Tag Archives: Shalom

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Silencing the Shame Machine: Our Call to Craft Peace

Recently, I heard a church leader describe the instinct to “drop Facebook napalm” in an online debate. What a great image. Our cultural currency right now isn’t the American dollar or the speculative Bitcoin: it is outrage.

Outrage is addictive, and it’s so easily justified: we sanctify it with the word “prophetic” or the word “faithful.” God calls us to be prophetic, to offer a bold word against corruption or misused power or oppression. God calls us to be faithful, to offer truth against confusion or heresy or trendy emptiness. Outrage energizes us when we’re tempted to lean back in apathy; it gives us a sense of purpose or righteousness when we’re feeling pointless or despicable.

Blessed are the outraged.

Even now, a few readers will want to protest about how important and urgent and warranted their causes are.

Of course they’re important and urgent and warranted. That’s not the point. Confrontation doesn’t require public shaming. If it does, we’re doing it wrong. Confrontation doesn’t require we put opponents in public stocks and heave a well-aimed rotten vegetable viral hashtag at their head. Even furious anger and indignation at injustice doesn’t require public shaming.

Do we think that shaming someone will lead to repentance? That hearkens back to The Scarlet Letter. Shaming someone else rarely calls forth transformed behavior in them – or in ourselves. Shaming another person gives us the vaulted position of judge, jury, executioner, and obituary writer without having to get our hands dirty by investing in their lives.

The great irony of our time is that we chant “don’t judge” while giving into the outrage that is comfortable shaming opponents in the public square. Maybe we chant “don’t judge” because we’re so busy shaming others; in repeating “don’t judge,” we’re trying to fight our worst internal instincts: that of devouring each other.

Our motto would serve us better if it were, “in your judging, be kind and embody humility.” And that really captures the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ better. Judging isn’t the problem: shaming is.

We are called to love and pursue Truth, Beauty, and Goodness, ancient transcendentals which have called thinkers to study logic, aesthetics, and ethics. If our outrage turns ugly, we may fight for goodness with confrontations of the truth, but we will have lost the grace of beauty, and we will have lost. If our outrage turns to ethical fragmentation, we may fight orderly and with grace, but we will have lost the grace of goodness and clear moral direction. If our outrage turns incoherent, we may fight attractively for the good, but we will have lost the order and reason and sense of truth outside of our isolated cause.

We all discern: we all judge. We judge whether or not a dairy product is good or has gone bad, we judge whether one dog is closer to the ideal of its breed than another, we judge whether a habit has a positive or negative outcome on our child, we judge whether a leader takes us closer or farther away from a goal we judge to be worthy of pursuit.

We all speak: we all confront. We confront a cashier about a mistake in our favor or against our interest, we confront a business about a mishandling of our package or our order or our service, we confront discomfort in our own lives through healthy action or unhealthy avoidance, we confront strangers, acquaintances, friends, and family members online.

What we don’t all need to do, of necessity, is to shame. A call to repentance is not inherently or of necessity shame-causing. There is no order, no beauty, no goodness in shaming: there can be order, beauty, and goodness in discernment, judgment, or confrontation.

And not all feelings of shortcoming or inadequacy are bad. I ought to feel inadequate to pilot a nuclear submarine. I ought to feel inadequate to trade stock at the New York Stock Exchange. I ought to feel inadequate to administer anesthesia to a surgery patient.

And I ought to feel a sense of shortcoming if I engage in a pattern of behavior that hurts myself, others, and God. I ought to feel a sense of shortcoming if I smack a child on the face. I ought to feel a sense of shortcoming if I lose my temper and berate a stranger.

If we are dressing up our outrage as “prophetic” or “faithful” but we don’t have love, we’re a sounding brass, a clanging symbol. Love bears all things and hopes all things. It’s hard to persevere in bearing all things and in hoping for redemption in the midst of shaming someone.

Loving acts are beautiful acts; they are good acts; they are true acts. They shout the beauty of being a person created in God’s image, they shout the goodness of peaceful confrontation, they shout the truth of our own worth and inadequacy. To proclaim justice does not require arrogance on our part. But shaming another human being requires a certain amount of arrogance within ourselves.

Jesus is Truth – the Word, or logos made flesh. Jesus embodied and spoke truth. Jesus’ incarnation gave Reality itself fingerprints. So when Jesus confronted others, it was almost always because they were busy shaming instead of confronting. The religious leaders weren’t just confronting the woman caught in adultery, they were deliberately shaming and humiliating and depersonalizing her. To shame a person is to remove the dignity of being human from them; and if we have removed their humanity, we are no longer bound to treat them with respect and care. Jesus didn’t shame the shamers: Jesus discerned – that is, judged – their motives, and he confronted them. Repentance, Jesus knew, didn’t require shaming a person, even if it did sometimes require judgment and confrontation.

Truth is beautiful: so communicating truth, however confrontational, cannot be done in a way that smears the inherent beauty within our fellow humans.

Consider, in closing, these reflections from artist Makoto Fujimura, in Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture – 

Why art in a time of war? Jesus stated, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). The Greek word for peacemakers is eirenepoios, which can be interpreted as “peace poets,” suggesting that peace is a thing to be crafted or made. We need to seek ways to be not just “peacekeepers” but to be engaged “peacemakers.” Peace (or the Hebrew word shalom) is not simply an absence of war but a thriving of our lives, where God uses our creativity as a vehicle to create the world that ought to be. Art, and any creative expression of humanity, mediates in times of conflict and is often inexplicably tied to wars and conflicts.

The arts provide us with language for mediating the broken relational and cultural divides: the arts can model for us how we need to value each person as created in the image of God. This context of rehumanization provided via the arts is essential for communication of the good news. Jesus desires to create in us “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Phil 4:7), so that we can communicate the ultimate message of hope found in the gospel, the story of Jesus, who bridged the gap between God and humanity to a cynical, distrustful world.

The Outraged will wear out; Blessed are the peacemakers.


Jeff Rudy ~ A Peace at Odds

‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son
    and son against father,
mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?’ – Luke 12:49-56 

I don’t know how much thought went into my parents naming me what they did. I do know that my middle name, “Martin,” was carefully chosen; it is my father’s middle name, my grandfather’s middle name, and was also the first name of my grandfather’s uncle and goes back at least one more generation. The name Martin means “warrior” or “warlike” and alludes to the name “Mars,” a Roman god of war. You can think back to several named Martin and how fitting this is – that they fought through some difficult times – Martin Luther King, Jr., Martin Luther, Martin of Tours, to name a few.

But my first name is Jeffrey, which has roots in German and Greek and is a name that means “peaceful” or “the peace of heaven.” So, when you put my name together it means “a peaceful warrior.”

I’m a walking contradiction.

But there’s something funny for many people: even if there wasn’t a great deal of intention by the parents regarding the name’s meaning of their child, children grow up and their personality or character seems to fit their name meaning anyway. I feel that way about myself. I’m typically a pretty peaceful person. In fact, one of my greatest dislikes, aside from mushrooms on pizza, is conflict – I will try to avoid it like the plague, though at times, my “Martin” side kicks in and I have to fight for a cause. But typically, I’m Jeffrey. I like peace. I like keeping the peace. I love those passages that say, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God,” “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth,” “He shall be called…the Prince of Peace,” and “My peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you.” I typically sign off my emails by typing, “Peace…”

So when I come to a passage like what we’ve read today, I cringe a little bit. It strikes a dissonant chord within me, because my nature is to long for peace and goodwill. Why, Jesus, do you have to come in here and say, “I did not come to bring peace but a sword!”? Doesn’t this seem so contradictory to what we know of Jesus elsewhere? Even at the beginning of this gospel, Luke indicated through Zachariah that Jesus would “guide our feet into the way of peace,” and at his birth “peace on earth” was declared. At the end of this same gospel, Jesus in his resurrected body says, “Peace be with you.” How do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory statements?

Peace or division? Which is your mission, Jesus? Which is your kingdom about?

Do you feel the tension? I think it comes from a couple of different ways of understanding the concept of peace. One route that people take when talking about the different meanings of peace is to distinguish peace as the absence of conflict from peace as a sense of shalom, or wholeness, realized by the presence of God. That is a valuable conversation and distinction, but I think Jesus is dealing with something other than this here. You see, peace in the ancient world wasn’t just about an internal feeling or sense of serenity; it had to do with territorial influence and how a kingdom would exert that influence or power. In Latin, the word for peace is “pax” and if you remember anything about the Roman Empire from your history classes you might remember about the Pax Romana or the “Peace of Rome.” It was that period of time when Rome was “at peace,” meaning there weren’t any significant military powers or governments that challenged their reign over the world. Subtly, that might seem like a situation that is well and good. It is comfortable, but it is only comfortable so long as you comply with the expectations of those in power. You see, the Pax Romana was more about exerting its power than walking in a sense of peace and reconciliation.

peace-of-status-quo-rudyIf I might call it something that would resonate with us today, I would call this the “Peace of the Status Quo.” Things are all well and good, so long as those who have power and authority maintain it and it doesn’t ever get challenged. To rephrase, it was as though Jesus said, “I have not come for the Peace of the Status Quo.” No, Jesus was bringing a peace of a different sort – the peace of Christ, the Pax Christi, which Paul would say surpasses our understanding, a peace of a kingdom that brings good news to the outcast, to those without power – the lost, the last, the least – a peace at odds with the Pax Romana, at odds with the status quo; and this led to the conflict on which Jesus’ life would be taken by the Pax Romana on a Roman cross.

The peace of the status quo, if we seek to maintain it, will cost us our very souls. William Wilberforce, an 18th century Englishman, knew and exposed the evils of the slave trade, a system bent on maintaining power over others for the sake of a false sense of peace and prosperity. The reality was that many others knew its evils but chose to look the other way because their lives were comfortable. In his address to the House of Commons in 1789 when he continued his quest to abolish the slave trade, Wilberforce said: “The nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us; we can no longer plead ignorance, we can not evade it; it is now an object placed before us, we can not pass it; we may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we can not turn aside so as to avoid seeing it.”

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, in his last written document, wrote a letter to Wilberforce six days before his own death. Wesley spoke of the great cost of Wilberforce’s mission, but in his encouraging message pointed out, albeit implicitly, that Wilberforce had chosen the Pax Christi, the peace of Christ, which stood at odds with the status quo of the slave trade. Wesley wrote: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might.”

And so we come to the heart of the tension. When the peace of Christ’s kingdom is at odds with the peace of the kingdoms of the world, the peace of the status quo, then lines get drawn, a sword gets wielded. This is not because of any inherent antagonism of Jesus’ way, but rather because the world will invoke its power and use force to do so whenever something or someone comes along that dares to get in its way or claim allegiance to another sovereign.

So how does this affect us? How does this impact how we live for the coming kingdom even now? A peace at odds? I think this takes a great deal of discernment on a day to day basis, but it’s based primarily on a loyalty to Christ that is unfading, and it is unwilling to live in such a way that shows that anything else is more important than Christ’s reign and being a follower of Jesus. While this sort of loyalty might bring or seem to bring division now, there is a deeper unity, a deeper peace that is beyond our sight and understanding, in which our hope anchors us in the knowledge that there will come a time, as the prophet Isaiah envisioned, when swords will be turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

To sum up, I return to one of the Martins I alluded to earlier. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, on the Eve of All Saints’ day in 1517, nailed a document called the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Listen to the last two statements:

  1. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
  2. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace.

Let us so follow Christ. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Kimberly Reisman ~ Darkness: Why Advent Breaks My Heart

I’m an Advent geek. I love it. I treasure the familiar feelings my faith evokes during this time of year – a deep and abiding sense of hope, expectancy, and joy. I love the preparations – the feeling of my house as I finish decorating at 3 AM with only the quiet sound of Christmas music (Charlie Brown or maybe Ray Charles) playing in the background; the joy of finding just the right gift for someone I love and imagining their face when they open it; the way it smells when John (yes, John) finishes baking Bishop’s Bread.

Despite being one of my favorite times of year, it’s also a difficult time for me because the message of the season always seems out of sync with my experience of the world. There are almost too many disconnects between the Advent season of hope and peace, and our world of violence and heartbreak to mention. I hurt inside every time I scroll my newsfeed.

This internal conflict is not new for me. Every year it seems my heart sings with joy at the same it is breaking with sorrow. That’s because the disconnect isn’t just in my own mind and heart, it’s a foundational contradiction between the Jesus way and the way of the rest of the world – a contradiction and disconnect that’s been around since Jesus came on the scene in the first place.

I suppose that’s the point. It’s the disconnect that caused the prophet Isaiah to promise, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine…For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end.”

As Christ followers, in all times and seasons, but especially during Advent and Christmas, we declare to the world that we’ve seen that great light. Yet even as we make that proclamation, we can’t ignore that the world remains in deep darkness – God’s dream for the world remains a far cry from the nightmare that’s the reality in so many places today.

That is why proclaiming the good news of light in the midst of darkness isn’t about sentimental visions of Bethlehem’s deep and dreamless sleep as silent stars go by. It’s about recognizing that Isaiah’s promise of a great light is twofold: not only will a son be born to us, but that son, that Prince of Peace, will be “despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3)

Isaiah says that we will turn our backs on that Prince of Peace and look the other way. He will be despised but we won’t care. He will carry our weaknesses and our sorrows will weigh him down. He will be pierced for our rebellion and crushed for our sins. Isaiah says that the one on whose shoulders the government will rest – that Prince of Peace – the one whose peace will never end, will be beaten so we can be whole. He will be whipped so we can be healed.

Every December my heart sings with joy and breaks with sorrow because there is never a manger without a cross. The peace that the angels sing about isn’t a peace that can ever come through violence – no matter how “redemptive” we may believe that violence to be; no matter how much we believe we need to “teach our enemies a lesson.”

The peace the angels sing about is a peace that comes through self-giving love. Our Prince of Peace rules a kingdom whose goal isn’t victory on it own terms but peace on God’s terms.

That our Prince of Peace entered the world as a helpless child and left it as a crucified outcast tells me that God’s kingdom is one in which self-giving, vulnerable, love reigns supreme; a kingdom that at it’s very core is a radical repudiation of violence. And that stands in stark contrast to the kingdoms of this world.

Yet that disconnect raises as many questions about ourselves as it does about the world. I do not doubt that the issues that face us are complex, nor am immune to an intense desire to see those who are doing so much harm brought to justice. But do we not mock the One we claim to follow when we fail to offer the merciful, forgiving, healing, redemptive, saving, love of Christ to all people – even our enemies? The witness of persecuted Christians in Nigeria and across the Middle East in contrast to our own shrill rhetoric convicts me of that painful truth.

We’re about midway through this holy-day season, this Advent season of disconnect. Maybe as we proclaim the good news that will bring great joy to all people, we ought also to recall the words of our Prince of Peace, who told us that God blesses peacemakers. Maybe in this season of peace and beyond, we need to ask how might we become more active in our peacemaking?

How might we love rather than hate our enemies?

How might we turn the other cheek, give freely, walk second miles, lower barriers, and come alongside others?

In other words, how might we live more into the likeness of the son whose birth we celebrate?

The questions remain. The disconnect remains. Yet we pray: Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We pray that light will penetrate darkness, that violence and war will end, that the kingdom of our Prince of Peace – a kingdom of shalom – will indeed come.

Photo by Viktor Talashuk on Unsplash