Istanbul

Terrorists struck Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport Tuesday, using bombs and gunfire to kill 41 and injure 239 innocent people. This terrible tragedy and act of violence calls for our thoughts and prayers.

13516741_10154297659004904_8461218823853010519_nBut it also calls for something much more. Out of the utmost and utter respect for the memories of those who lost their lives in Istanbul, we must refrain from attributing this action to Muslims or people of the Islamic faith.

Muslims – real, peace-loving followers of the Prophet (PBUH) – don’t attack and kill their fellow Muslims during Ramadan, the holiest month of the year. In fact, Muslims don’t kill anyone; terrorists do. The Quran, after all, forbids murder and terrorism and a lot of other killing-related things. Really, it does. Read it here. And don’t talk to me about how some parts of the Quran sanction killing non-believers. Guess what else can seem to sanction terrible acts of genocide and murder if taken out of context? Yeah, the Bible.

So, to blame these attacks, and really any terrorist attack, on Islam, is to tarnish the memory of those who lost their lives, and those peaceful Muslims around the world who have lost their lives at the hands of terror.

Islam is a religion of peace. Anyone who commits violent acts, no matter what justification they give those acts (religious or otherwise) has no claim to the faith.

People of faith all around the world – Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Baha’is, and every other – must come together to remind those who would spread hate, fear, and terror: the one Divine Spirit that binds us all together – the one we variously call God, Allah, Yahweh, Ishvara, Creator, Waheguru, Source, Ground of Being, Ultimate Concern, Lord, – is a Spirit of peace and love and fellowship.

May we all pray for those killed and injured in Istanbul, and for humankind, that we may overcome our alienation from God and one another, and rediscover the love and peace we were created in.

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Hope and Rage: Responding to Orlando

America has a problem.

Several problems, actually.

We have a problem with guns. We have a problem with Muslims. And we have a problem with LGBTQI+ people.

And this weekend, all three of those problems came together in an orgy of violence and hate-based reactions to that violence.

America has problems. Problems we can’t solve with a paradigm shift in how we understand and engage with the world.

***

13406774_1082534845153426_4820491155348874826_nI first heard the news out of Orlando early yesterday morning, after getting up to get ready to head for work at All Souls. Once I resolved to write about it, my first instincts were anger, frustration and vitriol towards those I know perpetuate these kinds of things in our society.

That was my instinct throughout the day, as news unfolded and the death toll rose about 50. Every time I opened Facebook, I saw the anguished, fearful and rage-filled reactions of my LGBT friends, and their many allies. And so anguish, fear and rage is what I continued to feel as well.

I felt (and feel) rage about the fact that, after hundreds and hundreds of deaths, this country still would rather worship the false god of the 2nd Amendment, and his consort, the false goddess of money, than respect and value the worth of human bodies. It fills me with rage that a small minority of special interests refuses to allow us to engage the very really problem of gun violence, a problem that only seems to exist in America.

I feel rage that this catastrophe will be used to create hate and fear towards our Muslim brothers and sisters, all of whom are love-filled, peaceful human beings, children of God like you and I. Instead of knowing that, elements of our society (led by a certain opportunistic, xenophobic presidential candidate) will use this as an opportunity to spread hate and Islamaphobia, casting the guilt of a small number of violent cretins who misuse the name of the Prophet (PBUH) to spread their medieval ideology onto an entire religion.

And it fills me with rage that again – AGAIN – our LGBTQI+ siblings have been targeted by regressives with violence, and have again become victims of hate just because of who they are. Again, they must be explicitly reminded they everyday they have to live in fear. But what really fills me with rage is that the very “leaders” and bigots who fan the flames of hate – who spend all their time bemoaning the supposed dangers of LGBT people marrying who they love, using the restroom and the dressing room, even just existing, those who use religion and “Common sense” to spread hate speech and state that LGBT people are somehow subhuman and unworthy of the same rights and privileges as other human beings – these folks will be taking to Twitter and Fox News to offer “thoughts and prayers” and talk about how we need “Biblical values” right now. These people have blood on their hands, and it is awfully rich of them to act anguished and upset now, when this is merely the logical outcome of their rhetoric and actions.

This is the rage I felt, and that I still feel.

***

IMG_20160612_190404Last night, I attended a beautiful Taize service at Trinity Episcopal Church here in Tulsa. It was just what my soul needed after the feelings evoked by Orlando. The quiet, the dark, the candles, the beautiful music – perfect.

And it was during the times of silence and prayer in that beautiful space, that I began to feel rage dissipate as the primary feeling I had. Instead, as I sat there, and I experienced the love of God, I felt a new feeling: hope.

I know that’s easy for me to feel, as a white male in Tulsa. I didn’t lose any loved ones yesterday. I didn’t have my community, my existence, attacked yesterday, and everyday for years and years.

But hope is what I feel now. Hope that maybe this time, this horrific, terrible, unspeakable event, will be the one that tips the scales.

I have hope that maybe the scale of this atrocity, perpetuated by a man who was on terrorist watch lists but still able to purchase guns, will wake us up to the absolute necessity of common sense rules around the purchase of guns, and a better sense of the culture of violence gun culture creates.

I have hope that it will be this that wakes people up to the fact that the rhetoric and language used by so many in this nation about LGBT people is unacceptable and dangerous. Maybe people’s hearts will be thawed as a result of the very human nature of this tragedy, by the images of bodies no different that yours and mine, cast down and lifeless. Maybe we can take a big step forward here in accepting our LGBT siblings for who they are, acknowledging their inherent worth for who they are.

And I have hope that maybe we will be strong enough and mature enough to not blame our Muslim brothers and sisters for the actions of this man, or the actions of ISIS or Al Qaeda or any other group or person who hijacks their faith for their own selfish reasons. I have hope that, as we watch American Muslims rally with us in support of peace, we will begin to see that they worship the same God the rest of us do, and that at the end of this life, they will join us in the next life just like everyone else. I have hope that we will see past the demagoguery and hate of those asking to lead us, that we will not succumb to racism, xenophobia, fascism, but instead we will rally together as a nation around love and hope.

***

In the face of the great tragedy and sickness we see in Orlando, I have hope. I have rage, but I also, overwhelmingly, have hope.

I have hope because, after leaving Taize last night, I saw images and words from the vigil held here last night at the Majestic club, of people of all walks of life and religions and backgrounds, coming together to support one another and demonstrate that, in the end, love wins. Hate and violence will always fail. Love and acceptance wins in the end, because God is love and we are walking images of that Love and that Love can’t lose.

So, grieve, hurt, cry, scream, rage. Recognize that we have big problems as a society. It’s right to do so, and you should. But have hope. The night is darkest before the dawn, but the dawn WILL come.

Finding Bonhoeffer in the face of American Fascism

I just started reading The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I knew the bare outlines of his life and death, but the edition I have had a great foreword documenting Bonhoeffer’s life and beliefs. Obviously, there was much about his principled and faith-filled stand against Hitler, the Nazis, and consequently, his own country.

This knowledge coincided this week with the visit of Donald Trump here to Tulsa, appearing at Oral Roberts University with Sarah Palin in tow yesterday. To me, Trump’s candidacy and the following he has inspired over the last year is positively fascist in its outlook, rhetoric, and goals.

Now, I don’t mean to say this for reasons of provocation, nor do I mean to intimate that I believe Trump supporters are fascists or Nazis. Far from it. I think the infatuation with Trump, and more specifically, with the message he is spreading, is appealing to a demographic that is feeling threatened and frustrated with the trajectory of America in the Obama era. Trump supporters are no more responsible for his hate and bigotry than average Germans were responsible for the actions of the Nazi Party seventy years ago.

I also know the perils of comparing anybody to Hitler or Nazis, and as former political operative and ongoing politics and history junkie, I fully understand the weight of such an allusion. But it is one I fully intend to make.

One of the actions that inspired this line of thinking from me was Trump’s new ploy of calling out and tossing protestors from his appearances, and specifically, tossing visible Muslims. Especially striking was the taunting and hate directed several weeks ago against a hijabi who was silently standing in protest against Trump.

This video, this whole thing, makes my very soul ache. I have seen few sadder things. I can’t even express the deep level of genuine anguish and sadness this makes me feel as I just think about it, without even having to watch the video again. I can’t watch it again.

Is this where we are America? Is this what animates us, what gets us excited and into the political arena? Pure, unadulterated hate towards a group of peaceful people, towards our fellow human beings?

Over the past months, as a result of the hate emanating from swathes of America, I have had the beautiful opportunity to get to know the Muslim community in Tulsa. I have made good friends, and send beautiful acts of love and tolerance towards people of different beliefs. Some of my friends look strikingly like this woman who Trump targeted. It makes me so sad to picture my friends in that place. It makes me so sad to think about what they must be feeling, as they go about their normal American lives, at the grocery store or the mall or the gas station or in their place of worship or at their child’s school, in constant fear that they will the target of hateful words, or possibly even worse.

In a few weeks, I have the opportunity to sit on a panel at the Muslim Day at the Oklahoma Capital. I greatly look forward to the whole event, and to interacting with amazing people. But I dread the hate and bigotry I will be witness to from my fellow Oklahomans. I fear for the safety of my friends, their physical safety and their psychological safety. I don’t want to see them hurt, but I know I will see it, because people can’t control their hate and their fear.

And I hold Donald Trump responsible right now. I hold his campaign, and the whole twisted premise of it responsible. He is not the first to act this way; he is certainly part of a political party full of power-hungry individuals who view the degradation of Muslim men and women, and the fear they stir up, as effective electoral strategies. It is sickening that an entire party has seized on such a tactic. But Donald Trump is in effect the standard bearer of the Republican Party in 2016, and certainly the standard bearer for right wing hate, and so he is responsible for this moment in American life.

Trump is appealing to people because of their feelings of alienation and disempowerment. His supporters are chiefly white, middle class, and with lower levels of education. This demographic feels like the America they are living in is one they no longer recognize. They feel that the growing diversity and calls for inclusive spaces and speech are aimed at them. They feel that the benefits of being American no longer are reserved chiefly for them, but are instead being bestowed upon minority groups. And by and large, they are right about these things. America is increasingly less white and less Christian. The edifice of white supremacy is being torn down bit by bit, and like a cornered animal, it is fighting back harder than ever. It is almost assuredly a losing fight, but it won’t be conquered quietly. So, just like the mass of German citizens who felt their nation was being humiliated and marginalized, and this turned to a leader who promised to “make Germany great again,” so this class of Americans are turning to a man who scratches an itch for them.

12376373_10153175862422680_2282138454409409886_nThe fact that Donald Trump almost assuredly doesn’t believe the things he says, deep down, makes it that much worse, and that much scarier. Trump has a 30+ year public record, and this tone and attitude has just come out in the last couple of years. If he is nothing else, Trump has an amazing ability to discern what it is the America public wants to hear, and to give it to them. That’s what makes this whole thing so crazy: it’s not that Trump has burst onto the scene with a previously formed worldview, that he is now dressing up in patriotism to win supporters; instead, he is tapping into the sentiment of public discontent, and telling the people what they, deep down, want to say themselves. A deeply committed fascist is bad enough; an opportunistic, pandering barometer of public sentiment who has seized upon fascism because it fits the national mood is a whole other, terrifying animal.

I started this talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his opposition to Nazism in Germany, and I want to circle back to that. I have no idea what is was like to live in that time or place. I don’t want to insinuate that we are on the brink of anything as earth-shatteringly awful as the Holocaust. But I imagine that the climate we see towards Muslims as a result of Trump is very similar to what Jews experienced in Germany in the ‘30s and ‘40s. This is the chief reason why I attribute the title “fascist” to the Trump campaign. Fascism is primarily distinguished by nationalism, a militant/masculine tone, social conservatism, and the scapegoating of political, religious and ethnic minorities. Who can deny that those are key features of the Trump movement?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a hero and martyr because he stood strong in his convictions, even in the face of horrendous death. Not only that, but he did it in opposition to his nation and heritage. Bonhoeffer was a proud German, and the fact that he, in effect, took the position of advocating for his own nation’s defeat in a world war, for the sake of the human race, is an amazing testimony.

The prevailing Christian attitude in America is a weird amalgam of two seemingly opposing worldviews, one that embraces a religious nationalism that has equated America with Christianity, and one that tries to show how “non-worldly” it is, that revels in the idea of being “not of this world,” and that constantly laments the sinfulness of American society. We are a people who complain about the commercialization of American society while we walk through megamalls loading up on all the stuff we can.

Bonhoeffer showed us a different a way. He was a man who was proud of the nation and people he came from, who despite it’s shortcomings, loved Germany and took pride in his identification as a German. And at the same time, understood that, as a Christian, he had a higher allegiance, not just to God, but to humanity as a whole, to the entire Earth. Thus, when his nation became a menace to that very humanity, he didn’t public lament it’s descent into madness while failing to back up his ideas with his actions. He stood against his nation, it’s leaders and his fellow citizens in the name of love and justice and grace. He recognized that demonizing others isn’t the way to restore a nation. He was the quintessential Christian of the 20th century, and amazing example for all those who strive to exist in modern society while practicing the loving, others-oriented Way of Jesus.

It is for these very reasons that I wrote months ago that one cannot be both an honest Christian and a Trump supporter. I got a lot of pushback for that statement, but I stand by it as much now as I did then, if not more. The actions of Donald Trump and his supporters towards our Muslim brothers and sisters are despicable and heartbreaking. They reveal a deep-seeded, extreme nationalist, bigoted streak of pseudo-fascism that has long existed deep in the American psyche, and is bursting forth like never before. We have a Christian obligation to stand against this attitude, to stand with our brothers and sisters, even if they have a different religion or ethnicity or skin color. We have a duty to be an army of Dietrich Bonhoeffers in the face of ugly fascism, acting with humility and love and a steadfast regard for the oppressed and beaten down. That is what the cost of discipleship looks like. That is what it means to be a follower of the Way of Christ today.