land of the free?

So these are our times: we live in the aftermath of terror. We live with the realities of grief, fear, and anger, of a hate that reaches across the world to wreak devastation. I absolutely do not question anyone’s grief, fear, or anger. As a minister of the gospel though, I read Jesus teaching us to respond to aggression and oppression not in the complete naturalness of our emotional reactions, but from within the disciplined response ability of our faith (Matthew 5:38-48; Luke 6:27-38). In addition, with respect for my fellow citizens, I would suggest that grief, fear, and anger do not constitute valid reasons for compromising one of our cherished national ideals.

So we should grieve that an Islamic community center that’s been operating in the neighborhood for years, now wanting to move across the street into a former Burlington Coat Factory almost two blocks away from the World Trade Center, out of sight of anyone actually at the World Trade Center site, can become, somehow, within the drama, a mosque at the World Trade Center (let alone the branch office of your local radical terrorists and an insufferable insult to the memory of 9-11), that a moderate imam who stresses the rights of women and the importance of religious freedom, who has denounced terrorism in general and 9-11 in particular, is denounced as a radical terrorist, that those who have longed for the voice of moderate Islam must now lament its initiative drowned out in all this noise, that Sufis, those of a mystical sect of Islam, themselves considered heretical by extremists within Islam, themselves a target of such extremists (a Sufi shrine in Lashore, Pakistan was, this past July, the target of two suicide bombers linked to the Taliban; the tomb of a Sufi poet who expounded a message of peace and love was desecrated in March 2009 in a bombing outside Peshawar) would now be rejected and vilified in this country.

We should grieve that within talk about what’s appropriate on “hallowed ground” (again, never mind that we’re talking blocks away), there’s no conversation about the fast food hamburger chains, the hair salon, the deli, the pizza places, the banks, stock exchanges, and asset management offices, the health department, the bakeries, the gym, the hotels, the department store, the churches, the shoe stores, the strip clubs, the pornography—all, apparently, “sacred” enough. Just not the community center wanting to move across the street with its auditorium and classrooms, its restaurant and galleries, its pool and gym, its child care and cooking classes, its prayer room and its memorial to victims of 9-11.

We should grieve that even as some seek to make a distinction between rejection of this proposed community center blocks from the World Trade Center and rejection of the religion of Islam, yet in Murfreesboro, TN, hundreds of people marched in protest of a proposed mosque next to a subdivision. In Temecula, CA, people picketed a mosque wanting to build on a nearby vacant lot, and in Sheboygan, WI, some Christian ministers led in the fight to prevent the conversion of a former health food store into a mosque. Meanwhile, a church in Florida plans to burn Korans on September 11.

We should grieve any and all the rhetoric that celebrates the fuss that can be made—the fears that can be fanned—the anger that can be stoked until the conflagration consumes us all.

We should grieve that there wouldn’t be a fuss about a church, a Christian community center—as if it was just Christians killed that day—as if Islam itself didn’t suffer that day—as if the hearts of all faithful weren’t broken that day in the assertion of violence.

Mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg, put it so well: “We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That’s life and it’s part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11. On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn’t want us to enjoy the freedom to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams and to live our own lives.” Do not those murdered on 9-11 deserve a better memorial than the lashing out of our grief, fear, and anger?

Do they not deserve better than that we allow the home of the brave and the land of the free to be turned into the refuge of the scared and those held captive by their fear and their anger. It’s like we who once had ideals, national ideals, that transcended ideology and personal benefit have curled into ourselves like one of those rolly polly bugs trying to convince ourselves that if we just keep “them” out, we’ll be safe. If we keep “them” from our children, keep “their” ideas out, “their” worship, we’ll be safe. “Safe,” by the way, never one of the fundamental ideals of this country. As opposed to “Free.” Free to worship. Free of fear.

And somewhere (not just at the site of devastation, but two blocks away as well), Jesus weeps—that the hate is fostered and festers.

Folk singer Mark Erelli penned these lyrics that say it so much better than I can. I’ve quoted an excerpt before. Here’s the whole song, “The Only Way.” Give it a listen for the fullest effect.

I read the paper
I watch the news
It seems there’s only pain and sufferin’
And there ain’t much I can do
It’s so senseless
I feel defenseless
So small

I could shut my windows
Bolt my doors
But if I don’t feel safe enough
To speak my mind anymore
Then what’s the use
I’ve nothing left to lose
And no farther to fall

So I’m gonna love
I’m gonna believe
I’m still gonna dream
But I’m gonna roll up my sleeves
Give everything until I’ve nothing left to give
That’s the only way that I know how to live

It was a nightmare
No tongue can tell
The streets of New York city
Looked just like the gates of Hell
In a flash
The smoke and the ash
Falling down like rain

But they circled wagons
They gathered round
As they bravely pulled their brothers
And their sisters from the ground
And I know
I owe them more
Than to be afraid

So I’m gonna love
I’m gonna believe
I’m still gonna dream
But I’m gonna roll up my sleeves
Give everything until I’ve nothing left to give
That’s the only way that I know how to live

Why seek vengeance?
What comes of war?
I know freedom has a price
But it doesn’t keep score
It’s too much to swallow
It’s left me hollow
After all this time

I won’t tell you
What to believe
Cause I’m too young to be so cynical
And too old to be naive
Every action
Breeds a reaction
So let this be mine

I’m gonna love
I’m gonna believe
I’m still gonna dream
But I’m gonna roll up my sleeves
Give everything until I’ve nothing left to give
That’s the only way that I know how to live


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