Tag Archives: Muslim-Christian solidarity

A Modern Pentecost

imageAt least once a year when I have to preach on the great story of Pentecost, I sit at my desk wondering what that must have sounded like. The story in the Christian scriptures tells how the followers of Jesus were stuck indoors waiting for instructions about what to do next after Jesus had returned to the Father. The writer of Luke-Acts describes the sound of a rushing wind enveloping the room. Later in the day, those same Jesus-followers took it to the streets and there began telling the story of Jesus to the visitors who had made pilgrimage to Jerusalem. I try to imagine the buzz on those Jerusalem byways as people from all over the world heard the proclamation in their own languages.

I caught a glimpse of the Pentecost phenomena on Sunday afternoon at the “Know Your Muslim Neighbor” Solidarity Event on Sunday afternoon. The event was sponsored by DuPage United, our local Industrial Areas Foundation community organizing affiliate. 850 people showed up. Yeah, I know. Amazing, right?

The numbers were impressive. But it’s not the raw number that is the important thing here. It’s what the numbers stand for and what happened. That many people showed up on a Sunday afternoon when they didn’t really know what was going to happen. What is a “Solidarity Event” anyway?

I have a hunch why our Muslim neighbors showed up. There is some measure of fear in the Muslim community. And with good reason. Too much of the hate-filled rhetoric coming from public figures is directed at them. They hear the language and see they the footage on television. Two days before our event, three Muslim teenagers were shot execution-style in Fort Wayne, Indiana. More importantly, they experience it in their daily life. One woman told a story of making phone calls for the PTA at her child’s school. The mom on the other end of the line asked her where she came from – she was born in America, by the way – and then proceeded to tell her that she didn’t belong here; she should go home. A Pew research poll a few years ago indicated that nearly 60% of Americans believe that Islam and American values are at odds. Yet 60% also admit to never having met a Muslim. My experience – at the event on Sunday also demonstrated – is that Muslims are eager to make connections and to dispel the stereotypes. The best way I can think of to do that is one person at a time.

But why would the Christians and Jews show up? I’m not exactly sure. But when I have talked with a few members of my congregation, they came because they don’t like what they see. The division and rancor in the national conversation disturbs tem. They don’t know what to do but they want to do something. So they showed up. And without exception, they have reported what a meaningful experience it was.

This event was designed and planned for the primary purpose of making connections across the communities, communities diverse in religion and culture, but communities that share so much in common.  We believed that if we could get people into the same room talking to each other, we could begin to dispel the stereotypes. We also wanted to make a public statement – directed especially at public officials and the media – that we will not tolerate hate-filled, prejudice-laced rhetoric.

The program wasn’t fancy. There were some introductory remarks, and a series of three speakers, each of whom spoke for 5 minutes. But the speakers weren’t the central focus. Between each of the speeches, the participants were invited to turn to their neighbor and hold conversation on a particular question. They questions were not particularly deep; they were not controversial. They were simply doorways into a one on one, human contact that is the fundamental building block of human society. Judging by the response of the folks on Sunday afternoon, it’s something that people are craving, even though the contact happened to be with perfect strangers.

In the last few days, I keep hearing powerful testimony of what happened in the conversations. Muslims told their stories of experiencing harassment and prejudice; non-Muslims learned and sometimes were shocked to hear that in this country where we supposedly honor the value of religious freedom, our fellow citizens do not feel free to practice their religion. A clergy colleague wrote me that she and a young Muslim woman sitting next to her realized at one point that they were both crying. The tears were partly sadness at the way things are, but they were also tears of hope at what might be, hope embodied by 850 people sitting together making conversation.

When small seemingly insignificant conversations become powerful moments for people, it says something. It’s worth noticing. It’s work that is fundamental to repairing the fabric of our society. We have a fundamental need to get beyond the isolation and division. We need a vision of what e pluribus unum might look like in the 21st century. That vision will not be enacted by politicians passing legislation; it won’t be happen by activists marching in public places. It will happen as we engage the long, slow, sometimes difficult, and ultimately rewarding and healing work of relating person to person, congregation to congregation. It will happen as we build those relationships, build our power, and then begin to take action.

In both the ancient Hebrew and ancient Greek language, the words nephesh and pneuma can be translated variously: Spirit, wind, breath. Gathering in that room on Sunday afternoon, as folks used their breath to engage in conversation, it sounded like the rush of a mighty wind. And I’m convinced it was the voice of the Spirit.

Which Story Will We Tell?

The stories we tell have a powerful influence in determining the life that we will lead. In our national life, we need a different story.

Every morning when I get up I get to determine which story will guide my day. Some days I am all too aware of my deficiencies.

  • I’m not very organized.
  • I live in my head.
  • It’s easy for me to procrastinate.

Some day’s it’s hard not to let that be the story.

I also recognize that for all my deficiencies, I also have gifts and I get to do my work in an amazing congregation with amazing people who invite me into the celebrations and the sorrows of their lives. I get to be part of God’s big work of bringing hope and life to a hurting world. That’s pretty cool. I want that to be the story that guides my day.


With respect to so many important matters in our national life together, we the people get to decide which story we’re going to tell.

There’s a story being told by the candidates for arguably the most powerful office in the world. They’re telling what is apparently a compelling story.

  • We should be afraid of people that aren’t like us.
  • Religions other than Christianity are dangerous.
  • By virtue of US power and exceptionalism, we have the right to impose our values and inflict violence on people around the world.
  • People who want to provide a life for their families have no right to leave war-torn places or places which offer them no opportunity for work to support their families and come to this land of opportunity.  (Even when, arguably, our own military and economic policies have contributed to the circumstances which have led to their insecurity. I digress.)
  • We have no obligation to our neighbor; I only need to care about myself and my tribe.
  • What makes us different and divides us is much more significant that what makes us similar and unites us.

While it may be a compelling story, it’s also a story that goes against everything I believe about God, about the human family, and about our life together. So, I am determined to tell a different story.

This Sunday, I’m going to be part of a gathering of Muslims and Christians that is sponsored by DuPage United, an organization of organizations committed to developing partnerships and taking action to improve our communities. Just before Christmas, a few of us came together believing that the story that is getting told is not the story we want to live. A little over a month ago, we set the ambitious goal of an event that would include 500 people, roughly equal numbers of Muslims and non-Muslims, to gather for conversation and relational work. Who would have believed that 4 days before the event, we have nearly 700 signed up, and we expect those numbers to continue to grow until we gather on Sunday afternoon? The majority of time will be spent one on one, neighbor with neighbor, getting to know one another; in doing so, we will begin to repair the torn fabric of our communities. We intend this event to be the opening of a long campaign of solidarity and partnership.

We are getting together because we want to be guided by a different story.

  • Our differences are not be be feared, but embraced.
  • We need each other and we can learn from each other.
  • Our neighbors are not strangers to be despised; they are fellow human beings to be loved and served.
  • We are all called to work together to enact God’s vision of a world redeemed and reconciled.

From what I can tell, it’s going to be a pretty good story.

I’ll come back next week and let you know how things went.