“Can we just have 10 seconds of silence, please?” a Kurdish man asked.
It was our Kurdish Peace Feast. Three of his relatives had been killed by the ISIS group last week. He wanted us to honor their memory.
The feelings were raw in the room. Some were emotional and passionate.
“The US spent six million dollars for a tank that ISIS took from the Iraqi army and is now using against my people.”
Just days ago, this man had returned from a village caught between ISIS forces and the Yazidi people trapped on Mount Sinjar.
“Then the US spent another hundred thousand dollars to take out their own tank!”
He was frustrated.
“My people are fighting with Kalashnikovs against these tanks.” He wanted the US government to help his people.
The heart of a peace feast happens at the table discussions. This night we had Iranian and Iraqi and Turkish people sitting around the tables with Americans, Pakistanis, and Indians. There were even people from Yemen and Spain there. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and atheists were learning about each other and building friendships. An essential step in conflict resolution is to be humble enough to stop talking and to listen to each other.
A Kurdish woman talked about how her people had been mistreated by the Iranians and Turks. Both Turks and Iranians were sitting at her table!
“I don’t have anything against you,” the Kurdish woman said. “It is the governments that have caused these problems.”
She then hugged the Turkish woman sitting at her table, and the tension was diffused.
I asked the Iranian man how the conversations had gone at this same table.
“It was hard to hear,” he said. “As you said earlier, emotions were raw. There were things I couldn’t say, but I think it was very good to hear it.”
I would like to say our conversations were deeply spiritual, but sometimes they don’t feel that way. This night felt more political, but maybe that is a false dichotomy. I think hearing and understanding people is something Jesus would do.
Jesus saw a “wee little man” sitting in a tree and honored him. Jesus saw a Samaritan woman coming to get water in the heat of the day. He saw another woman–he actually sought her out–who had brushed by him in crowd. He defended children and women, the powerless and minorities. Jesus’ faith and message was very practical. He talked to people that others avoided, and the conversations took some interesting twists and turns.
One conversation at a time, we humanize others. Many Kurdish people feel unseen, neglected, abused, marginalized. This night some of them were in tears, partly because they were seen. They were heard. They were honored. We identified with their pain through our common humanity. We made some new friends, and we started some new conversations.
If you would like to be informed when the next Peace Feast happens, join Peace Feast (Louisville).