Why I Care About the Islamic Center in NYC

Lately I’ve been posting a lot of links to articles about the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero on my Facebook and Twitter accounts. I’ve decided to take a little break from doing that, not because my convictions have changed, but because I’m afraid that if I post too many people will quit reading the articles. In case you haven’t seen the links, let me state my position clearly (in a bold font): I am strongly in favor of allowing Muslims in the United States to build Islamic centers, mosques, and any other meeting spaces they want to have. Why? Why as a Christian would I support building structures that will be used for Muslim worship services? Why do I even care about this issue enough to keep posting links and arguing in the comments section?

1. I have always been very sensitive to oppression in any form.

It’s always been easy for me to identify with the the little guy who’s being bullied by the ones with the power. As a teenager, I read Langston Hughes and Martin Luther King Jr. and even though I was a white guy living in a predominately white small town in the South, I began to care about civil rights. I recently read about the treatment of Native Americans at the hands of the Europeans and was horrified by the blood I see on my own hands. I hear about Christians in China and Indonesia having to hide for fear of being killed and I hurt along with them as members of the same body.

And now I see Muslims in the United States – not terrorists, not supporters of terror, but peaceful Muslims who simply want to live their lives and practice their religion – being told by potbellied rednecks on TV that “our laws don’t apply to you.” I see victims of the terrorists in New York (many Muslims died that day too and all were profoundly wounded by the attacks) being told that they sponsored the very terrorists that stole their family members away. I see politicians and pundits attempting to deny Muslims one of the fundamental rights that our country was founded on – the right to practice your religion without government interference. I don’t care if you agree with the Muslims or not, but to deny them basic civil rights goes against everything our country stands for. It’s oppression of a minority group in what is supposed to be the most freedom loving country on earth and it’s wrong.

2. I can’t stand it when I see people use lies and fear to manipulate people’s emotions.

Muslims have become the new boogeyman in America, the people it’s socially acceptable to hate, and politicians and commentators have been quick to use this collective hatred to rally their supporters. They do this by lying and stirring up fear. The very name “Ground Zero Mosque” is an example of this tactic. There’s no mosque and it’s not being built at Ground Zero. Heck, when I first heard about the project I was against it and I think any rational person would be against building a mosque (or any worship center) in the hole left behind when the WTC fell. (Incidentally, there is a plan is to build something in that hole – a mall. Go capitalism!) So why do the opponents of this building call it the Ground Zero Mosque? Because it stirs up an immediate visceral emotional response and stirs up people’s fears of an imminent Muslim invasion.

Fear is a powerful emotion and people know how to use it to get the desired results. The guy who tells his girlfriend that he’s going to leave if she doesn’t have sex with him is using fear. Church-sponsored “judgment houses” at Halloween attempt to scare  people into a relationship with Jesus. Tea Party leaders say our nation is being taken away from us by socialists, communists, Muslims, etc. and if we don’t do something about it the hammer and sickle will be flown at the White House, the Constitution will be replaced by Sharia law, and we’ll all be forced to have computer chips implanted inside of us to buy or sell goods. Combine fear with lies and you can pretty much convince people of anything. People who oppose building mosques across the country regularly accuse the builders of supporting terrorists (even if they’ve publicly denounced terrorism and worked to fight against it). Supporters of these projects are called un-American, deluded, naive, insensitive, and a host of other names.

As a Tennessean, I’m particularly embarrassed by false statements that have been made by politicians in the primary elections. Ron Ramsey declared Islam “a cult,” while Lou Ann Zelenik said that a proposed Islamic center in Murfreesboro (the town I live in) would be a “terrorist training center.” I wasn’t aware that terrorist training centers had swimming pools and basketball courts. I guess even radicals need a little breaks from planning world domination. Thankfully both these politicians were voted down, but their statements still rile up their constituents and fuel the flames of fear against Muslims. If you have to resort to lies and manipulation to support your position, your position must be pretty shaky in the first place.

3. Most importantly, if we deny Muslims the right to practice their religion peacefully, we  act unlovingly  and drive people away from the Gospel.

As Christian, my first response to any person should be one of love. That includes people I disagree with. To act differently is to directly disobey what Jesus called the greatest commandment: love God and love people. To quote Dr. David Gushee,  Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University:

For those mainly conservative Christians who are responding to this and other mosque projects with open expressions of anti-Muslim hatred, and open rejections of the principles of religious liberty from which Christians themselves daily benefit, shame on you! As a fellow Christian, I say that you bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ, you directly disobey his command that we love our neighbors, and you drive the watching world even further away from any interest in the Gospel message!

As a Christian I benefit every day from the freedoms outlined in the Constitution. How can I deny others those same rights, even if I disagree with them? I truly believe that if we hope to win over the hearts of the Muslim people we must show love and understanding, and that means stopping the needless protests, the name-calling, and the generalizing that I see so much of. I hear pundits talking about remembering the feelings of the victims’ families, but we must also remember that on 9/11 many Muslims in that neighborhood also lost loved ones. Rather than acknowledging their pain and seeing that this center is part of their emotional healing, we instead lump them in with the very people who caused so much pain in the first place. We will only win people by showing love, not fighting.

If you’re interested, here are the links I’ve been posting about the issue:
The leader of proposed Muslim center near Ground Zero defends his plan
Controversy at Ground Zero
There Is Already a Mosque Less Than a Mile From Ground Zero
Why Building the Mosque is Good for America!
Islam has long history downtown
The Shameful Mosque Controversy
Olbermann: There Is No ‘Ground Zero Mosque’
“The Mosque at Ground Zero”

Panic (and Rage) at the Pump

Today was an interesting day to buy gas in Middle Tennessee. Many motorists discovered that their favorite fossil fuel was simply unavailable at many of the gas stations across the state. Those who did find stations with a supply often had to wait as long as two hours for a chance to fill up. What happened? How are we suddenly without gasoline? (As a DJ I heard on the radio said, “When did the United States become a third world country?”)

A number of factors led to the “shortage.” You’ll see why I use quotation marks around that word in a moment. It’s true that Hurricane Ike did damage some of the Texas refineries that supply Middle Tennessee gas stations with their fuel. The pipeline that we get our gas from was operating at about 25% of it’s normal capacity so there was definitely less gas than usual coming our way. Along with that, though, one of the chief causes of the problem was panicked motorists who had heard rumors that we were about to be out of fuel and sucked up the fuel supply at almost double the rate of usual sales. Prices soared, tempers flared, and “panic buying” ruled the day.

I’ll admit that I was among the buyers waiting for gas, but not for two hours, just for two cars in front of me. The station I stopped at had set a twenty-five dollar cap on how much gas one person could buy at a time, possibly to keep their doors open for longer, possibly to make sure that everyone was able to get at least a little gas. The guy in front of me in line was obviously not aware of this fact as he attempted to fill up his SUV. When the pump stopped, he stormed into the gas station and began to yell at the cashiers. I couldn’t hear his words from inside my car, but I could see the anger on his face. He made threatening gestures, threw his hands in the air, turned red, and after about five minutes of screaming (probably about the same amount time that he had spent waiting), he stomped out to his car at drove off. What causes people to act like this over a few gallons of gasoline? Are we so dependent on “stuff” that when it’s taken away, or at least not given to us in the amount that we want, we fly off the handle?

What can we learn from a day like today? First, when rumors run rampant, things can get sticky. Thankfully this time, it was no real problem. Yeah, today a lot of the pumps had plastic bags covering them, but officials say the pipeline should be back at full capacity into next week. We definitely don’t need to take everything we hear at face value and react, but that doesn’t seem to be the biggest issue of the day. All the anger and rage over having what is “rightfully ours” taken away seems to me to be the bigger problem. I understand that for a lot of people that gas was necessary, but most of us could probably stand to conserve fuel more than we do and could definitely get by on less. I also understand that the inconvenience of having to wait for hours at the pump can make drivers get frustrated, but that’s no excuse to blow up. What I don’t understand at all is why having to share with others during what looks like a potential crisis would cause a presumably normal person to have a meltdown.

I think the real source of the problem is not a gas shortage, but an overage of getting what we want too much of the time. Materialism and a sense of entitlement convince us that we “need” many things that we simply want. As Americans, most of us expect that if we have the money, we should be able to buy whatever we want, whenever we want it. When we’re not able to get something we “need,” or even worse, when we have to share with others in need, well… that’s just un-American. But maybe it’s something that Christians need to think seriously about. What are we seeking first: the kingdom of heaven or the American dream?

All the stuff we’ve been given doesn’t really belong to us in the first place and it’s all temporary anyway, so maybe we need to loosen up about it. I seem to remember a very wise man saying something about not serving two masters. Stuff isn’t bad in itself, but how we react to it can be bad. Do we seek after and hoard our stuff or do we see a chance to share? And entitlement? Just what makes us think we deserve any of the stuff we have? Let’s keep stuff in it’s proper place and thank God for the things we do have. Just something to think about next time you’re filling up.

The LifeWay Rant… Uncensored!

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

The countdown to freedom is on… I only have four more days left as an employee of LifeWay Christian Stores. I think I’m keeping everything in perspective pretty well. I mean, the night that I found out that I was going to be able to give my two weeks notice the day, I only danced around the house for two or three hours (so much so that I accidentally ran smack into the doorframe.) Now, I only have to worry about one thing about LifeWay – exactly what I should include in my letter. The temptation is to simply say thank God that’s over and never finish my magnum opus against The Man (a.k.a. LifeWay). However, I think I almost have some kind of responsibility to look beyond myself and write this letter, maybe to improve LifeWay, maybe just to find out if they really care at all about a former employee (I love the way that sounds… former *sigh*). To help me keep focus, I’m watching Shaft and listening to Public Enemy. Fight the power! Even white kids like me have to fight The Man from time to time.

Just to get a little feedback, here’s what I have so far in my letter. Please leave some comments about what I can do to make it a little better. I know I’ll have to tone it down a little bit for it to be taken seriously, but here’s my unedited, uncut version. And now without further ado, I present…

The LifeWay Rant – Uncensored!

Dear sir or madam:

I recently quit my position as an employee at a LifeWay retail store after several months, and during that time, I have noticed several things about the chain that raise serious concerns. The first of these objections is over plus selling, the suggestion (read “pushing”) of particular products to all customers as they check out. At my store, this is talked about with utmost seriousness and almost worshipful reverence. We are repeatedly told that we should push the products selected by corporate to “every customer, every time.” We are constantly reminded that the money earned from selling these items goes to the cooperative program. We are frequently informed of the ministry that comes from one of these low-cost (and frequently low-quality) sales items. However, I believe that there are times when plus selling is, at best, morally suspicious or, at worst, just plain wrong. If an unchurched customer comes into the store grieving over the death of her only child, I will be there to minister to her. I will guide her to resources to help her deal with her loss, I will give her insights from the Bible, and I will pray with her. After all this, I absolutely REFUSE to pitch a Veggie Tales movie or a Bible cover to this person. To do so would be insensitive and irresponsible and possibly detrimental to the ministry we could have provided. The “every customer, every time” philosophy ignores the individual and his or her specific ministry needs. Despite these objections, plus selling no matter who the customer is or what they need is continually promoted in our store with a Pharisee-like rigidity. When I am on the sales floor, I am there to minister to the people in the store at the time. Some customers might genuinely benefit from our plus sell items, and to those I will suggest them; others neither need them, nor will they be forced upon them by me.

Additionally, I am disturbed to see that by mid-October, our store was already completely decorated for Christmas and much of our sales floor was filled with Christmas gift product. Christians are constantly noting that the secular world has forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. We complain that our culture has over-commercialized the holiday and replaced the baby Jesus with Santa Claus and presents. At LifeWay, the baby Jesus is there in a variety of beautiful porcelain and stained glass gift items. We also have 344 small glass angels arranged in a Christmas tree shaped floor stack. We have two lighted Christmas trees, garland with bows, festive music, and even a special sales training meeting to prepare us for the Christmas rush – in October. Over-commercialized? Guilty! We have copied the world’s model for Christmas celebration, only we have justified all the gifts and decorations by taking on a cheap religious sentiment. I have heard the argument that we have to be ready this early because all the other stores have their Christmas product out and we don’t want to be left behind. Since when are we supposed to copy the world? Just because secular stores push secular Christmas with unrelenting eagerness doesn’t mean that we should do the same with a religious one. I am as festive and celebratory as anyone when it comes to Christmas – when the time is right. However, this year it seems that I won’t be able to celebrate very much of Christmas at all. With all our emphasis on Christmas and family for our customers, employs are forced by corporate into a schedule that forbids them from taking even one day off from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas day. Hypocritical? Guilty. I have been told that this is simply the way that retail works, but shouldn’t Christian retail be different?

If our primary goal, our only goal, is ministry, then why does LifeWay place such an emphasis on appearance and image? Would an associate be any less effective as a minister with tattooed arms or a pierced face? Can God’s word only be life changing when presented by clean-cut men and women in ironed button-down shirts and pressed khakis? LifeWay has become a bastion of conservatism in dress and appearance, and has effectively isolated those who do not fit that image. Conservatism of doctrine need not be linked with conservatism of appearance. I have seen applicants’ resumes be rejected because they didn’t wear a tie to drop off their application. At the same time, I rarely see teenagers in the store, especially those who would not fit into the mold that many Baptists believe we should all fit in. Though we stock CDs by artists like Disciple and Living Sacrifice (industrial heavy metal) and T-bone (West Coast rap), I believe that we would prefer that the people who would most benefit from this style of music not come into our store because it might upset the conservative older customers. God’s word is for all. Jesus’ appearance was never made to conform to a public perception of what a religious leader should be. He ate with tax collectors and conversed with prostitutes. He went into the streets, bringing His message of hope to those who could benefit from it most. LifeWay takes great care to uphold an image, but that image is one of church, not of Christ.

On the whole, what LifeWay says and what happens at the store level do not match. Is it about ministry or sales? Do we really believe that family should be a priority in our own lives even if it means that work becomes less important? Remember, Jesus himself spoke most harshly to those Pharisees who claimed one view but did not live it out in their lives. Having a corporate philosophy and goal of ministering to customers is admirable, but if it is not lived out, it is completely and utterly useless.

That’s it folks. Let me know what you think. Peace out, brothers. Don’t let The Man bring you down. Word.

Great Job, Stockboy

Originally published on my long dead Xanga page.

I’m not sure that I have anything very specific to write about tonight, but I feel like I shouldn’t leave this page alone for too long or it might die on me. I won’t be able to write any more long prolific posts during my lunch break because I am no longer allowed to bring my computer with me. My boss, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that all problems at LifeWay can somehow be traced back to me, and so now he wants to remove any possible “distractions.” It must be working though. *cough* I was told today that I was doing a “great job” after being told only two days ago that my performance was “mediocre at best.” (Yes, he actually told me that.) Oh well, hopefully something will work out in the very near future that will allow me to turn in the keys that I am “very privilaged to be holding” and walk out the door that I am “very privilaged to have a key to.” You better believe that letter I’m writing to LifeWay grows a little more each day.

On the plus side, I recieved a bootleg CD copy of the long out of print (and banned) Disney classic Song of the South today. I haven’t heard Uncle Remus’s stories about Brer Rabbit and the briar patch or the tar baby since I was a little boy. I’m really excited! Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah….

I guess that’s about it tonight. I better go get some rest so I can do another “great job” again tomorrow. (By the way, for those that don’t know, I work in the stockroom. The reason for my compliment for the big chief today was because I took a lot of boxes that were sitting on the floor, and I moved them to a shelf. I know this sounds like a huge feat that I should be very proud of, but, well… it’s not, and, well…. I’m not. I gotta be able to use my brain a little more each day or it may just turn into stockroom soup.) Time to go for now.