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09.23.14

Learning to Be Peacemakers in Israel and Palestine

Filed under: Discipleship,Palestine / Israel — 1:57 pm
Lynne Hybels

Lynne Hybels

This Saturday morning was the first official Israel/Palestine “learning community” at Willow Creek. We set out 300 chairs, not knowing if people would come, and over 650 showed up. It was a stunning, powerful, fascinating, heartbreaking, and inspiring three hours.

I sat in the front row and pretty much choked back tears the whole morning.

Lynne Hybels began by sharing a bit of her journey into peacemaking. She read from the beatitudes and framed the whole conversation in terms of being “a common friend” to both sides. There are few people I know who live this out more fully. Lynne finished by gently yet prophetically declaring:  “It is possible to be Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine. In fact, I believe this is the only way to be Pro-Peace. And Pro-Jesus.”  Amen and amen.

Second, Todd Deatherage (co-founder of Telos Group and friend/mentor to many of us) did the impossible: he presented a dual-narrative history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in 60 minutes. It was brilliant. Like watching a master painter with his canvas. Or like watching Obi Wan explain the force to Luke! Obviously, Todd would be the first to say that he could only give a basic sketch in such a short amount of time – the actual conflict is SO complex – but with God’s grace he attempted to offer an honest story that honors both perspectives. Such a gift. At the end, he shared a few principles for peacemaking…

Todd Deatherage

Todd Deatherage

Robi and Bassam

Robi and Bassam

Finally, we heard from two peacemakers who have lived through the unthinkable. Robi Damelin (Israeli) and Bassam Aramin (Palestinian) both lost children to the conflict. Hearing their stories broke my heart, especially as a father, and yet their commitment to peace blew me away. When tragedy strikes, most people choose to either shut down or take revenge…which only prolongs the conflict. But Robi and Bassam have chosen the way of engagement, non-violence, and reconciliation. A couple quotes…

“Revenge is never an end to the violence, only a new beginning.”  (Bassam)

“Without a grassroots movement of reconciliation, there is no hope for peace. There may be a cease-fire, but not peace.” (Robi)

I highly, highly recommend checking out what they’re doing with The Parent’s Circle.

——-

FYI, Willow recorded this whole morning, and they are deciding the best way to make the content available. I’ll keep you posted. You’ll definitely want to see this!

——-

Saturday morning was like pouring jet fuel onto a fire that’s been burning in me for a long time. I want to be a peacemaker. I want to give my life to the things that Jesus gave his life to…although I’m not always sure what to do. But Saturday reminded of a wise mentor’s response to the question “What do you think Jesus would do if he walked into Jerusalem today?”

After hearing the question, the 85 year old man paused for a moment…with a very intense expression…and then whispered quietly…

“If Jesus walked into Jerusalem today, he’d do now what he did then:
care for the poor, speak truth to power, and get himself killed.”

07.30.14

Contemplation as the Path to Peacemaking

Filed under: Discipleship,Palestine / Israel,The Practice — 4:08 pm

We’re all friends, right?  If so, can I ask for a favor?  Please take an hour this week or next and listen to this teaching from Brian Zahnd…

“Contemplation and The Way of Peace”

In light of Gaza, Ukraine, and so much of the unrest in the world, Zahnd digs deep into the question of How can we actually follow Jesus into peacemaking?  Really?  Not just hippy-dippy idealism.  Not just angry activism. But how do we become the kinds of people who can tangibly love our enemies and choose The Way of Peace?

Peacemakers

Peacemakers

I don’t mean to overstate here, but learning this would change the world.  Or at the very least… if I can learn this, it will change my entire life.

As a side note, Brian has spent a lot of time in Israel and Palestine, and spends quite a bit of time telling stories:  being in a bunker with his friends in Gaza…in a rocket shelter with his friends in Sderot, Israel…and with many of his Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends in the Holy Land. If you’re looking for a first-hand, both/and perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you may find this helpful.

Jesus said: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Friends, many of us would call ourselves children of God, but if we’re very honest, we have not yet become peacemakers in the way of Christ.  We Christians are often known primarily for the people/things we’re against.  But there’s a more beautiful Way.

07.23.14

Cynicism, Idealism, and Proximate Justice

Filed under: Discipleship,life,Palestine / Israel — 9:12 am
Proximate Justice

Proximate Justice

In my early 20s, I became a cynic. I gleefully excelled in the twisted art of poking holes and always finding the worst in things. (Oh what a joy I was to be around.) And after a couple years, I assumed that I must be a fundamentally pessimistic, negative person.

But over the last decade or so – through honest friendships, plenty of therapy, and God’s grace – the “thing beneath the thing” has been coming to light. As it turns out, I’m not a cynic at all.  Not even a “glass is half empty” person. But instead…

I’m a hopeless optimist who doesn’t know how to deal with disappointment.

I can see the epic beauty of what’s possible, and this fills me with life, passion, and hope. There’s always a glorious new idea to chase around the upcoming corner.  But when reality doesn’t live up to what’s in my head and heart, I am often crushed by the disappointment.

Are there any frustrated idealists out there? Raise your hand if you’ve been hiding under cynical armor.  I see that hand. Me too.

To be honest, the last two weeks of global events have been overwhelming and depressing.  Especially the devastation in Gaza. And even though I believe that every person on earth has been invited to join God in healing and restoring the world, lately I just want to give up. Things will NEVER be completely fixed, so why keep trying?

Thankfully, one of my heroes in peacemaking shared this stunningly brilliant article called “Making Peace with Proximate Justice” by Stephen Garber.  Here’s his point…

“What keeps us going is the possibility of proximate justice—of something rather than nothing—knowing ahead of time that it will never be everything on this side of the consummation. Francis Schaeffer called this the vision and hope of substantial healing, arguing that it was the antidote to the all-or-nothing syndrome that so afflicts us, whether in the most personal parts of life, as with marriage, or the most public, as with political engagement. I really hoped, I really tried, and it didn’t work—so I’m done. His words have been a great grace to me for a long time. A person can touch and feel something that is substantial; it is real, even if it is not everything—but it is not nothing, either.”

Are you as inflicted by “the all-or-nothing syndrome” as I am?  Either my job is everything I’ve ever dreamed it can be…or I want to quit. Either my marriage is like the movies every second…or I want to bail. Either I am single-handedly bringing peace to the Middle East…or what’s the point of even trying. Right?

Please take a moment to soak in the challenging and healing words from Stephen Garber below. He has given his life to both gut-wrenching honesty AND relentless hope…or as he says “I do not know of any challenge that is more difficult than to really know the world, and still choose to love it.” We can’t give up. Honesty and hope. Leaning in with eyes and hearts wide open…

“Making Peace with Proximate Justice” by Stephen Garber

 

 

 

07.12.14

In Light of the Current Events in Gaza

Filed under: Palestine / Israel,Uncategorized — 12:03 pm
Gaza bomb

Gaza

Please allow me to spend a moment in someone else’s shoes.

If our mayor one day announced that half of my house now belonged to my neighbor, and forced my family to live in the other half while the new family spread out in what used to be my bathroom, bedroom, and study…I would be very angry. And if this new family invited their relatives to move in also, taking more and more rooms, forcing me into the basement, my anger would only increase. And if I took this injustice to the US Supreme Court, only to have them rule in favor of my neighbor and move my family into our garage while my neighbor’s family took over my entire house and changed the locks, I would despair. And unfortunately, if I’m completely honest, this despair might even turn to violence.

The violence would NOT be justified, of course. It never ever is. But I must admit that if I were pushed into a corner long enough, I just might throw a punch. Or fire a rocket.

But let me also step into my neighbor’s shoes.

After being viciously mistreated in our last neighborhood, if the mayor gave my family legal right to half of a house in a safe neighborhood, in a neighborhood where our family tree began and where we once lived long ago, I would gratefully accept. Even if it already had a family in it. And in my thankfulness for a safe home and fear of ever going back to the abuse of the old neighborhood, I would most certainly invite my loved ones to enjoy the security of this new home. Even if it already had a family in it. And if the other family got angry and violent and threatened my kids, you better believe I would fight back. Every dad has the duty to protect his family.

The violence would NOT be justified, of course. It never ever is. But I must admit that if my family was threatened long enough, I just might throw a punch. Or drop bombs from fighter jets.

——–

I’m learning that this conflict cannot be reduced to “good guys vs bad guys”.

One of my heroes (Christian peace activist Sami Awad) explained to us that this conflict is NOT simply Israeli vs Palestinian or Jew vs Muslim…but it’s ultimately a conflict between those who want peace and those who don’t.  There are wonderful, peaceful men and women on both sides (I’ve met many of them), and dangerous saboteurs on both sides (which we see on the news all the time).

And so, personally, I’m not trying to decide which nation is 100% right so I can 100% support them AGAINST the other nation.  It’s just not that simple.  But in the name of Jesus, I want to find and support the peace-makers on every side. These are really dark days, but we can’t give up.

03.20.14

Live in Bethlehem!

Filed under: music,Palestine / Israel — 2:37 pm

Hey friends.  Last summer a couple friends and I had the thrilling opportunity to perform at Bet Lehem Live in Palestine.  It was a profoundly beautiful and intense experience.  Check out my posts reflecting on it here, here, and here.

Well they are doing the festival again June 19-24, 2014, and just posted last year’s video.  Our little band even made the cut!

If you are interested in learning more about this, please let me know and I can help you get connected.

Shalom and Salaam.

12.23.13

Double your money in the name of Peace

Filed under: God's movement,Palestine / Israel — 4:58 pm

If you’re looking for a way to make the most impact with your giving this December, The Telos Group has received a matching grant of $50,000.  Every dollar you give to Telos in 2013 will be matched.  Let me tell you why this is so important…

The Telos Group is at the leading edge of building a Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, Pro-American, Pro-Peace movement in America and around the world.  They are intelligently, courageously, and graciously convening a new kind of conversation about peace in the Middle East, and in my opinion, this has the potential to change the world.  And they need our support.

Would you consider giving toward this movement?

I’ve been on three different Telos tours, two Telos conferences, and have become friends with the founders. These guys are the real deal, and if you’d like someone to vouch for them, please send me an email.  I’d love to answer any questions you have.

Let us not just pray about peace and hope for peace, but actually roll up our sleeves and help make it possible.  Join us!

A few of us praying at the Wailing Wall

A few of us praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

 

12.17.13

If you really want to be a peacemaker…

Filed under: Palestine / Israel — 2:13 pm
Lynne Hybels

Lynne

…then please read these masterful words about working for peace in Israel and Palestine.

On December 5th, Lynne Hybels presented this paper to a gathering of Palestinian Christians, Israeli Messianic Jews, and American Christians and Messianic Jews, and I think it’s incredibly powerful.

She has been getting attacked a lot these days (called “a threat to the state of Israel”, an “anti-Semite”, “a spokesperson for the PLO”, etc), and she responds with intelligence, grace, courage, and soul. I love this:

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Six Things I Believe

In 2010 I spoke at the first Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem.  I gave a talk called “It’s All About Jesus: A Personal Journey.”  I chose that title because my engagement in the Holy Land was a very personal attempt to follow in the way of Jesus.  I had been spending considerable time in the region and was brokenhearted by the suffering that resulted from ongoing and often violent conflict.  I believed that what Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, needed most was to see Jesus incarnated in his followers in the Holy Land.  I came to Christ at the Checkpoint with the desire to encourage and lift up the Christians in the land.  To stand in solidarity with them.I had learned by that time that this issue could be theologically controversial.  I was still caught off guard, after my talk, when a Messianic Jewish theologian from Israel told me he believed I had totally violated scripture by talking about the plight of the Palestinians. He reminded me that God had given the land to the Jews, and if the Palestinians were suffering it was because God’s will regarding the land was being violated. If I thought the treatment they were receiving was unjust it was because I didn’t understand God’s purposes in the world.

It was a very awkward and disturbing conversation.

Now, fast-forward two years…

You can read the entire paper here.  Highly recommended.

10.29.13

The last seven days in Israel and Palestine

Filed under: Palestine / Israel — 2:07 pm

A couple hours ago, ten teammates and I made it home from a journey through Israel and Palestine.  This was my fourth trip (you can read about the last one HERE), and it still moved me deeply.  Once I get through the haze of jet lag and have a little time to process, I’ll share some new thoughts on this blog.  But let me begin here:  God loves His world and every single person in it.  And I want to also.  

For peace,
aaron

Jerusalem

Jerusalem

10.04.13

The grit and beauty of peacemaking

Filed under: God's movement,Palestine / Israel — 11:31 am

This week I had the thrill of meeting in Washington with peacemakers from around the world who are committed to a Pro/Pro/Pro Movement.  We are Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, and Pro-America…and above all, Pro-Peace.  We believe that the Middle East conflict is not about good guys vs bad guys, but a complicated story of beauty and horror that requires a much more nuanced, bridge-building, human engagement.

Thankfully, the conference was convened and masterfully lead by my heroes Todd Deatherage and Greg Khalil of The Telos Group.  They are giving their lives to build this Pro/Pro/Pro movement at such an incredibly important time in history.  If you are interested in Middle East peace, please join us!

There were many inspiring people gathered from Israel, Palestine, and the US — Christians, Muslims, and Jews all committed to this difficult work — but can I introduce you to two of them?  Jon Huckins and Jer Swigart of The Global Immersion Project are doing incredibly compelling and gutsy work to create peacemakers, and this is a bit of their story…

The Global Immersion Project from The Global Immersion Project on Vimeo.

06.24.13

So What Were We Doing in the Middle East?

Filed under: Palestine / Israel — 6:19 pm

For the last eight days, nine American Christians and I traveled all over Israel and Palestine to meet with people and hear their stories. Our agenda was simple: Learn, learn, learn. What is it like to be a Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or non-religious Palestinian or Israeli living in the Holy Land today? How does the conflict effect their everyday lives? Do they feel hopeful? What is their perception of America’s role in solving or perpetuating the conflict? How can we join with and support the peace-makers?

Todd Deatherage of The Telos Group masterfully guided our journey.

I can’t even begin to describe how beautiful, heartbreaking, confusing, holy, and complicated it all is. The reality on the ground is much more complex than CNN, Fox, or Al Jazeera can possibly represent, which is why we wanted to learn from as many different kinds of people as possible. Can I introduce you to six of them?

Telos Tour

Telos Tour

[top left] The first picture is from Shilo, where we shared a delicious bottle of homemade wine with Jewish settlers. (Settlers are Jews who move into Palestinian land and build Jewish neighborhoods there. This is a VERY contentious issue.) We found them to be wonderful hosts, and it was helpful to hear their perspective.

[top right] After visiting the settlement, we drove to Nablus to visit the Belata refugee camp. Of the millions of displaced Palestinian refugees who can no longer return to their homes, 26,500 live in this 1 square km. It is a rough, terrible, dangerous place, and the air was thick with despair.

[mid left] In Jerusalem, we met with Sheikh Ihab to hear a Muslim perspective of the conflict. We especially loved his emphatic reminder that terrorism is incompatible with the teachings of Islam. He said that while “Islam is perfect, Muslims are not”…so please do not judge all of Islam by a few bad Muslims. (Which is exactly how I feel about Christ and Christians!) Helpful and encouraging.

[mid right] In Tel Aviv, we met with a Jewish mother who lost her son to a terrorist sniper’s bullet, and a Palestinian wife who lost her husband to an Israeli army bullet. Absolutely heartbreaking. But out of the pain, they have joined forces with The Parent Circle to link arms, forgive their enemies, and pursue reconciliation. Check out this UNBELIEVABLE video of one of their beautifully provocative acts of peacemaking.

[bottom left] Also in Tel Aviv, we spent an hour with a retired Israeli army general. Since he’s retired, he was free to honestly answer any question we asked him. Wow. We appreciated hearing such a no-nonsense, intelligent, informed perspective of Israeli politics and security. I hope to have even half as much energy when I’m 83!

[bottom right] In Bethlehem, we met with one of my personal heroes: Sami Awad at Holy Land Trust. (You can read my thoughts about him HERE.) He reminded us again that non-violent resistance is the only option. He said “PLEASE don’t just pick a side…but join the peace-loving people on BOTH sides and help us make peace.” He’s the real deal.

06.23.13

Bet Lehem Live (part 3)

Filed under: A New Liturgy,music,Palestine / Israel — 4:01 am
Bet Lehem Live

Bet Lehem Live

The other set of lyrics that came to life in Bethlehem were from my song “God’s Children”. A couple specific lines…

“Father of the beaten down”
“Father of the most oppressed”
“Lover of each immigrant”
“God of every class from the greenest grass to the underpass.”
“You are Maker of us all.”
“The Loving Seer of us all.”

While singing these lyrics and looking out at our Palestinian brothers and sisters, I could feel a lump forming in my throat. (Which makes it tough to sing!) But what happened at the end completely blew me away. As we began the final verse…

“We were all once aliens…”

…people spontaneously starting cheering – as if to say “Yes! Us too! We’re all in this together! Thanks for seeing us! Thank you for giving voice to our shared human experience!”

I don’t think I will ever forget this moment. An unexpected holy moment of deep solidarity with 1500 Christian and Muslim Palestinians that reminded us we are all humans together on the same planet. Brothers and sisters in the deepest sense. The lyrics continued…

We were all once aliens
And we’re all so full of sin
But in Jesus’ name we are welcomed in, as citizens
A brand new family, old and young
From every nation, faith, and tongue
A new creation has begun
From every nation, faith, and tongue

O You love Your children, love Your children
Every daughter, every son
O You love Your children, all Your children
Help us see You in each one

It was really beautiful to be reminded again that God is not an American.

But the Eternal Creator loves every single one of his daughters and sons on earth…and desires that NONE should perish but that all should live an Eternal kind of Life. God loves His children, all His children. And that includes you, me, and everyone we’ll ever meet. Hallelujah!

06.19.13

Bet Lehem Live (part 2)

Filed under: God's movement,music,Palestine / Israel — 4:10 am

There were two different lyrics that exploded with technicolor in my heart as we sang them at Bet Lehem Live…

(1) After David sang his stunning song “Dust”, the very first lyrics I sang were “Bridges are more beautiful than bombs…” (from Love Can Change the World). I wrote it as metaphor, but in the tumultuous town of Bethlehem – where a foreign power occupies the land with weapons, huge walls, and military checkpoints…and many have chosen violence and terror – these lyrics took on almost suffocatingly literal weight. To be honest, I was pretty nervous to sing them. What does this middle class American know about bridges or bombs? Really.

But by grace I offered it as a prayer in every direction.

Whether bombs strapped to a terrorist’s chest, or bombs dropped from a fighter plane, or verbal bombs of hatred…violence cannot bring forth the kind of world we all want it to be. History teaches this over and over. But as a follower of Jesus, as naive as it may sound, we believe that only LOVE can change the world.

O God, may I live as if it is true.
O God, may I live in a way that makes it true.

06.17.13

Bet Lehem Live

Filed under: God's movement,music,Palestine / Israel — 11:26 am
Church of the Nativity

The four of us

About six months ago, I was invited to perform at the first ever Bet Lehem Live festival. Pulling together three musicians who are way better than me (Troy Hatfield, David Gungor, and Brian Wurzell), we hopped on a flight to the Middle East with a few song ideas and, honestly, no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

Bethlehem has been a really rough place to live for many years now. And while some Palestinians don’t see much reason for hope, others are giving their lives to peace and possibility and joy in the middle of all the sorrow. Sami Awad is one of these visionaries. (Read my post about him.)
Sami created the Bet Lehem festival as a way for people to experience the warmth and excitement of Palestinian culture and hospitality…and it was an enormous success!

Since the guys and I arrived a couple days early, we got to wander the streets of Bethlehem and really explore the city. We met great people, visited the Church of the Nativity (the location where Jesus was born), found two works by Banksy, and ate a truckload of incredible street food. Palestinian generosity and hospitality is a beautiful thing. And so is fresh falafel!

Banksy art

Banksy

On Saturday night, we performed our 30 minute set at the festival. Song list: “Dust” (The Brilliance) / “Love Can Change the World” and “God’s Children” / “All Shall Be Well” (Troy Hatfield) / “The Sun Will Rise” and “Open Up” (The Brilliance). The music came together pretty well, and we were thrilled by their warm response. (I even tried to use an Arabic word in my introduction. The people laughed…which I thought meant they were impressed. But I found out later that I COMPLETELY messed the word up! Ha. Well, I tried.)

A handful of the lyrics exploded to life inside of us as we sang them in this particularly intense context. In tomorrow’s post, I’ll share two specific lyrics and stories that really wrecked me. But until then, here’s a short video of Troy singing “All Shall Be Well”. (It would have been longer, but I had to put my phone down and play!)

More coming tomorrow.

For peace,
Aaron

06.02.13

A crazy couple months

Hey everyone.  There has been a ton going on lately, and I wanted to share a quick update.

We spent most of May tracking A New Liturgy No 5: Here Are My Hands.  Largely built around the piano, string quartet, and a pounding floor tom, this liturgy is all about our commute:  Part 1 is a 15 minute “on-the-way-to-work liturgy”, and part 2 is a 15 minute “on-the-way-home-from-work liturgy”.  Available July 8th. Here’s a clip from our string quartet recording session…

And now June is all about traveling.  After leading worship this weekend at Willow, on Tuesday night I get to be a part of PhoenixONE.  This really exciting worship gathering aims to unite 20 & 30 somethings from around Phoenix and get them connected to local churches.  What a beautiful vision!  They’ve asked me to lead through the “God is Love” liturgy, which I can’t wait to experience with them.  So if you live in the Phoenix area, please join us!

Next weekend, I get to join up with my friends at Granger Community Church to share the “Creation” liturgy. Their phenomenal team of musicians, pastors, and artists are coming together to turn the whole service into a celebration of God’s work in Creation.  Check out pastor Jason’s vision for the series HERE.  I love when a church gathering tells one cohesive, beautiful story – from music to message to announcements to visuals – and the Granger team is diving in with both feet.  Again, if you live near Granger, Indiana, please join us.

Finally, on the following Wednesday, I’m jumping on a plane for Bethlehem to be a part of the Bet Lehem Live Festival…and then go on a tour of Palestine and Israel.  I will share SO much more about this “alternative pilgrimage” over the next few weeks, so be looking for stories and pictures.

Last thing:  In all the busyness, the absolute best part of this season is Shauna, Henry, and Mac.  Life with them is so much fun, and I keep pinching myself with thankfulness.  So please indulge me as I end this post with a couple pictures.  (Yes, I have officially become that ridiculously proud dad with no shame or restraint!)

Shauna, Henry, and Mac

Shauna, Henry, and Mac

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