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Fall 2005

Dear Trygve,

Peace is with you.

It’s a rainy day here at Despondent University.   The clouds coming off the Pacific are hanging low like a gray blanket over the sky.  There is a light drizzle. Gold leaves are sticking to the wet sidewalks. The battle between seasons has begun.  Fall and winter begin to compete for supremacy. One day it’s clear and cool, and the next feels like Old Man let out a wet and blustery sneeze. 

Thanks for your last letter.  I value your honesty and vulnerability.  I downloaded the paper that you mentioned off your go29 website – the paper entitled “Growing World Christians in the Soil of Hope.”  I liked it. I especially liked what you wrote about shalom. Can I quote back to you, your own words?

Wherever they find themselves, World Christians possess a calling on their life to practice shalom.  Shalom goes far beyond peace. Shalom is the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.  Shalom captures the spirit of God’s redemptive vision for the world.

I love your commitment to pursue a world-view of shalom.  How is it that Christ greets his disciples after the resurrection: “Peace – shalom – be with you”?  I think shalom is so needed.  We are called to follow Jesus in this strange age that seems to suggest to our students that issues of justice and Christian faith are an either/or, rather than a both/and.  I was reminded of this tension recently in a conversation I had with Paul.

Paul is a social work major who is dialed into all things “social justice.”  I met him last Wednesday at Life’s Hard Café, our local coffee haunt. Life’s Hard is run by Ranald, our socially awkward Barista.  Life’s Hard is the kind of place you’d love –  homemade art hanging off the wall as the soulful sounds of indie’s underground harmonies fills the atmosphere.   I was meeting Paul to discuss an upcoming conference on global poverty. Paul looks a lot like me: a beat-nick, granola fed, Dylan inspired barefoot grandchild of a long-haired hippie.  During our meeting, his voice would often tremble with feeling. I like him. He is a man of deep passions.

I noticed Paul wore a cross around his neck. I asked him if his thoughts about justice were guided at all by the cross.  “Not in any religious sense.” He said. “I wear the cross because it reminds me of the idea of suffering for others. But I don’t believe.” He confessed. I asked him if he knew many Christians. He said, “Oh, yeah,” he snarled. “I grew up in a church, but I just didn’t get its relevance… I mean I like Jesus.  I just don’t like Christians.” He went on “You see, when I read the Gospels I hear Jesus talking about radical stuff like giving everything away, feeding the hungry, forgiving 7×70 times – stuff like that. Wasn’t Jesus killed because he stood up against power? But almost all the Christians I’ve ever met, all they want to talk about is converting me, saving my soul.  I always leave feeling like I was a project. I want to care about the real world, not wait to die for the next one to come.” he said.  

Paul reminded me of a conversation we had back in St. Andrews at the Whey Pat Tavern.  We had that big row on the eve of the war in Iraq. It was this conversation that was a turning point in our friendship.  It’s here when we discovered what different worlds we grew up in. I learned you grew up in a military town where the war had real faces for you.  You learned I grew up outside of Berkeley. Your Dad’s a banker and my Dad’s a freelance journalist. I wear Burks and recycled T-shirts; you wear ties with polished shoes.  You led Bible studies and prayer meetings in college, and I led protest rallies and marches. What I remember about that conversation at the Whey Pat was that in Christ we found common ground.  You saw that my passion for the world came from a deep passion for God’s justice.  And I learned your passion for God inspired you to passionately pray for the world.  I think if we can find a way to fuse these together we might get somewhere, don’t you?  It’s because I know this is your heart that I tolerate your ties. 🙂

You said in your last letter you did not feel like you were doing a good job of encouraging shalom at Hope.  “Failure” I think you wrote. You confessed how helpless and inadequate you feel to engage realities like war in Iraq, global poverty, genocide, Aids, everything.  Well, remember what you always used to tell me – “Karis, don’t let your feelings frame reality – anything that can be affected by how much coffee you’ve had in the morning shouldn’t be given that much authority.”

You described in your letter the difficulty of talking about controversial issues at Hope because you feel like everything gets politicized in unhealthy ways.  I know your caution comes from a deep desire not to let the gospel be commandeered by political agendas, right or left. I don’t know what advice to give, but I think that your commitment to pursue shalom is a place to start.  And I think that begins with finding the light in those we think are in the dark. I was reminded of this recently.

A few weeks ago, Despondent University brought Harry Belafonte on campus.  The event was held in Revelation Memorial Chapel to discuss issues of diversity. Belafonte, as you know, is an old school leftist who holds onto his ideas like some people hold onto their life.  During his talk, he told a story about Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. It is a story that might help point you in the direction you are trying to walk at Hope.

Belafonte told the story of a meeting with Martin Luther King when the civil rights movement had hit a wall in the early sixties. He said “I tell you all, it was a depressing moment when Bobby Kennedy was made attorney general.  It was a very bad day for the civil rights movement.” Someone asked why. Belafonte responded, “You see Bobby Kennedy was Irish. They were all the police. Those Irish were real racists; they didn’t like the black man. They were just one step above the black man on the social ladder, and they made us feel it.  And Bobby at the time was famously not interested in the civil rights movement. We knew we were in deep trouble. We were crest-fallen, in despair, talking to Martin, moaning and groaning about the turn of events, when Dr. King slammed his hand down and ordered us to stop the bitchin’; ‘Enough of this,’ he said.  ‘Is there nobody here who’s got something good to say about Bobby Kennedy?’ I said to Martin, ‘The guy’s an Irish Catholic conservative badass, he’s bad news.’ To which Martin replied: ‘Well then, let’s call this meeting to a close. We will readjourn when somebody has found one thing redeeming to say about Bobby Kennedy, because that, my friends, is the door through which our movement will pass.’  So he stopped the meeting and he made us all go home. He wouldn’t hear any more negativity about Bobby Kennedy. He knew there must be something positive. And if it was there, somebody could find it.

“It turned out that Bobby was very close with this bishop.  So we befriended the one man who could get through to Bobby’s soul and turned him into our Trojan horse.  We sort of ganged up on his bishop, the civil rights religious people, and got the bishop to speak to Bobby.”  Harry became emotional at the end of his tale. “When Bobby Kennedy lay dead, in a pool of his blood on a Los Angeles pavement, there was no greater friend to the civil rights movement.  There was no one we owed more of our progress to than that man.”  

“Be conflicted before God. Just don’t be indifferent.”

Trygve, this story was a great lesson for me because Dr. King was saying “Don’t respond to caricature – the left, the right, the progressives, the reactionary.  Don’t take people on rumor. Find the light in them.” I think that is where the practice of Christ’s shalom begins.  

I’ve been trying to hold on to that principle tightly. I wonder what Despondent or Hope would look like if we all tried, each student, each professor, each administrator, if we each tried to find the light in each other?  I think it would be stunning.

Trygve, my friend, don’t be afraid to pursue shalom. Let the integrity of your life preach.  I know you feel inadequate, overwhelmed, even conflicted. That you feel small. You don’t know what to say.  That’s OK. Be conflicted before God. Just don’t be indifferent. Keep praying and keep encouraging your students, whom you love, to think about how they can pursue their studies in such a way that it will prepare them now to be a healing hand on the deepest wounds of the world tomorrow.  Encourage them not to limit their vision for the world to just saving souls, but to practice shalom in the world so there are even souls to save.  Encourage their eyes to see what God sees, and feel what God feels, so that their lives will be a tangible working of God’s deepest and best desires in the world.  That is my prayer.

And keep greeting them in the peace of God.  You’re always telling me, “Karis, words create realities.”  If we greet each other in the authority of Christ’s peace – with the resurrection message of shalom – who knows, maybe one day it will feel like reality.  Well, my friend, that’s all the news from Despondent U.: where all the women are smart, the men are gentlemen, and the professors are above average. Know that I am doing all right.  And tell Kristen I’m looking forward to trying her calzone recipe tonight!

Your friend in Grace and Peace,


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