Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Nimrod in Florida

I don't know whether to be astonished, embarrassed, angry or disgusted by the story of the Gainesville, Florida pastor's plan to burn hundreds of copies of the Qu'aran on the eve of the Anniversary of 9/11.

I suppose I'm experiencing a bit of all of those emotions.

It's such a primal, primitive thing, isn't it? The power of fire to burn away the forces of Evil. It calls up images of ancient tribes dancing in a circle around a bonfire to ward off the evil forces of the enemy.

It's a tribal thing, really. Something from the pre-modern world. Superstitious beliefs based on ignorance and fear. In my mind's eye, I keep seeing images of women believed to be witches burning at the stake during the Salem Witch Trials.

It seems all a part of the Theater of The Absurd.

It's almost humorous - in the way a cartoon from one of Gary Larson's "The Far Side" collection reaches into the deep recesses of the reptilian part of my brain and makes me laugh.

I'm remembering one of my favorites. In the first frame, a big hulk of a guy stands in front of a towel dispenser in the men's room, reading the instructions: "Pull down. Tear up."

The next frame shows that the guy has pulled down and torn up the entire towel dispenser.

I suppose I thought about that particular cartoon because that's the way Pastor Terry Jones is reading select parts of Christian Scripture.  Funny, right?

Except, the scene unfolding at the "Dove World Outreach Center" (how ironic is that?) in Gainesville, Florida is anything but funny - even to the reptilian parts of my brain.

It's part and parcel of the Islamophobia which has infected this country of late, seen in all of its recent ugly, angry manifestation at 51Park, the proposed Islamic Community Center in lower Manhattan, brought to its "logical" conclusion. Except, it won't end there. Because, this kind of theological belligerence has no real logic except that of ignorance and hatred and fear.

The Gainesville Pastor of a tiny (a reported 50-100 members, depending on the source) non-denominational evangelical Christian church says that he feels "called by God," based on what he reads in Christian scripture, to "send a message" to all Muslims that their religion is evil and to "peaceful Muslims" to "continue being peaceful."

So, he started a Facebook page called "International Burn A Koran Day" - which almost immediately launched him into well more than his fifteen minutes of fame.

He says that the FBI, CIA and Homeland Security have all contacted him, asking him, in the name of national and international security, to change his plans.

Even General David Petraeus has expressed concerns that this may spark anti-American violence among extremists in Afghanistan and around the world. It would be detrimental and dangerous, especially, he says, to U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan.

Jones says that he shares that concern. "It's hard for people to believe, but we actually feel this is a message that we have been called to bring forth," he said last week. "And because of that, we do not feel like we can back down."

Jones says he has received over 100 death threats. So, he and some of his members are 'packing heat' - walking around with guns strapped to their bodies as they walk around the church grounds and pray in the church.

Please note that, according to Jones, the Qu'ran is "evil" because it espouses something other than the Christian biblical truth and incites radical, violent behavior among Muslims.

Pot, meet kettle.

Pull down. Tear up.

As faithful Muslims who observe the closing days of Ramadan pray ardently to Allah, faithful Jews pray to Yahweh as they celebrate the New Year with Rosh Hashanah. This is a holy time - a Holy Season - for many of God's children.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims consider Abraham father of the people of Israel. For Jews and Christians this is through his son Isaac, by his wife Sarah. For Christians, Jesus is our Great Prophet in whom we all share in his Priesthood. For Muslims, Abraham is a prophet of Islam and the ancestor of Muhammad through his other son Ishmael, born to him by Sarah's handmaiden, Hagar.

Although called by different names and worshiped in different ways, Christians, Jews and Muslims all share the same One God. It all comes down to a question of spiritual and theological legitimacy - and whose Word is more sacred, more holy.

Meanwhile, the ninth anniversary of 9/11 fast approaches. Images of the destruction of the Twin Towers loom like the ancient Tower of Babylon.

It is an image filled with ironic symbolism.

Although the Bible never states this explicitly, the Tower of Babel is assumed to have been built by Nimrod, the son of Cush, grandson of Ham, and a great grandson of Noah, who was depicted in Scripture as a man of power and a great hunter.

The legend of Nimrod and the Tower of Babel is that Nimrod ordered the Tower to be built not to the honor and glory of God, but as a means to lure the people from their dependence up God and to bring them into constant dependence upon his power.

The idea of this great grandson of Noah was to thumb his nose at the God who once tried to destroy the world, if God should ever have a mind to drown the world again. Nimrod would build a tower too high for the waters to reach. In so doing, he would avenge his ancestors for destroying their forebears.

Scripture (Genesis 11: 1-9) tells us that when God saw that the people acted so madly, S/he did not resolve to destroy them. Instead, God caused a tumult among them, by producing in them diverse languages, and causing that, through the multitude of those languages, they should not be able to understand one another.

Well, good work, God. Mission accomplished. We seem to have many Nimrods who have built many symbolic towers to our own honor and glory. We increasingly rely on our own power and not Yours. We remain confused and fearful and angry. We don't understand one another and are constantly at war with one another, leading us further and further away from building up your Kingdom, your Realm of Peace.

Except, of course, for Christians, the story of the Tower of Babel is redeemed by the story of Pentecost: "And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven. Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language." (Acts 2:1-6)

I suspect "Pastor Nimrod" in Gainesville, Florida has not gotten that far in his reading of Holy Scripture.

I'm going to leave you with a few other images - ones of healing and kindness. The following is a video by Sami Yusuf, a British-Iranian Azeri Muslim singer-songwriter. The music he composes and the lyrics he writes relate mainly to Islam and being a Muslim in a rapidly changing, post-modern world.

The BBC has dubbed him "The King of Muslim Pop."

Yusuf is a devoutly spiritual Muslim and often uses his art and music as a means of promoting the messages of love, mercy, peace and tolerance, which he reads in the Qu'ran. He strongly encourages Islamic youth to be proud of their identity.

Yusuf says of this song, "It is an attempt to honor the small acts of kindness. It is a tribute to those who sacrifice and stand up for good even when it's hard, even when it's tough -- it is an embodiment of gracious generosity in practice."

I think that's exactly what's called for in response to the 9/11 event being planned by a modern day Nimrod: Healing through simple, small acts of kindness.

It's what Jesus would do. And, Muhammad. And, Moses. And, the Buddha.

And all who love truly love the One God who loves us all. Each and every one.


Anonymous said...


Funny ain't it how actions beget reactions. The off/on-again threatened Quran burning has sparked a number of counter-events in the Gainesville area, including public readings from the Quran, by various local faith communities. Parenthetically I'm pleased but not surprised that the G'ville Friends Meeting is among them (my affiliation).


Francis sirfr AT earthlink etc.

Anonymous said...

Religion isn't the solution; it isn't even part of the solution. Religion is a part of the problem.
Look at the countries/areas where religion is powerful-would you really rather live there than in places that are more secular?
Progressives constantly hold up the areas of the world in which their ideals are followed; interestingly enough, these are places where religious belief and practice are the least.
Religious activities are so boring. And you have to pay money. And talk to people you might not want to. And get up earlier on Sunday.
Why bother?

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Okay, Anonymous who didn't sign your name. I only printed your comment because you do ask worthwhile questions (except, of course, the jab at "progressives" which was either a jab meant directly for me or you are a conservative wolf hiding in sheep's clothing).

Here's the deal - you only get one of these then you have to leave your name.

So, MY answer - in two parts:

1. I agree with you. Religion is part of the problem.

2. I disagree with you: Religion is part of the solution.

And no, you don't "have to pay money and get up earlier on Sunday". You don't have to do either of those things. You do it because you want to. You do it out of gratitude for all of the amazing things God has done for you. You do it despite religion and in spite of some of the mean-spirited idiots who just don't seem to "get it".

Organized religion is, in many ways, an acquired taste. It's not for everyone. But, for those who are part of it, like me, I hope to be part of the solution more often that part of the problem.

Some days, that actually happens.

I wish you peace.