violence

(de)Escalating Violence and the Human Story in Israel/Palestine

Jerusalem-Day3-145I was sitting in the airport the other day listening to yet another account of the current events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Almost mechanically, the lips of the news anchor spilled out words like terrorists, extremist, escalating violence, detention, kidnapping, hatred, protest, etc. 

It was as though they were telling a story of some otherworldly reality that had virtually no human implications. It was all the stuff we are supposed to hear about the Middle East, so it successfully affirmed stereotypes, assumptions and prejudice.  

In hearing all this, I was deeply troubled and saddened. Since the most recent violence flared up with the kidnapping of three young Israeli’s a few weeks ago, I have been in touch with my friends who actually live, work and play in the midst of this reality that is so often spoken of in the callused, mechanical way of the news anchor. 

In the context of genuine relationship, I asked one Christian Palestinian couple how they are holding up in light of everything. They said it has been horribly difficult as many of those around them experience so much pain and injustice in the form of detentions, home invasions and even death. It is becoming hard not to hate. 

Continuing, “But we know that if we turn to hate, we will lose our soul.” After quoting their morning reading of Martin Luther King Jr and the words of Jesus in Matthew describing their call to love their enemies and forgive those who persecute them, they closed with the request, “Just keep praying.”

Another friend, a Jewish Rabbi, was recently on a bus with his family when the windows shattered and a molotov cocktail was thrown inside. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Rather than pursue the myth of redemptive violence, his “revenge” took the form assembling an interfaith prayer gathering in Jerusalem for the peace of the city. 

My friend, John Moyle, recently described an interaction between an Israeli and Palestinian family who have lost loved ones in the conflict:

Earlier today, two Palestinian friends of Oakbrook Church joined five Israeli friends of Oakbrook in a visit with the family of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three Jewish students who was murdered in the West Bank a few weeks ago. A circle of chairs was arranged so that the group could speak together in a more intimate setting. Hundreds of other people waiting to greet the family circled around this gathering to listen in on the conversation. Many people were significantly moved by both the sincere gesture of sorrow by the Palestinians and their warm reception by the bereaved Jewish family. 

On the way out, the aged grandfather came out to shake their hands, and a couple of lines about hope for peace were exchanged. The grandfather asked, “Do you have hope for peace?” One Palestinian responded, “I lost my brother in this conflict. I got shot by a settler … and I dream of peace. If we lose our hope we lose the chance to live.” The grandfather listened, his eyes welling up with tears, and he swayed closer and closer towards his Palestinian guest. A sparkle of light, a place where two hearts touched. A very powerful moment. 

In the midst of conflict, the prophetic presence of peacemakers is stronger than ever. Within the Just Peacemaking paradigm (developed by a mentor of mine, the late Glen Stassen), the only way to slow the building cycle of violence is to choose practices of de-escalation. In other words, until someone is willing to respond to an act of violence with a lesser degree of violence (or none at all!), things will continue to get worse. 

This is why, in the face of building violence, there is no more radical, prophetic or heroic action than that of choosing not to get even, but getting creative in love. When people have every right to be angry and seek revenge violently, choosing to deescalate violence through creative initiatives for peace tells us that another world is possible. A world with a King who was enthroned not through violent revenge, but through taking violence upon himself for the flourishing of others.  

What are the implications?

You may lose the war. You may not get the results you want. You may get killed.

But as my friends said, you will keep your soul. And, maybe, just maybe, this will lead the “enemy” to de-escalate as well. There are plenty of historical examples of mutual de-escalation not only on an individual level, but on a national level in times of war.   

As the cycle of violence builds in Israel/Palestine through acts of revenge and retaliation, we must shine a light on those who are intentionally choosing to put their lives on the line through actions of de-escalation. We know that hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence, but we trust that the seeds of love returned in the face of hate and violence will root deep into the soil of renewed relationship.

In the end, we trust that Jesus, the peacemaker, is still at work. In fact, I believe he is speaking louder than ever to the world through the faith of committed peacemakers embedded in this conflict. In a world that magnifies the acts of hatred, violence and division, we must acknowledge their faithfulness and celebrate the redemptive work that is unfolding as a result.

Together, let’s pray for the peacemakers. And pray against the myth of redemptive violence and it’s destructive ends. Most importantly, let’s choose to act like these remarkable people in the conflicts we find ourselves in right here at home.   

RESOURCES:

This is a moment where those of us in the West have the responsibility to expose ourselves to diverse media outlets. There are major agendas at play and we must be savvy in how we construct reality. Here are a few articles that offer some nuance and hope in the midst of a difficult reality. 

Best overview of the current crisis I’ve read. “As a Jew Living In America, the Past Week Has Changed Me Forever.”

The most beautiful interaction that has come out of this crisis. “Slain Israeli teen’s uncle consoles murdered Palestinian’s father.”

Another remarkable interaction. “Families of Slain Israeli and Palestinian Teens Turn to Each Other for Comfort.”

Short video of the mother describing her reaction to her son, a U.S. Citizen, being detained and beaten without conviction by the IDF.

 

Raising Girls In A World Where They Are Less Than Human

I have two daughters. 

They are little spark plugs of utter joy and complete chaos. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They remind me to view the world through child-like wonder. They remind me that I am not what I do, but who I am. They teach me what selfless love actually looks like…everyday…day after day…early morning after early morning…nasty crap diaper after nasty crap diaper. They make me realize how much I have to learn about parenting and our place in the world. 

Most every night from the moment they were born, I have quietly held them in my arms or rested my hand on their back while they sleep and prayed for them. 

I pray for their continued breath. I pray for their development as little, unique human beings. I pray the Spirit of God to fill them and empower them. I pray the Lord’s Prayer over them. I pray for them to be protected from evil. I pray for them to love those who aren’t often loved. I pray for them to live confidently into who they have been created to be, free from the pressure of imposed reputation and expectation. 

I pray for their past, present and future. 

In learning to love these little girls, I began to ask more and more questions about the place of women in the world, in the Church and in everyday life. So many realities that I could have ignored in the past (not that I should have!) are now front and center as I think of my babies becoming little girls who become women apart of a diverse global village. 

IMG_7749As in most things (parenting, theology, the Church, hospitality, etc), my wife, Janny, is about two years ahead me in asking these hard questions about the place of women in the world. Watching her study, teach and advocate on issues pertaining to the flourishing of women, I have been convicted, challenged and inspired.

Evaluating my own complicity and ignorance led me to realize that for a guy who advocates so strongly for the value of a global kingdom worldview, I am radically narrow in who I consider authorities in my life. In other words, most scholars, thinkers and practicioners I have studied are white males. No offense to my white male friends (thankfully I dodged that label with my Scandinavian heritage…I’m technically a “pale male.”), but I needed to spend a lot more time learning from the life, teachings and perspectives of women around the world. As a father of two girls, a husband and global citizen seeking the shalom of God in and among all of humanity, I have no choice.

So, this year I have committed to intentionally learning from women (authors, teachers, neighbors, etc.) any chance I get. In fact, The Global Immersion Project Learning Lab I’ll be leading to Israel/Palestine this Fall will solely focus on the role of women peacemakers in the Holy Land.

As I began to crack the surface and open my eyes to the plight of women world-wide, I quickly discovered that many scholars, faith leaders and advocates would consider the treatment of women as the leading injustice in the world. From rural villages in the majority world to urban centers of the West, when there is dysfunction, brokenness and abuse, it most often falls on women.  

The dysfunction, brokenness and abuse isn’t reserved to far off villages or traditions, it extends to our doorstep. From systemic poverty to sex trafficking to employment prejudice to disempowerment and shame within the Church.  

RoseBdayParalleling my learnings, my little girls continue to grow, develop and form their view of the world, God and humanity each and every day. Our youngest, Rosie, recently turned one and we invited our close friends, neighbors and family to celebrate and bless her young life. 

Our community surrounding us, I rested my hands on her sweet little head and prayed this blessing over her life:

Rosie you are so full of life, wonder and innocence. I bless you to live fully into the unique woman God has created you to be. I bless you to be one who is not only empowered, but one who empowers. I bless you with the gift of walking with a community that daily stumbles toward Jesus and participates with him in healing a broken world.  

In a world where women are often demeaned, discredited, abused, oppressed and treated as less that human, I bless you with the courage to be one who reassigns dignity to those who have lost it. I bless you to be a voice for the voiceless. I bless you to have an eye for injustice and move boldly toward it with the practices that make for peace. 

Rosie, my sweet daughter, I pray that you will lead the way in teaching me, us and the whole world what it means to live into who you were created to be while giving yourself to the flourishing of others. 

RESOURCES:

Here are a few resources that I have read/watched recently that have been especially impactful. 

Jesus Feminist -- Rather than offering cynical critique, Sarah Bessey simply invites us to full life in Jesus. The most hopeful, constructive and compelling book I’ve read in years. 

Half the Church -- Helpful theological reflection on the role of women in the Church past and present. Further, a good introduction into the plight of women world wide and the opportunity for the Church to be mobilized as an instrument of peace.  

Half the Sky -- This documentary offers first hand exposure to the global inequality of women. It is so jarring, it makes the film hard to watch. Which is why it’s so important we are exposed to it. 

 

Left Behind, Failed Peace and the Human Implications of (bad) Theology

LordJimFlickrCreativeCommonsThrough 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.

Something I have learned in the classroom of real life relationships with Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land is that our theology in the West has direct implications for the everyday lives of those in the Middle East. Often ignoring the remarkable movements of peacemaking, reconciliation and collaboration that are sprouting like mustard seeds of hope across the Holy Land, we often choose only to amplify of the violence, discord and disintegration of the region.

Why is that and what theology might we be allowing to consciously (or often subconsciously) own our perspective on the events in the Holy Land? In the wake of yet another failed peace negotiation between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and in front of the latest Left Behind movie about to hit theaters, this question is especially relevant. 

One Christian leader recently shared on Twitter: “Watching events in #Israel . All those hellbent on destroying Israel playing directly into Biblical prophecy. #almostcomical

There are few perspectives that have done more harm for the cause of Christ over centuries of Church history than the one expressed above. We could get into why this has significant theological holes that lead to a fatalistic mentality by discussing the role of Apocalyptic literature found in the second half of Daniel, Mark 13 and much of Revelation, but that is for another time and place (see notes for further resources).

Here is the question we must ask: As followers of Jesus, how does speculating about the eschaton (Final Things or “End Times”) help us live into our vocation as active participants in the restorative Mission of God? We are to be a people who are marked by our love of God and neighbor. Choosing to view violence apathetically (or worse, with excitement of what it may mean for the future!) is anti-Jesus and anti the mission he invites us to extend on his behalf.

If we look at the Middle East, specifically the Holy Land, primarily through the lens of “prophecy fulfillment” then we are unable to first and foremost look at its inhabitants as humans loved by Jesus. We reduce Image Bearers into pawns within a divine drama. Within Church history you will see “this is the end times!” being proclaimed dozens of times. These pronouncements are nothing new; at one point Napoleon Bonaparte was thought to be the anti-Christ. In the end, this theology fosters a loss of humanity both in those we condemn and in ourselves. We become less that human. 

What if instead of adhering to this fatalistic eschatology we choose to live into a realized eschatology? In other words, what if we understand the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as eschatological events? In the Christ-event the end becomes now. In Jesus’ inauguration as King of the Kingdom, he sits enthroned as one who seeks to bring about restoration and reunion between God and the cosmos not through violent overthrow, but through suffering and self-sacrifice. When Jesus announces the in-breaking of the Kingdom in Mark 1, the end collides with today.

No, this doesn’t mean that everything is going to be bright and rosy, but it does mean that our future is one of hope that was already fully realized in Jesus. Our job isn’t to project how our world with decay before finally being restored, but to participate in the restoration God continues to bring about even (if not especially!) in the places we least expect.

Notes:

Fatalistic Theology -- Humans have no roll to play in God’s Mission other than to save disembodied souls for an otherworldly heaven. Things will get progressively worse and violent until Christ returns to save us from a fallen world. This is rooted in a rather new theology (late 1800’s, early 1900’s) propagated by John Nelson Darby, called dispensationalism.

Eschatology -- The study of the “End Times” or “Final Things.”

Realized Eschatology -- The view that the End Times aren’t only a distant event in the future, but that, in Jesus, the end becomes now. In other words, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were decisive and his announcement of the Kingdom of God was actually a proclamation of God’s redemption unfolding in real time and space. With that said, I think it more accurate to say, “Partially Realized Eschatology” in that we clearly don’t live in a perfect world…only Christ’s return will make the redemption project fully realized.

Further Theological & Historical Resources -- My friend, Kurt Willems posted a recent blog with a list of great resources to consider as we move deeper into this. Many on his list have deeply informed my perspective as well.

This piece was first posted here on my friend, Tony Jones, blog.

Gay Marriage, World Vision and a Unified Church?

1375245_10152323713434676_205055056_nIt has been a tough go for the Church in the United States over the past couple months. The name calling, division and posturing reached a deafening volume last week in the wake of the World Vision controversy around employing those in gay marriage. 

Noise. 

Massive amounts of energy poured into proving our “rightness” and your “wrongness.”

Relationships severed. Most without ever having created the space to share a meal and simply listen to one another.

Social media. Interviews. Articles. Press releases.  

Noise. 

There have been so many chiming in on this thing that I saw no need to jump in and, well, to be honest, I’ve just been sad. Sad at the failed state of discourse within the Church. Sad at the demonization. Sad that hungry kids across the world were losing their access to basic needs to live as a result of our inability to live, love and lead…together. 

I’m not against heathy dialog, disagreement or even conflict (if dealt with transformatively rather than violently…and violence takes many more forms than bloodshed). I’m actually quite for it and have given my life to training the Church for the work of conflict transformation. 

The mission of God is reconciliation and the vocation of God’s people, the Church. When we spend more time attacking each other rather than attacking the areas of brokenness in our world, we become a reflection of anti-kingdom. 

Anti-Jesus. 

Anti-Missio Dei.

How we live as the Church is a direct reflection of who we follow. 

But then something happened.

Our little faith community, which gathers for worship around our table and in our living room, has been walking with leaders from churches all over our city. Last night, we invited them to come worship with us.

What did that look like?

It looked like sharing a long meal around one table where we told stories of pain and stories of hope. We laughed, we held each others children and we washed dishes…together. 

It looked like spending time in silence reflecting on our own brokenness and seeking forgiveness.

It looked like reading the Scriptures and encountering a Jesus who when tempted with power and prestige, chose humility and self-sacrifice. 

It looked like praying in one voice for the good of our neighborhoods and city. 

And how did it end?  

By going around the room and blessing each other to live more fully into our identity as sons and daughters of the Father. To go forth and extend a message of reconciliation, first in ourselves, and then to a world in need of wrong things being made right. 

In a Church that is enduring so much division, these experiences of unity can seem radical and prophetic. While they may be prophetic, I don’t think they are all that radical. No, this is actually how the body of Christ is designed to function. It is not a new thing, it is simply a return to our identity. 

All that to say, I’m not feeling as sad. 

At least for today, I’m reminded that we are part of one much bigger Story that doesn’t end with us and our broken tendencies toward in-fighting. It is a Story of reconciliation that was set forth in Jesus and won’t end until all is restored.  

Thank God.  

The Church may be going through a rough patch, maybe even an identity crisis, but I still believe it is intended to be God’s primary instrument of peace in the world. The road to reconciliation isn’t easy, and at times it feels far too slow, but as we all submit to the self-sacrificing ways of Jesus, I’m more certain than ever it is the road we are stumbling down. 

The time in my living room may have only been a mustard seed of hope, but we all know about mustard seeds.

Here’s to a new season submitted to Jesus and joining, TOGETHER, in the world God is making.

—--

Here’s a list of other bloggers contributing posts related to healing the divides this month:

7 Lessons About Peace From My Time in the Middle East

998309_10152222403097492_17879176_nHaving just gotten home from guiding another The Global Immersion Project Learning Community deep into the lives of the unheralded heroes in the Holy Land to learn from their often untold stories, I am processing emotions, thoughts and reflections that will soon bud into a renewed set of practices at home and abroad. I have now been to Israel/Palestine quite a few times and it would be easy to think the experience becomes mechanical or normal or whatever. Well, for me, that simply hasn’t been the case. We encourage our participants to enter the experience in the posture of a learner rather than a hero. I try to do the same, and in doing so, am continually convicted, challenged and inspired by our remarkable friends and peacemakers embedded within this conflict. 

Here are 7 learning’s that have risen to the surface since landing back on home soil:

1. It’s About a Holy People, Not a Holy Land

There is no place on earth that has exploited human story and experience for the sake of a tourist “experience” more than in the Holy Land. Millions and MILLIONS of people go to the Holy Land each year seeking a holy experience, but fail to actually interact with the Holy People of the land. Now, I’m not saying a Holy Land pilgrimage is evil or bad. No, they are incredible and allow us to tangibly interact with central places and experiences central to our faith story. I’m a history/geography nut, so I totally get the value of this! But, and this is a big BUT, many of these tours inherently place the inhabitants of the land as tour guides in our “holy land experience” rather than seeing them as the very source of our holy land experience. It’s like going to Disneyland and as we run to each ride, our only encounter with the human staff is as they strap our seat belt around us before yet another emotional high.  

Not only is this model of tourism unsustainable, it is unjust and insulates us from the realities of those living within Israel/Palestine. Bottom line, as followers of Jesus, is is our responsibility to turn our primary attention to the people of the land rather than to the land itself. Not only does this honor our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, it creates the space for us to encounter not only the work God has done, but the work he is doing

Note: There are more and more organizations that have identified the brokenness of the tourist industry in the Holy Land and are leading “ethical” tours in this region. In addition to TGIP, see Telos, MEJDI & even Rick Steve’s!

2. Forming Peacemakers is Hard

My primary role in leading these experiences is that of teacher and coach. Being a peacemaker does not equal picking a side and trying to get people to align with you. Firstly, no conflict is that dualistic and secondly, that would be far too easy. Being formed as a peacemaker is learning how to place yourself in the center of the pain and tension of conflict and highlight the humanity that exists within. It is about walking with people toward conflict transformatively rather than picking a side or running from the conflict all together. 

As our participants see and experience the pain and injustice that exists in this region, there is a natural pull to pick sides and get really pissed off. The opposite extreme is to see the conflict, be so overwhelmed with its complexities and want to simply walk away. Neither option is the work of peacemaking and my (and my partner, Jer Swigart) work is to walk with people towards a more constructive place in their formation, which usually means confronting the evil within ourselves before confronting the evil around us. It is ridiculously difficult!!

3. Enemies Cease to be Enemies When You Look Them in the Eye

The Western world has become quite content with allowing sound bites and images to tell us who our “enemies” are. Without leaving the comfort of our own lazy boy chair, we talk and act as though we have a nuanced understanding of who is our friend or enemy. Not only is this unhelpful, it is does not allow us to see and celebrate the humanity we share with all of God’s children. 

We spent an afternoon in conversation with one of the most “extreme” ideological and polarizing characters in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Although I disagreed not only with much of WHAT he had to say, but HOW he chose to say it, I was struck by his humanity. He’s just another guy like me who deeply believes in his cause and those impacted by it. At the end of our conversation, I thanked him for his time, congratulated him on his newest grandchildren (We’re friends on Facebook, so I was in the know!) and gave him a hug. All the rhetoric and posturing went out the door and we saw each other as fellow humans. It’s really hard to have “enemies” when you look them in the eye.

4. Choosing Non-violence Doesn’t Equal the Avoidance of Bloodshed. 

It absolutely bends my brain when I hear arguments that choosing non-violence in the face of violent conflict is somehow soft or weak. As we learned from peacemaker after peacemaker who is faithfully choosing to face violence with creative acts that subvert and disarm systemic violence and war-making, I was both inspired and convicted. It was inspiring in that it was in these stories that the story of Jesus was BY FAR the most tangible and real. It was convicting in that I was confronted with my own tendency toward violence. I want to live the Jesus way that calls me to set down my weapons and pick up my cross, but it is hard. It is scary. And to be honest, it doesn’t always “work.” In other words, non-violence doesn’t equal the avoidance of bloodshed. Like Jesus, rather than it being my “enemies” blood, it would be mine. I suppose that is why I’m convinced the work of peacemaking is not only a way of life, it is discipleship. 

5. Violent Conflict is Very Real, but We Choose How We Engage It

We intentionally go to the center of this often volatile conflict because it is the best classroom, filled with the best instructors for the things that make for peace. Sometimes the conflict feels a bit far off from everyday life both in Israel and in the West Bank, but on this trip, it became more real that ever. There were three different instances where protests, clashes and violence unfolded within steps of us. It culminated with our hotel being hit by tear gas canisters and tanks rolling through the road at the bottom of our steps. 

As these incidents unfolded, I was stuck by the reality of violence AND the very tangible choice we have in how to engage it. Again, not an easy choice, but a certainly a choice in our discipleship journey. 

48053_10152222376937492_1409313618_n6. Brotherhood Has Nothing to do with Borders

While with our dear friends at the House of Hope in Bethany (in the West Bank), Jer and I were given what could be the most moving “award” I have ever received. We were honored as “Brothers for Peace” and given a plaque that read: 

“For being ambassadors for Christ, passionate peace builders, and partners in building bridges…reviving hope…and making the future…”

I could have never imagined a reality in my life where I would consider one of my dearest friends to be a person who lives half way across the globe in a reality and culture that is 180 degree different than my own. But, I am glad to say that reality has come true with my friend Milad, a Christian Palestinian who has given his life for peace in the midst of a reality that knows very little of peace. This is not a one way relationship where I simply go to “serve” him. No, he often “serves” and teaches me far more of what it means to follow Jesus than I teach him. It is a genuine, mutually edifying friendship. It’s crazy the types of experience and relationships you build when you follow Jesus into the places you’ve been called. What a gift.

7. When the Church Embraces Her Vocation as an Instrument of Peace in the World, Wrong Things Will Begin to be Made Right.

It is both terrifying and convicting hearing from person after person living in the Holy Land (Israeli and Palestinian) how much of an impact the American Church has on the continuation or the resolution of the current conflict between Israel & Palestine. They, very tangibly, feel the impact of our theology and politics being played out on their streets, in their homes and shaping the future of their children. Whether we like it or not, this is the reality and we have to take it seriously. For too long (about 100 years specific to our engagement in this region), the Church has given more allegiance to war making and nationalism that it has to the Kingdom of God and the Way of the Cross. Thankfully, the tide is turning and our friends in the Holy Land are celebrating our realignment with peacemaking and reconciliation as is central to the Mission of God and embodied in the life and teachings of Jesus 

I’m a more convicted than ever that the Way of Jesus, and the Church as an embodied manifestation of this Way, is the most constructive way to bring about peace in the world. In other words, when the Church embraces her vocation as an instrument of peace, wrong things will begin to be made right in the world. What an honor to be part of and worthy cause to give our lives to!

1 2 3 4 5 7  Scroll to top