The time with my men’s group at the Islamic Center had no drama, and there isn’t much to tell about it. But the simplicity of it is part of what I appreciated about the experience. We shook hands, had a look around, ate some donuts, and sat down on the floor and shared conversation together.
I felt that the Imam was very sincere in everything he said, and I was impressed with the hospitality they showed us. He meandered through a few different topics, which I tried to summarize in my last post. After reflecting on it for a week, I was hoping for some more specific takeaways with regard to Christian-Muslim relations, but even after dialoging with a few different people, I only have some general but helpful takeaways.
Primarily, it made me realize that there is an incredible advantage gained by talking with, instead of just talking about. When it comes to conflict or misunderstanding, there is no good substitute for sitting down at the table and facing the differences together. It doesn’t mean that the differences will disappear, but it can help eliminate the false presumptions we may have. As a Christian, looking at someone in the eyes gives the opportunity for the Holy Spirit to stir up compassion in my heart toward them, which in turn leads me to look harder for ways to bridge the gap between us.
Almost everywhere you go, you can hear a lot of talking about: on television, in our conversations with friends, in our families, at work. But it takes more effort to talk with, and often the reward is clarity, understanding, and a stronger community.
The experience was also a good reminder to me of the weakness of an Us vs Them approach. I think it’s a natural tendency to resort to that as a response to a lot of issues, especially interpersonal ones. It’s probably a primal thing; a pack mentality which makes us feel safer.
I lead a team of people at work who occasionally have problems with a client, or a technical issue with their computers. The language that follows is always interesting:”Why don’t they fix this?””Why did they change that feature?”
After hearing that recently I stopped and asked,”Who are ‘they’?”
No one knew.
It’s easy to group ourselves into packs and label each pack so that we can quickly know whether or not to dismiss or accept someone. Unfortunately, it rarely works. “They” aren’t always that easy to define, and”we” aren’t necessarily right even though we have a group on our side who agree on something together.
Before forming teams and putting on battle gear, it’s good to define what the issues are, and then put them in their context. It’s no guaranteed path to resolution, but it’s a great start.
I don’t think we got a whole lot “hashed out” during out visit, because we really weren’t there for that purpose, but it certainly exposed fear as a poor substitute for talking and listening. For me, it was a meaningful step toward understanding and I’m glad I went.