Unifying America

9 01 2017
from HGTV website

Chip Gaines on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper”

Generally, those who have reviewed my novels on terrorism and peacemaking have been encouraging if not enthusiastic. However, I was recently blessed by a brutally honest reviewer who objected to some aspects of my newest book, A VIOLENT LIGHT.

This reviewer drew conclusions that because some characters in the book acted the way they did, that I must be anti-law enforcement, anti-veterans, anti-gun owners, anti-self-defense, and anti-sharing your faith. This person decided that because of how some characters tried to build bridges across the religious divide, that I must be a universalist. All of these assumptions were incorrect.

I felt the parallels right away when I read about HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines from the show “Fixer Upper” getting blasted as LGBT haters because they attend a church that preaches that Biblical marriage is between a man and a woman.

I love Chip’s response: “We want to help initiate conversations between people that don’t think alike. Listen to me, we do not all have to agree with each other. Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don’t believe that lie.”

Those who attacked Chip and Joanna are similar to the reviewer who struggled with my novel—they perceive issues through dichotomous, black-and-white thinking: “If it’s not this, it must be that.”

  • If you don’t support the war, you must be disrespecting our veterans
  • If you don’t support gay marriage, you must hate those of LGBT identities
  • If you don’t try to convince people of other religions that your religion is superior to theirs, you must be a universalist

We heard plenty of this narrow thinking during the recent presidential campaign. One friend basically told me, “If you are critical of anything Trump has said or done, you must be supporting Hilary,” while another implied, “If you agree with any one thing Trump has said or done, you must be endorsing racism, sexism, xenophobia and a host of other evils.” Neither of these people took the time to actually understand what I thought about either candidate or the issues, having instantly pigeon-holed me with “not this, so that” thinking.

I know some of my Christian friends question why I work for peace alongside Muslims when, according to their thinking, I should be convincing Muslims to agree with my religious views first before working with them. Once again, here’s Chip’s brilliant perspective: “If your position only extends love to the people who agree with you, we want to respectfully challenge that position. We propose operating with a love so real and true that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work alongside the very people that are most unlike you.

“Fear dissolves in close proximity. Our stereotypes and vain imaginations fall away when we labor side by side. This is how a house gets unified.”

What a good word for America, and for our world! Disagreement should never limit our capacity to love and serve others. Can we post this on the wall of the Senate and House chambers? How about at city-wide pastors’ meetings? Or at any community event?

The truth is that most issues are complex, most people are complex, and anyone who tries to get a group of people to agree on every single thing is probably a cult leader. Assuming that someone who disagrees with us must be on the opposite end of the spectrum from us, must be intolerant or a hater, does not extend to them the grace that we wish would be extended to us in all of our complexity.

Where I live and pursue peace in Indonesia, our current president Joko Widodo models well what Chip is saying. While the extremists were issuing fatwas forbidding Muslims from even wishing Christians a “Merry Christmas,” our Muslim president ignored them and joined the Christians in their Christmas celebrations. Yasser Arafat did the same every Christmas between 1995-2000 attending Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Armenian church celebrations with the Christian minorities in Bethlehem.

Both cases opened the door to accusations from the black-and-white thinkers. Christians speculated that the president must have become a Christian. Muslim extremists concluded that the president must have left the true faith. Both sides were guilty of dichotomous fallacies; the truth was that though Joko Widodo and Yasser Arafat disagreed with the minority Christians in matters of religion, it didn’t stop them from showing honor, support, and perhaps even love. Nelson Mandela, a Christian, experienced the same treatment when joining prayers at a mosque of minority Muslims in South Africa. But these men rose above such narrow thinking because “this is how a house gets unified.”

Our divided nation cannot wait for us all to agree as a prerequisite to progress. It’s time we “roll up our sleeves and work alongside the very people most unlike us.” As we do, we’ll learn to understand each other, and undoubtedly change each other in the process.

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The Battle for our Children

26 08 2016

021 (2)A lovely young woman (we’ll call her “Star”) wearing a head covering came into our office recently to apply for the position of Peace Generation Coordinator that we had advertised. She already had a master’s degree and seemed to be from a family of some wealth, so I was surprised to hear how she spent her free time.

Star is a member of a social-change-focused group called “the Gus Durians” after Indonesia’s former president Gus Dur. As a bit of background, Gus Dur once was probably the most famous Muslim cleric in the nation, and a constant voice for righteousness against a corrupt and abusive government, when an ugly dispute between various parties in the parliament resulted in his name being put forward as a “neutral” choice for president. He wasn’t really equipped to be a politician, and after calling the squabbling legislators “a bunch of kindergartners” he was impeached.

However, Gus Dur is not remembered for that brief political implosion, but for his years of championing human rights and especially minority rights. For example, every year he took flak from his Muslim colleagues for attending Christmas services at a Christian church, in solidarity with this religious minority.

The Gus Durians have carried on his legacy after his death. Star and her small group have actively sought out every minority group they could find in our city to ascertain their needs and offer help and support in whatever way they could. They approached Christians, Buddhists, Ahmadiyah (a Muslim fringe group often persecuted as a “cult”), Communists, LGBT (homosexual activity is illegal in Indonesia), street kids, etc.

It’s the street kids’ story that I want to write about. My wife works with street kids, elementary school dropouts, beggars, trash-pickers, and other poor kids. On the recent Idul Fitri holiday, she served lunch to 80 of them in our home! But there are others working with street kids too.

Star discovered a half-way house for street kids in the high-crime district of our city. She and her friend sat with the leader to ask about his ministry. Then he began asking about their group, and when she mentioned searching for the LGBT community, he edged forward intensely, pressing them about where the homosexuals gather. At first they were taken aback and evaded his questions. As they probed deeper, they uncovered that this leader of the street kids’ ministry was also a member of FPI, the “Islamic Defenders Front,” that had attacked churches, burned down Ahmadiyah mosques, forcibly closed night clubs, and wanted to destroy the LGBT community as well! They felt fortunate they hadn’t given out any more information and got out of there as fast as they could!

All this to say…the battle between peacemaking and terrorism begins with our children. Our Peace Generation curriculum has already taught thousands of kids the values of peace, but we’re not the only voice in our city. Others are teaching the values of prejudice, hate and violence.

It’s too late if we wait until they grow up and join ISIS, then put a bounty on their heads and kill them. We need to act NOW to raise the children of our world to know that God loves them, and that He wants us to love all the other children of the world too. We must do all we can to raise a young generation—Christian, Muslim and other—with a new set of values of peace.





The Jihad of Jesus

11 04 2016

The Jihad of Jesus book cover   I remember well the Q&A session in one of the many interfaith events we’ve organized over the years. An angry Christian stood up and declared, “As long as the word jihad exists, there will never be peace between our two religions!” The room was deathly silent, demanding the right response given in the right spirit.

From the platform, one of the speakers, the Orthodox Christian Bambang Noorsena, looked at his dear Muslim friend and presenter next to him, and said, “Let me answer this question.

“The term jihad is a perfectly wonderful term found not only in the Al Qur’an, but also in the Bible.” The audience was shocked. Bambang then quoted a verse from his Arabic New Testament about our “struggle” in the faith. I can’t recall which verse he quoted, since there are more than 10 mentions of jihad in the New Testament, but it might have been one of these:

“I’m passing this work on to you, my son Timothy. The prophetic word that was directed to you prepared us for this. All those prayers are coming together now so you will do this well, fearless in your struggle, keeping a firm grip on your faith and on yourself. After all, this is a fight [jihad] we’re in.” I Timothy 1:18, The Message

“This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish [jihad] against the Devil and all his angels.” Ephesians 6:12 The Message

“I have fought the good fight [jihad], I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

There is a “holy struggle” we all engage in—not against people who are different than we are—but against worldly values, temptations to our flesh and the devil. In Indonesia, we’ve actually published a book called True Jihad which shows from the Al Qur’an that jihad today should only be fought against the world, the flesh and the devil! There are many Muslims who believe and practice this positive understanding of jihad.

But the best book I’ve ever read on the topic is Dave Andrew’s The Jihad of Jesus. His book allows us to look in the mirror as both Christians and Muslims at how our “holy wars” have gotten away from God’s desire for us to struggle with faith, hope and love. Then he shares the struggle we should all be on.

>>For Muslims, it’s struggling to live out the Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim (“In the name of God, the most Merciful, Most Compassionate”). This declaration of who God is begins every chapter but one in the Al Qur’an, and is recited countless times a day by the faithful. One Muslim told Dave he strives to interpret every passage of the Al Qur’an “consistent with the grace and compassion of God.” What if in every relationship, Muslims reflected God’s character of mercy and love?

>>For Christians, it’s struggling to follow Jesus—to love God, neighbor and enemy as Jesus first loved us. What if Christians put all other religious activities second to that? Dave presents a beautiful quote from Khalid Muhammad Khalid’s work Ma’an ‘ala-l-Tariq: Muhammad wa–i-Masih (p.52): “Christ was himself the message. He was the supreme example he left. He was the love which knows no hatred, the peace which knows no restlessness, the salvation which knows no perishing. And when we (Christians and Muslims—together) realize all these things on this earth, we shall then comprehend the return of the Christ.”

My early candidate for Book of the Year—you can find it at Amazon or even hear Dave share his amazing stories of peacemaking at www.jihadofjesus.com,

Buy at Amazon: The Jihad of Jesus: The Sacred Nonviolent Struggle for Justice





What do Muslims Believe?

21 02 2014

An American friend recently told me that he had discovered there were some Muslim families in his apartment complex.  But he hesitated to approach them, not knowing how they would respond.  He assumed if he understood what Muslims believe first, it would help him to make friends.

My friend’s desire is understandable, but may not be helpful.  Although having general knowledge is generally a good thing, what Muslims actually believe may be so individualized it may be wiser to make friends first, then find out what your Muslim friend believes.  This will save you from assumptions that may not be true.

I would encourage the same approach for Muslims who want to make a Christian friend.  Many Muslims have been told that Christians believe in the Trinity—God the Father, God the Mother (Mary), and God the Son (Jesus).  I don’t believe that, and I’d rather someone ask me what I believe than assume something false, wouldn’t you?

What an individual Muslim believes may have everything to do with what his parents or teachers taught him more than what the Qur’an actually teaches.  Here in Indonesia, our adopted Muslim son was raised in a radical Islamic boarding school that taught him Allah approved of stealing from Christians, murdering Christians, and raping Christian girls.  Living with us challenged those beliefs, and thank God he doesn’t believe that any more.  Some Muslims we know believe that reading the Bible will cause the Christian “jinn” (genie) to jump on you and distort your thinking to the wrong path.  Some Muslims we know believe that God gave His power to the witchdoctors to heal people, or kill people with curses.  But many Muslims we know believe none of the above.

We also know Muslims who believe the Qur’an teaches they must also follow the Christians’ Holy Books.  We know Muslims who see Jesus’ uniqueness in the Qur’an and embrace him as their Messiah too.  In fact, we’ve never met a Muslim who says bad things about Jesus.  Some know nothing about him, others honor him as a prophet, healer, and teacher, or even as the living Word and Spirit of God.  When you make a new Muslim friend, don’t assume he or she is against Jesus—ask!  You might be surprised at what they believe.

Perhaps the best example of this “surprise factor” is the Muslim artist Mo Sabri—check out what he believes about Jesus here (on youtube, search for “Mo Sabri I believe in Jesus” or click this link): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gDFFATGyh0  Amazing!!!

So whether you’re Christian or Muslim, I encourage you to make friends first—

IMG_5279along the way find out what your friend believes, and share what you believe in a respectful way.  Don’t make beliefs a condition for friendship.  Be a true friend.  Love sincerely.  The context of a loving relationship is the safest place for both you and your friend to take a fresh look at what you believe.





The Importance of Reconciliation in Conflict Resolution – Part 2

14 01 2013
Apartheid wall - Palestinian West Bank

Apartheid wall – Palestinian West Bank (Photo credit: nagillum)

I’m a bit behind on my writing due to moving from the US back to Indonesia, back to our work with local Muslims and Christians pursuing peace.  What a joy to be surrounded by people here who share a common dream for a better world and are willing to put aside their personal prejudices and pain to fulfill that dream!

Having a common dream positions us on the same side of any conflict—no longer US vs. THEM, but PEACEMAKERS vs. HATE, PREJUDICE, OPPRESSION, etc.  Whether we’re praying as a mixed group in our House of Prayer, or praying alone at home, we are learning to pray as one unified group.  It is my hope that this will lead to also identifying not only with the victims, but also with the victimizers, and praying as though they belong in our group as well: “Forgive US for our hatred and violence, heal US of our traumas and judgments toward others, show US ALL the best way forward to peace.”

Pastor Bill Johnson of Bethel Church in Redding, CA teaches that true intercession isn’t praying for God’s mercy for “them,” but identifying with others so deeply that we see ourselves in the same group together, crying out for mercy for “us”—an “us” that includes both ourselves and them.

It is this mindset of breaking down the walls between groups that separate us, and learning to identify with others as though they all were a part of “us,” that is needed when the reconciliation process begins.

Reconciliation begins when one person walks through the separating wall towards the offender (or one representing an offending group), hears their story and seeks to understand and feel their pain, and identifies himself as one of the same group (eg. a fellow-human, a fellow-sufferer, a fellow-seeker of God, a fellow-pursuer of peace,  etc.).  If the other person can receive this repositioning, both will find themselves companions on the same side of the wall.

The first time this happens for some people, it is mind-blowing.  Many Christians have never imagined a Muslim could be on the same side as them about anything; the same is true of Muslims never imagining Christians could be on their side.  But when that magical moment happens, suddenly a massive group of perceived enemies becomes an unlimited source of potential friends.  People previously observed and quickly passed over because of their clothes or other outward sign of “otherness” are examined more closely, as though one is singing a melody blindfolded while listening for who might be humming a harmony unnoticed before.

The exchange of ideas, truths and beliefs only flows freely between those on the same side of the wall.  We all know how easily we can hear new ideas from those who are similar to us, and how resistant we are to ideas from those who come from groups we don’t like.  Many people do Christian evangelism or Muslim dak’wa by lobbing “truth grenades” over the wall to destroy the arguments of the other group.  A sincere hearing of each others’ differing beliefs can only happen when we find enough in common that we are willing to hear difficult words from a friend, with complete assurance that we’ll remain friends who will always carry some level of difference in our personal, cultural and religious beliefs.

Those differences do not threaten our relationship—they enrich it.  Those differences deserve to be treated with honor.  At the same time, people do change, and love is the most conducive of all environments to incubate radical change.  When we’re positioned on the same side of the wall, we both will change.  This combination of the love which brings us closer to one another, and the honor we show for our differences, testifies to the world of hope for reconciliation, conflict resolution, and true peacemaking.