For the last several years, my wife and I have hosted high school age Muslim exchange students from Europe and the Middle East. We do so intentionally. Our only ‘agenda’ is to learn from these students (we are middle-age baby boomers and empty nesters). We recognized years ago that the misunderstanding between the Christian west (primarily) and the nations and people of Islam were in fact, “deadly” and frankly, unnecessary.
Misunderstanding are opportunities for deliberate, intentional efforts to bridge the divide. Mark Siljander’s book is a fascinating journey that has taken him into contact with people, in strange places, in extraordinary circumstances, coupled with a persistent determination to be ‘ordinary’ and develop relationships that make an enduring contribution to establishing common ground among God’s people.
Early in Siljander’s book, he discovers what has become perfectly clear to my wife and I:
“Something was profoundly wrong here, and I had the sense I just stumbled over what it was. It was the interpersonal relationships that were missing. We weren’t engaging with these people person to person.” (p.21). As my wife says in regard to our own experience with the blessing of living with Muslim exchange students, “we have seen the myths melt in our living room.”
This book is certainly the chronicle of a spiritual sojourner as well. Siljander evolves from a right wing fundamentalist to a follower of Jesus compelled by His love of Christ to take risks that only few would consider. However, simply by “trusting in the message we had to bring, and in the impulse to offer friendship, with no strings attached.” (p.96).
The results of this approach to befriending others, sharing common theological beliefs, and honoring our respective faith persuasions is a testimony for the necessity to champion tolerance, understanding and religious pluralism — in a world where the airwaves are dominated by the words and actions of relgious extremists of any and all flavors.
Yet, Siljander’s approach demands attention. As he writes, “These three words — I am sorry — are a foundation for beginning again, a small price to pay for restoring lost trust, and a necessary first step in moving forward constructively.” (p.98).
I recommend this book. It is particularly important for Christians who do not understand the common ground we share theologically with Muslims regarding Jesus (Isa in the Qu’ran).
Thanks to Julie Burton at HarperOne and Mark Siljander for this significant contribution. I will read this book again during the next 12 months and recommend it to others. This book maps out some superb coordinates for the way ahead.