Living in community is quite the challenge at times. I am speaking of the broader community, which I am called to influence and to serve. Yesterday was both a moment of immersion and contrast as I moved from an interfaith breakfast back to my home congregation.
The breakfast group was no different than my everyday collective of those whom I do life with, except that we were all more open, transparent about our personal approach to life. That statement alone is telling about the society we live in. We are probably too comfortable with masking our belief systems, being silent about our values in the name of inclusion, when really what it produces is long term isolation and misunderstanding. We walk among people every day, attempting to be cordial for the sake of relationships and work environment but never really knowing with whom we work and play.
I listened as a fellow citizen of my small community of Clemmons shared the challenges of integrating her life into the American culture while remaining devout to her faith as a Muslim. The harsh response of an immigration employee, whom I am sure felt he was doing his job, pulling her apart from others, asking her to “remove that thing from your head, you are now in America.” It seems it took her 7 years to recover from that intersect with an authority figure, whom she may have assumed was Christian? My heart was touched as well by her early experiences with Christians as a child, her classmates in a catholic school in Sudan, apparently representing Christ much better than the adults she would later meet in America.
I must admit that the story told regarding the tradition behind her head apparel was somewhat alarming, explained not as Islamic in terms of a command of the Quran, but rather an ancient means of distinction between Islamic women and slaves, the latter available for rape and molestation. The tradition now is seen more as a means of private devotion to one’s spouse, keeping themselves set apart, exposing their outward beauty only in the home, thus reducing the likelihood of a male comparing his wife with others in the workplace. I must admit that a change of heart would serve better than restricting one sex for the sake of keeping the other faithful.
Before anyone thinks that I am coming down on Muslims, our Old Testament has some similar corollaries unless interpreted through the filter of the life of Jesus. Even we practicing Christians hold less than enviable records for divorce, now at 42% per the Huff Post on Religion and according to Barna: “While it may be alarming to discover that born-again Christians are more likely than others to experience a divorce, that pattern has been in place for quite some time.”
My point here is not to pick on people of other faiths, for obviously we don’t have it all together either. My point is the challenge of listening to the life stories of those with whom we live work and play and yet, being true to my own values, while learning from others.
What am I struggling with this a.m.? My reading this morning was around Paul’s statement in I Thessalonians 1:3,as he compliments those who live a life “produced by faith,… prompted by love,…inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a very similar passage to that of the Old Testament Prophet Micah as he sorts out the laws of men from the expectations of God: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? “ (NKJV).
I guess I am challenged by the limiting factor placed on God and his true loveliness by religion. The New Testament presents similar but much more subtle challenges to that of my muslim friend for women in today’s church, I Cor 11:15,requiring head coverings for a woman in church. The American church as a whole is much more obliging and in some cases over the years that has become a fancy hat day for many. I guess its good to laugh at ourselves occaisionally?
Shall I mention Paul’s recommendation later in chapter 14 that women keep silent in the church and if they have questions, ask their husbands later?
I have to believe that both Islam and fundamentalist Christianity have their own gender bias which we readily violate in today’s culture. Is that a violation of the word or a maturation of our understanding? If the latter is the case, is there room for further clarification as to how we present Jesus? Is our access to God (“I am the way, the truth and the light, no man comes to the Father accept by me?”) the confession of his name or true repentance and acceptance of his lifestyle? If Jesus was God was his appearing a means of demonstrating contrast to the difficult means that Judaism had required of others to get to God, given how simple he made it for the worst of sinners?
The current method of confession of the name, acceptance of God’s grace seems to be much less laborious than keeping the Old Testament law, the rules of the New Testament church or even the requirements of the Quran. Sometimes howeve, the way we present Jesus as Christians after our conversion separates us little from the religions we seem called to defy in Christ’s name?
Guess I am just struggling a little with the question: “What would Jesus Do” with a morning like I experienced yesterday?