Shalom, as a Biblical concept, encompasses a lot of things that our larger world frequently separates from each other: peace, justice, mercy, hope, and love. Larger American society is not one where shalom is widely experienced, practiced, or even publicly spoken. But that does not mean we are not desperately yearning for the enoughness that is shalom and grateful for those inbreaking moments when we do experience, dream, and tell stories of shalom.
The reality many Americans are living is that a culture built on driving humanity's sense of not being enough, while, in fact, being drowned in enoughness, is one that cultivates despair and disconnection. Nothing and no one can be sufficient. Meals and information are always too little or too much, clothes always the wrong cuts and colors, work and family never rewarding enough. If one actually belongs to the trendsetters, the industry leaders, the educational elite, then there's always the fear of not excelling to a peer-less state all the time, of becoming one of the rest of us, the ordinarily lacking. It's a society in which every one is disposable and, at some level, every one knows that, furthering the frenzy to be different so one can be without peers in a losing game. The swirl of anxiety and despair leads many of us to further focusing on our insufficiency we fell at the very center of our beings. We are not enough. We do not belong because we are not enough. We are unloveable because we are not enough. We lose track of our gratitude and our senses of all that is good and enough, all that is part of shalom, by the continuous litany of loss and insufficiency.
Religious institutions reflect and embody the ways and issues of the cultures in which they live, so it isn't any wonder that American mainline congregations are fueled by this colossal demon of not-enoughness. We aid and abet this anxiety by focusing on what doesn't matter in living lives of meaning, lives of service to values we espouse but we struggle to practice. The longer I minister, the more troubled I am by the tidal surge of institutional focus on our fundamental insufficiency, when tending to the work of creating shalom in the city, or even for regular spiritual practice, is valued far less than competing with the very best megacongregations for program quality or range of offerings. You can be delighted by the very freshest of vegetables from your neighborhood garden, delighted to have such tasty, nourishing food, supporting the local economy, and nurturing a sense of place or you can insist that every congregation needs to offer and operate like the hypermarkets.
Yes, there are some technologies and practices congregations need to employ -- like welcoming people and offering many avenues of communication. But shalom calls us to live differently, to align the way we live with the values we speak aloud. A vital city requires the same things from its populace that vital towns and suburbs and rural areas do: regular and faithful tending to a common life for the common good and the ecosystems at the heart of life. The work of shalom - of cultivating peace, justice, mercy, hope, and love -- is work rooted in gratitude and appreciation for the wonderful enoughness of life. We cultivate diversity ad appreciate the various gifts and talents each person has. We care for those who are struggling in body and soul. We celebrate the splendid enoughness that we can have when we live centered not on what we can get next, but in the state of gratitude for all that life has and that we can enjoy and create in this place.
Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving this coming week. It is a holiday filled with mythic images speaking to our longings for connection, for shared life and laughter among the generations, for the sufficiency that is the very opposite of what the larger culture tells us is only possible if we're worthy enough. This Thanksgiving, claim your worthiness and those of the people you are with, and take the time to share your hopes for place of shalom - of peace, justice, mercy, and love -- where you live. Then, together, consider how you can live more fully into that direction, grateful for all you have and all you can give.