Its been a while since I last posted any thoughts. One major reason being that of travel. After enjoying a long weekend with my wife and daughter in Nice, France (good food, good friends and beautiful scenery – what more does one need?), I have since last Monday attended the annual Research Colloquia at IBTS, which is where I’m doing my PhD dissertation. Its been a good but busy week and I was hoping to post my thoughts as the week went by, but it just hasn’t been possible. I presented my research progress on the day I arrived (which with all things considered went fairly well, having a cold and only slept for 2,5 hours the night before because of delays at the Nice airport!). 

ibtsIBTS is an amazing place, at the heart of Europe with students from all over the globe – the Slavic speaking world, Middle East, Western Europe, Africa, North America (well, almost, all over the world…). There are strong links with the Anabaptist tradition, which can be seen in both the spiritual life of the school and in many of the research subjects that have been presented over the week, dealing with issues such as peace and reconciliation, social justice, mission and the like. Really inspiring stuff!

At this morning’s prayer meeting Elie, a friend of mine who is linked with the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon, shared some thoughts on the situation in Middle East, in particular the current situation in Gaza and how the local Baptist churches are affected by all this (they are in a very though situation, a minority group caught in between two fighting groups – if you feel inclined to do so, please pray for them). If you would like to know how you can help those affected by the war in Gaza, have a look at Musalaha’s website, a non-profit organization working with reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

My friend also shared some thoughts about some of the reconciliation work that is being done at the moment, particularly the efforts by Salim Munayer  (a Palestinian Christian) and Evan Thomas (a Messianic Jew). As part of their work they have presented some of the attitudes that lead to hate and violence:

“Us and them” – We overlook our own shortcomings because it is important to distinguish between us (who are right and good and merciful) and them (who are evil and wrong).

Dehumanization – By reducing people to being the enemy, the wrongdoers, the terrorists etc, the other becomes less than human.

Failure to see plurality within the other side – We stereotype the other, generalize and don’t see that although some might behave in bad ways, others actually are good people.

Suspicion – We think that the others always have an ulterior motive, conspiring to harm us.

Moral superiority – We are more peace-loving, trustworthy and honest. And if we have this attitude we often don’t want to mix with people who do not share our moral standards, as they might change and corrupt us. The feeling of moral superiority allows for separation and protection and it can justify hatred or legitimize mistreatment of the other.

Perceived victimization – If we only see ourselves as victims we are unable to see ourselves as a threat to the other. If we are victims, then we cannot be the victimizers.

Demonization – If God is on our side then the Devil must be on their side.

I think they make some really good and powerful points, which can be applied well beyond the Middle East conflict. And well beyond conflicts between nations and people groups to an individual level. Desmond Tutu says the following about reconciliation:

If there is to be reconciliation, we who are the ambassadors of Christ, we to whom the gospel of reconciliation has been entrusted, surely we must be Christ’s instruments of peace. We must ourselves be reconciled. The victims of injustice and oppression must be ready to forgive. That is a gospel imperative. But those who have done wrong must be ready to say… ‘We are sorry forgive us’. And the wronged must forgive.

Powerful stuff. Difficult stuff. And how depending on the grace of God we are as human beings.

Well, I will be meeting up with my supervisor this evening and talk about what lays ahead in research process, and tomorrow morning I will fly home to Stockholm. Good stuff!