Monday, May 26, 2008

Mourning: Part 2

So it seams that my last post wasn't written very clearly (thanks, Dan, for the comments!). Following is the original post and below it some explanatory comments.



For the last week and a half I have been taking a class in Reconciliation and Peacemaking at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University. It has been an amazing experience being a part of a group of more than 100 people from 40 countries. Friday marked the end of my first class and almost everyone left for the weekend except for myself and Mohammad, a friend from Iraq. Much of yesterday was spent hanging out and chatting with him. I would like to share one of his stories.

One day he was at a large outdoor market buying some things when all of a sudden he saw someone who was acting very weird. He eyed Mohammad and the others in the market. This filled Mohammad with fear. All of a sudden this man stealthily whipped out a gun and quietly locked it. He put it to a man’s head who was walking next to Mohammad and pulled the trigger. The man fell to the ground and everyone froze. The man who shot him then bent down and unzipped the jacket of the man he had just killed. Wrapped around him were sets of dynamite. He was a suicide bomber. The suicide bomber’s killer had himself lost several family members to suicide bombers. Every day he goes to the market searching waiting and searching for other suicide bombers to kill. This was his way to get revenge. “Is this life?” asked Mohammad. “How can I live this way? How can I return to a country like this?“

Meanwhile, here in the U.S. we are mourning the death of our dogs. Yesterday, Mohammad and I were part of a group that went to have dinner at a local Mennonite family’s home here in town. After sitting down for dinner our host told us that they were going to show a memorial slide show for their dog who had died the week before. Some of the neighbors who were present then mentioned that they would like to bring their children over to see it. Lord have mercy. We have no idea what it means to live in Iraq.

Lord, forgive us for ever thinking that we could heal our own pain by instead inflicting it on others.

On this Memorial day Monday, let us not only mourn the deaths of those who we consider our own in an act of blind nationalism, but let us mourn the deaths of all who suffer from death and war. Let us mourn the 4,080 U.S. soldiers who have died in Iraq and let us also mourn the between 60,000 and 1,000,000 Iraqi’s who have died in the course of the war. Let us recognize our common suffering and let us pray for peace.
Comments: all suffering is suffering and it is dangerous to try to rate it on a scale. If I communicated something different in my previous post, then I was wrong. What I meant to do was show the strong contrast between life here and life in Iraq, that is somewhat a consequence of our actions as the U.S.

We have no idea what it means to live in Iraq and worry daily about being shot on account of your ethnicity, for example. Yes, we do have our share of suffering, but in many ways we live very sheltered lives. 9/11, for example, was a tremendous shock to us, but in much of the world this kind of thing is a daily reality.

Also, here we have the privilege of having dogs as pets, treating them as family members and then mourning their deaths. I am not saying that mourning a pet is wrong, but that it is a sort of "privilege," per se, that much of the world does not have. In much of the world it is incomprehensible that we, for one, have the abundance of resources to treat even our animals this way, and secondly, that we in fact do so. Our pet aisle in the grocery store, for example, is much larger and longer than most other "human food" aisles in global south grocery stores.

Last, I was trying to say that simply mourning for those who share our same nationality is wrong. As Christians we are part of a larger body that transcends nation-state lines. We should lament that war has killed Americans and Iraqis, Americans and Afghanis, tutsi and hutus, kenyans, etc.

I love being in dialog about these things, so keep the comments and emails coming!



Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

One of the men from northern India in my forgiveness and reconciliation class shared an amazing story with me today: When he had gone off to college his younger brother had joined a rebel group that was fighting for local autonomy for the region they lived in. In a confrontation with another rebel group his brother was shot and killed. His family wasn't even able to find and bury his body. Later, he said that he was hanging out with some local guys and one of them was getting a bit drunk. With his tongue loosened up he began to brag about killing someone. My friend realized that he was talking about his brother.

Later, as a Christian, he realized that he had to forgive this man for what he had done and with God's help he was able to. Later, this man realized that the man he had killed was my friend's brother and he came to confess and apologize. Long story short, they were reconciled and this other man eventually became a Christian. His brother's death and this subsequent reconciliation was the impetus that pushed him to begin work in peace. He has now finished his doctor's thesis in development in conflict regions. "Imagine: my brother's killer is now one of my best friends."

These are the kind of stories that have framed our reconciliation and forgiveness class. This is how new life begins in the midst of the most hopeless of situations.

There are many mistaken notions of what reconciliation and forgiveness consist of. Here are some points regarding reconciliation:

1) Forgiveness is done by one person. It is not reconciliation, only one element in it. Reconciliation the righting of relationships between two parties.

2) Forgiveness is NOT the same as forgetting.

3) Forgiving is not condoning and it does not imply impunity. Often perpetrators push others to forgive them, so that they can keep their position of power thinking that if they are forgiven they can escape responsibility.

4) Reconciliation between groups is more than just getting people to relate well interpersonally (as opposed to the pop culture perception as seen in most movies such as "Remember the Titans") it also involves changing the systems and structures that divide (such as racial segregation in schools and economic inequalities, for example).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Learning about Peace

(the introductory session to the Summer Peacebuilding Institute)

May 15, 2008. Day 1

Abdi is a 61 year old man from Somalia whom I have been able to speak Arabic with. Well, he’s not really sure if he‘s 61. One of my classmates in my reconciliation class at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute, we were sharing our life stories with each other. After commenting that he hopes to have 12 children and that he presently has 6, he suddenly asked me how old I was. “I am 22” I told him. “I am 61 years old” he replied. “But I am not really sure. One day I asked my mother how old I was and she told me that I was 19. 5 years later I asked her again and she told me I was 19. How could I be 19 five years later? All we know is that I was born the same year that two of our goats died, we don’t know what year that was.” I suggested that that is what he should put on his passport for his birth date “the year our two goats died.”

My mind is swirling with ideas, thoughts, and theories. After one class session with Abdi I feel like I have enough thoughts to process to last me a week. What I am learning is that peacemaking is a whole academic discipline and field with a full range of theories, concepts, and terminology. This field is often called Conflict Transformation.

I am learning is that one of the greatest sadnesses of out time is that the majority of our resources world wide and in the U.S. are devoted to the least effective means of solving conflict: force (most often taking the shape of violence). Military science is an extremely specialized and developed field where we send our best and brightest students. This is also the means of conflict resolution (if it can be called that) that receives the greatest glory and prestige in our societies. Look at the respect, for example, that generals command. Mediation and reconciliation, however, are relatively, in some respects, new academic fields with few resources devoted to them. There is even less glory and prestige attached to them. They, however, are our only hopes for establishing true and lasting peace in our societies. What they seek to do is to not merely suppress conflict by dealing with the “problems,” but they seek to go behind the conflict to its’ sources. Unless the roots of a conflict are addressed, another one will spring up in its place farther down the road and true peace will not be established.

Why do we so often recourse to violence as a means to solve our problems? For one, it is the easiest method, especially if one is more powerful than the opponent. Through violence one can force the other party to comply to my demands, without me having to take their interests into consideration.

A helpful chart that has been given to us is the following one. It de
scribes the various means of handling conflict and it moves from the most unilateral means (and thus least effective) on the right to the most mutually enriching and participatory (and thus effective).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Going to Israel! Miracle!

I got the long expected email invitation to the GAFCON conference in Jerusalem!! A miracle, praise the Lord! The catch is I have to now somehow round up the $ to get there :) I am requesting funds from my church so please pray. This is just a minor obstacle from God's perspective.

Assuming I am going, I will be leading a small delegation from my church including (likely) my pastor and a pastor from another local church. This is a huge responsibility and privilege. I can't believe it. I will now be scrambling to put all the details together. I need your prayers!

Today I arrived at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia for my "peace camp." Two weeks of intensive classes in peacemaking. It has been amazing so far. There are 260 participants from 50 countries. Today I was one of the only white guys. I loved it ! I already have friends from India, Bosnia, Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Uganda, Zimabwe, etc. Beautiful.

Please stay in touch over the summer! Give me a call or pop me an email. I would love to hear form you.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Going to Israel this summer?

Do you know someone traveling to Israel this summer? Pass the following along to them:

Summer is approaching and with it summer trips! As Evangelicals, the Holy Land, has a magnetic attraction for people who want to “walk where Jesus walked.” Many don't realize, however, what they are getting themselves into or what the situation is really like in the "Holy Land."

There has been much talk in recent years about the concept of ethical tourism. It is nowhere more relevant than in Israel/Palestine (note that I don't just call it Israel. Part of "Israel" is disputed as to whose it actually is). In Is/Pal thousands of Christian tourists flock each year and simultaneously a conflict rages between Israelis and Palestinians that most are unaware of. The question for them should be: How can every part of my life, including my travels, be done in a Christ-like manner?

As one who has done the “touristy” thing in Israel I can speak from first-hand experience. Generally, tourism in Israel, especially when done for Christian pilgrims, focuses on historical monuments (such as, say, the Mount of Beatitudes), but largely does its best to steer free from the harsh realities facing both Israelis and Palestinians today. Tours are generally led by Israelis who do their best to present the best possible picture of their land. Rarely are tourists taken into the West Bank or given an opportunity to meet Palestinians. In short, tourism often in Israel becomes the equivalent of tourists in Mexico who stay at beautiful beach resorts, completely ignorant of that fact that two miles down the road are thousands of people living in a slum without running water or electricity. Furthermore, for Christian tourists who have visited Israel, it comes as a shock that there is actually such a thing as a Palestinian Christian. They might have visited all the Christian archaeological sites, but have never encountered the “living stones” of the land, the present day Palestinians who share their faith and worship regularly in a similar manner.

One’s trip to Israel can do one of two things: it can either make worse the existing conflict or it can play a part in encouraging peace. A one sided trip only serves to worsen the conflict by furthering ignorance and by allocating resources lopsidedly. A carefully thought through trip can serve to open one’s eyes to both sides of the story.

SO, several quick tips toward an ethical trip:
1) Read up on the political situation before you go!
2) Make an effort to spend time on both sides of the divide. Make an effort to meet both Jews and Palestinians. Listen to their stories. Travel within both Israel and the West Bank (Gaza is hard to get into presently).
3) Make an effort to attend a Palestinian church service on a Sunday.
4) Be aware of where you spend your money. Try to be evenhanded in your distribution of resources.
5) By all means, leave your tour group every once and a while and meet real people! Be adventurous.

Here are some links to some information about ethical tourism in Israel/Palestine as well as resources on tours while you are there:

1) The Alternative Tourism Group is a Palestinian NGO specializing in tours and pilgrimages that include critical examinations of the history, culture, and politics of the Holy Land
2) The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions is an Israeli group which among other things offers political tours of East Jerusalem:
3)The Holy Land Trust Travel and Encounter is an organization based out of Bethlehem which focuses on arranging trips within the West Bank and Israel
4) Sabeel is an ecumenical Christian organization which seeks reconciliation and justice between Israelis and Palestinians. They also offer tours.
5) Discussion of alternative tourism:
6) The Ethical Challenges of Managing Pilgrimages to the Holy Land (paper)