When Hate Brings About

hA15ODoL

This month has been difficult emotionally for many Americans, including myself. It started with the shooting in Washington DC of a congressman who was targeted for representing the Republican Party. On that same day, a shooter killed 3 workers at a UPS in San Francisco. With the acquittal of a police officer in the shooting of a black man stopped for a broken tail light, Minnesota was reminded that we have a long way to go when it comes to racial equality. It is easy to throw up our hands and believe that the world is becoming an increasingly nasty environment that will continue to sink lower in acts of hate and violence. But on the same day of the baseball shooting, I was invited to an event that reminded me that there can be a different path forward.

AW30Ramadan7

Friends from Tapestry, an interfaith women’s group that was originated in response to the bombings in Paris in late 2015 and the subsequent fear and hate of Muslims, invited me to an evening meal to break the fast of Ramadan. Each evening during the 30 days of Ramadan, a community of 250-300 Muslims gather at the local mosque to share a meal and prayers starting at sundown – that equates with 9 pm in June. The fasting starts at sunup, or 4 am, and involves abstaining from both water and food. Those that work outside the home may work a reduced schedule, but household chores never take a vacation. I think that most of us would have a difficult time following this schedule for one day, much less 30 days in a row. It is considered a time where self-control is practiced and submission to God is the focus.

As my husband and I entered the chaotic, noisy room where adults, teen and children were gathering to break the fast, it was obvious that we were outsiders both by our dress and skin color. While scanning the room for my friends, we were warmly greeted by complete strangers and welcomed to partake in both the meal and in the nightly prayers. A few chairs were set aside for us – my husband later went to the mens’ side of the room- and a bowl of dates was set on the table. Dates are the first food eaten to break the fast. Hearing the call to prayers, we followed everyone into the mosque worship space and observed as worshipers bowed and prostrated themselves on the floor in submission to God. Small children ran up and down the rows of bowed heads, snuggling beside parents or siblings when they finally came to rest on the floor. Then back into the larger room to share a delicious meal of middle eastern food cooked by a local restaurant. I had not eaten since noon and it was now 9:30 pm. Those around me who had been fasting since 4 am pushed me to the front of the line, insisting that their guest be the first to eat. I was humbled by their generosity and willingness to answer all of my questions and share their stories of practicing the Muslim faith within a predominately Christian culture.

What would be the reaction of your faith community if someone dressed in traditional middle eastern garb showed up for Christmas or Easter services at your house of worship? Would you escort them to a pew and sit beside them as you explained the nuances of your worship service? Would you introduce them to your friends and share conversation as well as coffee and doughnuts after the service. Would you share stories of your faith and ask them questions about their religion? Christianity is founded on love and acceptance. I think that most of us, myself included, have a long journey ahead to fully integrate this into our lives. And I think that other faiths or religions do a much better job than mainstream Christianity at welcoming outsiders.

The shooting of a congressman was carried out by one of our own “terrorists”.  He was not Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent. He was Caucasian, born in America and had easy access to multiple rounds of ammunition and a gun.  Just because I share his skin color,  place of birth and religion does not make me feel responsible for his behavior. But if this same deranged individual had been Muslim, we would have blamed the larger Muslim community and labeled this as a “terrorist act”.  Shouldn’t all hate crimes be labeled as terrorist since they are targeted against a specific group and randomly kill innocent victims simply because they are members of this group?

Muslims are my friends. They cook wonderful food, have interesting stories to tell and share a deep faith that I respect. I hope that they can understand that not all Caucasians fear them or hate their religion. What this world needs is for all of us to develop more empathy and rid ourselves of hate and fear of those who don’t look like us. Because often “others”  are more similar to us than different.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The American Welcome Mat Has Been Pulled

download

Our country is deeply divided on many issues, the most recent concerning immigrants from Muslim countries. I find it disturbing that the wealthiest country in the world is shutting the door on those that are the most marginalized and in need of our grace and acceptance. Arguing with those who don’t believe as I do doesn’t work. But sometimes personal stories cause others to stop and consider how we may appear to the rest of the world.

I have felt more acceptance and a welcoming spirit during my travels abroad than I have felt from my own neighbors here in Minnesota. During a recent trip to China, our guide became lost during a 6 hour trek thru terraced rice fields. When asking directions of a young man on the path, he offered to show us the shortcut to our final destination. He saw that we were wet and cold and had us stop by his house so that his elderly grandmother could fix us hot tea and serve us oranges. Three hours later we arrived safely at our destination and he waved at us as he turned and walked back home.

img_3676

I have been welcomed into humble Haitian homes and served a Coke, knowing that the family may have skipped a meal in order to purchase the beverages.

20141116_130328

When we traveled to Kenya as part of a medical mission trip, my group was hosted and feted almost every night for hours at a stretch.

1621738_10203583601138455_502368873_n

Tapestry, a movement I co-founded to increase interfaith dialogue and acceptance, has been welcomed into Muslim, Jewish and Christian places of worship in the Mpls area. Unfortunately, it has been the Christian places of worship that have expressed more reservations when it comes to accepting the beliefs of another religion. In an attempt to spread the wonderful work that we are accomplishing, I have spoken to representatives of churches outside the metro area about hosting similar gatherings in their communities. I have not been successful in receiving a single invite. Those Christian communities who follow the same teachings of Jesus that I do – welcoming the poor, oppressed and marginalized – won’t let anyone cross their threshold who doesn’t “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior”, to quote one person that I spoke with. And yet we Christians have been warmly welcomed and hosted by both a synagogue and a mosque.

Even Pope Francis has spoken out on the treatment of refugees by Christians. “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

One final story about why America is already great. This picture depicts a Chinese American girl born in China, a girl whose father was born in Ecuador and a girl whose mother has survived breast cancer twice due to medical research in the US. These girls used their time last weekend to help pack reusable menstrual pad kits for less fortunate girls in Haiti. What are you doing to keep this country great? Are you reaching out to those who are less fortunate with a helping hand? Or are you supporting the America First Agenda where those who have much refuse to share with others. img_1551

Working Together to Make a Better America

15138421_714744538682747_7131486231670084257_o

November 2015. Paris Bombing by Islamist militants. The beginning of hatred and false rhetoric against Muslims. One year later and the presidential election is finished. The amount of hatred and falsehoods have only increased. Although I couldn’t have foretold the future, I am fortunate to be a person of action and reacted with an email one year ago. The email was sent to a local mosque and a few days later I was meeting the mosque’s youth director for coffee, discussing opportunities to partner with other women to form an interfaith group. At the same time a third woman from the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community reached out and we soon had interest from many different faith communities. We branded ourselves as Tapestry – women promoting religious understanding and acceptance through dialogue between women and youth of many faiths while providing service to the community. Thru this group I have formed new friendships and learned the daily practices of various religions. We have been hosted by a mosque, compared eastern and western Christian traditions, heard from teen immigrants, studied genealogy and will be visiting a Jewish temple in January. Tapestry has coordinated an interfaith youth food drive, packed refugee health kits, donated used clothes to an inner city food shelf and educational toys to a refugee agency.

This week was our first meeting since the election and I was concerned about attendance. Would the members of Tapestry feel that the divide in America was too great and that the friendships that had been formed could not be sustained?  I had tears in my eyes when 40 women showed up for a planned service project at Feed My Starving Children. We competed with the youth from a local National Honor Society to pack meals for Cuba. Feed My Starving Children is a Christian organization and many of our non-Christian women had neither heard of it or were familiar with the concept. Packaging meals interspersed with conversation made 2 hours go by quickly. An added benefit was the example that we communicated to the youth – adults of many faiths and beliefs working together for the benefit of others.

Our email list has swelled to almost 150 women. Volunteers at local non-profits have increased dramatically since the election. While acts of division and hatred have increased, so have acts of kindness and inclusion. Tapestry has been my beacon of hope in the swirl of post-election fear and division.

12657814_578476585642877_5445026493764539232_o

Preaching to the Choir

images (45)

When I write my blog posts, I frequently feel that I am “Preaching to the Choir” concerning issues that I am passionate about. My co-workers, friends and family (ie the people who read my blog) often share many of the same views that I do. So why do I write if I am not changing anyone’s opinions? Because more of us need to preach to our choirs about tolerance, respect and working together for the benefit of the whole nation, not an individual person.

Donald Trump has perfected the art of speaking to his choir. Initially, most of us thought of him as an outsider that would not progress very far in the presidential election as his rhetoric was so hateful and based on individual freedoms and not what was best for communities or America. His choir started as a fringe group of the population, but as more people listened to the preacher and reflected on world events, they became part of the choir and sang out to others. The more his comments stray from the factual to the incredulous, the more press coverage he garners. His choir grows even more.

Where is the preacher on the other side? Who is preaching the message of tolerance, respect and improved interfaith dialogue?  Where is that choir and why is it not growing larger? We as a nation were founded on the idea of Religious Pluralism – the ability of multiple religions to co-exist in one country. This principle is unique thruout the world and has made us the world leader that we are. This is the very reason that refugees want to come to our country – so that they can freely practice their religion without fear of persecution for their faith beliefs.

Those of us who believe in building bridges for cooperation with other faiths need to become the preachers by demonstrating thru our actions and words how interfaith dialogue can deepen our own faith while overcoming fear and hate mongering by others. In the past, Catholics, Japanese, Jews and Gays have been vilified by our nation. Now we have moved on to Muslims.  It is fear of someone different from us that often drives our perceptions. However, religions share many more similarities than differences. It is the extreme, fringe element of each religion that should make us fearful. Islam has ISIS, Christians have cults. Neither group represents what the majority believe and practice.

What can you do to become a preacher and make the choir of tolerance larger? Visit a mosque or have a conversation with a Muslim neighbor or co-worker. Share an ethnic meal or visit an ethnic grocery store. And probably the most powerful experience – participate in an interfaith service project where outsiders can see people of different faiths working together for others. Finally, try to make the tolerance choir larger by speaking out against those who spew hatred and inaccuracies. Repeat stanzas of the same verse over and over. Leaders in our history have successfully done this to shout down the rhetoric of McCarthy, close down the Japanese internment camps and advance the agenda of gay marriage. When we look back in 10 years, I hope that this will be one more battle of tolerance that we will have successfully fought.