Tag Archives: solidarity

To My Friends

blackI believe in the power of words. I believe language gives us the ability to call worlds into being.

Yet, I feel like all the words have been used. There is nothing left to say. And I despair that we are using words to call a world into being that is full of violence, hatred, and fear.

To my LGBTQ friends: my heart aches. I have never been anything but white, male, and straight. In other words, I am usually the majority and the one with the power whenever I walk into a room. I do not know what it means to be marginalized. And I do not know what it feels like to be afraid simply because of who you are. I do not know what this massacre must feel like to your community. I want to be an ally. I am always, ever learning in my own stumbling way how to do that. For whatever that’s worth.

To my friends in the Muslim community: my heart aches. Here we go again. What happened in Orlando obviously bears no resemblance — not even a tiny resemblance — to the faith that I see you profess and practice. Yet you are being lumped in with the most radical and extreme adherents of your religion, even though you have said over and over that they do not represent your religion at all. You are understandably becoming fearful again to live in a country that wants to the world to believe freedom is our highest value and that it is the land of opportunity for everyone. Our actions too often demonstrate that we really believe freedom and opportunity are reserved primarily for white Christians. I heard my friend Hani Atassi interviewed on NPR, telling that the security fence put up around their mosque after San Bernadino had just been taken down a few weeks ago. Now it is being put back up. I have never given one second’s thought to putting up a security fence around my church. When a deranged Lutheran Christian shot 9 people last summer in a church in Charleston, he was called a disturbed young man with ties to white supremacists. There was no mention of his religion. This weekend, the perpetrator was immediately tied to Islam. It must be particularly difficult that this happened during your holy time of Ramadan, a time that I understand is intended to be full of the joy of practicing your faith in such a concrete discipline. You are my friends. I stand with you.

To my Latino friends: my heart aches. I don’t think we know whether the fact that the attack at Pulse occurred on Latino night by coincidence or design. But at some level that doesn’t matter. The majority of those killed and injured were Latino by ethnic heritage. I also don’t know what that feels like, to be targeted because of where my ancestors came from.

These three communities have been the target of hate, suspicion, and bigotry over the past several months. I don’t want to make a straight line of causation when there’s no proof — and maybe never will be — of the shooter’s motives. But as I said, I believe in the power of words. And the power of words to call worlds into being. And the words being used are calling into being a dystopic world that I want no part of. Naively, I have believed we could do better. NaiveIy, I have believed that we wanted to do better. I’m beginning to wonder.

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.

On Being Afraid to Open My Scriptures in a Coffee Shop

bibleI had a morning meeting in Hyde Park. It’s about 25 miles from where I live and takes me through the heart of downtown Chicago. At best it’s a 45 minute drive; at worst, it can take more than an hour and a half. I hate sitting in traffic. My solution? Get up when the humans are still asleep and get on the road. Early. Upon arrival, sit in a coffee shop and get some work done until it’s time for the meeting.

It took 45 minutes. Perfect. Found that coffee shop, did my journaling and then turned to one of my lenten commitments: to read through the gospels in these 40 days. I sat there in that public place at a small table next to the counter with my little pocket bible open, reading Matthew 13 and 14.

Where I live, that’s a common thing. On those days when my morning meeting schedule takes me into Panera or Starbucks or Blackberry Market or River City Roasters, I can virtually guarantee that someone will be sitting there with a bible open. Just as often there’s a group (usually it’s men) having their small group/accountability group/prayer meeting right there in that public place. In fact, I remember some of those books I had to read for evangelism class in the seminary encouraging that very tactic as an opportunity to witness to the faith. Someone will stop and ask what you are doing and you can tell them about Jesus. It’s ubiquitous. It’s expected. So, afraid to open my scriptures in a coffee shop?  Never.

On Monday evening, I sat with a group of Muslims and Christians. This came up in the conversation:  my friend and colleague said in passing that she’s “afraid to open my Koran in a public place, much less pray.” A public place like a coffee shop. Or restaurant. Or library. Afraid of harassment, or worse, of physical abuse.

And I cried inside. A simple thing that is so common for Christians is something that our Muslim neighbors are afraid to do.

This xenophobic climate being fanned by public figures is not theoretical. It’s not empty rhetoric. Words matter. These are real people. And they are our neighbors. Fellow Americans. Fellow citizens.

Silence is complicity.