Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Conversation with a Neighbor

We're new to our neighborhood (less than 6 months).

I engaged in a brief conversation with a neighbor I've met one other time.

Our conversation was very close to this:

Me:  Hello Richard!  I see you've got your dogs again!
Richard:  Yes!  A nice day for a walk.  You're clearly working on something here with all this lumber?
Me:  [Explain my 2x4 and 1x4 wood project.]
Richard:  Now tell me, what is it that you do again?
Me:  My area of professional interest is in solving the most tragic problems of the world?
Richard: Oh?
Me:  Yes, I'm a University Professor and  I work to understand how and why people willingly engage in violence and specifically how religion plays a role in perpetuating that violence.
Richard:  Well, I don't think we'll ever see and end to violence, what with the Islamic people and all that they do.
Me:  I have to remain hopeful that we can change the world to become a better place.  I want that for my children and for the future of the world.  Though, you're certainly correct, Richard . . . Christians for too long modeled how to murder and displace other persons and the long history of Christian violence has helped train other people, like Muslims, to attempt to use violence to move forward with their agenda.
Richard:  What did you say?
Me:  You mean, 'What did I say about the long history of Christian violence?'
Richard:  Yes?
Me:  [I offer a less than five minute review on the history of post-Constantine Christian violence tied to empires with a special note on Christian Anti-Semitism that allowed Christians to annihilate not just thousands, but millions of Jews, political dissidents, Roma, downs-syndrome children and adults, homosexuals and others, in the Holocaust (Shoah) less than 100 years ago.  I note the current upswing in violence among select areas of regionally specific Islamic traditions and note the failure of Christians to have modeled a better way toward loving one's neighbor.]
Richard:  Well, I just don't think we will ever see peace.  Have a good day.
Me:  You, too, Richard, I hope you have a great day.  It's gorgeous out today.

I was not trying to be snarky with Richard and our conversation was quite pleasant.  I was quite happy to tell Richard that I am engaged with working with the world's greatest problems.

And, I was happy to (I hope!), graciously force him to reconsider Christian violence throughout world history and not just label Islam/Islamic people as violent.  [I assumed he was Christian, most white skinned, white-haired males where I live have some claim to Christian identity.]

I do not think my brief comments to Richard were complete - and I do think Christians and Muslims have been complicit in violence.  I simply think we can not place violence on "them" while not also recognizing our own complicity in violence.

I genuinely value the work that I do and I sincerely wish persons could begin to see their own complicity in violence and the complicity of nations in violence.

I wish persons could become mindful of the complicity of religious faith traditions that have been mis-used to perpetuate violence.

I work to reshape ordinary conversations among neighbors in order to make the world a more loving place for all living things.

Toward eupan ~

~ marty alan michelson, ph.d.

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