Thanks to our friend, John, and the Pacifica Institute, we recently hosted Muslim families for a Christmas dinner at our house. That’s right, Muslim families for a Christmas dinner. It was wonderful. The stated purpose of the dinner was to build bridges of respect, understanding, and friendship between Muslims and Christians—and it sure worked. We instantly have new friends and were honored to accept a return offer to visit their homes in the new year.
All of our guests came to the United States from Turkey, and as we talked over dinner it was sobering to sense the sadness in their hearts when they spoke of conditions related to terrorism in their home country. And it was even more sobering to sense the fears they live with in this country when the actions of religious extremists lead others to associate such terrible violence with the religion they practice and love.
Possibly my favorite moment of the evening came when one of our guests slipped money to our youngest daughter when she shared about her work in Kenya last summer with street kids from Nairobi slums. It seems that our guest has a soft spot in his heart for poor African children, and he couldn’t help but give money to support the Christian organization when he heard about the good work it is doing.
I shared with our guests the story from Kenya at this time last year when the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, commandeered a bus that held Christian and Muslim passengers. The terrorists demanded that the passengers separate by religion so they could execute the Christians, and the Muslim passengers, mostly women, led the refusal to answer by saying that if they would execute one they would have to execute all. They were neighbors after all. Miraculously, no one was killed.
Our guests had not heard the story and were visibly encouraged by it. One of our new friends said that such reactions should be the standard response.
I sense that many are wary of the concept of interfaith dialogue, thinking that it means a dilution of religious conviction—a sort of “I’m-okay-you’re okay” approach to religious belief. If you spend much time with any religious belief system you’ll realize that would be sort of silly. Instead, I have to wonder what is terribly wrong with moving toward a world where we have “join us for dinner” relationships across all sorts of lines that purport to divide us.
Sharing dinner in our homes with new friends would sure go a long way toward a world where the scene that occurred on that Kenyan bus will be the standard response to those who deal in violence. Not uniformity or watered-down beliefs, but neighborliness and solidarity for peace on earth and good will toward all. I am a Christian, and at this time of year we remember an angelic proclamation to a group of shepherds about such things. This particular dinner sure felt like a step in that direction.
Posted in Original Essays
Tagged al-shabaab, christian, christmas, courage, dialogue, dinner, fear, friendship, generosity, interfaith, kenya, made in the streets, muslim, nairobi, neighbors, pacifica institute, peace, relationships, religion, respect, table, terrorism, turkey, violence
My second post comes early this week because my friend, Tim, died, and I am heartbroken. His sweet wife, Peggy, called with the tragic news this morning. It is such a sad day.
Tim and I were close and shared many deep conversations. For me, this made him special, but from Tim’s perspective, it made me one of hundreds if not thousands of people who felt close to him. Tim had a way of creating space for deep, meaningful conversations, and all who responded to his invitation to “pull up a chair” helplessly found themselves baring their souls to this kind, sweet man.
Tim’s favorite part of his job was counseling people, mostly students, and I was privileged to be his office neighbor for the past four months. Today, several grieving souls made a pilgrimage to the place where they shared their deepest fears and greatest dreams to a man full of wisdom and love.
Last week, Tim popped his head in my office with a new idea. He shared that his typical approach to counseling students had always been to ask about their goals and dreams, which led to all sorts of meaningful moments. But he had a new idea. He asked what I thought about a new approach that asks students about their potential instead of their dreams. He thought that just might be the better approach.
I’m not sure what I loved more, the idea itself, or the fact that this counseling maestro never stopped refining his craft. Well, what I loved more was him.
Today, after absorbing the shocking phone call and then sharing the news with his loving colleagues, I walked into Tim’s office just to feel his presence. I breathed in the spirit of the room and silently took in the sights of the pictures and books and stacks of work waiting for him this Monday morning. And in that moment I noticed a little sticky note on the side of his computer monitor with the following notes: Reaching your potential – What is it? How to get there?
I am sad that Tim won’t be able to work this new approach like a street magician, but from this day forward I will use these questions with students to tap into the magic that was Tim Pownall. I am honored that he left me this final gift to use for good before moving on.
I fiercely disagree with Donald Trump’s assertion that the firestorm surrounding his 2005 remarks “is nothing more than a distraction” and strongly believe that the resulting conversations on misogyny and sexual assault (not to mention presidential choices) are significant and important.
Same time, somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand people are dead in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, and as a survivor/veteran/victim of Hurricane Katrina who was a beneficiary of intense public attention and the resulting flood of love and support, my thoughts are especially with those grieving families and all who have suffered from the storm.
Last week, as Matthew grew in intensity, our good friend, Hung, shared a sweet Facebook post that featured a picture from 2005 of cute kiddos working a lemonade stand at Pepperdine University for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It touched my heart since the cute kiddos in that picture eventually became friends, classmates, and youth group buddies of our youngest daughter who lost the only house she had ever known in that storm two thousand miles away. Who could have imagined that years later those same kids would be fast friends? I am certain that the money collected that day did not specifically rescue us from our homelessness, but as I looked at that picture, in my mind it was as direct a connection as if they had hand-delivered the cash seen sitting in that Tupperware container.
Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the great needs in this world and the inability to address them all. As a recovered victim with the luxury of looking back, I can say that the sentiment expressed in both the Quran and the Talmud that whoever saves one life saves them all rings true. And if we ever need extra motivation to take action, imagining that your pocket change will directly benefit someone you will come to know and love just might do the trick—even more so if you can sense how it will touch the heart of your Future Friend.
Go see “Race.” The critics apparently do not think it is the greatest movie in the history of movies, but the story of Jesse Owens is one of the greatest stories in the history of stories, so there. But be prepared. American race relations in the 1930s is not fun to watch, and then you encounter Nazi Germany. It is a tough, hard, heroic story well worth the price of admission, not to mention the attention of your heart.
I traveled to northern Alabama in June 2007 to speak at a church that had supported our church during Hurricane Katrina, and while there, noticed that the Jesse Owens Memorial Park & Museum was nearby. I had to go. Jesse, a grandson of slaves, was born into a family of sharecroppers in tiny Oakville, Alabama, and the museum grounds contains a replica of his childhood home. Mr. & Mrs. Owens had nine children in that tiny house, and the children had no beds. Eventually, the family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio, where life was bad, but better, and it was there that Jesse’s spectacular high school track and field performances catapulted him on to the world stage where he forever defied Hitler’s claim of Aryan supremacy.
This picture is my personal favorite from the museum (and my favorite scene in the movie):
The friendship that formed between blond-haired, blue-eyed Luz Long from Nazi Germany and African-American, Jesse Owens, from the United States in the long jump competition at the Olympic Games stands as a testament of hope for the world.
An article on ESPN.com shared the following quote from Owens: “It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler. You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again. He was killed in World War II.”
Eighty years after the 1936 Olympic Games, the world sure seems to remain a mess. But there is hope. There is always hope. And it begins when people defy social expectations and form the most unlikely friendships.
Posted in Original Essays, Uncategorized
Tagged 1936 olympics, alabama, berlin, friendship, hitler, hope, jesse owens, luz long, nazi germany, peace, race, reconciliation, track and field