Shalom

Shalom is one of those words you hear a lot and, while you think you know what it means, you probably don’t. Like, it’s not just how Jews say hello and good-bye. If you look it up in the dictionary, it will say the definition of shalom is peace. But, it means much more than that. Shalom is a Hebrew word and Hebrew words go beyond a single meaning. They convey feeling and emotion. You see, shalom can mean completeness, wholeness, health, peace, harmony, the absence of discord or agitation and plenty of other things. Notice the ones I did choose have a theme: Harmony. I did that because my favorite definition comes from theologian and scholar Walter Brueggemann, who describes shalom as the central vision of the Bible in which “all of creation is one, every creature is in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature.” I found this in Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity for the rest of us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith, which my Sunday school class is reading for the summer. We meet each Sunday and discuss the weekly reading. From what I can see so far, it’s a good book.

Progressive Christians tend go on about subjects like community and harmony. And, to be honest, we do strive for these things…, until the stuff from our more conservative brothers and sisters builds up and we lose it. You see it’s much easier for me to love the people who think and act like I do. It’s also easier to love my neighbors that live on the margins of society. A guy like Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, is another story. Phillips wrote about passing a sign in front of a Methodist church with a sign out front that said “Pass the DREAM Act”. His reaction was, in a word, vehement. In the first line of an article he wrote for his blog, Phillips said “I have a DREAM. That is, no more United Methodist Church”. He followed up by saying that he grew up in the Methodist Church, but left as a teen “because the Methodist Church is little more than the first Church of Karl Marx”. Those are strong words and he went to list his problems with the UMC, stating

“The Methodist church is pro-illegal immigration. They have been in the bag for socialist health care, going as far as sending out emails to their membership “debunking” the myths of Obamacare. Say, where are the liberal complaints on the separation of church and state? In short, if you hate America, you have a great future in the Methodist church.

Basically, in just a few sentences, Phillips managed to attack a lot of things I believe in. He’s not alone; at various times, plenty of others done the same thing. If that’s not bad enough, you have groups like Westboro Baptist Church. You know, the “God Hates Fags” people? They’re group Jon Stewart was talking about when he said, “Westboro Baptist Church is no more a church than Church’s Fried Chicken is a church”. Amazingly, there are churches and pastors who have upped the ante of Westboro. In 2012, we have seen pastors recommend violence if your son acts effeminate, call for concentration camps for LGBT people and even advocate state-sanctioned execution for homosexuality. It seems like whenever you think things can’t any crazier, someone finds a way. Sadly, this attitude seems to be more in keeping with the Church’s history than any of us would like to admit.

The thing is these people, aggravating and irritating as they are, are also our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are the people with whom we are to build the Kingdom of God here on Earth. I know they can be aggravating and irritating; do you think you’re not? Progressive Christians can be smug, smarmy, strident and just plain weird. But, we love them anyway. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to do that yet.