Friday, March 11, 2011

How Others See Us

Back in the summer of 2002, as the news media was gearing up for the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, I got an idea. There was a mosque in Baytown, where we were living at the time. Why not go talk to the leaders and members there to find out what the past year had been like for them and then write it as a feature for the local newspaper? So I did. In a way, it was one of the more unnerving things I have ever done. It was six Muslim men -- one of them was the imam (or leader) of the mosque -- and me. A Christian woman. I felt so outnumbered that I was shaking as I sat down to talk to them. But they were so gracious. They spoke of the fears of retaliation they had experienced over the past year, and the relief they felt when Christian members of the community had actually reached out to them during that time. One even left a note on the front door of the mosque: "We're all in this together," it said. They appreciated me coming and the imam called to thank me after the story came out. I was so moved by the experience that I got permission from my editor to write an opinion column to reflect my own feelings about that meeting and the local Muslim community. I learned from those men. In a time in which suspicion and outright hatred was directed at their religion, they showed me that they, like me, just wanted peace and healing.

There is so much to be learned from people who don't share our convictions. Or who used to have our convictions. I recently came across this blog, which is written by a woman who was once a Christian minister’s wife. She is now divorced from him and no longer a believer. Much of what she writes is sad, but insightful as well. I find her “Top Six Killers of Christianity” especially interesting. I'm intrigued by this quote of hers:

“As an atheist, I am told I am miserable, hopeless, terrified of death, immoral, was never a “True Christian”, etc, and none of it is true. I may occasionally sound miserable on my blog, but that’s because my blog is my outlet. Most of the time, I am a pretty happy person with more hope now than I had as a Christian, and I’m not afraid of death. Christians don’t realize that the labels they give to people are dehumanizing and often wrong, and really, very arrogant and assuming. It’s very off putting.The thing is, Christianity has good potential. I don’t know if I’ll ever become a Christian again, but like Ghandi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I don’t know if I entirely agree with that, but close enough. The good Christianity could offer: community, support, humanitarianism, etc. Unfortunately, all it’s become is a club for those who can’t afford a country club membership (or for whom a country club membership isn’t enough).”

Christians need to be aware that for all the good we do, we also present an ugly side. Usually without meaning to. (Although some Christians put the ugliness out there intentionally and couldn’t care less because they believe they are “contending for the faith.”)

Here’s an article I found this week that felt like a punch in the gut: “Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus.” As put off as I was by the title (of course I don’t hate Jesus!), I kept finding truth as I read it. We as Christians are not good at PR. Outsiders see us in a very negative light and to be honest, I can’t blame them.

“But Jesus was radical,” some will say in defense. “He made people uncomfortable by preaching the truth. We are called to do the same thing.”

Yes. But.

You will not find in scripture that Jesus was a jerk. He loved others and practiced what he preached. We cannot be jerks and glorify God at the same time.

Chad and I just finished reading “The Unlikely Disciple” by Kevin Roose. Roose was a student at Brown University who decided to go undercover as a born-again Christian for a semester at Liberty University. Yes, Jerry Falwell’s school. What Roose observed and experienced that semester ranged from hilarious to deeply disturbing. It made me question how my own convictions are viewed by others and if my beliefs cause me to act lovingly toward them or not.

Christians need a good, hard look in the mirror on a regular basis. Are we really being Jesus to others? Or are we what Phil Zuckerman describes in “Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus”:

"And as is the case for most White Evangelical Christians, what they are ignoring is actually the very heart and soul of Jesus's message -- a message that emphasizes sharing, not greed. Peace-making, not war-mongering. Love, not violence."

Tales from the South

I submitted my most recent blog post, "The Power of Prayer, or The Day My Hair Exploded", to Tales from the South a couple of weeks ago, and I found out earlier this week that it had been accepted. (I've been DYING to get on Tales from the South -- this was my 5th attempt to get something in.) Tales from the South is a radio show that broadcasts every Thursday at 7 p.m. on KUAR, Central Arkansas' public radio station. The other selected writers and I will read our pieces in front of a live audience at Starving Artist Cafe in the Argenta District of North Little Rock this Tuesday evening, and the show will be broadcast later in the week. I am a surreal combination of excited/nervous/nauseated. Should be fun!