Category: Featured Articles
Faith in the Face of Empire is an essential read for anyone who desires new insight into scripture, seeks a re-orientation of geopolitical perspective, and maintains hope for justice for Palestinians.
—Dr. Peter Makari, Executive for the Middle East and Europe in Global Ministries of the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and author of Conflict and Cooperation: Christian-Muslim Relations in Contemporary Egypt
The Search for Jesus in the Middle East
A Palestinian Christian Pastor Explores the Bible
Minneapolis (January 22, 2014) — In his latest book, Faith in the Face of Empire Mitri Raheb, Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, presents a new reading of the Bible from the perspective of the “people of Palestine.” In light of the current geo-political turmoil, after the hopes of the the Arab Spring, and in the face of the the latest round of US shuttle diplomacy, Dr. Raheb asks, “Can we imagine another Middle East? Can there be a different future?”
In this concise work that blends both academic and pastoral understandings, Dr. Raheb shows how the history of Palestine, ancient and modern, is one of diverse and unique contexts and yet recurring patterns. Using biblical narrative he introduces a wide lens for viewing that history.He shows how this “sacred” story is a response to the “secular” history of occupation by various empires, from the Babylonians to the British to the state of Israel. Throughout this history the question of God remains crucial, Christian understanding remains relevant, and the spiritual dimension of utmost importance.
Raheb spells out Jesus’ gospel in relation to the Roman empire of his time, and the biblical values relevant for the Middle East—then and now. This approach sheds a new light on the biblical texts within the context of imperial domination, and it introduces a new perspective and culture for a “New Middle East.”
Dr. Mitri Raheb is the President of Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem, as well as the president of the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. He is also the Senior Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, Palestine. He is the author of several books including I Am a Palestinian Christian and Bethlehem Besieged.
Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes
Publisher: Orbis Books
Specs: 160 pages, paperback
Publication Date: February 10, 2014
THE NELSON MANDELA I KNEW … AND LOVED
I met Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela exactly fifty years ago in his jail cell on Robben Island. I was a newly ordained part-time Chaplain to the prison there. He, together with his fellow Rivonia Trialists, had been flown secretly to the Island after being sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for the rest of their natural lives. The guards were very edgy about their new prisoners, determined to show these ‘terrorists’ how tough they were. Sunday, when I visited, was their one day off, but it was spent in total lock-down. I was not allowed to gather them for a normal service of worship, but had to walk up and down the hallway between the cells, trying to make eye contact with each occupant as I passed. Apart from Ahmed Kathrada, a Muslim, the rest had all experienced mission-school education and were familiar with Christian worship. Preaching was difficult but I tried to leave each one with a word of encouragement. Singing, on the other hand, was not bound by iron bars and the great hymns of the church, which were well-known to them, echoed powerfully through the hallways, their melodies often taken up by prisoners in other blocks. My memories of Mandela were of a strong, vital character in the prime of his manhood, all strength and contained energy. He had a ready smile and clearly appreciated the dilemma of a young minister trying, under the cold eyes of the guards, to bring a moment of humanity into this desolate place. Only once, on a very cold day, was I able to persuade a guard to let the group out into the prison yard where we gathered in a sunny spot. That day I changed my text to, ‘If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed,’ letting them choose how to spell Son/sun. They enjoyed the joke. The guards did not.
Given these impossible limitations, I have sometimes felt embarrassed being introduced as ‘Mandela’s prison Chaplain.’ Yet, looking back I realize that being confined to sharing nothing other than the healing, strengthening words of Scripture and the songs of the faith, required one to put one’s trust entirely in the power of the Gospel – nothing else. More than one of the Rivonia group, including Madiba, have told me since how that ministry and those who followed me (my security clearance was abruptly withdrawn after a few months) meant to them. Ahmed Kathrada, now the only Rivonia trialist still living – and the Muslim in the group – has also shared how, in those early horror days on Robben Island, that brief moment of humanity helped them all.
It was 20 years later when I next heard from Madiba. Still in prison, he used one of his precious letter-writing privileges (initially one per month and later relaxed to a half dozen) to congratulate me on being elected to lead the Methodist Church in Southern Africa, and to express his appreciation for the care the church had shown to him through its Chaplains and to Winnie his spouse, in her banishment and suffering at the hands of the ‘system.’ It was in that letter that he referred to his first encounter with the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg in the 1940s, when he was struck by the message outside: ‘The greatest glory in living is not in never falling, but in rising every time you fall.’ That message, he wrote with typical understatement, ‘tended to steel a person against the host of traumas he was to experience in later years.’
In the years following his release our paths crossed often. From a personal point of view I guess the most special occasions were when I shared a platform with him in 1993 speaking at the Centenary of Gandhi’s arrival in South Africa and in 1995 on the first anniversary of Freedom Day, presenting him with a sculpture forged out of melted-down guns collected by Gunfree South Africa, which I headed at the time. On both occasions we had some laughs about this proud former commander of the ANC underground army/become peacemaker and these two determinedly non-violent events.
The Mandela I knew became beloved by me, not so much for the grand gestures, although he was a master at political theatre, but for the lesser known acts that revealed a truly human genius for Ubuntu – the awareness that his life was inextricably bound up with the lives of all his fellow human beings, especially his enemies. He was the great includer; nothing was too much trouble if he could cajole or charm another opponent into friendship.
This man who would not bend an inch in his determination to win freedom for his people, nor to be humiliated by the cruelty of his prison guards, yet who said to his comrades as soon as they arrived on the island, ‘Chaps, these Afrikaners may be brutal, but they are human beings. We need to understand them and touch the human being inside them, and win them.’ And did…
This man who, on behalf of the one Muslim among them, badgered the prison authorities literally for years – six, I believe – until they at last yielded and granted permission for Ahmed Kathrada to walk the 50 yards outside the prison entrance to pray in the Kramat (a holy place commemorating a Muslim Imam exiled to the Island by the Dutch in the 1740s). The whole Rivonia group accompanied him…
This man who, when former spouse Winnie shamed the Mandela name by her involvement in the kidnapping of some young men in Soweto and the killing of one of them, struggled to understand the role of his church in the drama and criticized our actions from his prison cell. And who, when we managed to send him a true record of what had happened, sent a personal apology via his lawyer, requesting ‘forgiveness for having misjudged you…’
This man, who in his first Parliamentary speech as President, announced that nursing mothers and children under six would receive free health care, ‘whatever had to be done to pay for it…’
This man, who, when he invited the spouses and widows of former white Presidents/Prime Ministers to tea, received news that Mrs Betsy Verwoerd, widow of the most virulent racist of them all, had ‘diplomatic flu’, decided to surprise her in her whites-only redoubt instead, arriving in his helicopter and knocking on her door, and appearing later with her in a smiling photograph…
This man who, when told by his staff that they were changing the name of the Parliamentary office building named after Dr Hendrik Verwoerd, suggested they hold off until Verword’s widow had passed on. ‘There is no need to hurt her unnecessarily. It can wait…’
This man who, when told that one of his personal armed bodyguards had links with a far right-wing racist group and had been removed, said, ‘I don’t think we should do that. He is young and immature and it will destroy him. Let’s give him another chance …’
This man, who when we presented him with our list of nominated Truth Commissioners for him to make the final cut, asked first, ‘Have we sufficient women on the list? We must have gender equity…’ And when we told him that we had been able to find only one candidate of integrity from strife-torn KwaZulu Natal, he disregarded the process and just went ahead and appointed a Methodist bishop from the region, knowing that unless KZN was better represented, the Truth Commission would not be accepted there…
This man, who when I led a small delegation to meet with him about the crisis of guns and killing going on in 1994, came shuffling into the grand conference room next to his Presidential office in Pretoria wearing an old pair of slippers. He sat down and said, ‘I’m tired Peter. It’s been a hard day, you chair the meeting please,’ and closed his eyes. He wasn’t asleep, however: at some point he looked up from the list of participating religious groups and asked, ‘Where are the Dutch Reformed Churches?’ I said that they had been very difficult to persuade about the gun hand-in campaign. ‘Well, he said, ‘if I’m to be patron of this, you need to get them in…’
This man who asked me to write a speech he was to give to a church conference, and who, wherever I referenced the ‘role of the churches’ in the liberation struggle, or in leading protests or caring for victims, struck out the world ‘churches’ and inserted the words ‘ faith communities,’ in order to be more inclusive of other faiths in the land he now governed…
This man who never tried to hide his feet of clay, lived comfortably in his skin, and never lost an opportunity to deprecate his own accomplishments, lightly deflecting praise to others…
What a very human being!
How blest are those of a gentle spirit …
How blest are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail …
How blest are those who show mercy …
How blest are those whose hearts are pure …
How blest are the peacemakers …
How blest are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of right …
We are so grateful that God made Nelson R Mandela, purified him in suffering and gave him to our divided land to help us become different – the kind of people we were meant to be.
We are so grateful that he now rests. He always said it was in our hands. Now it is.
7 December, 2013
RCT Program Administrator Trelawney Grenfell-Muir recently wrote on an article for the website of the Journal for Inter-Religious Dialogue entitled, “Like the Teeth of the Comb: Leaders in Inter-Religious Tolerance in Lebanon and Syria.”
Click here for the text of the article, which profiles seven religious leaders in the conflicts in Lebanon and Syria, and how they are trying to positively influence their communities to bring about peace.
One of these leaders quotes the Hadith to his students in order to promote theological openness. For example, “‘people are equal (sawâsiyah) like the teeth of the comb: Arabs are not superior to non-Arabs.’ …They belong [like fingers] to a hand. So we are together, but no one is the same as the other.”
Grenfell-Muir concludes: “While it is difficult to quantify the exact effect specific doctrines have in the hands of talented leaders, the situation would surely be worse without the admirable efforts of all who teach and model embracing the ‘other.’ We can only hope that others will learn from their example and continue to build a lasting peace. “
If you are not a regular reader of the Religion section at the Huffington Post, we encourage you to check it regularly.
Click here for the latest from columnist Derek Flood, in which he challenges the idea that grace is about overlooking problems, rather than actually dealing with them. Instead, Flood argues, grace is at the heart of restorative justice.
Practicing what we preach in resolving conflicts
Ann Garrido and Sheila Heen | JANUARY 4, 2010
From America, A National Catholic Weekly Magazine
Imagine a typical parish. A member of the staff must be laid off because of budgetary constraints; the Girl Scouts and the athletic association have double-booked the gym; quinceañera plans do not conform to diocesan guidelines; the issue of women and ordination hangs like a cloud over a faith-sharing session; a critical agenda has been lost in cyberspace; and the board meeting implodes.
Many of us grew up with an ideal vision of church based on the Acts of the Apostles. We focus on how the early Christians laid their possessions at the feet of the apostles, and we think that they lived happily ever after—all of one mind and heart. When our own experience of church does not match this, we are tempted to think that something has gone terribly awry: How can there be conflict in a community that professes Christ? Why can’t we all just get along like our ancestors in faith?
And yet the conflicts that punctuate our life together are nothing new. Indeed, the letters of Paul, written even before Acts, witness to the presence of conflict in the earliest Christian communities of Ephesus and Galatia, Jerusalem and Corinth. It turns out there was never a time in which the church was without conflict, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Conflict can be a sign of vitality. People argue only over things they care about. Communities that claim to have no conflict are more likely to be riddled with apathy than living in perfect charity.
Granted, conflict is not the goal of our ecclesial life, and we need not intentionally provoke it. But rather than bemoan its perennial presence, we can choose to perceive conflict as inherent in the spiritual journey and commit to confronting it well, allowing our way of living together in good times and in bad to become part of our preaching. As Paul often reminded the early Christians, at the heart of our Gospel is one central message: through Christ the world is being reconciled to God. There is a sense of dynamism in Paul’s summary. All of creation writhes in the labor of becoming what God has always dreamed it to be. Christ the head has emerged while his body is still in the process of being born. Jesus leads the way; the earth remains in an ongoing process of reconciliation. The witness that Christians can most powerfully offer the world is not that of a perfect people, but of a people always fully engaged in the reconciliation experience.
It follows that exercises in reconciliation should be considered essential Christian practices—ways of fully collaborating with God in the ongoing work of creation. As Christians, we are expected not just to theorize about prayer, but to pray. We are expected not just to consent to the idea of works of mercy, but to show mercy. Reconciliation cannot be something we advocate from a distance. We must learn how to engage in it.
This is no easy task, but the fields of conflict resolution and negotiation can be partners to Christian communities in this regard. Resources developed in the fields of law and business offer tangible, easily applicable ways of becoming a reconciling people. When motivated by faith, seven practices from these fields have the potential to become spiritual disciplines in which the Christian vocation to reconciliation is made real.
1. Avoid triangulation.
“If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23-24).
When we are frustrated or hurt by others, it is easier to talk about them than to them. As a general rule in Christian conflict, if two people are speaking negatively about a third, the third has a right to be present. Catholic social teaching emphasizes the principle of subsidiarity—decisions should be made at the lowest effective level possible by the persons most affected by those decisions. Applied to conflict management, that means conflict should be handled by the persons directly involved in the conflict. Parents who are upset with a teacher should be challenged to talk to the teacher before going to a principal. Parishioners angered by a pastor’s preaching should go to the pastor before writing to the bishop.
2. Distinguish between facts and interpretations.
“Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?…You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye” (Lk 6:41-42).
We often talk about conflicts as if they were simple factual disputes with clear and obvious answers. But most disputes are not about facts. Everyone agrees that the board was lacking information in advance of the meeting. What we disagree about is whether it was absolutely essential to possess the information in advance, who is responsible for the information being unavailable and whether the meeting should proceed without it. These are interpretations and judgments that are based on assumptions, past experiences, expectations and self-serving biases. We notice and feel strongly about things that reflect on us. We will give less credit to things that are unfamiliar or do not affect us. So if my pet project is not affected by the missing information, I tend to think we should proceed and that you are overreacting in hysteria over a little lost paperwork. If my project is jeopardized by the oversight, I am scandalized by the unprofessional manner in which this organization is run.
We always have a partial picture of any given situation, and we emphasize both meanings of partial—our view is both incomplete and biased. We need to understand others’ interpretations to see the whole picture. We need one another to “reconcile” a more complete understanding.
3. Practice passionate—and compassionate—curiosity.
Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “[Lord,] Son of David, have pity on us!”…Jesus stopped and called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They answered him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Moved with pity, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him (Mt 20:30-34).
Understanding another’s perspective requires humility and becoming curious about the experience of others. What information does the other have that I might not have? What leads them to think that this is important or unjust or plain wrong? What are they seeing that I am not seeing? The only way that we find the answers to these questions is to ask the other person directly—not rhetorically, but genuinely wanting to understand their perspective and reasoning: It matters to me that I understand you more fully.
4. Let grace and compassion transform the emotions.
I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3).
The practice of curiosity, however, cannot end with frank questioning. Conflict is difficult because by its very nature it involves human emotion, generally emotions that we would prefer not to feel: anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness, hurt. As persons who profess Christ, we would like to think of ourselves as loving, joyful, serene, generous, faithful, forgiving. Experiencing unpleasant emotions or hearing that we might be the cause of others’ unpleasant emotions threatens the identity that we have built up for ourselves, making us fearful that we are less than the persons we would like to be. Nevertheless, in order for difficult conversations to be fruitful conversations, we have to be curious about the emotions involved and willing to hear how the other feels even when it makes us uncomfortable. We will need to have compassion for ourselves and for the other, recognizing we are all human and struggling.
5. Engage the internal voice.
Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God (Jas 1:19-20).
The other people in our conflicts are in many cases not entirely “with us” in our journey toward compassion and grace. They are still feeling aggravated or impatient or overlooked. Just to make things especially tricky, they are seldom likely to be direct about those feelings. Asked to move the date of a scheduled event, the scout leader might say, “Sure, that’s fine,” when she’s really thinking, “What a hassle! I’ll never volunteer for this parish again.”
Often we have to draw out the other persons’ internal voice, to give them permission to be candid about their thoughts and feelings. But “It doesn’t sound like that’s fine” may be heard as a challenge or accusation. An empathetic, “I know this isn’t the first time, and it must be frustrating” encourages a more frank exchange. In the moment, it may mean a barrage of pent-up aggravation. But if we can hold their frustration and our compassion in the situation, we transform their internal dialogue and perhaps our own. Driving home, the scout leader is more likely to be thinking, “That athletic director seems to really ‘get’ the problem. I hope we can work something out together. It can’t be easy for him either….”
6. Good intentions, bad impact.
“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Mt 7:1-2).
Often when we complain to each other about someone else, we start with “the kind of person he is”: “You know how she is—always has to control everything” or “He’s just on a power trip” or “I just don’t think they care.” We assume they have bad intentions and bad character. Yet when we are accused of micromanaging or carelessness, we indignantly defend our good intentions: We just want to do the right thing.
Remembering that most conflicts inside communities result from well-intentioned people having unintended bad impacts on each other can help us raise issues without raising defensiveness: “I’m guessing you weren’t aware of the guidelines for quinceañera celebrations; here’s the problem I’m worried about; let’s figure out how to make it work.”
7. Be accountable for your personal contribution to the problem.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk 5:4-9).
Adam and Eve pointed blaming fingers in their first conflict with God in the garden. Our tendency to want to assign blame is part of our sinful condition. If we are to transform that impulse into something healing and useful, it is through seeing conflict as a result of joint contributions between us. Almost every problematic situation is the result of multiple contributions—things we each did or failed to do—and also factors that are beyond either one of us. Being willing to be accountable for our part of the problem models contrition and leads the way to reconciliation. Starting with, “I wish I had raised this earlier” or, “Looking back, there are certainly some things I wish I’d done differently” starts us down a solution-oriented conversation and invites grace into our hearts.
Difficult conversations are by their very nature risky undertakings. In the midst of conflict, I have little curiousity about your view. In fact, I probably feel contemptuous of it as a result of feeling frustrated, disappointed or misunderstood. And learning more about your view may make me more angry, uncomfortable or hurt, so I’m anxious rather than excited at the prospect. And what if I listen to you, only to have my own views dismissed or ridiculed?
Why take the risk?
Because Jesus took the risk. Jesus devoted a great deal of his teaching to themes surrounding conflict: challenge, compassion, confrontation and the importance of repeated forgiveness. But he also spent a great deal of his life modeling those teachings with his own followers. In his ministry, we find Jesus frequently initiating conversations that he surely knew would spark disagreement or discomfort in his listeners. Some of those conversations led to his death. But after his resurrection, we find Jesus continuing these conversations in a most personal way with the very people who had abandoned and denied him. Jesus not only spoke about a new age of reconciliation; he practiced it in his own relationships. Although his engagements were often difficult, he demonstrated that good, hard conversations have the potential to increase insight into the character of God and the nature of God’s reign.
In conflict we have the opportunity to enjoy increased insight and understanding, an opportunity to participate in the reconciling of our world to God.
Ann Garrido is an associate professor of homiletics at the Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, Mo. Sheila Heen, of the Harvard Negotiation Project, is the co-author of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (Penguin).
RCT’s Shelly Rambo has one of the most used articles in the International Journal of Practical Theology (IJPT). Entitled, “Trauma and Faith: Reading the Narrative of the Hemorrhaging Woman,” it can be read here (Volume 13, Issue 2 of the journal).
This essay offers a theological analysis of trauma, recognizing the difficult questions posed by trauma, which indwells a person’s or community’s body long after the first traumatizing event(s) has passed. The research draws upon a case study, psychological trauma studies, and neuro-biology in dialogue with a fresh reading of Mark 5:25 – 34, the story of the hemorrhaging woman. The analysis concludes with theological constructs that are significant for understanding trauma and trauma-healing. These are: the importance of bodily encounter, the accent on Jesus’ role as witness to radical suffering and healing, and the time-extensive nature of healing.