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.





1001 MORE Ways to Die in America (part 2)

10 11 2016
huffingtonpost.com

photo from huffingtonpost.com

Recently I addressed the fear that many Americans face that Muslim jihadists may infiltrate our nation posing as refugees and conduct terrorist attacks against us. I argued that although this is possible, living in fear of such an event makes no more sense than living in fear of lightning strikes or of dying from falling out of bed—both of which caused more deaths in America last year than Muslim terrorists did.

But have you ever paused to wonder how your fellow American citizens feel, who happen to be Muslims? Do you think they might also struggle with fear that anti-Muslim vigilantes in America might attack them?

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism reported an estimated 260 violent attacks against Muslims in America during 2015, the highest total since the months immediately following 9/11. They hypothesized that anti-Muslim political rhetoric was the primary cause in the increase.

CNN writer Daniel Burke summarizes the vicious variety in these attacks in his article, ”The Secret Costs of Islamophobia.” (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/23/us/islamerica-secret-costs-islamophobia/index.html)

   Muslims have been shot and killed, execution-style, in their living rooms and outside of their mosques. They have been fatally stabbed on their way home. They have been beaten in their stores, in their schools and on the streets. They have been kicked off airplanesegged outside Walmartscorched with hot coffee in a park, shot in cabs and punched while pushing their children in strollers. Their clothes have been set on fire and their children have been bullied. Men have come to their door and told them that they would burn down their house if they did not move away. They have been fired for wearing hijabs and for praying. They have seen their cemeteries vandalized and their Quran desecrated. A Muslim congressman has received death threats, and business owners have posted signs advertising “Muslim-free zones.

   Heavily armed men have protested outside mosques in Texas and Arizona, arguing that it’s their patriotic duty to protect the country from Islam.

   People have covered the doors of a mosque with feces and torn pages of the Quran, left a severed pig’s head outside a mosque, firebombed mosques, urinated on mosques, spray-painted the Star of David and satanic symbols on mosques, carved swastikas and crude drawings of penises into signs at mosques, set fire to mosques, threatened to blow up mosques and kill “you Muslim f****,” fired rounds from high-powered rifles into mosques, wrapped bacon around the door handles of mosques, left hoax bombs and fake grenades at mosques, threatened to decapitate congregants at mosques, sent suspicious substances to mosques, written notes saying, “We hate you,” “We will burn all of you” and “Leave our country” to mosques, rammed a tractor-trailer into a mosque, thrown bricks and stones through the windows of mosques, pelted Muslims with rocks as they left mosques and stood outside mosques shouting, “How many of you Muslims are terrorists?”

This type of behavior breaks my heart! Does it break yours? Every one of those events happened to real people—nurturing fathers, gentle mothers, children wide-eyed with innocence—people just like you and me.

If you think you have something to be afraid of because one Muslim family moved into your neighborhood, how do you think they feel, surrounded by non-Muslims, with no idea who might be a violent, gun-carrying Muslim-hater that might attack them while they’re pushing their baby in a stroller down the sidewalk?

Fear goes both ways. And in 99.999% of the cases, that fear of the unknown can be shattered by walking up and introducing yourself, getting to know your neighbor, and starting a friendship. Every Muslim American needs non-Muslim friends to feel safe. And every Muslim you reach out to in love means one less fear you’ll have to worry about on your checklist.

I challenge you—the next Muslim you see, determine in your heart to approach him or her with a smile and introduce yourself. Ask about their family, work and dreams. Then write me and tell me what happened.

And try to do this before Christmas comes and finds you singing, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…”





1001 Ways to Die in America

19 10 2016

cemetary   I’ve been criticized for not treating the threat of a Muslim terrorist sneaking into the US posing as a refugee as real. Let me be clear—that is a real threat. The events in Chattanooga and San Bernadino last year (19 killed) and Orlando this year (49 killed) remind us that there are Muslims motivated by hate who are willing to kill Americans.

At the same time, I’d like to bring some perspective to the actual danger this poses to you, because the fear of Muslim refugees that is saturating our media has been blown all out of proportion. Yes, there is a danger you may be killed by a Muslim refugee this year. There is also a danger you might have a tree fall on your head. And guess which one is more likely? The falling tree by a long shot.

Let’s take a look at some actual statistics to determine how likely a Muslim refugee terrorist might be to cause your death. Is it really worth your anxiety, or would your worries be better invested somewhere else?

Here’s what I discovered. Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning or die from a peanut allergy than to die in a Muslim terrorist attack. In fact, you’re 10 times more likely to die by falling out of your own bed. You’re about 80 times more likely to die by walking across the street. You’re nearly 100 times more likely to die by texting while driving. And you’re 700 times more likely to die by choosing to kill yourself.

That doesn’t even account for the truly great killers among us, such as poor eating habits, the consumption of tobacco, alcohol or drugs, or being the victim of a medical error (your doctor or nurse is 4000 times more likely to kill you!).

There are so many ways to die in America it’s crazy. But dying at the hand of a Muslim terrorist is about as likely as discovering you had a long-lost identical twin. Last year’s statistics show that more Americans were shot and killed by toddlers with guns than by Islamic terrorists!

And check this out—in all of 2015, do you know how many deaths in America were caused by Muslim refugees or illegal aliens? Zero. As in none. It never happened. (American citizens and permanent residents were responsible for Chattanooga, San Bernadino and Orlando.)

So if America needs to close our borders or banish somebody or something, how about we start with tobacco, alcohol, fast food and incompetent medical professionals? Then we can move on to cell phones, peanuts, beds, trees and lightning. Next we’ll get rid of toddlers. Then we can deal with those nasty, dangerous Muslim refugees.

For more insight on your deadliest enemies, check out 2016’s latest statistics at: http://www.romans322.com/daily-death-rate-statistics.php

Some of you may think I’m wrong. You’re welcome to argue your point! Go ahead and comment below.

My hope is that you live a long and fear-free life. The world needs your love.





Peacemaking that Produces Intimacy

6 02 2012
English: Four hands holding.

I was listening to Danny Silk teach on communication in marriage today, and it struck me the implications for the peacemaking process.

Danny teaches that many of us have a wrong goal of intimacy, believing that it comes from getting the other person to agree with me.  We don’t value what we don’t believe or don’t understand.  So we try to convince the other person to join our values, so we can feel “one.”

The problem is that every person thinks and feels different things, and longs to be accepted and understood.  In a marriage, trying to convince our spouse to always agree with us makes them feel dehumanized.  They will probably rebel (creating outer conflict), or give in against their heart desire (creating inner conflict).  Both responses move away from intimacy.

So I thought about peacemaking….  How often do we approach the other with the goal of convincing them to agree with us?  If they have the same goal, neither of us learns to understand or accept the other and we move farther away from intimacy, strengthening the walls between us.

In marriage, Danny teaches that we need to be committed to understanding, valuing and expressing our own needs, thoughts and feelings, and understanding and valuing our spouse’s expressed needs, thoughts and feelings, creating a safe place to be real, accepting the other, and providing for the other’s needs.

What if we applied this to our relationships across religions?  What if our goals included sharing our needs and seeking how to provide for the others’ needs?

The difference is like going to a department store—have you ever gone shopping and met a salesman who tried aggressively to sell you something you weren’t looking for?  Did you look for the quickest exit, and avoid him the next time shopping there?  Much Christian “evangelism” comes across like this, with about the same result!  Compare that to the salesman who takes the time to understand what you’re looking for and gives you helpful input that may add something new to your original thoughts, but helps you get exactly what you wanted or something better.  What if interfaith dialogue worked like this?

Both my Christian and my Muslim friends want to be closer to God.  Most of them want to know Him more, feel His presence, receive answers to prayer about daily life issues, receive more revelation or wisdom, get their hurting bodies and hearts healed, have more victory over sin, bondages and addictions, and some even want to see God do miracles.  Many of them want to see God change the world and be a part of that change.

So I don’t meet Muslims at a theological debate table; I ask them if they would like to pray together with me for those issues we both understand and value.  In the process, we can feel with each other the longing for what we’re both missing in our pursuit of God; we can share with each other new ways for seeing those needs met; and we can find a place of intimacy where we treat each other as brothers.  The greater the intimacy, the greater the trust; the greater the trust, the more open we are to God using the other to change us.