This week the news has been so full of hatred and negativity, from the major networks screaming bad news and fear, the mostly ill-informed political rantings on Facebook and other social media, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and, saddest of all, the accounts of hate-filled incidents perpetrated against our Muslim neighbors. It all makes my heart sore.
This morning I read an account of a young American woman in Chicago, a mix of immigrants like most of us, spit on and screamed at as she rode the train home from work. Her Iranian heritage made her look different than my own blue-eyed, fair-skinned daughter, who also rides the trains in Chicago to and from work. Once it was common enough to find signs in windows reading, “No Irish Need Apply,” or “No Dogs or Irish.” I like to think we’ve grown past all that, become grateful even, for the wonders and inventiveness of our society created by its intricate melange of immigrants. But, here we are approaching Christmas in the year 2015, and an American girl can’t ride the train home without hatred being hurled at her while witnesses remain silent.
Another article states no one has come forward to claim the body of the female terrorist, Tashfeen Malik, not even the family into which she married. Her body likely will be, against specific Muslim custom, cremated by the State. It’s probably not going to be a popular opinion, but something inside me wants us to do better than that, to do better by her than she did for her adopted country, and I want that less for her than for us.
The State does not claim any religious affiliation, while so many of its citizens claim Jesus as their savior. Do they claim Christianity, those who throw rocks at a Muslim family’s home, or worse? I find myself wondering (not for the first time) if they read the same Gospels I did?
Jesus seems clear, “ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 NRSV) This is the last thing he left with his disciples the night before he died, this is what was most important to him to convey before his death. Imagine you know you’re dying and have a limited time to say the most important thing you’ll ever say to your loved ones. In the urgency of that moment Jesus tells us in showing love for others (without exception) the world will know we are his.
I’ve written before about standing idly by while hatred/prejudice played out before me and how, more than 20 years later, it still gnaws at me. This is why I can’t be silent in the face of the hatred, most especially when it comes from those who claim Jesus as their savior.
My country, our country, this United States of America was founded (imperfectly, yes) on some noble ideals, many of which were informed by the faith of our Founders. It was flawed at the outset, yet we continue working to make it the fair, equal place which still exists only in the collective imagination. It breaks my heart to think, after all the waves of immigration to our shores, post-Civil War, post-Women’s Suffrage, post-Civil Rights, we haven’t yet learned and internalized the lesson that vilifying those who look different or worship differently than we pale folk are somehow less-than and suspect.
One definition of sin is “to fall short of the mark.” While our Founders wisely excluded any establishment of a national religion, we are fond of calling ourselves a “Christian” nation, and yet we are falling very short of the mark when we snicker over a pig’s head being thrown at a Mosque, or sit silent when a young woman is spit upon.
There is still a little flame within me that says Americans are better than this. That how we treat each other is absolutely the mark of who we are, that I want a terrorist accorded the dignity of a proper burial by the rites of her faith, not for her, but for what it says about us. That we are capable of rising above our hatred and differences and lead by example. That we meet hatred and disrespect with love, respect, and dignity. That we treat he or she who sin against us better than they deserve. That we strive for the higher ideal.
My former pastor, Fr. David Holland, has suggested that instead of viewing a woman in a head scarf with suspicion, he will instead thank her for her devotion to the One God. What a beautiful example and exactly what I would expect from him. I dare to suggest we have far more to gain, more peace within ourselves and our country if we follow his example and witness to our Lord by answering hatred with love, that they will know we are his, by that we love one another.