I just returned from speaking in the Detroit area of the US. While there, I heard a pastor share his shock at Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s inflammatory comments about the Palestinian people this past December. As someone who has spent quite a bit of time in the Holy Land and who has become closely acquainted with both the Israeli and Palestinian communities, this pastor was dumbfounded that a prominent leader could make such a claim without any significant reaction from his peers.
We often share with you regarding our work between Palestinian Christians and Israeli Messianic Jews. But we have another area of work where we focus on bridge-building initiatives between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. In Romans 12, Paul calls us to live at peace with everyone. Our role as the salt of the earth requires us to reach out to our community and deal with the prejudice, offense, and mending of relationships between us and others. Many times when the relationship between Muslims and Christians is highlighted in the news, we hear about clashes and conflict. In turn, we sometimes react with fear and suspicion of the other. In the face of religious and ethnic conflict, we often turn inward instead of turning outward and making overtures toward the other side.
During the holiday season, we often talk about light and its benefits: warmth, clarity, discernment, and blessing. We talk about Jesus as the light of the world, and we light the candles for Christmas/Hanukkah, remembering these miracles of light. But one of the reasons we value light is because of the surrounding darkness. As the holidays approach, it is easy to look around and see this darkness. In the Middle East today, whenever we read the newspaper, turn on the television, or listen to what people are discussing around us, we hear a back and forth about imminent war, the lost opportunity for peace, and the ever-present Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Musalaha’s women’s leadership committee recently decided to discuss forgiveness at their annual fall women’s conference. In the last year, it was evident that this issue should be addressed. In past women’s meetings, some Israeli women felt that when they asked for forgiveness for Israeli acts of aggression against Palestinians, the Palestinian women did not respond by asking for forgiveness for Palestinian acts of aggression against Israelis. Consequently, the Israelis felt they were taking an important step in furthering their relationships, but they were not getting a response from the Palestinians. The Palestinian side, on the other hand, constantly felt that their daily struggles were being challenged and disbelieved; in their minds, the Israeli side was being purposely naïve. As a result, some of the women were questioning their commitment to the process, which is common in the third stage of reconciliation. Others felt stuck in the process and were asking, “Where do we go from here?” In this context, we held our women’s conference this past November.
In our ministry of reconciliation, we have discovered the centrality of historical narrative in the conflict. The stories of our people, who we are and what we have been through, define us, and many times, fuel the conflict between us as well. We constantly appeal to our narrative and rely on it for legitimization while sometimes wielding it as a weapon against those who have an opposing narrative. We recently saw this element of our conflict displayed before the leaders of the world at the end of September when Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas presented their case at the United Nations, and talked past each other, consciously excluding the other in their self-representation and recounting of their respective hope for peace.
Nearly two months ago, I was asked to preach in our congregation. I decided to give a message on the “Gospel and Cottage Cheese” by using the parable of the “Rich Man and Lazarus” reflecting on economic and social injustice. The cost of cottage cheese had shot up to 8 NIS ($2.30) for a 250g container, leading to a nationwide protest, which started on Facebook and eventually forced dairy producers to lower the price. As most of the congregants are hardworking, middle-class individuals who are financially struggling, I alluded to the fact that we should not be surprised that a phenomenon like the “Arab Spring” (the recent wave of demonstrations and protests across the Middle East) could also happen in Israel.
We are all Rwandans; We Are Not Tutsi or Hutu SEPTEMBER 2, 2016 During the first week of February I was invited to speak at the School of Reconciliation and Justice of Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in the UK, using Musalaha’s Reconciliation Curriculum that has been two years in the making. This was the […]
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the birth of our Savior, it is natural to think about how God intervenes in human history. The Bible is full of drastic examples, from armies defeated to miracles preformed. And yet, the most significant example of divine intervention – the incarnation of the Messiah – was also probably the least intrusive. God could have announced the arrival of Jesus with the blast of trumpets, or sent an army of angels to accompany him to earth, but instead Jesus came quietly, gently, as a baby in a modest town, born to modest parents. This is not how most of us would have chosen to make our arrival, but perhaps God was trying to teach us something through the way the Messiah was born. We should not separate God’s method from his message, and in this instance, his method suggests humility.
Discouragement is always a part of reconciliation. It is inevitable. However, one of the best ways to deal with discouragement is to look to inspirational examples of success. For instance, consider the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Many said it could never be built, because of all the obstacles that stood in its way: the currents, the winds, and the frequent earthquakes. Nevertheless, in the end, they managed to build it and brought the two sides of the bay closer to each other. Now people cross over it all the time and rarely ever think about the effort and how many years were required to build it. We take it for granted, but building bridges is hard work.
In recent Musalaha meetings we have been reflecting on Philippians chapter 2, where Paul writes about Jesus coming to earth. This act was very significant on his part, as it required him to give up his position of authority, power and glory in God’s heavenly kingdom. All the riches of heaven were at his disposal, but instead he lowered himself and became a slave on our behalf. Philippians 2:7 says that he “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.” The creator made himself into one of the created.