Shalom: Conversation with Dr. Walter Brueggemann

The Farthest Mosque JerusalemIn 1976, Dr. Walter Brueggemann, then a rising star in biblical interpretation, published Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom. That was also the year when, quite unexpectedly, I became a Christian. I don’t know if there was any divine synchronicity in the air between those two events that year, and it would be decades before I would be underlining sentences and scribbling margin notes in that book, but when I did I was surprised to see how much of the book’s reflections on shalom had been worked into my bloodstream by the Holy Spirit since 1976. Perhaps this is because a praxis that takes the vision of shalom seriously is not bound to any one time, place, or people, and Living Toward a Vision brings out that timelessness. Today, perhaps especially today, I think readers will find the book’s deeply biblical treatment of shalom – in the contexts of exodus, exile, rescue, return, and restoration – prophetically challenging to personal, national, and international peace agendas. The following conversation with Dr. Brueggemann about such matter and shalom took place by phone on March 19, 2015.

Charles Strohmer: You’ve been thinking about shalom for a long time. Do you have a working definition of shalom? (I won’t hold you to it!)

Walter Brueggemann: Well [laughing], I would say that it’s about the flourishing wholeness of creation into the purposes of God. Something like that.

CS: And what do you see as a vision for shalom, for Christians to participate in and work for today?

WB: I think it means peace and justice – peaceable life together among the nations and tribes and religious traditions, and economic justice so that everybody has enough resources to live a life of safety and dignity.

CS: So shalom is not just for some future time but something to actualize in the hear and now.

WB: Yes.

CS: Shalom, of course, is about peace. But in America, “peace” has come to mean things like “personal peace and affluence,” which was how Francis Schaeffer described a particular American idol. Living Toward a Vision interprets the text of Scripture to show that the Hebrew word “shalom” gives us a very different understanding of peace. Shalom is about social, economic, and political well-being, or flourishing. Sometimes I wish the English translators had left that word alone, not translated it as “peace.”

WB: That’s right, yeah. Although there are a lot of people now who just use the word shalom. But we need to do that more.

CS: In the book, you reference Ezekiel 34:25, to discuss what the prophet calls the covenant of shalom. And about that covenant, you write that “persons are bound not only to God but to one another in a caring, sharing community.” So shalom is very relational, isn’t it? It gets us involved in moving others along into places of well-being.

WB: Yes, that exactly right.

CS: So you write that our job is to put substance into the claims of shalom. It’s got to be done very concretely. Your text for that is the Exodus narrative.

WB: I think it’s useful to think of Pharaoh’s regime as being anti-shalom. In Egypt there was abuse, violence, and sharp social stratification. After the Exodus, I think that the covenant at Mount Sinai is an attempt to order social relationships in a shalom-like way, in contrast to the way social relations worked under Pharaoh. If you take Pharaoh’s narrative as the backdrop, then you can see that the covenant at Mount Sinai was aimed at creating communitarian well-being and protecting all the neighbors. And that’s carried more concretely into the book of Deuteronomy, with all of its economic regulations, which were designed so that the big ones could not eat the little ones.

Heart for Lebanan helping refugees (Heasrt for Lebanon)CS: To many people, this communitarian shalom would mean that we’ve first got to get everyone on the same page with us, before reaching out. But I think you’re talking about shalom even for the outsider, the foreigner.

WB: That’s right. And I think that both in the ancient world and in our contemporary society you can see that you really have to regulate and restrain the most powerful actors in order to protect the vulnerable. That’s what much of the law in the Old Testament aimed to do. You can see this today with the attempt to pass regulations that will restrain the big banks who are essentially predatory. At a practical level, I think that kind of regulation is indispensable for arriving at anything like social shalom.

CS: A shalom way of reasoning, then, would not be a fan of the noxious social and political polemics that now seem entrenched as the organizing principle of our country, and which keep getting worse, incessantly dividing us. A house divided…

WB: That is exactly right, because the single components of shalom are always neighbors. So it’s always about neighbors and the neighborhood. Obviously, the way our society is organized now is against neighborliness, and it’s busy destroying neighborhoods. So shalom is a very subversive idea, when you think about the ordinary practices that we think we ought to do.

CS: Besides its relationality, I also see a relativity to shalom in this world. You don’t use that word in your book, but I think I see your argument supporting it. What I mean, for instance, is that the economic well-being of many of us in America might seem like heaven on earth to people in another country. So our gifts of shalom to them move them along to places of well-being that they might consider as shalom for them. So it seems there’s spectrum to shalom.

WB: I think that’s right. Shalom is a very dynamic notion. It’s always under way, always in process. So we never finalize it. We take incremental steps along the way to try to create safer space for the flourishing of more people.

CS: We really need to get our heads out of the clouds, don’t we? I think of the letter that Jeremiah sent to the Jews in exile in captivity in Babylonia. He has the audacity to tell them to work for the shalom of that place!

WB: Because he had figured out that if there was not a larger, stable kind of social order, that the Jews in Babylon were always going to be vulnerable. You can’t have a private shalom to address. You have to address large, sustained questions.

CS: That letter must have been a huge shock to them, because it would have meant working for a very different-looking kind of shalom than they were accustomed to back home, in Israel.

WB: Yes. It was a context for which they were not prepared.

CS: Have we Americans lost the shock of what that means for us today?

WB: I think that’s right. But you’ve got to remember that Jeremiah was a big renegade in his own society. We do have voices like that now, who are insisting that we have to think and act that way, even though the dominant value system wants to silence people like that.

Living Toward A VisionCS: In the book, you use the words “coerced” and “coercion” as the antithesis to the freedom that God intends for human beings. The cruelest forms of coercion today are being perpetrated by those I call the “submit-or-idea ideologues,” such as the ISIS militants. Any thoughts on ISIS as a coercive power?

WB: Well, I don’t have any direct information, just want I read about them. But I think ISIS is a totally violent movement committed to disturbing tradition and norms. It is the antithesis of shalom. And how we can even have a conversation about shalom in that circumstance is exceedingly difficult to imagine.

CS: Too right. Yet even though working for big-picture shalom does not seem possible in the chaos of Iraq and Syria, we may be able to work in small ways to be gifts of shalom to the countless displaced individuals and families who have fled ISIS for refuge in makeshift shelters and camps. For instance, some friends and I have been raising awareness of and support for initiatives such as The Cradle of Christianity Fund and Heart for Lebanon, which are getting all sorts of immediate and longer-term aid to the most marginalized of these families, which number in the tens of thousands.

WB: What you’re suggesting to me is the mantra: Think globally, act locally. That is, you have to have a huge picture of shalom, but when you go to address it, it requires concrete, immediate, local actions.

CS: And this often means creating an imagination for Christians to be free to practice this kind of obedience.

WB: Yes. I’ve been spending energy thinking about Palestinian rights. I think that is a case in point. The threat is not as immediate as ISIS, but we will never have peace in the Middle East until the Palestinians have some guaranteed rights. And in that particular case, the shalom responsibility is to try to influence American policy, because the state of Israel could not get by with what it’s doing if it did not have the U.S. behind it. I think that needs to be rethought, certainly now in terms of the statements made recently by Netanyahu, which were violently war-mongering statements.

CS: Have you landed on strategies for shifting policy?

WB: I think it requires a political voice and political actions, and being out in front and loud and noticeable about Palestinian rights. The media monopoly that Israel has makes it very difficult for us to get any perspective from the Palestinian side. We have got to let people know, in every way we can, that this is an important issue, that different actions need to be taken or we will never have shalom in that part of the world.

CS: I think that one of our American Christian problems is that we know a lot about Israel but not about the plight of the Palestinians. We need a revelation of that. But many people don’t want an imagination for the Palestinian narrative. How might that be changed?

WB: I think the access point is probably concrete narratives about specific persons who have suffered or been done in by military power that is brutalizing. By telling stories of individuals we’ve got to make the point that these are real human lives that are at stake. We can’t reduce everything to an ideology about the security of Israel. These are real people. I think the only way you get real people out front is by specific narratives about people whose names we know. These narratives are never reported in our press.

CS: Too right. And there are many such stories. These days, it seems like ending the cycle of violence is going to take something even greater even than the wisdom of Solomon. So I know I speak for many people when I say Thank you for you’re ongoing contributions to this.

WB: Well we all have to do what we can. I think that the level of anxiety is so high everywhere that it’s so hard to think rationally about these things.

CS: Right. And even some who want to think more wisely about this seem to be locked into an irrational fear and they’ll hit you with the “But what if?” question.

WB: Sure. Worst case scenario.

CS: And when you say to them, “Okay, so you now know about the goals of the submit-or-die ideologues, what are you going to do about it?”, they have no answer.

WB: Exactly.

CS: Because if you follow that logic to the end and act on it, you’ll be picking up a gun.

WB: That’s right. That’s where it leads.

CS: And here’s where we come full circle back to the way of shalom.

WB: Yes. Shalom calls us to do something radically different. And I’m really glad that you’re staying at these hard issues. It’s hard, slow work isn’t it? And it’s so urgent.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Click here to see a series of short posts on “shalom and wisdom.”

Top image by Mohammad Usaid Abbasi (permission via Creative Commons). Middle image courtesy Heart for Lebanon.

A personal note from Charles Strohmer: If you want more of the perspectives that seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Simply click here, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I publish a new article. And, hey, if you really like it, tell some friends! Thank you.

The Pain of the Victim: Extending the Reach of Gospel

The Confession: Frank DickseeIn the previous post I told a personal story about the healing potential of a public apology from a Christian to a nonChristian. I didn’t realize how deeply that story was going to resonate with readers. As they responded with stories of their own, I thought that it might be worthwhile today to share a thought about why I see that kind of apology as a missing jewel in Christianity.

It’s a blind spot that we have, theologically. Christian doctrines of sin and salvation are big on the moral agency of the sinner and his or her standing before God as guilty, and our pulpits ensure that we get this. It’s a good thing. If we are unwilling to accept that we are sinners, we never make it to the first step of salvation. So far, so good.

But we have an “I-me-mine” problem. If our pulpits are only pounding out a theology of sin, guilt, and reconciliation with God in which I am sole subject and object, the concerted focus on my own sin and my own guilt and pain can easily leave me inadequately prepared to deal with the sufferings of the victims of my sin.

The Wounded Heart of GodBy being fixated on “the sinner saved by grace,” the church truncates the reach of the gospel by overlooking the person sinned against. The church, therefore, has precious little salve for the pain of the victims of sin. This is the theme of The Wounded Heart of God, a book by Andrew Sung Park, which I think should be read by every Christian.

Park, a Korean American theologian, argues that the church throughout its history has almost unilaterally focused on “the sinner’s” sin, repentance, and forgiveness when thinking about the problem of human evil. As a result, we Christians have an inadequate understanding of sin and guilt if we fail to include the sufferings of the victims of sin.

Most of the book, however, discusses the pain of the victim by exploring the Asian concept of han. I found this approach hugely helpful in getting rid of my own “I-me-mine” problem. Han, Park writes, is the ineffable experience of deep bitterness and helplessness suffered by victims of various types of wrongdoing, whether it is the han of individuals or of groups, and it may be conscious or unconscious.

Pope Francis in KoreaPark’s discussion of han ranges from that of exploited workers, to holocaust and incest victims, to racial and cultural discrimination, and to the ruling power of capitalism in the developing world. He offers many other illustrations as well, all with the purpose of showing where the resolution or dissolution of han is needed, whether individually or collectively. (He even includes a short discussion about the han of animals and nature, based on Romans 8:19-23).

“Han is frozen energy,” Park writes, “that can be unraveled either negatively or positively. If it explodes negatively, the han-ridden person may seek revenge, sometimes killing oppressors. If han implodes negatively, the han-ful person can slip into fatalism that might develop into mental disorders or suicide. If han is unraveled positively, it can be converted into the fuel for transforming the social injustices which cause han in the first place and for building up a new community.”

The Wounded Heart of God seeks to redress a theological imbalance with practical admonitions to the church to understand the pain of the victim in its view of sin and the gospel. This is essential to the good news. Have we missed extending that saving grace to others?

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Top Image by Free Parking and bottom image by Korea Net (permissions via Creative Commons)

Our Confession is Good for Their Souls

sorry skywritingLike many people who would not consider themselves Christian, I as a Christian have grown to dislike much of what passes as Christianity. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Talk-radio clichés parroted by the Christian right; the ideological liberalism of the Christian left – both seem to me as different from a gospel-shaped wisdom as night is from day. And far too much privatized pietism and the Hellenistic dualism remain to be swept from our minds.

Inside various kinds of church leadership for decades, I have seen churches run more like business enterprises, psychology sessions, entertainment centers, or political enclaves rather than as sacrificial, life-giving biblical communities working for justice. I have worked in the Christian publishing industry for thirty years and been burned more than once by publishers increasingly organized around the gods of gold and silver more than the God implied in their founding principles. Like churches that follow a similar path, staying committed to “staying in business at all costs” is costing them dearly: the fear of the Lord.

People who are not Christians are not stupid. They pick up on this stuff that we try to pass off as Christian, and they see through it. All sorts of bad rumors about Christianity – many are deserved – have lodged in people’s minds as obstacles to seeking a gospel-shaped wisdom for the ills of the world. When nonChristians see us as hypocritical, irrelevant, simplistic, offensive, or even comic, we have stripped ourselves of our prophetic calling in the realities of contemporary life and end up with little public relevance.

Rather then being voices and samples of biblical truth, healing, and justice to a nation of drifting sinners, exhausted ideologies, and failing structures we too easily take our cues from the world system (already judged by our Lord). What is a transforming vision organized around the principle of a sacrificial life to us? We Christians thus deprive our communities and nations of true insights into their problems. Are we not, then, “wretched, pitiful, poor, and blind”?

Alternatives will have to arise, and many are, but the extent of what needs to take place often seems like a pipe dream to some of us. However, I have been talking in broad categories and abstractions here, but those are not what one meets in real life. There, it is people we meet. People with wounds from Christians. I believe that before we will ever be able to get a fair hearing from such people for whatever truly Christian alternatives we have on offer, we ought to start apologizing publicly for doing so badly. And I think that those of us who are public Christians have a special responsibility here. I have personally seen such wounds healed through a public apology.

Some years ago while traveling and teaching about a Christian view of the New Age Movement, I met two “readers,” as the women called themselves, who turned up at a Davis-Kidd bookstore where I was signing my recent book, a Christian criticism of a New Age subject. They were professional psychics and we had an interesting conversation. It became clear to me that the two women represented the class of non-Christian spiritual seekers who saw through Christian dopiness about the New Age. “A friend said you might be different,” they told me. “So we’ve come to see.”

Their honesty was refreshing, and they were not being petty or cynical or ever bitter as they described some Christian failings they had encountered. They just wanted to think out loud with me about why some Christians don’t seem to know any better. Even though I’m a professional gasbag I really didn’t know what to say to them. But as I listened I began to sense that, as a Christian minister, I ought to offer some sort of apology for the church’s failing of them. But what to say?

Then the penny dropped and I swallowed my pride and said, “I’m also disillusioned about much of the current state of Christianity. In fact, I feel so strongly about this that I wrote about it in my new book. May I read a couple paragraphs to you?” They were good with that, so I picked up one of my books from the table and read from it.

What I read wasn’t a formal apology, but it showed them a public face of Christianity that they had not encountered before. It acknowledged their concerns and commiserated with them, instead of fobbing off their legitimate criticisms and going for the juggler and, say, rebuking them for being psychics.

I don’t know what happened to those two ladies afterward, but we continued to talk and eventually they left. But not before they bought two of the books. Now I had some tough love in that book about the New Age. Did my “apology” lay the groundwork for that to speak to them later? I don’t know. But I do know that they wanted some honest conversation.

on air radioElsewhere during those same years, but now in Nottingham, England, near the legendary Sherwood Forest, I participated in a live, radio debate with a popular spirit medium (I’ll call her Sheila). Just minutes into the gave-and-take it was obvious to both me and the presenter that Sheila was being unjustifiably antagonistic toward me. You could feel the tension in the air of that quiet radio studio. Of course the presenter saw the makings of a real dustup, but I wanted to reach the woman’s heart. And something was definitely in the way. I had a hunch, looked to Heaven, and took a risk.


“This is off the subject,” I said gently, ignoring the presenter’s next question to me. “You seem upset with me. Have I offended you in some way?” When she said no, I asked if she had been hurt by other Christians. “Yes,” she said. “I’ve had some pretty bad experiences. I wasn’t even going come here today when they told me that a Christian would also be here. I’ve learned to stay away from Christians.”

Now what? I was acutely aware that this was going out live – who knows how many were listening – and that the presenter wanted to control what took place. And he wasn’t expecting Sheila to suddenly be talking about some of the wounds she had received from Christians. I was getting nervous and wondered where this was headed. Who ever heard of a debate like this?

I looked to Heaven and took another  risk. “I don’t know if this will make sense,” I said, “but as a representative of Christianity, I want to apologize to you on behalf of those Christians.”
In the air and on the air things changed dramatically. It was one of those golden moments. Her animosity melted away. I remember her brightening and saying how nice it was finally to be talking “to a Christian who understands.”

The presenter, bless him, after sidelining himself for a few minutes, reentered the conversation and we improvised for the remaining few minutes. Outside the studio afterward, Kris astonished me. “What are you doing this afternoon?” she asked. “If you’re not busy, how would you like to see some of the historic sights around Nottingham? My daughter and I could show you Sherwood Forest or take you to see the cathedral.” Or take you to see the cathedral? My. What had happened? Unfortunately, I had another commitment, but I probably would have taken her up on the offer otherwise.

An appropriately sincere apology to a nonChristian by one Christian on behalf of Christian failures can be an intercession that warms an offended heart and closes the gap between that person and Jesus. Confession is good for the soul. It may be good for others’ souls too.

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Butupa and Radio Caravane respectively (permissions via Creative Commons)

Christ the Editor

pen, poem, and inkI’ve been thinking again about a peculiar collection of poems that God is writing, and about how great poems get written.

Just as every note in a musical score is significant, every word in a poem tells, and tells significantly. And it does not line up that way by chance or sloth. Poetry, with its compact, exact language and precise punctuation, may be the most carefully crafted and painstakingly written, and edited, form of communication. Poets will fight tooth and nail with a publisher over placement of a comma. And long before that, poets, at least the best of them, may die a thousands deaths over just one poem. Without a will to erase, add, move, or revise lines, to puzzle perhaps for hours over the right word, image, or phrase – then decide to leave it as is – and then to run through the process again, and then again, you just don’t get ascending poetry.

Back in the days of the Greek epic poet Homer (eight centuries before Christ), pieces crafted from metal were called poiēma, a word derived from poiēo, which was a basic term for all kinds of craftsmanship. Within a few centuries, around the time of Plato, poiēma in Greek literature had developed into a word that often denoted what we today would call artistic work, including the work of someone who wrote a book or a play. Plato and others after him also used poiēma especially of poetical works. Quite easily, then, the early church pressed poiēo into service in New Testament Greek to indicate God’s works as creator and redeemer and Jesus’ works and deeds.

So along comes the literate St. Paul, apostle to the Greeks, or Gentiles (as he is called). Paul has a knack for raising the stakes of the common language of his day, as he does with poiēma. In the context of what it means for the believer to be saved by grace through faith in Christ, Paul says, “We are God’s poiēma,” which English translators typically render: “We are God’s workmanship,” or God’s “handiwork,” or God’s “masterpiece.” (I think the latter is the most accurate rendering in this context, Ephesians 2:10.)

The apostle has involved us in a little wordplay here. I don’t mean that we should get all sentimental and call for a new translation: “We are God’s poems.” But we do get our English word “poem” from poiēma. So we have good reason for meditating on the implications of what it means by God’s grace to be God’s poems. You can bet Paul was.

For God’s poiēma, the editorial process began when we submitted our stories to Jesus the Editor, for consideration to be published. Submission is the hard part. We have worked so terribly hard, and for such a long time, on our own stories. And we’re so proud of them. If anyone tries to touch them, look out! So we’re deathly afraid of editors. There may be too much we are going to have to part with, or they may not even like our stories. Never mind that, as any seasoned writer will tell you, working with a skilled editor makes for the emergence of an ascending story.

antique penAfter submission, the editor says, “I like what you’ve got in mind, but there’s stuff we’ve got to work on, correct a few lines, polish it up here and there, if you want to publish with us. Still interested?” Crumbs. More hard work! But what other choice is there if you you want to get published and read. Sure, you could submit elsewhere, but you’ve already done that and nobody else has come even close to the contract that this publisher has offered.

What to do? “Don’t worry,” the editor says. “I’ll save your story for you. I know what to do. I’ve been at this for a long time. I’ll get those flaws out of it. But you’ll need to leave it with me for a while. I’ll get to work on it and then send it back to you for some revisions. But you may need to delete some bits and add some new material, change a few things around here and there, which, by the way, may take you some time. But we will be working on this together. Don’t worry. And thanks for the submission.”

When your story arrives back in your hands you nearly faint dead away. You had no idea! Such extensive surgery. This is going to take time. Yet as you follow the Editor’s guidelines and margin notes, you start to gain a new intuition, which says, yes, this makes perfect sense now. This is the way it should be.

You make the changes and resubmit it. Further drafts of your story then pass back and forth, and you’re sometimes elated at the editor’s work, sometimes deflated. Man, this is taking longer than I thought. When will it be finished? When will it be published so that everyone can read it?

“Patience,” Christ the Editor responds. “You’re making good progress, but we’ve still got a few wrinkles to iron out. You have a tendency to get ahead of yourself or fall behind or forget about a change that’s been made. And your still inclined to insist on keeping material from the old story.

“I know it’s slow and painful at times. I get that. But keep in mind that I’ve already been sending parts of your story around for reviews and, as you know, they’re being well-received. So hang in there. You want that masterpiece I promised, don’t you?

“So when will you have that next draft ready for me?”

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Jonathan Blocker and Fantomette, respectively (permissions via Creative Commons)

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here and then find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” Whenever I publish a new post, you will then receive a very short email notice. And, hey, if you really like this blog, tell some friends! Thank you.

Wisdom for Our Children’s Children

children's tug of warChristian families today are a rope stressed in the relentless tug of war between competing forces. On one side is the pull to be family as God intends; on the other side is the pull to be family as  culture and society intends. Each side has its own wisdom concerning what families ought to be, and Christian families get pulled one way and then the other.

In this tug of war it is easy for Christian parents to assume that their prevailing family wisdom is biblical by default – by the mere fact that they attend church, read the Bible, or rely on Christian books and radio programs. And yet, assumptions may need to be examined here.

Take our “ideal of family life” for instance. Insofar as the Bible speaks of ideals at all, the ideal of family is one in which the immediate family (today’s “nuclear family”) is firmly set within the extended family in a way that is covenantal (what today we might call contractual). So, for instance, kin outside of the nuclear family had clearly defined duties and responsibilities to act on behalf of the nuclear family should the need arise. The Bible calls this the role of the “kinsmen redeemer.”

Simply put, the attitude of God’s people of old was one of lifelong determined caring for one another within the entire family. In other words, family members considered it normal to be seriously involved in each other’s lives from birth to death.

Haven’t we lost ground to the pull of this biblical idea on us today? How about in the attitude of many young people who date and get engaged and married often with merely a token nod to what the parents think or the family needs? And the parents don’t really know what to do about it. Or, afterward, how about the way in which the resultant family may evolve with only the most tenuous links to the nuclear families of the new parents. Or what about the way we treat our elderly relatives? The pull of society is strong, and its direction would have been anathema to God’s Old Testament people.

Lifelong determined caring for one another among God’s families of old did wonders for helping them keep together and stay sane. For instance, it meant that many of a family’s internal tensions were eased out among the circle of relatives who were close at hand, and it guaranteed contexts for members of the extended family to step in to help shoulder heavy stresses that might come along and crush an individual or a small and very poor family. Today, families under huge stressors often break down and fall apart when everyone in the family is doing their own thing (insurance, government checks, and retirement income go only so far).

joys of homeworkWhen we’re pulling in all directions, we’re pulling apart. When the immediate family no longer eats together, or takes holidays together, or discusses important decisions together, there’s no rhyme or reason for including members of the extended family. Such familial distance was unthinkable in days of yore. Discoveries like this can come as a shock, and we may need to ask ourselves how has it come about that we have assumed a notion of the family that may not be all that biblical?

The tragic answer is that we may live isolated from our families but not from society. We can be, and often are, influenced by the wisdom of our culture – no matter how much we don’t want to be or how much we argue that we are not. In America, for instance, the pull of selfish individualism, or the idolatry of rights, or personal peace and affluence is strong and the biblical pull of honoring father and mother, duty toward family, and caring commitment of the extended family is weak.

The notion of family that was so normal to God’s Old Testament people may not fit comfortably into our way of being family today. Honest family self-examination, repentance, and change required. If it is too late for boomers to do much about this – I’m looking in the mirror here – it may not be too late for the younger generations to do the kind of biblical homework necessary for creating alternative lifestyles that are more conducive to godly and lifelong determined caring of family. And to move in that direction for the sake of their children and their children’s children.

(The kind of homework I am suggesting means gaining wisdom by engaging with what I call the ABCs of Scripture. This post was adapted from Uncommon Sense: God’s Wisdom for Our Complex and Changing  World, by John Peck & Charles Strohmer.)

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Jennifer L. Sovanski (permission via Creative Commons)


skill in wisdom

“When a maestro conducts a symphony, which of course the composer ‘heard’ in his or her head first, the symphony depends on each instrument doing its own work in keeping with its own distinctive character, and as close to a perfected art as possible. There can be no reduction of all instruments to some homogeneous totality. The very nature of musical meaning is that it is precisely many distinctive sounds (on the scale) and many distinctive kinds of instruments (playing with each other), blending, doing counterpoint, and all the rest to produce something greater than the sum of the parts.”

Those words are from Jim Skillen. Some years ago we were talking about the kind of justice that must exist between peoples internationally if peace among nations is to be achieved. Jim said that he had been thinking about this, “trying to find an image to capture the sense of a larger communal whole.” He came up with symphonic justice.

With so much war ongoing in our world for thirteen straight years, and which shows no signs of ending but of becoming increasingly worse, it almost seems abnormal to think about orchestrating peace. But we must. We must. And we must not only think about it. We must engage in orchestrating peace sans weapons of war if there is to be any hope of reversing the trend.

Sometimes when I get overwhelmed by it all, I turn to music, so I leave you today with this, an exceptional five-minute music video: War/No More Trouble.

Someone heard it in his head first, saw the possibilities, arranged it with like-minded others, and then put it out there for all to learn what is possible. I hope it inspires you as it always does me. (Heads up – You actually need to watch the video, not just listen to the song, if you want to experience the full force of what is possible.)

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image via permission of Creative Commons.

A personal note from Charles Strohmer: If you want more of the perspectives that seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Simply click here, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I publish a new article. And, hey, if you really like it, tell some friends! Thank you.

Israel, Its Neighbors, and America: Change

Netanyahu in DC Mar 2015There’s a lot of media buzz and political controversy in America just now, due to the arrival in Washington of Benjamin Netanhayu, for speeches to the Jewish lobby AIPAC and the U.S. Congress. This is a key month for Netanyahu, who, when he gets back home, faces the fight of his political life in a significant national election on March 17, to retain the office of Israel’s prime minister. The current junket to DC is part of Netanyahu’s reelection strategy.

Dramatic changes in Israel’s domestic politics play huge roles both in Israel’s relationships with the United States and with its regional neighbors. But basic issues of Israel’s political life may remain mysterious to many outsiders. They should not, given the ramifications of Netanyahu’s time in Washington just now and the up-coming March 17 election.

As I was pondering this today, I ran across two items – a straightforward and informative news story and a think piece – that together combine as a good pair for understanding key background issues, crucial changes that recently took place in Israel’s political life and the new internal polemic that has arisen as a result, and why American Christians need to be aware of this.

From an AP news story by Dan Perry, “Zionism Debate at Heart of Bitter Israeli Vote”:

“The debate over who best reflects the ideals of Zionism – and who can most credibly lay claim to its successes – has lent an oddly philosophical hue to a campaign that had been dominated by more prosaic issues such as budget scandals in the management of the prime minister’s residence. Along the way, the stage appears to have been set for a surprisingly climactic vote on March 17.” Read more here:

From Steven E. Meyer (political science and national security studies), in Capital Commentary, a thoughtful piece on “Israel’s Future”:

“The conflict between Israel and its neighbors in the Levant comes as close to being hopeless as any issue on earth, and leaving it to the international diplomatic process has proven to be a disaster. This issue is one that Christians need to take seriously, not to back one side or the other, or to cling to a misunderstanding of Scripture, but to pursue peace in our day as the Lord commanded in so many parts of Scripture, ‘Blessed are peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God’” (Matthew 5:9). Read more here.

What think ye?

©2015 by Charles Strohmer

Image by AFP Photos/Nicholas Kamm