St Francis of Assisi was a person who modelled God’s peace (shalom) in very radical ways. October 4th is St Francis Feast Day and so it seems appropriate to begin our October emphasis on shalom with a reminder of his life story and the ways it challenges us also be be radical proponents of shalom.
Francis’s goal was to imitate the life, and carry out the work of Christ in all he did. Ironically the prayers he is best known for Make Me An Instrument of Your Peace and Let Nothing Disturb Us, were not actually written by him, though they express some of the sentiments that we associate with his life.
What Is God’s Shalom?
God’s radical peace or shalom, a world in which all things are once more made whole is something that all of us long for but it is a hard concept to grasp, partly because we have never lived in a world in which God’s shalom dream is fully experienced, a world in which there is no death or disease, no oppression or exploitation of others, and no destructive acts towards creation.
Nicholas Wolterstorff says that at its heart, the Old Testament word shalom means “flourishing.” It embraces not just the flourishing of our personal lives but also our concern for the flourishing of all humanity as well as of God’s good creation. This, he believes is what the gospel is all about and what Christian education should also be about.
the goal of Christian education is to equip and energize our students for a certain way of being in the world, not just for a way of thinking, though certainly also that, but for a certain way of being – a Christian way, not one of your standard American ways of being. Suppose further that you agree with me that this way of being can be described thus: to pray and struggle for shalom, celebrating its presence and mourning its absence. How do we do that? What is the pedagogy – and indeed, the curriculum – for education with that goal?
Discipleship exposes our practices and our beliefs to the scrutiny of the Gospels. The life, death and resurrection of Christ becomes the lens through which we view all things – big and small – not so that we can disengage from the world but so that our thinking, and our actions can all be changed to be more like Christ. One of the mysteries of our faith is the continual transformation that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to bring about in our lives and in our world.
That any of us can change our thinking is a miracle. That any of us can be transformed from the self centered, self absorbed people we are without Christ is incredible… that alone convinces me that God is still at work in our world, educating all of us to live the eternal shalom world that will one day break into ours in all its glory.
Educating for Shalom
So how do we more fully live into God’s dream of shalom?
1. Articulate the dream as often as possible. I used to teach a class on urban transformation which revolved around the concept of shalom. I would ask students what their neighbourhood would look like if God’s shalom was fully realized. They usually started with the religious stuff like a church on ever corner but the longer we talked about it, the more they started to express their real dreams for transformation – jobs and homes for everyone, harmonious relationships between neighbours, restoration of polluted streams, overcoming of crime, beautiful gardens, colourful street murals, community events that drew the community together.
2. Educate yourself on God’s dream for shalom. Learn more about God’s dream for shalom as it emerges in the Old Testament and is expressed through the life of Christ in the new. This has become the central theological study of my life. It began 25 years ago as I grappled with the reality of the poverty I had seen during my years on Mercy Ships and the affluence I now experience in life in America. I expressed some of my learning several years ago in the booklet Shalom and the Wholeness of God, but I find myself constantly challenged my new aspects of God’s desire for wholeness and flourishing.
Over the last few months at St Andrew’s Episcopal Church here in Seattle, we have started using the following words as part of our liturgy:
While Jesus lived among us he stood up for women and children, he touched the untouchable, healed the sick, and welcomed those who had given up hope of being included. Through him we see a path not only to our own freedom, but a path to the liberation of the whole world. He taught us that it will not be in the brutality of violence that our world will be saved. Rather it will be in showing kindness to our neighbour in standing up against injustice, in returning hate with love, in transforming one heart at a time. It will be in the simple but holy task of dining together, sharing bread and wine, truly seeing one another as beloved by God.
Repeating these words each week is imprinting them in my mind and helping me to think of other ways to embrace this dream. Tomorrow we will publish our Top Ten Books on Shalom. I challenge all of us to read these books and others that help immerse us in God’s real purpose for our lives.
3. Reorient our lives to reflect God’s shalom. It is not easy for any of us to grasp the radicalness of God’s dream and live each day as its advocates, but we need to accept this challenge.
Plan a shalom meal at which you talk about God’s dream for flourishing. Read through the wonderful description in Isaiah 65: 17-25 of God’s shalom world. Sit in silence with your eyes closed imagining what this could look like in your life, neighbourhood and God’s world. Discuss this with your friends. Now watch the video below which I put together several years ago as my own expression of shalom living. Is there a way that God is challenging you, your family and your friends to make this dream more central to your lives. What are one or two action steps you could take to move your life and priorities in this direction?