From barriers to bridges

Originally printed in the Christian Science Sentinel

The Iran-Iraq War began in 1980, lasted eight years, and cost hundreds of thousands of lives. It was one of the great human tragedies of recent Middle Eastern history.

I was born in Iran, and I emigrated to England when I was 18. I was living in London during the years of the Iran-Iraq War, and in spite of our cultural conflicts, most of my best friends were Iraqis. During the whole war, we supported each other in friendship, even though both of our countries (where most of our families still lived) were being destroyed day by day.

Today, as I hear news of the threat of war looming in Iraq again, I pray each day for world peace and never forget my friends and their families in Iraq. I wasn't always able to see people from other cultures so lovingly. As an Iranian, I had to make a great effort to heal within my own heart the many prejudices I grew up with. However, through learning about the ideas of brotherly love in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" one by one I learned to shed those prejudices.

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The Bible refers to God as "the God of peace" (Rom. 15:33). But peace is not merely that brief moment in history when everybody stops to reload. Nor is real peace simply the absence of conflict or strife. From a spiritual perspective, peace is far more than the absence of something. It is the presence of God's righteousness. And our acknowledging that good from God is present, as well as justice, promotes good relationships between individuals and among countries.

Peace, I've concluded, begins when we break down the barriers that divide us from others. In the past, if I didn't feel at peace with others, it was because I felt threatened by them. My natural reaction was to build defenses. And once I had defenses - which were prejudice and hate and fear - I naturally took on a defensive attitude.

I saw this happen in a social situation that was a tiny microcosm of what goes on between countries and among diverse cultures. Some time ago I joined a British establishment. At first they welcomed me, since their membership was dwindling. During our first meeting, I made suggestions that were different from the way they usually ran their organization. From that moment I was perceived as a threat to their proceedings.

One individual in particular was determined to get rid of me. One night I was praying, and I asked God to help me. My efforts at making peace with this person were failing miserably. As I prayed for God to give me direction, the most powerful feeling of love filled my thoughts. In those few minutes of feeling so beloved, I saw how much God unconditionally loved, not just me, but this individual also. Right there, I decided just to love her, no matter what.

I began by looking for aspects of her character that I could appreciate and for which I could give thanks to God. For example, she spoke exquisite English. One day she corrected my grammar, so I asked if she could teach me to speak beautiful English just as she did. She agreed. However, when I offered to pay for tutoring, she refused. Here's what she said: "I want you to go on loving me just as you are!" Eventually we became dear friends.

This taught me that I couldn't solve a relationship problem by attacking the other person's defenses. Instead, I had to tear down my own defenses. It required the mentality that is necessary to build a bridge. Have you ever seen a bridge being built? The builders start with a solid structure on each side of the space that divides the two sides. A thin cable is sent across from one side, and the builders on the other side secure the cable, joining the bridge over the divide. That is the start of a bridge - a thin little cable starting from one side, which is then connected at both ends. But if both sides refuse to initiate sending the cable across, no bridge can ever be built.

As a Christian, I am responsible for my own attitudes - for what I send over from my side of the gap. My thoughts and prayers do make a difference. In praying, each of us can do our own part, no matter how small, to ensure that peace is active, and ongoing in the world - whether in daily interactions with others or on behalf of the people of all countries who yearn for peace, not war.

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