Stories of Shalom

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In my journeys this past year (2010), I have heard and told many, many stories. Some narratives have been shared through tear-streaked grimaces, revealing paths through valleys of pain, suffering, and unimaginable loss. Other accounts are told with smiles that exude great joy and thanksgiving: perspectives from mountaintop vistas, some having been attained after traversing deep valleys.

You know the stories. I know the stories. We tell them; and, we listen to them. Our stories chronicle, they shape, and they guide our destinies in and through the communities in which we live, work, learn, and play.  For all those who shared their lives, their resources, their stories with me and who listened to mine; thank you for enlarging the circle of community.

My grandmother, born in 1886 and died in 1968, often told me a story of her journey through the Great Depression (circa 1929-1935). Her story described loss, scarcity and suffering. She told of meager amounts of government-issued flour, salt, sugar and salt-pork that when added to their garden-grown produce, canned goods, and hand-me-down clothing (patches upon patches), provided just enough to endure. Yes, just as we hear in 2010, she also told of the wealthy that lived in luxury and opulence while the masses clamored and clung to life. My grandmother was a poet and short-story writer that has captured, often in great detail, much of her life for future generations to read and hear. As I now remember and re-read some of her stories, there is a powerful and moving element in my grandmother’s Great Depression account that most captured my ear and interest. She spoke first of her faith in God, and she described a community that graciously and collaboratively shared their meager resources in order to survive (shalom-making): “neighbors shared what they had and gathered round evening fires to tell stories of hope, imagination and determination”.

As we journey through the Great Recession, through our valley and mountaintop experiences, the importance of our being present to and for one another in our communities – sharing our resources and life’s stories – is vitally important to our collective future. It is the elemental stuff of building and sustaining community. Like my grandmother, who lived through the days of horse and buggy, and the advent of motorized cars, flight, and a person stepping onto the moon, we must share our resources, our hope, imagination, determination, and I add creativity in all the places where we live, work, learn and play.

In this season of light, joy, family, friends and hope, I conclude with two pieces of writing. The first is both ancient and contemporary: a beautiful account of a steadfastly loving and care-giving God. The second has been written in the past few days and mostly tells the story of both charity and shalom-making justice. The second is also personally pertinent in several ways; especially as I am enjoying the sweet, innocent, wholly dependent presence of my 16 month old granddaughter. I offer these stories, along with the many that you and I have shared in our journeys through this past year (2010): in the Spirit of hope, imagination, determination and creativity.�

First is a passage from Hosea 11:4: “I led them with kindness and with love, not with ropes. I held them close to me; I bent down to feed them”. 

The second comes from the writing of Rebecca Solnit: Vision: How a Better Future Is Being Made Right Now. Following is an excerpt from Rebecca Solnit’s December 22, 2010 article.


As 2010 ends, what really interests me aren’t the corrosions and failures of this system [Adam Smith’s Free Market], but the way another system, another invisible hand, is always at work in what you could think of as the great, ongoing, Manichean arm-wrestling match that keeps our planet spinning. The invisible claw of the market may fail to comprehend how powerful the other hand — the one that gives rather than takes — is, but neither does that open hand know itself or its own power. It should. We all should.

As 2010 concludes and 2011 arrives, may we in our communities find and share hope and apply the Power that is “now” working within and among each and all of us to accomplish abundantly more than we could ask for or even imagine.
 

In the Spirit of shalom,

Dave Cooper

Shalom in the journey

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November 2010 and early December have been filled to overflowing with wonderful opportunities to learn from and share with an exceptionally talented array of world-class, globally connected, creative, practitioners of Asset Based Community Development on two continents.

In my journey from the East to the West coast of the United States and back again; and, into and around Melbourne, Australia, I have enjoyed and been enriched by new and renewed connections with friends and colleagues that are deeply devoted to shalom-making: though they may not use the word “shalom” to describe it. From sociologists, psychologists, theologians, artists, and entrepreneurs of many types; to corporate executives, social workers, farmers, social activists, chefs and baristas, and spanning at least three languages, the relationships and mutual learning have been in two words: marvelously rich!

Reflecting upon particularly the past couple of months, I have learned at least three key things (actually much more than three) from my relationships, consulting, facilitating, and collaborating through the Uniting Church of Australia and Tasmania Commission for Mission and the Drew University Shalom Initiative.

First, I have a newfound sense of journeys as sacred spaces in which God’s creative and creating spirit beckons us into paths of deeper presence and communion with God, with one’s self, and with the community by which to energize and resource common good (shalom-making). Much like Otto Scharmer posits in his Theory U, and as Adrian Pyle applies to spiritual journeys, being fully present with an open mind, heart and will (“presencing”) in the places and times that our journeys take us will open opportunities for profoundly powerful and transformative interactions with other journeyers. As I learned and re-learn in new ways in the second half of my life, it is more about the journey and the relationships along the way than it is the destination. Sacred space is in the journey, not just the destination.

Second, journeys are catalyzed by Power that transcends place, time, and one’s current sense of purpose. For example, as I shared with friends and colleagues in Australia, my great grandparents purposed to migrate from England to Australia in the 1840’s; however, their plans were not to be realized at that time in history. On the other hand, I am the first of my family to visit Australia, carrying with me a sense of sacred purpose that is likely different (though who knows) from my great grandparents. As my life’s journey continues, perhaps I will have a better understanding of the meaning of the relationships and purposes along the way. Finally, in my understanding of systems theories, the impacts of purposed “presencing” in the sacred spaces of intersecting journeys will yield ripple effects across time that transcend our human capacity to understand or measure.

Third, as Desmond Tutu taught in my class with him at Emory University Candler School of Theology, “ubuntu” (becoming human through other humans) requires seeking, affirming, and celebrating the “imago dei” (imprint or image of God) that every human possesses; and, to seek, affirm and celebrate diversity and common values in culturally relevant, community-building, spiritually-renewing, life-giving, liberating ways. Among the diversity of peoples, cultures, and geographies with whom I have had the pleasure to recently work, I rejoice in, am thankful for, and celebrate the nascent presence of the Spirit which yields faith, hope and love.

I have witnessed the presence, activity and flourishing of shalom among the peoples and places along my journey: clearly, God is up to something new and refreshing. The wind of the Spirit blows where it wills; therefore, my mission, your mission, our mission is to be authentically present and open to the transformative power of God that is able to accomplish (among and through us) far more than we could ask for or even imagine.

More on Australia in my next blog entry…

DC (12/08/2010)