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Our Shalom Vocation - A Different Sort of Campaign

My latest Christianity Today column is now online. It's an exploration of what Jesus might of meant when he said "Blessed are the peacemakers", and it's strongly influenced by a course I took on the Sermon on the Mount with Darrell Johnson at Regent College.

Most of the comments the piece has received so far seem to be processed through the filter of the recent US election. The column was in no way a comment on the election -- the editors require me to submit my columns three months ahead of publication so this was written in early August. And as a Canadian I had no dog in the US fight (although Canadian lives are certainly affected by our neighbours.)

I think, though, that both the good and bad of the recent campaign support my underlying theory: Shalom (God's defintion of peace) is more than stopping conflict, chosing the right leader, or making the right treaty. Shalom is a gift of God, and it becomes a reality only when we begin to acknowlege and discover who we are in him. But the awesome thing is, Jesus said that when his kingdom started breaking into our lives, we'd get to help him make Shalom. Sweet.

Anyway, here's the piece. Lemme know how it hits you.

Our Shalom Vocation, November, 2008 (CT)

Peacemaking is more than not making waves.

loathe confrontation. I am sometimes called a "peacemaker," but the truth is that I have always been easily pacified by a counterfeit peace that is really more about not making waves than about right relationship. At the other extreme, I've watched assertive friends make pseudo-peace by the sheer force of their persuasive personalities.

Neither the passive nor the aggressive route brings the kind of peace Jesus had in mind when he said, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Real peace is not just about the ceasing of conflict (between relatives, ethnic groups, or nations); it's also about dealing with underlying causes. Be it the Middle East or the middle of my family room, there are forces of evil at work, manifesting themselves as greed, ego, insecurity, and sometimes aggression.

The problems are infinitely complex; my default response is to shrug my shoulders in low-grade despair. But I know better. I know that Jesus not only desires peace, he is peace. And he wants us to be not only its recipients but also its agents.

There is a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian in which Jesus is delivering his Sermon on the Mount. A woman at the back can't quite hear, and when Jesus intones, "Blessed are the peacemakers," she asks, "What's so special about the cheesemakers?" To which her husband replies: "Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally; it refers to any manufacturers of dairy products."

It's a ridiculous exchange, but given the context in which Jesus delivered his sermon, I doubt his audience would have found "peacemakers" any less absurd than "cheesemakers." For centuries the Israelites had been promised a messiah to rescue them from a long line of oppressors. When Jesus started teaching, healing, and even resurrecting people, hopes must have soared. I can imagine Jesus clearing his throat, the locals holding their breath as they waited to hear his plan for overturning Roman rule. What a shock it must have been when he opened with, "Congratulations when you are poor in spirit," built to a focus on making peace, and closed with, "How wonderful when you are persecuted."

Jesus' audience was getting a crash course on one of his core messages: The kingdom of God is near—breaking in, alive, active—and it's nothing like you think. Two thousand years later, we have cross-stitched Jesus' words and hung them docilely on our walls, but his real message is no less counterintuitive or shocking.

The Beatitudes are not a tame to-do list of "be-attitudes." They are descriptions of what happens when the kingdom breaks into—and revolutionizes—a person's life. And each of the first six beatitudes builds toward the seventh: Kingdom people will be peacemakers.

Shalom, the Hebrew word for "peace," has expansive connotations. It means harmony, wholeness, and right relationship with God, others, self, and the earth. Isaiah offers prophetic pictures of shalom: the wolf lying with the lamb, weapons turned into farming tools, deserts blooming. Julian of Norwich must have glimpsed shalom when she said, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

Jesus promises that kingdom people will be not just shalom lovers or even shalom keepers, but shalom makers. God wants to include his children in the family business. Peacemaking is a mandate each of us is called to live out inside our own skin and circumstances, whether we work for the UN or not.

Mrs. Gagner, my daughter's first-grade teacher, is a prime example. She tells her students daily that God loves them, that he knows their names and has plans for them, that they are gifted and valuable beyond calculation. I have watched God use her to make shalom in those little lives. Multiply 26 students per class by a 30-year teaching career, and you start to grasp the staggering effect of just one aspect of one woman's life.

Mrs. Gagner would laugh if she knew she reminds me of a 19th-century Russian priest named Father John of Kronstadt. Most of his fellow clergymen refused to visit the villages that surrounded their cathedrals—chronic poverty had fostered a debauched despair that made the rural areas treacherous. But Father John would enter the slums and get down in the gutters. He would find some guy sleeping off whatever he had done the night before; he would cup his chin, look him in the eyes, and say, "This is beneath your dignity. You were created to house the fullness of God." Wherever Father John went, revival broke out, because people discovered who—and whose—they were. Shalom is contagious.

Preacher, teacher, homemaker, cheesemaker. Whatever our vocations, we are here for a reason. God's kingdom is at hand, breaking in, offering the job opportunity of a lifetime. We get to help him make shalom. Anything less is beneath our dignity.


This column, along with "Theology in Aisle 7", won the Column/Editorial/First Person Essay (series) category at the 2009 Canadian Christian Writing Awards. Congratulations Carolyn.

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