Jehovah Shalom

True peace is found not
in the absence of conflict,
but in its midst; not
on sunny days
but in storms,
for peace is not
a function of circumstance
but of being
held by the One
who is Peace.

Jagged Rocks

The world is crumbling,
we all know it.
As we walk our daily paths
we feel the rocks press in to the soles of our feet.
The rubble reminds us
of culture’s dis-integration.

We pause…
peering down at the sharp-edged remnants
a thought enters our minds
“I can do something about this.”

We bend and choose a rock
a particularly jagged one,
take aim,
and throw it at our enemy.

Use your tools beautifully

In 1991, a man wielding a hammer beneath his jacket attacked Michelangelo’s David, one of the most recognizable pieces of art in the world. In 1972, Michelangelo’s Pieta–in my opinion the most beautiful sculpture in existence–was also attacked and disfigured.

Michelangelo crafted the Pieta in the late 1400s and David in the early 1500s, wielding a hammer and chisels. In the case of David, he was faced with a giant block of marble that had stood rejected by other artists for 40 years. Yet in that shapeless piece of stone, he saw beauty. He released David. Removing rock and shaping limbs, he released the hero, revealing beauty.

Each of us are given daily choices. We can use the tools we have been given to highlight and reveal beauty, or we can use them to destroy. So much of what I see on social media is disintegrating and destructive. People seek to press their opinions without seeking to embody love. Yet divisiveness isn’t limited to social media. How we speak with our families can also prove destructive rather than encouraging and upbuilding. Our judgmental glances, looks, and words toward those who are different from us are destructive.

Each day, we are given choices to seek peace or conflict; to live beautifully or cruelly; to seek commonality or promote division.

What are you doing with your tools?

Seeking Shalom

Yesterday, my oldest daughter and I had a daddy-daughter date. We got matching tattoos with the Hebrew word, shalom, a core theme in how I want to live my life. When I wrote Soil of the Divine last year, my intention was to try to explore the idea of shalom through poetry. In some cases, I believe I succeeded, but in others, I fell short.

Most people upon hearing the word shalom either have never been exposed to it before, or have heard it defined as “peace.” Traditionally, Bible scholars have interpreted it as peace as well. Peace is certainly a part of shalom, but it is incomplete. Doug Hershey makes the observation that “the common Western definition of peace is–the absence of conflict or war–but in Hebrew it means so much more.” In truth, shalom is not so much the absence of something, but presence.

One of my favorite quotes–in fact I shared it at the opening of my book–comes from Neal Plantiga’s excellent Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that employs joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.”

When God created the cosmos, it was the way it should be; it was true, good, and beautiful. More importantly, it was filled with the manifest presence of God, who is love. Yet when sin entered the world, this perfect state of affairs was marred. We have longed for it ever since.

As believers, I think we are not called principally to avoid conflict, but to seek shalom. We are called to a higher existence. We are called to be, as my friend Curt says, “outposts of goodness and beauty.” Every thought, every action that we engage in moves us toward an integrated state or a disintegrated one. We move toward wholeness, or away.

When we respond to others with disrespect, dismissiveness, or self-centeredness, we are acting in disintegrating ways. When we seek to listen, understand, know, and love–particularly those who are different–we are behaving in integrating ways. We are pursuing shalom.

Every person we meet is longing for completeness. As Christians, we know in whom completeness is found and God calls us to be ambassadors of shalom.

Life consists of three loves:
Love of God,
Love of self,
Love of others.
If we are to live fully;
If we are to grow toward wholeness;
If we are to feed the hungry hearts of others
Each love must be developed separately
Then carefully and patiently integrated.

-Betty Skinner

Shards

Divine Restorer,
I can offer nothing to you
except my disintegrated self.
The worries of the world,
temptations and lusts,
broken relationships,
physical imperfections,
continually batter my soul–

fragmenting, fragmenting–

shards
useless on their own,
yet you, O LORD, are able
to make broken things whole,
to infuse my sinews with grace,
and my bones with steadfast love.

Re-created not just whole
but holy.

Shalom Challenge

What if for the next two months, we intentionally committed ourselves to actively pursuing peace, goodness, and beauty?  What might the world look like if we purposed ourselves each day to look for ways to bring light to a dark world? How might hurts be healed if we actively sought to pursue relational wholeness?

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I look around me, I see so much hurt. Our world exists under a smog of brokenness. When all we see around us is damaged, we begin to live as if the world were supposed to be gray. It becomes all we know. We fail to hope because we know from experience that hopes are rarely fulfilled and we become cynics.

We are surrounded by more people than ever, 7 billion and growing. The worldwide availability of technology allows us to communicate with startling speed. We can still handwrite letters if we wish, but we can also call, text, email, message, Snapchat, Skype, Facetime, or Hangout. We have the freedom to share every passing whim on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube. Yet, despite more people and more ways to communicate with them, people feel less known than ever.

When I read my social media feeds, I am stunned by the mix of good and bad. On the one hand, there are encouraging flickers of human kindness and love. On the other hand, there is so much anger, dissension, haughtiness, and sarcasm that the dark clouds seem impenetrable. I watch conservatives criticizing liberals and vice versa; Catholics demonizing Protestants, and vice versa. In any given day, we can find 10,000 things that make us angry and indignant.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.
-Isaac Watts

If you have been concerned about this, like I have, or you have contributed to it, like I have, I want to suggest a challenge. For the next two months—November 1st to December 31st—let us actively seek peace, goodness, and beauty.  Here are some ways to implement this challenge:

  1. As you begin each day, ask God’s help in pursuing peace, goodness, and beauty.
  2. Actively resist posting negativity on social media. In other words, do not share things that actively stir dissension or controversy. If someone else posts something controversial and you feel the need to run to your keyboard to “set the record straight,” resist doing so. If you can, let it go. If you cannot, reach out to the person individually.
  3. Similarly, avoid sarcasm. Yes, I understand that sarcasm is often just in good fun, but in reality, it often wounds people in ways we do not know and, if we are honest, it can mask unresolved conflict we have with others.
  4. When you are met with negativity, respond with kindness. When you are met with anger, respond with peace. When you encounter evil, respond with goodness.
  5. Actively seek for ways to demonstrate peace, goodness, and beauty. Stay attentive to ways in which you might encourage and serve others. You might offer a kind word or a listening ear, share something of beauty, or help meet someone’s physical needs. The opportunities are endless.
  6. Look for ways to create beauty yourself. Perhaps your first step here is to set aside your belief that you are simply not creative and then get about the business of creating.
  7. Encourage others to join in to this #shalomchallenge. Think of at least five people to invite to participate with you. An old African proverb says that “when we go together, we go far.”

Maybe this challenge will be fruitless.
Maybe after two months, you will miss engaging in controversy.

But maybe, a life could be transformed and that life could just be your own.

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