Perhaps the silence is breaking. In the last few weeks, cbsnews.com, foxnews.com and washingtonpost.com reported violence toward Christian and non-Muslim targets in Syria and Egypt. I still haven’t heard a word of it on the morning news, but at least three mainstream media sources are touching on this serious human rights violation.
If you’ve been following my recent posts, you know I’m grappling with just how to respond to these atrocities. In part one of this series, I covered some personal background regarding author, speaker, activist and theologian, Brian McLaren. His recent blog posts (click here and here) discussed the issue, its relative silence in media and churches, and our responses to it. In part two of this three-part series, I delved into Brian’s first post, in which he posited six possible reasons for silence on the issue. I shared some of my concerns and posed many questions.
In this last installment, we will review Brian’s second post, in which he suggests six courses of action Americans, particularly American christians, should take. This is the post I’ve been looking forward to the most since beginning the series. After all, when people are being murdered just for having different beliefs, it doesn’t make sense to just sit on the problem, not doing anything to prevent future violence. Yet in all this time the most I could come up with actually doing about it, from here in my suburban life in America, is to write this series. I took some time to think about it, to read more, to develop ideas and share a bit at a time because, well, it wasn’t as though I could board a plane over there and step in the middle of it to break it up. Even if I could take the time and spend the money, my presence would only become another statistic, and probably not even make the news.
So, let’s take a look at the six courses of action McLaren recommends, and my responses to his framework. Again I invite you to join me with your responses. Here, again, is the link to Brian’s post; please refresh your memory and give it a read:
The first of Brian’s six suggestions makes perfect sense to me:
“We must join together to condemn human rights violations whenever they occur and upon whomever they are inflicted. We must become vocal advocates for the rights of religious minorities. . .”
Absolutely! There is power in numbers and unity. The only word I stumble on is the word “must.” As a recovering child of an alcoholic, there are a few words I am wary of, due to their power to subconsciously constrain me to live up to law instead of freeing me to live under grace, in free will, with choices. “Must” is one of them, along with its buddies, “should,” “ought to” and “have to.” I always try to replace those words in my mind with words like “can,” “it would be good if,” and “let’s.” Rephrasing this statement then, in my mind it becomes “We can join together. . . It would be good to become vocal advocates. . . “
Having made this freeing distinction, I suggest we need specific means to help translate this into reality. How do we join together? Do organizations exist working to this end? What can we do to become vocal advocates for the rights of religious minorities? Is it enough to engender discussions around the dinner table, at the golf club or in the workplace, or does it mean more than this? After all, people are being slaughtered, shot, blown up, raped, imprisoned, tortured, their necks slit! Do we just timidly raise a hand in a meeting and whisper, “Um, excuse me, but they’re killing people over there?” If it were happening to me, or to someone next to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to shout it out, call for help, make a big deal out of it until someone intervened. How do we do that in this situation? Is our advocacy vocal only or shall we physically fight back?
The second point McLaren makes is a huge task, one which births more questions in my mind:
“American Christians must stop supporting foreign policies that purchase American security at the expense of the security of others. . . Instead, we need to articulate a creative, positive, progressive, faith-inspired dream for a better world, undergirded by a coherent, constructive foreign policy.”
While an excellent point, this is a huge task for us “average” Americans. Remember, we are the ones interviewed on the streets by late night comedy shows, stumbling to answer questions like, “Who is this man?,” as they hold up a picture of the vice president, or “What is one line from the United States Constitution?” Much to our embarrassment, an amazing number of average folk know absolutely nothing about such things.
If we are to develop realistic, achievable solutions that average Americans can support, we need to put the cookies on the bottom shelf. I don’t mean that to condescend, it just makes sense to keep it simple. Which policies purchase American security at the expense of the security of others? Which websites can help us find these policies? What do we do to change policies?
Oh, and, there is that “must” word again. It’s okay, I already changed it in my head: “It would be best if we stopped supporting. . .”
It follows that to change the old we need a better solution instead. To articulate a “creative, positive, progressive, faith-inspired dream,” and a “coherent, constructive foreign policy,” it would seem we need a forum. Is there such a forum? Is there a website where we start to articulate this dream and lay out its constructive foreign policies? Are there authors, books, speakers, leaders, a place to assemble to merge our ideas and form these new directions?
While we’re on the subject of policies, I’d like to add a note: Political action is not for the naïve, nor the faint of heart. It is difficult to get involved in politics, to objectively study, find and vote for leaders who advocate more complex solutions. Politicians talk ideals and deal in dollars. Party lines draw circles around issues. Each of our two major parties lose power when divided by independent or smaller party votes. Political endeavors take much personal time to properly accomplish. Americans who care enough to act on issues like this are probably also moved by numerous other needs around them. Compassionate, dedicated people can easily burn out on causes, neglecting personal health, family relationships and balanced living. If we are to develop political solutions, we need practical ways for average people to become fully informed and effective–without burning out.
Now, on to number three:
“We must seek solutions in Israel/Palestine that are Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, pro-peace, and pro-justice. . . to pray for the peace of Jerusalem will also require us to pray for the peace of Palestine and the whole Middle East – a peace that depends upon justice and reconciliation.”
(The “must” word again. “Let’s seek solutions. . .”) Prayer, we can do. That is the easiest part! Or is it? Here, McLaren suggests, rather than praying for “our team” to “win,” that we pray for a new game entirely. Praying for the Middle East to find a place of peaceful cohabitation, seeking balanced and fair solutions, sounds easy enough, right? Again, not so easy. It is difficult enough for the average American to resolve issues with his or her own brother, sister, mother, father, child, or neighbor; how can we expect to find solutions for distant family with millenia-old feuds? It helps to begin opening our minds to the realization that there are no easy solutions. If God be just, as I believe He is, we cannot expect blanket protection for one side versus the other. When we pray, let’s be inclusive, loving, and open to acts of reconciliation. Let’s always examine our hearts when we pray, realizing we could have been born and raised on the other side.
Brian’s fourth suggestion is to “become more aware of the true costs of our current energy policy, and. . . become advocates of clean, sustainable energy and clean, sustainable foreign policy.” I’m all for this, and it’s clearly stated. Again, though, in our busy lives, many of us working two jobs, raising children, helping elderly parents, is it easy to become more aware of the true costs of current energy policy? How do we become advocates of clean, sustainable energy? What is a clean, sustainable foreign policy and how do we advocate for it? Are there websites designed to give unbiased, scientific information we can trust? Is there a way to advocate for particular policies rather than an entire political party?
Point five is about better understanding religious violence, and plugs McLaren’s latest book. This is understandable, simple, easy enough to do. Book plugs, while we don’t like to see them, are valid these days, as publishers don’t spend much to market books. Having lost much of their prosperity to electronic publishers, book publishers allocate book marketing responsibility to the author. Besides, understanding issues better is always a plus in my view.
Brian’s sixth and final suggestion is to build relationships with people of other faiths; “have-a-neighbor-over-to-dinner-relationships,” and to demand as much from religious leaders. He suggests we can thereby “set in motion healing cycles of faith-inspired human-kindness that provide an alternative to vicious cycles of offense/revenge/counter-offense/counter-revenge.” Personally, I am intrigued by this concept, its sweet aroma reminiscent of Jesus hanging out with common folk, the so-called sinners and publicans, and relating to them with casual authenticity.
In daily life, though, what shall we do? Walk up to our neighbors’ house, ring the bell, and invite them to dinner? I don’t know about your neighborhood, but we don’t usually do that sort of thing where I live. We might throw a block party, or a jewelry party, but there’s no certainty the people of other faiths will attend. If they do, will we have the relational skills needed to really get to know them, or will we quickly begin to proselytize them? Will we find common ground to further the relationship? Maybe some of us need to work on our relationship skills a bit more before we go making matters worse?
Another thing to consider here is something people may think or feel, but not say outright. I’ll take a chance and broach the subject: Two names come to mind when many people think of befriending their neighbors of other faiths: Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. These young men were quiet, respectable neighbors who helped with groceries, hung out with their high school friends and fit into life in Boston, Massachusetts, until April 15, 2013, when they (admittedly) committed acts of terror, killing and injuring their neighbors during the Boston Marathon. These two jihadists are just one small example of the violence that is becoming all too common globally. The chances my neighbor or your neighbor will do the same are pretty slim. However, to be real, many people may secretly feel afraid to jump into close relationship with their Muslim neighbors.
What Brian proposes we do as a solution to the rising tide of violence against non-Muslims is, in essence, love a Muslim–who might just be an undercover jihadist. He is asking us to put our necks on the line for people on our streets, who, in-not-so-out-of-the-realm-of-possibility-terms, could be secretly planning our demise. . . or our children’s.
That sounds a lot like what Jesus did.
Am I ready for that?
So, as it turns out, my old friend Brian is still a brilliant example of the kind of fearless love that I imagine Jesus would exemplify if he were walking about in jeans and sandals these days. He dares to theorize that loving our enemies is a plausible solution to a real-world threat. He even suggests we invite them to dinner, get to know them, not to proselytize them, but just to love them.
My heart responds positively to this kind of appeal. I want to go knock on some doors. Yet more questions come to mind before I start weaving my flower necklace, kick off my shoes and go leaping through the neighbor’s lawn:
Does loving our neighbors mean we drop military action? Does loving our neighbors mean we drop our support and respect for our military? What about the ones being killed right now? Will a grassroots love-fest be enough for changes in our lifetime? Will we suffer repercussions for speaking up, getting involved, being different from mainstream? Will our grandchildren be better or worse off for it? Will we “love” ourselves off the planet or into loss of religious freedom? Does God even care about us working toward a more peaceable world and government, or is peace only for the internalized kingdom of heaven, or the new heaven/earth’s kingdom? What shall we do to prepare to love our neighbors and enemies, if anything?
Brian’s posts, like his books, bring many more questions to my mind than answers, but that may be his role as a writer, theologian and activist. Our role, as regular folk, is to grapple with our responses, to ask and respond to important questions of our time, whether in small or big ways, whether in local or global action. Our role is to find a way to be part of the solution, however imperfect we are, from the inside-out. Brian doesn’t have all the answers. What he brings to the table is an offering we can enrich by responding, by asking pertinent questions, pursuing further investigation and participating in developing what hopefully will someday be effective, realistic, do-able actions that spring from a place of faith, hope and love, not fear.
I certainly don’t have the answers either. In fact, I have more questions now than before. Completely outside my area of expertise, but in my own, heart-to-heart way, I am a voice grappling with questions, looking for solutions, and hosting your sensible responses–to become a part of the solution instead of the problem. With this in mind, I have posted below a few links which may support our investigation and further our awareness. I invite you to share your thoughts, and helpful links here, and/or post a ping-back to your site so I can read what you’re up to there as it relates to this vital concern.
If you have followed me these last three long posts, I appreciate you! I will pause here now, and hopefully have plenty of discussion and feedback over the next few months or even years, and continue to learn. Just a reminder, too, you can contribute your thoughts by scrolling down to the comment box, or look for the little “leave a comment” after the tag titles, or you can follow and comment via Facebook or Twitter.
We now return you to our regular programming, where I write more about micro living than macro. Thanks for staying with me!
Posts and Links:
United Nations Human Rights: http://www.un.org/en/rights/
Unites States Government Site on Human Rights: http://www.humanrights.gov/
Amnesty International’s Report: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/egypt-government-must-protect-christians-sectarian-violence-2013-08-20
American Foreign Policy Council: http://www.afpc.org/about_us/index
White House Page on Foreign Policy: http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/foreign-policy
Foreign Affairs, Counsel on Foreign Relations: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/about-us
CATO’s Foreign Policy Center: http://www.cato.org/research/foreign-policy-national-security
Bipartisan Policy Center: http://bipartisanpolicy.org/projects/energy-project
White House Energy Policy: http://www.whitehouse.gov/energy/securing-american-energy#energy-menu
Fred Upton, Chairman of US House Committee on Energy and Commerce: http://www.american.com/archive/2012/march/rethinking-americas-energy-policy
US Department of Energy: http://energy.gov/
Mesa Friends, Developing a New Ethos: http://mesa-friends.org/
Bible on Loving Your Enemy: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5%3A43-48&version=NIV
Amnesty International’s Report: http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/egypt-government-must-protect-christians-sectarian-violence-2013-08-20
Blogs on the Subject (add yours!)–