I don’t know how we got so lucky, but in May of 2005, my little brother and I ended up on the front row of the b-stage for a U2 show at Madison Square Garden. Mid-way through the show the band ripped through a trilogy of anti-war songs: Love and Peace or Else, Sunday Bloody Sunday and Bullet the Blue Sky.
Just two feet in front of me, Bono knelt down and put on a headband with the word COEXIST handwritten across the front. The “C” was the crescent moon of Islam, the X was made from the Star of David, and the T was from the Cross of Christ.
Then he started riffing, “Jesus, Jew, Mohammed… it’s true. All sons of Abraham.” He pulled the blindfold down over his eyes and knelt down like prisoner of war about to be executed.
I was sold.
I was a Christian seminary student, the son of a Muslim and engaged to a woman whose father was a Jew… all during the worst parts of the Iraq war. Whatever political, cultural and theological differences were causing war, the idea of peaceful coexistence immediately resonated.
I had multiple t-shrits made with the logo on the front. On the back of one was printed Jesus Loves Arabs. On another, just for grins, I printed Who’s Your Baghdaddy?
I wore them to class, to church, around town. I wanted to make people ask what my shirt was all about. I wanted to tell people that the enemies of America were not always the enemies of God; that for all the horror stories, sensationalized images, stereotypes and bad theology… the majority of people in all three religions wanted the same thing: shelter, food and a future. Our work needed to be for peaceful coexistence, not war.
Almost ten years later, I realize COEXIST won’t cut it. To coexist is only to tolerate… to simply put up with someone or something you don’t like or agree with for the sake of an absence of conflict.
That is not the peace we’re looking for.
Why can’t coexistence and an absence of conflict be enough?
Consider this story:
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, and he wants to go through Samaria. But Jews didn’t travel through Samaria, they went around it. Why? Because Jews and Samaritans did not like each other. Not even close. It was pure racial and religious hatred.
Even though they had a common ancestor in Jacob, and they both had the Torah, the Samaritans had a different theology, a different temple of worship, and had gotten in the way of the Jews when they returned from exile and tried to rebuild their temple.
Jews saw Samaritans as foreigners, inferior half-breeds, unclean, less than human… the enemy.
In this story, the Samaritans don’t want to receive Jesus. So the disciples, in a moment of pure holy war ideology, ask Jesus if they should call down a shock and awe fire from heaven to burn the Samaritans up.
Onward Christian soldiers.
Instead, Jesus rebukes them for wanting to destroy lives when he came to save them.
Then, just one chapter later, Jesus is asked THE question: What does takes to inherit eternal life?
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says all the law and prophets – the scriptures, the 10 commandments, EVERYTHING – hangs on loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself.
So of course, the next big question is Who is my neighbor? What does this love look like? And Jesus targets the very people the disciples wanted to light up.
We call it the Parable of the Good Samaritan: A Jewish man is traveling from Jerusalem, and he gets mugged by bandits. While he’s lying bloody and beaten on the side of the road, a priest comes along, and later a Levite. Both walk on the other side of the road to avoid the man. Then a Samaritan comes along, puts him on his donkey, takes him to an inn and pays to have him sheltered, fed and fixed up.
“Which of those three would you say was the neighbor?” Jesus asks.
Put another way, “Who do you love?”
Answer? The hated Samaritan.
The Jews had learned to coexist with the Samaritans: That’s your land. This is mine. Let’s just agree to disagree and go about our business.
But Jesus circumvented settling for coexistence.
Now try on the story for the 21st Century: A Christian in mugged in New York City. A pastor walks by and ignores him. So does a worship leader. Then a Muslim picks him up, puts him in his cab, and pays for his hotel and hospital bills.
So, who do you love?
To see the other as a human made in the image of God is an important first step, and to work towards coexistence is an honorable (and necessary) goal, but it still isn’t enough. To simply coexist doesn’t deal with root wounds of the conflict, it simply lives with it. The why you don’t want to be in relationship with someone gets pushed under the rug.
In other words, coexistence is not love. And Christ circumvents our idea of just coexisting, calling us to love our neighbor as we love ourself.
So why is love the harder goal to aim for? What gets in the way? I think Thomas Cahill gets to the heart of the matter: “The problem of all unresolved conflict is the same: Each side makes the same one-sided claim, “Only my wounds matter.” *
While I was throwing it in peoples faces with those t-shrits, trying to get people to COEXIST, I had forgotten the line Bono sang as he put on the headband: Where is the love?
Whatever your wounds are, we could just agree to disagree and live without conflict. But all of the law and prophets boil down this: love the one you hate as your love yourself.
Your wounds do matter.
Hint: “Because Jesus said so” isn’t enough.
To be continued.
Until then… Shalom… Salaam… Peace be with you.
(P.S. Try telling the story of the “Good Muslim” in your church and let me know how it goes.)
* from Thomas Cahill’s introduction to the LIFE magazine special “Holy Lands: One Place Three Faiths.” Copyright 2002, Time Magazine.