Travel as Pilgrimage #2: Hearty Beards & Interfaith Dialog

My pilgrimage of expanded worldview and renewed eyes for God’s diverse and growing Kingdom takes us to London, England.  If your are just jumping into this series, read my introduction to the Travel as Pilgrimage series.

Speaker’s Corner

There is a park in the middle of London that has one area designated as “Speaker’s Corner.” When we first drove by it (in our huge and cheesy open air tourist bus…) I thought it was an area for politicians to come and give their shpeel on their proposed policy.   After driving by I found that it was a place where ANYONE was welcome to come, stand on a ladder or box of some kind and just let loose. They could talk about any topic to anyone who was willing to listen. This intrigued me…

We continued to tour the city, but intentionally came back to Speaker’s Corner. There we hundreds of people crowded around various speakers who were getting fired up on issues of war, religion and philosophy. It was interesting to note the overwhelming majority of discussions revolving around Islam and Christianity. There would be a Muslim on one ladder and a Christian on another a few yards away. In general, there was plenty of space in the middle of the speeches for public dialog. Someone in the crowd would shout out a point of contention and begin to dialog with the speaker in front of the masses. Others would join in and the discussion continued…

Occasionally a more heated dialog would take place that was a bit out of control and led to offensive words, but this was very rare. On one hand it was very saddening to see all the points of disagreement we allow to lead to relational disconnect. On the other it was really encouraging to see a group of people not only culturally “allowed” to speak in such raw ways, but willing to discuss and process in such a way. I have to imagine a similar spirit of honest dialog when Jesus was a kid speaking in the “temple courts.” We have drifted so far from this form healthy dialog in most of our cultures.

Beard to Beard Conversation

I stood intrigued by one of the speakers who was doing his best to disprove the existence of the Divine Trinity when a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what I believed. I began to share with him of my love for Jesus and my resolve to do my best to live out His ways on a day to day basis. I also mentioned that I didn’t necessarily relate with many of the “Christians” who have chosen to preach a message far from what I see as central to Jesus’ inaugurated Kingdom.  I asked him of his beliefs and he mentioned that he was a Muslim. He had a sweet beard, much more impressive than mine…

We began about a half hour conversation on the teachings of Jesus, the letters of Paul in the New Testement and the Mosaic Law.  He was a very humble man, with many great things to say and during our discussion quite a few people gathered around to listen in. Much of what he had to say had to deal with Pauline writing being inaccurate to the teachings of Jesus. He mentioned that if it weren’t for the books that Paul wrote, Christianity and Islam would be very similar.  Sharing back and forth I came to realize that we could learn alot from each other, but trying to convince each other was not going to get us anywhere. I explained to him that our conversation was great, but a debate was not what we needed. We shared what we believed and what we were most passionate about and respectfully listened. After acknowledging our mutual respect for each other we shook hands, thanked each other for the conversation and went on our ways. It was beautiful. A small piece of heaven on earth. Maybe if we create more contexts like this, there would be more communication and understanding and less hatred and violence…

Pilgrimage is less about a destination and more about interacting with the dynamic individuals and perspectives encountered along the way.

What conversations and individuals have deepened the insights of your pilgrimage whether at home or abroad?

Picture: This is a picture Jan apparently took during our conversation

8 Words That Broke My Heart

Having traveled through numerous Arabic speaking countries in the past few years, Janny and I have grown to enjoy the language and culture.  A couple months ago we drove to El Cajon, about 30 minutes east of San Diego, for a doctor’s appointment and noticed that all the signs were in English and Arabic, rather than the usual English and Spanish.

As we sat in the waiting room I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of the couple next to me.  It was a conversation I would have rather not heard and it broke my heart.  They were complaining about the signs including Arabic and the more they talked the more heated they got.  At one point, the wife said, “First it was Mexican, now it’s Iranian sh*%.” She went onto say even more “colorful” stuff that I won’t include here.  I couldn’t believe my ears and I was torn between tears and rage.

San Diego is a Sanctuary City which offers a home and fresh start for international refugees.  El Cajon has the second largest Iraqi refugee population in the U.S. as they host tens of thousands of people who have been displaced by the current war. The neighborhood adjacent to us is home to an equally large number of refugees from war torn parts of Africa.  In fact, numerous people who we serve with in NieuCommunties have walked alongside these families for 2 years to teach them English and assist them in integrating into a very new culture.  Just a couple weeks ago, Janny and Ruby (my wife and daughter) spent the day playing games and running relays with the refugee kids in this neighborhood.

These are God’s children and they have gone through stuff that I can’t even imagine. Many have lived in slums trying to escape death and persecution for 20+ years waiting for approval to move to the U.S.  They haven’t experienced a day of peace in their lives.  Once they get here, they have 8 months of assistance and then they are on their own.  Not knowing the language and culture, the odds are stacked up against them and many end up homeless.  The last thing they need are the prejudices of those like I ran into in the doctor’s office.

When we employ such polarizing rhetoric, we not only violate American ideals (other than Native Americans, we were all immigrants at one time), we fracture God’s dream for humanity.  When we understand Jesus’ attention for the Samaritans (Israel’s unwanted “half breed” after Assyria took the Northern Kingdom), we see that if He were on earth today He would be sitting at the dinner table with these modern refugees.  Reality is, in the lives of His followers, Jesus is on earth today and we are to take a seat at the table.

Are we going to sit at the table or remain in a bubble that only drifts farther and farther from the heart of God and the model of Jesus?

Thinking back, I mainly feel sad for the couple at the doctor’s office.  I am sad that they are aren’t sitting at the table and enjoying the feast of God’s diverse Kingdom.  And honestly, I know I have prejudices of my own I need to work on before I can point fingers at them.

Pic: Picture we took of a stop sign in Casablanca, Morocco.

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