265: The Spiritual Power of Friendship Can Knit Communities Together

Cup_of_coffee
O
nce again, it’s Friday when we turn to the messages you’ve sent to us.
   All this week, we’ve been focusing on innovative spiritual activism — especially the power of just one or two people to make a difference in the world. So, today, we’re sharing two stories readers sent us via Email this week. Both are about the spiritual power of friendship to knit together lives, especially when we may seem all alone among our neighbors.
    We always appreciate hearing from readers, and we’d love to hear from you!

FIRST,
AN UNLIKELY FRIENDSHIP
IN THE MIDST OF
POLITICAL ALIENATION

Pastor_doug_bursch_of_evergreen_fouFROM PASTOR DOUG BURSCH

Every four years I suffer from political seasonal affective
disorder. This year, I thought I’d
finally overcome this cyclical ailment — that was until Sarah
Palin became the Republican nominee for vice president.
    Moments after John McCain introduced the relatively unknown Alaskan
Governor to the nation, the old feeling of
alienation began creeping over me. It only took a couple hours before I received my first
“Palin is God’s answer” Email forwarded by friends. In one day, my conservative
Republican friends found another reason to rally the masses and try to vote God into office.
    I am the senior pastor of Evergreen Foursquare Church in Auburn, Washington. I love and
truly respect the leaders and pastors of my denomination. I consider
the Foursquare family to be my home. Foursquare is a Protestant,
evangelical, Pentecostal denomination. Currently, there are about 1,900
Foursquare churches in the United States. I can safely estimate about 80 to 90 percent of those churches are led by Republican
pastors.
    And, me?
    I’m torn.
    When it comes to politics, I feel alone in my family. My reflections are running something like this: I’m not a Republican. I’m not a Democrat either. But I am definitely
not a Republican. I’m not a crusader for progressive ideologies; I’m
not handing out Obama buttons; and I’m not championing liberal causes
from the pulpit. I’m just not a Republican. And, unfortunately, not being a
Republican has become a bigger problem than I ever could have fathomed.
    My Christian, Republican friends are sincere in their
convictions. They genuinely believe the Republican party best reflects
God’s design for America. With this belief, they assume right-thinking
Christians will come to the same political conclusions. Consequently,
when my Christian compadres discover my progressive leanings, their
first response frequently suggests I have confessed an
affinity for Satanism.
    No, I am not a Satanist, either.
    I’m just a Christian, I tell them, trying to figure out how to be a light in a dark world. And I know I’m not a Republican. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of Sarah Palin’s religious
convictions, nor those of George W. Bush, nor those of Jimmy Carter,
nor those of Barack Obama. However, I do have plenty of reasons to show my
frustration with the current political climate.
    The problem is that this leaves me spiritually adrift among good friends when God, my beautiful Creator, becomes a ballot measure.
    In this frustrating environment, it is easy to become reactionary. If
I’m not careful, I get swept into the futile dialogue. Instead of
elevating the discussion, I just become the other side of a worthless
coin.

The_corner_of_a_neighborhood_coffee
    Thankfully, I serve a God who meets me in the midst of my confusion,
brokenness, and perpetual stubbornness. I’m reminded of how God
rescued me in the last election cycle.
    It was a day or two after
George W. Bush had secured his second term as president. I was truly
disheartened by his reelection. To make matters worse, my local
ministerial association was gathering for a monthly prayer meeting. I
knew most of the pastors who attended this event would view the
reelection as answered prayer. Reasonable people can
disagree on the validity of such logic, but I simply could not face
their joyous celebration.
    So, I headed to a familiar coffee shop to sulk in
the corner and lament how “alone” I felt. As I entered my caffeine
haven, I soon realized I was not the only pastor playing hooky. Before me, slumped awkwardly in a wicker chair, sat
Arleigh, the relatively new senior pastor of the local Presbyterian
church. He was halfheartedly perusing a book he clearly had no
interest in reading.
    After some small talk and reintroductions, we broached the subject of
our mutual truancy from the ministerial association. I don’t know who first risked
sharing his secret of “not being a Republican,” but the end result was
a long discussion and a life-changing encounter.
    Arleigh and I started our conversation with politics, but we quickly turned to deeper issues of the heart.
We both could see that our meeting was more than happenstance. Instead, God’s quirky grace had provided a space for two frustrated
ministers to find solace, understanding, and a lifelong friendship.
    Our initial “not being a Republican” connection has led to a
relationship that has little to do with politics. Instead, Arleigh and
I have a friendship rooted in honesty. It’s an unfiltered
friendship. Instead of lacing our conversations with people-pleasing
qualifiers, we talk without pretense. Consequently, we call
each other on a weekly basis for insight and encouragement. And, yes,
we frequently commune over caffeine.
    Four years ago, this November, an election trauma became the opportunity for a major miracle in my
life. I found a true friend in ministry.
   
The truth is simple: Sometimes we get so
caught up in the politics inside the room — that we forget to look in the
hallway. When I finally looked out there four years ago, I found God’s grace over a cup of coffee.

SECOND,
A JEWISH-MUSLIM
FRIENDSHIP EXTENDS
OPEN HANDS TO OTHERS

Cathleen_falsani_sin_boldly
I
n our earlier Conversation With author Cathleen Falsani, I told Cathleen about a friendship that inspires me. You can jump back and read the entire Conversation, but here is essentially what I told Cathleen:
    I am reminded almost daily of friendship as a sign of grace. I recently attended a very difficult retreat with
interfaith leaders from around the country trying to struggle toward
some consensus.
    Then, two people
in the circle told a story. One was a Muslim
leader, Victor Begg, and the other was a Jewish peace activist, Brenda
Rosenberg. And Victor told this group that was involved in all these
high-flown conversations that, for him, this work often comes down to
something as simple as the fact that, each morning, his friend Brenda
calls him at 9 a.m. Just a short call on a cell phone to check in for
the day. Both of them have their own spouses, their own families. This
is purely a friendship.
    The wonderful thing about
Victor telling that story was that, each morning since then, when I
notice that it’s 9 a.m., I think: Somewhere Brenda and Victor are
talking for just a moment and they’re starting their day’s work in
peacemaking. Remembering that simple story reminds me that I am not alone in this work. Other friends are connecting as well
.

Victor_and_brenda_visiting_a_church
THIS WEEK, Brenda sent me the following Email:

    I was deeply touched when I read your conversation with Cathleen Falsani that spoke to the
friendship between Victor, a Muslim, and me, a Jew, not only as a
sign of grace, but a visualization of peacemaking in action.
    It got me thinking. Why have
Victor and I been able to build a bridge between our Jewish and Muslim
worlds as individuals while many other Muslims and Jews in our community
and in the world are stuck at the hardware store buying supplies?
    The
answer: We are committed to creating understanding. We care, appreciate
and respect each other’s beliefs and views, especially when we disagree.
Victor and I really listen to what the other has to say, especially
when we hold very different truths. We have learned that our backgrounds,
views of history, and religious beliefs bring very different lenses
and filters to how we view the issues we face today and the issues that
date back centuries.
    Perhaps the greatest hurtle we have overcome is
our ability to talk about all the elephants in the room. We often ask
each other the questions that rarely are asked in interfaith dialogue: “What do you need to hear? What do I need to do to be your partner
in bringing peace to our world?”
    The current discussion of the
movie “Obsession,
” is a great
example. Victor appreciated my concern over the distribution of millions
of copies of “Obsession,” and my willingness to share with other Jews, Christians
and the media that I felt the movie was divisive — and my desire to create
a program to find solutions to violence and the teaching hate.

Jerusalem_with_wall_and_mosque
    Victor not only listened to
my fears, he validated and shared my concerns and helped me find the
words to be effective in discussing my concerns with other
members of the Muslim community. He suggested that I shouldn’t use a phrase like “radical
Muslims who hijacked Islam.” Instead, I could say “the extreme radical factions
amongst Muslims” to identify the terrorists that caused death and
destruction in New Deli, India, at the American Embassy in Yemen, and
publicly voiced a death threat to Paul McCartney if McCartney appeared
at a Friendship Concert in Israel. Victor helped
me understand how the words and phrases we use can open doors for dialogue — or, if poorly chosen, words can prompt defensiveness making it more difficult to find solutions
together.
    From this discussion, Victor
and I saw the need to create a task force with other partners in our part of the U.S. In our area, we work with the
Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion’s Interfaith Partners.
    Here are some of the questions we are raising out of our friendship and dialogue:
    How do we discuss Antisemitism, Islamophobia and Racism in a diverse community?
    What are the root causes of the fear and hate that is so common these days?
    How do we discuss
the psychological wounds that are derailing the peace process?
    How do we talk about the ideologies and sometimes violent theologies from our religions that are fueling the fires?
    How does stereotyping lead to violence in our world?
    How can we talk about extremism in our own religions, cultures and races?
    Is there such a thing as constructive criticism?
    When we step on toes, or worse, how do we say: Ouch?
    And how do we encourage more media coverage of moderate voices condemning violence?
    Victor and I are willing to
have this conversation across communities and with our respective
communities. We believe that through dialogue, understanding and cooperative
efforts we can create peace for all of God’s children.

THANKS to the readers we’ve quoted today!
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interviews next week.

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