hope

In A World of ISIS, We Need More Muslim Friends

I can remember when I was scared of Muslims.

I don’t think I would have ever uttered those words, but subconsciously, they were true. 

As a good, Bible-Believing-Evangelical-Christian (that’s all one word, right?) who could recite the two greatest commandments to love God and love others before I was out of diapers, how had this fear developed in me?

Our Daughter Ruby w/Afghan Family

Our Daughter Ruby w/Afghan Family

Well, it’s easy. Stories we are told about Muslims are often related to terror, oppression and violence. And, to be honest, it is far more comfortable to remain in a place of isolation and ignorance than it is to engage in the intentional work of education, experience and relationship. 

Further, I used to think the only way to meet Muslims was to fly half way across the world and enter into a reality completely foreign to my own. “They” are somewhere over there and “we” are over here, so let’s just agree to keep our distance and allow our politicians and power brokers to work things out.

That all changed for me when my wife and I joined a faith community committed to Jesus’ invitation to love our neighbors. We quickly realized loving our neighbors required we know our neighbors. And, living in a city that is home to tens of thousands of international refugees, we discovered that “they” don’t only live across the world, “they” are at “our” baseball games, in our neighborhood and our parks. It wasn’t that our Muslim friends had just moved in, it was that we hadn’t had the eyes to see them, let alone enter genuine friendships. 

Over the years, I have discovered that the only way to love and be loved by my neighbors (locally and globally) is to be in relationship. The reason I used to be scared of Muslims was simply because I didn’t know any. I had never heard their stories. I had never been to their sacred places. I didn’t understand their traditions. I hadn’t even shared a meal with them. 

I have come to realize what an incredible opportunity I had squandered. Interestingly, what I had squandered wasn’t primarily what I had to offer my neighbors, but what they had to offer me. 

As ISIS fills the headlines, Islamphobia spreads like the common cold and sound bites trump human interaction, there is no more important time to build friendships with our Muslim neighbors. Here are five reasons why:

1. A Cure for Fear

Fear is one of the most toxic diseases hijacking Christian’s ability to live as salt and light. Not only do we often tell ourselves that everyone is out to get us, we think relationships with those different than us leave us open to falling down the slippery slope of compromise.

I have never met a Muslim who asks me to compromise my commitment to Jesus. If anything, they encourage me to take it more seriously. Being in relationship with people who are different than us doesn’t compromise our faith, it reflects the very best of it. A mentor of mine recently said, “The deeper our roots are in Jesus, the wider our branches can extend into other traditions.”

2. An Expanded Worldview

I recently sat in a West Bank backyard with a collection of 20 Christians and Muslims. Having just spent a few days together, we sang, danced and shared what we had each learned about the other’s religious tradition based on our experience together. It was sacred. The worldview of both the Christians who were with me and the Muslims who lived in this village will forever view the “other” in a more helpful, human way.

In many other parts of the world, Christians and Muslims don’t see themselves as enemies, but as dear friends, partners and fellow humans. When we extend past our inherited worldview, we may see a very different landscape of interfaith collaboration. What media sources, experiences or influencers are we allowing to inform our worldview? How might that become more diverse?

3. An Antidote to Isolationism

We, the Christian community, can fall victim to becoming insulated and isolated, which inherently puts us in a posture of defense rather than invitation. When our relationships remain only among those who think, look and believe like we do, we run the risk of becoming exclusive and tribal. Which, ironically, is so much of the West’s critique of regimes like ISIS.

The antithesis of Christ-like love is to only be in relationship with those who are like “us,” while excluding “them.” As we begin to build relationships with those outside of our tradition, we break out of our little bubbles and are able to truly love like Jesus. Jesus never ran in fear from those who were different than him. No, he ran to people who were different. Our inherited theology may distance us from those of other religions, but Jesus never does.

4. A Solution for Our Need for Mutual Relationship

Our Christian tradition hasn’t historically done well at entering relationships with those outside of our tradition in a posture of mutuality. Our tendency has been to enter relationships as the hero rather than the learner.

As we build friendships with our Muslim neighbors, we must do so seeking to understand rather than be understood. Genuine friendship is not a project. Get curious. Share life and space. Spend long hours around the dinner table. Take each other’s kids to school. Accept their love in the same way you would expect them to receive yours.

5. An Understanding of Misrepresentation

I just got an email from my friend, Jarrod McKenna, who as a Jesus follower, is doing remarkable work reassigning dignity to the Muslim community in Australia. Sadly, his email was to tell me that a Muslim family was violently attacked, not because of their actions, but because of their religion.

In my city, a Muslim mom was recently killed outside of her house for similar reasons. These are just a couple acts of hatred and prejudice of our Muslim neighbors are enduring as a result of our inability to differentiate between Islamic extremists (ISIS, etc.) and the majority of Muslims.

The Christian Community must understand that the vast majority of Muslims are embarrassed and concerned for their own safety as a result of ISIS, and we must advocate for their humanity. If we are in genuine friendship, our advocacy will become a non-negotiable.

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NOTE: This piece was first published on RELEVANT Magazine

 

 

Problem to Fix or Opportunity to Embrace? 3 Ways to Care for Unaccompanied Minors

IMG_0672A couple weeks ago, Mexican and USAmerican leaders gathered at Friendship Park -- the wall between us -- representing millions of Christians throughout Mexico and the United States by offering a prayer on behalf of the 60,000 unaccompanied minors detained on our border. As I stood in this sacred prayer circle that extended across our shared border, I thought,“This is what the Church looks like when it takes seriously it’s call to care for the ‘least of these’ as part of our citizenship to a kingdom that knows no borders.”

While some Christian’s view the arrival of these children (many of whom are fleeing actual or pending violence) as a burdensome imposition -- welcoming these kids with protests and hate speech -- others are rightly viewing this an opportunity for the Church to be the Church and reflect Good News to some of the worlds most vulnerable. These kids can’t be viewed as a threat to our abundance, but the very people we are to care for out of our abundance. 

Thankfully, I have had scores of folks in the Church asking what can be done. Another way it has been asked is, “How can we welcome the children in the same way Jesus did?” 

Here are three tangible ways: 

1. Seek to Understand the Human Plight 

Few understand the gravity of the situation these kids are fleeing from. Whether physical starvation, hopeless depression, violent war or a gang reality, these kids are traumatized before they ever begin their journey to the United States. It is in that place that they begin one of the most dangerous journey’s imaginable from Central America to the United States. The vast majority of the girls who make the journey are either killed, raped or sold into sex slavery, while the percentage of boys who experience similar horrors isn’t much lower. With this in mind, imagine how they feel when they finally make it into the United States! While 60,000 have made it, scores of others haven’t. These kids need attention and care, so when we welcome them with hatred and signs to “GO HOME,” I can’t imagine how that adds to their trauma. Further, I can’t imagine that’s how Jesus’ would have his Church treat the strangers and children among us. 

READ: Enrique’s Journey 

WATCH: Which Way Home

2. Meet Those Behind the Headlines

This is not an issue to remain in the walls of political power or on the mouths of political pundits filling our news outlets. Because this is a humanitarian issue, we must meet the humans behind the headlines and debates. There are detention centers and shelters in cities all across the United States where these kids are being held as their future hangs in the balance. Go and meet these kids. Play soccer. Share a meal. Hear their story. 

Just a few weeks ago, we (TGIP) brought of a group of US teenagers to a shelter here in San Diego to spend time with these teenagers from Central America. While it took a few minutes to break the awkward “hello’s,” these kids bonded as equals. They were no different from one another, they just had dramatically different stories. After hours of soccer, games and sharing tables, the common humanity was all any of us could see.  

GO: Southwest Key is the largest network of shelters in the United States and are located in multiple states. Also, you don’t have to search long to identify a detention center in your city. 

3. Act According to Your Convictions

Having gained both an academic and experiential understanding of this crisis, there are plenty of ways to take action. Here are a few suggestions for you and/or your community:

  • Foster/Adopt: There are now organizations and ministries facilitating the foster and/or adoption process of these kids. This is a VERY tangible way for the Church to be the Church. Imagine if we weren’t waiting for the government to care for these kids, but taking action ourselves to solve this crisis by opening our doors and hearts?
  • Donate: Search organizations who are caring for these kids and offer your finances or material resources.
  • Advocate: Call your representative and tell them the Church supports the care of these children and that this crisis must be viewed as a humanitarian crisis politically.
  • Educate: Invite those closest to you and the leadership within your Church to academically and experientially educate themselves on this issue.  Offer them tangible steps towards redemptive engagement.

In the way that Jesus opened his arms to children when those in power told him to do otherwise, may the Church open its arms to the children on our doorstep who are so desperately in need of love, dignity, healing and hope.

 

A Benediction of Hope

BorderPrayerIn a world currently enduring so much violence, pain and trauma, it would be easy for us, the People of God, to stick our head in the sand of discouragement.

Instead, let’s pray this together:

May we daily submit ourselves first and foremost to the rule and reign of Jesus, praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

May we, the people of God, choose to live fueled by the hope Resurrection rather than held captive by the fear of death. 

May we, the people of God, choose to rightly place our allegiance in Jesus and his kingdom rather than become slaves to the kingdoms of this world.

May we, the people of God, choose to embrace the way of the Cross and freely give away power for the flourishing of others as we join God in the world he is making. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as our human family endures a season of trauma, may your image rise in each of us so that we can offer and receive love in the most unexpected people and places.  Amen

(de)Escalating Violence and the Human Story in Israel/Palestine

Jerusalem-Day3-145I was sitting in the airport the other day listening to yet another account of the current events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Almost mechanically, the lips of the news anchor spilled out words like terrorists, extremist, escalating violence, detention, kidnapping, hatred, protest, etc. 

It was as though they were telling a story of some otherworldly reality that had virtually no human implications. It was all the stuff we are supposed to hear about the Middle East, so it successfully affirmed stereotypes, assumptions and prejudice.  

In hearing all this, I was deeply troubled and saddened. Since the most recent violence flared up with the kidnapping of three young Israeli’s a few weeks ago, I have been in touch with my friends who actually live, work and play in the midst of this reality that is so often spoken of in the callused, mechanical way of the news anchor. 

In the context of genuine relationship, I asked one Christian Palestinian couple how they are holding up in light of everything. They said it has been horribly difficult as many of those around them experience so much pain and injustice in the form of detentions, home invasions and even death. It is becoming hard not to hate. 

Continuing, “But we know that if we turn to hate, we will lose our soul.” After quoting their morning reading of Martin Luther King Jr and the words of Jesus in Matthew describing their call to love their enemies and forgive those who persecute them, they closed with the request, “Just keep praying.”

Another friend, a Jewish Rabbi, was recently on a bus with his family when the windows shattered and a molotov cocktail was thrown inside. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Rather than pursue the myth of redemptive violence, his “revenge” took the form assembling an interfaith prayer gathering in Jerusalem for the peace of the city. 

My friend, John Moyle, recently described an interaction between an Israeli and Palestinian family who have lost loved ones in the conflict:

Earlier today, two Palestinian friends of Oakbrook Church joined five Israeli friends of Oakbrook in a visit with the family of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three Jewish students who was murdered in the West Bank a few weeks ago. A circle of chairs was arranged so that the group could speak together in a more intimate setting. Hundreds of other people waiting to greet the family circled around this gathering to listen in on the conversation. Many people were significantly moved by both the sincere gesture of sorrow by the Palestinians and their warm reception by the bereaved Jewish family. 

On the way out, the aged grandfather came out to shake their hands, and a couple of lines about hope for peace were exchanged. The grandfather asked, “Do you have hope for peace?” One Palestinian responded, “I lost my brother in this conflict. I got shot by a settler … and I dream of peace. If we lose our hope we lose the chance to live.” The grandfather listened, his eyes welling up with tears, and he swayed closer and closer towards his Palestinian guest. A sparkle of light, a place where two hearts touched. A very powerful moment. 

In the midst of conflict, the prophetic presence of peacemakers is stronger than ever. Within the Just Peacemaking paradigm (developed by a mentor of mine, the late Glen Stassen), the only way to slow the building cycle of violence is to choose practices of de-escalation. In other words, until someone is willing to respond to an act of violence with a lesser degree of violence (or none at all!), things will continue to get worse. 

This is why, in the face of building violence, there is no more radical, prophetic or heroic action than that of choosing not to get even, but getting creative in love. When people have every right to be angry and seek revenge violently, choosing to deescalate violence through creative initiatives for peace tells us that another world is possible. A world with a King who was enthroned not through violent revenge, but through taking violence upon himself for the flourishing of others.  

What are the implications?

You may lose the war. You may not get the results you want. You may get killed.

But as my friends said, you will keep your soul. And, maybe, just maybe, this will lead the “enemy” to de-escalate as well. There are plenty of historical examples of mutual de-escalation not only on an individual level, but on a national level in times of war.   

As the cycle of violence builds in Israel/Palestine through acts of revenge and retaliation, we must shine a light on those who are intentionally choosing to put their lives on the line through actions of de-escalation. We know that hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence, but we trust that the seeds of love returned in the face of hate and violence will root deep into the soil of renewed relationship.

In the end, we trust that Jesus, the peacemaker, is still at work. In fact, I believe he is speaking louder than ever to the world through the faith of committed peacemakers embedded in this conflict. In a world that magnifies the acts of hatred, violence and division, we must acknowledge their faithfulness and celebrate the redemptive work that is unfolding as a result.

Together, let’s pray for the peacemakers. And pray against the myth of redemptive violence and it’s destructive ends. Most importantly, let’s choose to act like these remarkable people in the conflicts we find ourselves in right here at home.   

RESOURCES:

This is a moment where those of us in the West have the responsibility to expose ourselves to diverse media outlets. There are major agendas at play and we must be savvy in how we construct reality. Here are a few articles that offer some nuance and hope in the midst of a difficult reality. 

Best overview of the current crisis I’ve read. “As a Jew Living In America, the Past Week Has Changed Me Forever.”

The most beautiful interaction that has come out of this crisis. “Slain Israeli teen’s uncle consoles murdered Palestinian’s father.”

Another remarkable interaction. “Families of Slain Israeli and Palestinian Teens Turn to Each Other for Comfort.”

Short video of the mother describing her reaction to her son, a U.S. Citizen, being detained and beaten without conviction by the IDF.

 

My Dad, Grief and Groans of New Creation

10485921_10203840097473557_4389962877608429835_nI’m sitting in my dad’s hospital room as a write this. Having just endured open-heart surgery, I have never seen or experienced him in this current state. Last night, as my sisters and I stood with him in the ICU singing, praying and telling him stories of his grandchildren, the only form of communication he could muster was a pained groan. He could hear us and was mentally strong, but to those with whom he loves most in the world, he could only offer a groan. Albeit, even a groan was a heroic effort on his part.  

Anyone that knows my pop, knows a man who is physically strong and extremely healthy. When he got out of surgery, one of my best buddies joked, “He’ll be hunting elk by morning. I’ll bet he’d bag one and carry it six miles in a blinding snow storm too.” 

As I watched him struggle for each breathe and squirm in pain from the torment his body had just endured, I thought to myself, “Surely, this is not the way creation was intended to function.” My dad, the one who is always the strong (yet compassionate) rock for his family, friends and coworkers is reduced to a groan? Really? If ever I thought there was something wrong with the world in its current iteration, it is this moment.  

And then I was reminded of something the Apostle Paul said some 2000 years ago. After Jesus had come to bring about a whole new reality (kingdom) as was embodied in his life, death and resurrection, Paul describes this reality as New Creation (II Corinthians 5). While the rightly ordered Creation was undone in Eden (and the following cast of characters in the Genesis story), it was re-ordered in Jesus. Jesus is the first born of this New Creation (rightly ordered world) and we not only anticipate what is to come, but begin to catch glimpses of it in the here and now (see note at bottom of post). 

Back to the Apostle Paul. He described this anticipation as a “groan” (II Cor 5). Not only are individuals “groaning” to be healed and restored, but the whole of creation is “groaning” to be rightly ordered back to its original design. 

Indeed, creation is not fully functioning in the way it was originally created to function. We don’t have to look far for this reality to be made real. 

Broken families.

War.  

Natural disasters. 

Economic inequality.

Individual and systemic racism. 

…my dad lying on an operation table. 

But, the story isn’t over. In fact, it is just beginning. 

And in the meantime, we groan. We groan for families to be reconciled. We groan for wars to end around conference tables rather than battlefields. We groan for the earth and its systems to be restored. We groan for all children to have an equal opportunity for employment. We groan for the day when diversity is seen as an asset rather than a liability.  

For us, we listen to my dad groan and imagine a day where his grandchildren cover him like a blanket. We groan for his physical strength to once again match his emotional, mental and spiritual strength. We groan for the making of many more memories that remind us of who we are and who we are becoming as we join God in healing a broken world. 

In our groaning, no niceties or clichés will do. Groaning is painful. It is deep. It is real. It is not about creating false assurances. It is about pouring out our guts in the hope of what is to come. It is about looking for signposts of a new reality. A reality where tears are wiped away and hope is found. 

Until then, we groan and trust that the New Creation brought about in Jesus will be the New Creation we begin to see, taste and experience today. 

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NOTE: A better interpretation of “New Creation” in the New Testament is “Renewed Creation.” In the same way that Jesus body was not destroyed and resurrected as some other worldly creature, Creation will not be destroyed and replaced with something different. What we see now is what heaven/New Creation will look like. But in this reality, all the busted and broken realties will be renewed to their original form. 

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