Thursday, November 12, 2015

All together now…

I got on Channel 12 news last week. They aired maybe five seconds of a five-minute interview I gave. So I baaaaarely made the news. Still, I’m glad for the inclusion because my very presence- I think- accomplished something that matters. Let me explain.

I knew almost nothing about Islam on September 11, 2001. The super traditional Christian high school I attended taught me a little about Muslim theology, in a class designed to help us argue about why We were right, They were wrong and non-Christians were destined for Hell if they don’t become “Us”.

Anyway, the point is that most everything I’ve encountered about one the world’s great religions has come in the aftermath of Islamist extremists attacking Americans. I’ve told you before that I’ve tried taking that education seriously, given the outsized impact that Islam has played on subsequent global events. Unfortunately, too many of our fellow citizens decided that learning about this religion wasn’t necessary. They saw enough when terrorists attacked, thus deciding that Islam is suspect and violent and Muslims are probably evil until proven otherwise.

We’ve gotten better as a society since that began. Muslims figure more prominently in public life now. Non-Muslim allies stand more consistently alongside neighbors. When our local mosque went before the city council for a building permit four years ago, there was barely a fight. Bravo to all!

Yet struggles endure. Some fellow citizens still call our President a secret Muslim, as if being Muslim is a slur. Mosques are protested by “concerned citizens.” An Islamic Cemetery in our state was rejected recently. Schoolkids in our suburb who wear headscarves report being ridiculed, picked on, asked if they’re planning to blow something up. That’s not setting anyone up for a better future.

Thus, I believe, it remains critical for Christians- still our country’s dominant religious group- to use our position of societal privilege to lend support to Muslim neighbors. Better yet, we should get to know each other! Learn not just about but from each other. Members of our nearby mosque are super accommodating toward that. Last week, I sat and chatted with several. One even tried converting me! But it was without the pressure or threat of Hell I’ve heard from fellow Christians. This guy just really loved Allah and hoped I would too. Fair enough. Won’t happen, but I wasn’t offended. By the way, pray for the guy, since his parents live in Syria.

Back to the news. Muslim integration into broader society needs more than changed attitudes, but changed power structures. We’ll have made the progress we need when Muslims run for public office without harassment, or Muslim professionals sit on local civic boards regularly. Well, I love our local social service provider- IOCP- and their annual fundraising campaign began last weekend, as you know. This year, the local mosque joined in, organizing an event of their own in the campaign, for the first time. Wahoo!

Specifically, a high schooler challenged her community to raise money and awareness to help neighbors in need by giving to IOCP. And they did. And with that simple act, our local community became more integrated, more structurally welcoming to Muslims. After all, if we’re raising money together, they are no longer “Them.” They are Us. Channel 12’s story drove that home. Because the spot wasn’t highlighting the mosque as a mosque. The theme wasn’t “Local Muslims Are Good People Too!” The story was about suburban homelessness, how it’s rising, how Plymouth residents and faith communities are responding. The mosque was the story’s example, not its focus. And that made all the difference.

Thus, my couple words were about homeless people. Not Muslims. Nevertheless, the screen read “Rev. Shane Isner,” meaning that the high-priced seminary degree I got to allow me that Reverend title was lent for this brief moment to normalizing interfaith, multicultural community. Essentially, it communicated, “Of course, Christians and Muslims work together to solve local problems.” As it should be. After all, there’s no litmus test for whether you’ve included in the Kingdom of God. All are welcome. Let’s continue making sure our actions contribute to that coming more fully on earth.

Grace and Peace,

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