Friday, September 17, 2010

The aftermath…

Mine was a generation supposed to have been defined by 9/11/2001. Or that’s how one theory went. They said all generations have a “You remember where you were when…” moment, and the Twin Towers’ destruction was apparently mine. My Dad remembers the days JKF and MLK were shot. My grandparents had Pearl Harbor seared in their memory. And those moments, some say, can define a generation, change our collective consciousness…

But there’re other theories, like that promulgated by Tom Brokaw’s famous book, The Greatest Generation (vignettes about those who lived through and fought the Second World War). In this theory, historic moments do help shape people, but more important is their response- the positive lessons learned and applied. So after WWII, our nation witnessed an economic and institutional boom. Churches expanded rapidly. Colleges too. People, full of optimism and entrepreneurial courage, thought, “By golly, we won overseas! So let’s make life better here too!” In other words, this theory goes, what ultimately shapes us are responses to shared events, not just events themselves.

And my generation, apparently, was supposed to respond to 9/11- to learn something valuable and apply it. What that is isn’t yet apparent to me. But given the date and recent events, I’ll tell you what I hope for:

I experienced 9/11/01 and now two wars in predominately-Muslim countries, while preparing to be a religious leader. It seemed reasonable to me, therefore, to study Islam as much as possible. I’m no scholar, certainly, since I focused mostly on Christianity (of course!). But I’m not ignorant of the religion, and have learned to love and respect it.

Islam means “submission,” deriving from the Prophet Mohammed’s central insight that our common goal- a lifelong struggle (aka jihad) of the soul- is submitting our whole self the will and mercy of God. That takes regular prayer, worship, almsgiving, and reverence for an authority (the Qur’an and the Prophet’s teachings) higher than yourself. Over the years, like Christianity, turning theory into practice produced mixed results. It’s been distorted by the violent, misappropriated by the greedy and powerful, and brutalized women in systemic ways. But also like Christianity, the application of Islam by everyday people has been overwhelmingly a source of strength in a difficult world, and an avenue to connect with God.

So it frustrates me when people say nasty things about Muslims, as if they’re all the same, and all terrorists. One critique goes, “Read the Qur’an. It’s horrific.” I have read the Qur’an, and like the Bible, it’s full of conflicting ideas, but an overarching message of goodness. And besides, it’s never enough to assume you understand another’s faith tradition by reading their holy book. In Christianity, we’ve inherited nineteen post-Biblical centuries of experiences, beliefs and ideas about God. Heck, it took us 300 years to formulate the Trinity! And once that happened, we disagreed again, sometimes violently. Of course, that violence was about much more- land, wealth, natural resources- like most religious conflict. But the main point is we don’t know ourselves as Christians by only reading the Bible. So we should apply the same standard to Islam and others.

Which returns me to the larger issue- How would I like my generation defined? We have fingertip access to more information now than ever before. We can connect with other cultures, people, religions and ideas with as little as a youtube video or twitter feed. My hope is we use that power for good, especially by taking time to learn from others before condemning them or burning their sacred texts. On that horrible 9/11/01 day, I learned, for the first time, the power of perverted faith. So as a person of deep faith, I vowed to be a beacon of something more loving, like my Savior instructed. I’ve befriended people of different faiths, learned their best ideas and hopes. I don’t let people demean others’ faith convictions in my presence. I could still do that better, as can many my age. But if we do, and so increase the world’s compassion and understanding, regardless our many differences, we may not be the ‘Greatest Generation,’ but I’d be proud to play a part.

Grace and Peace,

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