Shalom Means Wholeness

“Peace I leave with you;
My peace I give you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
John 14:27

What do you think of when I say the word, “shalom?” It’s a word that those who have grown up in the church may have heard. Or maybe not. Most often, it is associated with a customary Jewish greeting, or the word “peace.” But a deeper look recognizes this word as one that means “wholeness,” or “complete.” Funny how the word is one that I chose as my “word of the year” for 2019. What I didn’t realize when I chose that word (or did the word choose me?), my focus in devotional and study would center on that word as the central narrative of the entire Bible.

There’s a popular Facebook post that keeps getting forwarded and reshared - about the process that the Japanese have for repairing and restoring ceramics, known as “kintsugi.” For those of you who haven’t seen the post, it talks about the tradition that the Japanese have of filling the cracks in pottery and restoring them to wholeness by filling the cracks with gold. Wikipedia notes that the process is closely related to the Japanese philosophy of “wabi-sabi,” or “an embracing of the flawed or imperfect.” I love this story, because it so adequately describes my journey over the past year in coming back to church as a queer trans woman and learning to embrace God; allowing Him to embrace me right where I’m at.

There’s something to be said for community. With it comes a sense of belonging. Of wholeness. A feeling that says, “I might not be whole… I may even be falling apart, but with this group of people, I find wholeness; the strength to persevere and hang in there one more day.” It is that sense that has filled my own life and helped sustain me over the past few months while navigating church in conservative spaces along with the end of my 19 year relationship - all with the help of my queer Christian community. I never thought in a million years that this is where I would end up. I always thought I would have to choose one or the other, but as I quickly found, denying one aspect of my life left me broken and trying hard to pick up the pieces without any glue to hold it together, all the while wondering why I wasn’t able to hold anything inside. It’s a painful place; one where despair reigns and brokenness is key. Yet, even in asking and seeking community, it’s an interesting - and oftentimes hurtful - place to watch while doors are shut and entrances barricaded because I am simply content with being me.

I remember my first time walking onto a church campus as Ellie. The fear that was palpable. The uncertainty of what was to happen inside. The questions that surrounded my very presence there - everything within me telling me that I shouldn’t be there; that I didn’t belong. Even though I knew that there would be that much of a pushback within me to run in the opposite direction, and even though I knew what churches like this one - a Southern Baptist community in the heart of conservative Fresno, California - believed about queer people like me… I don’t think that I knew what was going to be in store for me. I sat in the church, tensely awaiting an accusation that never came - almost like one braces for the steep drop of a roller coaster before it breaks down at the top of the lift hill. As God met me there, I began to wonder what was going to happen. How He could possibly use me in the middle of my own brokenness. I remember fighting with Him - reminding Him of the pain I had endured at the hand of the Church’s leadership, and how I assumed that only pain would await if I were to step out and embrace God in my life as Ellie.

It’s funny how we do that, isn’t it? We encounter God in amazing ways, and even in the midst of an undeniable encounter with Him, we question His voice. We wonder if that’s really Him, even while it’s unmistakable. I wonder why that is, but I guess I’m in good company. Gideon did this with the fleece. Moses had to witness miracles countless times. Thomas had to see the Risen Christ.

Some of you may know that I am working through the pain of separation and divorce. There have often been questions of why I am having to deal with such immense pain, especially in the midst of doing what I believe God had called me to - working towards sharing my story and my own faith journey in coming out as a queer trans woman who loves Jesus. With that quest came loneliness, hurt, and ultimately a division that pushed me to leave my 19 year relationship, my kids, and my home in Fresno. I mean, could God *really* be in the midst of this?

Then came this past weekend - the culmination of 4 months of intense study ending with a 4 day gathering of our entire 50-member cohort of queer and ally Christians from around the world - all gathered to learn, grow, and worship together as the Body of Christ. And while I went to the summit expecting to grow and learn more about how to be an effective LGBTQ+ person of faith, I don’t think I anticipated that I would find healing in the way that I did. That I would find in this group of unlikely Christians - many of whom had lost family, jobs, and church since coming out - the gold I needed to help me fill in the gaps and start becoming the vessel that God has been calling me to.
TRP Leadership Conference Orlando 2019, Night of Worship
Partway through the summit, we held a night of worship that not only included our own cohort family, but the general public as well. It was a beautiful night - one in which God clearly spoke to me, telling me that THIS was what He is calling me to. A glimpse of what could be. ALL of God’s people - worshipping together in Spirit and in the Truth of His Love. And it is in this vision that I share about my experience and, more importantly - ask what it is that God is calling YOU to? What is the vision that is in your heart?

Throughout all of Scripture, God is working both in the world and in supernatural ways to bring wholeness to the each of us, both in our relationship to Him as well as in our relationship to each other. Every single narrative tells of this story - from the creation story where God brings wholeness and restoration to Adam and Eve in the Garden to the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. The greatest commandments, after all, are for us to love God and love each other. To be agents of shalom on this earth. Yet with that, we also see sin in our world. We see brokenness. Pain. Suffering. And we ask “when will it end?” Perhaps it’s not a matter of asking that question as much as it is to ask the question of “what can I do to be kintsugi in the world?,” along with the question, “what am I doing to actively prevent shalom in the world today?”

Throughout the New Testament, we see how Jesus was the embodiment of Shalom. The One chosen to bring bring healing to the entire world. At the same time, we see Jesus constantly confronting those who were using religion to prevent healing to happen. When Jesus turned over the tables in the courtyard, we see one of the only times that Jesus lost His temper - when the religious people of Jesus’ day had allowed religion to overtake the court of Gentiles - the space set aside on the temple mount for the Gentiles to come and seek God. “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations,” he says, quoting Isaish 56:7, “but you have made it a den of thieves.” (Matt. 21:12-13) This poignant picture begs the question then of how our own religious thoughts and beliefs are crowding out the ability for people to approach and even connect to God and His healing voice. I’m sure that the money changers and salespeople in the courtyard honestly believed that they were doing the work of God - after all, that’s what they had been told by the religious leaders. Yet…. could the religious leaders have been wrong? And if they could have been wrong then, is the possibility there that they could be once again wrong in our day and age?

We’ve got to break free of this idea that the teachers and theologians we are listening to and following are infallible. To believe that puts us back in the same exact space that brought us to the Protestant Reformation. Our interpretations of Scripture MUST - and I emphasize that - be in line with the lens and be filtered through the question of how our reading of God’s word aligns with the person of who God is throughout history. For years, I had been told that the God of the Old Testament was different from the God of the New Testament. And while there are different changes that came about through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the person of God has never changed. He hasn’t changed His mind. He has ALWAYS been in the business of bringing Shalom to the world - and the question then comes back to us, asking us if we are allowing Him to bring that same Shalom to our lives and through us to the lives of others.

This weekend, I witnessed God begin to redeem the parts of my life that have been broken. How He has allowed the temporary pain of brokenness in my life to make room for the healing to begin. How is He doing that in your life? How is God moving you towards wholeness and healing?

Perhaps this is a different voice of God than you’ve ever heard about in your life. Perhaps you’ve never thought about God in this way. That’s okay - I know that it’s scary to question things that you might have grown up believing and thinking your entire life. And that’s okay. But I don’t believe your reading this is in vain. It’s not a chance reading. If you could only hear the stories: the pain, the hurt, and the sadness - and how these men and women, despite their pain and hurt in the Church, continue to seek God and find healing in His loving embrace. The imagery that was seared into my mind this past weekend is one that I hope to share with you.

I am excited for the vision He is giving me moving forward from this space. What is the vision He is giving you? It is that vision of peace that I give to you; that I share with you. Not a peace that the world gives, but the shalom that only God brings when we focus our eyes on Him.

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