I saw a heartening article in USA Today on Christmas Eve. Jews and Muslims in the Detroit area were joining together to do charity work on Christmas Day to help compensate the lack of Christians who would be off celebrating their holiday instead of working in soup kitchens and food banks. This marked a first for Muslims to join the Jewish community in what has been called “Mitzvah Day” in southeast Michigan. The Mitzvah (“good deed,” or commandment) Day has a twenty year tradition, and it was with some pride and goodwill that the observation included Islamic participation this year. A wonderful witness, right? Well, here are some absurdly unenlightened comments I pulled off the web today in response:
What’s the matter with those people? Don’t they have their own holidays to celebrate without trying to undermine ours? What could be their possible motive accept (sic) to make us look bad?
Where are they the rest of the year? Obviously, this is nothing more than a grab for attention.
Do they really think this makes up for anything? We know that they want to overthrow America and all it stands for. They make a mockery of everything Christian, including charity!
Well, it won’t hurt for them to atone for all the evil they do, but one day a year isn’t going to make much difference.
“Those people,” “they,” “them?” I am constantly shocked and amazed at the residual animosity and hatred many Christians feel for the whole generic categories of “Jew” and “Muslim.” We go to school together, live in the same neighborhoods, shop in the same stores, work side by side, but something still divides “us” from “them.” Oh, it isn’t our God — same God, understood differently. Mostly it is misunderstanding, poor information, lack of reliable facts, and an unwillingness to play nicely with anyone who doesn’t think, believe, and act the same way we do. My one and only Habitat for Humanity project was a UM group with Hindus and a biker club building a house in East Nashville over a decade ago. Once we got over our idiotic fear and mistrust of each other, we realized we were “one” in purpose and humanity and we got along fine. Three incompatible “us-es” found a way to discard our “them-ism” to become a brand new unity and oneness. I am so glad that my Christ demands that I acknowledge that Jesus broke down all the dividing walls of hostility that true unity might emerge. Too bad this same Christ isn’t as strong as 21st century human fear.
Two recent “terrorist” attempts on Delta flights raised the hackles of God-fearing Americans coast-to-coast. Suspicions abound, and already claims of profiling and unfair treatment of foreigners are beginning to increase. Two-thirds (66%) of American Protestant clergy agree with the statement “I believe Islam is a dangerous religion,” according to a recent Lifeway (Southern Baptist) Research poll of more than 1,000 church leaders. Evangelicals are more likely to agree than mainliners (77% to 47%), but further surveying and interviewing reveals that most opinions are based on hearsay, misinformation, and just-plain lies. Comparative analysis of the Koran to the Hebrew scriptures indicates that Islam is no more violent or dangerous than Judaism or Christianity. It all depends on how the scriptures are interpreted and taught. Bombing abortion clinics and killing doctors is no less “terrorism” than bombing a subway or hotel (unless of course you agree with Robert Weems, who said, “It’s not the same. We only go after sinners! They go after innocents.”)
Why don’t we spend as much time looking for commonalities as we do differences? Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are all faiths grounded in faithfulness, charity, compassion for the stranger, spiritual discipline, and doing good. All promote the upbuilding of community and the common good. All seek reconciliation and peace. Oh, sure, this vision of mutuality is pick-and-choose, but why can’t we pick-and-choose the good elements instead of the awful ones? Why couldn’t we strive for a true, universal inter-faith ecumenism that might have the power to heal a broken world, and create a vital, healthy future? Why can’t we strive to love those we disagree with, while being as lovable as possible for those who disagree with us? Couldn’t Christians take the high road and work for unity and peace instead of demanding to be right all the time?
Faith, hope, and love abide — these three — but the greatest of these is love. Do we believe this? Do we even want this to be true? Everyone says they want peace. Everyone says they believe in justice. Everyone desires a world that is better, kinder, and more loving than the one we have. But most of us blame the failure of our world to be peaceful, just, kind, loving and compassionate on “THEM.” When do we wake up to the fact that there is no “THEM?” It’s just us, sharing a planet, competing for a future, and needing to be better — and the only way we will truly be better is if we are all better — all of “US.”