One of the greatest joys of my work has also brought some of the greatest sorrow.
For about 6 years I have been involved in dialogue and relationship building with Muslim neighbors here in the US and in the Middle East.
This has included countless meals, gallons of (delicious) tea, as well as, travelling to some of the most remarkable places in the Middle East and North Africa. All along the way, I have met and built lasting friendships with some incredible people who follow Islam.
Many of these friendships have been transformative, life-giving, and beyond what many believe is even possible for someone like me, a white American with a Christian background.
It is these friendships that are one of the greatest joys of my work, and my life, but also the source of great sorrow.
What I have directly and consistently experienced is how simple it can be to connect as neighbors, and yet the world tells us a very different dark tale. One that is rooted in fear, suggesting we are bound to be enemies, causing a defensive and divisive posture. Even leading some empowered bigots to lash out with hurtful or hateful actions toward our Muslim neighbors, my friends. I can’t imagine what it must really be like to be Muslim and live in this profoundly turbulent time in America.
This reality often leaves me overwhelmed, buried in grief, with an almost uncontrollable desire to climb a mountaintop and shout – “It doesn’t have to be this way, we can make this work, together as neighbors!!”
But even if I made it to that mountaintop, I wonder if anyone would even hear me over the beating drums of war, seemingly self-preserving theologies, and political and nationalistic rhetoric that is megaphoned across America.
Over and over again I see firsthand what is possible, and yet, I watch the world around us seem stuck in a never-ending loop of misunderstanding and misinformation. The weight of this is often accompanied by the love-killing temptation to throw in the towel, quit, with whispers that things will never change.
It is in this tension, between this great joy and great sorrow, that I spend much of my days.
Often when I finish a blog, I try to end on a positive note, pointing us toward the real hope we can have. But this time, I am simply going to end with initials. Each initial represents the first and last name of a dear friend (of many) who is Muslim. They also represent real people who have helped shape the man I am and have extended a Love toward me and my family that I will forever be grateful for.
Maybe, in a way, this short blog is just another attempt at reaching that mountaintop and hoping at least a few will hear…
M.N. S.O. A.A. G.A. B.A. A.A. A.A. L.H. M.A. A.A. S.R. S.R. F.A. T.T. S.O.