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From Peacetalker to Peacemaker: 3 Keys to Loving our Muslim Neighbors Better

The sky was full of helicopters and reporters waiting to tell a story.

After the Dec. 2, 2015 attack on San Bernardino, a lot was communicated. One of the prominent themes was about Muslims in America. It was the talk in our town as the radical extremists who carried out the attacks were residents of my city (Redlands, CA), a town neighboring San Bernardino.

14 people were killed and over 20 injured on that awful day. It was chaotic.

As reports began that the couple from Redlands was Muslim and perhaps connected to terrorist cells elsewhere, eyes turned to other Muslims. Islamophobia grew.

Following the attacks, many Muslims became more fearful. Some didn’t dare leave their homes. How would their neighbors respond to them? Would they feel threatened and become suspicious?

Maybe like me, you wondered, “What can I do to help my Muslim neighbors?”

And then it hit me:

I don’t know any Muslim leaders: I do not have a single contact in my phone or Facebook friend to reach out to.

I was embarrassed and ashamed.

I remembered some words about doing what we can with what we have where are (apparently a Teddy Roosevelt quote) and I made an internal commitment to do something.  

This brought me to my first important realization in learning how to become a peacemaker:

1) We must allow conviction to become a commitment to do something with what we have where we are.

Often our embarrassment and shame lead us to hide. But I love what Mitri Raheb said at the Calvin January Series in 2016: “Jesus did not say, ‘blessed are the peace-talkers.” He said, “blessed are the peacemakers.”

Talkers look for talking points. Makers look for action points.

And where it’s true that talking is an important piece of understanding, there is a distinction between talkers who talk about problems out of fear and for entertainment and peacemakers who talk about problems out of a desire to understand and resolve them.

In that spirit of understanding, the University of Redlands diversity office organized an interfaith panel. All were welcome. So a friend and I went.

One of the panelists was especially intriguing. He was intelligent and honest about his commitment to his own Muslim faith. We spoke briefly afterwards and I messaged him on Facebook when I got home. I didn’t know how to start, so I confessed that as a Christian pastor, I knew no Muslim leaders. And I learned another valuable lesson:

2) Confession opens the door to connection.

We all want to be around people that are seeking our good and admitting that they don’t always know how to best love us. This is confession. It communicates that I’m not who I want to be yet, but with your help, I can take a step closer to being that person. Peacemakers confess.

The teacher responded kindly and we met at Starbucks. We talked about our roles within our communities, our sense of calling, how we prepare messages, how our religious communities’ leadership is structured, family history, and tea. Not so long ago, he invited me to a festival celebrating the end of Ramadan.

In the past, I may have fearfully dismissed the invitation. But I wanted to understand more. And that sense of wanting to know more affirmed what I’ve come to believe:

3) Curiosity is a better tool for peacemaking than criticism or contempt

At the feast called Eid al-Fitr, I sat with a heroic Muslim family. They had taken in 4 Syrian children (relatives) whose  parents had been killed in the war 2 years ago. Their journey to care for orphaned kids took them to Jordan, a country where they knew nobody and had no connections. I was shocked to hear that this Muslim family is also living in Redlands!

I wondered, “Where are the news helicopters circling this family’s home, eager to share this beautiful story?

Be a Peacemaker

My pattern is to believe that “somebody else will do this work.” It’s easier to be a spectator, watching the world unfold from behind our computers, phones, or televisions.

Maybe you feel like that sometimes.

I’m learning that being a peacemaker means a commitment to do something where I am, confessing where I’ve missed the mark, and pursuing understanding through curiosity.

In less than 1 year after the San Bernardino attacks and my embarrassing realization, God gifted me with a new Muslim friend, the story of a heroic Muslim family, and an amazing Muslim feast, each extended to me in peace.

And may the peace of God which transcends understanding guard your hearts and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

Going further: Consider asking the following questions of your family members and friends:

  1. Have I made a commitment to be a peacemaker in my home, work, neighborhood, and places of recreation?
  2. Have I confessed to God (and others) my desire for growth in this area?
  3. Do I love people by seeking to understand them (curiosity) or am I trying to change them so that they conform to my image?
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