Shalom of the City: Imagining Wholeness
I grew up in the heart of Houston--an expanse of concrete and urban sprawl so vast and wide that it literally takes several hours to cross the city, even without traffic! For me, Houston was best symbolized by the Galleria, an immense three-story shoppers paradise complete with restaurants, hotels, and an ice-skating rink, all tied together by the blessing of the iciest air-conditioning around. In my identity as a Houstonian living in the best cosmopolitan paradise that oil money could buy, I felt no more of a tie to the cattle-ranching, oil-pumping, cowboy-hat-wearing, cotton-and- rice-farming plains of my Gulf-Coast region of Texas than would someone from Maine or Connecticut!
Here in Louisville, we too are proud of our numerous restaurants and good schools, of our Derby parties and our bustling arts scene. At St. Andrew’s, we are especially proud to “keep Louisville weird” in the heart of the eclectic Highlands neighborhood, seemingly a world away from the struggles of Kentucky's small rural communities. I’ve noticed that even elementary school children are quick to judge those from “out in the state,” describing themselves as sophisticated, city-dwelling Louisvillians.
According to Scripture, however, cities are blessed by God when they are in close relationship with the farmland around them. The Hebrew prophets make clear that a good and faithful city provides for the needs of everyone—those within its walls as well as those around them. The people of the just city care for the foreigner who lives among them. The just city purchases food fairly from the farmers who supply its needs. Only evil cities like Babylon hold themselves apart from the rest of the land. They greedily gather the produce from the countryside and store it all for their own needs.
The icon of the ideal city in Hebrew scripture is the longed-for city of Zion. Zion is the image of a healed and peace-filled Jerusalem, a city blessed by God that will radiate blessing not just into its region, but into the whole world. The image of the ideal city is carried into the book of Revelation in our Christian bible: In the New Jerusalem, “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light … The nations will walk by its light … Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”
When we “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” then, as our old hymns enjoin us, we are not just praying for people over there in the Middle East to stop fighting. We are praying for the peace of all our cities. We are praying for peace as shalom—for wholeness, for the health and well-being of the people, animals, and crops of those in the cities and for those around them. As the prophet Jeremiah points out to the exiles, they are to “seek the peace / shalom of the city where I have sent you … and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its peace / shalom you will find your welfare.” (Jer. 29:7)
For Louisville to be a true city of God’s shalom and compassion, we will need to spend our time and energy pouring God’s blessing out to the communities around us. Shopping at a local farmers' market with your children or participating in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) might be one way that we can model for our children a close relationship with our rural neighbors. A summer weekend outside of the city or even a drive to All Saints' Camp in Leitchfield might present the opportunity to talk with your family about the needs, assets, and hopes of one of our sister communities. A walk along the banks of the Ohio might spur a conversation about the ways in which we can care for the river that both shares the life of our city and carries our sins to neighbors downstream.
This month’s challenge: As you are driving your children around to lessons and games this month, take a good look at our city. Make it a family game to notice signs of the city taking responsibility for everyone’s needs. Take a photo (it can be the photo of a drawing) of how we can take responsibility as residents for making our city a good place for our neighbors and for the natural landscape in which we are located.
Post your image to Instagram with the hashtag #imaginingwholeness. Have your children think of a second hashtag, if they'd like. (If you don’t use Instagram, just email it to me at email@example.com.) I will collect the images submitted each month and publish them together on this website. If enough people respond, we will have a composite image that will, I hope, help us all to see our world in a new way, and, perhaps, find new ways of relating with the creation and the Creator!