Thursday, August 17, 2017
Shalom: wholeness, completeness.
It's a word that is intertwined with another Jewish word shelemut or perfection.
Shalom is more than the absence of war, quarrel or strife. Shalom is a biblical notion of a manifestation of divine grace. The Hebrew root word for grace means to "pitch a tent" or "set up camp." It's used when Isaac departed and "pitched his tent in the valley of Gerar and dwelt there" (Genesis 26:17). What I love about that image is that God's grace pitches a tent or sets up camp within us. When the Israelites set up camp, they pitched their tents in a large circle as a way of creating a wall or separation from the world around them. Imagine the grace of God as a wall around us. Shalom as refuge and strength. Psalm 29:11 says, "The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace."
As I watch so much upheaval, hostility, violence, oppression, discrimination, bigotry, hatred, and distrust growing between races, religions, and nationalities, I cannot help but meditate on Shalom and our world's desperate lack. When I watch the news, I grow disheartened and downcast at what I see, not as a breakdown of race in this country, but the ugly racism that underlies so much of our history rearing its head so boldly. We cannot heal what we do not face and until we do, there will be no Shalom. So I come to this word, reflecting on its deeper meanings than the mere use of "peace" that we so often speak of. Part of this mediation comes from my spending the end of this year studying the Beatitudes more closely and applying it to my daily life. Certainly current events are a cold reminder that there needs to be more "peacemakers" in our culture, communities, nations and world. Those who embrace with their very lives the ideal of "Shalom" or wholeness, of completeness. Those who understand that this is not only a personal state but one that we are meant to live out in the world. Shalom is a standing against that which would attempt to shatter and fracture wholeness: injustice, racism, oppression, poverty and our obsession with nationalism and war.
Two of the greatest modern peacemakers (Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr) both drew their strength and belief in working for Shalom in a nonviolent way because of their using Christ as a role model for living out peace in the midst of strife, antagonism, discrimination, extreme violence and brutality. Both men lived out this belief to the very cost of their lives. Shalom was something important enough to give one's life for just as Jesus did. They grasped that it is only those who are willing to take "Blessed are the peacemakers" literally and not as mere platitude who Jesus says, "Shall be called the sons and daughters of God."
Patriarch Bartholomew wrote, "Unless our actions are founded on love, rather than on fear, they will never be able to overcome fanaticism or fundamentalism . . . Only those who know - deep inside the heart - that they are loved can be true peacemakers. Our peacemaking ultimately stems from and relates to love for all of God's creation, both human and environmental. In this form, peacemaking is a radical response to policies of violence and the politics of power."
How many of us are willing to step up, to the very risk of our lives, and become "Shalom-makers?" One that we saw recently was Heather Heyer, who died expressing exactly what Christ, Gandhi and Martin Luther King did. And it cost her her very life. Yet that life cut short speaks loud volumes in a world that is so often obsessed with self and self-interests. So often we ask ourselves, "What would I have done had I lived during the time of the Nazis?" or "What would I have done during the Civil Rights Movement?" During such a time as we are in now, the answer is: Exactly what you are doing in this very moment. If you are not speaking out and standing up against such bigotry and hatred, then you would have been silent then.
"Peace," Martin Luther King, Jr, once said, "is not merely a goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal." Peace. Shalom is a daily way of living and approaching others, especially those who are different from ourselves (whether that be race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality).
During the time of Christ, it was customary for men to address each other with, "Shalom! Shalom!" (Peace! Peace!). Yet when Jesus speaks of Shalom, he is not referencing a salutation but a spiritual state of being. In the gospel of John, Christ tells his disciples, "Shalom (Peace) I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." He is about to leave them and his words are meant to more than comfort his followers, they are meant to be reminders when the world is hostile, violent, and they feel overwhelmed and defeated by the hatred and opposition they encounter.
The Shalom Christ speaks of is not only a sense of spiritual well-being (inner peace) but a desire to work towards Shalom in the world around them. It is a working towards ending injustice. As Dr. King wisely said, "Without justice there can be no peace. He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it." From the time of the prophets of the Old Testament to the ministry of Christ, the kingdom of heaven was never meant just as some future, heavenly place of perfection and peace, but was meant to spur us on to work towards that in our daily lives, in our workplaces, our communities, in the world that God has set us in. Shalom-making was a persistent and driving force to end oppression, end poverty, end inequality, end injustice, end persecution, end slavery, end social and economic inequality, and end any wall or barrier that we would place between ourselves and someone else. Cain once asked God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" and, unfortunately, too many now continue to ask that very same question; despite Christ's having answered it emphatically, "YES!" Love your neighbor as yourself. Who is your neighbor? Everyone.
Unless we are willing to work and, possibly lay down our lives, for Shalom, then we cannot under any circumstances begin to refer to ourselves as "the children of God." Christ said otherwise. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God." If we are silent, if we are complacent, if we are too busy pursuing our own self-interests, then we are hypocrites who claim something we have no spiritual right to claim: being a son or daughter of God. How can we claim to truly have the peace of God if we are not willing to face the suffering of others and work to end that suffering?
James 3:16-18 states, "For where ency and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil work will be there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."
We cannot claim righteousness if we are not sowing peace, making peace in a world that has so little of it. As followers of Christ, we are called and impelled to pursue Shalom. What Charlottesville has shown us is that the Church has too often failed to do so.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace..." (Romans 14:9). Pursue is active. It requires action from us, not just verbal or mental agreement. Pursuing peace means we have to get up and get out into the very world that needs us to be peacemakers.
The Church should be at the forefront of ending racial hatred, inequality, injustice, and poverty. We should not be content to stay within our own walls speaking and preaching and teaching of personal holiness while ignoring what the prophet Isaiah called, "preach(ing) the gospel of peace"bring(ing) glad tidings of good things?" Are we? Are we bringing "good things" to a world that is broken and hurting. Hurt so often turns to fear and fear often expresses itself through violence. Are we showing them the wholeness, the completeness of turning away from violence of any kind and walking in the very Shalom of Christ that changes and transforms those who are bound up in hatred and fear?
To work towards peace means we have to die to self, to let go of our sense of entitlement and self-preservation. The pursuit of peace is the only way to reconciliation of any kind. As the Psalmist says, "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it!" The question is, are we really and truly pursuing Shalom? Are we sowing peace? In our homes and our communities? If we are not willing to step up, speak out and do so, then how can we honestly expect there to be anything but what we are witnessing in the news? We cannot afford to live in the falsehood of our safe and secure versions of Christianity with its focus solely on personal salvation. No, we are called to be peacemakers, but will we ignore Christ's call?