There are lots of hard jobs in the world: things that are tough to do, tasks that require highly skilled trainings.
The first one that comes to my mind is catching crabs near Alaska like we see on television; just imagine those tough guys fighting the wind and high waves on ships. How about being a firefighter? Certainly, it is not easy for many people to go into blazing fire when everyone else is trying to escape it; there are too many risks.
What else? How about mining? You go several hundred feet down the earth and work in the dark? Not for me. How about window cleaning jobs on those skyscraper buildings? It is too scary even to watch them. What else? The fact is, if you ask 10 people what the toughest jobs are, probably, you are going to get 10 different answers.
I want to suggest one more, the one that is, without doubt, the hardest job of all: being a person who accepts others who do not like you.
There are countries that make lots of high tech weapons like missiles and submarines but have a hard time even talking with countries they do not agree with.
Certainly, making friends or bringing reconciliation is the toughest job in the world.
Almost every day we hear stories about violence: from the clashes between the Palestinians and Israeli forces to the killings of ethnic minorities by Islamic Militants in Northern Iraq to the Police brutality toward black men across the United States and to, more recently, Al Qaeda’s terrorist attacks in Paris. And beneath most of these incidents were racial and religious conflicts and they may be one of the toughest tasks to solve.
Then, what is it that I as a preacher can do in this frustrating time?
One thing I did was read the story of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21. In this not-often-read (at least in my church tradition) biblical story, where Hagar and Ishmael are thrown away into the wilderness out of conflicts between Sarah and Hagar, God is saying to Hagar, “Dear, do not be afraid; lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand… I will make a great nation of him.” God gives Hagar a promise that was almost identical to the promise given to Abraham: that He would make her descendants “too numerous to count.”
People think that they can claim God in an exclusive way based on their creeds or ideologies and that exclusivism brings to the world the division of “We and They,” which I think is the cause of all the conflicts we face. But we cannot claim God based on who we think we are; God claims us all regardless of who we are.
The world always leads us to the division of “We and They.” But God wants us to know that God also cares about them as much as God cares about us.
I have this Muslim friend who loves to stop by my church and likes to talk with me. A very genuine person, he has asked me questions like “Sam, This is Ramadan. I am supposed to fast but I am not now. Do you guys also fast in church?” “Do you Christians allow men to have more than one wife?” And one day, he said to me, “Sam, someday, would you like to visit Iran with me?”
That day, on my way home, I thought that I might not be able to visit Iran with him anytime soon, but it was wonderful to have a friendship with him. The more I talked with him, the better I learned about him. Not only that, it helped me rethink of who I am as a Christian. Through the encounter, I realized that he was just a human being just like me who was trying to be faithful to his faith tradition but finding it not easy.
As fallible human beings, we may not be able to solve all those conflicts between religions that we hear about on the news. But at least we can have a genuine friendship and talk with our neighbors of other faith and find where we are through that encounter. I think that is the beginning of peace-making here in our community.
Sam Park, PhD
Associate Professor of Preaching & Director of DMin Program American Baptist Seminary of the West & Graduate Theological Union