Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Where is "The Promised Land"?

There is yet another layer in the multilayered set of issues surrounding Israel and Palestine I find personally compelling. It is one thing to argue politics, or spin history (people "a" were "here first" vs. people "b" were "here for a thousand years" or whatever...)

From a Christian point of view, and even from a psychological point of view, where is the promised land?

Something strange happens between the Old and New Testaments. The idea of a promised land, a kingdom, moves from being a temporal kingdom on earth to being an eternal kingdom which, as Jesus says before his crucifixion "is not of this world." He calls it "the kingdom of heaven" rather than the kingdom of Israel. And while some wait for him to overthrow earthly authorities and re-establish earthly Jerusalem in mighty acts of power against Rome, he instead moves toward the humiliation and death that once and for all redefine everything.

As Luke 17:20,21 shows us, the kingdom moves from being external to internal ("the kingdom of heaven is within you" [NIV]) and/or from being a piece of real estate to being God-with-us ("the kingdom of God is among you").

Even the Old Testament agrees with this apparently radical reformulation of meaning far more than one might initially think. Over and over again, Jehovah God makes clear that Israel is a spiritual family -- even a spouse -- to whom he has a special relationship. The land comes, and the land goes. The earthly kingdom is broken in two, taken away by various other nations, restored in part only to be taken again. And this all in the context of God struggling to bring his people into conformity with himself....

As Christians, the Promised Land, the Kingdom of Heaven, is both our eternal home and our present dwelling place. It is not America. It is not Israel. It is not the West. No, our only safe dwelling place is in the arms and heart of God, and in the fellowship of his imperfect Bride, the Church.

From that place, we are to be children, because only those with the hearts of children may enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And we are to love our neighbors and yes, even our enemies.

The Promised Land is Jesus. The Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus. And we blaspheme Jesus' name when we suggest any earthly nation or place is God's inheritance to us. It is not. God's inheritance to us is love.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Hamas, Israel, and the "Right to Exist"

In my previous post regarding more pseudo-christian nationalists supporting Israel, I said that I supported Israel's "right to exist." A Muslim relative pointed out something, however, that I feel compelled to note. I think I'll simply share her words on the topic, then log a few responses and reflections of my own:

Jon, you wrote: "I support Israel's right to exist, and I hope the new government of Palestine also sorts that issue out." I doubt that any Palestinian organization will ever acknowledge such a thing (sincerely, anyway), if it it phrased like that, and it usually is. What Israel and the West ought to be asking Hamas to do is acknowledge Israel (within the 1967 borders, not including West Bank settlements or East Jerusalem or the Jordan Valley) as a fait accompli, one that is not likely to go away. In fact I have already heard Hamas leaders doing this - one said last week (I can't remember the exact words) that no one could destroy a nuclear power with a few homemade rockets and bombs. Hamas is smart - they know that they can't destroy Israel. They might be able to make the West Bank settlements too expensive to hang onto, as they did the Gaza ones, but the WB ones are much larger and more entrenched, and furthermore are in an area that Israel thinks God gave to them, so I don't expect them to have too much luck in getting rid of them. Israelis would have to decide to do that by themselves.

To ask Hamas to acknowledge Israel's right to exist would be to demand that they acknowledge that European Jews had the right to invade Palestine and take the land away from the Palestinians, and they certainly never had that right, either legally or morally. They might have had the right to take Bavaria, considering that it was the Germans who tried to exterminate them, but to take Palestine, making 1/3 of the Palestinians the new Wandering Jews with no right to return to their homeland ever, and another third or so prisoners in refugee camps for 58 years and counting, and the rest miserable people living under permanent occupation? NO WAY did they have that right. Palestinians had never done anything to deserve this catastrophe happening to them, any more than the Indians deserved what our ancestors did to them. The fact that many of these Jews who came from Europe were descended or partly descended from people who lived in Palestine 2000 years ago is no argument at all to anyone who does not accept the Chosen People or Rapture things. If Hamas said that they agreed with the formation of Israel on Palestinian land they would be either lying or crazy.

To ask that Hamas acknowledge pre-1967 Israel to be a permanent fait accompli ought to be enough. To have the arrogance to demand that Hamas agree that it was OK to have their country stolen is unspeakable.
Thanks, cuz. If I hear you right, the term "Israel has a right to exist" placed in the mouth of a Palestinian would be for him or her to say that God approved of what was done to Palestinians by the west and Israel from its founding until now. Remember, the central issue theologically for Zionists and right-wing Christians is this: both believe that God's creation of Old Testament Israel was in effect a "forever" thing. That is, the land then, now, and forevermore belongs to the Jewish people.... an idea Palestinian Christians as well as Muslims reject. (Amazing how Palestinian Christianity is completely ignored in the Christian Right rhetoric on Israel's "rights.")

There could be a different reading of history than the usual one we in the west encounter as fact. Start with the holocaust. No, Muslims shouldn't mock or deny the holocaust, as some have done. But why have they? Are they simply unreasonable, violent, and hateful by nature... unlike we civilized Judeao-Christian types? (Daisycutter, anyone?) Or is there a deeper subtext here, perhaps explaining some of that anger?

Who's fault was the holocaust, anyway? Did Hitler rise in a vacuum, or in an anti-semetic culture which had taught its citizens for 1900 years that Jews were "Christ Killers," even had secret ceremonies in which they drank the blood of gentile babies? Could this western culture, faced with the horrors of the 6,000,000 Jews who died due in part to such vicious theological ideas, hunt for the easy way out of our collective guilt? A new Christ, perhaps, to nail on the cross ourselves in place of the six million we'd already crucified? Did we try to erase the images of skeletal children and piles of gassed bodies by "giving" a slice of Palestine to the tattered remnants of the holocaust? It seemed a perfect solution. Our western guilt was eased, our Christian guilt over labeling fellow human beings "Christ killers" and other cruel and inaccurate names was eased. And all for the price of a slice of land no-one -- except intially Britian -- seemed all that upset about losing.

No one, that is, except Palestinians. No one but -- as an evangelical relative I admire much less than my Muslim cousin said to me once -- "those ragheads."

Maybe we can arrange another holocaust for them? Maybe then we can take someone else's land and give it to the shredded remnants of their families displaced by western occupiers.

Bottom line? How can the Islamic world relate to our suffering -- whether the suffering of Jews or the suffering of Christians -- when we refuse to recognize their suffering, or even their existence as persons?

I think current events offer abundant evidence answering these questions.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Christians United for Israel? Jesus Wouldn't Have Joined.

I guess I could make up something more stupid, less humane, and less Christian, than this. But why? John Hagee (John Hagee Ministies), Jerry Falwell of "Moral Majority" fame, Benny Hinn (flamboyant, even bizarre televangelist), Gary Bauer (President of American Values), and Steve Strang (owner of the Charisma magazine empire), have with others joined forces to create yet another pseudo-christian nationalistic front supporting Israel. The group, "Christians United," claims to represent 30 million Americans. I hope not.

Look, I'm not anti-Israel. I support Israel's right to exist, and I hope the new government of Palestine also sorts that issue out. I think they will. But I also believe the fundamentalist / charismatic nexus that supports Zionism -- no matter how henious the crimes Israel commits against her neighbors -- is diseased.

What is the disease?

Nationalism. And here, I'm not talking primarily about Israel but rather America. Note the logo of Christians United, which includes two hands meeting over an American flag and an Israeli flag. The unspoken assumptions embedded in that logo speak volumes. America as the new Israel is certainly a central theme in much of the Christian Right's worldview. It only makes sense for those confusing "American values" with Christian values to also confuse Israel's values with Christian values.

Until we root this nationalism out of our churches we can expect a humanity-denying Zionism to continue to infiltrate them as well. And we can pretend a baffled ignorance when reviled and hated by many in the Middle East for our amazing, and lethal, arrogance.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Of True and False Anxiety

(The below is a sermon I've prepared for our JPUSA "Senior Church" -- the older folk who share the top three floors of 920 W. Wilson with us JPUSAns. I trust there are political implications to the below which those who have ears to hear will pick up on... if not necessarily agree with. Apologies to Kierkegaard fans and/or scholars.)

Today, I’m going to talk just for a few minutes on a cheerful little Scripture. Just two verses, found in Phillipians 4 verses 6, 7.

4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Now, I said that is a cheerful Scripture. But that depends on how we understand what they’re saying.

What is anxiety, anyway?

There’s the kind of anxiety I had in school about a test. You know, that sort of hollow feeling you had when you knew you could have done a better job on the homework? Or maybe you were a good student… never mind.

There’s the kind of anxiety we have when we just finished some spinach at a restaurant and find someone glancing at us funny. Uh-oh… do I have some stuck between my teeth?

Or maybe we’re anxious because we’re meeting someone for the first time.

There’s the kind of anxiety we have when among a bunch of people who we want to impress. This anxiety is a bit scary. One strong-willed person with a bigoted, twisted idea and the boldness to arrogantly strut it can often get the rest of us – those of the right religion or color, anyway – to follow his lead. The results? American slavery. Auswitz and the gas chambers.

That brings up what I would call “false” anxiety as opposed to the deeper forms of anxiety which in fact are the mark of more whole human beings. A person can be anxious to please their friend, yet fail to be anxious about the evil and even demonic ideas their friend is promoting, for instance.

But even that anxiety is not the type of anxiety I’m most interested in. Let me tell you a story.

In 1973, my parents took a number of us kids to see the Grand Canyon. How many here have been to the Grand Canyon? It is incredible! Well, we went out onto one of the many tourist overlooks. These are basically giant flat outcroppings of rock where you can go right up to the edge of the canyon and look both across and down for miles.

Now I should tell you that as a teenager I really had little fear; I did stuff that since then has given me chills to recall. I once had a German Shepherd go after me, and instead of running away, I turned around and chased the dog! It fled, which really impressed my friends. You get the idea.

So here we are at the Grand Canyon. And I have this camera with me, snapping photos of this and that. We walk up to the edge of this cliff, and down below us is the Snake River. Someone said it was over a mile straight down.

For safety’s sake, there are these white steel railings about three or four feet from the edge. I took one look, and before anyone could say a thing, I put one of my long legs over the railing, put the other one over the railing, and sat down with nothing between me and a one mile drop to the bottom of the Grand Canyon except my backside on a foot-wide piece of flat rock. Then, I leaned forward, looked through my camera’s viewfinder, and took a picture. I had new tennis shoes, and I wanted to get a shot of them hanging out over the canyon, you see? So I stuck my feet out even further over the empty space below for better effect.

Well, once I was done, I stood up and looked at my Mother. She was a whiter shade of pale, if you know what I mean. She had five boys, so I guess maybe she should have expected something like that, but no, Mothers are always in a state of anxiety. For good reason.

But here’s the thing. Every last one of us is sitting on the edge of that cliff, looking down, with nothing between us and death except the faint pumPUM pumPUM of our heartbeat. I’m pushing the image here, but the Grand Canyon we’re staring down into is our own mortality. Hear me, now. It isn’t just about heaven and hell – it is about what we are, what we mean, why life itself is even worth living. Those are the deep anxieties, and frankly, the most surprising thing is how few people really seem to struggle with those anxieties vs. the “Do I look good in this dress” kind of anxieties. Never mind that I would look terrible in any dress….

This is what fascinates me. We are all anxious about one thing and another… but how many of us are anxious about the right things, the important things?

A brilliant, if often depressing, Christian thinker, Soren Kierkegaard once wrote a book called “The Concept of Anxiety.” The title is often translated “The Concept of Dread” – and no wonder. Kierkegaard wrote, “anxiety is the dizziness of freedom… when freedom looks down into possibility…” Well, what did he mean?

I mentioned Auswitz a little bit ago. How did Hitler come into power? I believe he came into power because of the very thing Kierkegaard addressed. That is, we are all afraid of the future, all the possible futures, out there. And one future is not only possible, but absolute; we will die. Psychology says that we cope with death usually by denying death’s existence, or at least by selectively looking away at the right moments. Hitler, whether even he knew it or not, keyed in on those fears of death the German people had. And he picked the right people to pick on; Jews. And despite the fact that Jesus, our Lord and Savior, was a Jew, the Christians in Germany mostly went along with Hitler’s plans.

Why? Because Hitler’s lie was simple. He was establishing a Reich – a kingdom or empire – that would last a thousand years. Or so he said. A few million Jews here or there… what was that to establishing immortality for an entire nation? His lie offered meaning, a deeply satisfying, if completely false, meaning. Nationalism, racism, name your ism…. All of them are or were popular because they offered people meaning.

You see, our death can be experienced in a few different ways. We can die physically. That is one kind of death. But we can also die as far as our lives having meant anything. If we lived a life that meant nothing to anyone, maybe are living such a life even now, how much better is that than being physically dead? That is what the dictator promises…. A life of meaning and even heroism.

But let’s go back to anxiety. Because here we are. And we don’t want to go the way of the Nazis, the murderers of Martin Luther King, or the killers today who use various religions as an excuse. So I suggest going the way of Soren Kierkegaard instead. Listen to a very curious thing Kierkegaard said about anxiety:

“With the help of faith, anxiety brings up the individual to rest in providence.”

See, anxiety means you are awake. When I sat on the edge of that cliff, looking down at my shoes through the camera lens, I felt no fear – no anxiety – at all. But when I’ve thought back on it, I almost tremble with the absolute risk I took. One slip, one miscalculation, and I would have plunged into the abyss. I wasn’t awake. I was asleep to my true frail condition as a human being. I forgot that I was finite, that I had limits.

To Kierkegaard, true anxiety is our friend because it wakes us up to our peril. Not only that, but if we refuse to choose a cheap lying substitute and insist that we remain awake, anxiety will lead us up from the abyss of death and into the rest only Jesus Christ offers us.

The only other option to either remaining unconscious or submitting to God is despair, according to Kierkegaard. Some people admit they can find no meaning or purpose except pleasure. And pleasure wears out soon enough, doesn’t it? Others wallow in despair, making their agony a sort of heroic struggle.

It all comes back to where we started; those almost cute little two verses of Philippians. Only I hope by now you see that they are not cute at all, but instead are earth-changing, despair shattering words:

4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In Christ, once our true, awakened sense of anxiety and dread bring us to Him, we will find a peace so deep it transcends all understanding. No, God does not promise us we will not suffer. That would be a lie. But he does promise us that we need not be anxious for our lives’ eternal meaning. Our only meaning is in Him, and in His love.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Colson vs. Young on Worship Music

Re the Colson vs. Young thing on music I mentioned yesterday, I decided on second thought to move it to the Cornerstone Festival forums. After all, the Cstone fest is yet another example of the very music Mr. Colson seems to be so displeased by. Sigh.... as Mr. Young points out, Mr. Colson's implicit assumptions re music are also reflective of assumptions he's apparently operating from on more weighty issues.

Of HIV/AIDS and Gabriel Marcel

Gabriel Marcel was a French existentialist... and a Christian. At one time he was a philosopher, interested in the abstract edifices of reason the human mind can construct. But as a Christian and an existentialist, which I think he saw as necessarily part of the same piece of cloth, he called his school of thought "the Concrete." That is, as opposed to the abstract.

I like that.

Fred -- that is the only name I know him by -- had never to my knowledge read Marcel. Fred was a homeless guy I met way back in the 80s while doing a three-day homeless sit-in on a site that was supposed to be for low-income housing, but had instead been left a vacant lot. Fred was African American, and at the time represented a Homeless Men's Union of sorts that Chicago had spawned. He was articulate, funny, and enjoyable to be around despite his habit of coloring the air blue at times w/ cursing.

He tended to call me "pastor" -- though I'm not -- and tried to mind his P's and Q's around me. This, too, made me smile.

After the "tent city" we'd built was forcibly torn down by Chicago's finest, and all of us evicted (how fitting!), I saw Fred often in the area. We remained friends. Sometimes he was friendly, but sometimes he seemed troubled, and a few times even surly. I suspected the latter times were caused by his drug use and his guilt upon seeing me, though I'd not said anything to him about what we both knew was going on.

One day, I saw him a few blocks from our building while I was walking. And as we chatted, he seemed sadder than usual, with no anger but also no joking exterior. Bluntly, he didn't look well. I finally asked him how he was, physically speaking. He hesitated.

"AIDS." He said. "I have AIDS. They just told me."

I prayed with him, hugged him -- it seemed especially important to hug him -- and walked home, numb. I called my wife, who was still working at our women's transitional shelter. And as I told her about Fred, I suddenly could not speak as sobs shook my body.

You see, Marcel was right. At that moment, the tyranny of the abstract had been crushed by the concrete. I wept my foolish, unhelpful tears, in a tiny pathetic shadow of the tears Christ wept at Lazarus' tomb.

Death is concrete. Evil is concrete. They come to all humanity, regardless of our abstract ways of seeing. Like the brick falling from a tower and crushing the one unfortunate enough to intersect the time/space continuum at that instance as the brick intersects it, their brains will be crushed by the concrete.

Love, Song of Songs says, is as strong as death. If death is the reality we all face, love is the reality death faces. Only love lasts. Love swallows death.

All our abstractions, all our self-judgements about right and wrong, will be crushed and are crushed or perhaps even help do the crushing.

Only Christ stands free from abstraction, only he IS the WORD that has died and now lives, and now draws us and any who would come to Him.

I hope and pray Fred is there. I hope and pray that I am there... I trust in Christ, or in nothing. Because without the Concreteness of Love, there is only the falling brick, the path, and the pull of time forward upon my feet which insures I will intersect that brick's path. Sooner or later...

Marcel understood, perhaps. Marcel saw the cartoonish nature of abstract logic, its pathetic -- really! -- pathetic failure in the face of existence's inevitability.

But as I stood holding the phone, weeping, all I could understand was that God Himself was weeping with me, and that that fact alone allowed me to feel such pain while remaining sane.

(Join the discussion on this post at Cornestone Festival Forums)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Morehead on Mohammed; Colson vs. Young?

Worth a gander is John Morehead's post on the anti-Islamic cartoon debacle; he explores what many observers see as a two-threaded framework of belief in Islam, one thread being violent while the other is non-violent. John strives for more of a balance than perhaps I did with my own riff on the topic; John is a friend and co-founder with myself and others of the Sacred Tribes Journal. (The current STJ issue is on Neo-paganism and Christianity.)

Tomorrow, if I can get the time, I'll post Chuck Colson's riff on new Christian worship music, and a wonderful response to it by Professor Shawn Young of Greenville College. Prof. Young has given me thumbs-up, and we'll all have a good time. Why music in a politically-focused blog? Well.... guess you'll have to wait and see!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Evangelicals, Scientists Unite Over Global Warming -- Except for the Usual Suspects

One more hopeful sign in a week or two of positive events (including Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast and Rick Warren's Nightline appearance)...

Evangelicals and Scientists held a press conference today in which they decried Global Warming and insisted that faith and science need to come together. Of particular concern to Christians is the fact that this warming trend will greatly impact not only the environment but also the poorest of the poor among humanity first.

"It doesn't matter whether you believe Darwin got it right or that the Genesis story is literally true," ABC News reported Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson as saying. "We can all agree that, however it got here, the living creation — on which we all depend for our existence — is something we don't want to see destroyed."

Eighty-six evangelical leaders signed on to the Evangelical Climate Initiative, as it is being called, including presidents of 39 Christian colleges and universities, leaders of various aid and parachurch groups, and even the afore-mentioned Pastor Rick Warren of "Purpose-Driven Life" fame. (I tip the hat to my own denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, for their support of this idea.)

However, the usual suspects are rejecting the proposal. Chuck Colson (Prison Fellowship), James Dobson (Focus on the Family), and Richard Land (Southern Baptist Convention) -- ever the blind leading the blind, it seems -- lead the dissenters. Their argument is that "science isn't settled" on the issue, which seems pretty far-fetched when hearing from the afore-mentioned Edward O. Wilson. They recently mailed a letter to the National Assocation of Evangelicals to insure that organization would not back the Global Warming Initiative, nor allow any of its officers or staff to sign. It worked. The NAE, previously leaning in favor of the Initiative, went to a neutral position.

I have long observed the politics of Focus on the Family as being dictatorial. I well recall Dobson putting heat on the EPA (that's Evangelical Press Association, not Environmental Protection Agency) to discipline an EPA leader, Timothy Warner, who gently questioned Ronald Reagan's policies in an EPA Newsletter editorial. The threat from Dobson was straightforward. Discipline Warner or we'll quit the EPA. Of course, EPA buckled. So much for freedom of the press, eh? Focus was also involved in the attempted supression of Zondervan's TNIV, a gender-correct version of Scripture which removes excessive male-specific pronouns from the original text.

Charles Colson, as I've observed here before, is a real disappointment personally to me. (I doubt he loses sleep over that fact, but...) And Richard Land's denomination has consistently become more draconian in its measures against women, systematically removing them from roles of leadership since the 1990s and reinforcing the hierarchical marriage model widely rejected by other Christian teachers and denominations. Southern Baptist Missionaries are forbidden to allow the wife to teach or preach, even when not to do so would appear to any observer a waste of giftings and man (er, woman) power. Most recently, the Southern Baptists forbade any new missionaries on the mission field from praying in tongues -- even in the privacy of their own homes! Haala ki baraka! (Translation: Fascinatin' stuff. )

E. Calvin Beisner, whom I first encountered at a Christian conference as he railed at a panel of African Americans about their take on racism -- yeah, he'd know a lot more than they would about that topic -- also checked in on Global Warming. In fact, he's organized the opposition into what he calls "The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance." Hehehehe.... I love that. I hear they have a picture of James Watt on the wall.... remember the "Jesus is coming back so what me worry about the environment" Watt? He was Ronald Reagan's evangelical in the cabinet, until it turned out his china was cracked.

Hey, it's a blog. I'm venting. Trott needs a muzzle. Somebody get the Tazer...

Anyway, enough about the dissenters. Hoorah for the folks with eyes to see and ears to hear.

It really has been a good week.

Cartoon Reality: Islam, Christianity, and Loving One's Neighbor

(This respectful but sharply barbed cartoon articulates the Muslim viewpoint on this debacle.)

Recent cartoons published by a small Danish newspaper have caused an uproar in much of the Muslim world. (I would link to the cartoons, but feel that by doing so, I would be repeating the offense against my Muslim neighbors.) Those cartoons were doubly objectionable to Muslims, as they:

1. Pictorally represented Mohammed, founder of Islam; this is considered objectionable in and of itself by the majority of Muslims.

2. Mocked Mohammed in a variety of ways (in one cartoon, he appears nutty and his turban is portrayed as a bomb).

Further, it turns out this same newspaper rejected cartoons that mocked Jesus, even though their creator had shown them to Christian spokespersons before submitting them to the newspaper.

The above offers Christians an interesting set of ethical questions. What would Jesus do? Hmmm.

I do support the right of other human beings to mock my faith, though it may cause me great personal pain. If the God/Man Savior I believe in literally died in order that his enemies might live and have a chance to be reconciled to Him, how can I, a mere human being, expect better treatment? (If you smell a sort of apologetic for Christianity implicit in that last paragraph, you are correct; the Suffering Savior is the primary reason I am able to believe in God -- any God at all -- when faced with a world so filled with suffering and evil.)

I do not support the right of other human beings to abuse my neighbor, and that includes upon religious grounds (or irreligious grounds). Therefore, I protest what this newspaper has done to my Muslim neighbor. (I would also object to Muslim cartoonist attacks on the holocaust, such as the cartoon done of Ann Frank and Adolf Hitler in bed together. This too is an attack upon my neighbor, my Jewish neighbor in that case.)

I also, perhaps contradictorally, support freedom of the press even to say stupid, ignorant things. However, I again would say that Christians should very vocally protest the abuse of our neighbors at the hands of a careless press, just as loudly as we would protest a movie mocking Christ. (Interestingly, some years back, Muslims did protest one controversial movie, "The Last Temptation of Christ," on the grounds that it was disrespectful to Jesus; I'm not debating whether or not the movie was in fact blasphemous or anti-religious but rather showing that Muslims may have in that case shown more cultural sensitivity than we Christians show.)

Many Muslims feel that mocking Mohammed is no less objectionable than mocking the terrors of the holocaust. Perhaps we who don't see Mohammed as God's Prophet cannot agree on that one. At least, however, can we agree that it is an evil to belittle another human being's beliefs simply because we do not share them? That is my strongest feeling. If someone stomped on a picture of Christ, or -- remember this one? -- put a crucifix in a jar of urine and called the resulting "artwork" Piss Christ, I'd feel a deep sense of anger and beneath the anger, sadness.

Finally, the cultural context of all of this cannot be denied. Most news stories focus on the violence a minority of Muslims have indulged in as a reaction to the Denmark cartoons. But in-depth analysis of western reactions to Islam, many of them rooted in fear and ignorance, are few and far between. Fewer still come from the west.

Again, I think as Christians we should affirm our Muslim neighbors' pain, and object to western media and western culture's assault upon a faith our media knows little about. I for one think an apology is in order, not just from the initially offending newspaper, but from all those newspapers who reprinted the cartoons in question. While not supporting violence done by some Muslims in the name of their faith -- violence rejected by many, many Muslims as an aberration -- we ought to support the protests of our neighbors as being wholly legitimate.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Fairly simple, really.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My Mother and Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott's life ended yesterday, January 31, 2006. Today, the first day of Black History Month, begins with remembering her complex, multi-faceted, and sometimes controversial contributions to our collective life on this planet. Most of us, this blogger included, remember her as the loyal wife, the one who stood by America's greatest Twentieth-Century Giant, Martin Luther King. As history gradually revealed, she was that, but also much more. I can add little to what the New York Times said on that score, except a personal and perhaps selfish note.

My mother briefly met Coretta Scott at the college (Antioch) both attended. Their meeting was one where each woman was shy, my mother thinking at the time that Coretta was being aloof as they were introduced, and only later realizing that Coretta was more likely being reticent and careful toward this unknown white girl. My mother was also reticent, not wanting to do the improper thing and feeling an awkwardness there. How much of this was real, and how much imagined? Who can say? It sounded real to me.

It was, alas, a friendship that did not take root. Not from ill will, certainly. But rather from the subtle tensions race causes between human beings, and the mutual uncertainty each young woman had regarding the other. They remained in the same circles, but never again really interacted.

I looked at Coretta's 1968 picture in the Times article, a young woman and a young widow. And it reminded me very much of the pictures of my own mother from that time. Yes, they could have been friends. They would have looked very beautiful standing side by side. I think of Coretta Scott's early musical training for opera, and my mother's avid love for that same music. Yes, even the tilt of their heads, the almost regal look to their eyes and faces.

Coretta Scott King is now with her Maker. Is it any wonder that this woman, who I rarely think of without also thinking of my mother, would also remind me of life's preciousness and our common mortality? I may have to give my mother a call...