In a previous blog, I mentioned that on the bus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem I sat next to a Jordanian man in suit and tie who, on hearing that I was an American living in Bethlehem, insisted on giving me a gift of a large, beautiful, hand embroidered shawl. He had picked this up somewhere as a gift for someone, but he pressed it on me and wouldn’t take no for an answer. As we did not have much language in common, I never really understood his motive, which made for some extra security screening when I flew out of Tel Aviv. I really did have something with me to take on the plane that someone had given me for no apparent reason.
Now that I think back on it, though, I suspect he gave it to me as a condolence gift. Living as I was in a news void, I did not know at the time about the massacre at Mt. Hood which was breaking news at the time on all the Arabic news stations.
Now that I am home and have read a little bit about that event, like all people of good will I am filled with sadness and anger. The Mt. Hood tragedy was senseless and agonizing, and whether it was the act of a mentally unbalanced person, a terrorist or, one might argue, both, it defies our ability to take it in. Like 9/11, such atrocities deeply unsettle us whether we were directly involved or not, and open a wound in the collective heart.
When the terrorists cry “Allahu Akbar,” they are crying, “God is great.” It is one of the 99 Beautiful Names of God in the Islamic religion, used most sacriligiously, I might add, as a battle cry and an excuse to engage in murder, which God does not desire. Whether we name the Most High “Allah” or “Abuna” (“Father,” in Arabic) as Arab Christians do, God is God. Arabic Muslims also say “Allah ar Rahim” and “Allah ar Rahman”, which mean “God the merciful” and “God the Compassionate.” And they way “Allah al Malik,” God the ruler of all. In these names they touch concepts and understandings of God which relate directly to our understanding of God the Father/Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. We do know a God of compassion and mercy, One who is ruler of all and who will one day wipe all tears from our eyes and finally bring true righteousness, justice and peace to the earth. Yet historically we, too, have at times referred to God as a warrior, and engaged in bloodshed in God’s name.
It sounds like the colleagues of the Mt. Hood shooter had had reason to suspect him of dire motives, asking themselves if he was a terrorist well before any shooting took place. We do need to have appropriate caution when people express hateful sentiments against others as this man allegedly did, no matter what their religious affiliation.
Islamic people are not all cut from the same cloth. We know this. We Christians have our fundamentalists also, and our fringe sects, some of whom have also used our Scriptures to justify violence. We must be careful to address our fears without succumbing to racial profiling. I’ve just spent 3 weeks in Palestine among Arabic people. I was loved and welcomed. Of course I could have run into some fringe group that wanted to do harm in God’s name. Instead, everywhere I met with kindness and welcome, even though our government and my taxes fund the military machine that fuels the occupation under which the Palestinian people suffer. (And they do suffer.) I could also run afoul of fringe people here in my own society, since heaven knows we have our own home-grown madmen and terrorists. Let’s be sure we meet the people of Arabic descent in our midst with the same kindness we would like to receive, were we in a foreign land and culture, and dependent on the hospitality of others. Lord, make us instruments of Your Peace.