A Special Luncheon

April 23, 2014 — Leave a comment

by Tim McDonell

We recently had the pleasure of putting on a “Quick to Listen” luncheon with friends from three local churches in Ventura County and friends from the Islamic Center in Oxnard. We met at an Indian restaurant in Ventura that is owned by a member of the center, a setting that provided an opportunity for us to meet and to ask questions about each other’s faith.

We have more in common than we know, dating back to Abraham, and this meeting gave us the opportunity to discuss misconceptions about Christianity and Islam in a non-threatening environment. By taking the time to meet our neighbors, new friendships can be formed. There may be many things we don’t agree on, but there is one thing that we do agree upon: God is great and He is our creator. He desires that His children love and care for one another. Our aim is to learn to love our neighbors as God loves us and to develop lasting friendships that will foster an atmosphere of trust.

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We Are Friends

April 18, 2014 — Leave a comment

by Martin Brooks

Most Saturday mornings Susan fixes a great breakfast. Friends arrive around 10. Sometimes as late as 10:30. Some are Iranian. Some are Palestinian. Others Turkish and Yemeni. We always have halal food for our Muslim friends. Most weeks they pitch in. We have traditional eggs and pancakes mixed with dolma, samoosas, hummus, and borek. Savory and sweet, somehow it all comes together over Turkish chai and American coffee. We were going to call it “Brunch and Share,” but we are friends, so most just call it breakfast. Fridays we send out a text message, “Are you coming to breakfast this week?” Six to ten usually show up.

“How did your week go?”

“Pretty good. Are you feeling better?”

Typical banter among friends. Susan is putting the finishing touches on the meal as I pour coffee and tea. Our friends flow in and out of the kitchen helping themselves to serving plates for whatever they brought that week. “Can I use the microwave to warm this up?”

Over breakfast, we never know where the conversation will go; movies or their graduate classes, kids, travel or world politics. “What did you bring this week?”

“This is dolma. It is grape-leaves with some rice and spices inside.” (Did you know making proper dolma is a test used to by families to evaluate a potential bride? Apparently, it needs to be small, the size of the little finger.)

Around 11:00 the dishes are cleared from the table, coffee cups are refilled, and the conversation turns to spiritual things. We have been reading through Matthew in the Bible.

“Where did we leave off last week?”

“We finished the section in chapter six about fasting.”

“OK, who wants to read the next section?” And off we go.

The readings nearly always remind our Iranian friend of a Persian proverb.

“Yes, we have something like that in Turkey, too.”

“Well, the Qur’an says….”

“What do you think Jesus meant when he said….?” It’s amazing what we learn from each other’s cultures and religions as our life experiences are compared and contrasted.

We had talked about seeking first God’s kingdom and how we should not have to worry about clothing and food and drink. Was Jesus just stating a general principle or making a promise? What about starving people in Somalia? Was their suffering due to God’s failure to provide or man’s greed and hoarding goods that were meant to feed the hungry?

“OK, Matthew seven. Who wants to read?”

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. 
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

“So what do you think? I understand the judging part, but what is this pearls and pigs thing? How does that tie into judging?”

“Sometimes when you share your deepest thoughts, people judge you. Maybe Jesus is saying you should hold back and not put those precious pearls out there for pigs who judge you and use it against you.”

“So Jesus said, ‘In the same way you judge others, you will be judged.’ Sometimes my Christian or Western friends get frustrated and say things like, ‘Why don’t Muslims speak out against terrorism?’ I know they do, but I am wondering if there is anything about not judging others in Islam.”

“Yes,” my Palestinian friend said, “Kafir.” He looked to our Turkish friend for confirmation. “Kafir” means unbeliever. If you say someone is “kafir” and they really are a believer, YOU will be considered “kafir” in God’s sight for making a false accusation.”

My Turkish friend gave an example. Fethullah Gulen spoke about Osama Bin Laden. He said, “Terrorism is inconsistent with the teachings of Islam and no one who participates in terrorism can be said to be Muslim. He did not specifically say Bin Laden was not a Muslim.”

In the context of friendship, we can talk about anything. God takes the conversations in amazing and frequently unexpected directions. We learn from each other’s cultures and experiences and perspectives. No one takes offense at the questions because we know we truly love each other. We are friends, and our friendship has stood the test of time. Tears are sometimes shed. Misunderstandings are clarified. Disagreements are acknowledged, and we remain devoted to each other. We are better off because we are friends.

When noon rolls around we close the Bibles, pack up leftover food and begin to look forward to next week. What will Susan fix? The Bible passage will tell us to ask, seek, and knock; and God will open doors. I wonder where this conversation will go.

 

What We Did in 2013

April 16, 2014 — Leave a comment

The peacemaking movement is officially well underway, and Peace Catalyst had a record-breaking year in 2013. We want to keep you in the know about what we’re doing, so we’ve put together this overview of highlights from 2013. This is the work of so many people who work with us, support us, and are starting peacemaking movements in their own cities, so let’s celebrate this move of God together!

 

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In a recent post, I wrote about the FBI showing up at one of our Peace Feasts and how our peacemaking efforts help protect young Somali men in America from the recruiting efforts of al-Shabaab.

Today I’d like to talk more about the situation and share with you this analysis by Peter Sensenig. This post was originally published here, and I am sharing it with his permission.

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by Peter Sensenig

Some historical context may help us understand a bit better how something like the mass murder at Nairobi’s Westgate Mall last September happens and how such evil takes root. And it will also help us engage the Just Peacemaking practice of acknowledging responsibility in what has happened to Somalia.

The dictator Siad Barre ruled Somalia with an iron hand from 1969 to 1991. The abuse of power in the Barre regime was so great that it cultivated a deep distrust of centralized authority. When his government fell, Somalis turned to Islamic revival in lieu of a centralized government. In the mid 2000s an alternative movement called the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) managed to bring relative peace to war-torn Somalia, reducing weapons and even clamping down on piracy off the coast. The ICU had legitimacy in the eyes of the Somali people, because it was perceived as a grassroots movement that was successful in bringing about some stability.

But the US did not trust the ICU, which included both moderate and radical elements. The US hired warlords in Mogadishu to kill and capture suspected al-Qaeda operatives. The ICU opposed these US-supported warlords. Furthermore, neighboring Ethiopia feared that Somalia might be reuniting under a powerful Islamic movement. On Christmas Eve 2006, a coalition of US and Ethiopian forces rolled into Somalia in tanks, killing rather than capturing both ICU leaders and civilians.

The invasion by Ethiopia and the US achieved the opposite of its intended outcome. The annihilation of the Islamic Courts Union all but destroyed the moderate presence in Somalia, radicalizing both the religious and political leadership and the general population. It was the in wake of the ICU’s demise that al-Shabaab was formed, and aligned itself with al-Qaeda.

Simply put, the US played a major part in the creation of al-Shabaab.

Journalist Eliza Griswold describes both the invasion and the Bush administration’s policies in Somalia, including supporting notorious warlords and launching Tomahawk missile strikes against civilians, as a complete backfire. The fighting stemming from the invasion killed at least 8,500 people by the end of 2009, leaving 1.5 million homeless and 3.8 million at risk of famine. The battle for the hearts and minds of Somalis was lost, allowing al-Qaeda to plant a “friendly flag” among a population increasingly willing to side with anyone against the barbarity of the West. The long hatred for the Ethiopians (and subsequently Christians) was rekindled; Griswold reports widespread sentiment regarding the thousands of dead Somalis, including many civilians, that “Muslims wouldn’t do anything like this” (Griswold, Tenth Parallel, 130). The US and its allies had ushered in the enemy they had claimed to be destroying. Somalia was back to square one on insecurity and anarchy.

Just as tragically, the invasion and overthrow of the ICU was a lost opportunity for peacemaking. If the international community had recognized that the ICU was a genuine grassroots government with broad support from the Somali people, the focus could have turned to peacebuilding strategies rather than the endless tasks of state-building. It was an ideal moment to construct a genuinely Somali, bottom-up government, a moment that was utterly squandered by the Bush administration’s war on terror, which painted all kinds of Islamic organizations with broad and often deeply mistaken brushstrokes. The lesson of the previous military actions in Somalia – including the famous Black Hawk Down events – was still not learned: Somalis unite against foreign military intervention, to the benefit of groups like al-Shabaab.

Glen Stassen has demonstrated convincingly that combating terrorism with war, torture, and threats only increases terrorist activity. The utterly unimaginative, alienating, and futile attempts to destroy al-Shabaab with force will only yield more bitter fruit like the Westgate Mall attack.

In the same vein, John Paul Lederach argues that it is a mistake to employ a strategy of isolation rather than engagement with groups like al-Shabaab. He criticizes the tactic of creating wide ranging terrorist lists that seek to control acts of terrorism but have no long-term strategy for transforming the factors that cultivate terrorism. What is needed instead is a multifaceted approach grounded in a compelling theory of social change. Neither isolating al-Shabaab nor pursuing the organization militarily will have any lasting impact for peace.

Last month I was in Somaliland, visiting a university that has an institute for peace and conflict studies. At this institute, students from various parts of the Somali region study the power of nonviolent strategies, conflict transformation, and trauma healing. It is in places like this that the futility of both military intervention and militant Islamism are laid bare. This – not the barrel of a rifle or a tank – is the real battlefront against the violence of al-Shabaab.

by Rick Love

As I write this, I’m on a plane from William Jessup University in California, where I just finished teaching an online course on Christian-Muslim-Jewish relations there. I loved the enthusiasm of the students and had a great time teaching the course.

More than once students said something like this: “I was never taught to build bridges. We always focused on our beliefs and the differences between us and others. We want to share our faith but never learned about building bridges of truth and love.”

Why did these students at this evangelical university feel this way? Why weren’t they taught to build bridges?

I think there are lots of reasons for this, but two stand out to me. First, in practice, evangelicals act as if the great commission (“make disciples of all nations”) is more important than the great commandments (love God and neighbor). Some would never say this, but as one who has been part of the evangelical movement since 1970, this has been my experience. Obeying Jesus’s command to “preach the gospel” usually takes precedent over his command to “love your neighbor.”

Second, evangelicals joyfully affirm God’s saving grace, but few have even heard of common grace. My life was radically turned around when I encountered God in the Jesus movement. God’s saving grace ambushed me and I am forever grateful.

But what about this other doctrine called common grace?

Have you ever heard a sermon on it? I haven’t. Neither had my students. Yet God has poured out His common grace on all humanity. What is it?

1. All people enjoy the blessings of the physical world
2. All people have the ability to do good (implying restraint of evil as well)
3. All people have a general knowledge of God or a sense of the divine
4. All people are culture makers

By common grace, unbelievers, not just believers, can do good. In fact, they often do amazing things. And we should see God’s hand in it. We should be grateful that God’s common grace operates in every friendship, every act of kindness, every scientific discovery, every technological advance. Because all of this is ultimately from God.

Common grace also helps us find common ground. In fact, the doctrine of common grace is indispensable for peacemakers. Recognizing good things in others helps us build bridges for peace and partner for human flourishing — important practices in an increasingly interconnected, multi-cultural world.

Practically speaking, if we obey the great commandments we will be more effective in carrying out the great commission. And if we truly love our neighbors then we will be more motivated to share our faith with them. In addition, a natural (or maybe I should say supernatural) consequence of embracing common grace is that more people will be drawn to saving grace.

However, we don’t obey the great commandments or apply the doctrine of common grace in our relationships as an evangelistic strategy. We do so because it pleases God. We do so because we love God and want to obey Him.

Followers of Jesus don’t have the option of choosing one command or doctrine over the other. We must obey all that Jesus commanded. We emphasize BOTH the great commission and the great commandments. We prioritize BOTH saving grace and common grace. As my friend Rich Nathan says so profoundly, we need to be ‘both-and’ thinkers in an ‘either-or’ world.

And when we do this, more and more people will begin building bridges of truth and love!