It Starts With A Meal: Healing All That’s Tearing Us Apart
Remember when we used to eat together? In this episode, we travel everywhere from Atlanta to Iraq for a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to gather around the table with strangers. War begins in our heads and hearts long before it reaches our hands. But that also means the solution can begin with us. And sometimes, healing all that’s tearing us apart starts with a meal.
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Remember when we used to eat together? In this episode, we travel everywhere from Atlanta to Iraq for a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to gather around the table with strangers.
If polarization is fueled by our isolation from anyone different, then what if interacting with people who are different is key to reducing prejudice and polarization?
Even as you listen to this episode while self-isolating, you can still prepare for the time when we get to come back together, face-to-face.
War begins in our heads and hearts long before it reaches our hands. But that also means the solution can begin with us.
And sometimes, healing all that’s tearing us apart starts with a meal.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- Erin Wilson, senior field editor; host of the Love Anyway podcast
- Dr. Sarah AK Ahmed, deputy country director in Iraq
- Toni Collier, director of gathering
- Kayla Craig, podcast producer
- Saadia Qureshi, gathering coordinator
- Anna Brooks, gathering coordinator
What starts as a simple meal around a shared table with strangers, can lead to life-changing conversations. And those conversations can lead to a thirst for more.
Social distancing doesn’t mean we have to be less connected. We can still increase our capacity to care for those that are different than us and love anyway. Join us for a free 4-week workshop to connect deeper, lean into difference, and love anyway.
In the next episode of Love Anyway: We welcome you into Love Anyway gatherings and explore how we’re tapping into the power of gathering together to end war.
- “The reason why it’s important to still have hope is because when you have hope, you keep building, you keep trying to find solutions. And we believe that one of the solutions to ending war is to love anyway.” —Toni Collier
- “The truth is, it’s scary. It’s uncomfortable no matter which way you go. It just is. You know, a gathering gets easier over time. But the first one is still hard. And I think I just want to encourage people to do it scared. Just do it scared… and then just do it anyway. Love anyway, jump in anyway, just do it anyway. Because it works.” —Toni Collier
Erin: Hey friends, this is Erin Wilson, host of Love Anyway, a podcast by Preemptive Love. This episode of our podcast is focused on the idea of gathering around a common table as a means to end war. It was recorded before much of the world retreated home, and began working hard to stop the spread of COVID-19. As you’re listening to this episode while self-isolating, as an act of love for your own social circles as well as perfect strangers in your community, you can still be preparing for the time when we get to come back together, face-to-face.
Toni: The reason why it’s important to still have hope is because when you have hope you, you keep building, you keep trying to find solutions. And we believe that one of the solutions to ending war is to love anyway.
Erin: War begins in our heads and hearts long before it reaches our hands. But that also means the solution can begin with us.
Erin: Today, we’re traveling everywhere from Atlanta to Iraq for a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to gather around the table with strangers. Because if polarization is fueled by our isolation from anyone different, then what if interacting with people who are different is key to reducing prejudice and polarization?
Today, we’re exploring if it’s really possible to build community across every dividing line, starting with a meal. What does it mean to believe there is room at the table for everyone? And could this really be a step in working to end war?
At the end of the Love Anyway film, we invited viewers around the world to host or attend a Love Anyway Feast on the exact same day. The invitation was simple: Have a meal with people unlike you. And now we’re asking: How’d it go?
Kayla: Okay, you with me, Toni?
Toni: Oh yeah, I’m with you.
Kayla: Oh my gosh, I’m so excited to talk about this.
Erin: Podcast producer Kayla Craig talked with Toni Collier, Preemptive Love’s Director of Gathering.
Toni: So I love what we’re doing. We are, you know, known as an organization for doing peace work and providing relief to those that are in war-stricken areas over in the Middle East. And our founders, Jeremy and Jessica Courtney, really had this desire to bring some of those peace strategies over here to the United States. But it looks different. You know, we have different issues, we have different history, we have different background. And so what does it look like in the United States to start a peacemaking movement that can also permeate international places as well. And so we came up with this concept of gathering.
Toni: Gathering is hard. You know, I just want to, I just want to put that out there right now. It is difficult to especially as an adult, to get out of our comfort zones, and do life with people that we fear or misunderstand.
Toni: As we started to come to the end of the film, we thought, you know, we could build an on-ramp. That on-ramp became the love anyway feast. And it was a simple one-time global call to inviting people into your home, into restaurants, into your backyard, churches, mosques, clubhouses. The cool part about it is that was a global call. It was a call for everyone around the world to do it on the same day. And so it made it easier. It made it more inclusive, and it made it more fun.
Toni: And really walk into the truth that it doesn’t have to be hard, that it’s hard because we haven’t done it and it’s not familiar, but the familiar helps us to be less fearful.
Sarah: Um, everybody here speaks English, or Kurdish, so, can you translate, please? So in effort to end war and our initiative to love anyway, we have launched these feasts around the world, it’s happening today all around the world in so many locations, it’s just about people getting to know each other, people who doesn’t know each other, gathering around one table, asking questions, learning about our differences and getting to just spread love in a way or another…
Erin: I work with Dr. Sarah AK Ahmed here in Iraq. She’s our deputy country director. She has lived through four wars, and survived the last war alone as her family fled Iraq to find safe haven. She has spent the past two decades building bridges between different religious groups and communities. Sarah helped coordinate a Love Anyway feast in Iraq.
Sarah: ….that’s why we said bring someone you don’t know, so we just learn. Just ask some question, get to know a little about them, personal information, info about their religion, their culture, their food, where they come from, learn something to ya know be friends, learn something to love them, and to honor them, and to welcome them around the table. I just want to say thank you for everybody around here and thank you to everyone who contributed to this feast, and welcome.
Toni: We believe that the way to interface with people that are different than you is to be in relationship with a person that is different from you. Because they bring their whole selves and their whole community to the table. And you bring your whole self and your whole community to the table. And next thing you know, you’ve got a room full of people who believe different things.
Erin: Around the world, on the very same day, Toni found herself smack-dab in the middle of “expecting the unexpected” in Atlanta, Georgia,
Kayla: So, you hosted one as well. Tell me about it.
Toni: I did! Okay, so I want to be completely vulnerable and honest….
I literally did not think I was going to do a feast. I said, You know, I need to be on standby. If anything goes wrong, I need to be at my computer, answering emails, that’s what I need to be doing on this piece. I mean, truly, in my mind wasn’t even really just like, I don’t know, it wasn’t even thinking about it in any other way. But I need to be plugged in and aware. And so then I, I created a dummy account to test one of the features that we needed to fix. And I created this account. And I got three people that have literally, I know, looked up the zip code, and had just happened to be in my area. And they’re like, hey, I want to come to your feast. And I’m like, Oh, snap. I’m doing a feast now.
Toni: So here’s a couple cool things about my feast. I had a lady that wanted to be a part of it. And I responded all the details. I’m a detailer. So I like ironed everything out, told him what to bring parking all the things and she responded back and she said, You know, I got brave enough to do my own. And I’m like, chills, right. I’m like, what is happening right now? And I’m like, Hey, girl, more power to you, boo. Um, but then I was kind of faced in that moment, do I start posting and recruiting and inviting, you know, people that I know in and some people that I don’t and I said, You know what, I’m just going to do this thing organically.
Toni: So we ended up with five of us. And it was so interesting. I had we had me, an African American female, we had another lady there was African. We had a white lady. We had another African American female. And then we had a male from Sudan. And wow, I can’t even describe to you the two hours. We literally did nothing. But talk. There was a moment where I was like, I think at some point, we’re going to have to feast guys because, like, you know, we have to eat the food because it’s cold, and we gotta eat. But it was incredible.
Kayla: So what you’re saying is people are hungry, not just literally hungry for food, right, hungry to talk about things. And to just gather with people who aren’t like them and be heard and listen, and what I’m hearing from you is that it was kind of unexpected, who was going to show up. What were you thinking? Talk to me about what you’re doing an hour before the gathering.
Toni: So an hour before I was nervous out of my mind. I was like, I am really about to meet people that I legit have never met before my life.
It felt like you know the first day when that comes over to your house, you know, like I have to make sure everything’s good and I want to, you know, be the best version of myself and I was literally giddy and nervous. It was so weird. It’s just not my personality, you know? It’s stepping out of your comfort zone.
Toni: I have the chills just thinking about it. I just remember sitting down at the front door and look up and two ladies, and they open the door and they’re like, we’re here for your feast. And, you know, I you know truly I think I felt so brave. I’m kind of tearing up right now. But I think like, maybe
Kayla: Why did you feel brave?
Toni: I think maybe in that moment for the first time, I’d really practiced what we’ve been preaching.
Erin: Toni’s life is built on creating connection. As a public speaker, she’s skilled at drawing a whole room together with the power of story. With her degree in business logistics and entrepreneurship, she has helped to grow churches, ministries & businesses. And in this moment, she recognized something special happening.
Toni: I started to execute the thing that we believe so so much about what we believe this is what’s going to heal all that’s tearing us apart. This is what it’s going to help us end war and I could just see enemies and people that are afraid of each other walking into doors, and I thought about the hundreds of people that took that brave step. And I just, was just overwhelmed with joy.
Toni: Truly, it was a natural flow. I mean, we started off with just like our story, like, Where are you from? What are some of the things that you hold true to your heart? What are some of your beliefs, and it just evolved. My question was, I explained the concept of loving anyway loving in spite of loving in the face of your enemy. And what does that mean to you? And has there been a time where that has been true in your life? And was it challenging? Have you had to practice that? But that was the only question that I got from like our content.
Kayla: That one question just kind of spurred on…
Toni: Girl, one! And it was over. It was over.
Kayla: Going back to the Feast… if you could summarize why it was important, it is important to gather around the table in this act of working to dismantle what’s tearing us apart?
Toni: I love Martin Luther King Jr. I love two quotes by him. He said, The moral arc of the universe is bending in the direction of justice. And what is right. And it’s this concept that we believe that even in the darkest times, that the moral arc of the universe is leaning and bending in the direction of justice. And what that means for us is, there’s hope.
And there’s hope to end wars in our world, drug wars, racial wars, political wars, gender wars, identity wars and the wars that have bombs and guns. We think there’s still hope. And the reason why it’s important to still have hope is because when you have hope you, you keep building, you keep trying to find solutions. And we believe that one of the solutions to ending war is to love anyway. We just don’t believe that you can love someone, or love anyway, from a distance. And the second quote that ties into that by Martin Luther King is, you know, people hate each other because they don’t know each other. They fear each other because they’re just not in close proximity with each other. And when we can start to lean into the direction of those that we fear, fear starts to be replaced by love.
Erin: This movement of Gatherings, which Preemptive Love kicked off globally after the release of our film Love Anyway, was started with the help of two friends already living out this idea in their everyday lives.
Toni: They are just sent from another dimension. They are just incredible. They’re just incredible. So Anna is Christian, white American. Saadia is a Muslim and it’s just incredible and they’re just great and they met in a Zumba class.
Toni: And they introduced themselves to each other and they went for coffee and they started gathering and when I tell you these women have been gathering. It hasn’t only been you know a white group because Anna, or a Muslim group because of Saadia, they’ve had Hispanics and African Americans, women and moms and non-moms and young and old and you know, all kinds of people are coming out and meeting with them monthly. And so they have joined our team, and they lead our initiatives in caring for and helping co-hosts onboard.
Erin: Preemptive Love doesn’t belong to any religion, identity, privilege, or vulnerability. It belongs to all of us. We don’t have to see the world the same way to value each other. We build community across every dividing line because we believe there is room at the table for everyone. We build peace in communities shattered by war, standing with the vulnerable, and bridging the gap between at-odds groups. Community-based peacemaking is built into everything we do.
Erin: You may remember Saadia from Season 1 of the Love Anyway podcast. In Episode 3, The Mosque Visit, she walks Kayla through what to expect when visiting a mosque. Saadia is a Gathering Coordinator at Preemptive Love, and as Toni mentioned, she and our colleague Anna host a local gathering in Florida. We asked her to walk us through the experience.
Saadia: The conversation in the car was like a typical one where I kind of like drag my family to things and my kids were like, “Oh, you know, who’s going to be there? Will there be somebody my age?” There was like this underlying fear or nervousness of like, who, who’s really going to be there and will I be okay?
Saadia: We got there a little early. Our host, Rachel is so gracious. We helped set up a little bit. And it was around sunset and Rachel asks me, “Oh, do you need to pray?” And she’s Christian, and she took time to thoughtfully look up the fact that we usually pray around sunset and it was so sweet because usually, I’m the one that’s like, “Oh, you know, we probably need to pray” but she actually came up to me and she was kind of looking out for my spiritual well being as a Muslim, and she’s a Christian. So it just warmed my heart and my family’s heart and it kind of set the tone for the whole night.
Saadia: It was a gorgeous night. The sky was beautiful. She had lights up. She had an area for the kids to sit down and there was a trampoline where they were playing and as the kids were playing, the adults were able to sit around and talk and conversations went from who’s the best orthodontist to something about Mario Andretti and racing to deep conversations like racism and how people are afraid to travel. There was a lot of vulnerability and honesty that we really appreciated along with just casual talk and getting to know you.
Saadia: There are so many people from so many backgrounds. We obviously had Muslims, Christians. We have African Americans, people who are from Uganda, Jamaicans Americans, Turkish, Puerto Ricans, Albanians, Pakistanis like me, pastors, engineers, decorators, event planners, designers, marketing managers, and stylists, like we had so many people from so many different backgrounds who wore so many different hats, but everybody was there as a peacemaker. And they were celebrating together and exemplifying what it meant to love anyway.
Saadia: This is supposed to be the beginning of a good experience. This is supposed to be the springboard to more relationships. And I encourage them to reach out to a person that you really, you know, hit it off with and, you know, grab a coffee and this is how relationships will begin. This is how we’re going to heal and I feel that this is the way wars will end.
Erin: Usually, Anna and Saadia host a gathering together. They’ve been doing that for four years now. But the folks who are a regular part of their gathering felt inspired to host feasts of their own. So this team split up, so they could attend and support their friends.
Anna: That was really exciting, but also a little different just not being together with Saadia. It’s kind of cool how we’ve kind of become each other’s comfort zones. Even though at first we were, you know, didn’t know each other. But now, it’s weird to not do these things together, which I think is pretty cool.
Erin: That’s Anna—a Gathering Coordinator at Preemptive Love, and co-conspirator with Saadia.
Anna: I just kind of kept stepping back and looking around and just feeling so thankful and grateful that this was my life and I was getting to meet these amazing people and that my kids, were getting to meet new friends and get the chance to be a part of something like this that really is truly going to have a ripple effect in our world.
You know, it is really hard sometimes to carve out time to have our lives intersect with people that are different than us because we’re so used to being with our own circles with our own kind of schedules and it really does take intentionality to kind of force our lives to come together. But it is so worth it and it’s so beautiful.
Erin: As you heard earlier in this episode, Toni didn’t intend to host a feast. She was in full firefighter mode—ready to tackle any issues that came up on the night of our global feasts, to make sure that everyone else had a great experience. But she was drawn in just the same, and invited strangers around her table, and engaged in the hard work of opening up.
Kayla: So, how did you guys end it? It sounds like you’re going to do a Gathering…
Toni: I know! I just, I’m telling you, one word to describe me in this moment is just giddy.
The truth is, it’s scary. It’s uncomfortable no matter which way you go. It just is. You know, a gathering gets easier over time. But the first one is still hard. And I think I just want to encourage people to do it scared. Just do it scared. Just be completely broken and scared and fearful and giddy like me and nervous. And then just do it anyway. Love anyway, jump in anyway, just do it anyway. Because it works. We’ve seen the fruit. We’ve seen what the finish line looks like. And it’s a beautiful thing. And we need and we want more of that.
Kayla: Thank you, Toni.
Toni: Yeah, thank you.
Erin: It is a beautiful thing. And what starts as a simple meal around a shared table with strangers, can lead to life-changing conversations. And those conversations can lead to a thirst for more. In the next episode of Love Anyway, we’ll welcome you into Love Anyway gatherings, and explore how we’re tapping into the power of gathering together to end war.
Show notes, which include video footage of the feast in Iraq, photos from gatherings across the US, and more at https://preemptivelove.org/podcast/.
Want to learn more? Text GATHERING to 72000 to find out how you can join us in healing all that’s tearing us apart. Tag us at #preemptivelove on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. This is Erin Wilson. Until next time, thank you for joining us at Love Anyway, a podcast by Preemptive Love. Peace.
END THEME MUSIC
Kayla: Love Anyway is a podcast by Preemptive Love. It’s written and produced by Erin Wilson, Kayla Craig, and Ben Irwin. Sean Gabrielson is our audio editor. Skip Matheny is Preemptive Love’s director of digital. Executive producers are Jeremy Courtney, Jessica Courtney, and JR Pershall. Special thanks to Toni Collier, Saadia Qureshi, and Anna Brooks. Our theme music is by Roman Candle.