Blessings of the season.

My now-annual holiday post, an essay I wrote for the Chicago Tribune a few years back. If you’re celebrating, have a wonderful and very merry Christmas — and if not, I hope you have a really terrific Tuesday!

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem; Christmas c. 1930s

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem; Christmas c. 1930s

It’s about bringing light into dark places, isn’t it?

As I understand the winter holidays, our Holy Days, this is what they mean: Hope, life, tomorrow. Light, where there was none.

That’s what we mean at my house when we light our menorah, and that’s what we talk about with the kids. For eight nights, after saying the blessings, we sing a sweet, rousing song in Hebrew that announces to the darkness that it shall have no quarter: “Each of us is a small candle,” we sing. “Together, we are a great light.”

And though I am not a Christian, it seems to me that that is what Jesus’s birth means, too. Light in dark places, a small baby who brought hope to millions. “The weary world rejoices,” goes Oh Holy Night, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, “for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

And Kwanza? I’m white, but it seems to me that lighting candles to remember the struggles of the Black people, to reflect on unity, and to anticipate the future triumph over oppression is a statement of hope most deep.

There is so much darkness in the world, there always has been. But God – or Nature, or our own collective Best Self – has given us the tools to drive it back. The Jewish tradition speaks of tikkun olam, repairing the world in conjunction with the Almighty. This is our job, our highest calling. To quote another song, “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.”

And indeed, we are not the same. Our holidays are not the same, and even within our communities, our understanding of those holidays is not always the same. But in our own ways, we all seek a brighter tomorrow, a world without war, without hunger, without despair. And these holidays, even the ones that are not in my own heritage, can serve to remind me of that – as well as reminding me that there are many ways of battling evil and wrong, and that we need all of them.

We were created in a mighty multitude, and I believe God knew what He was doing when He made us different. Different brings creativity, it brings unknown joys, it brings solutions. I don’t need you to light candles at my house to believe that you are doing what you can to make the world a better place.

Every year at about this time, we hear over and over again, as we rush about our business,  that we don’t focus enough on “what really matters.” We hear from Jews who are sick of being wished a Merry Christmas, Christians who believe that one could, actually, take the Christ out of Christmas, and worshippers of the Simple who decry the cultural trappings of the whole thing. Our national anxiety about being made a victim comes to the top, and it isn’t pretty.

We need to stop. Take a nap, maybe have a cookie, and then look at each other. We’re trying our best, almost all of us, I’m certain. Sure we need to focus on “what really matters,” but bottom line, that’s what we’re trying to do.

We’re human, so sometimes we don’t do it very well. But I am certain that when my Christian neighbors tell me “Merry Christmas,” they’re just wishing me well. And when parents buy a lot of plastic for their kids, they’re just hoping for that up-from-the-gut smile that only a kid can give. Neither of these things are bad; neither of them can reduce in any way the power of the Divine to guide and comfort us.

And after all of this is behind us, it will be a new year. Let’s agree to fill it with hope, and with as much light as we can muster, for the victims of Katrina who are still without homes; for the people living with AIDS in African shanty-towns; for Israeli and Palestinian children who are growing up afraid; for the women of Darfur who cannot get water for their families for fear they will be raped. The world is a dark place; we are the ones who can bring the light in.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living in Oak Park.

(C) Chicago Tribune, 2005

Washed in the blood of the lamb, etc. (A response to Pamela Geller).

Pamela Geller, she of the terrible hate-mongering anti-Muslim subway ads (and much other anti-Muslim hate-mongering besides) has apparently decided to put up new ads, in response to those placed by Rabbis for Human Rights and the Council on American Islamic Relations meant to counter her hate. In the new ads, she will quote a particularly inflammatory line from the Quran. Following is a piece I wrote about a year after 9/11 for the Chicago Tribune, in which I addressed this tendency we all seem to have to cherry pick words from Scripture (those of others as well as our own) to prove a point.

*****

Those of us who see the struggle for peace and justice as a spiritual act often quote our Scriptures to validate our efforts. We talk about “true” Judaism, Christianity or Islam and decry how our religions have been distorted. We adorn our walls and bulletin boards with beautiful quotes, words we believe God gave to humanity: “Seek peace and pursue it,” say the Psalms. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” Jesus exhorts his followers. “Those who keep from evil will dwell amid gardens,” we read in the Koran. “In their wealth, the beggar and outcast had due share.”

God, we say, is all about peace and justice.

What, then, are we to do about the other words in our books, words we often choose not to discuss?

“As for those peoples that warred against Jerusalem,” reads Zechariah 14:12, “their flesh shall rot away while they stand on their feet.” Or this passage from John, where Jesus talks to “the Jews”: “You belong to your father, the devil. . . . The reason you do not hear [God] is because you do not belong to God.” In the fifth chapter of the Koran: “The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger . . . will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off . . . in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom.”

Usually, people like me ignore these passages. We push them aside, or counter with quotes we like better. When we do this, though, we are lying.

An individual’s understanding of the Creator comes from life experience; so it is with communities.

Each of the world’s religions–monotheist, polytheist, animist, druid–came into being in the framework of a particular culture. Many arose in response to perceived failures of another faith. Some focused on establishing a discrete community on this earth; others sought to transcend the earth; many juggled both colossal tasks.

There were political struggles and bloody battles to fight, slights to overcome, the weak-willed to encourage, traditions to establish and pass on.

So the Israelites institutionalized slavery. St. Paul made wives subordinate to husbands. The Koran recommends amputation for thieves. We can look it up chapter and verse–it’s really there, in all its sordid glory, flesh rotting, Jews being of the devil, infidels crucified.

I was born a Protestant and moved to Israel as an adult. I decided about 13 years ago to convert to Judaism. Temporarily back in Chicago, I decided last year to become bat mitzvah at 38, which happened in September.

The scriptural portion I was assigned was Zechariah 14, and I found myself learning to chant the verse quoted above–and as a fluent speaker of Hebrew, I understood every word. My portion covered the whole chapter, so I had also to contend with pack animals dropping dead and plunder being snatched.

These verses almost literally stuck in my craw. I found they took me days to learn, and I would often stumble, forget the tune, as I came up against them in practice. The music was lovely; the words horrific.

I found comfort in Zechariah 14:9, a reference to the messianic age: “And on that day, the Lord will be One and his Name One.” That is what matters to me–the notion that we will one day grow beyond our differences and worship at the same altar. This other stuff, this war stuff–I’ll learn it and move on.

But I couldn’t, if for no other reason than that I sang the words in practice every day, for months. Terrible images of war and retribution, and a bitter, vengeful God, over and over again. I found I couldn’t deny that these ideas are also part of my heritage, as legitimate as the soul-stirring ideas that guide and comfort me–undeniably, incontrovertibly there.

And then it came to me–and as a person of faith, I do believe that this was a blessing, not something from my own limited wisdom–that “as legitimate” doesn’t mean “decisive.”

The prophet who set down those words was writing from within the midst of a broken, vanquished people who had in recent memory seen battles as horrific as those he described.

In spite of the horrors they thought inevitable, the prophet and his people could envision something beyond the brutish existence they knew. “And on that day, the Lord will be One.” We learn at the end of the chapter that the time will come when all the peoples of the world will come to Jerusalem to worship–not as Jews, but as who they are.

I would submit that our challenge today is to deny nothing in our Scriptures, but to learn from them how to acknowledge the times in which we live and transcend them. If we aren’t honest about reality we will not be able to transform it.

For me, an Israeli Jew who longs for an end to our war with the Palestinians, I believe this means I must pray for the wisdom to see the evil done on both sides and look past it. To fight for real justice, a solution that acknowledges the suffering and supports the dignity of Palestinian and Israeli alike. To do any less would be an affront to God.

“He has told you,” we read in Micah, “what is good and what the Lord requires . . . only to do justice and to love goodness and to walk modestly with your God.”

In which I blaspheme: Monotheism’s biggest failure.

Ok, that’s kind of a grand statement. Maybe I shouldn’t claim to have uncovered the single biggest failure of the world’s monotheistic faiths. But for my money, it’s certainly right up there.

As readers of this blog are surely aware, I believe in God.

I furthermore believe that God is loving and good, and that when we say that we’re made in His* image, we mean the best of us. “Our better angels” are, to my mind, those parts of the human spirit that fly up to meet their Creator and attempt to express His love, His goodness, on this earth.

I also believe, in what I take to be a very Jewish sense, that God is everywhere and yet nowhere. We are not God, but reflections of Him. He can be found in our homes and in our hearts, but He is neither in the heavens nor in the depths. He is not corporeal, and when we speak of His arms, or His voice, we are only making use of the only tools we have to imagine the unimaginable — yet should I call upon Him, His is the still, small voice that is as near as my child’s breath, as she whispers in my ear.

God is ultimately unknowable, because He is so entirely Not Us. Bigger, Grander, More Powerful beyond measure — how can it be otherwise, when He created the world and all that’s in it? And yes, I believe that the Big Bang was an act of God, and I honestly cannot understand how the one could possibly contradict the other.

What is God not, then? Where did monotheism get it wrong?

On the “perfect” part.

I don’t believe God is perfect. I don’t believe God is all-powerful, and I suspect that He is not all-knowing. I cannot, and continue to believe that He is loving.

There is too much broken and wrong in this world, too much pain and too much horror, for me to believe that our Creator has the power to fix it, and yet chooses not to.

But that’s what the world’s three biggest monotheistic faiths would have us believe. We try to explain it away — in Judaism, many say that God does only good, we just don’t always recognize it as such; some say that we call down upon ourselves the world’s horrors with our behavior — but I think that most believers choose not to think about it too much, because if we do, the whole thing shatters at the feet of a starving or murdered child.

The failure, then, is not simply in getting something so crucial so badly wrong — it’s in creating a system that demands that God’s creatures find a way to believe something truly terrible. Perhaps if we posit a Satan (in which I do not believe, but for the sake of argument, let’s go ahead and posit) we can lay the world’s woes at Satan’s feet — but then we’re positing a genuine rival to God. We’re saying that there’s someone else out there, as powerful or nearly-as powerful as God, whom God is unable to defeat. Because if God is loving and can save us from Satan’s evil hands — why the long game? Why not just be done with it?

It’s  my experience that when people in the West reject God, they’re more often than not (not always, of course, but pretty often) rejecting organized religion, and more to the point, organized Western religion’s vision of a God who is all-powerful, and yet isn’t overly concerned with starving, bloodied children.

So here’s our choice: God – all powerful, perfect and all knowing? Or loving?

I’m sticking with loving.

(And to those who would argue that I’m going pretty far out on several limbs simultaneously, I can only say: Why do you think they call it “faith”?)

*****

*I’m comfortable with the English-language cultural convention of referring to the Divine in the male singular, but I don’t for a minute think that S/He/It is actually anything like any human. 

Blessings of the season

Hanukkah starts tonight, and right smack in the middle of our eight days, you’ll find that other Solstice celebration. I wrote the following for the Chicago Tribune a few years back, and have already posted it here once, but I think it’ll be my Annual Holiday Post – I like it! I hope you do, too.

Happy, Merry to all and sundry!

Blessings of the season

Emily L. Hauser

It’s about bringing light into dark places, isn’t it?

As I understand the winter holidays, our Holy Days, this is what they mean: Hope, life, tomorrow. Light, where there was none.

That’s what we mean at my house when we light our menorah, and that’s what we talk about with the kids. For eight nights, after saying the blessings, we sing a sweet, rousing song in Hebrew that announces to the darkness that it shall have no quarter: “Each of us is a small candle,” we sing. “Together, we are a great light.”

And though I am not a Christian, it seems to me that that is what Jesus’s birth means, too. Light in dark places, a small baby who brought hope to millions. “The weary world rejoices,” goes Oh Holy Night, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, “for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

And Kwanza? I’m white, but it seems to me that lighting candles to remember the struggles of the Black people, to reflect on unity, and to anticipate the future triumph over oppression is a statement of hope most deep.

There is so much darkness in the world, there always has been. But God – or Nature, or our own collective Best Self – has given us the tools to drive it back. The Jewish tradition speaks of tikkun olam, repairing the world in conjunction with the Almighty. This is our job, our highest calling. To quote another song, “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.”

And indeed, we are not the same. Our holidays are not the same, and even within our communities, our understanding of those holidays is not always the same. But in our own ways, we all seek a brighter tomorrow, a world without war, without hunger, without despair. And these holidays, even the ones that are not in my own heritage, can serve to remind me of that – as well as reminding me that there are many ways of battling evil and wrong, and that we need all of them.

We were created in a mighty multitude, and I believe God knew what He was doing when He made us different. Different brings creativity, it brings unknown joys, it brings solutions. I don’t need you to light candles at my house to believe that you are doing what you can to make the world a better place.

Every year at about this time, we hear over and over again, as we rush about our business,  that we don’t focus enough on “what really matters.” We hear from Jews who are sick of being wished a Merry Christmas, Christians who believe that one could, actually, take the Christ out of Christmas, and worshippers of the Simple who decry the cultural trappings of the whole thing. Our national anxiety about being made a victim comes to the top, and it isn’t pretty.

We need to stop. Take a nap, maybe have a cookie, and then look at each other. We’re trying our best, almost all of us, I’m certain. Sure we need to focus on “what really matters,” but bottom line, that’s what we’re trying to do.

We’re human, so sometimes we don’t do it very well. But I am certain that when my Christian neighbors tell me “Merry Christmas,” they’re just wishing me well. And when parents buy a lot of plastic for their kids, they’re just hoping for that up-from-the-gut smile that only a kid can give. Neither of these things are bad; neither of them can reduce in any way the power of the Divine to guide and comfort us.

And after all of this is behind us, it will be a new year. Let’s agree to fill it with hope, and with as much light as we can muster, for the victims of Katrina who are still without homes; for the people living with AIDS in African shanty-towns; for Israeli and Palestinian children who are growing up afraid; for the women of Darfur who cannot get water for their families for fear they will be raped. The world is a dark place; we are the ones who can bring the light in.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living in Oak Park.

(C) Chicago Tribune, 2005

Meanwhile, in Kentucky.

A quick antidote to yesterday’s dose of awful:

Apparently some church folk in Kentucky have decided that they will not be signing state marriage licenses unless and until Kentucky recognizes same-sex marriage, a decision that’s particularly significant (and, frankly, touching) as Kentucky is one of eleven states that voted to actually change their constitution in order to avoid giving civil rights to teh geyz.

More than 60 members at the Douglass Boulevard Christian Church voted unanimously in favor of the gesture on Sunday. Church leaders said they wouldn’t sign licenses until gay couples are able to enjoy the financial and other advantages of a legal marriage in Kentucky.

Pastors who sign the licenses bestow “a number of gifts and benefits” to married couples, said the Rev. Derek Penwell, the church’s senior pastor.

“It seems the system itself is unjust, and our position at this point is, we love people across the board here and we don’t want to be in a position that underwrites a system that discriminates against people we care about,” Penwell said.

Penwell said the church’s move is in line with “the teachings of Jesus that focus on the necessity of embracing the powerless, giving voice to the voiceless.”

Some other congregations in Ohio, New York, Virginia and Oregon have made similar stands in support of gay marriage, many in response to their state’s bans on gay marriage.

So I remain flummoxed as to what in hell the Tennessee state Senate might think they’re going to accomplish with their attempt to legislate homophobia in the Tennessee school system (by which I mean: to legislate it more than it already is legislated), BUT — the good people of Douglass Boulevard Christian Church of Louisville, Kentucky prove to me that what I said yesterday is true: Ultimately, the morally vacuous foolishness displayed in the halls of Tennessee’s legislative body is doomed to failure.

Thank you, Douglass Boulevard Christian Church. Very nice indeed to know that you’re out there.

(And when Shabbat is over, I’m going to actually thank the church, via email or letter, as I can only guess they’re getting some nasty blow-back on this decision. I encourage you to express your thanks, as well – click here for the contact page).

Judeo-Christian is wack.

Hard boiled eggs on the holiday - we were doing it before you!

From the outside looking in, one might be forgiven for thinking that Christians and Jews have gotten past all that once separated our communities. And, in some ways, one would be right.

But in other ways, one really wouldn’t.

Here it is Lent, with Passover days away — our shared holy season — and the fact remains: Two thousand years later, we Judeo-Christians still really aren’t sure we can trust each other.

And lest you think I’m just talking about paranoid talking heads of the Tea Party and/or Anti-Defamation League variety, I’m not. I mean us, you and me, rubbing shoulders daily. Apparently, we still make each other nervous.

Among some members of my community, the Jews, it’s almost an article of faith that if you scratch a Christian, you’ll find an anti-Semite (not, of course, the Christians you know, but the ones who might be in the press).

Likewise, many Christians approach Jews with an almost comically  exaggerated wariness (not the Jews they know, of course, but the public Jews, the ones who are always so suspicious).

Of course, the distrust itself is an act of hostility, and we can’t deny that both anti-Semitism and paranoia are alive and kicking. But perhaps the more significant truth is this: We are, in fact, very different.

Indeed, I would argue that the term “Judeo-Christian” does a kind of linguistic violence to both faiths.

Yet in modern-day America, many of us are taught to believe (or act as if we believe) that we’re all (in some Free-To-Be-You-and-Me kind of way) “the same.” And if you expect me to be “the same” as you, but I go on insisting on being me — who can blame you for getting a bit tetchy?

I’m here to suggest that rather than strive for sameness, it would be far more more useful to acknowledge our strangeness, learn to value it – and, dare I say, respectfully disagree on occasion.

How else will we ever learn anything? If we spend our time fighting about how to create some ill-advised single vision, we won’t be able to see each other’s coexisting truths – and we may very well miss entirely the wisdom we have to teach each other.

Some time ago, finding myself at Catholic-run hospital, I idly picked up a flier about the pre-Easter season. Intended for those observing Lent, it was a list of alternate understandings of the fast: “Fast from discontent,” it read, “feast on gratitude,” and so on.

This struck a cord for me.

At Passover, Jews are commanded to eat no hametz, or leavening, for a week — a fast from yeast, if you will. On a literal level, a strict cleaning regimen has developed, expunging everything from dinner rolls in the pantry to crumbs (real or suspected) between one’s bathroom tiles and on one’s shelves (and yes, I do — in fact, I just took a break from this year’s scrubbing extravaganza in order to put up this post).

But “leavening” has also taken on subtleties far beyond this.

We’re encouraged to cleanse ourselves of the heart’s hametz – bitterness, egotism, fear.  “The search for hametz and its removal,” we read in The Book of Our Heritage, “becomes a symbol of the struggle against the evil inclination,” and the prosaic act of preparing the home takes on mystical overtones: “The physical has been created,” writes Rabbi Chaim Levine “as a visceral mirror for abstract spiritual concepts.”

Thus, at points, my Lent list sounds familiar: “Fast from anger,” it reads, “feast on patience. Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation” — surely these ideas informed Jesus’ understanding of Passover, and the Seder meal that Christians know as the Last Supper.

“This is my body,” he said of the unleavened bread — and with stunning imagery, asked his followers to literally em-body the qualities the matzah symbolizes, the qualities his mission exemplified.

Yet it must be said that matzah also symbolizes a very particular, historical event for the Jewish people: The moment when the Israelites went from slavery into freedom.

Just as Christians wouldn’t invite me to take communion, as it is an act of Christian faith, we Jews are refering directly and only to ourselves when we say that “in every generation it is a person’s duty to regard themselves as though they went forth from Egypt.”

Our stories meet and separate, inform and exclude. Cultural Christians and Jews who don’t believe in a Divine Creator find their own meanings and lessons, and each of these also differ from each other. As they only can.

Jews and Christians will never be Judeo-Christian. We will always see any one event or symbol with our own eyes.

Perhaps, though, as humans, we can develop the faith that when certain experiences separate us, others will bring us back.

How to support Muslims.

UPDATE: The “Today I Am a Muslim Too” rally (see #6) is now behind us (read about it here) but all of the rest of the following suggestions are still a go!

UPDATE #2: Make sure you read this post, too — it’s essentially a guestpost, someone else’s most-excellent letter to his Congressman.

In recent weeks, I’ve produced a couple of  posts in which I call on folks to respond to the decision of Rep. Pete King (R-NY) to hold hearings into the “radicalization” of American Muslims, but as we saw yesterday, King’s hearings are not the result of a single, narrow mind, but are rather reflective of a broader wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and hysteria that gripped the nation on September 12, 2001 and has been roiling our society ever since.

I firmly, genuinely believe that the fight for the full inclusion of Muslim Americans into mainstream American society is one of the two defining civil rights struggles of our era (the other being the fight for LGBTQ rights), and I further believe that it is incumbent upon all Americans of good will to stand by their fellow citizens. So today, I’m going to make that a little easier for you. (more…)

“Muslim life is cheap.” WTF?

On Saturday, Marty Peretz, owner and editor of the by-no-means uninfluential The New Republic published a column to which the Internet (and the husband) drew my attention just today.

Here’s the money slice-o-awful:

I want to believe that Muslims are traumatized by the unrelieved murders in Islamic lands. Frankly, the only demonstration against a mass killing (after all, they happen nearly every day) I’ve read about was last week in Pakistan when some 30-odd people, not designated and not guilty of doing anything except going to a Shia shrine were blown right then and there. A day or two after two bombs went off taking the lives of what turned out–you can read it about in the recent Tehran Times–to be just under one hundred Shi’ites in two town different towns.

This intense epidemic of slaughter has been going on for nearly a decade and a half…without protest, without anything. And it has been going for decades and centuries before that.

Why do not Muslims raise their voices against these at once planned and random killings all over the Islamic world? This world went into hysteria some months ago when the Mossad took out the Hamas head of its own Murder Inc.

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

The rest of the piece is also loathsome, but honestly, that’s enough right there to stop any thinking American in their tracks. Indeed, this is one of those passages that is so wrong, in so many, many ways, that one almost doesn’t know where to begin to unpack it.

But I’ll give it a shot.

A) Apparently the First Amendment is not so much an unalienable right as a privilege. You know, like when a sovereign ruler grants his or her subjects a privilege? As opposed to when a democratic republic serves to protect its citizens’ rights? Good to know! Especially coming from a magazine editor.

B) Muslim life is cheap, “most notably to Muslims” — you see, Muslims frequently kill other Muslims, so that means Muslim life is cheap.

So what, then, are we to think of Christian life? How many Christians have been killed by the majority-Christian American forces since 1776? For instance, as we’ve swanned about the Middle East in recent years, have we been carefully differentiating between the Arab Muslims and the Arab Christians? Because while every American soldier should surely know by now that Muslim life is cheap (having been involved in wars that have taken so many of them in the past decade), they may not know about Christian life. I would submit that sheer casualty numbers indicate that American Christians find Christian life to be very cheap indeed.

Oh and hey, what about that other bastion of Christianity, Ireland? Peretz points in particular to the situation between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims in Pakistan (and, one presumes, by implication, elsewhere) where the former slays the latter, and the latter the former, often and in gorily impressive numbers — you know: Just like the Christians of Ireland! Who for many years killed each other quite gleefully! And Irish Americans often raised funds for the cause of more killing! Yup, I would have to conclude that to the Irish, and Irish Americans, Christian life is cheap.

Aaand C) “Why do not Muslims raise their voices against these at once planned and random killings all over the Islamic world?” - Ah yes, the question forever asked.

Here’s the answer: THEY HAVE AND THEY DO. Want to know what just a handful of Muslims have to say about “planned and random killings all over the Islamic world?” My very own post about the topic might be of service: Muslim responses to extremism.

Money quote from that post, in a fatwa issued by one of the world’s leading Sunni theologians, Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, a Muslim whose life is apparently cheap and who hails from (Mr. Peretz might like to note) Pakistan: Terrorism is terrorismviolence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses of ifs and buts.

But rather than continue to listen to the loathsome (and, for my part, sadly Jewish) Marty Peretz, let’s listen to American Muslim, author, NPR contributor and interfaith activist Eboo Patel:

Can you believe that, at one point, women couldn’t vote in America? That Japanese American citizens were put in detention camps because of the actions of the Imperial Japanese Navy? That Jackie Robinson was spat upon on the baseball diamond because of the color of his skin? That there were quotas on Jews at Ivy League Universities? That mosques were opposed across the country and a shocking number of people suggested a Muslim should be disqualified from the Supreme Court or the Presidency because of his religion?

Oh yeah, that last one is still happening. But one day, I promise you, we will be as ashamed of the way American Muslims are viewed and treated in 2010 as we are of Japanese internment and Jim Crow. America’s promise is meant for everyone or we are not America.

…American history is an arc toward freedom, dignity and inclusiveness for all. That will include Muslims, sooner or later. Everyone knows you can’t stop that arc. And everyone knows that those who try to throw the arc off-course are recorded and held up in history books years later as an example to kids of who not to be like. They are the demons of American history.

Eboo’s right — people like Peretz are the demons of American history, and we should be ashamed of them. It’s up to us to cast them aside, so that we can get on with the business of perfecting our union.

And finally, as a Jew, I would suggest to Mr. Peretz that after publishing this screed, he might want to say a special prayer for forgiveness next week on Yom Kippur — if only because announcing that someone’s “life is cheap” tends to be the kind thing that leads to lives being taken.

It’s no wonder that American Muslims say that they are afraid as never before.

I say to you therefore: Choose life.

(Looking for the Open Thread? Go here).

In all of the conversation/mud-slinging about Cordoba House, aka “the Ground Zero Mosque,” many of us have gotten heavily involved in throwing theology and holy writ at each other like so many Ginsu knives. Those opposed to the community center pick and choose the bits of the Qur’an that support their worldview, and those of us on the other side of the argument do the same. I made my contribution to this particular piece of the action here, with a small collection of the many statements made by Muslims categorically condemning terrorism.

Now, of course, I played my part in this because I believed it was the right thing to do. One cannot simply say that the Qur’an urges violence against non-Muslims and walk away — one has to take into consideration a wealth of information that goes beyond one or two carefully chosen verses. We’re fighting hate speech here, and the best way to do that is by spreading more truth.

But this does lead to a situation in which, as my Twitter pal @TheOdalisque put it, one is essentially saying: “My Muslims are more halal than your Muslims!” Which can get silly.

Moreover, it would be dishonest to say that Islam, or any religion, doesn’t have its dark moments. In fact, Professor of Islamic Law Khaled Abou El Fadl, one of the people I quoted in the afore-mentioned post, has said as much:

It would be disingenuous to deny that the Qur’an and other Islamic sources offer possibilities of intolerant interpretation. Clearly these possibilities are exploited by the contemporary puritans and supremacists.

But then he goes on to say:

But the text does not command such intolerant readings. Historically, Islamic civilization has displayed a remarkable ability to recognize possibilities of tolerance, and to act upon these possibilities.

And this is the point that interests me, and has interested me for years. What do we do with these “possibilities of intolerant interpretation” — how do we reconcile them with the possibilities for peace? How do we build faith communities, and interfaith communities, that strive ever to greater Godliess — with all this damn baggage?

Well! It’s interested me for years, and I even wrote about it once, for the Chicago Tribune — so I thought I’d post that piece here. The headline is pretty awful, but I think that the discussion is still relevant — in fact, given the Cordoba House conversation/mud-slinging, it might be more relevant than ever.

 

Washed in the blood of the lamb, etc.

Chicago Tribune
November 17, 2002
By Emily L. Hauser.

Those of us who see the struggle for peace and justice as a spiritual act often quote our Scriptures to validate our efforts. We talk about “true” Judaism, Christianity or Islam and decry how our religions have been distorted. We adorn our walls and bulletin boards with beautiful quotes, words we believe God gave to humanity: “Seek peace and pursue it,” say the Psalms. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” Jesus exhorts his followers. “Those who keep from evil will dwell amid gardens,” we read in the Koran. “In their wealth, the beggar and outcast had due share.”

God, we say, is all about peace and justice.

What, then, are we to do about the other words in our books, words we often choose not to discuss?

“As for those peoples that warred against Jerusalem,” reads Zechariah 14:12, “their flesh shall rot away while they stand on their feet.” Or this passage from John, where Jesus talks to “the Jews”: “You belong to your father, the devil. . . . The reason you do not hear [God] is because you do not belong to God.” In the fifth chapter of the Koran: “The only reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger . . . will be that they will be killed or crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off . . . in the Hereafter theirs will be an awful doom.”

Usually, people like me ignore these passages. We push them aside, or counter with quotes we like better. When we do this, though, we are lying.

An individual’s understanding of the Creator comes from life experience; so it is with communities.

Each of the world’s religions–monotheist, polytheist, animist, druid–came into being in the framework of a particular culture. Many arose in response to perceived failures of another faith. Some focused on establishing a discrete community on this earth; others sought to transcend the earth; many juggled both colossal tasks.

There were political struggles and bloody battles to fight, slights to overcome, the weak-willed to encourage, traditions to establish and pass on.

So the Israelites institutionalized slavery. St. Paul made wives subordinate to husbands. The Koran recommends amputation for thieves. We can look it up chapter and verse–it’s really there, in all its sordid glory, flesh rotting, Jews being of the devil, infidels crucified.

(more…)

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