The Global Immersion Project

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.

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.  
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