Tag Archives: terrorism

Peace on Earth

img_4126Thanks 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.

Love Your Neighbor

If the world had a Facebook account, its relationship status would read, “It’s Complicated.” Unfortunately, my contribution to the dizzying conversation will not magically clear things up.

Mourning is the appropriate response to tragedy, but the proud defiance by ISIS in the most recent attacks in Paris does not allow the world to sit beyond a moment of silence before responding to the ongoing threat. I was traveling when the attacks occurred, and best I could tell, the talking heads apparently agree that the real ISIS threat is its ability to recruit homegrown terrorists everywhere. They emphasized everywhere.

Who is attracted to such a thing? It is far too convenient to ascribe the attraction to abstract “evil.” Evil is easy to condemn and easy to hate, but this is no DC comic book. Further, even calling the tragedies “senseless” is far too easy. The acts, unfortunately, make all too much sense to those who carry them out, and any hope of prevention requires us to seek first to understand. I propose that those attracted to ISIS across the world are people who feel deeply marginalized, outside, silenced, and unimportant in their respective communities, and that any hope of removing the threat at the critical grassroots level requires us to love and respect everyone.

I’m a pretty hopeful guy in general, but this one has me less than chipper.

It is a catch-22 at the top. The powers that be must condemn and respond to terrorist attacks and have a specific responsibility to stop those already plotting violence. That response, however, inevitably fuels those who already feel marginalized by those very powers. ISIS thrives on the strong response its actions generate. We should remember that the next time we celebrate a necessary response.

So, surprisingly, the real, long-term hope for the world is in the hands of its regular citizens. If you want to make the world a safe place beyond a temporary Facebook profile picture, the answer lies not in forming camps by religion, race, sexual orientation, age, or God forbid, political party. In fact, I suggest the exact opposite—that the answer lies in breaking down the social walls that divide us in Everyday World and caring for those who live on the other side.

Division fuels hatred. Reconciliation generates hope. My advice is to seek out the outsiders in your community, including those who may already be angry, bitter souls. Befriend them. Walk beside them. Listen. Care about their cares. That, my friends, is where you and I can make a real difference in this complicated world.