Since the early days of this blog, I’ve kept a counter to see how many folks clicked in, thanks to Stat Counter. I had not used the service long before I found they also had a map showing me where folks were when they clicked. Almost every week, there has been someone in Azerbaijan who showed up on the map, and I have often wondered what he or she made of this strange little collection of writings, not to mention how he or she found me in the first place. I mention the person to say I have no idea who reads what I write. My Azerbaijani audience notwithstanding, I assume most of my readers are Christian. Tonight, at least, I am writing specifically to them (you?).
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve listened to the rumble over Park 51, the proposed Islamic Center in Lower Manhattan and have chosen to not say anything because, well, the whole mess seemed more election year theatrics than anything else. This afternoon, however, I heard a story on NPR about protests against the building of an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and heard one of the protesters say, “We’re Christians and this religion represents people that are against Christians. That’s something we need to look at, you know, because you’re going to have a lot of trouble down the line.”
How heartbreaking that a sentence that begins with “we are Christians” could end in such fear and despair.
There is an Islamic Center in Murfreesboro already; the new, larger one is needed because the congregation has outgrown their space. As far as lower Manhattan is concerned, there are at least a dozen mosques and Islamic centers in close proximity to Ground Zero, and that which some have labeled “hallowed ground” is populated with everything from a strip joint to fast food chains to street vendors. Saying the new center is too close makes about as much sense as saying no new Christian churches should be built in downtown Oklahoma City because of Timothy McVeigh’s ties to the Christian Identity movement.
They’ll know we are Christians by our love, not by our fear.
And the call in these days is for us to be known as Christians – that we speak and act first from that allegiance – rather than as Americans. The history of human conflict, including the history of Christian-Muslim relations, is marked by the manipulation of religion for military gain. The Crusades, for example, were more about power than piety. The nationalization of religions across the centuries has proven mostly to be bastardization of belief, rather than a furthering of faith. Most of us, particularly the most vocal of us, I would suggest, have only a minimal understanding of Islam. I won’t claim expertise when it comes to the Qu’ran, and I feel sure the vast majority of Muslims meeting from Murfreesboro to Manhattan are not plotting the overthrow of Christianity anymore than Christian congregations from coast to coast are united in reviving the Crusades. Yet, it seems only the radicals and the ridiculous on both sides manage to get to the microphones.
Today, as part of our opening activities at school, we did an exercise called “My Job, Your Job” where we talked with the kids about what our responsibilities were as both students and teachers to ourselves and to each other. One of the things that made the list was it was everyone’s job to speak up when we saw someone being treated unfairly or being bullied. Don’t wait for someone else to speak up, or for someone to stand up for themselves; step in and speak out. As I listened to the NPR story on the way home, I couldn’t help but wonder where we were, as Christians, when it came to speaking out and standing up for our Muslim sisters and brothers who are becoming targets of an insidious hysteria and hyperbole.
I don’t mean we necessarily have to make the news; the media are not listening to or looking for coherent and compassionate voices, for the most part. I do mean finding ways to make contact – face to face contact – in the places we live, in our towns, on our streets. Interrupt the conversations in the coffee shops to say Muslim is not a synonym for terrorist. Go by the local mosque or Islamic Center and figure out how to incarnate love to them. Don’t let fear be the last word.
Be a Love Dog.
I’m stealing the phrase from Rumi, a Muslim mystic and poet, because he said it as well as it can be said. Here’s the whole poem:
One night a man was crying Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with praising,
until a cynic said, “So!
I’ve heard you calling our, but have you ever
gotten any response?”
The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.
He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why did you stop praising?” “Because
I’ve never heard anything back.”
“This longing you express
is the return message.”
The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.
Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.
Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.
There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.
Give your life
to be one of them.
The future of our faith does not depend on the fate of our nation. It does, however, depend on the integrity of our own incarnation of the love of Christ to those around us, particularly those labeled as “enemies,” whether the label is accurate or not. “God did not give us a spirit of fear,” Paul wrote to Timothy, “but of power and love, and of a sound mind.”
Let us use those gifts with purposed abandon in Jesus’ name.