I got locked up once when I was in seminary. It was the dead of winter, and for some months a group of Christian peacemakers in North Carolina had been organizing civil disobedience to public executions at the state prison in Raleigh. Four or five times they had arrested and booked us, then let us out in the night on a promise to appear in court. Finally, the DA had enough. He asked the magistrate to set our bonds at $5,000 each. We put on the orange jumpsuits and got processed into the general population.
I’ll never forget the morning I walked onto the overcrowded fourth floor of the Wake County Jail. With my newly issued mat in hand (they didn’t have any bunks left), I looked for a place on the floor. I found one beside a fellow who was glad to talk.
“What you in for?” he asked. I asked if he’d seen the execution on the news the night before. “Yeah,” he said. I told him I’d been arrested for trying to stop it.
A January 2008 study conducted by United for a Fair Economy estimated that the sub-prime mortgage crisis we were beginning to experience at that time would ultimately result in a net loss of $164-213 billion in assets for people of color. A friend pointed out to me that this was, in market terms, almost certainly the largest transfer of wealth away from black people in a very long history of economic injustice. By all accounts, the subprime crisis was the result of bad lending policies by banks who wanted to capitalize on a lucrative securities market.
As banks reported huge losses and markets took a dive in the winter of 2008, I was struck by an article titled, “Islamic banks shielded from subprime.” At that point, the author said, conventional global banks like CitiGroup and UBS had already written down more than $80 billion in losses. Islamic banks, however, reported almost no loss at all. Because sharia law (like the Bible) forbids usury, Islamic banks do not charge interest or trade debt. “Many of these conventional products that have been under stress lately are very complex and need special risk management tools,” explained Rasheed al-Maraj, the governor of Bahrain’s central bank. “In Islamic banking you will not have this kind of thing. Some of these products would not be sharia accepted.”
This got me interested in Islamic banking, so I did a little research. It turns out that Muslims have a long history of practicing the tactic of economic friendship that Jesus taught when he said, “use money to make friends for yourselves” (Luke 16:9). When members of the community need money for a large purchase, they typically borrow it from fellow Muslims. But Islamic law’s ban on riba – or interest – has forced the Muslim community to think differently about money lending. If you can’t make money on money, banking isn’t the big business we often imagine it to be in the West. “We are not run-of-the-mill marketing people who find a niche and run with it,” says Yahia Abdul-Rahman, the CEO of Lariba, an Islamic bank based in Pasadena, California. “We are humble servants of the community.”
As we remember the eighth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, we join our voices with the psalmist in a cry of lament: “How long, O Lord, until Abel’s blood stops crying, until justice rolls down like waters, until the lion can lay down with the lamb in a restored creation?” We lament the violence suffered by 9/11 victims and their families. And we lament the violence that people in Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered these past eight years. We cry out against the violence, and we want to act now for peace.
A couple of decades ago our brother Ron Sider made the following statement:
Making peace is as costly as waging war. Unless we are prepared to pay the cost of peacemaking, we have no right to claim the label or preach the message.
Before long the Christian Peacemaker Teams was born. CPT has been interrupting injustice and respectfully partnering with local nonviolent movements in some of the toughest corners on the planet for years. CPTers radiate the sort of courage and imagination we need if we are to expect folks to take our cross seriously in a world riddled with terror and smart bombs. For this reason, many of us have joined delegations like the one we went to Iraq with in March of 2003.
This sort of Christian “witness” is marked by the truth at the center of the Christian message–greater love has no one than those who are willing to lay down their lives for others. There is something worth dying for, but nothing worth killing for. No doubt, CPT is a new face of global missions in a world of omnipresent war – a witness to the God that loves evildoers so much he died for them, for us. These days, the cross presents a beautiful alternative to the sword.
A few years ago I was invited by an evangelical campus ministry to speak on the campus of a liberal arts college. My topic was Christian peacemaking, and the Christians advertised my talk on campus by sharing the story of how I learned what God’s love looks like when Muslims in Iraq offered me and my friends life-saving hospitality just three days after our country had bombed their hospital. This story caught the attention of a Muslim group on campus and they invited me to meet with them for a meal before my talk.
After telling my story, I asked the Muslim students to share about their own experiences of practicing their faith in America. “We have a lot in common,” one of the students said to me. “The individualism that makes it hard for you to be a Christian also makes it hard for us to be Muslims.” Reflecting on each of our traditions, we swapped stories about the challenge of being an authentic faith community in a culture that sometimes seems to worship independence.
I thought of that conversation with Muslim friends when my friends at the Englewood Review of Books sent me their list of “40 Ways to Celebrate Interdepedence”-a wonderfully subversive call to action for people of faith on July 4th. Like any good list, it’s a countdown. I’ve listed the first ten here. To read the others, click on the link below.
40. Shop only at locally-owned merchants or restaurants.
39. Write a note of appreciation to a mother; thank her for raising a child.
38. Look through your clothes. Learn about one of the countries where they were manufactured and commit to doing one thing to improve the lives of the people who live and work there.
37. Take a digital recorder out into your neighborhood and do “field recordings” of your neighbors showing off their talents (singing, playing instruments, telling jokes/stories). Make a cd of these recordings and distribute it freely in your neighborhood.
36. Gather some neighbors, walk around your neighborhood and do asset-mapping, noting key places in the local economy: local businesses, restaurants, parks, community gardens. Make a map that highlights these assets and distribute it freely in your neighborhood.
35. Learn where your utilities come from-the source of your electricity, gas, and water.
34. Dig up a bucket of soil from your garden or yard, examine it, noticing all of the elements of organic matter, sand, clay, and the organisms that make your daily meals a possibility.
33. Host or plan a neighborhood produce exchange, where gardeners can barter the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors with one another.
32. Spend the 4th of July baking cookies or bread. Give your baked goods to the person who delivers your mail or picks up your trash the next time you see them.
31. Host a rain-barrel making party and teach your neighbors how to make and use rain-barrels to recycle rain water.
For full list go here.