I stood inches from the pealing wail of the Shofar during last week’s Rosh Ha-shanah services at East Side Synagogue. This commencement of the Jewish High Holidays and the welcomed entrance of the year 5778 reminded a full room of people of their purpose and God’s presence. In the Jewish tradition, the loud bleating of a ram’s horn presents an opportunity for awakening.
Tekiah. One blast of sound. Shevarim. Three short, sharp blows. Teruah. Tekiah gedolah. A very long and loud sound!
The words are exhorted simultaneously with the four different sounds in contemporary Jewish religious rites. At the East Side Synagogue I stood at the shofar’s blowing between two social justice powerhouse rabbis – Perry Berkowitz and Leah Berkowitz – and a civil rights and preaching powerhouse – the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr., the Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church in the City of New York and president of The Healing of the Nations Foundation, a national ministry of healing and spiritual revitalization.
It was impossible to miss the meaning of the shofar’s meaning.
What a week into which to walk, be and show up awake.
I have joyfully just begun a new call as the Senior Minister serving as the Executive Director of Intersections International, The Collegiate Church’s special global ministry of justice, peacemaking and reconciliation. Founded ten years ago by a historic church wise to the worries and needs of the world, Intersections also is a non-governmental organization with special consultative status at the United Nations.
I am so happy to join an organization dedicated to work that unites people across lines of difference. Our interactive programming in global peacemaking; promoting advocacy inside the Christian church for LGBTQIA justice; and in cultural competency that inspires veterans and civilians to join forces to improve their lives and communities and ease the civilian military divide is grounded in an arts, worship and humanities focus that uses drama, music and dance to ignite insightful conversation and dialogue. All of our work is developed by a passionate staff, committed to targeting divided communities in need of healing.
Joyfully, I enjoin you to pray with me for our world. It is a world in deep, deep need of healing.
“They have healed the brokenness of my people superficially saying ‘Peace, peace!’ But there is no peace…” – Jeremiah 6:14.
In a remarkably blunt, “America First” address before the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly last Tuesday, President Donald J. Trump called upon the world to “work together and confront together those who threaten us with chaos, and turmoil and terror.” Then he went on to unleash a tsunami of chaotic, tumultuous and terrifying rhetoric directed toward North Korea and its regime, which he described as “depraved,” and “twisted.” His language warned of military escalation against North Korea and extended the vitriol to Iran, Yemen, and Venezuela.
“War was once an option of last resort, but today, it feels like a first reaction,” observed peace activist Kate Alexander, who organized a demonstration in Central Park centered around love, light and reflection to urge folks to take action for peace and diplomacy. Small lights were set around the Imagine peace symbol. Each light was named with the country in which armed conflict is continuing, or in which the United States has threatened to escalate.
The tiny tea lights, tagged with nation-state names – North Korea, Iran, Yemen, Venezuela, Syria, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and in memory of the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims – was a small but important step to remind us that in this new year we all must work. We must work together to keep light shining on these issues, to keep hope alive and to pray for peace.
“…Lemor shalom, shalom ve’eyn shalom.”
We commonly translate the Hebrew word Shalom as “peace.” But the semantic range of its meaning is considerably more expansive. Welfare, soundness, wholeness, well-being and completeness add depth and complexity to the word’s full meaning.
In the sixth chapter of the prophetic book of Jeremiah, God utters a harsh indictment of leaders who should have done better by a fractured people anxious and needing peace.
The admonishment is no less true today. Superficial peace is omnipresent while in our modern Babylons, brokenness is easier to hide. And it all works beautifully, until a Category 5 storm hits. Or an earthquake. Or a flood. Or a storm surge. Or the loss of power. Or the loss of a job. Or a marriage. Or a parent.
It can seem overwhelming.
But I come to this work encouraged.
Awakened by the blast of the shofar last week, I am energized by the work of activists like Jim Forbes and Kate Alexander. And at Intersections we are ready, willing and able to get to work and to pray. In the midst of chaos, turmoil, vitriolic rhetoric and despair over Category 5 storms raging all around us, we are promised peace.
Gracious God, in the busyness of life, in the scary times of threatened war, in the disorder and displacement of natural disaster – help us experience your peace. Speak your Word of complete, whole peace to us on this day. So that we may be reminded that You are there to meet all of our needs, whatever they are. Amen.