Shibboleths, Shagging and Shalom – a three part post.
Part the Third – Shalom
When we let our behaviours and conversations become dominated by Shibboleths and Shagging, it’s simply betraying our own lack of understanding; a misunderstanding of our faith and of marriage; a misunderstanding of what this “good news” that we’ve been entrusted with actually is.
Our gospel is not about Shibboleths, about keeping people out or drawing boundaries or building fences. Our gospel is not defined by whether you shag the right person or not. Our gospel, above all things (arguably, even above Love) is about Shalom.
What do I mean by Shalom? The English word most commonly used as a translation is Peace, and Shalom is indeed that, but it represents much more than that. It is peace, in the sense of no conflict, but it’s also a completeness of self and wholeness of community. Shalom is not simply the absence of war; not simply “inner tranquility” or the apatheia pursued by the Stoics; not only the quietness or stillness implied in Jesus command to the wind and waves; not the Buddhist idea of the absence of desire – but in fact the fullness of life described in John 10:10, every part of life, it is prosperity & fruitfulness represented by a garden, it is a completeness, a wholeness; it is, more than anything, “one-ness”.
It is the elimination of allowing us to make fellow humans “other”. It means right relationships. It is reconciliation. It is the moments where we are acting with one purpose, one voice. It is – congruently, perhaps best represented by a Rugby scrum – which is one entity, with one mind and purpose, made up up many constituent parts, but because those parts are agreed on one goal, those parts are willing to submit (sometimes in undignified ways) to all the other parts for the sake of the entity of the scrum itself.
Shalom, when meaning peace, means more than simple amity. It means the complete annihilation of any conflict, rejection or “otherness” between the two parties. And so if this is what Jesus came to give us, if this is what our gospel is truly about, you can see why the idea of Shibboleth is so opposite to our faith; that it is in fact anathema for followers of Jesus; that it is, in essence, part of the spirit of Anti-Christ. When we build walls and fences and impose ‘criteria’ and passwords we’re not preaching the gospel of Jesus, but advancing the cause of our true enemy. We preach an empty, striving, enslaving religion. When we draw lines in the sand to box ourselves in and the “others” out, Jesus simply comes behind us to eliminate those lines.
And so the phrase “one flesh” that is so pivotal in conversations about sexuality also becomes a pivotal idea to express what Jesus came to do. He came to restore the wholeness, the right relationship, the Shalom both between God and us as individuals, but also for us as a community, to bring about a “one flesh” for us all; to redeem the idea of one flesh and to restore it to the designed intent. This to me is why the translation lets us down, for I feel a more accurate rendering would be one mind, one heart, one soul. And with those words we would catch a glimpse of God’s true definition of marriage, of the defining heart of God’s context for relationship and sexuality.
Because it’s not really about the “joining” of two bodies into one in a momentary biological act. It comes from a deep emotional connection, from years of knowing one another and living together and co-operating and compromising. It’s the moments of intimacy when you look into another person’s eyes and see every part of them, their vulnerabilities, their virtues, their shortcomings and allow them to see yours in turn. In short, the becoming one flesh isn’t an overnight thing that happens BANG (pun intended) on the wedding night, or in the alley behind the club. It is the result of years of togetherness, faithfulness, teamwork, intimacy. The act of love is not the source or cause of the one flesh unification, but an expression of it. Without all those things it isn’t a joining of souls, just gratification, entertainment and power play – it really does become reduced to simple shagging.
The wedding, the unity of the bride and groom (or bride & bride; groom & groom) is used so often as a picture of the church and Christ, not because of the physical interconnectedness of men & women’s bodies, but because the spirit of one-ness within marriage so closely represents what Shalom is about. It’s about the emotional and spiritual one-ness of two people who work towards shalom and all it represents – not about how two bodies fit together. And this is why we need to make our LGBT (and other sexuality/purity/modesty/relational) conversations more about Shalom and less about shagging.
And so as we turn our conversations on Sexuality to a sexual ethic based on Consent, Commitment and Co-operation, to the story that is about Shalom it might help all of our conversations become characterised by Shalom. And so as we build from the marriage relationship to our wider friendships and communities we can determine together how to start rubbing out these lines we’ve drawn around ourselves. We can stop being afraid that we might be pushed out of the lifeboat knowing that there are enough for all and so pull those around us who are drowning on board with us. We can perhaps start thinking of our community as not being at war with “them” outside, or at war with itself. After all, don’t forget that the original story of Shibboleth wasn’t about Israelites and outsiders, but about two groups of Israelites, one against the other. It was one group not coming to defend the other and so enmity ensued. It was one group massacring the other, men who were distant cousins. It was “we” becoming “us and them”. It was Shalom becoming Shibboleth.
And Jesus came to reverse that, to turn Shibboleth into Shalom. To turn our gratification and power plays into one-ness, wholeness and fullness of life. To eliminate walls, fences and doors and draw us into True Community. A Community of Acceptance and Inclusion. Where there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave nor Free, Male nor Female. Where there is neither Capitalist nor Socialist, neither Gay nor Straight, neither Pacifist nor Patriot. Just “we”.