Monday, August 23, 2010

Who is Our Neighbor?: on American faith, floods and community centers

"Dear God, We thank you for being kind to us./Help us to think of other people./We hope we will be kind to everyone/All through the years." - a prayer written in the Anshai Emeth Temple
"Did pakistan help us after 911 or after the string of hurricanes that hit new orleans? NO you say. Then screw em. we have our own problems right here." - Facebook

"O...... HELL NO....! How in the world can you suggest that we send money to Pakistan when when we have long term unemployed that are suffering. We have been kicked under a bus and forgotten." - Facebook

"LET THEM FLOAT" - Facebook

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. - Matthew 23:27, ASV

This morning, I checked my Facebook feed and the White House had posted a story about establishing a flood relief fund for Pakistan. The misguided vitriol this post unleashed was predictable but also sad. The political angle can be covered by someone else; I'm interested in what this reaction to millions of flood victims says about the conflicted ways we Americans declare our Christian faith, especially in light of the widespread hysteria over Cordoba House.

In the New Testament, the easiest lessons to be taught are about the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  We see this message repeated in the Beatitudes, in questions about who one's neighbor really is, in parables about good Samaritans and encountering strange women at wells in the middle of the afternoon. It is at the center of Christ's caution to 'him that is without sin, cast the first stone.'

Repeatedly, through Christ's ministry, we are reminded that we are all neighbors, even to those who spitefully use us; this lesson culminates in Christ's ultimate sacrifice, creating grace and forgiveness (and salvation) for all of us, even those who crucified him. The simplest reading of Christianity asks us to model Christ's sacrifice as well as his ability to love (through thought and action) his enemies.

For me, more than sticking to dogma or doctrine (which are often distractions against loving one's neighbor), learning to love my neighbor is a constant struggle. My neighbor is the rabid racist; the homophobe; the war-mongering, woman-hating Republican. And I am called to be like Christ and to love them, instead of punching them in their pie-hole, the way I really want.

(Like I said, it's a daily struggle and I ask for forgiveness often.)

And, apparently, it is a lesson that most American Christians will never really learn.

When given the opportunity to demonstrate what it means to be Christian, instead of reaching out to our neighbors, we march against Islamic community centers, refuse to help flood victims and justify it with a mealy-mouthed whine about 'us':

'What about us? What about my pain? My suffering? What about my losses?'

Well, what about them?

If we bothered to read our Bibles, we'd know that we are never promised prosperity and safety; what makes us think our pain means anything? It is our condition to experience pain and loss. Holding the pain and fear of 9/11 like a talisman turns it into an idol, an object to worship, rather than using our faith to overcome our pain and fear. By holding such pain close we also reject God's ability to ease our pain and suffering. Why such little faith in what God can do?

It saddens me to see how little faith American so-called Christians have in our faith. It's sad that the most basic of Sunday School lessons is lost in our fiery desire to see others suffer to assauge our own suffering. But, as an old school Baptist preacher's daughter, I'm also worried. Because if the Bible has taught me anything, it's that God has a healthy sense of 'what goes around, comes around.'

If I was one of these Christians breaking the Golden Rule, I'd be a little concerned about that.


Carla said...

Amen and amen.

No Nonsense said...

Love this post.

What is even more sad is the false prophets that stoke the fire.

Em said...

The thing is, it is political. Apparently the gay hating thing isn't fresh any longer so the republicans need to bash Muslims. I appreciate your calling Christians to task, and I think we need to go further and ask republicans to repudiate these divisive tactics.