Jim’s Top 3 Books of the Year

30 09 2012

All 3 of the following books touched me deeply, changed my paradigms, and brought revelatory freshness to my calling as a peacemaker.

    Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion  by Gregory Boyle is my favorite book of the year! It ripped me up. I cried every time I opened it–in the restaurant, in the airport, on the airplane–everywhere!

Greg is a Catholic priest who has given his life to serve the gang members of my own city of Los Angeles. His way of loving every single person, and seeing the beauty and nobility in them even when they’re at their worst, so reminds me of God’s love for us.

One quote from the book I’ve been meditating on and trying to live out in all my relationships is: “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it.” (p.67)

    Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism  by Carl Medearis is another book I loved this year, a book that sets religion aside to focus on living, loving and speaking like Jesus. Carl is a pastor who prepares his Sunday sermon notes while sipping coffee in a gay bar because he believes Jesus would more likely be found there than in a church office.

Some of Carl’s best friends are politicians, homosexuals, or Muslims. Sounds to me a bit like Jesus’ friends, the “tax collectors, prostitutes and Samaritans”–or we could say, people who abuse their power, people who are risky to be seen with, and people from a “rival” religion. But when Carl talks about Jesus to these people, they listen, maybe because Carl IS like Jesus.

    Culture of Honor: Sustaining a Supernatural Environment  by Danny Silk is a third book that really challenged my relationships with others (see my earlier blog on “Intimacy”). Danny’s premise is that successful communication is not about persuasion, but understanding; and someone who fails doesn’t need my punishment or control to fix them, they need my forgiveness, continued trust and freedom. A love that is not afraid of sin brings out the best in people.

All 3 of these books are saying essentially the same thing. We’ve built walls to protect ourselves or others from getting hurt: walls of geographical or emotional distance, walls of stereotypes and judgments, walls of punishment and control, and many others. The way of Jesus, and the true way forward for us, is to move TOWARD the other–the offender, the one who is different, the one we’re afraid of–and find in us a love bigger than our fears.

Any individual or group that we find it hard to love, Jesus offers us grace to see the awesomeness in them that He sees, and courage to take a step towards them in love.

Anyone else read these books and would like to comment on them?? Write me!

Healing the Wounds of 9/11

18 09 2012

In 2003, President George W. Bush sent American troops to invade Iraq.

We were living in Indonesia, and many Muslim students opposed the war. Just 50 yards from our office (the only business in town where Americans worked), protestors hung banners stating, “Go to Hell America,” and “George Bush is the great Satan.” We wondered if the demonstration would migrate to our building, and discussed what we should do.

If you were in my shoes, which of these options might YOU choose?

a) tear down those banners and publically defend the good name of my country

b) stay home from work, and if anyone knocks, answer them in a Russian accent

c) be myself, and proactively look for positive ways to build friendships, even with those who judge me based solely on my nationality

I chose letter “c.” I didn’t defend the decisions of American politicians, nor feel ashamed to be an American. In fact, I told my Muslim friends that I had prayed against the invasion, and now would pray for all those on both sides who would suffer because of it. I assured them that I was an American who loved Muslims and loved peace. And I looked for more ways to actively promote peace.

Not long after that, our Peace Generation educational initiative was launched, with Muslims and Christians working together to train the younger generation in how to develop peaceful, mutually supportive, loving relationships with those who are different than you. Our PeaceGen went on to train thousands of youth and win a national award for peacemaking.

In the face of hatred, stereotyping, prejudice, and even potential threats, I chose to move TOWARD those whose hurt and anger had blinded their eyes from seeing me clearly—as I got closer to them, their eyesight cleared, and we became friends.

In 2001, another American went through a similar situation. As a 16-year-old girl, Hanadi watched from her high school classroom window when the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. Immediately aware of the potential danger, the staff began to evacuate the students from this K-12 New York City school.

But Hanadi was still in the school yard shepherding small children when people began throwing glass bottles and pieces of pork at the students—simply because it was a Muslim school.

In the days that followed, Hanadi and her classmates, many of them born and raised in America and no less Americans than I am, were harassed, bullied, and belittled frequently. These kids had never met a terrorist, but were treated as though 9/11 was somehow their fault.

This unconscionable behavior could have driven Hanadi to defend her religion with vengeful, violent means. It could have driven her to hide in her home, or only go out in public without her headscarf to avoid persecution.

Instead, Hanadi chose like I chose, to be herself, and to proactively look for positive ways to build friendships, even with those who judged her solely on her religious affiliation. She decided to move TOWARDS those whose eyes were clouded with pain and anger. She joined Park 51.

About 3 blocks from the tragedy of Ground Zero, a small seed of hope is sprouting—a community center, founded by Muslims who abhor terrorism and love peace, seeking to rebuild the community upon the values all Americans cherish: freedom to be yourself, while uniting with others from many backgrounds to make our community and our nation a better place. It’s a place for Muslims to come and pray and to hear sermons that promote peace and unity. It’s a place for non-Muslims to come and share and be welcomed in as friends. And it’s a place for all kinds of community classes or gatherings, many of which have nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with enriching the lives of the whole community.

The victims of the WTC tragedy weren’t just those who died in the building—they were also thousands of American Muslims around the country who were unjustly persecuted. Many lost businesses or jobs, lost friends, were threatened, beaten, treated as exiles in the very communities they had loved and served.

Some people (even Christian leaders) have overlooked this stain on the American conscience, choosing to focus only on the fall of the towers. They think that those victims of the 9/11 attacks are better honored by distancing ourselves from all Muslims. I say that the only way to move forward in healing is to find those people (Muslim, Christian, anyone) who are committed to peace and rebuild our hurting community together. I’m blessed to see Hanadi leading the way—who will join her?

Sometimes a broken place in us, when healed, can grow even stronger than it was originally. This is my hope for New York City. It was an honor for me to present a copy of my book to Park 51, and to pray for God’s blessing upon their beautiful vision for peacemaking.