To my father, Shalom Proclaimer, on his birthday
In my dining room hangs a framed and matted lithograph by William Benson, a now-retired art professor at the University of Wisconsin (Eau Claire).
It is in grey, cream, and charcoal hues.
In large capital letters 5″ tall, a be-shadowed word SHALOM asserts itself on a stripe of black, and nestled between the L and the O flies a dove with a gentle, thin-lined heart drawn in the middle.
Above and below the SHALOM are selected words from my father, passages from a sermon he preached on May 27th, 1984.
My father’s sermons were not for the faint of heart: or rather, not for the faint of intellect and query. They remind me of how Mark says that after Jesus was baptized, the Spirit “drove him into the wilderness,” in fairly dramatic opposition to Luke who tells that the Spirit “led him there.”
Dad’s pulpit words “drove” people to think. His adult education classes led them there, but Dad’s sermons drove them there.
He was not exactly reticent about making the case there in that place that the Word of God is, the Gospel declares, that we are called to have solidarity with the oppressed, that power is found not in weapons but in love, and that we are free to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
My delight in theology and my passion for questions and my conviction that faith and life are intertwined and my joy and hope in grace come from my father.
Today is his birthday.
My father’s words from 1984 still reverberate through to today’s tenor of disharmony, of dissonance, of disarray, of disorientation, of distrust, and of disillusionment.
And of yet the possibility that there might just be another way.
And that it might be possible to live out of that other way even now.
As I understand the story, William Benson heard my father preach on that day in May and he was moved to bring some art out of his ear, so to speak. This lithograph Shalom is what was born. My father has another copy, as does my sister.
At this very moment, I have the lithograph in my lap to lift some of the particularly fine gems.
And so below, in honor of my father, in gratitude for his wisdom, in thanksgiving that his birth made the world a better place, a few words of proclamation to edify your spirit from the good Rev. Dr. George H.O. Madsen, on his birthday.
Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you an awful lot.
(And when I told Elsegirl that I planned to write this piece for you, she said, “Well, O.K., but you should probably buy him a bottle of wine too.” Noted.)
Shalom is a word that is broad in the extreme. It has to do with wholeness, with fulfillment.
Shalom paints a vision of the way things will one day be with all hands helping.
Shalom knows of a lion lying down with a lamb, of the thirsty having drink, hungry having food, naked being clothed.
Shalom knows of swords being beaten into plowshares, of justice and freedom.
Shalom knows of strangers being welcomed, the sick and imprisoned being visited.
Shalom knows of sorrow and tears disappearing and death being no more.
Shalom has as its agenda liberation and reconciliation.
Shalom has has its agenda love, hope and renewal.
Shalom has as its agenda drought and famine.
Shalom has as its agenda war and hatred.
Shalom has as its agenda prejudice and oppression.
Shalom has as its agenda sickness and suffering.
We are not bound by our own lives, our own deaths, but live within the great parenthesis of Shalom.
Shalom is the shape of the future, the vision of that to which a mysterious power summons us all here and now, in the role of servant, in bringing and establishing justice and freedom, grace and peace. The servant will be masterfully taught all things. Shalom is our human legacy, given to us in a state of fearlessness and without a troubled heart.