, I know the historical analysis that reveals just how much US police forces for hundreds of years have been essentially the private guards at the white palace – protecting their employers from the inconveniences of that nonwhites might otherwise impose. I speak of what historical analysis reveals because that is my experience of coming to know this. I recognize for minority communities in this country, the broad sunlight at noon on a clear day requires no revealing or analysis to see. It doesn’t need any uncovering because, for them, it was never covered. But even without that function as the protectors of white supremacy, our increasingly militarized police, occupying our streets with armored personnel carriers, flashbang grenades, grenade launchers, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and tear gas have been moving further and further away from helpful guides to obedience of helpful laws.

Junauda Petrus-Nasah’s vision raises the question: can we look for more supportive ways to guide all of us to being productive, responsible, flourishing people? Can we? It’s a good question.



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