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.





Imagination, Hope, Prayer and Societal Change

3 06 2014

Societal change does not come by accident; it occurs because someone first imagined it.Mother Teresa

This imagination can sneak into your life anytime, anywhere.  For Mother Teresa, it started the first time she walked by a dying person on the street and wondered why no one was doing anything about it.  For a young Martin Luther King Jr. it may have begun as he read about St. Francis of Assisi and Mahatma Gandhi.  For an older Nelson Mandela there was plenty of time in prison to imagine what he’d do when he got out.

But people everywhere are dreamers.  Only a few believe those dreams can come true and fix their lives to that hope.  They begin to orient their lives to the dream, believing that if they can live it, others will catch it; and if their community can live it, they can change a nation or even the world.

Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about his dream that “little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”  He began to live that dream, joining hands with people of other races and religions to promote racial equality.

Gandhi dreamed of India being free from British colonization. First he, then his community, began growing their own food and making their own clothes to show they could live independently of the British commercial system.  A nation watched, and began to believe.

Nelson Mandela could have spent his 27 years in prison focusing his imaginations on justice, or worse, revenge, but he chose to hope in a “rainbow nation” for South Africa where both white and black men cared about each other.  When elected president, he chose to keep many of the white staff from the outgoing president, knowing if he could change the culture in his office, he could change the culture in the nation.

But beyond imagination and hope, I believe there is one more vital key that many extraordinary peacemakers shared, and that is prayer.  When our dreams come into alignment with God’s dreams, an unstoppable force moves with us against that formerly “immovable object.”  Study the lives of the great peacemakers and you will inevitably find they were people of prayer.

One book about Mother Teresa is entitled, Everything Starts with Prayer.  She once said, “If we pray, we will believe; If we believe, we will love; If we love, we will serve.”

Gandhi spoke and wrote prolifically about prayer.  He said, “No act of mine is done without prayer,” and “As food is necessary for the body, prayer is necessary for the soul.  A man may be able to do without food for a number of days…but believing in God, man cannot, should not live a moment without prayer.”  Gandhi’s fasting and prayer literally stopped a civil war and saved the nation.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a transforming prayer experience after a midnight call from a racist who threatened to kill him and destroy his home.  Over a cup of coffee in his kitchen, he poured his heart out to God, and felt God’s assurance that if he would stand up for righteousness, God’s presence would always be with him.  King would take personal prayer retreats, and even when locked up in jail would pray and sing.  One of his biographers would write, “Dr. King taught us about the importance of prayer, not only as part of our own personal devotional life but…also prayer must be a part of any movement for social action.”

Interestingly, the great peacemakers were generally humble people who recognized that if we all are dreaming and hoping for a change, we should all be willing to pray together for that change.  Martin Luther King Jr. brought Christians, Muslims and Jews together to pray for America.  Mother Teresa enjoyed praying with Christians, Muslims and Hindus, stating, “No color, no religion, no nationality should come between us—we are all children of God.”  Badshah Khan, the outstanding peacemaker among the Muslim Pashtuns in northwest India, joined Gandhi’s interfaith prayer meetings and credited his Christian teacher Rev. E.F.E.Wigram as the one “who had created in me the spirit of service to God.”  Nelson Mandela, a Christian, was a dear friend to the Muslim community of South Africa and joined them in prayer.   Gandhi was well-known for uniting different groups to pray.  About one of his famous fasts in response to Hindu-Muslim violence in 1924, Gandhi said this: “The fast was an adventure in goodness.  The stake was one man’s life.  The prize was a nation’s freedom.  If Indians were united as brothers, no outsider could long to be their master.”  When the fast was complete, Gandhi called his “brothers” together for a time of religious unity, where an Imam recited the Al Fatihah, a Christian missionary led the singing of a Christian hymn, then Hindu holy readings and songs closed their time together.

The point here is not that we all need to start interfaith prayer meetings—the point is that sometimes our dreams are bigger than ourselves, and we need to open our hearts to God and to others to achieve them.  As Mother Teresa has said, “I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”

So go ahead and dream!  Ignite your imaginations for a better future.  When those dreams turn to hope, you’ll find yourself naturally following Gandhi’s advice, “Become the change you want to see.”  Pray your dreams; let God’s dreams refine yours, expand yours.  And pray them with others who share your dreams, recognizing that if they are truly God’s dreams, they are much bigger than you.

Martin Luther King Jr. was laboring through his speech on the Washington Mall when one of the singers on the platform, Mahalia Jackson, called out to him, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.”  He abandoned his notes and began to pour out his heart to America about his dream.  As he declared images like the following:

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_Washington (1)     I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

     I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

     I have a dream that one day… little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

…as he declared those images, King’s dream became a nation’s dream.  What might your dreams become?





Healing the Wounds of a Nation — South Africa

17 01 2012
President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela, Ju...

As we work toward reconciliation between religions, we have to recognize that often other factors of difference, such as ethnicity, culture, language, control of wealth, control of power, etc., are also contributing to, if not driving, the conflict. On the surface, these contributing factors may make the peacemaking effort seem impossibly complex. But at the heart-level, the keys to reconciliation are consistent whether we’re facing Muslim-Christian conflict in Indonesia or the racial conflict of Apartheid in South Africa.

Recently, my peace-team and I invited a sizeable group of Muslim and Christian young adults to watch the film, INVICTUS. It’s the amazing story of how Nelson Mandela overcame his personal offense at the hands of a racist government to then lead the nation in building a unified society, where blacks and whites became one family again.

After viewing the film, we broke into small groups to discuss these powerful quotes from the movie below. As you read them, I invite you to write back to me how they affect you.

Quote #1 — The Power of Forgiveness: (Mandela) “The rainbow nation starts here. Reconciliation starts here.” (bodyguard) “But these people tried to kill us!” (Mandela) “Yes, I know. Forgiveness starts here too…. Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”

Quote #2 — Surprise with Compassion: “For 27 years in prison I studied my jailors. I learned their language. I read their books, their poetry. I had to know my enemy before I could prevail against him. And we did prevail…. Our enemy is no longer the Afrikaner (whites). They are our fellow South Africans, our partners in democracy. And they treasure Springbok rugby. If we take that away, we lose them. We would prove that we are what they feared we would be. We have to be better than that. We have to surprise them with compassion, with restraint, and with generosity.”

Quote #3 — Inspiration: “How do we inspire ourselves to greatness? How do we inspire everyone around us? … If I cannot change when circumstances demand it, how can I expect others to?”