Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Decision '08, Amr, and the Dream of God

The first time I ever met Joe Phelps, the pastor of Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, he raised his glass after his wife requested he make a toast. Whether premeditated or extemporaneous, Joe stated with the sincerity of a non clutching her rosary, "To the dream of God for this world." This simple statement implies a great deal, theologically speaking (which I will gladly speak as it's my job as a divinity student). To say that God has a dream, and to hold one's heart and glass up as a witness to that dream, is to believe that God has an intended outcome, a hope, for this world. This does not mean that God has set all outcomes in motion nor does it mean that God sits idly by the creation watching matters unfold like a gambler at a roulette wheel. For us to bear witness to the dream of God we willingly participate in God's activity in, with, and through the creation. The matter of divergence seems to be then what on earth (as it is in heaven) is the dream of God?

With this in mind, I asked our tour guide Amr what he thinks of the American elections and if he knows much about them. He said he has heard of some of the candidates and he asked us what many of them stand for. We talked about healthcare, poverty, peace, terrorism, education, etc and we expressed our various hopes for the new president. "Of course, everyone hopes for such things," said Amr. After this I asked him about the Muslim Brotherhood, a political party in Egypt with some growing influence. They believe that Islam provides the way for government and society to be organized and should be followed strictly. Interestingly enough though, our fearless leader explained to us how when matters of healthcare and education for all are raised in the Parliament, the only ones to oppose are the MB. The Muslims we have met and talked to speak of peace and charity for all peoples and that there must be peaceful dialogue among the religions. But who gets the news coverage? Ultra-Conservative Fundamentalist Muslims who are the ones who oppose education, healthcare, and tolerance towards all faiths? Terrorists and hate-mongers?

When we went to the Coptic Monastery, Father Sedrack (Spelling?) got into a discussion with Amr about Islam and the current state of Egypt. What was fascinating to me seemed to be that this discussion could have just as easily been in America and about American Christianity. The heated rhetoric, the Christian opposition to healthcare and education and all the way to ultra-conservative groups like the Restorationists who believe that the Bible should be absolutely followed as a blueprint for structuring our society. The similarities to the worldview of the MB and the Religious-Right are bone chilling and perplexing. But, what of the rest of us?

Islam is the combination of three consonants: SLM. Hebrew and Arabic are closely connected and if you insert the vowels in Hebrew, one gets ShaLoM. In Arabic, one gets SaLaaM. To add "mu" implies a person, so a muSLiM is one who is at peace through submission to God. The rhetoric of news media, televangelists, and many arm-chair religious historians tells us that Islam seeks world domination. Ironically, does fundamentalist Christianity not seek the same thing? For the Muslims who I call friends, brothers, or sisters, there is a likemindness about how the world is. We all join with Amr in saying, "Of course everyone hopes for such things." We desire justice, mercy, and humility before God. We all hope for peace. We spend such much time fearing the other when in reality, there is no other: we are all human. We all share the earth as our common home and God as our common parent. To be a Christian is to be something different from a Muslim; this is true. We are not all the same. But the diversity which exists among us is good and a reflection of the vast array of difference found naturally in the creation. To assume assimilation is to do violence to God's intended diversity. So, in 2008, where do we stand? We must choose to stand in solidarity with those who wish to dream the dreams of God-dreams of hope and love. To hope for healthcare and education for all regardless of social standing, tax bracket, or gender is to believe that with God we can make this world a better place.

Amr told us that with the internet more people can start reading and learning about freedom, religion, and politics so perhaps with this new knowledge and wisdom people will choose to love and learn, rather than hate and fight. This might sound like pipe dreams to many, but it seems that many Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Ba'hai, and so many more are seeking, hoping, and longing for this dream to be realized. I suppose I do, too. Maybe this is the dream we have been looking for. In any case, here's to the dream of God for this world. Not for America. Not for Egypt. Not for England. Not for Indonesia. For this world. Amen.


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