Worldview

(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.

 

When Immigration Takes a Human Face

goldenhillcafe1-300x199I recently looked out my front door and saw a woman sitting on the stairs of my patio. She was out of breath, sweaty and had a large basket next to her full of cans and plastic bottles to be recycled. She looked desperately in need of some rest and refreshment. I’m pretty good at ignoring people in need (sadly), but when they come to your physical doorstep, I couldn’t imagine not stepping outside to check on this woman. 

Opening our front door, she looked up at me with a bit of concern on her face thinking I might ask her to get off my patio. To calm her nerves, I simply sat down on the steps next to her and we exchanged warm smiles. Because she offered me a greeting in Spanish, I quickly realized she didn’t speak much English and I gave my best shot at speaking in Spanish. Over the next 10 minutes, we simply sat on my patio overlooking the main street of our neighborhood that runs in front of my house. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat in comfortable silence. Her name was Conchetta. Finally, I asked if I could get her some food and a cold drink and she quickly said, “yes.” 

After taking in some needed nourishment, Conchetta, offered me a warm smile filled with the richness of humanity and gratitude, and leisurely went back to work assembling the best of our neighborhoods “trash” so she could bring some life to her family. 

Our faith community has spent a lot of time over the years becoming students of our neighborhood. As a result, we discovered that roughly 60% of our neighborhoods’ residents are Latino (most are Mexican because of our proximity to the border) and a high percentage of those are undocumented. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that my new friend, Conchetta, is undocumented.  

As the “immigration issue” continues to be discussed in our country, for me, it is becoming much less of a political talking point and much more about genuine, human relationship. They are my friends. They are my neighbors. They are humans beings who live with the same needs, desires and aspirations as the rest of us. They have kids, grandkids, parents, brothers and sisters. They are children of a God who reigns over a global kingdom. A kingdom that was inaugurated in a Jesus who spent his life crossing borders to tangibly love the outsider and remind them of their sacred identity as sons and daughters of the Father and citizens of his kingdom. In the context of relationship, like I now have with Conchetta, “they” become “us.” 

Obeying the greatest commandments of loving God and neighbor leaves my faith community and me with no choice but to pursue this issue with radical love and moral obligation. This isn’t yet another political debate to be waged in such a way that widens the partisan divide. It is a human reality with human implications that the Jesus Community must be waging peace right in the middle of.

May we walk with our friends -- whether immigrants, ex-convicts, orphans, etc. -- out of the shadows and into our homes, around our tables and begin co-creating a better future in the neighborhoods, cities and world in which we have each been entrusted.  

—--

NOTE: After reading this, I have had multiple people inquire about what they can do. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Build friendships. Friendship not only humanizes issues, it moves us to action.

2. The Evangelical Immigration Table is a great organization that offers resources, spiritual disciplines and tangible actions around a biblical view of immigration. 

3. Walk with your immigrant friends towards citizenship. There are courses we can take (offered by World Relief) that give us the credentials to offer immigration counseling that is desperately needed by those seeking citizenship.

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!

Smoking What We’re Growing: 8 Things That Happen When We Live (or Don’t Live) What We Talk About

1009756_10151692062394929_1314313101_nI was down in Mexico a few years ago for a gathering of peers who are leading faith communities around the world. It was a rich time of conversation, encouragement and visioning. 

Walking through a local Mexican neighborhood between sessions, something struck me. While those of us in the Minority World (often called the 1st or Western World) are thinking and talking about our theology, most of the folks in the Majority World (often called the 3rd World) have no choice but to simply live into their theology. Talking about our theology, faith and practice in lecture halls, church buildings and conference rooms is a luxury that the vast majority of Jesus followers in the world have no opportunity to participate in. 

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is reality. And those of us with this luxury better own up to it, because it is easy for us in the West to think we have a corner on the market of theology, which we then project (whether consciously or subconsciously) onto the rest of the world. But whose to say theology built in academia is any more valid than theology build in the realities of everyday life?

When I’m hanging out with my Jesus following friend who lives and serves in a West Bank refugee camp, it would make no sense for me to debate atonement theories, eschatological interpretations or the latest “hot button” issue. There is no time for my friend to concern himself with those things when right in front of him people are committing suicide from depression, going hungry on the streets and feeling the endless effects of war. My friend believes in the crucified and risen Jesus and is doing anything he can to live out the Jesus’ story in the place he has been entrusted. 

In this context, theological debates not only seem secondary, they seem like a distraction from faithful life and practice. 

Now, I’m NOT saying that academia, study and debate are bad things. No, they are essential for a robust faith than fuels the community of God for mission in the world. Personally, I am enlivened by academia and some of my most formative development has come about in this context. With that said, the classroom of real life relationships -- with those who live and practice in context FAR different than my own -- have been much more significant to my development than any lecture, book or debate. 

In short, I would argue that our theology must be as much formed and informed by everyday practice than it is by academic research. Now, I know there is no prefect balance here, but those of us in the West would do well to at least keep this in mind as we speak and write in our somewhat insular reality. 

Since I had this realization on the streets of Mexico, I have committed to only/primarily communicate “lived content.” “Theoretical content” is somewhat easy to come up with, it doesn’t require a lived expression and, to be honest, there is already WAY too much of this floating around. I want to be known for smoking what I’m growing (I’m sitting in Denver as I write this, so this metaphor seemed especially relevant. Don’t be offended).

As communicators (and we are ALL communicators whether we like it or not), producing “lived content” is an act of discipleship. We have to submit our words to the lives we are actually living as we stumble toward Jesus. 

Are we to be marked by our compelling words and thoughts or by our transformative actions embodied in the realities of everyday life? I don’t think it’s an either/or, but a both/and. 

Lists seem helpful, so here you go:

Damage of Communicating Only/Primarily Theoretical Content

1. We fall victim to a war of rhetoric. It’s easy to have strong opinions if they are divorced from embodied practice in the realities of everyday life. Think of all the ridiculous “debates” we see on social media that not only take away time from real life advocacy, but create the illusion that we are actually offering something constructive and helpful to the community of God. For example, it’s easy to “talk” about abortion or war or whatever. But are we walking with the single mothers who are most prone to abort their babies or just telling them not to do it? Are we only calling out militarism in our culture or actually living out an alternative?

2. Theoretical content is removed from reality and its implications for our global village. What happens as a result is we come out of our “classrooms” (seminary, churches, etc.) with all the “answers” and begin to project our words and opinions on others. It is not formed in the context of relationship and it is not only narrow-minded, it is destructive. 

3. Creates in us a false identity of who we’ve convinced ourselves we are rather than who we actually are created to be. When we talk more than we live, there is a temptation to form our identity around what we think or say rather than who we were created to be in the world. 

4. We live through others opinions of us rather than through a rooted set of practices that create space for us to live out true self and calling. When we communicate more than we live, we will inevitably open ourselves up to the opinions of others, whether positive or negative. If we aren’t rooted in everyday practice, it is easy to begin to believe we are who others say we are rather than our true identity as sons and daughters of the Father. 

Gift of Communicating Lived Content

1. Keeps us rooted in a community of practice. We can’t “go rogue” and begin to live an autonomous life than produces a bunch of content that hasn’t been refined by the fire of real life. 

2. Holds us accountable to lead with a way of life rather than an articulate vision. There are ALOT of good communicators today. While that is a gift, it can also be a curse. A good vision is only as good as the positive implications it has on the lives of those around us. 

3. Ignites the imagination and practice of those who hear you communicate. The world and the Church is STARVING for content that is actually being lived out. There are more resources based on theoretical proposals than ever before. What we need are stories that inspire and practices that sustain for the long haul.

4. Ultimately, we get to actually experience and live life to the fullest. Our most faithful expression of following Jesus is not spoken, but embodied. 

Producing “lived content” is not only my commitment, it is my struggle. And I don’t think I’m alone. Will you link arms with me and stumble forward together?

Syria: The Stuff No One Wants To Talk About

TGIP 13I have read countless articles from political, religious and ethical perspectives on why or why not the U.S. should militarily intervene against the Syrian regime. Most do a decent job evaluating the situation, but I am yet to read one that really puts the human element on the table as a deciding factor.

A few months ago I was going to bed in my hotel room in Tel Aviv when I saw the breaking news alert that there was rocket exchange between Hamas and Israel in and around Gaza. While I have been to many places in “conflict,” there is something much different about being somewhere that is only miles away from live fire. 

I started playing out the situation in my head: “What if this expands into a major conflict? Can I catch a flight back home to be with my family before it gets worse? I’m only 30-40 miles away from the active conflict, am I already in range sitting in this hotel room?”

Anxiety. Fear. Uncertainty.   

Now let me be clear, that experience of anxiety and fear is NOTHING compared to what most Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians or Syrians have felt in recent years (and MANY other populations). But -- even if only in some small way -- I could immediately feel the weight of pending war. It is palpable. It is crippling. And if I had my family with me, it would have potentially been unbearable.  

Reality is, I’m a product of Western isolation and security that has never put me in a position to experience the anxiety, fear and uncertainty of war. With the exception of refugees, military and limited segments of Americans, most of us haven’t. Yet, we are often the ones who get to determine whether or whether not others in our Global Village experience the realities of war. We read the latest headlines, hear a few sound bites and in the next moment passionately argue our views around the water cooler or dinner table.  

Let’s be honest, it’s easy to make decisions and take sides when you live half way across the globe from the actual conflict. We are so removed from the realities that it is impossible for us to fully embrace and confront the human elements of war.  

There is a family in Syria as I type this.  

The kids just returned home from school. It’s not like it used to be. No longer a place for rigorous academic learning, it has become a place of underlying fear at the daily violence. Further, the kids are now hearing that the largest military super power may start sending missiles their direction. 

When the father gets home from work, he tries to reassure his kids that everything will be ok, but he knows full well that they may never gather around the dinner table again as a complete family. Unsure what to talk about, he encourages them to prepare for their evening prayers (whether from the Muslim or Christian tradition) as a way to create a semblance of normalcy.  

They plead to God for peace.   

Imagine that being your family.

Of course, sitting here in the West, there are very few of us that could even pretend to know what that feeling is like, but let’s at least give it a shot. We have to. Our decisions and actions here in the West don’t just magically evaporate in a political vacuum or rallying cry on our favorite news station. Our decisions and actions have direct implications for humans beings just like you and me.

Yes, I know we are only shooting at military targets.

Yes, I know these people may have it worse from the Assad regime. 

Yes, I get that civilian death is a reality of war. 

I get it. 

While all those things could be argued against (which I won’t do here), all I’m proposing is that we enter the human reality for a moment before we begin waging our wars of rhetoric.   

It is beyond me how we as Christians could for one second try to talk about this decision outside the reality of real human beings, living in real time and space just like us.  

On a human level we now have a responsibility. 

On one hand, we can’t simply launch missiles into this region that kills innocent civilians (which they will) and then go eat a burrito and talk about our fantasy football teams.  

On the other hand, we can’t simply stand idle as tens of thousands of innocent civilians are being killed by a regime that devalues life.  

Friends, our decisions matter and all their complexities must be put on the table. Simple black and white, party line decisions have no place here. These are God’s children we are referring to and if we can’t sit around their dinner table at the end of another day of soccer games, school yard disagreements, work drama and everyday life, then we better at least do our best to make decisions as if we have.

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