Dialogue with Recreational Reconciliation
Reconciliation and peacemaking are God's idea, and a beautiful one at that. And there can be lots of fun when we join Him in His idea.
When some of my international who are friends studying in Davis and the San Francisco Bay area were going to have a one-week break from school, I thought how great it would be for them to see Yosemite Valley. What could be better than to continue to grow in genuine friendship and dialogue about culture, faith, family, and life in the beauty of Yosemite Valley?
It was remarkable to see who ended up making it on this last minute trip. Like the creative forces that formed Yosemite Valley, it felt like God orchestrated this trip just to break stereotypes between potential enemies.
Who could make it on the trip? Three young Muslim men, a retired US Army officer, and the son of a decorated Air Force pilot. That last one is me. The Muslim men are from countries very well-represented by detainees in Guantanamo Bay, and the Army Colonel is a Christian and naturally has many friends who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. You would think that there would be tensions to deal with as we shared our stories, our countries, and our faiths, but it was quite the opposite.
After we packed the minivan, loaded our mountain bikes, and lifted our hands together in prayer for peace, we started the long drive.
All were attentive to each other's journeys and humble to appreciate the perspective of the others. It was simply a blast to be around them during the two full days together hiking to waterfalls, riding bikes along rivers, and swimming in the frigid waters of the snow melt.
If healthy dialogue includes lots of laughter, this was very healthy.
We also ended up getting a US military discount making it cheaper to rent rafts, and while floating down the Tuolomne River, we were awed at the beauty of the gushing waterfalls and majestic granite walled Valley. We were thankful to America's contribution to peacemaking and the education system that drew these leaders from Central Asia and the Middle East.
Later, we went to the Native American museum to learn about this special people. We felt the pain of their plight, the injustices they experienced, and the conflicts between their people and the European settlers. We could all relate, and we each felt the need for forgiveness in our own histories as well.
Throughout the trip, deep conversations salted our time. We recalled the first time God answered a specific prayer, we shared about the role of the Bible and Qur'an in our lives, we enjoyed talking about our relationships with our dads, and stories about Jesus' life and parables were a common ground for discussing how people and nations can be reconciled.
Rich, our retired Lt. Colonel in the Army, kept saying how incredibly blessed he was to see the genuine respect that exists in these young men—respect for their parents, their own culture and so many things about America. We learned a lot from each other. People had told him that it wasn't possible for a Christian and Muslim to become friends, but he went away from the time together knowing that it wasn't only possible; genuine friendship and deep, respectful dialogue about faith was, in fact, very easy with these dedicated Muslims.
During our trip, we also wrestled with Jesus' message of reconciling with God. All of us really liked this story from Luke 18: A Pharisee and a tax collector went into the temple to pray. The Pharisee stood up and looked down on everyone else. He thanked God that he wasn't like other men—evildoers and this tax collector. He prayed and fasted and gave money. But the tax collector stood at a distance, didn't look up to heaven, beat his chest, and cried out, "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus asked, "Which one of these men went home justified before God?"
All of us understood what Jesus was getting at. Pride and religious stuff doesn't save us. Humility is key, and the position of the heart trumps religious performance.
Reconciling with each other was also a clear message as we mulled over Jesus' words of getting the log out of our own eye before we can help someone with the speck in theirs. We also saw how the Qur'an emphasizes knowing and loving our neighbors.
With wars raging around the globe, dialogue trips like this confirm peacemaking. In the back of a Rwandan church memorializing the 1994 genocide, this is written: "If you knew me and knew yourself, you wouldn't kill me." Genuine friendships and multidimensional reconciliation with God, people and creation is needed.
We all felt the hand of God in making a way for this spontaneous trip. Calling for reservations at Yosemite Valley the night before staying there is not a good idea. Many sites are full six months in advance, and the reservation agent was surprised that we could get a tent in the housekeeping camp that held us all. It was a sign to us of God's goodness and favor on this trip.
Peace Catalyst is all about Communities of Reconciliation (or COR groups) between Muslims and Christians. After this trip, we are thinking that the word "Recreation" needs including to make it CORR groups. After all, RE-creation or new creation is what the kingdom of God is all about, isn't it? Recreating this broken world, bringing healing and establishing true peace in the way of Jesus. We are praying that this trip will spawn more dialogue trips around the world and in our area.