Travel

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…
 

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.  

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.  

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. 

Travel as Pilgrimage #6: Maybe Things Aren’t That Bad

Note: Sorry to miss last week’s post! If you are just jumping into the “Travel as Pilgrimage” series, here is a link to the intro blog.  Otherwise click the link on the right column for all the posts.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Tucked close to its neighboring countries of Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and lining the coast of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever been.  When Jan and I arrived in Dubrovnik – Croatia’s most famous city – we knew very little about the country and its people.  It didn’t take long for our interests to peak and our worldview to expand as our pilgrimage had inspired so many times before.  We really wanted to make our way into Bosnia, which was just 8-10 miles away, but unfortunately we ran out of time.

After joining a guided tour we strolled around the city, which is completely surrounded by massive stone walls which bumps up against the ocean that stretches across to the east side of Italy.  The guide, a women in her late 20’s, shared the history of her city with pride.  When she got to the events of 1991, things became much more personal for her. In the 1970’s, Dubrovnik completely demilitarized in an attempt to remain at peace.  Unfortunately, after declaring independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, it became the target of violence.

Bomb holes in wall of Dubrovnik

Reflecting somberly on the experience, our guide explained that 56% of the buildings were hit by bombings over the course of 7 straight months of attack.  She pointed to a nearby hill (See Pic: Bosnia is on the other side) saying that she and her family were in hiding for a year and a half during the war.  This was no longer history, it was her reality. She was 12 years old at the start of the violence and said she would look out the window of her hiding place to see the smoke of bombs on a daily basis. (Pic: Walls still had holes from bombings)

At 12 years old, my suffering was not getting the name brand basketball shoes I wanted (I wanted the Reebok Pumps, but had to get the Voit knock-offs…poor me!).  Yes, I did have real issues, but none of them were life and death.

Listening to her, I realized there was no way for me to understand the terror of her childhood, but I could choose to grow from the new perspective.

It made me wonder how big my issues would be if I placed them in proper perspective.  My world can become so small and revolve around so few people that I begin to believe my issues are much worse than they really are. When put into the perspective of my new friend who had grown up in reality of daily violence, does being 15 minutes late to a “really important’ meeting deserve my frustration, anger and anxiety? Should I really get that bummed out when the Giants lose four straight?  How about when that car doesn’t start moving after the light turns green or when the check out line just doesn’t seem to move?

If I fail to look outside my own story, I fail to put my issues in the perspective of humanity.  So many of our brothers and sisters around the world haven’t known a day of peace in their lives.  May we be thankful for the peace that is offered to us today.  May that thankfulness be reflected in our ability to place our story inside the bigger story of humanity and realize things may not be as bad as we make them out to be.

 

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