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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Steeped in hospitality

Could Iraqi tea offer a recipe for building bridges?

In Georgia, asking for tea gets you a tall glass of sweetened iced tea. It took awhile for a Yankee like me to get the hang of it. Here in Iraq, where I'm serving as an ELCA military chaplain, drinking tea has an almost sacramental character. No one would think of holding a meeting here without chai tea.

Michael T. LembkeHow tea is made and the way it is served is a gateway for spiritual diplomacy, giving me insight into the soul of Iraqis. Spiritual diplomacy, a term I learned from a Danish Lutheran chaplain in Bosnia, reflects the sacred dynamics when people of faith enter into authentic dialogue.

Iraqi people have a specific way of preparing tea.

First, the water must be boiling hot. Nothing short of boiling will do. Truly good tea is a right now experience. It must be hot.

Appreciating engagement with another culture is a right now thing as well. There's an immediacy and intensity in fully grasping the power of the moment. Religious dialogue is never without an agenda, revealed and hidden, but we also hope for a moment of shared experience in the here and now.

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