Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Christian with Muslim Neighbors

Update: This week in Lynnwood, our bishop, the Rev. Kirby Unti, participated in an interfaith dialogue called "Love in a Time of Fear". Between 350-400 people attended. You can watch the full video here. I had to turn my audio up to understand the speakers.

Image result for love your neighbor as yourselfMatthew 22:34-40
 When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’37He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

Where one might find Seattleites on a Sunday, image from
A couple weeks ago, a friend from Seattle dropped by with her husband and son. In the course of the conversation, the topic of diverse neighborhoods came up. Rebecca and her family are not affiliated with any religion. She and her family are not an anomaly. Most of my friends from my years of being a Seattleite are not church-goers or religious in any way. They would often text me with invites to go out for Sunday brunch, to have dimsum, or forget that I would have to bow out early from Saturday night festivities, even though they knew that I am a pastor. Their spiritual yearnings were fulfilled by yoga classes, dinners with friends, TED talks, and volunteering with community non-profits like the food bank or the homeless shelter. They are good people, just not churchy people or Christians. But in Seattle, my church youth group took field trips to other places of worship, where their classmates were members: to the Sikh gudwara, the Jewish synagogue, the Hindu temple, the Muslim mosque. Even though most people in Seattle are not affiliated with a religious faith, there are many different faith traditions represented in the city. 

Image result for fishing the skagit
A religious experience for some of my neighbors (and me!)
Seeing Rebecca reminded me that when I moved to Skagit county about 3 years ago, I was surprised by the number of people I met who were involved in church. Sure, there are a lot of people who are home watching the Seahawks when they play at 10 on a Sunday morning. And yes, there are lots of people who are out fishing or hiking or camping when the weather is fine. But most of the people I know are connected in some way to a Christian church. 

As for religious diversity, we have very few non-Christian religions represented in our county. There are no mosques. If you're Jewish, the closest synagogue is in Bellingham. That means that the Orthodox Jews don't live here (because you have to be able to walk to your synagogue on Shabbat). I don't know of a Buddhist temple, and while there are many Sikh farmers and truck drivers in the area, I believe they drive to Bellingham also to go to their Gudwara. 

What does this mean for Skagitonians? It means that we are susceptible to whatever half-truths are said about people of other faiths. Right now, that is particularly true about what we hear about Muslims. 

Image result for pickled herring in wine sauce
Pickled herring- loved by some but not all
If someone said to you, "I heard that all Skagitonians are either Norwegian or Dutch, they love herring so much that their Costco can't keep it stocked, and their families have all been there since the 1880's", you would shake your head, sit them down, and help them get their stories straight. Some of that information is true- for some of us. But it's not universally true. You would have stories to back you up. You would know someone whose family is Hispanic, but they were born and raised in Burlington. You would know someone else whose family came from Russia or the Ukraine or Vietnam. You might know someone whose family predates all the immigrants and who belongs to the Swinomish or Skagit Native American tribes. 

You would be able to refute half-truths and untruths because you know and love your neighbor.

My professor, Shayk Yassir Chadly, and his wife Khadijah
But how many of us know Muslims? Or, if we do know Muslims, do our Muslim neighbors feel safe in identifying themselves?

I have Muslim friends, especially from my years of living and working in Berkeley, California and from my neighborhood in Seattle.

 I took a class in seminary on Islam, and it was taught by an imam, a leader of a mosque. 

My buddy Sohrob.
I had Muslim co-workers when we were interfaith chaplains at a hospital. We would respectfully serve anyone of any faith, helping the patient and their family to connect to their religious tradition or beliefs in a difficult time. 

I have traveled in Turkey, where Muslim women taught me how to wear a hijab (comfortable and warm in the windy weather of January). 

Idris Mosque in N Seattle
I know Muslims who have worked for peace for decades, including the mosque in Northgate in Seattle that hosts a barbecue every August for the whole neighborhood. They're really nice folks, and they are a blessing to their neighborhood. 

Yes, there are some people who say they are Muslim who have committed acts of terror. 
There are also people who say they are Christian who have also committed acts of terror. 

Islam does not mean terrorist, just as Christian does not mean terrorist.  

We are a diverse nation. As a Christian, I hear Jesus giving me the commandment to love God and to love my neighbors- all of them, including those of no faith and those of faiths other than mine. 

So I say this: Peace be with you. Or as they say at the mosque: Salaam aleikum- may peace be upon you. 

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