September 15, 2010

The Truth About Islam

Posted in books, church, spirituality at 2:25 am by jimazing

The heightened interest in the “truth of Islam” should not be a surprise with anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by Islamic Fundamentalists, the threats of Qur’an burning and of course the ongoing battle about whether or not a Mosque should be allowed near the ground zero site.  That it is part of the conversation does not bother me.  What bothers me are the presentations created for the sole purpose of stirring people up; a common technique used to motivate groups of people to action by touching sensitive triggers… especially fearful ones.

coexistBetween Facebook and the inevitable email forwards, I notice a definite trend towards more presentations of the “truth” about Islam.  These presentations are full of facts and often well produced.  The slick way they present the information is a hook to the reader/watcher/listener.  The web presentation I saw last night really drew me in.  It was compelling because of the way it “painted” words on the screen as they were spoken.  Very nicely done… and the information seemed accurate.  I have not read the Qur’an, so I cannot actually speak to its accuracy, but I was pleased that they encouraged people to read it for themselves for confirmation.

What I have read is Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, which I highly recommend.  Mortenson has humbly served the people of Afghanistan for many years now.  He builds schools for them so they can learn.  Why?  Because it turns out most of them are illiterate.  Illiterate people in a country that is overrun with fear and extremism. It turns out, these Islamic Fundamentalists who hate us so much do not hate us because of the Qur’an tells them to hate us, they hate us because they are taught to hate us by people who were taught to hate us by people who were taught to hate us by… They cannot read the Qur’an and neither can their radical Islamic “teachers”!  What the Qur’an literally says is irrelevant when the people we are discussing cannot read it.

Back to the web presentation… one of it’s main points was how radical Muslims are more aligned with the words of the Qur’an than moderate Islam.  As if we should discount the moderate voices and let the extremists be the true representatives. In most any religion, the radicals are the ones quoting chapter and verse to support their teachings?  Fundamentalist fringe groups are always so stuck on “being right” that they

  1. Lose sight of the big picture.
  2. Decide what is more important than anything else
  3. Take a stand on whatever that is
  4. Draw a line to determine who is in and who is out
  5. Turn against or wage war on everyone on the other side of that line

As a Christian, I personally do not want to be defined by any of the Christian fringe groups.  In fact, as a person, the only way I want to be defined is that I am myself.  If someone wants to know what I believe, they should ask me.  Don’t put me in a box with someone else that calls themself a Christian.  There are many “Christian boxes” and so far as I can tell, I don’t fit in any of them perfectly.  (Note to self… practice what you preach).

Let’s characterize the greater Islamic community, not by what their ancient writings say, but by the way they translate it into actions.  How do we do that?  Observe.  Ask.  Listen.  The vast majority of Muslims are peaceable people.  Most of them reject the violence of the radicals. To lump them all together with the radical factions is to invite them to lump people like me in with the likes of Fred Phelps (no link provided… look him up if you are interested).  It is not a fair representation. As Emerson might have said (or not) What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you your sacred text says.

Lastly, I abhor the use of fear as a motivator in any context.  I especially despise it with religion.  The present move to frighten people about Islam is gaining momentum and it will backfire.  Stirring up hatred is not a Christian concept. Did not Jesus say to “love your enemies”?  What would he do?

September 6, 2010

Part of the Conversation

Posted in spirituality, writing at 4:24 pm by jimazing

mastersvoiceThere’s a conversation going on that is beginning to get interesting.  It is always stirring, sometimes uplifting, frequently frustrating, commonly heated. The conversation is about religion, faith, belief, destiny, doctrine and tolerance to name a few topics.  Sometimes it gets some politics mixed in too.  I have strong thoughts and feelings about the topic and I want to join into the conversation, but I haven’t jumped in yet.  Why?

Even though I don’t believe it is true, intellectually, I have an emotional belief that I don’t have anything to bring to the conversation, so I should just keep my mouth shut, my keyboard quiet and listen.  So I listen and I read and I gradually I feel stirred to the point I feel like I will burst.  Then I don’t usually make the time to write. When I do start to write something, I don’t publish it.  I have a bit of a narcissistic belief that tells me that if I am ok, everything is ok, so I focus my thoughts inward.  These inward thoughts are a necessary part of being engaged with life and with the conversation, but they are not the end I really want.  I want to be part of the larger conversation.  I do want to share my thoughts with others.

One of the reasons I don’t publish is that my thoughts are too big.  I have 10 volumes of material in my head and organizing it then squeezing it out one word at a time is excruciatingly slow.  The slowness makes me lose momentum, which fuels distractions that keep me from writing.  The truth is that writing is just one of my desires.  There are other things that are just as important, frequently more important; like going to work and loving my family and friends.  Over time, I lose my train of thought and focus and I stop trying.  Not so much discouragement, but forgetfulness.  Next thing I know I get some margin back in my life and I find myself back where I am now; longing to be part of the conversation.

I do not like conflict.  Some people who I am close to may not believe that because they frequently see me in conflict and attempting working through it.  While I am usually willing to step into the discomfort of conflict, sometimes I do a poor job of working through it and it always drains me emotionally.  The anticipation of the emotional energy I will have to expend to stay in the conversation is daunting.  It is easier to just shrink back into my cave and leave the conflict alone.  But then I watch from inside the cave, wishing I was part of the conversation.

I do not want to impose my beliefs on others.  In my early years, I believed that as a “good Christian”, I should be in people’s face about what I believe.  I was pretty arrogant.  As a Christian, my beliefs about what is “required” now center more on loving God and loving people.  The words that keep coming back to me are grace, gifts and humility. I want to treat people graciously, give them gifts of listening and honoring even when I do not agree with them. And I want to hold my beliefs with open hands in a spirit of humility.  I don’t believe what I believed 10 or 20 years ago, and in 10 or 20  years I won’t likely believe what I do now.  I don’t have to win the argument, I just want to be in the conversation.  A friend of mine tells me that he loves competition, but it doesn’t matter in the end who won.  He just loves being in the game whole-heartedly.  That parallels my desire with the conversation.

Lastly (for now), I am afraid of rejection. This conversation seems to be dominated by strong voices of theologians and others who hold strong feelings about their beliefs.  There are many teachers and leaders and fellow Christians that I have studied under and followed over the years.  I do not want to disappoint them, so rather than express disagreement or doubt about what they taught, I usually stay quiet.  Ultimately, it is my own fear of being abandoned, deserted, ignored and/or shunned, which is both rational and irrational at the same time.  It is unfair and irrational because some of these people I am afraid of losing love me no matter what I believe or disbelieve and that’s that.  At the same time, it is a perfectly rational fear. Some would break ties with me if they knew what I really thought.  My cousin recently posted a controversial quote about faith on Facebook and was de-friended by someone who disagreed.  I don’t want that to happen, but I realize that 20-30 years ago that could well have been me that de-friended.  There’s a  thought; my 20 year old self de-friending my 52 year old self.  It helps me give grace to those who will not listen.

The price of keeping my thoughts to myself is too high.  I am ready to become part of the conversation.