The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
During Lent this year, Eco-Justice Notes will explore four theological affirmations that are foundational for Eco-Justice Ministries.
1. God wills shalom for the world.
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Most of us have had the opportunity -- a frustrating yet enlightening opportunity -- to help write a mission statement. Whether for a church, non-profit agency, or a business, it is valuable to find a few choice words that express the core purpose of the organization.
Often, a committee is given the task of drafting the statement. A diversity of perspectives guarantees that there will be disputes about language and focus. There will be long meetings that seek consensus on the vision, and then more meetings to try and find just the right words. When the job is done well, the mission statement expresses a distinctive identity, and keeps the organization on track toward its central goal.
There's a major heresy in this image, but imagine the Trinity sitting around a heavenly conference table, trying to hammer out a mission statement for the creation. What is the purpose of the whole thing? What sort of programs and perspectives keep the world on the right course, and what should be avoided? And how -- for God's sake! -- do you distill all of that down to a short and memorable statement?
We don't have a copy of the minutes from that meeting of the Godhead. (I would hope that the three personae come to consensus more easily than we mortals.) One source that we do have to work from is the biblical record where people have tried to discern and convey the will of God. Within the Bible, there are differing views about the divine intention for the world. Various schools of thought are present in scripture, just as they are in the ongoing traditions of the Christian church, and every other religious expression.
Out of that jumbled collection, we can hear many proposals for a mission statement. "Love God, and love your neighbor." (Luke 10:27) "Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8) "Make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28:19) "You shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and I have separated you from the other peoples to be mine." (Leviticus 20:26)
Just in that small sampling, we can see at least two camps. One tradition highlights charity and justice, and another puts the emphasis on discipleship and holiness. Indeed that is a primary dividing line in contemporary understandings about the mission of the church. Since we're very aware of those conflicting claims, our attempts to express a central mission often stake out a perspective in the disputed terms.
We've wandered astray, though, when we cite texts that speak only about the mission of humanity, or a specific group of people (Israel, or the church). That does not go deep enough for today's assignment about stating the mission of the whole creation.
To really grasp this most expansive mission, we need to stretch farther than the purpose of our faith community or our species. To the best of our faithful understanding -- as we read scripture, church tradition, the insights of sceince and scholarship, and our contemporary experience -- how might we describe God's intention for the whole world?
My suggestion for a one-word mission statement for God's creation is this: "Shalom".
The purpose for this world, and for the whole cosmos, is God's peace-with-justice. That peace certainly is to be expressed in the human realm, with an absence of war and a flowering of justice. Shalom, though, goes beyond the human setting.
Walter Brueggemann has encapsulated the scriptural theme expressed by that Hebrew word: "Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation." "The central vision of world history in the Bible is that all of creation is one, every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security and joy toward the joy and well-being of every other creature." (Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom, pp. 15-16)
Shalom provides the context in which we sort out the narrower question of humanity's place and purpose in creation. Shalom insists that any description of dominion or stewardship or co-creation must always honor and enhance the health and vitality of the whole Earth community, encompassing human and other-than-human.
Shalom rejects the notion that this world is essentially meaningless -- "a cheap motel where we're staying on the way to heaven" by one crass account, or Karl Barth's equally offensive statement that creation is only the stage on which the drama of human salvation is played out. Rather, shalom affirms "the integrity of creation". Each species, each system, and the creation as a whole has value and purpose and meaning in its own right.
Shalom is a rich and pervasive theme in Hebrew thought. In the New Testament, the same principles are bundled together in descriptions of "the realm of God" and "the kingdom of heaven". That realm is characterized by justice and compassion, servanthood and sufficiency, joy and peace, health and renewal for the whole creation.
As Christians, our mission -- personally and collectively -- should mesh with God's mission statement for the entire creation. Shalom should be our guiding theme. The ways in which we measure progress and success all need to be grounded in the well-being of the whole Earth community, in care for the whole community of God's creation.
"God wills shalom for the world" is a primary affirmation of Eco-Justice Ministries. That interpretation of God's intentions is foundational in all that we say and do. Our focus on God's shalom explains why we believe that "caring for creation" is a responsibility that is intrinsic to any reputable Christian theology.
God's mission statement is very different from what we often hear as guiding principles: "The one who dies with the most toys wins" or "National Security" or "make a profit in the next quarter". Because it is important to remind ourselves constantly of God's core mission for the creation, I end every issue of Eco-Justice Notes with that basic theological affirmation:
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