Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Leaving the Club I Once Belonged To

I'm perilously close to handing in my lifetime membership card as a Christian.

I've not really been a practicing Christian for awhile, but the last I looked I had some rights to be grandfathered into the club. As an infant, I was baptized in the church, and if I'm not mistaken this kind of makes me a member by default, much the way being born in the US automatically makes you a citizen.

Christianity is certainly my heritage and my culture, but events over the last week or so——some dramatic, some quiet—are making me seriously think about formal and forever disavowal.

• The nutcase preacher in Florida who is promising to burn copies of the Qu'ran on 9/11.... Now, I know that freedom of speech makes such a thing legal and technically defensible, but surely we can all agree that it's a bad idea, in incredibly poor taste. The outpouring of criticism of this wack job, though, has been slow to emerge if you ask me. The fact that "normal" Christians remain so silent in response to this and other actions of their lunatic fringe is disheartening. And this morning, I even heard some member of the conservative press begin to express defense of his planned actions.

• On the bus the other day, a fellow sitting near the front bid me farewell when I reached my stop, with the words. "God bless you sir. Jesus loves you." Now, normally I don't particularly care about such displays, but on this day I suddenly was struck by the fact that this demonstrates a kind of arrogance I don't much appreciate. Especially in the more fundamentalist wings of Christianity this kind of "witnessing" is expected, but it seems to me to be quite a presumptuous stance to assume that your God is the one that I really want blessings from. I wonder what this fellow would think or say, for example, if I replied " Blessing of the prophet of Allah upon you." My hunch is that he might be offended, perhaps even enraged. Hari Krishnas were banned from handing out flowers at the airport years ago around here, but nobody thinks twice about trying to impose Jesus on others.

• A pair of women offering the Gospel knocked on the door last night, wishing to speak with me about Christ. "Sorry," I said, quite politely, "But I don't share your particular practice."

"You're not a Christian?" One said, aghast. "What, then?"

"Well, I might well be Jewish," I said. "Or I could be a Hindu, or Buddhist, for example. Actually, I don't really care to discuss that with you, as it's really a private matter."

"We'll pray to the Lord for you, sir," the other said as they turned away in horror.

• At the bus stop this morning, a Chevy Impala with a fish decal in the back passenger side window pulled up and began honking frantically at a stopped car holding five members of Somali family, the distinctive headwear of the mother and three daughters being unmistakable. Our fellow in the Impala desperately wanted to turn right on red light, but the Somali father ahead of him was obeying the traffic prohibition, which dictated "no turn on red."

Once the light turned green, the Somali driver quietly turned the corner and pulled over to the curb to let the American driver roar by. As the Impala turned, I saw additional Christian decals and bumper stickers on the back of the car.

This, frankly, has been my general experience of Muslims in my own community——as conservative, law-abiding folks who rarely make waves at all, and tolerate a good deal of angry abuse at the hands of Christians, some of whom vocally express their hatred.

I know that it's certainly not fair of me to paint all Christians with the same brush that colors the wacky few; just like it's illogical for Westerners to dress all Muslims in the robes of Bin Laden. But damn it, it begins to make you ashamed of your own heritage. On the eve on 9/11 anniversary, I read statistics that western retribution for 9/11 over the last 9 years has led to the death of at least 110,000 Muslims in Iraq, of which 95,000 are thought to be civilians, according to the Associated Press. That's a ratio of 30 teeth for one tooth, and Lord almighty, we appear to have no intention of stopping anytime soon, as the crusade continues in Afghanistan.

Do the Christians I see around me really, truly believe that this is how Jesus would act? If not, then why aren't they speaking up?

Here's my membership card. Take it, please.


Molly said...

I am as outraged by that limelight-hungry lunatic as you are. Freedom of speech ought to be reined in by common sense and common decency. I also think the media ought to exercise some restraint. Ratings aren't everything. Once in a while they ought to ponder the consequences of the flames they are so industriously fanning. But I don't think you should throw the teachings you grew up with out the window just because so many "practitioners" of same are nut cases.
This was a serious post, but I found myself laughing when I came to the end, and saw, not one, but two ads by Google offering online pastoral and theology degrees!

Fingers crossed that sanity will prevail....

PL Lake said...

I've been a Christian for well over 30 years and I too have struggled with the lunatic fringe of Christianity. It is sometimes quite tempting to want to throw in the towel - especially when you don't want to be identified with individuals like the fellow in Florida threatening to burn Korans or churches holding signs designed to be offensive and cruel (Westboro anyone?).

What has helped me immensely has been reading and re-reading the gospels, looking at how Jesus did things. But not to just look - to also fashion my life after his life; to seek to be a blessing to others.

Sometimes I think what he was trying to teach us was how to live life in a fully human way. Please don't misunderstand me - I'm not suggesting that people of other beliefs and faiths are not human or are somehow less human or less valid in some way. Rather, Jesus sought to point us to a path that brings freedom to be who we truly are - whatever that might look like.

Anyhow. Hang in there...while the people populating the body of Christ can sometimes be fairly nuts, the founder of our faith was amazing and wise. Another thing that has helped (and humbled) me: When Jesus, John and Peter were walking along one day together, Jesus began to share with Peter how he (Peter) would die. Peter pointed to John and asked Jesus, "What about him?" Jesus replied, "What about him? I'm talking about you". The point is, yes, there are lunatics in probably every religion and yes, they're embarrassing and stunningly annoying. But what about them? We need to look first to ourselves. Peace.