My Introduction to the Conflict in Beirut Lebanon.
A few years ago I had a unique opportunity to engage with people in Lebanon. I was traveling with a large group from America, and arrived in Beirut almost 4 hours earlier than the team I was to meet.
After arriving at the Beirut airport, I caught a cab and headed to the home of our host in the center of the city. The lights of Beirut are magical at night, and the city is vibrant with life as it’s often called “The Paris of the Middle East.”
I knocked on the door, and was greeted by the most wonderful Middle Eastern Lady. She welcomed me into the house, and her demeanor changed as the door shut. “It’s all your fault” she said. “You are the reason this is happening.” as she pointed to the television news of a recent bombing in Southern Lebanon.
I had no idea what I’d done! I was just on a Multi-Faith Relationship building trip, and all of a sudden I found myself in a conversation of conflict in the first 30 seconds of my arrival. What have I gotten myself into this time? I wondered.
My host proceeded to give me a history lesson about Lebanon and Israel from her point of view. As I mentioned in my earlier post, about seeing the world through different lenses, I noticed quickly that her lens was VERY different from the one I was used to hearing.
She told me about how she thought the Israelis were responsible for so much violence.
She told me how America was Israel’s bulldog protecting it from any International scrutiny.
She tried to explain the plight of the Palestinian and why there are groups like Hamas in existence.
I’d never heard ANY of this logic before
But I careful listened, and after nearly 3 hours of my education, she took a deep breath and asked, “Any questions?”
Any Questions? I thought. Are you kidding me? All I know about the Middle East is terrorism, Islam, and falafel. Of course I have questions. But I kept them to myself, and listened intently, I needed to know more. I was intrigued that I had never heard this side of the story before, and most of my understanding of the Middle East came from American News Sound bytes.
Her husband entered the conversation and helped explain some of the outbursts from his point of view, and added some new ones. He talked about the dedication of Muslims, their Love for Jesus, and the difference between the official Christian Religion and what Jesus talked about.
Here I was in the living room of well-educated Muslims learning about Jesus. Who would have ever thought? I learned how they differentiated Religion being something of tradition and institution, and the heart of Jesus. They admitted the “religiosity” of Islam controlled many cultures, politics, and communities. But the heart of Jesus was not in conflict with anything they were doing.
For the first time in my International Travels, I sat with educated, successful, business people who took international conflicts in the world VERY SERIOUSLY. And, they were able to justify their position from a Jesus centric point of view.
When the team arrived, I had a chance to connect the dots. After all, my Arabic is just in the elementary phase of development, so when our mutual friends arrived, I got a full English Explanation.
We spent three days in and around Beirut learning how Christians, Muslims, and Jews have lived together in this vibrant city for centuries. Our hosts were gracious, giving us a backstage pass to all things Lebanon, and while we talk into the late hours of the evening, I began to understand which lens our hosts saw the world, and it began to challenge my own view. (By the way, anytime you can challenge your own lens with the lens of the other, no matter the outcome, it’s healthy.)
When it was time to say goodbye, my new friends hugged me, looked over at our American Leader and said, “We’ve been around a lot of your Christian friends, and we would welcome Andy to our home ANYTIME!” And to this day, when we see each other at big events, we hug and laugh together.
The Jesus Answer
I’m always in search of the Jesus answer when I deal with people with different lenses. WWJD, isn’t just a bracelet, but a mantra I want to live my life by. When Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” (Matthew 5:44) I find that useful in any contact I have with people.
We don’t have the option to rush to judgement. (Matthew 7) In fact, our command from Jesus is to give to others, no matter what. If someone needs a loan, the Jesus answer is to give without the expectation of being re-paid. If someone wants your cloak, you give him your tunic. If someone asks you to walk a mile, you walk two.
It may not be your lens of dealing with people in the Middle East, or anyone in general, but if we are a people who are looking to see the world through the eyes of Jesus, we need to challenge our lenses. Jesus wasn’t concerned with the Institutions man has built, mainly, economy, government, or sociology. He was concerned with The Kingdom of God.
And as the Kingdom is made up of all the lenses of people we see on earth, it seems like we need to be humble when we approach grievances that people have on us for whatever reason.
Listening to my new friends in their home was just what they needed. They needed someone to hear their side of the story. So when I sat and listened well, I met their needs. Instead of being an American/Christian who brings with him a reputation of arguing and right answers, I just sat and approached our relationship with a counter need to hear and understand their pain and frustration.
You’ll be surprised when you approach people. No matter if their from the Middle East, or the Middle of your town, if you take slow methodical steps to understand and humbly look at the world through their lens, you may just begin finding there are more friends out there than you originally thought.