Sunday, 20 February 2011

‘To Live in Peace: Biblical Faith and the Changing Inner City’

(Mark R Gornik, Eerdmans, 2002)

This is a brilliant book. It unfolds a ‘shalom-focused’ theology through the very concrete practices of being church, building community, and rebuilding the streets of Sandtown, an inner-city neighbourhood in Baltimore. There’s some great and inspiring stories, some subtle and in-depth analysis of the issues social and political, some thorough theological reflection (it’s the most readable and comprehensive summary of the Biblical theme of ‘shalom’ I’ve come across, I think), and some helpful bits of ‘categorisation’ (I’m someone who does actually enjoy ‘3 words beginning with the same letter’ lists, if they’re backed up by real substance) as Gornik outlines the approach of his grassroots, activist, radical Christian community.

I think I might share some quotes here over the next little while, and see how far we get. My hope is that there’s some stuff in this book that might spark and/or feed a valuable conversation here in the UK, Birmingham and beyond, among those of us who live and work in inner-city and outer-estate areas…

On oppression and injustice…

(Quoting Iris Marion Young): “oppression reveals itself in five faces: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. … In Sandtown, and in the inner city generally, all five faces of oppression can be seen at work in the racial and economic construction of space and the burdens of existence.” (51)

(Quoting Nicholas Wolterstorff): “God’s love for justice is grounded in his love for the victims of injustice. And his love for the victims of injustice belongs to his love for the little ones of the world: for the weak defenceless ones, the ones at the bottom, the excluded ones, the miscasts, the outcasts, the outsiders… God’s love for justice, I suggest, is grounded in his special concern for the hundredth one.” (51)

“[D]oing justice in Scripture is not the abstract balancing of ‘rights’… but the ‘restoration of that community as originally established by the justice of God; it is a community of equality and freedom from oppression.’” (62)

“One of the marks of a Christian response to the inner city must therefore be its direct and meaningful response to the closure of everyday opportunities and the closure of future horizons.” (59)

On ‘shalom’ and peace-making…

(Nicholas Wolterstorff again) “Shalom in the first place incorporates right, harmonious relationships to God and delight in his service. When the prophets speak of shalom, they speak of a day when human beings will no longer flee God down the corridors of time… Secondly, shalom incorporates right harmonious relationships to other human beings and delight in human community. Shalom is absent when a society is a collection of individuals all out to make their own way in the world… Thirdly, shalom incorporates right, harmonious relationships to nature and delight in our physical surroundings. Shalom comes when we, bodily creatures and not disembodied souls, shape the world with our labour and find fulfillment in so doing and delight in its results.” (100-1)

“sin is the vandalism of shalom… [S]halom is God’s urban renovation project, the restoration of a defaced urban existence. It is the reversal of human alienation from God, from creation, and from one another. Because shalom is the end of poverty, injustice, and exclusion, to seek the shalom of the city is to work to reverse the effects of sin … on the city and to proclaim the news of One who comes in peace.” (103)

Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the peace [shalom] and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for if it has peace [shalom], you too will have peace [shalom].” … “There could be no separate peace for God’s people apart from the general condition of the city as a whole; the two were bound together. … Jeremiah is advocating a ‘nonviolent social resistance’ that emphasizes trust in God’s sovereignty, hope in God’s future, the practices of nonviolence, and the everyday acts of cultural production… this project of God’s is the renewal of community.” (103-4)

“Urban settings are full of different power interests, competing ideas, and conflicting demands. Peacemaking, and in particular loving one’s ‘enemies’, not only puts the church in a different light in relationship to its neighbours but is also a means of social change. … If Christ is the peace that forms the church and determines its identity, then the church as a peaceable community exists for the city. The church is a body renewed by Christ to represent hope for a broken world. Committed to reconciliation and the practices of repentance and forgiveness, it should not fail to recognize the possibility of peace for the inner city.” (109)

(Wolterstorff, again!) “Shalom is both God’s cause in the world and our human calling. Even though the full incursion of shalom into our history will be divine gift and not merely human achievement, even though its episodic incursion into our lives now also has a dimension of divine gift, nonetheless it is shalom that we are to work and struggle for. We are not to stand around, hands folded, waiting for shalom to arrive. We are workers in God’s cause, his peace-workers. The missio Dei is our mission.” (110)

On the church…

The church “as a community of grace… welcome… reconciliation… and sharing…” (76ff.)

The church as “in the community” (but with no real attachment to its neighbourhood), “for the community” (but not grounded in the experience of the community, and treating the community “as the other and as helpless”), or “with … and of the community”, becoming “one with its neighbours in the struggle”… “Here the church and the community work in mutuality for reasons that grow out of their common history and their shared future. The church brings its faith commitments both to the questions that are asked and to the actions that are taken. It is involved in the mix, flow, and fray of community life, not isolated and removed. The church discerns its life in the life of the community. Such a church rejects a privileged moral, social, or even epistemological position… It does not see itself as a saviour, for it knows too well its own frailties and weaknesses. Rather, by way of the cross, by way of sharing suffering and hope, sorrows and joys, a church of the community pours itself out so that God’s shalom can be more deeply experienced.” (113-4)


More to follow soon! If this resonates for you, why not join in the conversation…?

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