Israel/Palestine

7 Lessons About Peace From My Time in the Middle East

998309_10152222403097492_17879176_nHaving just gotten home from guiding another The Global Immersion Project Learning Community deep into the lives of the unheralded heroes in the Holy Land to learn from their often untold stories, I am processing emotions, thoughts and reflections that will soon bud into a renewed set of practices at home and abroad. I have now been to Israel/Palestine quite a few times and it would be easy to think the experience becomes mechanical or normal or whatever. Well, for me, that simply hasn’t been the case. We encourage our participants to enter the experience in the posture of a learner rather than a hero. I try to do the same, and in doing so, am continually convicted, challenged and inspired by our remarkable friends and peacemakers embedded within this conflict. 

Here are 7 learning’s that have risen to the surface since landing back on home soil:

1. It’s About a Holy People, Not a Holy Land

There is no place on earth that has exploited human story and experience for the sake of a tourist “experience” more than in the Holy Land. Millions and MILLIONS of people go to the Holy Land each year seeking a holy experience, but fail to actually interact with the Holy People of the land. Now, I’m not saying a Holy Land pilgrimage is evil or bad. No, they are incredible and allow us to tangibly interact with central places and experiences central to our faith story. I’m a history/geography nut, so I totally get the value of this! But, and this is a big BUT, many of these tours inherently place the inhabitants of the land as tour guides in our “holy land experience” rather than seeing them as the very source of our holy land experience. It’s like going to Disneyland and as we run to each ride, our only encounter with the human staff is as they strap our seat belt around us before yet another emotional high.  

Not only is this model of tourism unsustainable, it is unjust and insulates us from the realities of those living within Israel/Palestine. Bottom line, as followers of Jesus, is is our responsibility to turn our primary attention to the people of the land rather than to the land itself. Not only does this honor our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, it creates the space for us to encounter not only the work God has done, but the work he is doing

Note: There are more and more organizations that have identified the brokenness of the tourist industry in the Holy Land and are leading “ethical” tours in this region. In addition to TGIP, see Telos, MEJDI & even Rick Steve’s!

2. Forming Peacemakers is Hard

My primary role in leading these experiences is that of teacher and coach. Being a peacemaker does not equal picking a side and trying to get people to align with you. Firstly, no conflict is that dualistic and secondly, that would be far too easy. Being formed as a peacemaker is learning how to place yourself in the center of the pain and tension of conflict and highlight the humanity that exists within. It is about walking with people toward conflict transformatively rather than picking a side or running from the conflict all together. 

As our participants see and experience the pain and injustice that exists in this region, there is a natural pull to pick sides and get really pissed off. The opposite extreme is to see the conflict, be so overwhelmed with its complexities and want to simply walk away. Neither option is the work of peacemaking and my (and my partner, Jer Swigart) work is to walk with people towards a more constructive place in their formation, which usually means confronting the evil within ourselves before confronting the evil around us. It is ridiculously difficult!!

3. Enemies Cease to be Enemies When You Look Them in the Eye

The Western world has become quite content with allowing sound bites and images to tell us who our “enemies” are. Without leaving the comfort of our own lazy boy chair, we talk and act as though we have a nuanced understanding of who is our friend or enemy. Not only is this unhelpful, it is does not allow us to see and celebrate the humanity we share with all of God’s children. 

We spent an afternoon in conversation with one of the most “extreme” ideological and polarizing characters in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Although I disagreed not only with much of WHAT he had to say, but HOW he chose to say it, I was struck by his humanity. He’s just another guy like me who deeply believes in his cause and those impacted by it. At the end of our conversation, I thanked him for his time, congratulated him on his newest grandchildren (We’re friends on Facebook, so I was in the know!) and gave him a hug. All the rhetoric and posturing went out the door and we saw each other as fellow humans. It’s really hard to have “enemies” when you look them in the eye.

4. Choosing Non-violence Doesn’t Equal the Avoidance of Bloodshed. 

It absolutely bends my brain when I hear arguments that choosing non-violence in the face of violent conflict is somehow soft or weak. As we learned from peacemaker after peacemaker who is faithfully choosing to face violence with creative acts that subvert and disarm systemic violence and war-making, I was both inspired and convicted. It was inspiring in that it was in these stories that the story of Jesus was BY FAR the most tangible and real. It was convicting in that I was confronted with my own tendency toward violence. I want to live the Jesus way that calls me to set down my weapons and pick up my cross, but it is hard. It is scary. And to be honest, it doesn’t always “work.” In other words, non-violence doesn’t equal the avoidance of bloodshed. Like Jesus, rather than it being my “enemies” blood, it would be mine. I suppose that is why I’m convinced the work of peacemaking is not only a way of life, it is discipleship. 

5. Violent Conflict is Very Real, but We Choose How We Engage It

We intentionally go to the center of this often volatile conflict because it is the best classroom, filled with the best instructors for the things that make for peace. Sometimes the conflict feels a bit far off from everyday life both in Israel and in the West Bank, but on this trip, it became more real that ever. There were three different instances where protests, clashes and violence unfolded within steps of us. It culminated with our hotel being hit by tear gas canisters and tanks rolling through the road at the bottom of our steps. 

As these incidents unfolded, I was stuck by the reality of violence AND the very tangible choice we have in how to engage it. Again, not an easy choice, but a certainly a choice in our discipleship journey. 

48053_10152222376937492_1409313618_n6. Brotherhood Has Nothing to do with Borders

While with our dear friends at the House of Hope in Bethany (in the West Bank), Jer and I were given what could be the most moving “award” I have ever received. We were honored as “Brothers for Peace” and given a plaque that read: 

“For being ambassadors for Christ, passionate peace builders, and partners in building bridges…reviving hope…and making the future…”

I could have never imagined a reality in my life where I would consider one of my dearest friends to be a person who lives half way across the globe in a reality and culture that is 180 degree different than my own. But, I am glad to say that reality has come true with my friend Milad, a Christian Palestinian who has given his life for peace in the midst of a reality that knows very little of peace. This is not a one way relationship where I simply go to “serve” him. No, he often “serves” and teaches me far more of what it means to follow Jesus than I teach him. It is a genuine, mutually edifying friendship. It’s crazy the types of experience and relationships you build when you follow Jesus into the places you’ve been called. What a gift.

7. When the Church Embraces Her Vocation as an Instrument of Peace in the World, Wrong Things Will Begin to be Made Right.

It is both terrifying and convicting hearing from person after person living in the Holy Land (Israeli and Palestinian) how much of an impact the American Church has on the continuation or the resolution of the current conflict between Israel & Palestine. They, very tangibly, feel the impact of our theology and politics being played out on their streets, in their homes and shaping the future of their children. Whether we like it or not, this is the reality and we have to take it seriously. For too long (about 100 years specific to our engagement in this region), the Church has given more allegiance to war making and nationalism that it has to the Kingdom of God and the Way of the Cross. Thankfully, the tide is turning and our friends in the Holy Land are celebrating our realignment with peacemaking and reconciliation as is central to the Mission of God and embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus 

I’m a more convicted than ever that the Way of Jesus, and the Church as an embodied manifestation of this Way, is the most constructive way to bring about peace in the world. In other words, when the Church embraces her vocation as an instrument of peace, wrong things will begin to be made right in the world. What an honor to be part of and worthy cause to give our lives to!

Our Obsession with Violence & the Stories You’re Not Supposed to Hear

Banksy ArtUpon my recent return from the Middle East (with The Global Immersion Project), I was struck more than ever before at our Western infatuation around military aggression, violence and division. Not only are these the primary narratives we are fed through our major media outlets, they are the narratives we subconsciously embrace through the latest bestseller, box office hit or video game.  Violence, death and division have become normative. We are becoming numb to the very things that we – as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation – are to turn from as Resurrection People.  It is as though there is a strangle hold on our on our ability to see and participate in the stories of healing and new life.  

As surprising as this may be, embedded in the midst of these conflicts are endless stories of hope that never make the latest headline or sound bite.  And in the times I’ve followed Jesus INTO these places of conflict, I continue to encounter stories of peace and hope that embody the gospel message, stories by real people, happening right now, in places usually known only for conflict, violence and death. 

Meet Shaul, a Jewish Israeli who lives in a settlement in the West Bank.  When a group of young men from his town threw a Molotov cocktail in a taxi filled with a Palestinian family from a neighboring Arab Village, he chose to go to the hospital where they were being cared for.  He sat with the family, apologized for the incident and took responsibility for the terrible act because as a member of the community at fault, he considered himself complicit in the violence. 

Meet Milad & Manar, a Christian Palestinian couple who live in a small Muslim town in the West Bank. Seeing a narrative of violence and division taking hold of many of the youth in their town, they started an organization that teaches peace and reconciliation through art and vocational training.  They are now a bright beacon of hope among their neighbors who not only support and encourage their work, but do anything they can to get their kids into this program. These former hotel room cleaners are now not only running an organization that is radically changing the tide of their town, they are finishing their master’s degrees in reconciliation and non-violence.  

Meet Roni & Moira, a Jewish Israeli and Muslim Palestinian who have both lost loved ones in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Rather than demonizing a whole people group as a result of the loss they endured, they choose to sit and mourn with those who are supposed to be their “enemy” because it is in that space that they experience the most healing.  It is in the midst of shared grieving that reconciliation is taking place and a movement towards a shared future is bursting forth.  

We do grave harm to these regions and the people within them when we fail to highlight these gritty, subversive and everyday movements of hope in the midst of conflict.  As followers of the great Reconciler, we are to be ambassadors of hope.  

We have a responsibility to tell THESE stories.  

In fact, when we don’t -- and instead spend the majority of our time fueling the escalation of fear and division -- we not only fail our heroic brothers and sisters working for peace in these regions, we fail to reflect the Christian hope we have been entrusted to advance. 

Now back at home, I am again blanketed by news that only tells one fraction of reality, but thankfully I know there is much, much more to be told. I think of my friends, my role models, my teachers who are living out the most redeeming faith in the very places we often deem as irredeemable.

May we begin a new movement.  A movement marked by hope.  A movement that humanizes people rather than demonizes. A movement marked by God’s continued presence in and among the cosmos, rather than his removal from them.  A movement that is rooted in reality, which sparks our divine imagination for what God desires for the world. 

An Inconvenient & Unlikely Experience of Peacemaking

OrthodoxJewishManWe often associate the work of peacemaking with grand political agreements or far out euphoria that really isn’t worth our time and effort.  The more I understand the work of peacemaking through the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I realize peacemaking isn’t a far off ideal, but the very real and tangible realities we choose to live into each day.  

I’m currently in the Holy Land to dive deep into the places of conflict to learn from the peacemakers embedded within.  It would be easy for me to think the “peacemaking” stuff would wait until I got deep into the West Bank or in an Israeli Settlement, but no, it began the moment I got off the plane.  

I was the first person on the Sheruit (mini bus taxi) headed to Jerusalem.  As I picked out my ideal seat, I settled in to soak up the culture and geography in our ascent into the Judean hill country toward Jerusalem.  Minding my own business, the bus began to fill up with other passengers; a couple from Spain, two younger women appearing to be on pilgrimage and 4 or 5 Orthodox Jewish men.  As I settled in, the bus driver tapped me on the shoulder and began talking to me in Hebrew.  He quickly realized I was an English speaker and proceeded to ask if I would be willing to move from my prime seat in the front to the very back, middle seat.  I was a bit confused until I took a second to assess the situation.  

All the Orthodox men were looking at me and I realized that the only seat left for the last Orthodox man to come in the bus was next to a woman in this back middle seat.  Knowing that Orthodox Jewish men aren’t supposed to sit next to woman, this was an issue.  I was in no way obligated to move, but my choice became quite clear.  I could stay in my seat and put my Orthodox friend in a precarious spot that would have led to further chaos among everyone on the bus, or I could give up my prime seat and take the back, middle seat that would probably lead to carsickness.  Whether good intentioned or just feeling a bit intimidated by everyone starring at me, I picked up my stuff and gave the man my seat. 

Naturally, the woman who he wouldn’t sit next to was quite offended and confused.  We talked a bit and it turned to friendly laughter.  

A few minutes later, another Orthodox man came in and was faced with a similar situation that would have had him sit by another of the woman on the bus.  Before the situation could turn to what we had all just experienced, I quickly grabbed up my stuff and once again moved to a strategic seat that would keep all the Orthodox separated from the women.  

It may sound silly or insignificant, but these micro acts of peacemaking matter.  They not only do honor to the traditions and convictions of others, they reflect the best of our faith and tradition as followers of Jesus.  As we dropped off each man at their respective homes across Jerusalem, they looked at me with genuine gratitude and said, “Thank you.”

In the Holy Land, the temptation is to tune out the modern realities of everyday life and transport oneself back into the historical; which is understandable!  Even as the interaction unfolded above, we were driving through the land where the ancient Philistines lived near the coast, into the foothills and up into the Judean hills where Jerusalem rises above it all. These are important realities that are a significant part of a pilgrimage as we connect with earlier parts of our faith story. With that said, the Jesus Way always requires us to put human relationship above any mental time warp that may cause us to disengage from the realities surrounding us.  Yes, we can worship through history, but worshiping through loving humanity is our primary call and vocation.  

The work of peacemaking is everyday and unfolds in all of life.  Even (if not especially!) in these seemingly insignificant micro actions of selfless love.

Why is the Holy land such a dynamic place to be formed in this way? Because there is a collision of dramatically contesting worldviews and traditions.

We must listen. We must learn. And we must act while being the presence of reconciliation Jesus called us to be. 

Christians and Muslims: Shall We Dance?

HouseofHopeKidsThere is no doubt that the global relationship between Christianity and Islam is strained.  Although both are monotheistic faiths (religions that worship only one God) who share much of their history and family lineage (all the way back to Abraham), there have been many political, cultural and social realities over the years that have driven their followers away from each other rather that towards one another.  
 
Many Christians quickly associate Muslims with terrorists who instigate heinous crimes among unknowing civilians in the West. 
 
Many Muslims quickly associate Christians as power hungry imperialists who kill hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Arab world to benefit their political agenda.  
 
While these events have tragically happened in our lifetime, they CANNOT be our primary lenses through which we view one another.  Not only is it inaccurate to the majority of the followers within each faith, it is reduces our ability to pursue genuine relationship.   
 
When we buy in to the political rhetoric, polarizing ideology and blind prejudice we lose our ability to have a divine imagination for what God desires for humanity. When we fail to view others primarily through the lens of a shared humanity and as co-image bearers, we miss out on sacred Kingdom moments.  We lose our ability to be agents of reconciliation and miss out the some of the best work God is seeking to do in and through his people.  
 
What Do We Do?
 
We listen 
 
When in doubt on how to better love someone with a different worldview or religion than you, it is safe to say that our first response should always be to listen.  Whether we admit it or not, we have all acquired presuppositions, stereotypes (some accurate; others not at all) and expectations that we project onto people.  We must first choose the posture of a humble learner who willingly sets aside misinformation we carry with us so we can begin to reform our worldview in light of genuine, human interaction.
 
We choose relationship
 
When you physically know and have relationship with someone of a different faith, it changes everything about how you understanding and engage the faith and its followers.  When we fail to allow for the nuance and complexities that exist in real time interactions we undermine and undervalue the dynamics of real life relationship.  You will quickly find that those with the strongest opinions who demonize and stereotype others are the very same people who don’t have any interaction or friendship with the people they demonize.  As they should, relationships offer the type of grid through which we can genuinely love and be loved.  
 
We seek forgiveness 
 
We have to come clean with the fact that the worst of our faith has radically misrepresented the best of it.  We are all part of a faith family and when your racist, war-mongering uncle does something hateful to your neighborhood, whether we like it or not, he represents the rest of the family to those around us.  In the same way, the worst of Christianity and Islam has often been given the most attention and created the most divide.  We have to acknowledge our inherent complicity and seek forgiveness.  I don’t know how many times my Muslim friends have apologized for the terrorist acts of their religions’ extremists.  My friends are embarrassed and assure me that the extremists don’t represent Islam or the majority of it followers.  In the same way, I have to acknowledge the ways my faith family has demonized, fueled hatred and violently imposed itself on those in our global village.  It is in the posture of forgiveness that we become equals and can begin to move forward in friendship.  
 
We Dance
 
I recently invited some of my friends from America (with The Global Immersion Project) to meet some of my friends in the Middle East who run a non-profit in the West Bank that promotes peace and reconciliation among the youth of Palestine.  Their staff is made up of both Christians and Muslims and they not only work together hand in hand under a common vision, they are like brothers and sisters.  This video gives a small picture of what unfolded in the exact place where hatred, fear and violence are “supposed” to rule.  Rather, peace, common joy and new relationships stole the day.  Such is life when we move forward as people who celebrate a common humanity.  
 
What happens when you get Christians and Muslims in the same room around a common vision of reconciliation?  Well, we dance…
 

Forming Leaders For Neighborhood Life in the Global Village

The Global Immersion Project from The Global Immersion Project on Vimeo.

TGIP_logoThose of you that have been following my life and work through this platform have heard of an initiative I co-founded a couple years ago with my friend Jer Swigart called The Global Immersion Project.  After lots of refining, on the ground experience and clear leading of the Spirit, this little idea/dream has birthed forth into something transformative and lasting.  We have been blown away by the response not only from individuals, but from organizations like World Vision, Fuller Seminary and many others.  More than anything, we are thrilled by the individual response and transformation from both the local peacemakers we have come alongside in Israel/Palestine and the American leaders who have participated in our formal 3-month Learning Lab that cultivates in a 2-week immersion experience into conflict in Israel/Palestine.  
 
Fusing my passion and calling to be a voice for international reconciliation and my everyday practice of forming missional leaders, TGIP’s mission is to cultivate everyday peacemakers through immersion in global conflict. Not only did Jesus call all his people to the vocation of peacemaking (Matt 5:9), he was deeply grieved when his people failed to live out these very tangible, practical ways that make for peace (Luke19:41,42).  In short, we hope to resource an entire generation of leaders with the practices that make for peace.  Not only will we be a presence of reconciliation globally, we will resource leaders to live, love and lead as everyday peacemakers in the way of Jesus back in their neighborhoods.  
 
This week, we formally “unveil” this important work and would greatly appreciate your support by both joining our social media outlets AND by helping us share our work through your personal networks.  
 
1. Check out and share our promo video embedded in this post.  
2. Learn more about TGIP by visiting our re-launched & newly branded website
3. Follow us on Twitter at @globalimmerse
4. “Like” our Facebook Page
5. Join our mailing list for exclusive updates and content.  
 
In Jesus, as the ultimate peacemaker, we acknowledge that there is nothing glamorous about the work of peacemaking.  It is gritty, subversive and requires everyday actions.  Friends, this work can no longer be outsourced to politicians or blind idealism.  As followers of Jesus, we must faithfully live into our vocation as agents of reconciliation fueled by the hope of New Creation.  
 
May we be a people who no longer run from conflict, but follow Jesus right to its center with the practices that make for peace.
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