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Building Shalom in a Time of Crisis

by Bob Clark

How do we continue to build shalom when our world is falling apart?

As a person who is actively involved in building and helping others build healthy communities, I spend a lot of time reflecting on the process of creating communities of well-being, a process I call shalom-making. How do we create and foster well-being in our local communities? Today I am asking this question in the context of a global pandemic. How do we create and maintain healthy communities in a time of social distancing?

Charles Dickens said of the England of 1775, “ It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”[1] The same can be said of the times in which we now find ourselves. We are living in a time of social-distancing and a time of social media. The best and the worst of time for shalom-makers. It is a time of great need and a time of great innovation. Yesterday, I met with my worship design team, attended a planning meeting with the Transformational Communities Network design team, joined a community organizing meeting, led evening prayers, and had several conversations with individual members of my community, all without leaving my study. I have also been using a texting app to send out personalized daily text messages to members of my community. I have also had more back-fence conversations with my neighbors this week than in the previous six months. I am, during these worst of times, feeling more connected than ever to my community.

Of course, there are needs that cannot easily be met in this time of pandemic. There are still justice issues to be addressed, inequities in the system, the welfare of those in prison, that of the undocumented for whom there is no safety-net, and many others. There are still neighbors, particularly the elderly and those living in rural areas, who are both vulnerable and disconnected. How can we build shalom in these areas and among these people? How do we continue to build shalom when our world seems to be falling apart?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiles in Babylon, to a people whose world had fallen apart, saying:

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.[2]

At the risk of oversimplification, the exiles woke up one morning and found themselves strangers in a strange land. They had two choices hang up their harps and weep, or adapt. They chose to adapt. They chose to seek the welfare of the city where they had been sent into exile and by so doing they prospered. They persevered and when eventually their exile ended they emerged from Babylon a new and stronger people. I pray that in our time of exile we will do the same.

I would like to leave you with a question. How are you and your community continuing to build shalom during this time of crisis? Post your response in the comments below so that we may all benefit from your experience. Thanks! I look forward to learning from you!

[1] Krapesh, Patti, Charles Shaw, and Charles Dickens. A Tale of Two Cities. Milwaukee: Raintree, 1980. [2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Je 29:4–7.

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