This past Spring two study groups in the congregation read and discussed Brian McLaren’s Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha and Mohammed Cross the Road? The gist of the book is that Christians need to redefine themselves as strong and benevolent (not hostile) toward those of other faiths. At the end of our read we asked ourselves what step we might take to be that presence of love in a multi-faith world. Our answer was to host the local Muslim community for a meal and evening of story telling around their next observance, Ramadan.
This coming Sunday night, June 23, 6:30 p.m., we will gather in our fellowship hall to receive our interfaith guests and extend hospitality. After breaking bread and introductions we will invite them to share their own stories of Ramadan and what it means to them.
Peacemaking takes many forms and reaches in many directions. But one thing is for sure, peacemakers are blessed when they are actually doing it, making peace. It is something active, an action in the world that defies assumptions of the culture and society in which we live. And unless someone takes the first step and then the second … we will never cross a road together in peace, shalom, salem, paz or pax.
Over a plate of eggs and potatoes my table mates of the morning service club led our conversation toward a consideration of the inspiring memorial at the site of the bombing of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City. I knew just what they were describing since I’ve been there, but it was fresh for them after a recent visit.
After some time I simply made a statement: “Since Timothy McVeigh was an American, self-described revolutionary and Christian, that means that all Christians are terrorists.” He was a lapsed Catholic with agnostic leanings. Then I shut up and waited.
These guys are all in their seventies and have been around. They get it immediately. “Yes,” said one as he munched his bacon. “The logic clearly follows.” His friends agreed with a wink and a smile.
They didn’t even need to mention the words Muslim and terrorist in the same sentence.
As a part of a week of retreat I fasted from television, radio and most work-related email or texts. For the better part of each day I was “unplugged.” I’ve done it before and the impact is usually the same.
First comes withdrawal which is simply the mind letting go of its familiarity with the external data stream and its own adapted inner noise to match. It took half a day for the mind to quiet. The outer silence, when received as a gift and practice, drives itself inward until it become the new normal. Relapse is easy. And habits die slow. Is it a conditioned reflex we have acquired to reach for the phone to check for messages?
Once we quiet and start listening again we can hear the sound of our own consciousness, the singular strike of each word of the prayer or reading, the motion of each creature swooping through space. We can attend again or better.
Then there is the natural rhythm of the day, guided by the rising and setting of the sun, framed by darkness and the quieting of nature’s activity. Even the nocturnals do their business under the auspicious of silence.
Time passes quickly or slowly or not at all. Day flows into night and back again. Breathing is noticed and then not. And somehow the world got along just fine during my absence. Oh, it’s not that I don’t have anything yet to do or that my presence might be desired or needed; it is. But the world doesn’t depend on us as much as we think. And the deep drink of spirit that refreshes fills us with what we need to re-enter the data stream, manic world that fools itself into thinking that the faster and louder it moves the more importance it holds.
To read the Saturday, June 1 Columbia Tribune article on The Square Root of God click here.
A recent featured report by the Global Journalist shed more light on the international garment industry in Bangladesh and elsewhere and the role of multinational corporations in fostering unsafe and inhumane conditions. It is spot on. Find out why Wal Mart and other gigantic American concerns will not sign on to unified reforms. To tune in or read the transcript go directly to their web site.
On Memorial Day we remember the deaths and sacrifices of those who served in harm’s way regardless of the motive or relative virtue of the particular war. Just recently I observed the reaction of a vet who served in an unpopular war with questionable purposes. He still suffers from agent orange. And he has enough distance now to be able to separate the lack of virtue in that war from the grief he carries for fallen comrades.
The thing that made him flinch, that caused him to ever so slightly shake his head, was a word bandied about in a cavalier way: freedom.
What my friend knows but our society does not clearly enough is that the word freedom has been used as a blank check. When applied to every American military operation it legitimates every action, every war without question. “Protecting our freedom.” The truth, however, is that not all military operations defend our country from direct threat or even prevent future harm. Some wars are elective. Some are based on false assumptions and erroneous information. Some are waged because some, not all, believe they are important. Some are waged for mixed economic motives.
To say that such wars are protecting our freedom is the greatest stretch. In those cases one could only use that word, freedom, to refer to the freedom to have anything we want. In a situation like that it is very difficult to say that our service people died for the sake of freedom. They died because they were following orders but not necessarily because freedom was at stake.
Every death is a noble one when given to a noble cause. When the cause is revealed as lacking virtue then the death becomes more exclusively tragic.
The sacrifices of those who intended to do the best for a country they hoped would make good decisions are priceless and worthy of our thanks regardless. But as my vet friend reminded me the word freedom remains perhaps the most overused and misused one in the English language. Some died more directly for the sake of that word and some less so. And the superlative way we can honor those who serve is to make sure that we only call on their service for the right, virtuous and noble cause, for nothing less than that.