Redemptive Violence

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.  

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.

Why I Went To A Sikh Temple Last Night

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we pulled into the parking lot of a local Sikh Temple (known as a gurudwara) last night, but I assumed it would be culturally enlightening and offer a glimpse into a worldview and religious tradition I have only sparingly engaged.  While yesterday was the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity for the victims and mourners of the temple shooting in Wisconsin, I felt deeply compelled to stand with them in their pain as a follower of the Prince of Peace.

Walking into the gurudwara’a courtyard holding my two-year-old daughter’s hand, my wife and two friends were immediately greeted by the priest with a handshake and smile.  He thanked us for coming and invited us into the experience that included a short service in the gurudwara and vigil outside to remember the six worshipers who were shot by a man that had never met them.  I can only speculate, but if this man would have engaged these people on a relational level at any point, he certainly would have reconsidered his actions.  

Much like the response of the Amish after the horrific schoolhouse massacre in ’06, the Sikh community has intentionally chosen to respond to by offering radical love and forgiveness.  Although somber, they carried a deep conviction to embrace the way of peace as retaliation for the death of these innocent victims.  

Having been handed a head covering and a candle, we slowly walked by the pictures of the victims and read their stories.  One, a women who had come to the United State only five years ago, worked 11 hours a day in a factory to raise enough money to support her family.  She was known for staying late at the Temple to make food for those in need and regularly sat at the bed of the ill in a local hospital.  Another was an 84-year-old man who had recently lost his wife and would walk two miles each day to pray at the Temple and serve food to the hungry.  The stories went on and on…

As we read and looked into the eyes of these victims, our hearts broke and we were transported into the life of those who often are stereotyped, persecuted and isolated because of their adherence to a faith tradition that isn’t “normal” to many of us in the West.  It was tragic, angering and painful.  

Gathering to start the vigil, one of the congregants walked up to us and again thanked us for being there and invited us to stay after for a shared meal.  Lighting our candles, the vigil began with a prayer and was followed by six different children reading the story of each victim.  To close, the priest led us through one more prayer, and speaking against the blind stereotype and prejudice that is pervading our country, said, “As Americans, this is how we learn about each other.”

Friends, we don’t compromise the integrity of our faith and convictions by engaging and standing with those of other faiths.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  When we stand in solidarity with those of other faiths – especially in times of tragedy – we embody the very best of our faith, namely the pro-people heart of Jesus

So why did I go to a Sikh Temple last night?  Because as a follower of Jesus I am called to stand with the victimized, the oppressed and hurting.  It is what I’m here to do and the very essence of who I am as one “in Christ,” to quote the Apostle Paul.  The victims don’t have to fit into our box or adhere to the same belief system, faith or worldview.  No, those are not things we are to concern ourselves with, because in then end, we are all humans in need of community and love.  In standing with people in times like these we get a glimpse into the New Creation that was set forth in Jesus’ Resurrection.  We are to be Resurrection people who reflect what God has in mind of humanity.  These are opportunities for us to be fully human.   

May we be a people who repent from blind prejudice and stereotype by diving deep into relationships with people that are “different” than us.  May we humble ourselves to learn from those that teach us how to seek reconciliation and offer radical forgiveness.  And may we always choose to first see others through the eyes of a Jesus who invites all humanity to his Kingdom banquet. 

Travel as Pilgrimage #5: I Saw Osama Bin Laden On A Train

After arriving on the coastal city of Casablanca (north Morocco), Jan and I were anxious to make it to the heart of the North African country.  With signs and voices only offering Arabic, we navigated our way to the train station and three hours later we made it to the bustling city of Marrakech…the heart of Morocco.

Walking through the massive bazaar (the Las Vegas of farmer’s markets), I was expecting Indiana Jones and his sweet hat to walk up at any moment.  Jan covered her head to fit in with the cultural norms and I just tried to temper my inner gringo.  It was a totally different world than we were used to and we loved it.

After having a snake wrapped around my neck for a picture and eating some authentic lamb and couscous, we strolled the market.   Immediately catching my eye was a little toy train that was running in a small circle.  There were two cars to the train.  On the first was Osama Bin Laden and on the one close behind was George W. Bush.  Bush was toting a massive weapon on his shoulder, which pointed towards Osama. We immediately felt uncomfortable, intrigued and somewhat entertained.  But this little toy was telling a powerful story of America’s perception and reputation.

So often America (both from a domestic and international perspective) becomes synonymous with Christian.  To think America is to think Christian.  Some would say this is a good thing…some would say the opposite.

This little train was a microcosm of a bigger narrative. Yes, it was a caricature, but the premise was hauntingly accurate.

Central to being a Christian is the acceptance of a vocation to follow Jesus.  But certainly Jesus would not have been wielding a massive weapon on his shoulder chasing the bad guys.  No, Jesus would have been wielding the Spirit as he sought the will of his father.

I think he asks us to do the same.

So that’s the good news.  It’s not simply about Christians finding the right leader to represent us to the world…it’s about each one of us representing Jesus to the world. It is about fully stepping into the vocation we have been called into as followers of the King of the newly inaugurated Kingdom.  Like Jesus, we are to mediate between God and humanity, while living out the values of the Kingdom.

A life marked by Jesus can redeem the negative perceptions (and realities!) that the world may have about Christianity.


Kevin and Charlie: Last Chapter

This is the last part of the story.  Thanks for jumping in and I hope it can be a helpful example of how to start putting storytelling to use within your teaching context.  Feel free to “pirate” this story, amend it for your audience and initiate some dialog on the myth of Redemptive Violence, Forgiveness and Restoration.  The book releases on Tuesday, Dec. 14th, so please support by picking up a copy and passing the word!  Catch up: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

After getting halfway to the meeting area and turning back to the safety of his cell, Kevin eventually built up the courage to turn around and walk toward his mother. He felt as though he were walking in a dream, and each step felt as though there were a ten-pound weight tied to his feet. After turning the final corner, he saw his mother sitting on the other side of thick glass and looking down into her purse. As she looked up, he sat down straight across from her. Both of their eyes filled with tears. She could sense that something profound had happened to her son, and he could see her love for him in her eyes.

In the twenty minutes they had together, they quickly shared stories and got caught up on the lives of family members. Kevin knew this wasn’t the first time she’d come to see him, as the guards notified Kevin of her presence each month—he never chose to see his mom. She slowly looked down and then back up to meet Kevin’s eyes. She said, “I’ve sat in this seat on the fourth Sunday of every month since you were put in prison. I knew you were probably angry with your father and me; we made so many mistakes. But I wanted you to know that I’ve always loved you, son.” Kevin was saddened that his anger and bitterness kept him from reading her letters and spending time with her during her visits. He’d missed out on so much.

They only had a few minutes left, but Kevin could see some concern in his mother’s eyes.  She said, “Kevin, I have to tell you that the cousin of the boy you killed has been put into this same prison. I don’t know anything else, but I’m sure he’s angry with you. So please look out for yourself.” Kevin’s heart sank, and for a moment he was filled with fear. But just as quickly, he felt overcome by a spirit of peace. He told his mother he loved her and forgave her. They parted ways as both cried again, but this time they were tears of joy.

As the months passed, Kevin and Charlie became the best of friends. And Kevin established a reputation among the inmates and prison employees as a respected and honorable man. One of Kevin’s favorite times of the day was when he’d walk around the back of the courtyard and feed the local stray dogs through the chain-link fence. Kevin would use the time by himself to think and pray while talking to the shaggy, four-legged creatures. He wasn’t sure if anyone knew he went to this secluded spot, until one afternoon when he heard a low voice call out his name. Kevin spun around feeling startled. Standing there were three guys who didn’t look all that happy. Kevin’s heart dropped when he realized who the guy in the middle was—Cory’s cousin.

The three backed Kevin up against the fence with the dogs yapping on the other side. Kevin could see that Cory’s cousin had his hand wrapped tightly around some kind of sharp object. Stuck between panic and divine peace, Kevin could think only of Jesus’ third way. Kevin had no desire to fight back and use violence to defend his cause, but he also didn’t want to give in to the certain death these guys intended. Surprising even himself, Kevin began singing—loudly. One of his favorite bands was U2, so he sang, “It’s a beautiful day . . .” It didn’t take more than a couple of seconds until one of the guards heard the loud singing and looked around the corner to see Kevin and the three men. Cory’s cousin hadn’t drawn the weapon, so the three men just backed away as if nothing was going on. The guard walked closer to them.

Kevin couldn’t help but smile. It was a nervous smile, but it was also a smile of hope—for a life that meant something. Kevin had been invited into the story of Jesus, and he couldn’t wait to experience it every day.

follow-up discussion and Questions

Have teenagers pull out the main “nuggets” from each teaching and write them on the board.

Break into small groups to discuss personal impact and application.

Discuss the role of family in your life—how have you dealt with pain, hurt, and bitterness? Do you still have a lot of pain, hurt, and bitterness in your life? How do you respond to those who hurt you physically, emotionally, and verbally? In what ways have you been “taught” to respond? In what ways can you respond using this third way (or Jesus’ Way) of retaliation? What examples in the world today show that we must either respond in a passive or violent way? What can we do to break that trend?

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