Peace within us, peace around us.

Today I attended a gathering at Calvary Episcopal Church in downtown Memphis. Calvary hosts a sermon series during the weeks of Lent, and one of the staples in that series is Rabi Micah Greenstein of Temple Israel. The service opened with a hymn that read,

“This is my home, the country where my heart is,/Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine./But other hearts in other lands are beating,/With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.”

The Rabi stood at the pulpit and said, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.” He went on to read several passages from the Hebrew Bible (or for Christians, the Old Testament) that describe a warrior God. The Hebrew Bible is riddled with war. Descriptions of destruction and mass murder cut through book after book. And yet, said the Rabi, “Shalom—peace—is the most used word in the Hebrew Bible.” If you read it cover to cover, it is the prevailing theme.

The Rabi said, “Peace is the major expression of God’s desires.” In fact, the Hebrew prophets denounced war and said that by God’s decree the only forms of war that are acceptable are in self defense or for survival.  

In the book of Psalms a writer prophesizing about the future says “God will rule the world with justice” and “treat people with equality.” At another point in the Hebrew Bible, a writer is describing the Jebusites who were supposed to be wiped from the face of the earth, but he writes, “The Benjamites did not dispose of the Jebusites . . . so they have lived as neighbors to the Jebusites to this very day.”

The Rabi closed his sermon by again referencing Michael Jackson’s famous mantra, but he said that we must also look out our windows and recognize the violence, hurt, and pain in our world. He encouraged us to look inward at our own flaws, but to also look outward. We must help ourselves, but then help others.

Perhaps you are hurting with the pain of low self-esteem or the memories of abuse that have never left you. Perhaps you have a friend struggling with addiction or a partner tormented by anxiety. Love yourself. Help yourself. Speak with your religious leader, or try out counseling. Learn strategies for stress management. Love you friends and family and be there for them whenever you can. Help yourself, and then help your loved ones.

Shalom. Peace be with you.


Written by Catherine Clubb-Brown, intern

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