Day 63 – Sunday, Feb. 12th (63/303): Pompous Piety Derailed Serenity

I’m struggling with something. My anger and passion have been piqued around something about which I feel strongly, but I’m not sure this is a great time to actually write about the situation. I have experienced a lot of serenity this past week and have reveled in the grace of such a gift. When things have been a little scary or challenging, I have managed to weather them surprisingly well. Until this morning.

So I’ll keep breathing and taking my time with this, in the hopes that I write with more grace and compassion than I witnessed today.

We’re having a four-week adult class on the topic of Islam at my (Christian) congregation this month. The class description sounded interesting, so I had been looking forward to it. I missed last week, but was glad to be there this week…until I noticed a pattern in the lecture that disturbed me – a lot.

Rather than providing us with an education about Islam as a respected, if different from our own, faith tradition, this person kept comparing – in a denigrating way (from my perspective) – various Muslim characteristics, practices or beliefs to “Christian” values – as though all who might identify as Christians are the same, with the same values, moral codes, and interpretations of the Christian Bible. He used words like “sanitized” to refer to what is commonly known about Muhammad and “in stark contrast to Christianity” to emphasize something he apparently sees as particularly contrary to Christian values. I was shocked at the picture he painted.

The thing is, this man has done a lot of research over a long period of time. I don’t doubt that he offered a lot of factual data. But it was the tone and innuendo of his remarks that got my blood to boiling. As it is again now, just writing about it.

Breathe…breathe…breathe…

When he would make an “in contrast to Christianity” remark, I found myself wanting to ask, Which Christians? Grown Where? In What Century? There are so many ways that Christians disagree with each other that it is difficult to ascertain what exactly constitutes being “Christian.” Each denomination has its own understanding, its own interpretation of the texts that unite us.

It was not many decades ago, for example, that many Christians saw Judaism as a wrong path to God (as in, you won’t get there). (Many still do). Now there are many wonderful interfaith dialogues happening among Christians and Jews. Perhaps the growing acknowledgment and appreciation of the fact that Jesus was a Jew helped bring the Jewish and Christian communities into a greater appreciation for each other, but how many centuries was it before this happened? (The answer is, of course, “too many.”)

And how is the arrogant notion for many Christians that “we’re” (I must say “we” because I am Christian) the only ones who have it “right” different from the Muslim’s perception that Islam is the final, true understanding of God’s will?

Breathe…breathe…breathe…

What keeps coming to mind for me is something my World Religions professor said to us on the first day of class. He told us to approach our reading on each faith tradition as if it was the tradition we wanted for ourselves. In other words, he asked us to keep an open mind to the gifts and beauty and truths offered by each of the many traditions we studied. As a result, I saw in each of these faiths the same desire, the same yearning for the divine that I know in my own life and see in the people around me. I saw kindred spirits all over the world who simply approach the God of my understanding differently than I might or than my particular (Anglo, American, Protestant, 20th-now-21st  century, etc.) community/culture might. I felt blessed and uplifted simply learning about each of these traditions, including Islam.

What, you might ask, does this have to do with the overarching topic of this blog? I would answer, Everything and nothing.

The most disturbing aspect of my experience this morning was when one of the people from the class communicated to me afterwards her fear. Instead of providing an edifying introduction to a worthy and significantly global faith tradition, this man was unwittingly (I’d like to think) instilling greater fear of those who are different from us. One of the points he raised around sharia law (aka Islamic law), for example, is that it’s okay for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims in order to protect themselves. There was little context around this statement (or most of the others for that matter) to conclude anything except that Christians can’t believe what a Muslim might tell them.

Breathe…breathe…breathe…

I’ve been thinking on the Holocaust again this past week. I was thinking about how the Nazi slaughter of ten to twenty million Jews, Gypsies, “homosexuals,” people with disabilities, and several other groups of people impacted far more than the millions who died in those horrifying years. I was thinking about the impact it had on the survivors, the families and friends of survivors, the communities where the violence was perpetrated, and the countless other places in the world where such horrific events came to be known.

What was spread through that atrocity – and has continued to be spread through other forms of genocide and mass violence before and since – is fear. How can such events not shape our response to whatever is different in our world? It is too close to home. It is profoundly disturbing. And it seems to come out of nowhere simply because the leap from prejudice to violence can happen with such unexpected swiftness.

I was disturbed this morning because I went to church anticipating a similar education to the one I had received around Islam years ago – one that might lead to an appreciation of all that is good in it. Instead, I found a pompous kind of piety that gives excuse to denigrating a group of people who are no more homogenous than any other group.

It is interesting and perhaps ironic that the current (Feb.13) edition of Newsweek has a cover article titled “The Rise of Christophobia.” I picked it up at the store today after church and look forward to reading it. It is written by a Muslim woman who looks at the persecution and murder of Christians in the Muslim world. I pray that my fellow parishioners do not use it as fuel to contribute further to the denigration of Islam in the remaining classes this month.

This was a bit of a rant and longer than I anticipated. This morning’s experience disturbed me because I believe in a loving God who comes to us in many, many forms – perhaps as many forms as there are people willing to receive that love. This week, I will think a lot about the Serenity Prayer and ask God to give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change in this class at church, courage to speak up and say the things that need saying, and wisdom to know the difference.

Right now, I’m going to turn my DVD of Quincy back on and see if I can regain the serenity that was present when I began my day.

Your comments are welcome. Two resources came to mind as I was finishing this.

 

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