Saturday, March 31, 2012

Muslims, Christians, and Jews Find Common Ground for the Common Good

At first, I came to the table because it was the right thing to do, but soon I started seeing you as my friends, and now you’re like my family.

In Peace Catalyst International, we aspire to launch a global movement of Jesus-centered peacemaking communities. To that end, our PCI team in Raleigh has helped to catalyze a significant movement of Muslims and Christians who are moving beyond unhelpful stereotypes and are building bridges of friendship and trust.

Back in the fall, however, things took a major twist for us. A well-respected local rabbi reached out, basically saying that he had heard about our work in bringing Muslims and Christians together and that he wanted his Jewish congregation in on the fun.

Now, we have a something really special brewing, and I wish to share a taste with you!

Getting to Know One Another, Studying Our Books

On March 11, at Apex Mosque near Raleigh, we had our first gathering of Multi-Faith Friends for the Homeless. Our group of 12, comprised of Muslims, Christians, and Jews, spent two hours getting to know one another, sharing our stories, and discussing what has compelled each of us to join people of other faith traditions in working for the common good. This was a solid start for our fledgling group.

Last Sunday afternoon, March 25, our cadre got together for the second time, this time at Fellowship of Christ, also near Raleigh. The plan was that each of the three delegations would share from their sacred writings what their respective traditions say about loving those who are less fortunate.

The Hebrew Scriptures: 
Opting for chronological order, I asked our Jewish friends to go first. As they began sharing from the Hebrew scriptures (the Old Testament for Christians), I felt the magnitude of the moment, and tears formed in my eyes. One of the verses they presented was Micah 6:8, and here it is in The Message:
But he's already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It's quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don't take yourself too seriously— take God seriously.
As our Jewish friends commented on this and other passages, they explained that everything we have ultimately belongs to God, that He wants us to steward well and share well the resources He gives us, and that how we treat others says everything about our love (or lack of love) for God. I was deeply challenged and moved.

The New Testament: Next, I asked Neal Foster, my friend and colleague, to share from the New Testament. Neal wisely chose passages from the Gospels and from James’ epistle. At one point, Neal opted to read from the Sermon on the Mount. As he read aloud Jesus’ admonition to trust God for provision, to love God more than money, and to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first and foremost, one dear Muslim sister began to weep, which of course led to more tears for me!

The Qur'an: 
As our Muslim friends began sharing from the perspective of the Qur’an, they noted Surah 9:60, which suggests that those with real faith will be the ones who use their resources to care for the poor and destitute, to free slaves, to help those in debt, to show hospitality and kindness to travelers in need, and to reconcile the hearts of people. Also, our friends reminded us of their traditional proverb, which in my paraphrase says, 
A fat bank account may work against you on the day of judgment, but a life poured out and spent for others will surely speak well of the condition of your heart before God.

Common Ground for the Common Good

Twelve Jews, Muslims, and Christians spent two and a half hours studying our books together, and we were greatly encouraged by what we found. On the issue of loving our neighbors and especially the poor among us, we discovered amazing, rich common ground.

After the meeting adjourned, a fellow Jesus-follower and I were approached by one of the Muslim couples, whom I have been getting to know for about six months. I have deep respect for them, as they are among the most genuine and kind people that I know. It has been my sense that we are developing a special heart connection. Apparently, they feel it, too. Because with tears in her eyes, this kind-hearted Muslim woman said, 
At first, I came to the table because it was the right thing to do, but soon I started seeing you as my friends, and now you’re like my family.
And I got teary-eyed all over again!

So what's next? Our Multi-Faith Friends group plans to meet again in April at Beth Meyer Synagogue to discuss practical ways that we can stand together on this common ground to work for the common good.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

And a Child Shall Lead Them: Loving All People in the Way of Jesus

Yesterday, we had a young Turkish family over for the afternoon. This was our third opportunity to meet with these dear folks, and despite their limited English and our non-existent Turkish, we are developing a warm friendship.

Our daughter and her new Turkish "aunt"

After our friends left, Carrie and the kids and I were gushing about how much we enjoyed their visit, and I saw a teachable moment. The conversation went like this:

Me: "Do you think we should be mean to people like our friends just because they look different than we do or have some different beliefs?"

Our oldest kids (ages 8 and 5): "No way!!!!"

Me: "Well, some people seem to think we should be mean to them because they are d

Our daughter (the 8-year-old): "You know, Daddy, we should love all people. W
e should even love the people who love God but are mean to other people who are different, because maybe through our love we can win them over to the way of love."

My first thought was how sad it is that my daughter knows of people who "love God" but hate Muslims and others who are different. My second was to marvel at the wisdom of a little girl who understands that we overcome hatred with love. Just as we Jesus-followers should love our Muslim friends, we should also love those who call themselves Christ-followers but still live with hate in their hearts.

I am reminded of Romans 12. While the entire chapter is rich, here are some pertinent highlights taken directly from 
The Message version of the Bible

Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. 
Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. 
Be inventive in hospitality. 
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. 
Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. 
Don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody. 
Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. 
Get along with everybody. 
If you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. 
Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

I see so much of this in my daughter, and I want to be more like her (and more like Jesus) when I grow up. May God give me the grace to grow in love so that I love ALL people ALL the time!