Many of us are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus, often called the Prince of Peace. Peace is not merely the absence of war and conflict – it is the presence of wholeness, healing, wellness, inclusiveness, hope, belonging, fairness, equality, justice, and freedom. These values underlie the Hebrew "shalom" and the Arabic "salaam" – words far richer in meaning than our current understanding of the English "peace."
The prophet Micah offers good ideas for appropriate gifts of peace, calling us "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly." Consider these examples from recent news articles:
- Wall Street may soon give billions of dollars in bonuses – barely a year after the industry's greed and irresponsibility nearly toppled the world's financial system.
- We will soon have 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan – the funds to deploy one soldier for one year could build 20 schools.
- Our high school students drop out at an average rate of one every 26 seconds – we are failing to prepare our youth to be citizens having good lives and meaningful work.
Do these examples seem just, kind, or humble?
While these examples seem overwhelming, you can begin to counteract them by making smart choices, having both individual and collective impact.
Individually, decide how to invest – yes invest! – your time, talent, and treasure. If your support has been solely financial, consider sharing your time and talent, too. We humans have a need to be of service, especially to connect with those less fortunate – the need to hear their stories, see their dignity and resolve, share their joy or sorrow. Yes, the homeless and the hungry benefit from our service – but what is the benefit to us? To nurture our humanity, to grow our hearts to full measure.
Collectively, find a group which supports your values and makes a positive difference in the world – and then get involved! Such a group will warm your heart and strengthen your own voice, while amplifying the hearts and voices of others. (Question groups with partisan agendas on how they promote peace.)
That's what I admire most about Greensboro Urban Ministry (GUM), where I serve as Treasurer and active volunteer – we are individuals who work "to express the love of God to people in need through practical action in the greater Greensboro area." Diverse in our faith backgrounds, work and life experiences, and political affiliations, we are one in service.
As we enter this season of giving, we are mindful of the world around us – and the need for our individual and collective impact. Our problem, put succinctly by GUM Chaplin Frank Dew, is that "we have smart bombs and dumb social policy." As a nation, we have pursued our individualism at the expense of our collectivism. We have lost our drive to work towards "a more perfect Union." We have become disconnected from our Source.
The best gift, then, for a Prince of Peace? Listen to our hearts, give ourselves and our resources away in loving service, take responsibility for our collective well-being – and remember the expansiveness of Peace, Shalom, and Salaam.
"It is more difficult to fight poverty in a rich country than in a poor one."
– Mother Teresa
Todd L. Herman
My thoughts shared in this article have been shaped over the years by many persons, so what follows is my attempt both to give appropriate credit, and to provide readers with avenues for further exploration.
- I first came across the concept of "Shalom" over the Summer of 2008 in Rob Bell's excellent book, Velvet Elvis. The author explains things this way: "For many of us, we understand peace to be the absence of conflict. We talk about peace in the home or in the world or giving peace a chance. But the Hebraic understanding of shalom is far more than just the absence of conflict or strife. Shalom is the presence of the goodness of God. It's the presence of wholeness, completeness." (p 107) Find out more about this book »
- In Fall of 2008, my friend Jay Hilbinger, a pastor at First Lutheran Church, and I hashed out the fuller implications of Shalom – him bringing his knowledge from seminary, me bringing my beginner's inquisitive mind – for our own lives. Many, but not all, of our thoughts are in my opening paragraph. For a fuller discussion of Shalom, feel free to contact Jay directly at 336.292.9125 ext 105.
- In Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, the list begins "Habit 1: Be Proactive." Part of being proactive is distinguishing between things which concern us – the "Circle of Concern" – and a subset of those concerns we can actually do something about – the "Circle of Influence." As you think about how your choices can have individual and collective impact, referring to this excellent chapter might help you gain insight about your life's purpose. The better choices you make, the more your "Circle of Influence" fills your "Circle of Concerns". Find out more about this book »
- As part of "Habit 1: Be Proactive," Dr. Covey writes, "Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do: the sacrifices you make, the giving of self, like a mother bringing a newborn into the world. ... Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions." (page 80) A fuller explanation of this concept of "love is a verb" is found in The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership, by James C. Hunter, especially Chapter 4, "The Verb." This powerful, easy-to-read business fable has influenced my business and volunteer leadership for many years. Find out more about this book »
Additional Resources –
Here are some ways to get involved:
- Contact Greensboro Urban Ministry for volunteer opportunities – 336.271.5959 ext 304 or 305
- Check out how – and where – we GetInvolved!
- Greensboro Urban Ministry – Continuing to fight hunger and homelessness
- Read Todd's published articles.
- Read Todd's related newsletters:
- "A Really Big Idea" – December, 2008
- "The Other 46 Weeks" – December, 2007
- "Raising the Ocean" – December, 2006