Hello, my friends! I have been looking forward to this interview all month, and it may in fact be the most important one I’ve ever done. My chat with author Jim Baton was scheduled weeks ago… for this day…. and now as I re-read our discussion and I look around at how the news in recent days, I am humbled by the fact that God absolutely had His hand in the timing of this post.
Chip Gaines, the star of HGTV’s “Fixer-Upper” said this recently:
“We propose operating with a love so real and true that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work alongside the very people that are most unlike you…Fear dissolves in close proximity. Our stereotypes and vain imaginations fall away when we labor side by side.”
I have found this to be so very true in my own life, and I believe today’s author guest – Jim Baton – would say the same thing.
Jim Baton (pen name) has spent the last 20 years living in the Muslim world, where he’s been involved in a variety of peace and reconciliation activities including interfaith dialogue, training elementary through university students in peace principles, and bringing Christians and Muslims together to pray. His real name and photo won’t appear on this site to protect his identity from radical groups where he lives out his faith. When in America, Jim is available to speak to groups that have a heart for loving those of the other religion and can protect his identity.
You can learn more about Jim at his website.
Jim’s three novels in the Peace Trilogy are transforming people’s perceptions on Muslims and how God would have us relate to them in love. His most recent novel in the series, A Violent Light, released December 2016.
The Youth For Peace Fresh Start Initiative gathers ten Muslim and ten Christian youth from ten nations around the world to learn new paths to peace. But the camp staff have some highly unorthodox teaching techniques. And when one by one the youth start disappearing, some of them wonder if the staff might not have an entirely different agenda. Those left behind must work together to solve the mystery before they also disappear. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, the entire world is watching…
Hi Jim! Welcome to the blog! Thank you so much for chatting with me!
Around here I like to say that reading is my superpower. If YOU had a superpower, what would it be?
Jim: Teleportation. I’ve spent so much of the last 20 years on airplanes, buses, boats and trains, not to mention Indonesia’s becak pedicabs, between my speaking tours in several countries and our peacemaking work in Indonesia, imagine how many other things I could have done if travel took only seconds!
Carrie: Oh so true!! And since I don’t care for airplane travel, my own travel opportunities would open up exponentially!
If you knew you were only going to be allowed FIVE books for the rest of your life, besides the Bible, which five would make the cut?
Jim: Though I love reading novels, if I were looking to the last years of my life, besides the Bible I think I’d want to read books by those authors that I feel have really stored up deep wisdom that produced in them extreme love—Mother Theresa, Henri Nouwen, and Richard Rohr come to mind, as well as the Muslim Sufi Jalaluddin Rumi. I feel like I could read their works over and over and find fresh jewels of wisdom each time. For my fifth book, I’d take Father Gregory Boyle’s Tattoos on the Heart. Boyle’s unabashed love for hardened gang members in my native Los Angeles makes me weep every time I pick it up. Meditating on the words of these five authors would ensure I finish my life loving others well.
Carrie: I have not read Boyle’s book but now I am adding it to my own list. To “finish my life loving others well” is my heart’s cry.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled while researching a book?
Jim: Since all of my books so far have dealt with terrorism, I had to use Google for some of my research, and believe me, I did it with fear and trepidation that Homeland Security might come knocking on my door! Everything from how to make a bomb to specific terrorists and their tactics—and the last thing I need is to get put on America’s TSA list!
Carrie: haha! Yes, i bet that could get a little dicey!
Before we talk specifically about your new book… First, I want to know – what inspired you to take on the rather volatile topic of American prejudice as it relates to Muslims?
Jim: During my last 20 years in Indonesia, I can’t tell you how many Muslim events I’ve attended where the imam demonizes the minority Christian population—everything from warning Muslims not to say “Merry Christmas” to telling them that even if they touch a Bible the Christian “jinn” will jump on them! So part of our work here is helping the majority to see that their Christian neighbors are generally decent people they don’t have to fear.
When I speak in the US, the reverse is true. Whether from politicians, the media, or even some well-meaning pastors I’ve heard, Muslims tend to be stereotyped as suspicious if not downright evil with their “agenda to take over America.” I hope my books will help the majority [of] Christians in America recognize that their Muslim neighbors are generally decent people they don’t have to fear. In fact, there’s a real potential for us to enjoy authentic friendship.
Carrie: I can absolutely verify this – some of my most treasured and most authentic friendships are with people who happen to be Muslim.
We hear any number of experts in the media discussing Islam and its beliefs. Some say true Islam is a peaceful religion, while other experts insist that the more devout a Muslim is, the more likely he is to become an extremist. So…which version of Islam is true?
Jim: With 1 billion followers, each person will interpret “what Islam is” based on their own teachers and contexts. And like most Holy Books in most religions, people will read into it what they want to believe. Those who have a desire for violence and hatred will find Quranic verses to support it, and those who desire peace will find equally valid support in the Qur’an. Some of the best peacemakers alive today are true Muslim scholars who explain the jihad verses as being confined to specific contexts, much as Christians would confine the Old Testament genocide of the Canaanites at the hands of the Jews as a judgment of God in that context which we shouldn’t apply to ethnic tensions between peoples today. When we meet a Muslim, we should never assume we know what he believes, but ask him. We might be surprised at what he believes about jihad, prayer, heaven, women’s rights or Jesus.
Let’s remember the wide variety of those claiming to be “Christians” too, including some who have used the Bible to support the Crusades, slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and a host of other evil beliefs. That’s why it is essential for Christians to look at Jesus as our most perfect theology, and look to the Holy Spirit to be our teacher of the written Word. Then instead of using the Bible to justify our opinions, we’ll be able to read it and find the heart of God.
Carrie: Yes. Amen. I have found that, to the Muslims I know, terrorists are to them what the extremists of Westboro are to us. And they are equally horrified.
As an ESOL teacher, I have many dear friends who are Muslim and I’ve been deeply troubled by this rising tide of fear in America toward people from Islamic-dominant countries. Terrorism certainly is a real and growing problem, but I believe as Christians we are called to more than fear. In your opinion, how do we balance a fear-instinct, the reality we see on the news, and the response Jesus has called us to as believers?
Jim: As someone who brings Christians and Muslims together, I often get criticized for “ignoring the real dangers” of radical Islam. I admit that the danger is real—we all remember the shootings in San Bernadino and Orlando.
However, is it worth us living in fear? Take this quiz with me:
Q: Which is the least likely to kill you?
- being struck by lightning
- falling out of bed
- being shot by a toddler
- being attacked by a Muslim refugee
To find out the answer, read my post “1001 Ways to Die in America.”
Jesus faced a far greater threat to his life from the twin killers of ballistic Jewish religious leaders and heartless Roman occupation soldiers. Neither stopped him from “loving his enemies.” If that kind of perfect love lives in our hearts, the Bible says it should “cast out our fear.”
Carrie: What a great perspective! His love really does cast out fear… and fills you with an unexplainable love in return. When HIS love is loving through you, life change happens.
What is the best way to bring about healing between Muslims and Christians? Or is there a way?
Jim: My first novel, Someone Has to Die, explores the roots of the Muslim-Christian divide going back to Abraham’s broken family. In the Biblical account, Abraham’s firstborn son, Ishmael, was banished, while his second-born, Isaac, received the inheritance. I began to imagine, what if I were called in to counsel Abraham’s family back then—how could I lead them to healing and family restoration? And if it were possible at the nuclear family level, what would that look like on today’s macro-level?
As I was writing this book, God challenged me to live what I was writing. He led us to a young Muslim man sleeping on the street but with a dream to be the first in his family to finish high school. He had been raised in an extremist boarding school, taught to hate Christians, that it was acceptable in God’s eyes to steal from or rape a Christian because they were infidels. We invited him to live with us, and watched God transform his life. He’s now a college graduate and active in our work. Opening the doors of our homes, our businesses, and our hearts to Muslims is the best way to reunite our broken family.
Carrie: Relationship has been significant in the work my husband and I do as well. And it goes both ways, this transformation. Our own hearts have been changed irrevocably.
My relationships with my friends who are Muslim have deeply impacted my life, and our conversations on immigration, family, culture, and yes even Jesus have hit me at an often soul-deep level. But, if someone doesn’t have the background that you – or even I – have, striking up a conversation with someone from a different culture is intimidating. What are some practical questions or conversation starters that you’ve found helpful in forming friendships with Muslims?
Jim: I think it’s important to begin by recognizing that Muslims in America may also struggle with fearing us. They may be afraid of being treated unjustly, of their children being “Westernized” or “Christianized,” or even afraid of being the victim of a hate crime. You know, white American Christians have a far smaller chance of being attacked by radical Muslims than American Muslims have of being attacked by bigoted whites!
It’s important that we present ourselves as safe people who want to be friends. There is so much in common to talk about—jobs, school, kids, sports, the joy and trials of experiencing a new culture. Then we move into dreams, fears, joys and pain. There we find that on the inside, we’re much more alike than different.
Carrie: I love that, yes. Especially in the unrest of the last few days, the importance of being a “safe person”, of being a friend, has perhaps never been greater. I would also add – laughter. It breaks down language barriers so effectively. Find something to laugh about together. Kids. The language barrier itself. Or … try to learn their language and if you’re like me, you’ll find much to laugh about and they will too 😉
What do you most want readers to take away from A Violent Light?
Jim: A Violent Light is about prejudice and terrorism in America. It’s easy for Americans to point the finger at those nations on the other side of the world and not take an honest look in the mirror at our own dark side. But in the acknowledging of our darkness, we set the stage for the brightest light to shine. I think that especially in the fear-crazy environment of our nation after the recent presidential election, it will hit home for Americans deeply and profoundly.
Carrie: Especially now. Yes.
Again, thank you so much for taking time to talk with me! This is a topic very close to my heart, and I appreciate the chance to discuss it with you! Before we say goodbye for today, tell us what‘s coming up next for you.
Jim: I hope to meet with publishers in Indonesia this spring about translating my books. Both Muslims and Christians here are concerned about ISIS coming in, and this nation needs fresh paths forward for peace more than ever.
May we all do our part to give peace a chance!
What about you? What questions do you have?