“I loafe and invite my soul. I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.” That’s the second line of Walt Whitman’s masterpiece poem, “Song of Myself,” and helps set the tone of its celebration of introspection and self-determination by extolling the virtues of one of the historic cardinal sins of U.S. culture: loafing. To loaf, to loiter, to be aimless or idle in your goals or activity, is arguably the most counter-cultural act that is possible in our society. We are the nation of “No Loitering” signs; to be idle is to be engaging in inherently suspicious and even criminal behavior.

Today’s “cult of productivity,” in which countless authors and influencers produce a constant waterfall of quotes, hacks, strategies, and apps to help you achieve maximum productivity in your personal and professional life, is just the most recent manifestation of our culture’s insistence that our value is based on how busy we are and how much we produce, and in many ways, the busy part is more important, because if we’re not busy, not matter how much we produce, we could be producing more.

So given all that, it is very easy to sniff or even sneer at what Jesus seems to be telling his disciples in this passage from John: “Abide in me as I abide in you….Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.” Abide is a somewhat archaic word for us outside of the Bible, but it sounds an awful lot like loafing or loitering: staying in one place and just…being there.

As I’ve said before, about the only time I’m aware of it entering popular discourse is through the cult classic movie, The Big Lebowski. The film focuses on a character who is basically the patron saint of loafers and loiterers, called simply, The Dude. The Dude has no discernable employment, income, productivity, or even meaningful activity; the only time he seems to leave his ramshackle apartment is to go bowling.

That is, until a case of mistaken identity that gets him involved in what eventually become a criminal caper, which has The Dude bouncing from one surreal episode to another, but always seeming to just glide through them without much effort, which he sums up at the end of the movie himself by simply saying, “Well…the Dude abides.” That line, “the Dude abides,” still adorns novelty T-shirts and gets used even today as a sort of shorthand for a less poetic version of Whitman extolling the virtues of loafing as a life philosophy.

But recently, I discovered that there’s a better depiction of the real power of what it means to abide in popular culture, and it’s in the Marvel superhero movies of the last decade or so, specifically in the ones where the character Black Panther shows up. Black Panther is the chief warrior of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, which is the most technologically advanced nation on earth because it sits on the world’s only supply of a uniquely powerful resource called vibranium.

Now, the first Black Panther movie was being filmed in Atlanta at the same time as Avengers: Infinity War, which chronologically comes slightly later and includes most of the Marvel superheroes and a particularly dramatic battle in Black Panther’s country of Wakanda. In order to film both their own movie and that crucial battle scene in Infinity War at the same time, the Black Panther actors shuttled back and forth between the stages and locations of the two films.

So one day, as they were filming a dramatic battle scene for Infinity War that takes place in Black Panther’s Wakanda, hundreds of extras from the Black Panther production showed up in costume as Wakandan warriors and took their positions in battle formations behind the Black Panther, played by the late, great Chadwick Bosman. They were only supposed to stand there and look impressive in the face of an offscreen enemy army, but when the cameras started rolling, Bosman unexpectedly yelled out a stirring battle cry.

What he yelled is a word in the real-world Xhosa language of South Africa: “yibambe.” And the army of hundreds of extras immediately echoed the reply: “Yibambe!” they cried, as they drove the butts of their high-tech spears into the ground in unison to shake the very earth with their determination, and they went back and forth three times. “Yibambe! Yibambe!” “Yibambe! Yibambe!” “Yibambe! Yibambe!”

Recalling the moment in an interview, the Infinity War directors described feeling chills at this unexpected and awesome display of fierce resolution as the cameras rolled until they finally called “cut!” “Where did that come from?” they asked Bosman in wonder. Bosman explained how they had developed that war cry call-and-response for the Wakandan warriors in a climactic battle scene in the Black Panther movie.

“What does it mean?” they asked, and Bosman, who had characteristically brought deep preparation to his role, knew the answer: “It means, ‘hold fast,’” he replied. And the directors were so impressed that they brought it back to begin the pivotal final battle of the following Avengers movie.

Yibambe; hold fast; abide. Yes, that’s what both the English word “abide” and the Greek word behind it in the New Testament really mean. Not to loaf or loiter; not even simply to remain in place, but to hold fast; hold fast in the face of an enemy or a threatening or adverse situation. That is a very different thing from the Dude, or even Walt Whitman. That is the cry of people facing down the malevolent threat of chaos and evil with courage and determination.

Listen to Jesus’ words again, translated properly: “Hold fast in me, as I hold fast in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it holds fast in the vine, neither can you unless you hold fast in me. Those who hold fast in me and I in them bear much fruit.” But this is not an exhortation simply to hold fast, as Jesus makes clear towards the end: “…hold fast in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will hold fast in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and hold fast in his love. This is my commandment, to love one another as I have loved you.”

“Hold fast in me; hold fast in my love.” Having watched the scenes of protests on college campuses across the country and then the police bringing those protests to a violent end this week, all accompanied by the ongoing and escalating starvation and death rates of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, especially children, I found myself wondering what those commandments mean for us as Christians in trying to make sense of all of this.

How do we sort through the profound moral concerns being raised with the tendency that people in the U.S. have to mirror the most intractable dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, often falling into the many half narratives, false binaries, and false equivalencies that so plague anyone trying to address it. Where do we even begin to engage, if we are going to do so while holding fast in Christ’s love?

As I mused on that, I thought of the recent words and actions not of great theologians or wise international relations scholars or seasoned diplomats, but of a chef. Chef Jose Andres is enormously well-respected and influential as a chef, but also as a humanitarian, founding World Central Kitchen as an organization that sets up operations in the wake of both natural and human-instigated disasters.

In the aftermath of the Hamas attacks on Israel last October and Israel’s subsequent invasion of Gaza, World Central Kitchen operations were established in both Gaza and Israel, ensuring that Palestinians suffering starvation in Gaza due to the Israeli invasion and Israelis who were internal refugees in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks were being fed. 

As you probably know, last month a World Central Kitchen aid convoy was attacked by Israeli forces and seven staffers were killed, despite having reported their intended movement to the Israeli military in advance. At the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, a tearful Chef Andres eulogized these brave aid workers who were killed trying to feed people in need. “They were the best of humanity,” Andres declared; “their examples should inspire us to do better, to be better.”

He continued saying, “even one innocent life is too many,” referring both to his lost staff members and to those who have died in the conflict. Acknowledging the dangers, he committed to continuing their presence and work: “We take risks because we want to change the world. Feeding each other, cooking and eating together is what makes us human. A plate of food is a plate of hope, a message that someone, somewhere cares about you.” Which means that a plate of hope is also a plate of love, and that World Central Kitchen intends to hold fast in love.

I have no idea if Chef Andres is a self-declared practicing Christian or not; but there can be no question that he and his people are holding fast in Christ’s love. For those of us who are self-declared followers of Christ, I don’t think we can expect that fact to necessarily help us untie the complex knot of interlocking and opposing narratives, fears, and dreams of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I think it can help us find our footing and begin moving in the right direction.

Because holding fast in Christ also means holding fast in and out of love, which means thinking, speaking, and acting out of Christ’s love to follow his teachings, works, commandments, and example. And when we do that, we can start finding some clarity on how we are to engage, regardless of our personal political beliefs and commitments: those who are held captive should be freed; those who are starving should be fed; those who are wounded should be aided; those who are driven from their homes should be given shelter; those who are oppressed should be liberated; those who are exploiting or threatening or harming others should be disrupted; those who live in fear should be given hope; and those who suffer in the midst of conflict and division should receive peace.

And this is true, in Christ’s own example, no matter what they speak or how they look; no matter who their government or God is; and no matter if they or anyone else tells us we need to ignore or reject or even hate another in order to love them, because that is never true. Those resolutions and acts will not be enough to end this conflict; but they are more than enough to get started.

And if we hold fast like that, if we hold fast in Christ’s love, it will be more than enough for us to do for now, until the next steps become clear, and until finally all that is left is abiding, holding fast, in love and justice and mercy and peace. So come: let us gather at Christ’s table and receive bread for the journey, for it will be long and difficult, but if we hold fast, we will know that Christ is with us every step of the way.