In one of our adult Sunday School classes at the Church of the Resurrection, we are reading Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies. It’s my umpteenth time through this joyful journey of faith with the exquisite Lamott. For many of my fellow travelers, it is their first, and they are as in love with her as I was when I first discovered this book. Lamott writes of herself: “I am not one of those Christians who is heavily into forgiveness. I’m the other kind.”
Me too, Annie, me too. In fact, my demeanor slipped from mild-mannered, post-modernist, wishy-washy liberal into wild-eyed, smoke-snortin’, kill ‘em all self-righteousness this weekend. So I fired up my chain saw and took to cutting things down and up. Into very small pieces.
There’s something joyfully anarchic about a chain saw. It’s loud, it smells like gasoline, it destroys things that were once quite beautiful. I chopped up a pine tree that had fallen from Lander University’s property onto mine, taking out a good part of my fence. I chopped low-hanging branches on the magnolias. I took out a log that had been across the creek for three years, creating a lovely vista onto Lander’s mud-scarred “landscaping.” I got water in my boots. (Gore-Tex® only works if the tops of your boots stay above the water line.) It made me so mad I chopped down 40 square feet of long cane, which was pretty silly, considering that it’s really only grass.
I was mad, you see, because of the cartoons. You know the ones, with the Prophet Mohammed (May God bless him and grant him peace) wearing a turban shaped like a bomb. The ones that are causing such outrage in Muslim countries among people who have never seen them. (The truth is, most people in the West haven’t seen them because of a self-imposed censorship in the Western press.) The cartoons that are leading people to demand the beheading of Danes and the trashing of Danish embassies. So I cut stuff up. I wasn’t mad at the Danes, who as far I as can tell, are the kind of nice, socialist, Northern Europeans who produce great thinkers like Kierkegaard. I was mad at the people who were mad at the people whose cartoons implied that religious people shouldn’t behave in irreligious ways.
The fact that radical mullahs all over the Muslim world had to whip their followers up into a frenzy of hatred is a sign of how spiritually bankrupt their brand of Islam has become. Their unholy actions are logical outcome of religion which is more concerned with outward appearances than it is with changing people’s hearts. It’s the kind of religion that takes offense at anything which challenges its claims. It’s the kind of religion that disdains the very essence of religion: love for people who are different from you. It’s the kind of religion that makes atheism look like a viable alternative.
That’s until the chain saw sputters and the blue smoke wafts slowly above the still standing hickories. Then you can think about the madness of it all. The madness of people who say that killing people for disagreeing with you is good. The madness of people who say God hates people who believe differently (or not at all). The madness of believing that a newspaper cartoon criticizing such madness is blasphemous. The madness of lumping all Muslims into one homogenous soup of madness.
“God instructs us to forgive. Therefore, we—as much as we condemn it strongly—must stay above this dispute and not bring ourselves ... to equating ourselves to those who have published the cartoons.” Those are the calm words of a man, whose entire life has been one of faithful submission to God in the way called Islam, Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
And not all of the world’s Mosques were filled with hatred during Friday’s services. Shaikh Mohammed Najeeb, Imam of Abdullah Bin Kulaib Mosque in the United Arab Emirates, said, “We must not be impatient, if there appear to be injustices such as these acts. We must bear and forbear. As far as our feelings are concerned, we must overlook other people's faults with gracious forgiveness as instructed by our Holy Book.”
In the lectionary today, Paul says to the Corinthians: “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” That sounds like he would have “become a Muslim to the Muslims,” if he’d lived in our time. He would have tried to understand their resentment of colonial and neo-colonial exploitation of their lands and resources, their tendency to be offended by the cynical humor of the secular West, and their total devotion to Islamic ideals. My guess is that he would have agreed with a lot of what they believe, and tried to find a way to bridge the gaps where they differed.
It’s far easier to hate and refuse to understand. It’s far easier to burn, to destroy, to cut down and cut up. I wish I’d read that before I fired up the chain saw.