Monday, June 27, 2011

Peace Quote of the Day - Christians & Muslims are Key to Peace

"Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians."
A Common Wordquoted in Miroslav Volf, Allah: A Christian Response

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Wars are Killing Us

Jim Wallis's article, "The War Must Not Go On," made me think of an issue that surfaced this past 10 days in the "Building Hope" Conference at the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, among Jews, Christians and Muslims.

More than one of the Muslims, who are very much in good relationship with Christians, and in favor of peaceful coexistence, said that when they talk with Muslims (especially in the Middle East and Asia), the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are "killing them." Muslims always ask them, "you say / we hear that Jesus taught peace and love, but where is the peace and love in Christian America waging war on Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan?"

If you are American Christian, listen carefully: for most Muslims in the world, relationship with Christians is being undermined, I would say being destroyed, by the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jim Wallis is right - the war must not go on.

For the sake of Muslim-Christian relations, which for Christians includes the sake of bearing positive witness to the "good news" of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of peace in the world, the wars must stop.

P.S. The other key issue, which makes it very hard for Muslims trying to present a "moderate" approach to Muslims around the world, and also for us as Americans (for me, as an American Christian), is the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Another war, which stirs up further animosity, hatred, strife, and more violence.

Theology of Destruction or of Reconciliation?

Does our theology lead us towards destruction or reconciliation? Toward being "for" someone and "against" another, or being for all?

Salim Munayer is one of my peace heroes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Peace Quote of the Day: Daisy Khan on Extremists

Okay, here's a trip:

Visiting the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue in New York City, led by Rabbi Elie Abbadie, with a group of Muslims, Christians and Orthodox Jews, and hearing Daisy Khan speak.

Daisy Khan is the wife of Imam Faisal, who has been at the center of the Ground Zero mosque controversy.

She is interesting, engaging, real, and anything but threatening. That, she says, is because (according to her critics) she is practicing takia, i.e., concealing the truth - "faking us out," so that she (they) can "take over and impose Sharia on America" (basically, the same as the Moral Majority, I guess?). 

The thing is, I believe her, and I'm willing to risk something on that belief. (I would add that, in 30 years of living among Muslims, I have never seen any teaching or practice that supports the accusation of takia. And I think I have some ability to judge character.

Anyway, here's a quote, among other things she said: 

we must not be held hostage by extremists.” 

She was speaking of Terry Jones, but her words are equally relevant to Muslim and Jewish extremists.

If we can't distinguish between extremists and others, we are going to have a very hard time moving forward.

Peace Quote of the Day - Seeking the Common Good?

If we are going to seek the common good, we must seek what is good for all of us – Muslims, Christians and Jews, together” 
(Dr. Rick Love, Peace Catalyst International -

This is the way to seek peace - to seek the common good, for all; and preferably, to do this by working together.

Why I am A Rabbi for Human Rights

Seven Resolutions Against Prejudice, Hatred and Discrimination

Peace Quote of the Day - the Grand Mufti of Bosnia Weighs In

At the UN yesterday, as part of Yale's "Building Hope" conference, we heard various speakers. Here is a word from Dr. Mustapha Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Hertzegovina:

there are no just wars – all wars are unjust in terms of human suffering and loss”

Not what you expect to hear from a Grand Mufti?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Be Careful What Kind of Walls You Build

We had a fascinating interaction today, at the "Building Hope" conference, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Presenters were Rabbi Douglas Krantz, one of the founders of J Street (see, and Sami Awad of Holy Land Trust ( and the film "Little Town of Bethlehem" (, which we viewed tonight (see it if you haven't).

The group consists of Muslims from various countries, Orthodox Jews from the U.S., Israel and elsewhere, and Christians from various countries - so you can imagine that there are many different opinions and perspectives.

I didn't know what to expect, whether our newly forming relationships would hold up under the pressures of diving into such a charged issue. I was pleasantly surprised. We were able to engage in frank, honest, and respectful conversation. Many shared their stories, personal experiences, and perspectives, and asked some tough questions. It was moving, at many points (in a positive way). It was enriching. We remarked again and again, the importance of the human dimension - relationship, getting to know the other. It's harder to stereotype and to hate someone you know (if you know them in the right way).

Rabbi Krantz talked about the danger of building walls, physical walls and intellectual walls (and other kinds). He remarked that "an intellectual wall is harder to tear down than a real wall" (and may exist long after the physical walls have been removed). He exhorted us to be careful of how we see ourselves, and how we talk about ourselves, and to be careful what kind of walls we build. An excellent word, which in a way summarizes much of what this conference has been about.

Words for Peace from Imam Dawood

Another "peace nugget" from the Building Hope Conference:

“it's much harder to hate someone once you know them” (Imam Dawood)

We must meet and know people, if we are to grow toward peace. This is true whether we're talking about Christian-Muslim-Jewish relations, about race relations, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We have to step out of our comfort zone, leave our bubbles, and meet The Other.

An Organization Working for Peace: Encounter

Seeking peace through bringing people together - check out the work of Encounter:

Words for Peace by Sami Awad (from the Building Hope Conference)

Words for peace, from a talk by Sami Awad at the Building Hope Conference (you can follow it on Twitter at #buildinghope):

if you want peace, you work for peace, and you never stop, no matter what the other side does”

finding a solution to just benefit one group or another, is not peace”

peace is what you give, not what you take”

peace is not a strategic option” (i.e., our commitment needs to be deeper and stronger than "strategy")

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Does Peace Lie in the Texts, or in the Interpretation and Application?

One thing that has become clear to me, as we - committed Christians, Muslims and Jews - discuss our sacred texts about various issues (like love of neighbor, the poor, violence including terrorism, and others), at the Building Hope Conference, is that our problem does not lie in our sacred texts, but in the interpretation and application of those texts.

To put it very simply, you can interpret and apply the texts - in any of our traditions - in a way that leads to and supports good relations and peace with others, or the opposite.

To give one example, which I keep coming back to, it is one thing to have a text that says "love your neighbor as yourself"; it is another to decide what that means and who it applies to (Jesus threw a wrench in the works by applying the verse to the despised Samaritans, who the Jews of his day would never have thought of as their neighbors). And that's one of the "easy" or "nice" verses.

One of the things which encourages me about this conference is, the participants are deeply religious / committed, AND broad-minded, open-hearted, eager to live out their faith in good relations with those of other faiths (or none). That is encouraging.

We'll see how it goes tomorrow: we're talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. :-)

Peace Quote of the Day - how can we have peace, how can we "love our neighbor," if we don't "have" neighbors?

My concern is not that we don't love our enemies, but that we don't love anyone; that we just love ourselves and those who it is convenient to love. … In the West, now, we are lacking even a sense of community, what it means to have literal, actual neighbors. … What would it look like for us to take our literal neighborhoods seriously?”
A Pastor Who is a Participant in the "Building Hope" Conference

Peace Quote of the Day - From "Enemy" to...?

“When we look deeply into our anger, we see that the person we call our enemy is also suffering. As soon as we see that, we have the capacity of accepting and having compassion for him. Jesus called this ‘loving your enemy.’ When we are able to love our enemy, he or she is no longer our enemy. The idea of ‘enemy’ vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone suffering a great deal who needs our compassion. Loving others is sometimes easier than we might think, but we need to practice it.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, quoted in Johann Arnold, Seeking Peace

Peace Cartoon of the Day: How Interfaith Dialogue Leads to Peace (or Not)

The Koolaid of Interfaith Dialogue and the Clergy that Drinks It

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Love of Neighbor, Yes - But Who is Our Neighbor?

An interesting question came up yesterday, as we were talking about peacemaking and tolerance in our (Christian, Jewish and Muslim) traditions.

First of all, we all agreed that "tolerance" is a weak and insufficient goal. We want something more, and we need something more, if we are to be seeking and building peace with different others.

But then a question arose, as we considered what our sacred texts teach about our relationship with The Other.

A Jewish presenter shared the text,
The reason Adam was created alone in the world is to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever keeps alive a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had preserved the entire world.

But someone pointed out that there is another version,


This raises the question, are Jews encouraged not to destroy / to save, Jewish life, or all life?

Similarly, a Muslim presenter shared the Hadith,

"None of you truly believes (in Allaah and in His religion) until he loves for his neighbor what he loves for himself,"

but another pointed out that this is "weak," that the "strong" version is

"None of you truly believes (in Allah and in His religion) until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself,"

with the understanding that "brother" means fellow Muslims.

And for Christians, does Jesus' teaching to "love your neighbor as yourself" mean fellow Christian, or all others? (Note, for example, that in Matthew 5:23-24 it says, "Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to that person; then come and offer your gift." - does "brother or sister" mean fellow Christian, or everyone?)

I do not approach this from the position of arguing what Islam or Judaism teaches (e.g., some Christians argue that Islam teaches only love of Muslims). One question is what the texts say; another is, how do we interpret and apply them, what do we emphasize?

My perspective is that in any of our traditions we are faced with the question, how do we relate to people (The Other) outside our tradition, outside our community? What are our commitments? Are we committed to doing good to all people, loving all people, saving the life of all people? The potential is there, in each of our traditions, for inclusivity or exclusivity, for narrowness or breadth. And depending on the interpretation and the path we take, the end result can be conflict, oppression, even the extremes of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

As a Christian, I believe that our mandate, from Jesus, is to love all people. After all, when he taught that the second great commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself,” the example he used to illustrate this (to his Jewish listeners) was the dispised, “half-breed,” “false religion” Samaritan. Every person is our neighbor. We are to treat every person as we ourselves want to be treated. There is no room, in the teachings of Jesus, for the kind of exclusive views that might lead us to devalue and ultimately dehumanize other people, whatever their gender or race or ethnicity or religion.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Peace Quote of the Day - what do the Talmud and Qur'an say about Murder?

The reason Adam was created alone in the world is to teach you that whoever destroys a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever keeps alive a single soul, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had preserved the entire world.        Babylonian Talmud

Because of this, we decreed for the Children of Israel that anyone who murders any person who had not committed murder or horrendous crimes, it shall be as if he murdered all the people. And anyone who spares a life, it shall be as if he spared the lives of all the people.  Qur'an Surah 5:32

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Seeking Peace through "Building Hope"? Muslims, Christians and Jews at Yale

There is too much to reflect on coherently at this time, but a couple of thoughts about how to relate to the Other, in a way that might lead to something positive:

* We were encouraged last night that for deeper understanding, we must go beyond study of texts (history, etc.), and focus on developing friendship with others (the others we might be suspicious or afraid or ignorant of, in conflict with, etc.). In fact, that's why 30 of us - Muslims, Christians and Jews - are spending 10 days together, sharing life, sharing meals, sharing faith, and discussing difficult issues.

* We were also encouraged that the path to understanding usually leads through times of non-understanding. If we think we "understand" the Other from the start, what we really understand are just our own stereotypes of the Other, relating to an image rather than reality. 

* Today, one of the Jewish speakers reminded us that Muslims and Christians both tend to think they understand Judaism, but what we really understand are our own versions of Judaism, based on our textual traditions. If we really want to understand Judaism (and Jews), we need to let them speak, and listen, to come to know them, and their version. The challenge, the speaker pointed out, is to hold our texts and images in one hand, and to create space for understanding Judaism on its own terms, at the same time. 

What we experienced, today, was Muslims and Jews sharing about their beliefs and practices, and significant question and answer times (that were too short, but very significant); and lots of relational time, as well, over meals and breaks, interacting, getting to know each other, and - I hope - moving toward more of an understanding of Each Other as we really are (not as images). 

This definitely seems like steps on the path toward peace. I'm hopeful...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A "Salafi Pacifist" talking about Jihad, as a force for Peace?

Peace Quote of the Day - Seeing the Light (a Rabbinic Perspective)

A rabbi asked his students: when, at dawn, can one tell the light from the darkness? One student replied: when I can tell a goat from a donkey. No, answered the rabbi. Another said: when I can tell a palm tree from a fig. No, answered the rabbi again. Well then, what is the answer? his students pressed him. Not until you look into the face of every man and every woman and see your brother and your sister, said the rabbi. Only then have you seen the light. All else is still darkness. (Hasidic tale)
Human nature being what it is, the ability to see a brother or sister in every person we meet is a grace. Even our relationships with those who are closest to us are clouded now and then, if only by petty grievances. True peace with others requires effort. Sometimes it demands the readiness to yield; at others, the willingness to be frank. Today we may need humility to remain silent; tomorrow, courage to confront or speak out. One thing remains constant, however: if we seek peace in our relationships, we must be willing to forgive over and over.
Johann Arnold, Seeking Peace 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Peace Quote of the Day - the Torah and Human rights (a Jewish perspective)

"As rabbis, our first responsibility in [Rabbis for Human Rights] is to uphold the Jewish tradition of human rights.  However, international law is a secular expression of that same love for humanity.  International law was not created to be a gun pressed against our heads, but to learn from the darkest chapters of human history and serve as secular expression of the very Jewish belief in the intrinsic sanctity of every human being. ...

There would be no need for the Torah to teach us that every human being is created in God's Image were this obvious to us.  It would not need to command us time and time again to love the stranger if this came easy to us.  Were we to enjoy perpetual peace and harmony, neither the Torah nor international law would need to place limits on what is permissible in times of war.  Were there no natural human desires to acquire as much as we can for personal gain, neither the Torah nor international law would need to insist that we worry about the needs of others or teach us about economic justice.  The Jewish tradition would not need to put a curb on greed or remind us that "The earth belongs to Adonai," and that not everything in our bank account is really ours. ...

Our Jewish tradition and international law are necessary because our legitimate desires to find meaning and a sense of belonging through religious, national and ethnic in-groups can lead us down the slippery slope to human right violations perpetrated against out-groups. Our understandable desire to take control of our destiny and again enjoy national sovereignty as an answer to two thousand years of oppression, humiliation and wanderings can lead all to justifying our exclusive rights to the Land of Israel.  Knowing how easily centuries of persecution can embitter us against any non-Jew, the Torah makes a point of commanding us to treat Egyptians decently. ...

God did not give us Torah out of a naïve belief that we live in an ideal messianic world in which it would be easy to observe the Torah, but out of a loving understanding of our human foibles. God knows that we are capable of evil, but as the psalm quoted above continues, "You have made humanity little less than the Divine" (Psalms 8:6)  God did not impose the yoke of the commandments in order to oppress us, but out of a desire to inspire towards a better and more holy reality in which we will be the first to benefit.  We are taught that the Torah is a Tree of Life.  We are to live by the commandments, not die by them.  The authors of international law were not naïve idealists sitting in a bubble. They loved and believed in humanity, but were scarred and painfully aware of the depths to which humanity can sink.

The Torah of human rights is not designed for some other fantasy world where they are not necessary.  They are a loving gift to our imperfect, bleeding, shattered and screaming world, where they are desperately necessary." 
excerpt from an email from Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Rabbis for Human Rights

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Peace Quote of the Day - acknowledging the other

"What then is the source of our redemption, our salvation? It lies ultimately in our willingness to acknowledge the other - the victims we have created - Palestinian, Lebanese and also Jewish - and the injustice we have perpetrated as a grieving people. Perhaps then we can pursue a more just solution in which we seek to be ordinary rather than absolute, where we finally come to understand that our only hope is not to die peacefully in our homes as one Zionist official put it long ago but to live peacefully in those homes."
Sara Roy, quoted in Mark Braverman, Fatal Embrace