Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Progress Toward Shalom
distributed 3/14/03 - ©2003

Every week, I close this newsletter with the exclamation, Shalom!

That Hebrew word is generally translated as "peace" -- but, as they say, it loses something in the translation. The shorthand definition that I use is "peace, justice and harmony for all of God's creation."

Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes that "Shalom is the substance of the biblical vision of one community embracing all creation." It is a vision which affirms that "all of creation is one, every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature."

In all times it is important to claim shalom as a guiding vision, rooted deeply in our faith tradition. That is especially true in times such as these, when our world is plagued with environmental devastation, international conflict, racial and ethnic strife, and the inequalities of power and wealth that come with globalization. Shalom stands as a challenge to the norms and values of the dominant powers of today's world.

The peaceable vision is powerful, not only as a distant ideal, but also when it enters into the issues and decisions of everyday life. We can hold to that vision as the standard by which we measure progress, and by which we evaluate choices.

Will a particular public policy, corporate decision, or personal lifestyle choice move our world closer to shalom, or away from it? Will it nudge our world in the right direction? According to God's standards of peace, justice and harmony for all of creation, are we making progress?

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The normal uses of the word "progress" tend to move us away from shalom. "Progress" is generally touted as economic growth (within the distorted measure of the Gross Domestic Product), as a concentration of economic and political power, and as increasing control over the natural world.

That being the case, if we buy into the cultural definitions of progress, we often end up working against our hopes for God's peace with all creation. Re-labeling progress as movement toward shalom helps us bring our deepest values into our daily decisions.

  • Are we making progress toward shalom when the world's superpower moves steadily toward a preemptive war with Iraq, in spite of strong opposition from nearly all of the nations of the world?

  • Are we making progress toward shalom when our increasing use of fossil fuels pollutes the air, acidifies the rain, requires new drilling and mining, and drives global warming?

  • Are we making progress when urban sprawl destroys habitat, multiplies solo driver commuter miles, escalates frustration and exhaustion, and diminishes community?

  • Are we making progress when the demand for cheap consumer goods is satisfied by sweatshop labor and poor environmental controls?
Measuring progress against the plumb line of shalom allows us to critique many of the perverse and pervasive trends of our exploitative, globalized society. But that vision can also help us to identify genuine progress.
  • It is progress when a massive outcry from the people of the world causes the US drive toward war to stumble.

  • It is progress when new technologies allow us to reduce our demands for energy, and to use renewable and non-polluting sources for energy generation.

  • It is progress when neighborhood options like co-housing and "new urbanism" reduce sprawl, diminish the consumption of resources, and foster renewed community life.

  • It is progress when the fair trade and anti-sweatshop movements bring human values into the economic marketplace.

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My phrasing of these rhetorical questions, and my assertions of real progress, make the decisions appear clear-cut. Of course that isn't always the case. For example, there are those who, in good conscience and sincere faith, believe that war against Iraq is an essential step on the path to peace. Framing the question in terms of shalom, however, forces us to look beyond "vital US interests in the region" as a justifying cause.

Every week, I end my thoughts with an affirmation of shalom. It is my hope and prayer that each week's newsletter lifts up, in some way, an aspect of how we might make progress toward peace, justice and harmony for all of God's creation.

I invite you to claim that deeply biblical vision as the measure for progress in your personal life, and in your public advocacy.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

P.S. - How Do You Spell Success? -- the Eco-Justice Notes from May 11, 2001 -- developed a parallel idea in terms of economic "progress" and US energy policy.

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