Fear or Dialogue?

(This is a post I wrote last fall, but for some reason I never published… as we come closer to the tenth anniversary of September 11th, I thought I might go ahead and push the “publish” button)

A sort of running theme here on the blog on the past has been the very simple idea that an idea, a situtation, a truth is not black and white.  When there are people involved, when there are feelings involved, when there is history involved, suddenly truth becomes a little technicolor and spins wildly out of control.

I have largely been staying out of the whole “Ground Zero Mosque” conversation, partly because I didn’t have all of the information.  And now, the information I get is so wildly varied that I don’t know what to do about it.  But I think even beyond that, I’m not quite sure what to say.  There are many who have said what I feel better than I possibly could.  But not saying anything, means that I am allowing myself to float out there in the nebulous zone of people who don’t care… and that is not at all where I am.

So let’s look a little at the playing field of this technicolor debate.

People on one side of the story are saying that it is “soft jihad” and the people are claiming control of territory they have conquered as a seat of muslim extremism and others claim that by going forward with this sort of community center and interfaith dialogue that Park51 is actually more of an American Muslim jihad against terrorism itself.  These things claim exactly the opposite, so which is true?

Some say that it is at Ground Zero – on hallowed ground.  Yet, from maps, it is actually 2 blocks away and there is already at least one mosque in the same area.  Park51 is actually farther away from Ground Zero than a stripclub – which, by the way, doesn’t appear to have too many problems with the new neighbor. The Associated Press is actually encouraging  that we quit referring to this thing as the “Ground Zero Mosque” altogether, even though it was one of the first agencies to begin to use that language.

It’s not entirely accurate to call the place a mosque either. Prayers have been happening at the space since 2009 and while Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf will run the Cordoba House (the multifaith dialogue and community center), the mosque will become a separate non-profit and an Imam has not yet been chosen. The Park 51 site will include a swimming pool, restaurant and culinary school, auditorium, a 9/11 memorial, and on the side, a mosque.

Some believe it is an affront to all of those who died in the attacks on September 11, but as this article points out – survivors are conflicted… and survivors and survivors families were not only Christian, but atheist, and Jewish, and Muslim.  To deny a place of worship and prayer for Muslim families who suffered loss and were destroyed by the viscious terrorist attack also seems cruel.

The simple fact is that its complicated.  On a pastoral note, I understand that for some, this placement and site is a constant reminder of the roots of the violence that destroyed lives on September 11th.  But American Muslims were not the ones who flew planes into the WTC. What we need is more interfaith dialogue and healing, not less.  Those who are opposing the site have turned to an attack against Islam itself which only futhers the need for a space in which dialogue and cultural sharing can happen. It seems like we are losing our fundamental ideas of respect and religious tolerance that our nation was founded upon… though has often failed at embodying.

A fellow pastor reminds me that we have turned the construction of this one Islamic center into the center of the much larger debate about the place of Islam in our culture.

While the media has focused on the Ground Zero mosque for it’s symbolism, the fact is that in places like Murfreesboro and Antioch, TN there are even more heated battles over the ability of Muslims to build community centers and places of worship. In these places there is no symbolic consideration, no hallowed grounds to protect. No, the concerns raised are blatant NIMBYism, driven by the same motivations that led Puritans to tie Baptists to dunking stools and hold them under water until they drowned. And as folks search for justifications for their fears, the rhetoric rises and political leaders co-opt those fears for political purposes.

It makes me sick that we are so easily willing to succumb to fears about the other.  It makes me just as angry to see the signs of protest waving over these mosques as it does when I see Christians waving around “God Hates Fags” signs.

When Christ encountered those who were different from himself – the Samaritan woman at the well, the adulterer about to be stoned, he told them the truth in love.  He was honest with them.  He was honest with himself.  But above all, he showed love and compassion towards them.  He offered them life and he offered them hope.  He invited them to travel with him.

Every time that we push someone away and judge without grace, we turn our backs on Christ.  Every time we perpetuate lies and encourage others to fear another human being, we turn our backs on Christ. Every time we point out the speck in our neighbors eye without first removing the log from our own, we turn our backs on Christ.  I am just as guilty of this as the next.  I have as much to confess about my fears and biases and places of intolerance as another.  But confess we must.  Be truthful we must.  We must join together with open eyes and open hearts and be willing to listen.

In a completely unrelated occurance, I stumbled across this video.

http://cnettv.cnet.com/av/video/cbsnews/atlantis2/cbsnews_player_embed.swf

If a dog and an elephant can become best friends and display that kind of trust with one another… and if an old warehouse building a few blocks away from Ground Zero can be transformed to help us do that… then why should we stop it?  I don’t know the players involved.  I don’t know their hearts, only the intentions that they have publicly stated.  But I pray that if they are allowed to go forward with their building that the center has the courage and the strength to help us transform our conversations with Islam in this country and in the world.

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