About this blog

The purpose of this blog is for Quakers and interested fellow travelers to explore the Bible together as it speaks to our condition as individuals.

This discussion is open to Christians, non-Christians, atheists and Pagans; to those who are often confused or angered by the Bible and to those who see scripture as inerrant; to good Quakers and to not-so-good Quakers--to name just a few points of view.

All comments should be given in humility and tenderness, especially where the original poster's perspective is different from your own.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tending the Garden of Shalom

Bear with me. I have been working out a new understanding of my Quaker faith lately. Unfortunately, and as usual for me, it is not a deep and unique insight. But God has given me a glimpse of the seamless garment that has left me smacking my forehead—“Duh! Of course! Why didn’t I recognize it before?” Sometimes it is the simplest things that are the most difficult to learn. Here it is: Our Peace testimony isn’t just one of our testimonies. It’s our only testimony.

It all began with 2 Corinthians 5:18-20, a passage I have been meditating on lately: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.”

Good news indeed, that God is reconciling the whole world to himself and that he’s not holding any of our failings against us. But there’s more here—God has made us co-workers. He’s given us a ministry and a message. He’s made us his ambassadors. A ministry of reconciliation. A message of reconciliation. Ambassadors of reconciliation.

Reconciliation. The bringing of peace where before there was none. Healing. Wholeness. Wiping away tears. Soothing fears. Mending the brokenness. Midwifing the beautiful twins, Justice and Mercy. Breaking the spiral of violence. Breathing the Beloved Community into being. Tending the garden of Shalom.

The more I contemplated this passage, the more I began to understand that the ministry and the message of reconciliation—of Shalom—is at the heart of everything. Our testimonies are not an unrelated patchwork of nice things to do. Our testimonies are all ministries and messages of reconciliation. They either heal and build an environment which “takes away the occasion of all wars,” like simplicity and community; or they break the spiral of violence in order to give space for Shalom to develop, like the traditional limits of our peace testimony as a witness against war or our equality testimony when we work for civil rights. It’s all one cloth.

It’s tough being God’s representative of reconciliation. Just look at what happened to Jesus. His whole ministry and message was reconciliation—Shalom. He was always breaking the spiral of violence either by touching lepers or saving the life of an adulteress, or by speaking truth to power. Rather than fight back when the powers decided he was too dangerous to live, he accepted his suffering at their hands. Funny thing, though. He won. He showed us that we can use the suffering inflicted upon us to be transformed into someone more whole and powerful than we’ve ever been before. He showed us that the evil in the world doesn’t win, that it ends up unwittingly becoming an agent of reconciliation in the most unexpected ways. He showed us that we have nothing to fear. The day we recognize that ultimate power in the vision of the stone that was rolled away, is the day that we accept our calling as his ambassadors to a world desperately hurting and in need of Shalom.

What a message. What a ministry. Such a foolish and hopeful junior ambassador. But it feels good to finally begin figuring out how this seamless garment is supposed to fit.

(Special thanks to Elaine Enns and Ched Myers for their book, Ambassadors of Reconciliation: New Testament Reflections on Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, which started me contemplating this passage of 2 Corinthians.)

Shawna Roberts is a member of Stillwater monthly meeting of Ohio Yearly Meeting (conservative). She has a husband, five children, three dogs, two cats, a goat and a donkey. Her children will cheerfully tell you that she is a Bad Quaker. Her husband will lie to your face and tell you that she’s perfect. That’s what husbands are for. She posts at Mystics, Poets, and Fools.


  1. This is a wonderful post. Thank you.

  2. This post is indeed wonderful!

    It seems to me, though, that we also need to be conscious of the Why behind this message of reconciliation. I think it can be truly dangerous preaching reconciliation, even in a way as lovely as this, without talking explicitly about that Why.

    If I may, then, let me speak briefly about it.

    Our religion is about reconciliation because it’s about restoration. The central idea of Hebrew/Jewish/Christian/Quaker religion is that God is calling us, His creatures, to cease acting as if we were fallen, and to begin behaving as He intended us to behave when He first set up His Creation. We are to “be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect.” We are to start acting as we would have been acting, if the Fall had never happened.

    Our Father in Heaven planned and intended a Creation in which, not only would no one sin, but also everything would get along with everything else and work together for the good of all. That is the arrangement we are called to. And that is why conflict and alienation are wrong.

    This Why tells us what we are to coalesce around as we reconcile.

    We are not just supposed to be reconciled while leaving the world in its present arrangement. We are not just supposed to lay down our arms and accept the yoke of amoral institutions and a conscienceless ruling class, make our peace with a status quo in which the poor starve and the planet is destroyed.

    We are to unite and be reconciled around the order of things that God wanted from the beginning.

  3. Friend Shawna,

    This is beautiful! You speak my mind.

    Thank you,

  4. how do Friends envision our work of reconciliation e.g. between liberals/progressives and conservatives (politics); between Nascar fans and NPR fans (media/entertainment); between college town folk and rednecks; between peaceniks and warmongers?

  5. First off, I wanted to join this bunch but wasn't sure I was a bad Quaker (although I might be eligible for a bad blog for Quakers...) Now I have concluded that I am, in fact, a very bad Quaker! So would you mind signing me up?

    Second, nice piece here! Sounds like the God I know!

    But human beings are misbehaving, as Massey says, and I very unhappily do anticipate some ugly consequences (while I already know people who are suffering much more than I would prefer!) God is good, but not sentimental!

    But how to do our work?-- in which I am myself falling woefully short? There's a Fenelon quote I've always liked for some reason:

    "Let the river flow beneath its bridges. Let men be men, that is to say, weak, vain, inconstant, unjust, false, presumptuous. Let the world be the world, in short; and verily you cannot hinder it. Let everybody follow their natural disposition and habits; you can not remold them. It is easier to let them alone and bear with them. Accustom yourself to put up with unreasonableness and injustice. Abide tranquilly in God's bosom. He sees all these evils more clearly than you do, yet He suffers them. Be content with doing well what little depends on you, and let all else be as though it were not."

  6. Forrest,

    Thank you for the Fenelon passage. It's very helpful.

    Michael Bright Crow

  7. What is scary about 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 specifically and the Good News generally, is that it will only happen with us and through us. Without us the Kingdom of Heaven on earth does not happen. Reconciliation happens only if we live it.