Tuesday, September 2

SHALOM: A Matter of Perspective

My first real encounter with the word 'shalom' was as a biblical studies major in college. Most of you are probably familiar with 'shalom' as meaning 'peace'. In my studies I learned that it does indeed mean peace, but goes beyond that to encompass a sort of 'wholeness', connoting a way of living that bears out what God originally intended his creation to look like. 'Shalom', the sort of thing that would have been found in Eden before the Fall.

When I lived in Jerusalem to continue with graduate studies, the word 'shalom' lost some of its mystical feel. I was learning modern Hebrew at the time, and in modern Hebrew 'shalom' is used as a typical greeting, the way we would use the word 'hello' or the phrase 'how are you?' in English. At first I was impressed with Israelis. "Wow," I thought, "everyone here walks around greeting each other with 'peace'. What a great concept." It quickly became routine and was just a way to start conversation. It wasn't so much greeting someone with the word 'peace' as it was what you said to a friend before you started talking. 'Shalom' became just another word from a choice of possible greetings, something said so often during the week that it didn't have any significance except as a way to open a conversation or greet someone passing by.

Now, Jessie and I live in Bethlehem and work as MCC's Peace Development Workers. Lots of our friends are here with us in Bethlehem, and we cross checkpoints pretty often as we move back and forth for work between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. 'Shalom' has started to mean something different for us. Apart from when we visit MCC's Israeli partners, the only time we hear it is at those checkpoints. it's the first thing you hear when you pull up and are greeted by armed soldiers. "Shalom, show us your passports please." "Shalom, may we see your ID." Now it feels like a reminder of the fact that many of our Palestinian friends aren't allowed to come to Jerusalem with us. A friend's son recently told her, "Mom, I know what shalom means. It means show me your passport." My heart broke when I heard this; instead of knowing 'shalom' as the wholeness that God intended his creation to live in, this little boy's first exposure to the concept was as a symbol of the dynamics of power and oppression at play in the world. "Shalom, show me your passport." "Shalom, I need to see your ID." "Shalom, you're not allowed to cross here."

When we originally started as Peace Development Workers for MCC, there were certain aspects of the job we were excited about, and certain aspects of the job that we were curious about. What does it mean to be a 'peace development worker'? How does that play out in real life? And is it really 'work'? After over a year in the position, we've come to understand that it is indeed work, and can often be the hardest kind of work there is. There's a reason Jesus tells his followers in Luke 13 to "strive to enter at the narrow gate." It's not an easy thing to live out the way God has called us to live in the world. It's something we must strive for. Psalm 34 reminds us as well to "seek peace and pursue it." Not only are we to look for peace, to look for ways to move ourselves and those around us towards peace, but the 'work' part of the job for us is right there in the verse. 'Pursue' it as well, because as long as we live here in the world peace will not come easily. For us, we're learning that walking the way of Jesus and living in God's Kingdom is part of the reward, the goal. I don't know if the ultimate goal is for us to actually 'attain' peace, but for now the 'striving' and 'pursuing' parts of God's instruction for our lives is keeping us busy enough. Thankfully there are lots of other believers here trying to live out the way of peace alongside us. Together we're learning what it means to 'enter at the narrow gate'. It's not easy, but the process, the striving, the pursuing of peace, is beginning to become a reward in itself.

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