Monday, June 27, 2005

Faith Works 7-02-05
Jeff Gill

Shalom, Peace, and Independence Day

"Be careful" is almost as frequent a saying as "Have a Happy Fourth of July!" this time of year. Fireworks are going off almost every night this week somewhere in our (any likely your) neighborhood, with a crescendo to Monday’s final blasts.
Add in water skiing at Buckeye Lake, potato salad in the sun, and poison ivy having a great year, and you get a sense of hazard along with the celebrational spirit for July 4.
It has been a year since I managed to have a very simple (OK, idiotic) fall in my driveway, break my arm in three places, have two surgeries, and put my life in order around casts, slings, and medical restrictions.
I am (ahem) young, fit (stop chuckling, would you?), and healed pretty fast according to Dr. Quimjian (three cheers for whom!), so there’s no real complication now and really was nothing to complain about then.
But I was amazed at how much I felt, well, "off" for months, even after the pins were removed and the last bandages came off. To fly with one wing for so long, and even with both limbs useable in many situations like driving, typing, or just putting the Little Guy to bed, there was something that just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t just the arm, it was the whole of me.
"Shalom" is the Hebrew word usually translated as "peace." Both greeting and farewell (like the Hawaiian "aloha"), shalom can be used in a wide variety of applications both in modern Hebrew as spoken in Israel, and when translating the Hebrew Scriptures, known to most Americans as the Old Testament of the Holy Bible.
Often in time of war, conflict, or upheaval, preachers know to point out that shalom is not just "peace" as the absence of war, but a fuller, whole-er, more active peace . . . peace seeking justice. We may seek peace, but the guns can stop firing and "shalom" not apply.
In a number of spots in the Old Testament, shalom refers to "wholeness," to the integrity of the human community, and even to bodily integrity. The state of shalom is where all the parts are communing in a blessed whole. Shalom is even used in a passage that discusses broken bones, when they are healed into renewed wholeness, or shalom.
Shalom does not accept partial wholeness. You are either together, or you aren’t; you’re in pieces, or in peace.
The American community, across faith traditions of all sorts, is "broken up" over the Iraq war. There was peace, the sort without open warfare, in Iraq before the war, but certainly no shalom. We now have casualties, some striking close to home in central Ohio, all fracturing families and futures, as justice is sought for an Iraqi people who have sought peace for decades, and need our help.
Whatever the outcome, and however one wishes the push to armed confrontation had been handled, we are still looking for shalom. That ancient Hebrew concept, rooted in the Semitic heritage of the cradle of civilization between the Tigris and Euphrates, points us to our need to include the wholeness of our community in any resolution.
The American Revolution was a time where armed conflict was a step on the way to shalom for the United States, but it took a president who knew his Old Testament well, George Washington (see his letter to the Touro Synagogue), to build shalom by bringing together not only Federalists and Whigs, but even Tory loyalists and oldline Patriots into the developing republic.
Communities of faith still have a role today in bridging the gap between individual independence so treasured by Americans, and the wholeness of creative interdependence that truly makes our national ideals a lived reality. We need to bring some "shalom" to the Fourth of July picnic!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; healing and peacemaking stories alike are welcome at

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