I thought for a moment. "They were all murdered?"

"Actually, that's right. And they all died for the same message, at least in large part. So, what was that message?"

"Tell me."

"To love your neighbor. Even if they're the enemy."

I nodded. "They make us all look like hypocrites. Is it really possible to love your enemy?"

We both fell into a few moments of introspection. Then Carl looked up with bright eyes.

"Why don't we find out?"

"Okay."

"Seriously." That word. "Why don't we go to this country's greatest so-called enemies and ask them what they think about this scandalous teaching."

"The Middle East?"

"Not just the Middle East. The Hamas, the Hezbollah. The greatest minds and influencers in Islam."

"And ask them what they think of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Jesus?"

"Well, it's a thought. The parable of the Samaritan is probably the most famous teaching on loving your neighbors. Muslims revere Jesus, who gave the teaching. We could start with that."

He actually was serious.

"So we go together, sit at the table of our greatest enemies." I paused. "We're talking about one of the most complicated regions of the world, brimming with violence. Huge divides between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Bus bombs, terrorism, massive loss of life . . . You honestly think anything we hoped to accomplish with a trip to the Middle East would really do anyone any good?"

"It would do me good," Carl said. "And it would do the people we talked to good. Talking is always good."

"You're talking about the people who blew up the Twin Towers! Thousands of our soldiers and citizens have lost their lives at the hands of Muslims. They want to push Israel into the sea, for heaven's sake. Talking would do no good."

He shrugged. "Maybe not. But it would be one heck of trip. Imagine it."

"I am, that's the problem. My imagination is pretty good and I'm imagining nothing but trouble." Pause. "You really think you could set it up?"

"It will be difficult, but yeah, I think I can."

"We sit with these so-called enemies, ask them what their favorite joke is, and what they think of the parable of the Samaritan, which teaches us to love our neighbors even if they are our enemies. And we do it all to discover if anyone really can love his enemy. That about it?"

"Pretty much, yes. And in writing about it all for an American audience, we would be sitting Americans at the table with their enemies. We'll let them decide what to do with this radical teaching that got Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Jesus killed. I would be willing to go out on a limb for that."

He stared at me and his lips slowly curled into a daring smile. When Carl talks about going out on a limb, it brings to my mind the time he went out on a limb in Iraq and was kidnapped at gunpoint. I have no desire to follow Carl out on his limbs.

"Sounds dangerous." But man, imagine the book. "You could really pull off meetings like that?"

"If I could . . . Interested?"

I let my mind go. The idea suddenly sounded irresistible, in part because it seemed so impossible. A protected fantasy.

"Maybe. If you could, maybe I could. Maybe. If you could."

As it turned out, he could. And he did.

It took Carl a year to talk me from a maybe to a yes. It took another year to line it up. And a third to write the book.

Though Carl and I are about as similar as the mastiff and the puppy, we do share some basic points of connection. We both used to live in Colorado, where we first met eighteen years ago. We've both lived in predominantly Muslim communities (Carl in Lebanon, me in Indonesia) for many years. We both realize our views of the world are colored by our own experiences and as such are subject to change.

We are both Christian. We both cringe at being called Christian, because in both of our worlds, Christians are the bad guys who either slaughter civilians or destroy civilization in the name of God.