"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, February 13, 2007 A Response from Baghdad
The world is getting smaller, flatter and more interesting by the minute. Ten years ago, I never would have been able to preach a sermon using text from an online journal from occupied Baghdad. And ten years ago, I never would have had the young man who wrote that journal read my sermon and write a response to it.
But that's exactly what happened. (You can get a little bit of how the connection was made by reading the comments from that last post)
A friend who monitors references to this site using google alerts forwarded a link to this internet version of a sermon called “Things Of Infinite Importance” of a priest who is a member of the American Christian sect called “Espiscopalians” (sic)
It seems to me from reading about them that they are the American version of the English Christian Sect called the “Church of England”. These episcopalians which seems to mean people who follow the guidance of bishops split from the English sect at the time of the American indpendence from England and called themselves episcopalians because the American revolutionaries forbade that there be a “Church of America.” The “Church of England” are in turn a sect that has split from the sect called “Roman Catholics” because some English king or another wanted a new wife. Wherever they went the English brought wth them their Church except that they called it things like the “Church of Nigeria” and the “Anglican Church in Kenya” Keeping track of all these sects can be confusing and is not relevant to my purpose which is to reply to his criticisms of how America is behaving which he is making using his terms as an American and as a follower of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH).
My reply is in my terms as Muslim and as an Iraki. My purpose is not to open a dispute but to show some of the differences and to show that despite those differences all who try to submit to the will of God and who recognise that though we are not brothers and sisters in religon we are brothers and sisters in humanity have common ground and a common interest in opposing the idolatorous worship of empire which is I believe the root of the war against the people of Irak being waged by the modern colonial power called America and that it has its roots in idolatry. To do this I have used the teachings of Islam and also the teachings of another American Christian who was a member of one of the many Christian sects called Baptists.
(Snip ... I'm cutting out three lengthy quotes from my sermon here)
This is my reply, this is a follower of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) speaking to other Christians using the terms they will understand, I am not a Christian I am a Muslim and I am an Iraki this is how I see the matter:
The Prophet Jesus (PBUH) taught the importance of compassion and performed miracles by the grace and power of God who restrained the children of Israel from violence to him when he showed them the Clear Signs, and they mocked him as nothing more than a magician.
This also is why God lifted him up when they thought they had killed him. My father’s Irish friend markfromireland the follower of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) has told me often of how the Prophet Jesus drove the defilers from the Holy Places because they had turned it into a place thieves. He has told me also that the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) said that he had come to bring not peace but a sword.
From this we can see that Christians who truly try to follow the teachings of the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) also know that they are required by God to resist the tyrants who arise using either money or arms and seek to crush those who strive to submit to the will of God under their feet.
This is why I think this:
“History speaks to us — if we have the ears to hear. And if we don’t, it will gently, powerfully repeat itself until we get the message.”
is in error in the Holy Qur’an God speaks and tells us that he created us of a male and a female, and made us into nations and tribes, then God tells us of his purpose in doing this which is that we should know another not not that we despise each other.
From this we can see that those who despise the different tribes and nations are to be resisted. This is why we fight. Because they despise us they are false prophets and in opposition to God’s will which alone is what we are required to submit to.
As a Muslim you cannot say ”history …..” as though that is some abstract force that exists independently. This is because history is the unfolding of God’s will as he constantly engages in creation. What Gandhi was saying was that because the British despised his nation they were in opposition to God’s will and that God would destroy their empire which he did.
Similarly America despises all other nations and God is saying “stop or I will punish you” There was an American follower of the prophet Jesus (PBUH) called Martin Luther King who warned of this:
“Don’t let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with justice and it seems I can hear God saying to America “you are too arrogant, and if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name.”
The Vietnamese as communists denied God but still God used them to work his will to start to break the backbone of the power of the American and European tribes who despised and exploited all others because of the colour of their skin.
What Martin Luther King was warning you of was that Americans like to believe that just because they are Americans they are better than everyone else more kind more charitable more benevolent and therefore everybody should be more like them and that therefore all who resist must of their nature be evil. They also believe that they are entitled to take what they want. In the way that a corrupt policeman lies to himself and says that this is not corruption but his just reward. A corrupt policeman is not only a common criminal he is worse than that because he has betrayed his sacred trust to uphold the order decreed by God. This is what America has become.
America has set itself to despise all others in defiance of God’s clear will and see them not as your brothers and sisters either in religon or in humanity but as “legitmate targets” ripe for exploitation to be destroyed if they resist.
My message as a Muslim to those who call themselves Christians is you should listen to the teachings of true Christians like Martin Luther King.
You should be more like us not us more like you :-).
This is my reply.
I am honored that you would take the time not only to read my words but to consider and answer them. It gives me more hope than I can say that even though we are separated by miles and perhaps by distances greater than those miles that we can have this "conversation." I hope you will have the time and desire to respond again, but I certainly understand if you do not. You can also respond to me privately at MKinman (at) gmail (dot) com.
In reading your response, there was much I agreed with -- and even more about which I think we're essentially in agreement but for differences in phrasing and point of view.
First, let me tell you how I approach this. As an Episcopalian Christian, I have three sources for authority in my beliefs. The first is our Holy Scripture. The second is the tradition of the church as it has been handed down through the centuries. The third is reason -- our belief that the Spirit of God works through our minds and hearts ... and through conversations like this one ... to reveal the divine will in new ways even today.
That's an inexact way to do theology. It leaves much room for interpretation. It also demands theology be entered into and proceded from not with absolute certitude but with deep humility -- recognizing that we need God to redeem even our best attempts at faithfulness.
Now ... to your response.
First, about "history." I believe God acts through history -- but not in a micromanaging, proscriptive way. God gave us free will, and yet did not abandon us to it. God is present in every moment of creation, luring us deeper into the heart of the divine. History is the chronicle of creation. And so when I say "history teaches us" I am really talking about God's patient and steadfast presence with us ... not some random force. We might agree or disagree over how much control God exerts over specific events ... but I think we agree that God is the force behind all history. It would have been more accurate for me to say "God teaches us through history."
So let me begin by telling you some more about how I see Jesus -- particularly in terms of some of the points you made. I'm not going to get into some of the finer points of doctrine but broader issues of Jesus' nature and the nature of his teachings.
I believe Jesus did not just "teach the importance of compassion" but that he was literally the enfleshment of God's compassion for us. This might seem like a small point, but it is not. C0mpassion -- and more than just compassion but the complete self-giving love that comes from ultimate compassion -- is not just an important quality to exhibit but the very nature of God. And since what is happening in your country at our hands is the polar opposite of compassion, this becomes critical.
Elsewhere, Jesus preaches that if someone strikes you on one cheek you should offer them the other. Certainly, as both Gandhi and Martin Luther King and our Christian scripture often reference, Jesus did not shrink from conflict or hesitate to stand up against unjust authority ... but he did using nonviolent means. Jesus ultimate weapon for justice was his own self-sacrifice on the cross. Gandhi (who was not a Christian but who drew from the best of Christ's teachings) summed up the life of Christ and the Christian life in general when he talked of causes for which he was willing to die but there not being a cause for which he was willing to kill.
Taken together (history and Jesus), I believe God's dream for the world and for all of us is the life of the divine ... the life of self-sacrificing love. And God has created the world and set it in motion in such a way that though we have free will the only lasting success and joy and, ultimately, life will come from embracing that life. God does not wish us to despise one another. God does not wish us to exalt ourselves over one another (that is idolatry). God wishes us to love one another and give ourselves up for one another. That is the way of joy. And though other ways might seem to prosper for a time, all else is ultimately doomed.
For that reason, I would not say that God destroyed the British Empire, but I would see that God knows how the seeds sown by our freely-chosen actions will sprout and in that way the British Empire was doomed as surely as if God had "destroyed their Empire."
Similarly, I do not believe God is saying to America "stop or I will punish you" ... but I do believe God grieves not just for what America is doing but for the ultimate fruit of the seeds we are sowing -- seeds of our own pain and destruction. So it is more "stop or you will be punished by the fruit of your actions." The end is the same, but I think the difference in God's attitude is significant -- though in the end, perhaps both my view and yours (or what I'm interpreting as yours) can be held together in truth in some way.
And so that is how I would interpret Dr. King's words -- and I do think those words convict us today. You have interpreted his words -- words that express the heart of the Christian faith -- most accurately and have pointed them at us most appropriately. That was the point I was trying to make comparing us to the Roman Empire -- another Empire that was governed by a myth that exalted itself and who because of that myth was destroyed.
Arrogance is chief among our sins as a nation. It is our original sin, founded as we are by stealing land from indigenous people with proud, long histories in the name of "civilizing them." And as our wealth and power has increased, our national arrogance has increased -- to the point where today all that is truly good about America and the values upon which we tell ourselves we were founded are being betrayed. It is a piece of that arrogance that you know more about my nation and history than I know of yours.
And you are right to note that race plays a huge role in this -- that a strong current of white supremacy runs through this national sin of arrogance. It exists in our own society and it most certainly exists in the way we seek to dominate and exploit nations of darker-skinned people and even in the condescending and disempowering way we give (or withhold) aid from nations of the same.
I agree with all of those points you have made -- and that is why I preached that I believe God's blessing is not upon us because we are the oppressor. God's blessing is upon the oppressed of the world ... of which includes you and your family and friends in Baghdad and throughout Irak.
And I further grant you that it is up to we who have the power of being American citizens to make this right -- to not just save you but to save ourselves.
And this is where my question is for you. If we were to be more like the Christians that Martin Luther King (and I would say Jesus) dreamed we would be... If we were to be, in your words "more like (you)" ... what would that look like? What would American atonement for sin look like to you?
I ask you because it would only be a continuation of the sin of our arrogance to think I knew an answer only you and those like you can give. And I really want to hear your answer.
I love my country. It is my home. I believe there is much good in my country -- both because I believe there is good in people everywhere but also because I believe the ideals our better angels strive for our deeply good. And that is why it is all the more painful for me when we fall so short, when we embody just the opposite to the world, when we so continually let our sin overshadow our virtue.
I do love my home. And I have no idea what it must be like for a home you love to be utterly destroyed by invaders. I am humbled that as I am one of those whose taxes pay for the weapons and soldiers that have invaded and devastated your home, as I am one who has certainly not raised his voice enough to stop this invasion and devastation, that you would take the time to engage my words.
I hope this conversation can continue ... for all our sakes.
Please know I hold you and your family in my prayers ... and for me that means not just fondness and good wishes but asking God to use me to bless you. Your words have already been God's blessing to me.
| Mike at 2/13/2007 08:22:00 PM
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