Tikkun Olam

For years, at the conclusion of public worship, I have used words that come from St. Paul, written 2,000 years ago.

“Go into the world in peace and courage.
Hold to the Good.
Honor all God’s children.
Love and serve the Lord,
Rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

Last Sunday, as a guest preacher at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan, when I came to the words “Hold to the Good” I almost couldn’t go on. The news from Pittsburgh Saturday morning stood as a contradiction to those words and to everything I hold dear and regard as essential to our life together….

…the trust that in the eternal struggle between good and evil, good will ultimately prevail,

…the trust that the heart of the nation I love, its government and politicians, is essentially fair, honest and good,

…the hope that the long arc of history bends, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said it did, toward justice.

The slaughter of eleven Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a rabid anti-Semite was not only horrifying, it was a clear contradiction of the optimistic hope I have always carried and held dear.

I am appalled that the wealth and accumulated power of the National Rifle Association has produced the insanity that anyone in the nation with an ounce of creativity can find a way to purchase a military style semi-automatic weapon, specifically designed to kill as many human beings as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I am equally appalled that our president and Republican leaders of Congress are so in thrall to the NRA that they refuse even to discuss common sense gun control.

I am appalled and dismayed that the President of the United States continues to spew hateful, racist rants aimed at immigrants, even ordering 5,000 battle-ready troops to the border to confront an “invasion” of poor and desperate Central Americans, mostly women and children, who naively continue to see our country as a haven for the oppressed. And then refusing to acknowledge and even denying that his provocative rhetoric comforts people like the Pittsburgh shooter and inspires people like the Florida pipe-bomber to cowardly violence. Of course it does. How could it not?

I am appalled that a sizable portion of my fellow citizens support him, as do Republican leaders of our Congress.

I turned to a book that has become a good friend over the years, Rabbi Irving Greenberg’s For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity. The author is an ordained Orthodox Rabbi with a Harvard PhD, past chairman of the United States Holocaust Museum and Chair of the Department of Jewish Studies at City College of the City University of New York. Rabbi Greenberg introduced me to the Hebrew words and concept of “tikkun olam”, to repair and heal the world, what Jews and Christians are to be about in the world. Greenberg says tikkun olam is what God has been doing from the beginning. “It was always God’s plan to bring the vision of redemption to more of humanity….the group that would bring the message of redemption to the rest of the nations would have to grow out of the family and covenanted community of Israel.”

We should already know it, but Greenberg eloquently reminds us that Jews and Christians are family, close relatives, cousins, partners in God’s great work of redemption. Reading Greenberg always makes me think and gives me hope and it did so again.

So we must all hold our close relatives in prayer, reach out in words of comfort, stand side by side with our Jewish neighbors in this most recent racist outrage, and remember together, even in dark and discouraging times, that our God-given and God-blessed vocation is to keep on repairing the world… tikkun olam.

Another precious reminder came in the words of Tree of Life Synagogue Rabbi Jeffrey Myers at the community Memorial Service in Pittsburgh, “Love is how you defeat hate.”

John M. Buchanan


  1. Nancy Winters says:

    Dear John
    I was hoping for this one. Thank you for it.
    It has been annus horribilis for this little family in Grand Bend Ontario Canada. We lost Hank to cancer. A nine year war of hope and fear and ultimate defeat. He was our hero. And now I am halfway through a hip replacement healing. I know that you have been there and done that. It is a comfort to remember your first slowed stride down the aisle at Fourth Church.
    Healing is a consummation to be wished wherever we look. This American (yes, we joined up before we came home) joins you in praying for the healing of the disease that has overtaken your people. Do you see a surrogate Messiah in the wings?
    With love to Sue
    Nancy Winters

  2. Thank you, John, for continuing to be a voice of good, compassion, and hope in these dark times. I am always grateful to you, and for you, when I read your words.

  3. Thank you, John. Thank you.

  4. Carolann Zaha says:

    I used to hang on your words whenever I listened to your sermons at 4th Pres. church. To have these innocents at a babynaming is beyond sad and horrific. We need to pray without ceasing that this violence is a cancer in our society that God will help cure by turning people’s hearts. God be with you always….

  5. Thank you again, John. I’ve been working on an Open Letter to the American Churches. Every time I think it’s ready, I tear it up or delete, delete, delete.

  6. Reblogged this on Views from the Edge and commented:
    This “Hold to the Good” essay speaks for many of us.

  7. June A. Huissen says:

    Thank you so very much for your courageous words today.

  8. Dr. Buchannan,
    I’ve recently been introduced to you several of your sermons by a former member of Fourth Presbyterian Church, John Hall, M.D. As a lifelong resident of Pittsburgh until moving to Hilton Head over seven years ago, I too was deeply moved and upset by the acts of unspeakable violence by an evil individual last Saturday. I agreed with everything you said until you made the type of political statements that tend to further divide us. First, I’ve never owned a gun and probably will never own one. I do agree that some common sense gun control measures are called for. Where you really missed the mark, and did not ring true to your stature as a Presbyterian leader was when you implicitly blamed President Trump for all of the hate that exists in this country. Although I voted for him, I am not a big fan. However to blame him for the hatred when there is an incredible amount of venom spewed from the leftists in this country, including much of the media, every day, is simply irresponsible and woefully simplistic. The rhetoric on both sides is wrong and not in keeping with what our country should stand for. Shame on you for including those paragraphs. As a lifelong Presbyterian, I am appalled. Statements like this are a prime example of why so many people have left the Presbyterian church. Quite frankly, those paragraphs, if they belong anywhere, are better left to reporters from CNN or MSNBC.
    Jim Wood

  9. Jan Niemeyer says:

    Thank you John. May we all by God’s grace, hold to the good without ceasing.
    Blessings and Shalom.

  10. David Handley says:

    John, thank you for your stirring words that give voice to our deepest anguish and longings. Lifting up Rabbi Greenberg’s reminder of the fundamental mission of Jews and Christians together, to “repair the world” and Rabbi Myers’ words from the unspeakable grief his people at Tree of Life Synagogue are experiencing, “Love is how you defeat hate,” are like light shining in darkness. Thank you!
    Dave Handley

  11. Well done John! Hope all is well with you and sue! Shalom! Don Nead

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