Israel/Palestine

How Should Christians Response to the Middle East Crisis?

The editors of Relevant Magazine asked to write a response to this question during the recent violence in Israel & Gaza.  I was especially encouraged by two things: 1. Relevant is inviting its readers to critically engage the Middle East conflict through the lens of Jesus. 2. The overwhelming response and engagement of readers on this specific piece.  For most, the conflict is easier to simply ignore, but these readers want to wrestle, think and live into a new reality.  

Here is an excerpt.  You can read the full article on Relevant Magazine’s website.  

As the conflict and many human lives hang in the balance, my heart is heavy.

Through my work with The Global Immersion Project, I have spent a significant amount of time over the years cultivating relationships among both Israelis and Palestinians as we partner together in cultivating a narrative of reconciliation.  As is often the case when we approach a people or place with the hopes of being/bringing the needed change, I have been the one most changed by my friends and colleagues who reside in the Middle East.  Behind so many of the subconscious stereotypes and prejudices I had acquired earlier in my life I began to experience the richness of friendship and brotherhood among people I had previously “known” only through the latest sound bite. 

From Orthodox Jewish Rabbis to Christian Palestinian scholars to Muslim Palestinian leaders teaching the way of nonviolence, these are my friends, brothers, sisters and partners.  

When my social media outlets began filling up with messages of fear, bloodshed and mourning my heart broke not only for a war half way across the globe, but for my friends. My teachers. My partners.  

A Jewish Israeli friend wrote, “Siren in Tel Aviv. Just spoke to my father from the shelter.”

My Christian Palestinian brother shared multiple laments, “My friends in Gaza’s latest status update:  “My Lord! This is enough! What is this?” “Lord protect us. What is this? Terror terror.” “The land is shaking.”

While many of these individuals are currently in immediate physical threat, a greater pain for them is seeing the seeds of violence being sown in the soil that they have tireless turned over for the sake of reconciliation.  

Was all their work worth it or does this mean it was all-pointless and that there really is no hope?
 
My heart not only breaks for my friends in Israel and Palestine, but it breaks because of the hateful stereotyping, racism and violent response being disseminated by Christians as they watch the news unfold and enter the discussion.

As followers of the pro-people Jesus, is this best we can do?  Is that a reflection of the Christian hope that was brought about by and through the acts of the Suffering Servant?  Have we lost our imagination that leads to the participating in the restorative mission of God for the cosmos?
 
Friends, we can do better.  We must do better.  
 
How then shall we respond?

Go HERE to read in its entirety.  

A Prayer for Shalom/Salaam in Time of Conflict

Violence has dominated the past 24 in Israel and Palestine (Specifically in Gaza). I have both Israeli and Palestinian friends who are intimately impacted by this reality. A massive number of both Israeli’s and Palestinians condemn the current military actions and remain committed to choosing the way of peace. As followers of the Prince of Peace, we offer a prayer of Shalom/Salaam (peace in Hebrew & Arabic) in this tense time of conflict.

Reconciler and Ruler of heaven and earth, hear our prayer.

We celebrate the work of your hands and your heart for all people.

Be with those who are currently mourning the loss of loved ones and give them a community to stand with in the pain.  Holy Spirit, protect their hearts from an inner violence that manifests itself in resentment, bitterness and hatred, which fosters further loss of life and broken relationship.  

Be with those who are paralyzed in the fear of an uncertain future. May they instead be fueled with hope amid conflict that mobilizes a movement of reconciliation and understanding.  Bring about a divine wave of humility among the leaders to pursue the way of negotiation rather than a posture of power.

May followers of Jesus in both Israel and Palestine live as salt and light in the center of it all.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Below is a timely and profound song from the Jewish artist Matisyahu who dreams of a reconciled future among Israel and Palestine.  

10 Things I Learned While in the Middle East

Hearing the story of Daoud at the Tent of Nations in West Bank

Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount time in the Middle East.  I no longer approach the time as a tourist, but instead seek out relationships and experiences as a listener who has much to learn about the way God is at work in contexts much different than my own.  In that posture, it has been remarkable how much I have learned and begun to integrate into the way I live, love and lead back in my neighborhood.  Theologian Paul Knitter describes it well when he refers to ones inherited worldview as a telescope.  No matter how objective we may think we are or desire to be, we all see the world through a specific telescope/worldview.  When we choose to look through the telescope of people who are “different” than us, we begin to get a more comprehensive picture of the world and the way God is at work within it.  

 
Leading our first Learning Community to the Middle East apart of The Global Immersion Project I recently co-founded, I was invited to take a look through the lens of friends’ telescopes who live amid conflict in Israel and Palestine. Here are some of my key learnings:  
 

1. Stories Over Facts -- No matter how many stats we present or information disseminate, there is nothing more powerful than being invited into and experiencing ones story.  Especially a story that shatters our stereotypes, prejudices and understanding of justice. 

2. Learning Happens Best Through Exposure -- Those of us in the West have unprecedented access to information for learning.  One step of exposure into lived (experienced) history brings about far more learning than read/heard history.   
 
3. Stereotypes Aren’t Broken Unless We Are Willing to Listen -- The posture of a learner makes ALL the difference in what they learn.  If we choose not to be transformed by the reality around us, we won’t.  Two people can actually listen to the same story and come out with two different responses based on their willingness to set aside their own presuppositions for the sake of humbly listening and learning from those of different persuasion. 
 
4. Being a Presence of Reconciliation is Only as Real as Your Weakest Link -- When walking the streets and into the homes of those living in conflict zones, you are not viewed as individuals, but as one community.  It only takes the words/actions/disposition of one within a community to compromise the presence of reconciliation we are committed to representing.  
 
5. Being Present And Returning Matters -- People who experience daily injustice often have people come see and experience their story.  These people often “feel sorry” for them and say their going to go home, bring attention to their situation and some even say they’ll come back to help their cause.  This rarely happens and does more harm that good.  Having advocated, stayed in constant contact and returned multiple times to my friends experiencing injustice in Israel/Palestine I can see in their eyes a building sense of partnership, care and belief in us and our work.  
 
6. Living, Loving and Leading Differently is Contagious -- Rather than pull into parking lots, our Learning Communities pull into driveways.  Rather than isolate ourselves from the areas of conflict and tension, we fully expose and immerse ourselves in it.  We wander far off the beaten path of Holy Land tourism.  People both in the States and inhabitants of the Middle East notice the difference and want to know more of why we’re doing what we’re doing.  Rather than follow in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land, we seek to encounter the people with whom Jesus footsteps led him towards.  That’s Good News and that’s contagious.  
 

Rabbi Eliyahu catching up with Muslim friend

7. Art of Peacemaking Requires Living in Radical Tension -- To be a peacemaker requires holding conflicting narratives in tension so we can be a presence of reconciliation in the middle of it all.  We compromise our ability to be peacemakers in the way of Jesus when we lose our ability to stand with people despite our differences.  

 
8. Sharing Tables is the Beginning of Sharing Humanity -- There is something sacred about sharing a meal with people who we have been taught to hate or disagree with because of the portrait we have been offered by the media, leaders or information in the West. It is in the conversation and shared life that exists around a table that we are exposed to the humanity of “the Other.”
 
9. How I Act in My Neighborhood Informs How I Act Abroad (and Visa Versa) --
I don’t know how many times we heard from locals in Israel and Palestine that our life, theology and politics in America have direct implications for their everyday life.  Some went as far as saying, “Until your theology and corresponding policies change, there will be no change here.” As a Learning Community, we have also been radically formed by our exposure and experience in the Middle East.  We see people, conflict and social realities differently so as to allow us to better live, love and lead like Jesus back in our neighborhoods.  
 
10. This Generation is Hungry to Live Differently -- Both the difference makers who participated in our Learning Community and the vast majority of the Israeli’s and Palestinians with whom we interacted with are committed to live out a new reality.  A reality that transcends blind prejudice, false assumptions and conflict that is based more on the fear of the past than in the reality of the present and future.  Amid the pain, violence and injustice there are individuals and communities that are offering a grassroots movement that is stirring up great hope and a new future.  

How To (and Not To) Respond to the Current Crisis in the Middle East

My heart is heavy.   

Every day for the past week, every social media outlet has told their version of the current uprising stretching across the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Yemen) .  Whether it’s pictures of Embassy’s burned to the ground, rioting citizens or highly politicized comics, the surge of content has been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.  And that’s because the events and corresponding responses have been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.  
 

Shared Meal in Middle East

My heart breaks because I know the events that are unfolding do not represent the majority of those who inhabit the Middle East.  I spend a significant amount of time in the Middle East and have built deep, life-long friendships.  Just two weeks ago I sat around a table and shared a meal with Christians, Jews and Muslims in the home of a devout Muslim family in this region.  A day after that, I served alongside Muslim youth workers who are promoting non-violence and reconciliation in the face of oppression and poverty.  On the same day I sat with an Arab Christian who embodied Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in dealing with daily injustice by saying, “We refuse to be enemies.”  Lastly, and what keeps playing itself over and over in my head, are the words spoken to me by a Muslim friend named Omar who lives in the Middle East.  He said, “Please give this message to all of your American friends. We (Arab Muslims and Christians) desire peace.  The violence you see in the news does not represent us.  It is not the majority, it is the smallest minority of extremism.  Please listen to our story and accept our friendship.”

 
I am now back in the States and am seeing that the fear, hatred and violence promoted by governments and media also being promoted by Christians in response to the events in the Middle East.  One Christian posted a picture of the world that had completely blown up the Middle East and labeled it “Ground Zero.”  The caption said, “There, I fixed it. Problem solved.”  This “solution” would mean the death of some of my dearest friends.  
 
My heart breaks because of the hateful stereotyping, racism and violent response being disseminated by Christians who in one breath proclaim the Jesus who calls us to love our enemies and in the next breath encourages their government to blow them up.  
 
As followers of the pro-people Jesus, is this best we can do?  Is that a reflection of the Christian hope that was brought about by and through the acts of the Suffering Servant?  Have we lost our imagination that leads to the participating in the restorative mission of God for the cosmos?
 
Friends, we can do better.  We must do better.  
 
How then shall we respond?
 
Grieve the loss of life. My heart breaks for the Americans (and their families!) who were killed in the violence.  Ambassador Stevens seemed to be a man who cared about people and did well at engaging the lives and stories of those he lived among.  He represented well what many Americans desire of foreign policy and relations.  His loss, and those of his colleagues, is a tragedy.  
 
Listen, Learn and Be Still.  We would do well to slow down and listen to the stories of others before telling their story for them.  Those that have stepped foot in other cultures (whether domestic or international) know how much we have to learn as products of each of our unique upbringings and world views.  Slow down, listen, learn and be still before jumping to words or actions that may do more harm than good.  
 

Generous Muslim Host

Have eyes for common humanity before common politics and religion. We all inherently know that the diversity of humanity isn’t going to allow for us all to perfectly agree on politics and religion.  Rather than look at people (again, domestically or internationally) through the lens of politics or religion, look at them through the lens of a shared humanity.  All humans were made in the image of God.  When we see Jesus in the eyes of “the other” it is much harder to hate, hurt and demean.  

 
Pray:  Pray for the healing of others, from all nations and religions. Pray for peace in places of conflict.  Seek forgiveness from our bling prejudice.  Ask for courage for those who promote Kingdom values.  Pray for new friendships to be cultivated among former enemies.  Pray for your/our enemies.  
 
Ask hard questions.  How might have my political or social involvement perpetuated or sparked some of the recent events?  Am I an objective observer or are there ways I can be part of the problem or part of the restoration?  Is the form of Islam that is being portrayed in the media an accurate form of faithful Islam or a simply an ideological counterfeit? 
 
Live a Different Narrative & Care for the Hurting Among Us. I have heard over and over again, “Oh, it’s those crazy, lunatic Muslim’s just doing what they do again.” It is in times like these that our role as pro-people people in the Way of Jesus must listen, learn and share a different story…a more true story of Islam and those in the Middle East.  Those of us that know and have experienced real life with the people who are now being labeled “insane terrorists” must bring to the dialog table the disconnect between perceived reality and reality. We must acquire important resources that will help us better step into this situation with eyes for common humanity, justice and the heart of God.  We must live into the narrative God desires for humanity, which inevitably will lead us to care for the hurting; whether grieving families who have lost loved ones or families/individuals who are experiencing hate and stereotyping in your neighborhoods because of the events half way across the globe. 
 
Let us begin that process now.

When All of Abraham’s Children Share a Table: A Moment I’ll Never Forget

Prayer in Hebron

Hebron is known as one of the most volatile cities in the whole region of Israel/Palestine.  Located in the heart of the West Bank, both Jews and Arabs have had roots here for thousands of years.  Having endured years of conflict, racism, violence and separation, Hebron’s inhabitants have been covered in a narrative lacking an acknowledgment of a shared humanity

It’s in the middle of such realities that our Learning Community (part of our organization, The Global Immersion Project) feels called to listen, learn and be radically present.  Through the art of friendship making, shared tables and storytelling, we desire to promote the just heart of God by being a people of reconciliation in the way of Jesus. 

It was this posture that landed us in the underground home of a local Muslim Palestinian family who is close friends with the Jewish Rabbi who was hosting us in the old city of Hebron (he is both a host and dear friend!).  Having prepared a beautiful and expansive Palestinian meal, they warmly invited each one of us into their home and said, “Today, this is your home.” 

Hebron is home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, namely, Abraham.  It is important to note that all three monotheistic faiths (Judaism, Christianity & Islam) acknowledge Abraham as their father/patriarch.  In other words, this is the physical place where religions not only collide, but the physical place where they share a very unique familial identity. 

Shared Meal in Hebron

Having taken seats around tables filled with diverse color, rich aromas and new faces, the Jewish Rabbi asked if I would share a blessing over the meal alongside himself and the Muslim home owner.  He said to the gathering, “We will now share a blessing over this meal lead by a Muslim, Christian and Jew.” 

Standing between my friends -- a Muslim Palestinian and Jewish Rabbi -- I prayed that this meal would be a picture of reconciliation found among the children of Abraham, because as a follower of the pro-people Jesus who came to bring restoration to all the cosmos, I have to belief this to be true. 

For me, it was a thin place; a place where heaven and earth were only thinly separated.  It was a microcosm of how humanity can interact when the best of all three monotheistic faiths are represented.  Further, as one who has given my life to the work of peacemaking and reconciliation, it was a moment and honor I will never forget.  In fact, it will fuel me to live more faithfully into the identity I have been given as one submitted to the life and teachings of the Prince of Peace in obedience to the great Reconciler.  

Sitting (on the floor!) around a table with people from all over the world and experiencing radical peace in a context whose reality is often the opposite, I got a glimpse into the heart of Jesus for humanity.  A humanity he so adamantly sought to highlight by being a presence of peace and reconciliation among people and in places that weren’t “supposed” to experience either.  

Friends, the construction of “The Other” is quickly dissolved when we enter each others’ homes & share a table.  We confront and acknowledge our common humanity.  This is not only true in the Middle East, but in the neighborhoods, cities and suburbs in which we inhabit everyday. 

May we be a people who instigate a revolution of shared tables that offer a foretaste of the Kingdom banquet being prepared by the Resurrected refugee from Palestine, Jesus. 

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