What is a Peace Feast and Why do they work so well?

When people ask, “What does Peace Catalyst do?” I typically say, “We create safe spaces for people to get to know each other.” Usually that means getting Christians and Muslims in the same room, but over the years that has expanded to other groups joining us too. 

One of our signature events is called a Peace Feast.  We held one in Louisville just a few weeks ago.  This one was a “Persian Peace Feast” we did at Ramsi’s Café on the World.  

It’s just basic contact theory that Gordon Allport wrote about back in the 50’s when he was dealing with race relations.  Allport wrote a book called, “The Nature of Prejudice.” He addressed issues we face today like scapegoating and using dehumanizing labels and how when we don’t know about the other person, we tend to fill in the missing gaps with prejudicial information influenced by our social biases.  He also said one way to overcome these inaccuracies is to bring people together in structured environments. These are the safe spaces that Peace Catalyst attempts to create.

For the Persian Peace Feast, I had met with some Iranian students at the University of Louisville a few weeks before the event to ask for their help.  I asked them, “If you could tell people anything you wanted to about Iran, what would you share?” They agreed to invite their Iranian friends to the Peace Feast and to help me frame questions for the event. 

Ramsi, the owner of the restaurant, said there were only 50 seats in the available room.  He prepared a Persian buffet of lamb, biryani rice, tika masala and rice pudding. Pricing is always tricky. Many students don’t have extra money for eating out.  We need to cover our expenses, but we also want to make the events available to everyone. We charged $20 and offered scholarships for the students.  This event was sold out. (You can see photos here.)

As the Tuesday evening event approached, people were writing saying they had waited too late to get their tickets and could we make room.  The night of the event, two women showed up without tickets saying, “We saw it on Facebook and had to be here. Can we stay?”  

We had about 15 people from Iran.  Most of the Iranians were students, but some were from the community.  One woman had recently returned from a trip to Iran to see her family.  We asked the Iranians to sit with non-Iranians so people could get to know each other. Persian music played in the background as people devoured the food. After the meal, I asked questions to the Iranians which they answered at their tables.  

“Tell about your hometown in Iran.  What were the schools like?  What were the grocery stores like?”

“Persian hospitality is famous around the world. If the people at your table were to celebrate Nowruz with your family, what would you do?”

“Sunnis, Shias, and Zoroastrians are all religious expressions in Persia. Explain the importance and role of religion in Iran.”

I asked them to share their answers with their table. The conversations go in so many different directions.  The people at the tables get to ask clarifying questions, and they begin to understand each other while friendships begin to form.  I have found this is so much better than having someone give a formal presentation.  It moves us from the head to the heart, from information to relationship, from suspicion to trust. (Good food always helps this process!)  These encounters allow us to put a face on the news stories and hopefully, one relationship at a time, we build understanding and peace.   

John Paul Lederach is a professor at Notre Dame and international conflict resolution specialist. He wrote, “The Moral Imagination” in which he said that we have to be able to imagine ourselves, in our mind’s eye, in relationship with someone before relationships and peace are possible.  Sometimes we cannot imagine the possibility that the “other” group could be our friend.  At Peace Feasts, we focus not on the group, but on the person across the table from us. We frequently hear people say things like, “This guy is different.  He was not like what I see in the news.”  

Prejudice inhibits the process.  Sometimes we cannot get people to attend events like this.  Lederach said building peace was similar to a spider weaving a web. First, a few solid relational strands must be formed. That is followed by smaller relational strands being methodically attached to the first strands until a strong and resilient web is complete. For example, I met with a few Iranian students.  They brought their friends to the Peace Feast.  I brought my friends, and the web was built.  Some events may strain or damage the web, but hopefully it can be repaired. 

Once we are connected to someone, once we begin to care about that person, we want to protect the relationship. Though the news stories may sound the alarms about the home country of our new friend, in our mind’s eye, we envision our friend, an individual. We can then compare the claims of the media to our personal experience. Many times I have thought, “That news story does not match up with the people I know from that country. I wonder what they think about this event.” With a close enough relationship, I might call or text them.  I might ask how their family is doing or about their read on the current situation. I might suggest we get coffee and talk.  That’s what friends do, right?

So, what is a Peace Feast? Peace Feasts are safe spaces where we begin building these transforming relational webs.  When storms come and people start saying hateful things about people that we have met and care about, perhaps we will not be so gullible as to be led down a path of hate and isolation.  Perhaps we will have friends in this demonized group and will feel compelled to nuance the arguments. Perhaps we will be brave enough, Christ-like enough, to stand with the marginalized and defend them.  Perhaps we will catalyze peace.   

Waking up Anxious

Let the Peace of God Rule in Your Hearts

How can I be a peacemaker when I wake up so anxious each morning? Do you ever do this?  I can go right to sleep at night, my head hits the pillow and I am out, but about 4:30 something wakes me up.  Based on the fruit of those early morning hours, I feel pretty sure it’s not the spirit of God waking me up. My to-do list bludgeons me, telling me I’m lazy and should get up.  There’s a passage in Proverbs (I think) about the sluggard flopping over in his bed like a door on hinges.  Why do my thoughts in the early hours use scripture to beat me up?  Unanswered emails.  Unkept commitments. Writing I need to do.  Bills I need to pay.  Imaginary conversations with people I worry are disappointed with me.  On and on it goes.  Anxiety builds.  

“What time is it,” I ask as I turn to look at the clock.  “How long have I been sleeping?” I calculate only five and a half hours. “I need to silence these voices.  Think nothing,” I tell myself.  Then like a mantra I repeat in my mind “Think Nothing, Think Nothing, Think Nothing, Think Nothing…”  For me, it brings temporary relief.  Maybe my simple mind can’t think of two things at once so the other voices are crowded out and I drift back to sleep.  It seldom lasts.  Some fun and unexplainable dreams occur in these early morning hours, but the anxious thoughts also return.  “I should get up.”  The alarm begins to play that soft wake-up music and I am ready to escape the bed. It’s interesting how I use sleep to escape at night, falling exhausted into my soft pillow, but it only lasts so long and then I must escape the sleep. The beat goes on and on.

God’s wisdom is filled with peace

James 3:17

I was blessed this morning to read Rick Love’s book, Peace Catalysts.  He shares four Biblically based disciplines he uses to restore peace in his heart. He calls them his “four cornerstones of peacemaking.” 

  1. If we rest in God’s Love, we will live in peace. Jude 1:21 “Keep yourself in God’s love.” Rick reminds us that “resting in God’s love is the opposite of performing for God’s approval.”  The hamster wheel of working for God’s smile (and people’s approval) never stops spinning. Faster and faster the wheel whirls until we are exhausted. Rest comes when we reorient our gaze to the One who is love.  He loves you.  Rest. Be at peace.
  2. If we walk by faith, we live in peace.  Phil 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” When we feel anxious, we are commanded to stop it. God knows its not good for us and tells us to present these anxieties to him and he will transform our thinking and give us his peace. (Rick says it better.  You should read the book.) 
  3. If we walk in wisdom, we live in peace. Proverbs 3:7 says “All of her (Wisdom’s) paths are peace.” “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18 God’s wisdom is filled with peace.  If we are not experiencing peace, we may have drifted off God’s path and may need to reorient ourselves because God’s path leads to peace.
  4. If we rid ourselves of unnecessary clutter and confusion, we live in peace.1 Cor 14:33 “God is not a God of disorder but of peace.” I am feeling this one right now. It seems so many things are competing for my attention.  Rick says, “When our lives get chaotic or out of control anxiety gets the upper hand.” That may be why I wake up anxious so many mornings. 

Rick then goes into eight practices of developing interpersonal peace, but it all starts with that internal peace that comes from walking with God and discerning his leading. “Martha, Martha you are anxious about many things, but only one thing is really needed.”  Mary chose what is better.  It’s a choice that I want to make too. 

I’m going to add Rick’s list of four disciplines to my “cheat sheet” beside my bed.  On a shelf I see first thing in the morning, I have printed out Matthew 6:33 where Jesus says to “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  Meditating on this verse helps me release my anxiety about finances and health.  Jesus encourages us to consider the birds and the flowers, so I take a walk in my yard, slow my pace, breathe deeply and look. It helps to me prioritize my to-do list and the knot in my stomach releases its grip.  

Peace Catalysts: Resolving Conflict in our Families, Organizations and Communities is foundational to the ethos of our organization.  It was written at a time when the organization was young and Rick was articulating the Biblical principles of peacemaking.  These are stressful times in which we live, when anxieties can run high. If you haven’t read the book, you really should.

Based on pages 49-53 of Rick Love’s book “Peace Catalyst: Resolving Conflict in our Families, Organizations and Communities. IVP (2104)

5 Reasons Christians Should Attend an Iftar During Ramadan

Peace Catalyst likes to get people together and Ramadan is a great time to do that. Our Muslim friends are already gathering many evenings throughout Ramadan to break their fasts together.  Sometimes they invite us into their space to share this meal with them. But sometimes, too, my Christian friends push back and resist accepting the invitation.

Christians Should Embrace Welcoming Refugees

Evangelical Leaders' Petition to President Trump

Some friends at World Relief and prominent church leaders like Tim Keller, Bill Hybels, and Max Lucado (along with over 3000 other Christian leaders) have signed a petition to be presented to President Trump and Vice-President Pence. I like the tone of this petition.  Rather than being full of inflammatory speech, it quotes the words of scripture which show that welcoming refugees is what God expects of people.

The churches have spent millions, possibly billions, of dollars trying to take the “Good News” to the nations.  Now when God brings the nations to our doorstep, we try to stop them from coming.

Cities Concerned about Declining Populations

The Blessings of Foreign Born Friends

The “Rust Belt.” The phrase brings to mind abandoned buildings, crumbling infrastructures, demoralized and unemployed people. Those that remain complain about the declining quality of life, police protection and the schools their children attend. What is a city to do when industry and people abandon their properties?

The Wall Street Journal on May 19, 2016 shared census statistics of the declining populations in US cities. Mayors and city councils are concerned with these trends. My city of Louisville would have declined in population over the last ten years if not for foreign born people moving to our city. Cities

Countering Violent Extremism: Weapons are not Enough

Alliance for Peacebuilders
April 2016

cve1In this day of transnational actors, we must do the hard work of persuading hearts and minds.  The tools of rhetoric are needed to stamp out the ideologies of extremism.  There is not state to bomb.  The extremists are among us, having believed that violence is the answer.  What drives them?  How can we persuade them to think differently? Get a PDF booklet on the power of storytelling from the Alliance for Peacebuilders.

Looking Like Jesus:

Actions and Proof Texts

I recently took my Syrian imam friend to a Christian college to speak. He was a guest lecturer in “Cross Cultural Communications” classes, a “Theology of Missions” class and a “Church Planting” class. It was really interesting to hear how the imam approached these topics from an Islamic perspective.

Maslow, Trump and Muslims

Why are evangelicals supporting Trump?

Remember Maslow and his “hierarchy of needs”? The basic premise is that we will sacrifice everything else we hold dear if we do not have our basic foundational needs met. If a person is dying of thirst or cannot breathe, he will do anything, including risking his personal safety, to get air or water. As you move up his chart, Maslow claims that people are more concerned about their safety than their self-esteem or belonging to a group. His theory is that people will abandon their higher values if they feel like their safety is at risk or their group identity is being threatened.

Peace Catalyst Helps Host Reception

Kentucky State Representatives Welcome Internationals

Mehmet works with the American Turkish Friendship Association of Kentucky. We have done many projects together; Peace Feasts, Iftar Dinners, arranging firefighter appreciation dinners and serving together in a local shelter. More than just doing projects together, we are friends. We drink a lot of tea together and discuss how we can make the world a better place.

Have you ever wished you could travel to another country and learn about some foreign culture? Or maybe you have watched a travel show or flipped through a magazine and had questions you wished you could ask. Did you know that over 100 languages are represented in our local schools? Chances are, whatever culture sparked your questions is represented in our state. Sadly, many in the state don’t utilize this great learning and cultural resource. Some of us would like to change that.

Muslim Leaders Gather in Morocco to Discuss Religious Minorities

Religion News Service
January 21, 2016

 

Imam Magid is the Executive Imam of America's second largest mosque and received a medal earlier this year from the King of Morocco for his role in restoring historic Jewish cemeteries in Morocco. Photo courtesy of All Dulles Area Muslim Society

Imam Magid is the Executive Imam of America’s second largest mosque and received a medal earlier this year from the King of Morocco for his role in restoring historic Jewish cemeteries in Morocco. Photo courtesy of All Dulles Area Muslim Society

Imam Muhammad Magid and more than 300 religious and political leaders from Muslim-majority nations — including Egypt, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan and Iran — are expected to attend the forum, billed as the first major effort of its kind in the Muslim world since the Charter of Medina, written in 622 C.E. as the first constitution of the Muslim world. An example of the charter’s principles is Article 17: “No Jew will be wronged for being a Jew.”

The Secret of Immigrant Genius

Why are Immigrants DIsproportionally More Creative?

Victor Hugo, Marie Curie, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein were all immigrants or refugees.  They either chose, or were forced, to cross cultures. Eric Weiner notes this phenomenon in a Wall Street Journal article, “The Secret of Immigrant Genius.”  So many immigrants excel that it has attracted the attention of social psychologists to ask “Why?”

South Sudan

Hope Deferred

I remember looking down on the village in South Sudan as we made our second approach to the dirt landing strip. The first fly-by was to chase the cows off the ru21205107313_9bf6b3512a_mnway. As we pulled up I saw anti-aircraft guns and several soldiers guarding the strip. At that time it was not yet South Sudan but functioned as an quasi-independent country. Fighting between the north and south had mostly stopped, but official recognition by the UN would only come later.