Life since Tuesday.
Seems like a marker that is common for most of us. I have seen multiple references to 11/9 being the new 9/11. Some find that blasphemous. Others outrageous.
In my circle, prescient.
First, there are the accounts we’ve all seen about Day 1 in Trump’s America. Some are claiming false reports; the only one I have seen perhaps legitimately contested was in Minnesota, when the local PD denied ever taking a report such as the one described. I did not follow up and I am more apt to believe the person who reported, but I know people lie and I certainly have no sympathy for anyone who would make up an attack when so many actual attacks are taking place. How do I know?
Because, second, I personally am aware of people who have already been accosted, from an attempted removal of a hijab to questions from strangers about the legal status of a white friend’s biracial, brown children. Customers of a local business reported being run off the road by a semi because of their bumper stickers. There are the acts of vandalism in our village–historic statues spray-painted with pro-Trump, anti-Clinton slurs (although this happened prior to the election itself). Local schools have had incidents; multiple friends have had rainbow flags stolen and hostile letters left on their cars.
I’m a pastor so there are other things I just can’t write about except to say that my inbox is filled with pain, confusion, anger; my clergy colleagues are scrambling to process their own trauma (many of us in ministry are damaged; that’s why we are such good agents of preaching grace, for we know that ish works); I’ve reached out to others, others have reached out to me. We are doing sobriety checks; we’re making sure that we’re getting to our therapy appointments because on Sunday many of us have to go into the most vulnerable place on the planet for a Christian pastor: the pulpit.
We have to understand that not everyone feels the same way. We have to create a space in which we make sure that pain is honored and that vulnerability is safe, but we have to also acknowledge that what seems like a simple vote to one person is much more complicated for someone else. On all sides. From every perspective. We must remain true to the Gospel but remember that there is enough fear out in the world and we’re in God’s house. God’s house is so important right now, a place of refuge and safety, if only for an hour. To hug a neck. To smile for real, perhaps for the first time in days. To know that it is okay to cry, and you don’t have to explain your tears. The person next to you may be crying for the exact opposite reason as are you, and both of those, in the moment, need to be honored. A lot of people are afraid and we can’t rank the fear. Not now. Not on this Sunday. We have to thread the needle.
This Sunday is going to be the most dangerous day I’ve ever attempted to say words about God.
So I went to the mosque. I had made the decision last Sunday after accompanying adults and youth from the church and village to a local mosque. The service was lovely, and the imam really spoke to my heart. I went back today, accompanied by a newer friend I first met at YS Pride. We’ve started to get to know each other, and the drive there was wonderful as we shared thoughts on this week, on the importance of showing solidarity with our Muslim siblings, and other topics as they arose. Inside the mosque I was overjoyed to see one of the congregants from First Presby. We embraced warmly and let it linger. It felt good to be in a mosque, hugging a fellow Christian, surrounded by smiling Muslims wishing us salam. Peace.
The imam’s message brought tears to my eyes within the first two minutes. “Tuesday was about our failures,” he said. “As Muslims. As Americans. We failed to reach out and let people know the beauty of Islam.” My vision grew blurry as I thought of Isaiah 6:8, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!'” I felt inside myself a deep ache. The mosque filled up with men rushing from work, taking a late lunch hour and skipping food for prayer, as Imam Yunus continued. “We must remain steadfast and upright in what we believe, but remember that the Prophet (pbuh) always had a smile on his face. He was the happiest of fellows! Smile at people as an act of salam.” Full tears now. “We will not be afraid because we have done nothing wrong. You have done nothing wrong!” he continued by giving information about whom to call or where to go in the event of a hate crime.
Imam Yunus gave Quranic instruction about how to live in a hostile land; he reminded people about how difficult Muslims had it in Mecca. In Medina. He extolled the virtues of America. I saw in him my own self-identification. I am proud to belong to God. I am also very aware of how lucky I am to live here, despite the many faults and failings of the country. I absolute reject blind patriotism or expectations that I undergo rituals to show allegiance. My God cautions against that, but that doesn’t mean I am unaware of how much worse it could be for me. My objection is that too often it is my country that is responsible for the living hell of others. And many of those people worship in a mosque.
I make this public with a huge caveat that I hope people will believe. I am searching my soul to make sure that I am doing this for the right reasons, and I hope that I am: I will be attending mosque every Friday (with certain exceptions, as necessitated by life) for the next four years. I primarily do this for selfish reasons: I have no worship life that doesn’t involve me facilitating the service. I need that back, and Friday 1:30-22:20 is perfect for my schedule. Two, this community is so warm, welcoming, hospitable, and inspiring that I feel God from the parking lot. Three, Imam Yunus is an incredible spiritual leader, and I think I can learn a lot from him. And four, no fewer than a dozen people thanked me for coming. Several told me it meant a great deal to see a pastor in clericals worshipping with them, and asked me to please do come back each week.
Having been to mosque, I somehow feel better about things.
I don’t feel fine. I don’t feel much better. But I feel better enough to want to talk about it. Name it. Thank Allah for it. And to quietly say that I feel like I got some of my sense of direction back. I still have fear. I still know that the circumstances of the world are going to necessitate my making decisions about ministry that will be controversial. I have no delusions that things will go back to how they were; we live in a different world. This is like we’ve been in Dumbledore’s Army and we know Voldemort is back but the Ministry of Magic is saying that everything is fine. This is like the ’60s, but as a nation we’re more armed now. And so are the police. Friends who have never considered owning or shooting guns are going to the gun range. I’ve made very clear my commitment to nonviolence, and that will not change. Period. I believe this stuff I preach. And I will die to honor my convictions: peace, compassion, love, mercy, justice.
I fee like I am going to be okay as long as I can go to mosque on Fridays. I’m not doing this to say, Look at how great I am! I’m going to pray with brown people! I’m a good white Christian, aren’t I? I’m a sinner. Same as yesterday. Same as tomorrow. But I am going to mosque for God’s glory. I’m seeing a side of God I haven’t seen before, and it is making me fall in love all over again. I am going because as the weeks turn into months and, God willing, years, I will develop relationships with the members of this mosque. With this community. And, perhaps, I can be a small part of what is needed to save this country: understanding that we all want the same things, and we need each other to make that happen. With God as our guide, how can we go wrong?