by Tom Segev
A Left-wing new historian Israeli take on the history of transformative year of 1967. He posits that the threat that Israel felt from their Arab neighbors leading up to the war was actually overblown.
by Howard Sachar
American, pro-Israel, academic
Edited by Mae Elise Cannon
American, Christian, Israeli, Palestinian
by Jeremy Ben-Ami
American, personal story, political analysis
by Abdu H. Murray
American, Christian, pro-pro-pro, political analysis
by Shira Robinson
A history of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.
American, pro-Palestine, academic
by Sayed Kashua, Miriam Shlesinger
Sayed Kashua is a Palestinian Arab Citizen of Israel, famous as one of Israel’s best Hebrew writers, who has a unique identity as both Palestinian in heritage and Israeli in ID card. The main character in “Dancing Arabs” moves between the two societies, feeling alienation and a profound desire to be accepted.
Palestinian, Israeli, pro-pro-pro, creative work
by Thomas L. Friedman
American, Jewish, pro-Israel, personal story, political analysis
by William Cleveland
An account of the history in the region of the Middle East, including Israel-Palestine. DIscusses the transformative changes in the Middle East, through the Arab uprisings in the most recent edition. “History of the Modern Middle East” is mostly a political history, but also offers economic and cultural perspectives.
by Nicolas Pelham
When the Ottoman Empire fell apart, colonial powers drew straight lines on the map to create a new region — the Middle East — made up of new countries filled with multiple religious sects and ethnicities. Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, for example, all contained a kaleidoscope of Sunnis, Kurds, Shias, Circassians, Druze and Armenians. Israel was the first to establish a state in which one sect and ethnicity dominated others. Sixty years later, others are following suit, like the Kurds in northern Iraq, the Sunnis with ISIS, the Alawites in Syria, and the Shias in Baghdad and northern Yemen.
The rise of irredentist states threatens to condemn the region to decades of conflict along new communal fault lines. In this book, Economist correspondent and New York Review of Books contributor Nicolas Pelham looks at how and why the world’s most tolerant region degenerated into its least tolerant.
by Mitri Raheb
Palestinian, Christian, personal story
by Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish
Palestinian, personal story
by Amos Oz
Israeli, Jewish, personal story
by Martin Indyk
Martin Indyk writes a memoir based on his experience as Middle East adviser to President Clinton, and two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel. He describes different decisions made in Iraq and Iran, and discusses Israeli-Palestinian negotiations under the Clinton administration.
American, pro-Israel, political analysis, personal story
by Karen Armstrong
by Simon Sebag Montefiore
British popular historian chronologically tells the story of the mythical city of Jerusalem, weaving together various accounts, including secular and religious narratives.
by Idith Zertal
American, academic, political analysis
by Jon Huckins & Jer Swigart
A guide to every day peacemaking.
by Ari Shavit
A narrative and personal historical piece by one of the most influential Zionist Jewish journalists in Israel. It examines many chapters of Israeli history, including its formation. It has become widely read in the United States since its publication in 2013.
American, Jewish, academic, political analysis
by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins
Academic Analysis, pro-pro-pro
Palestinian, American, pro-Palestine, political analysis
by Breaking the Silence
Breaking the Silence is an Israeli NGO comprised of former soldiers who speak out about their experiences serving in the Israeli army. “Our Harsh Logic” is a harrowing collection of the testimonies of soldiers who served in the Gaza Strip or the Occupied Territories that gives a sobering account of the Israeli military system and the mundane reality of being a soldier in challenging situations.
Israeli, personal story
by Rashid Khalidi
Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian American academic, writes a core text on Palestinian nationalism and its origins. He makes the case that Palestinian identity has a longer history than Zionist intellectuals give it credit for, and he underlines this in historical events and their impact on Palestinian national identity.
Palestinian, pro-Palestine, political analysis
by Alex Awad
Palestinian, Christian, pro-Palestine, personal story
by Raja Shehadeh
Palestinian, pro-Palestine, personal story
by William B. Quandt
by Yehuda Amichai
Israeli, creative work
by Walter Brueggemann
American, Christian, theology
by John Paul Lederach
International mediator, John Paul Lederach, looks to moments of conflict in the scriptures in order to offer tools for reconciliation and transformation to our modern day conflicts.
American, Christian, peacemaking
by Ghassan Kannafani
A novella about a Palestinian family who fled Haifa during the Nakba and were allowed to visit with the opening of the borders in 1967. In their former home, they find that a Jewish couple who came after the founding of the State of Israel are living in their home. Ghassan Kannafani was a Palestinian author and member of the PFLP and was assassinated by the Mossad in Lebanon.
Palestinian, pro-Palestine, creative work
by Benny Morris
by Mosab Hassan Yousef
Israeli informant from Gaza, Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of Hamas leader, Sheikh Hassan Yousef, writes a tell-all about his life and how he was groomed by the Israeli secret service. During his time in Gaza, he experienced a process of disillusionment when it came to the Hamas party and his more positive impression of Israel and the West.
Palestinian, Muslim, pro-Israel, personal story
by Dan Senor and Saul Singer
A seminal book by an American Jew and an American Israeli that celebrates Israel’s economic successes. Despite the effects of conflict, Israel functions with high-tech and industrial output on par with the United States or China. This book was acclaimed by both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
American, Jewish, Israeli, pro-Israel, political analysis
by Raja Shehadeh
Palestinian, pro-Palestine, personal story
by Etgar Keret
Israeli, creative work
by Kirsten Schulze
by Mahmoud Darwish
Mahmoud Darwish is Palestine’s poet laureate. Originally from the Galilee, and banned from Israel when he joined the PLO, Darwish writes often about exile and longing for homeland. “The Butterfly’s Burden” is a bilngual collection of his work, written in Modern Standard Arabic and translated to English.
Palestinian, pro-Palestine, creative work
by Alan Dershowitz
A right wing American Jewish response to criticism about the State of Israel from a Harvard Law professor. Each chapter is broken down into the accusation and the reality on a commonly discussed contentious topic concerning Israel. This book is representative of an influential portion of American Jewish opinion on Israel.
American, Jewish, pro-Israel, political analysis
by Ilan Pappe
by Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin
A compllation of first hand sources that tell the story of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
by Amos Elon
by Ed. Salim J. Munayer and Lisa Loden
Palestinian, Christian, Israeli, academic
by John Paul Lederach
American, Christian, peacemaking
by Aaron David Miller
Key American negotiator, Aaron David Miller, tells the history of the peace process, evaluating its strong and weak moments. The book includes interviews, insider experience, and stories from the negotiations table.
American, personal story, political analysis
by Baruch Kimmerling and Joel Migdal
by Edward Said
Palestinian perspective, academic analysis
by Jonathan Haidt
Drawing on his twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, Haidt shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns. In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts.
American, Academic, Moral Psychology
by Gershom Gorenberg
Left-leaning Israeli journalist and historian Gershon Gorenberg writes about the settlement movement and its adverse effect on Israeli society. Gorenberg is of an American Jewish background, and continues to practice Orthodox Judaism in Southern Judaism. He sees the settlement enterprise as an existential threat to the state of Israel and describes a remedy to this entrenched problem.
Israeli, Jewish, political analysis
by David Grossman
David Grossman is one of Israel’s most famous authors and has spoken out publicly as a Left-wing activist. “The Yellow Wind” is a non-fiction first-account of what David Grossman saw in the West Bank. It explores the cost of the occupation both for the occupied and for the occupier.
Israeli, Jewish, creative work
by Arthur Hertzberg
American, Jewish, pro-Israel, academic
by Rob Dalrymple
American, Christian, Theology
by Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden
Palestinian, Christian, Israeli, pro-pro-pro
by Gary Burge
American, Christian, political analysis
by Stu Garrard
Dir. Hugo Blick
A BBC mini-series that tells the fictional story of Anglo-Israeli Baroness Nessa Stein, heir to the family business, and striving to create economic peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
British, creative work
Dir. Tom Amber Fares
A documentary about an all female Palestinian racing team, the difficulties they face in their political, and the freedom they find in racing.
Palestinian, pro-Palestine, personal story
Dir. Wayne Kopping
Follows the lives of five Israeli sodliers. Chronicles their perspective on military service and how it impacts their lives.
Israeli, pro-Israel, personal story
Dir. Oren Rudavsky, Joseph Dorman
Dir. Eytan Fox
Israeli, creative work
Dir. Laura Bialis
Israeli, pro-Israel, personal story
Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani
Palestinian, personal story
Israeli, personal story
“So how was your trip?”
As if we could just eloquently summarize a transformational experience that dove head-first into one of the most contentious issues on the planet. But alas, we do need to give them an answer. And not only that, we actually have a responsibility to share our story.
Because our story has the potential to change lives – we know this because it has already changed ours! Our stories contain elements of the ‘other’ that challenges negative stereotypes and counters single narrative mindsets.
Because our story is intimately tied to the narratives and experiences of our friends in Israel/Palestine. And where their voices cannot be heard, it is important that we speak into those spaces as we are able.
Because our new story opens doors to new relationships with those not in our conventional circles. These relationships are essential to building a diverse movement that crosses faiths, sectors and political allegiances.
For most of us, most of the time, the way we communicate will be in person with friends, family, and colleagues, and therefore with those who love and trust us. However, increasingly sharing happens online, in the troublesome void where anyone can misread, presume, and comment outside the conventional boundaries of an in-person conversation. Yet it’s also in those spaces where our story has enormous potential to reach magnitudes of people. It’s certainly a scenario of risk-reward.
In whatever way you are sharing your story, we invite you to consider the following 7 pointers. They are not exhaustive or perfect, but in our experience, these are 7 quick reminders that will help you effectively share your heart in a way that is heard, even by those who might really disagree with you.
How you are heard is more important than what you want to say. The most effective way to be heard is to be a good listener – ask good questions, be legitimately engaged in order to understand where your listener is: what are their biases? Are they new to the issue? How can I meet them where they are? Take the time to listen. Listening and being heard is obviously harder online, but it is possible and you can model it well.
The real unassailable story is the story of your own journey and transformation. While you may want to give voice to your friends’ stories, you are never going to be able to tell their story with accuracy and full impact. So tell the story of how you met people whose example changed you. Similarly, as important as facts are and as much as you try, accept that you do not possess mastery of all of them. The important thing to communicate is your experience, which is hard for people to reject.
Conflict is about people so our task is to not get bogged down in competing stats or tit-fot-tat/ who-is-to-blame details but instead, focus on the people at the center of the conflict: other friends whose lives are consistently upended by war. Telling your story in a way that always comes back to that core truth of loving people is an effective way to engage someone who is even strongly opposed to you theologically or politically. Our friends at The Global Immersion Project put this well: “Verbal debate is a sign of privilege that needs to be leveraged for the flourishing of others, not used to prove our point.”
Remember there is no future for anyone without a future for everyone, so share stories from both sides! This may be especially important if your Telos experience shattered your worldview and now you wish to fly the flag for the ‘other’ that you used to oppose.
We want to avoid implicit bias and being put in an either/or camp that represents a false and destructive binary that has fueled this conflict for too long. Be explicitly pro/pro/pro and model a different and better way of engaging that tells the legitimate narratives of both sides.
To both your self and others. We are ALL on a journey. Your audience hasn’t seen and experienced what you’ve seen. They need the opportunity to go on that journey. They need to wrestle, just as you did. And it’s harder if they haven’t yet shared your experience and had the chance to confront their biases head on in the eyes of a child who could be their own. Give them grace to go on that journey and the space to begin it in your communications.
Humanize your friends in Israel/Palestine so your audience has an opportunity to fall in love with them. They are more than victims, they are dreamers and doers, believers and lovers, people like us with hopes and aspirations. Speak from love, not from anger, otherwise your story will likely fall on deaf ears. For if your trauma speaks, it will likely be too much for your listener to bear before their hearts have been broken too. MLK’s famous words were “I have a dream” NOT “We’re living a nightmare.”
Relationship is everything. People are not fodder to be converted on an issue; they are friends and neighbors who are to be loved unconditionally regardless of their theology or opinion on a complex and emotional geopolitical topic. And when they are truly loved by us, they are more likely to see the world as we see it. A good friend of Telos has said that peacemaking might just begin with the three words “Let’s have lunch”. Put relationships first, really care about who you’re talking with, and they might just listen to you.
Remember: you are not alone! We are here to guide you as you share your story with others. So please reach out if you have any clarifying questions or would like us to approve any language that will be public.
Thank you in advance for all the courageous ways in which you will communicate the impact of the experience you had with us.
Best of luck!
It’s a legitimate question. With all that’s going on in the world, what business do we have caring about a long-running conflict in the Middle East? There are a handful of reasons that explain why we, at Telos, care about this conflict and believe that most Americans should care too. They are as follows:
1. Because we are already involved
a. Prior to 2018, the U.S. contributed $400m+ per year in Palestinian development aid. In 2018 this was almost entirely cut. As of 2018, the U.S. contributes more than $3.8b per year in foreign military funding to Israel, making Israel America’s largest recipient of foreign aid money.
b. America’s veto on the U.N. Security Council often prevents international action on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For instance, America has consistently vetoed statements and actions that oppose Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
c. The American voice—and in particular the American Christian voice—is loud and, sadly, rarely pro/pro/pro. We have preferred to pick one side over another.
d. So the question we have to ask ourselves is not ‘should we be involved?’ but ‘how can we be better involved in this conflict so that we’re pursuing peace?’
2. Because it’s practical
a. Peacemaking is an essential part of the development puzzle. We can spend all the money in the world on aid and economic development, only for it all to be lost the moment violent conflict breaks out. And when it does, it’s often women and children who suffer the most. Peacemaking ensures the long-term success of our development progress.
3. Because it’s inspirational, educational, transformative
a. Glimpses of peace in the most complex of circumstances offers hope for our own conflicts.
b. There are lessons to be learned from the incredible peacemakers we met.
c. For religious communities, when we help bring healing to places of conflict, we model the purpose, beauty, and glory of our God.
4. Because it’s our responsibility
a. Every conflict has three sides and America still plays the leading third side role in this conflict, and has done for the last half century. The current status quo is therefore partly our making. And if we were to abdicate responsibility, which nations and powers would we abdicate to?
b. If we believe in a more just world, and that, given our power, we have a responsibility to use our resources and influence to bring such a world into existence, then we ought to engage effectively on behalf of peace and justice in Israel/Palestine.
c. Christians must take seriously Christ’s call in Matthew 5:9, and the model of Jesus’ life that brought hope and light to dark places. Some may ask, ‘what’s the point in peacemaking in a world always in conflict?’ But just as there will always be poverty (Matt 26:11), Christians are still called to meet the needs of those in need (Matt 25), and this includes helping to bring peace in places where conflict causes continual suffering.
5. Because the Holy Land is losing one of its primary voices
a. Whether you are religious or not, you likely recognize the significance of Israel-Palestine as a land of enormous importance to the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jerusalem would simply not contain its beauty if it were not a holy city. Yet one of those voices is in danger of being lost. For many reasons, but in large part due to the conflict, Christians have been leaving the Holy Land in large numbers, particularly in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. It will be a sad day when the land no longer sings in all three voices.
As citizens in a democracy, our elected officials represent us. The votes they take and the policies they devise are due to the authority we give them. Therefore, it is actually our responsibility to inform our leaders about important subjects in our community and the world. This is especially true when we have gained unique subject knowledge, or had a unique experience that they are unlikely to have had. As a Telos alumnus, this is the unique position you are in. You have seen what many have not. You have made friends with Israelis and Palestinians who have shared and entrusted their stories with you, and have urged you to go and tell others. So why not go and tell the most influential people you can? Is this not simply good stewardship?
While many of us may not want to be political, the reality is that politics is simply what happens when two or more people have to make a decision. This is no less true for Israel/Palestine. The United States has long been the most influential third-side in this conflict (see our Why Should I Care? doc for more information about U.S. influence) and therefore, it is essential that our representatives who make policy affecting our friends in Israel/Palestine do so with the full knowledge of our views. It’s our duty to let them know what we’ve seen and where we stand so that they can make an informed decision about how to best represent us.
We hope your experience with us led to a powerful internal transformation. But we sincerely hope that transformation also has outward, tangible effects that lead to more light, love, and peace in the world. Sharing your story with your leaders is one of the most effective ways your experience can have broader, positive impact.
3. Contact them and don’t be intimidated. It’s our job in a democracy to inform our leaders, and their job to listen and represent us.
4: Do some research beforehand to help you build that relationship. Especially helpful is to know where they stand on issues pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, peacemaking, and justice. This is useful information that will enable you to tailor your story to your audience.
5. Craft your message. See our ‘Share Your Story Guide’ for tips on how to communicate your pro/pro/pro message effectively.
6. Be prepared and grateful to meet with a staff member, and not the elected official him/herself. Be prepared for that staff member to be very young and have either an enormous amount of knowledge on the subject at hand, or next to none. Our elected leaders are very busy and it is very unlikely for them to meet with you directly. However, they have a team of overworked and underpaid staff whose job it is to take meetings like yours and represent the office. These young staffers are the ones who advise their bosses on legislation and how to vote. Meeting with them can often be more helpful since they may give you more time and attention than the elected official would. So, whomever you meet, be grateful for their time and treat them with the same respect as you would if you were meeting with your representative directly.
7. Build a relationship! We want to charge you to do advocacy well. To not walk into an office hostile and with a list of demands, but with a humble desire to listen, learn, and understand better. Political offices are used to angry phone calls. Our hope is that pro/pro/pro advocates model their beliefs in their dialogues with those with whom they may disagree. Ask questions. Ask about where the leader currently stands and what concerns they have. Ask how you can support and even pray for them (1Tim 2:1-3). Remember: our elected officials are public servants but more importantly, they are people to be loved and not simply subjects to be converted on an issue. So do what you can to love them, and as you do, they will be more likely to hear your heart in the stories you share and your desire for security, dignity, and freedom for all who live in Israel/Palestine.
8. Be prepared for the long haul. Your representative and their office will not be changed after one letter, phone call, or meeting. It will take time. It will likely take a number of points of contact. Don’t take it personally if they do not respond or do not appear to be moved by your arguments. You are one of thousands of constituents they serve and your message is one of thousands they have to consider. Be patient. At Telos, we are building a movement and, as time goes on, it will strengthen in numbers and influence. So right now, you may be one of a few pro/pro/pro voices your elected leader hears, but we are committed to equipping thousands more like yourself who will eventually come alongside you to amplify your voice. Your advocacy is important now, but it will be just as important five and ten years from now.
9. Let us know! We would not only welcome the opportunity to assist you in framing your dialogues, but it is vital that we follow who in our network is talking to which leaders. This allows us to help you coordinate messages, and enables us to track progress on how individual members are voting and speaking about key bills pertaining to Israel/Palestine.
For all of us as citizens in a democracy, it is our duty to engage and concern ourselves with the activities of those elected to represent us. And that includes sharing our experiences in Israel/Palestine and our desire to see pro/pro/pro policies that build towards peace and justice there. We thank you in advance for taking this courageous and disruptive step on behalf of our Israeli and Palestinian friends, and on behalf of a more peaceful and just world.
by Todd Deatherage
Based on remarks given at the Blue Conference, Fairfax Community Church, March 29, 2019.
In the summer of 2015, a group of 250 heavily armed residents of Phoenix planned a provocative protest outside a local mosque.
A counter demonstration was also planned, and the threat of violence was real. With less than 24 hours notice, 150 Christians from several area churches decided to show up and form a peaceful line between the protesters and the mosque in what they called the “Love Your Neighbor Rally.”
One of the leaders of this rally was Pastor Jim Mullins who said: “We wanted to demonstrate the pattern of the cross–being compelled by the love of Christ to put ourselves in harm’s way for the sake of the other (Phil 2:6-11, Col. 1:24).”
Allow me to read to you from the account of a friend of Jim’s:
“The night before the protest, Jim shared a meal with the president of the mosque, asking how Christians could help keep the peace in a protest expected to spark violence. The president said he welcomed the Church at the mosque as a presence of peace; he suggested quietly standing on the sidewalk between the mosque and protesters.”
“Opposite the protesters and intermixed with people of various faiths and none, Christians stood quietly and confidently, holding signs with Bible verses, praying aloud, handing water to people on both sides of the police line, and engaging in calm discussion about the presence of Islam in their community.”
“On the hottest day of the year in the desert, tempers ran high and the potential for violence was real, but self governance, the capable Phoenix Police Department, the steady presence of the Church and the omnipotent grace of God made for an event that ended quietly.”
“By the end of the night, there wasn’t one shot fired, one punch thrown, or one single arrest,” says Jim. “We called on the Prince of Peace for the welfare of the city (Jer. 29:7), and he heard our prayers.”
Peacemakers disrupt the broken ways of fear and violence and anger and revenge. And as they do this they not only reveal themselves as true disciples of Jesus the Messiah and agents of his kingdom, but they also serve as signposts for the day in which heaven and earth are one and God is fully in control.
I begin with that story to remind us that peacemaking is not just for those who like rainbows and unicorns and bad poetry.
Actually, because you’re reading this, you probably already know that peacemaking is much harder, much grittier than what we often think of when people say the word peace. And it’s also really needed right now.
Our culture and our politics seem consumed by anger and fear, contempt and condescension. Our leaders often are only reflecting us when they use dehumanizing language to demonize their opponents. Grace and charity are in too short supply, and those committed to lives of peace and reconciliation just seem absent from the public square.
If only there was a community of reconciled people who are in turn called to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the world, they’d surely have something to offer…
That sounds a lot like the church. Or at least what the church is supposed to be.
I believe the era we’re living in needs more peacemakers, and I believe there is no community with a clearer mandate to take up this call than the church of Jesus Christ. A reconciled people called to be ambassadors of reconciliation.
Any community that embraces a posture of peacemaking would be countercultural in any place and time, but that’s of course particularly true today. And while the church of Jesus Christ is always called to be a countercultural community, sadly, in many ways, Christians in America today are often known to non-Christians for being fueled by fear and anger and formed by the cultural forces of division.
My argument is that peacemaking is the most neglected aspect of Christian discipleship, but in today’s society, it may be the most important.
You see, when we as the church want to talk about how to live the countercultural life of the peacemaker, we are opening ourselves up to a journey of personal transformation. And a people transformed by the love and grace and mercy of God can join him in the healing and transforming work of his kingdom in the world.
The world’s a mess. But we believe Jesus came to make all things right, to do for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He’s rejoining heaven and earth, and he invites us to participate with him in that project.
At Telos—where our mission is to form communities of peacemakers to bring healing to intractable conflict at home and abroad—our main program is a Peacemakers Pilgrimage to the Holy Land where we not only walk where Jesus walked 2000 years ago, but we also try to walk where Jesus might walk today. We meet the modern residents of the land, learning about the decades old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. We share meals with people from a variety of perspectives, listen to stories, lean in to the messiness of an unresolved conflict, and learn from those doing the work of coexistence, conflict resolution, and reconciliation.
And we remember that every person there, whether they’re Arab or Israeli, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, is made in the image of God.
People often ask me if I’m optimistic about peace in the Middle East. Let me be clear that I am not. In a long running conflict like this one, the pessimists have all the facts. But I do believe that peace, even in the Middle East, is possible. When you engage in the work of peacemaking, you decline to plot yourself on the scale between optimism and pessimism.
I choose instead the spectrum of hope vs. despair, and as a follower of Jesus I choose hope, because we have a hope in Him, an eschatological hope. We serve a God who has made all things right and is making all things new. A Palestinian Christian pastor told me something years ago that’s shaped the way I think: Hope is not the same thing as optimism; it’s not a feeling or an emotion. Hope is what you do. You live and act in hopeful ways to open the possibility for transformation. Hope is the superpower of the peacemaker.
So if we want to talk about peacemaking from a Christian perspective, we need to define a few terms.
Peace is a word that needs rescuing from the unserious thing many of us think it is. It’s a lot more than the slogans on feel-good bumper stickers you may see on the back of Priuses or tie-dye t-shirts. Some of our notions of peace and love are naïve to the presence of evil in the world and in the human heart.
At the same time, peace is often misunderstood by the powerful and privileged, who often confuse peace with quiet. People in power always want peace as long as it doesn’t cost them anything.
But as Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice.” That’s a particularly profound insight that begins to show us what peace really is.
The word we translate as peace is of course the Hebrew word shalom. Shalom is an ancient biblical concept so rich and profound that it defies simple definition. We translate it as peace but our notion of peace is often the palest approximation of shalom in its fullness. We reduce its meaning to an internal and personal sense of well-being or to a lack of communal or global conflict. Shalom is both these things, but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It is vastly more than the absence of conflict or internal turmoil. Shalom is a state of “wholeness,” a web of relationships that results in flourishing, peace, and justice.
Here’s the best definition I’ve come across:
“Shalom is the ordering of all things in which men and women live in right relationship with God, with each other, and with creation in societies of flourishing and justice and peace.”
Seen in this light, the shattering of shalom that happened with Adam and Eve in the Garden is what theologians call sin. As Neil Plantinga has said: “Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony… God hates sin not just because it violates his law but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be.”
If the story of the Bible is one of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration, we know that the perfect shalom of God’s design was there in the beginning but was shattered at the Fall. And boy do we feel the weight of that. When we experience the pain and brokenness of the world, we feel it. Cancer, car accidents, personal betrayals, violence, insecurity, injustice, racism, war, oppression—all are part of the human experience and painful reminders of the fallen nature of the world we live in. But sometimes in quiet moments we often know somewhere deep inside that this is not how things were meant to be. We are a people and a world in need of rescue and in need of the restoration of shalom.
My wife and I have four kids and two of them are boys who are only 20 months apart. They love each other and when they were young they were inseparable, almost a single unit. But there was a time in the middle years when they began to have what we called their ‘Cain and Abel moments’. On some level what we wanted was just for them to always get along. But as the parents who love them– even imperfectly– on a deeper level what we really longed for was not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of shalom. We wanted them to be grounded in a right relationship with God and with each other. We wanted the absence of conflict to come from a place of respect and mutuality, an understanding that they’re in this together and each is responsible for the other.
Applied in society, this is what Dr King called the creation of “the beloved community.” We can’t work for or demand flourishing and justice for our family or our tribe or even our country without taking into account our neighbors need for those same things. And to Jesus, even if our neighbor is also our enemy, this remains true.
We look back on the civil rights struggle of Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others and we laud the power of nonviolence. But the real heart of the civil rights movement wasn’t nonviolence as much it was enemy love. King sought to liberate African Americans from the chains of Jim Crow segregation but he also sought to liberate white Americans from the corrosive force of white supremacy.
Mother Theresa put it like this: “if we have no peace it is because we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Our family often spends the Christmas holiday in Arkansas with my parents in the house I grew up in, and each year we give my dad a jigsaw puzzle as a Christmas gift.
Somewhere in a factory, complicated pictures are pressed on to cardboard and then a specialized machine fractures a coherent scene into 1000 unique pieces. Once these pieces are scrambled inside a box it’s no quick and easy thing to return them to their original order. And the greatest tool for restoring “wholeness”? It is of course the image of the original picture on the box. When we can see what the artist had in mind, we can then begin to identify what we have to do to restore it. This vision of the big coherent thing you’re working toward is what the Greeks called your telos. Without this vision, without a proper telos, the task of working a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle is frustrating, pointless, or just mindlessly boring, but when you can see the big picture you can begin the work of restoration with direction and purpose.
An understanding of God’s original vision is essential to understanding what the work of peacemaking looks like and how we do it. So we begin, as with the creation order, with God’s original design for wholeness.
The importance of this beginning point becomes apparent when we see the outworking of theologies that skip over the Creation story of Genesis 1 and 2 and begin with Adam and Eve’s fateful choice in Genesis 3. The history of human kind, littered as it is with violence, abuse of power, oppression, and selfish pride, is testament to the enduring truth of the Fall. The pessimists tend to have all the facts.
But to begin the story with the Fall, as too many Christians have done, results in a failure to appreciate the grander story of God’s original intention and of his plan to make all things new.
This project for the restoration of shalom was foretold throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. In fact the overarching story of the Bible after the Fall is one of God’s desire to restore that which was lost by calling a people unto Himself through which he would ultimately bring universal blessing.
The prophets were on occasion given glimpses of this vision, of a world restored and made new, and often translated these divine revelations in poetic language. Isaiah tells us we will beat our swords into ploughshares, the wolf will live with the lamb, and there will be no more war.
After being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus returns to Nazareth and speaks in his hometown synagogue. There he read from the Torah scroll a portion from the book of Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,”
And amidst this gathering of family and neighbors who’d known him all his life, in a tiny village of only a few hundred people in a remote corner of the Roman Empire, Jesus identified himself as the agent of this new kingdom, a world in which God is in charge, the wounded are healed, the weak are defended, and the captive are freed. And this liberation and salvation is open to all humankind. This is good news. Shalom is being restored.
The Gospel writer John tells us that Jesus came to make the Word flesh. Because words without incarnation are just words. And he announced that God’s kingdom has come, though, in one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith, not fully. We can’t yet disband our police forces and our armies and unlock our doors. And we can’t leave the wolf alone with the lamb just yet. But make no mistake, even in its own “now but not yet” way, his kingdom has come. As C.S. Lewis said, “Aslan is on the move.”
But there’s more: Jesus didn’t just announce his kingdom; he then did the amazing thing of calling us to join him in the project. The rescue operation is underway and we are a part of a rebel force led by the king of heaven Himself.
This is a beautiful and weighty thing when you think about it. The God who made us and who made the world desires us to flourish, to love him and each other, to build and create for the common good, to pursue justice and peace, to show mercy and compassion. To care for the poor and the powerless, to defend the weak, the widow and the orphan. We are to be re-newers and rebuilders in broken places, healers, reconcilers, people who practice forgiveness and who love their enemies.
In short we who follow Jesus are signposts of a different reality, pushing back against the prevailing wisdom in every place and time, joining him in the work of shalom-making.
In fact, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5 that the peacemakers will be called “children of God.” I’ve thought for a long time about what that means, and here’s the best I’ve come up with:
I think of my own four children, and how much I love them, and what a strange thing it is to combine two genetic and family histories into the creation of a unique person, made in God’s image, but with character traits and physical features and predispositions from parents and grandparents and the legacy of family choices and dynamics. It’s quite a complex and amazing thing. And sometimes when one of them does or says something, or just looks a certain way or laughs at a particular kind of joke, I recognize a bit of myself in them, and I think, “Yes, that is my child. There’s no denying it.” Perhaps that’s one way of seeing what God meant when he said that those who seek to make peace, to restore shalom, to bring the fractured shards back to wholeness—those are my children because they are the ones who act most like me. It’s not that he doesn’t love us when we’re not peacemakers, but when we act in this way he recognizes his own character in us.
In our work with Israelis and Palestinians we learn about many things that peacemakers do. For example:
• They take courageous steps towards those they could consider their ‘enemy’
• They listen to understand
• They pursue justice
• They disrupt cycles of violence and revenge
• They are able to hold two truths in tension. As the Danish physicist Neils Bohr said: “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”
My Deatherage forebears arrived in Culpepper, Virginia in the early 1700s, and their descendants were mostly poor farmers and timber workers with a few scoundrels thrown in. We had our own experience as transplanted Englishmen who lived a lot of the American story.
I can venture with some certainty that there were also Africans who were brought (involuntarily) to Culpepper County the same year the Deatherages arrived, but as enslaved people with no prospects for any life other than one of subjugation and cruelty for themselves and their children. Any descendants of the Africans of Culpepper County also have a long experience of the American story but theirs will sound starkly different from mine. And both will be true. Given the early ascendancy of white supremacy, white and black Americans each have a widely different experience of the same history.
Some grow concerned we’re dabbling in relativism, devaluing truth when we embrace the idea that we can hold two different and often contradictory stories at the same time. But the truth is often a bigger thing that we can easily get our arms around. And often opening ourselves up to more than one story is the only way to begin to see it.
So much of what I’ve learned about the importance of listening to understand and the central role of forgiveness and reconciliation has come from Israeli and Palestinian friends…
Robi Damelin is a Jewish Israeli mother whose son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper while serving in the Israeli military in the West Bank. When the dreaded knock on her door came one night with three Israeli soldiers there to tell her that her son had been killed, the first thing Robi said was “you may not kill anyone in the name of my child.” Her rejection of revenge, and her willingness to disrupt the cycle of conflict, to jam something in its gears, was but the first step in a life devoted these past 17 years to the work of reconciliation. Within the first few months of her new reality, she joined a group of what today is over 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who have each chosen the difficult path of reconciliation.
One of Robi’s dear friends is a man named Bassam Aramin. Bassam is a Palestinian Muslim, and as a young man he saw himself as a fighter for his homeland and spent seven years in an Israeli prison. While he was there he was shown a film about the holocaust, a story he knew very little about, and as he watched it he was moved to tears. Through a series of events, a transformation began in him that—after his release from prison—led him to co-found an organization called Combatants for Peace: a group of ex-Palestinian fighters and ex-Israeli soldiers who came together to wage peace. After all of this, on a January day in 2007, Bassam’s 10-year old daughter Abir was shot in the head; a rubber bullet fired by an Israeli border policeman outside her school in Jerusalem. As she lingered in the hospital two days before she died, Bassam and his family were surrounded not just by their Palestinian Muslim neighbors and friends, but by their Jewish friends too. And following Abir’s death, Bassam chose to devote his life and work to the mission of the Parents Circle, to redouble his efforts to get to know the “other” and to be an emissary for reconciliation.
One more story.
On a hot June night in 2015, twelve African American Christians met for midweek Bible study in the historic Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC. They were joined by a white young man who they welcomed into their midst. At the end of the service, around 9pm, this same young man took out a gun and opened fire. Nine people died.
The perpetrator of this massacre, this act of terrorism, made no secret of his desire to provoke a race war in America. And yet, Charleston didn’t go up in flames. The assailant was arrested the next day, and less than 48 hours after the attack, families of the victims were unexpectedly given the opportunity to address the man who killed their loved ones, and they left the nation and the world in disbelief as they extended forgiveness.
There was nothing cheap about what they did. And not all the families could get so quickly to a place of forgiveness. But this disruptive act, this rejection of revenge, opened up a new path. Less than a month later, the Confederate flag, that for 54 years had flown defiantly over the South Carolina State Capitol, was brought down with broad, bipartisan support, and other monuments to white supremacy began to be questioned and even come down in places like Baltimore and New Orleans.
The sister of Depayne Middleton-Doctor, one of the victims of the Charleston shooting, said, “For me, I’m a work in progress. I acknowledge that I am very angry. But one thing that [my sister] always enjoined in our family… is she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating, so we have to forgive.”
Friends, we are a family that love built. We have no room for hating. We are a people who believe that the God who made us all has not forsaken us in the mess we’ve made. But in his great love for us he came to us, became one of us, healed our afflictions, laid down life and privilege and power and dignity for our sake, endured humiliation and shame and separation and darkness, all to reconcile us to God and to each other. We are a family that love built. And we are called to join Jesus as his ambassadors of healing and reconciliation in a culture of hurting and division and violence. We are called to be peacemakers.