I did my usual – tuned into NPR, taking the oldest to school, sharing with him my opinions, him being a good boy, nodding and hmm-hmming, while his thoughts remained upon his pillow. This morning, broadcasting from Iowa where the infamous caucuses were held today, an interview with Hassan Selim, a 28-year-old Imam of the Cedar City Mosque. I was struck by his gentle, disheartened tone, bordering defeat. Sharing the difficulties many in his community experience while honoring their faith – praying on the airplane, wearing the customary head covering. The violence attributed to Muslims. The burden the community must bear, the blame resting upon their collective shoulders, regardless of the recent spate of violence perpetrated by white males. Mr. Selim, in the interview expressing his desire for understanding, for normalcy:
I don’t know. I’m sorry – I don’t know. It’s very confusing. America is a great country. You don’t need to ‘make America great again,’ he says. I feel more safe here and safe to practice my religion here than anywhere else. This narrative that wants to ‘make America great again’ – no, it wants to make America someplace that is not welcoming, that’s not safe.
I have two little girls. I want them to grow up and just have a normal life…I don’t want them to be making statements about their faith or explaining to people who they are. I just want them to have a normal life.
-Morning Edition – NPR, February 1, 2016
We have a problem. We have prominent Christian leaders and politicians adding to the noise, inciting the masses to fear, to carelessness, ascribing allegiance to prejudicial rhetoric. Our populations which suffer greatest, those comprising the margins, those with a muted voice, who cannot claim white or male or Christian or heterosexual, are at the target’s bullseye. Americans’ safety, the preached reason, but we know better. The greatest disadvantage spilled upon the children, the poor, the non-white. Those choosing this nation for a chance, an opportunity to raise the next generation, to allow hope, to gain opportunity, to sleep warm without gunshots and bombs raining upon their homes and in their dreams. Freedom from starvation, death from needless disease, without fear of rape and trafficking all they ask, all they seek.
Will Christians please rise up? Will we as Christians please prevent ourselves from succumbing to the fear, the hate, the lies? What will we be known for? What are we so afraid of? Losing control? Losing control of our national Christian status?
How I see it – if we cling so tight to our fear, our this is how we do it, we lose. We lose the beautiful privilege of learning from others, of healing wounds. We lose the joy of being present when a miracle happens. We lose the necessary work of giving up ourselves, of it not being about me all the time. We lose the reward of loving others, through living into our belonging together. In the timeless words of Mother Teresa:
If we have no peace it is because we’ve forgotten that we belong to each other.
What does this love look like? I believe it has everything to do with being present, with being honest and humble. Seeking through listening, rather than speaking “truth”. No one needs to hear our white American Christian truth. It is already known. It has been made known over and over again. Our days of needing to shout and evangelize are over. The news is out, we don’t have to sell Jesus anymore. It is finished.
Love does not begin with sharing “the truth”. When we say, “I love you, but…”, we are not loving, we are controlling, we are operating out of fear. Love begins when we see one another, when we see THE other. Stereotypes break down, trust is built, we become lifelines for one another. The beauty of Jesus now.
Love happens in silence and discomfort. Love is most powerful with a listening ear and abundant humility. Love thrives with overflowing wells of grace and mercy, justice, compassion – seeking understanding through honest, well-timed questions. There are many shoes we cannot walk a mile in, but we must try. We must imagine, wonder, empathize. We have to.
Who is in your world, your neighborhood, your school? SEE them. If the opportunity presents itself, make an effort, step outside of the comfortable circle. Or maybe let it begin with a smile and wave. Be the safe place and the light, for this is what we are designed. Start small, just one person loved well is two lives changed, guaranteed – ours and theirs.
Love and fear cannot coexist. Which will you choose?