What We Can Do about ISIS

Father NabilAt one point on my recent trip to the Middle East an Army chaplain said to me with tears in his eyes, “We are at the beginning of something like the Protestant Reformation, and Father Nabil Haddad is like Martin Luther.”

Father Nabil Haddad is the Catholic priest who invited six of us to World Interfaith Harmony Week in Amman, February 1-7. For several years now Father Nabil has been working with Episcopal priest Bill Sachs, who convenes our interfaith group in Richmond, and he and Bill agreed that it would be good for us to have this experience. Apparently our group is something of a novelty–Muslims, Christians, and Jews who not only “dialogue” about the serious business of interfaith relations, but who also eat together, travel together, and sometimes, just for fun, bowl together. Father Nabil wanted to see that for himself, and also wanted his colleagues here in Jordan to see it.

And so he invited us to his house for dinner, where we were greeted by his wife and adult children (“Wait a minute. Wife and children? Didn’t you say he was a Catholic priest?” Yes, he is. A Melkite Catholic priest, which is closer to Greek Orthodox than Roman Catholic, and yet in full communion with the worldwide Catholic Church). His children were perfect hosts (I got the feeling they’d had some practice), and his wife had cooked the entire meal we enjoyed, and we enjoyed it entirely.

Along with our delegation Nabil had invited a half-dozen US Army chaplains he’s become acquainted with. This was a surprise to us, but we’re learning that with Father Nabil you have to be ready for almost anything. The chaplains turned out to be terrific guys and one of them identified himself to me as a Southern Baptist pastor from Washington state.

As we were getting to know each other our conversation was interrupted by the news that the Jordanian pilot being held by ISIS had been executed, and in the most horrific way imaginable. Someone asked Father Nabil if he would lead us in prayer, and we all stood and joined hands while he prayed for the family of this pilot, and for the country of Jordan, and for peace in the Middle East.

For the rest of the evening this tragic news was the topic of conversation. We ate dinner with the television on, and at one point Father Nabil got a call asking if he could come and make an appearance on national television. That’s when I got into a conversation with the chaplain who told me that Nabil was like Martin Luther.

It surprised me, coming from him, because in the course of conversation I learned that he was a Mormon, and I felt my spine stiffen just a little bit. I can talk to Muslims and Jews. I can even talk to Episcopalians (smile). But here was someone who was not exactly “orthodox,” if you know what I mean: someone whose religion was just enough different from my own that all I could see were the differences and all I could feel was an urge to distance myself.

But I stayed with it. I kept on talking with him. And then he said that remarkable thing, with tears in his eyes, and it made me look at him in a different way: as a fellow human being, certainly, but as someone who was also looking for peace in the world and between our warring religions.

Like me.

That’s been my experience over and over on this trip, as I ride on the tour bus beside a Muslim imam, and talk with my Jewish rabbi roommate after the lights have gone out at night: I’ve been seeing all the ways in which we are like each other on the human level, but also in our desire to see that day when all of God’s children can live in peace. Father Nabil said, “When my Jordanian friends see you–Muslim, Christian, Jew–eating together, traveling together, laughing together…I think they are very jealous! You are setting an example for us.” That doesn’t mean my interfaith group is trying to create “one world religion.” Not at all. In fact we are finding that the more passionately we embrace our own religious identities–as Christians, Jews, and Muslims–the more we are able to respect and appreciate each other’s religions. And what is central to each of them is a love for God and neighbor.

Which makes it clear that ISIS is not Islamic.

When ISIS killed that Jordanian pilot (a faithful Muslim) it let the world know that its agenda is not Islam vs. Christianity; its agenda is to gain control through fear, and it doesn’t care who it kills in order to achieve that goal.*  But suppose that instead of eyeing each other with suspicion the world’s religions joined hands and prayed–for the end of ISIS, the end of extremism, the end of fear?

That’s what we did in Father Nabil’s living room. I joined hands with a circle of friends that included a rabbi, an imam, a Catholic priest, a Baptist minister, and a Mormon chaplain, and we prayed together for an end to the kind of violence and hatred that could do such a thing to another human being. We did it in part because Father Nabil believes this is the only way to achieve peace in the world–for the many religions to stop arguing with each other and join hands in prayer to the One who would love to see his children come together…

…in peace.

*When Ammar Amonette, the imam who was traveling with us, heard what ISIS had done to the Jordanian pilot he said, “This is not Islam.  The Quran does not allow this kind of killing.”

8 thoughts on “What We Can Do about ISIS

  1. Having worked in an orthodox Jewish school for 16 years, I too was privy to the truths that you express here, Jim. We are all so much more alike than we are different, no matter our religion. Coming together and gaining strength under the umbrella of Love is the only way to experience the “good and beautiful life”. I pray that those motivated by fear and violence are broken by that Love.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and thoughts regarding this trip. I have been so inspired by all of it. This kind of interfaith work is something I feel incredibly passionate about. I’m so thankful for all that you are doing, for your example, and for the kind of message your and your fellow interfaith group friends are spreading throughout Richmond and the world. 🙂

  3. Jim,

    As you indicated in your blog entry, what ISIS is doing has nothing to do with religion. It is about power and the ways they are using to gain that power is through fear and terror. Evil, in whatever form has taken through the millennia, has depended on fear and terror to gain and hold power. Sometimes evil becomes so oppressive, that one is left to wonder where goodness has gone, but we must continue to hope that goodness is going to eventually overcome evil. What other choice do we have but to hope that eventually evil will be defeated.

  4. Hi, Jim. You’re hearing from Buckhannon WV. My name is Jeanie Wiest. I greatly enjoyed reading your blog about your trip to the Middle East, however that’s not the purpose of my message. While your parents lived here, Bill was often in our home, and our David was even more often with Ricie and Bill after school at Bill’s house as your mom generously provided after school care. So, not having heard much about Bill for a few years, I’m contacting you to get Bill’s email or other address so we can catch up with him. I haven’t heard from your mom in a long time–she used to send a note once a year or so. I hope you still have both of them.

    Joe and I are well. He continues teaching physics at Wesleyan. I am retired and volunteer one day a week at The Parish House which is a multi-denominational community service agency. Both of our boys went to PEA. Tragedy struck, and David died in 2002 as Bill knows. Don is an attorney in Boston and very active in volunteer public service. His wife Carrie Fletcher has just started her new job which is Director of Professional Development at HLS.

    I am cleaning out a desk drawer, an activity that has a way of triggering memories and one of our dear memories is your brother Bill. It was good to see the photo of the 6 of you “boys.”

    I’m looking forward to hearing from you. JeanieAWiest@yahoo.com. Also 304 472 4427.

  5. Jim,

    The most destructive and damning idea ever to spring the the mind of men — for these religions have always been male dominated — is the idea that there is salvation … In a particular creed, doctrine, religion or stated “belief.” In that idea is simply power and control.

    We’ve met briefly, exchanged some emails and you know I graduated from BTSR — an incredible gift, and along with my ordination these are things I do not and cannot take for granted, nor disrespect engendered by self-seeking. But I am compelled to speak with my heart.

    Learning the scriptures, reading the scriptures and now teaching them has reveled something and set me on a path for which there is no backtracking and taking the more travelled road instead. And it is this: The only “God” is the I AM, the WE ARE.

    He and she are not a god apart from the very being of life and creation itself, and when Jesus says that “all the Law and the prophets” — or all religion, hope, yearning, the “groaning creation” of Paul, the end of suffering, submission to the greater, the movement of the stars and, yes, salvation — hang on two things, two actions … That is what I hear.

    There is no god. God is I AM. “God is love,” says First John, again an action. And when I read about you in Israel, Jordan and the struggle for faith you shared with your Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Mormon (and even that Southern Baptiat), what I see is you and they BEING that love, being the I AM, doing the two commands, living it in the flesh, incarnating the Logos … I see no other way, no other god.

    In the blessing from Numbers — more and more the only prayer I will say in public — it is the gaze of love from another that can only be human which blesses. The Human One they called Jesus. Not an effigy, not a statue, not a symbol, not a god …

    So to you, my friend, from my face to yours —

    May the ineffable Spirit of being bless you and keep you; may she turn to smile upon you, and be gracious to you; may he lift up his eyes and look into yours and give you peace.

  6. This statement from Stephen Dareing is very sad. Do I correctly understand that this is a graduate of a Baptist Seminary, heading out to pastor some church? You are NOT the I AM, and whatever the WE ARE is has no relation to the I AM which was both our creator Jesus ( “Before Abraham was, I AM”) and God in the burning bush. Truly we have reached these times: 2 Timothy 3:1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2People will be lovers of themselves,…………….5having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people………..4:1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. …..”

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